Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, October 14th, 2018

There is a lot going on around us right now.  A new justice was just confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the confirmation process brought a great deal of contention and argument over past events, accusations, and counter-accusations.  We are entering harvest season, which brings a high level of stress and pressure for farmers.  We are about four weeks away from election day for federal, state, and local races.

In the midst of this, we get a shepherd/herdsman from Judah bringing a hard message from the Lord to the leaders of Israel, a psalm pleading for restoration, a Hebrews passage using the metaphors of a sword and a high priest, and Jesus again undercutting our assumptions of who is "blessed" and who will receive eternal life.

I have several initial thoughts as I read through these passages.  You can find my thoughts in the italicized text below each reading.  I would love to hear your thoughts and discuss your questions.  If you share your thoughts and questions in the comments below, I will respond and continue the conversation.

Amos 5:6 - 7, 10 - 15

 6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
 7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

 10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.
 12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins-- you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.
 13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

- The gate within the city wall was more than a doorway.  It was a passageway through the wall  and it was used like a town hall and a courthouse.  Town leaders would hold meetings here and judges would settle disputes here.  If you wanted to know what was happening within and outside of the town, you would hang out within the gate.

- Amos was a shepherd from the land of Judah (AKA the southern kingdom) who was called to be the Lord’s prophet to the leaders of Israel (AKA the northern kingdom).  He spoke as an outsider and was received as such (meaning the leaders of Israel received him as an opponent rather than as a friend).

- In time, Israel would be conquered by Assyria.  The leaders would indeed be forced from their homes and fields and sent into exile.

- We can read Amos 5:15 as a proclamation that a mass confession and repentance would be received like the confession and repentance of Ninevah in Jonah 3 or like other confessions and repentances led by the good kings of Judah.

Psalm 90:12 - 17

 12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
 13 Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
 15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.
 16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands-- O prosper the work of our hands!

- When paired with the Amos reading, we can hear this psalm as though we are one of the leaders sent into exile by the Assyrians and pleading to the Lord for relief.

Hebrews 4:12 - 16

 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

 14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

- Hebrews 4:12 is a well-known passage regarding the word of God.  However, there is much confusion regarding what it means for this word of God, this sword, to “(divide) soul from spirit, joints from marrow.”  Do we take this literally, figuratively, metaphorically, or some other way?

- Another passage claims that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in Genesis who runs into Abram after he has defeated and plundered an enemy who had captured his nephew, Lot (Genesis 14:10 – 20).  If Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, then he has greater authority than the currently-serving high priest in Jerusalem because that high priest serves in the order of Aaron because Melchizedek appeared and served generations before Aaron became a priest.

- The author of Hebrews claims that Jesus is able to forgive, redeem, and reconcile us to the Father because Jesus lived a fully-human life and experienced the full range of human activities, life stages, and emotions.

Mark 10:17 - 31

 17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  19 You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'"  20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth."  21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."  22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"  24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."  26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?"  27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you."  29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age-- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions-- and in the age to come eternal life.  31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

- By all appearances, this man wanted to ensure that he was doing enough to earn his way into the Kingdom of God and eternal life.  When Jesus stated a new hurdle to clear before this was possible (i.e. sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus), the man was not prepared for the standard to be so high.

- Some have argued that the “eye of the needle” is not an actual needle but a specific gate within the city of Jerusalem.  This gate was narrow enough that a camel loaded with baggage could not walk through it; to get the camel through this “eye of the needle,” the rider would have to stop the camel, fully unload all of the baggage, move the camel through the gate, and load everything back onto the camel.  Only then could the journey continue.  In recent years, however, scholars have debated whether such a gate ever existed.

- Some have used Mark 10:28 – 30 as a justification of “prosperity gospel,” the term for a believe system based on the claim that the Lord will financially bless true followers of Jesus.  In doing so, they conveniently ignore the phrase “with persecutions” in verse 30 as well as the reversal of fortunes in verse 31.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, October 7th, 2018

This week brings a challenging set of readings.  While I recently read and preached upon two of these readings at a wedding, the lectionary extended one of the readings which puts the topic of marriage into the very different context of divorce and what is allowed by Jewish law.  How does Jesus' answer to the Pharisees (and later, his disciples) become good news for us?

Meanwhile, Psalm 8 pairs well with both the Genesis 2 reading and the commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th; St. Francis was known for many things including his love for animals.  One of the ways that the Church commemorates St. Francis is with a Blessing of the Animals on October 4th, the date of his death.

And Hebrews 1 and 2 offer plenty of theological weight as well.

As always, I invite you to read the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, review my first impressions after each reading, and share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Genesis 2:18 - 24

 18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."  19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.  21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  23 Then the man said,
     "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
         this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."
 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

- Do you notice differences in yourself when you are alone compared to when you are with company?  What are they?

- What is meant by "helper?"  Is the role of the "helper" subordinate to Adam or equal to Adam?                      Who else is called a "helper" in the Bible?

Psalm 8

 Psalm 8:1  O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
 2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
 5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
 6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
 9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

- Does Psalm 8 describe humans as having dominion or domination over the rest of Creation?  How we understand our role in Creation greatly impacts our level of concern over pollution and other environmental issues.

Hebrews 1:1 - 4, 2:5 - 12

 1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  3 He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

 5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.  6 But someone has testified somewhere,
       "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?
       7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
                   you have crowned them with glory and honor, 8 subjecting all things under their feet."
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

 10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."

- The Hebrews reading says a lot, and yet I have very little to say in response.  Perhaps I would find the material in the gap more interesting.

- Or look at Hebrews 2:16 – 18: “16 For it is clear that (Jesus) did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.   17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.   18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”   We often rely on the promise that Jesus is there to help us; the author of Hebrews makes the claim that Jesus is able to help us because Jesus became human like us and went through human challenges, situations, and conditions, including death.  This goes to why it is important for the Christian faith to proclaim that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine.

Mark 10:2 - 16

 2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?"  4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."  5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.  6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.'  7 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.  11 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

- The first part of the Gospel reading must be handled with care.  In any congregation, we are likely to find several divorcees.  Many of these divorcees are now remarried.  How can we address this topic and affirm marriage vows without shaming them for being previously divorced?

- Do we treat children like they are the future of the Church but unimportant to the present of the Church?  Or do we treat children like they are the present of the Church and are full members of the Church right now?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 30th, 2018

This week will be a different preaching experience for me.  This is the week of my conference's pulpit exchange, so I will be preaching and presiding over worship at a congregation other than where I currently serve.  It will be my first time leading worship at this congregation and the first time this congregation has met me.  That will change how I prepare and how I preach this coming Sunday.

In this week's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, we have a theme running between the first reading and the Gospel reading, a second reading that addresses questions raised last week, and a psalm that...well, I'm not sure that it was the best pairing with the first reading, but I will let others argue that.

You can find my thoughts in the italicized text after each reading.  I intend for my thoughts to be the start of the conversation; I invite you to continue the conversation by adding your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Numbers 11:4 - 6, 10 - 16, 24 - 29

4The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
  10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lordbecame very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
  16So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.”
  24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
  26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord‘s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

- These 70 elders are not the same as the various leaders that Moses appointed on the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 18).

- This editing of Numbers 11 cuts out the Lord’s promise of abundant meat for the people to eat as well as the kindling of the wrath of the Lord at the moment many of the people began to eat the quail that arrived.

- The editing of Numbers 11 highlights Eldad and Medad and how they were able to prophesy even though they were not a part of the group of 70 elders around Moses.  Moses claims them as being a part of the same team as Moses and the 70 elders.  In Moses’ opinion, it would be great if the Holy Spirit gave all of the Lord’s people the gift of prophecy.  Do you agree?

Psalm 19:7 - 14

 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
 9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
 11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
 12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
 13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

- I’m not sure how the psalm is meant to pair with the readings from Numbers and Mark.  Perhaps we can read something into verse 13…but the hymn version does not do justice to the NRSV translation.  I guess we are supposed to connect the Lord’s instructions in Numbers with the mentions of the Lord’s laws and precepts in Psalm 19.

James 5:13 - 20

13Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
  19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

- James 5 may be my answer to my question regarding James 4: “What would be a good prayer for the benefit of one’s self but is not selfish?” Here, the author lists several things for which we can pray for the benefit of one’s self but are not selfish prayers.

- However, this also leads to problems.  If a sick person prays for healing, but this person is not healed and eventually dies, then did the person pray wrongly?  Or should we regard “the prayer of faith (saving) the sick” as something separate from healing from illness or injury?  Such a separation makes sense in the light of the statement that follows: “and the Lord will raise them up…”

- I want to challenge the author’s example of Elijah praying for no rain before praying for rain.  I have a hard time believing that praying for a drought was Elijah’s idea.  Elijah coming up with the prayer and the Lord listening to Elijah’s prayer is very different from the Lord instructing Elijah to pray for this specific thing and the Lord promising that the Lord will protect and sustain Elijah even in the midst of the drought.

Mark 9:38 - 50

38John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
  42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
  49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

- Do we regard non-enemies as friends, or non-friends as enemies?  How we answer that question reveals a great deal about ourselves, how we welcome others into our residences, and how we practice politics.

- There was a barrier around the Temple, past which no one with a physical deformity or any other form of “unclean” –ness could travel.  These images of people becoming deformed so that they would not be tempted by these parts to sin against the Lord and yet the Lord welcoming these deformed people would be shocking to the Pharisees and others who believed that such deformities would mean permanent “uncleanness” and separation from God.

- What does it mean for someone to be “salted with,” or seasoned by, fire?  Is this a sense of purification?  Is this a sense of growth through trial and error?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

This week in our readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, we have both Jeremiah and a psalmist asking for the Lord to avenge them by attacking their enemies.  We also have a discussion of what makes a true prayer and what does it take to be considered the "greatest."

I am sharing my thoughts in italics below each reading.  I invite you to share your comments and ideas in the comments!

Jeremiah 11:18 - 20
    18It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
  then you showed me their evil deeds.
19But I was like a gentle lamb
  led to the slaughter.
 And I did not know it was against me
  that they devised schemes, saying,
 “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
  let us cut him off from the land of the living,
  so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
20But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
  who try the heart and the mind,
 let me see your retribution upon them,
  for to you I have committed my cause.

- What is it that the Lord made known to Jeremiah?  What it “their evil deeds” from the next line (which would fit within the Hebrew habit of stating things twice when writing poetically)?  Or are we talking about something else?

- Two reflections on the verse where Jeremiah’s enemies hope to kill Jeremiah “so that his name will no longer be remembered:”
1) One of the lines of the recent Macklemore single “Glorious:” “I heard you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave, and the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name.”

2) Historically, attempting to erase a person’s name was one way for an empire to strike back against a political enemy or a traitor.  After arresting and likely killing the enemy or traitor, the empire would take the time to go through any writing or construction project which carried or bore that person’s name and would erase that name from the records, even chiseling that name off of stone arches, statues, and buildings.

Psalm 54

 1 Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
 2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
 3 For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah
 4 But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
 5 He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
 6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
 7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

- Psalm 54 reads like it could have been written by Jeremiah.  We might be uncomfortable with verse 5, the psalmist’s wish for the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies.  But we can acknowledge that the psalms are poems from humans and they express very human emotions and impulses, including the desire for vengeance against our enemies.

James 3:13 - 4:3, 7 - 8a

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.4:

  1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8aDraw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

- Can we name a war or dispute that is not centered upon conflicting desires?

- Does James suggest that it is inappropriate to pray for our own benefit?  Not necessarily.  The letter implies that we can pray for ourselves as long as we are not praying for something that (temporarily) satisfies our “pleasures.”  What would be a good prayer for the benefit of one’s self but is not selfish?

Mark 9:30 - 37

30[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
  33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

- In the time of the 1st Century, children were not considered priorities.  In fact, children, even children of nobles, were very low on the social totem pole.  Welcoming a child into the midst of one’s gathering would not increase one’s own honor and respectability within a culture built around honor and shame.  But it a culture built around self-sacrifice and care for others, welcoming a child and others from the bottom of the social totem pole is something that is counted in your favor.  This type of action is the social currency within the Kingdom of God.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 16th, 2018

This week, return to discussions of the tongue, one of the strongest and most important muscles within our bodies.  While this could be the spotlight, our Gospel reading pushes us to consider our understandings of the role of the Messiah and what it means to save, or lose, our lives.  Both of these topics give us plenty to discuss and bring into our world today.

Below, you will find the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this coming Sunday.  After each reading, I will add my thoughts in italics.  If you have an insight from the readings, a question regarding a certain verse, or a reaction to my comments, I invite you to share them in the comment section below so that we can talk about them!

Isaiah 50:4 - 9a

4The Lord God has given me
  the tongue of a teacher,
 that I may know how to sustain
  the weary with a word.
 Morning by morning he wakens—
  wakens my ear
  to listen as those who are taught.
5The Lord God has opened my ear,
  and I was not rebellious,
  I did not turn backward.
6I gave my back to those who struck me,
  and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
 I did not hide my face
  from insult and spitting.

7The Lord God helps me;
  therefore I have not been disgraced;
 therefore I have set my face like flint,
  and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
  8he who vindicates me is near.
 Who will contend with me?
  Let us stand up together.
 Who are my adversaries?
  Let them confront me.
9aIt is the Lord God who helps me;
  who will declare me guilty?

- Who is a teacher that has sustained you with a word (or a few words)?

- Again, we see parallels between an Isaiah passage and the Gospels.  Jesus’ back was struck and Jesus faced insults and spitting.

- The speaker invites his enemies to confront him face to face and/or in the court of law.  He believes that he will win every contest because he stands next to the Lord.

Psalm 116:1 - 9

 1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
 2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
 3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
 4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, save my life!"
 5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.
 6 The LORD protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
 7 Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
 8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
 9 I walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

- For me, Psalm 116:1 – 9 contains an allusion to baptism.  While some of us have near-death experiences where we can directly credit the Lord for saving our lives, baptism is a universal experience within the Church where the Lord rescues our lives from death so that we may walk in the land of the living after the resurrection.

James 3:1 - 12

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. 
  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

- This passage from James reminds us of the reading from Mark 7 two weeks ago.  There, Jesus told us that what comes out of the mouth is what defiles us.  Here, James picks up on the idea and claims that our bodies and really our whole beings are guided by what we say.  James also reminds us that our tongues can be just as destructive as a forest fire.

Mark 8:27 - 38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

  31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

- We see Peter at both his best and his worst here.  He gets it: Jesus is the Messiah.  But he doesn’t get it because his understanding of what the Messiah will become is very different from what Jesus will become.  He gets rebuked because he tries to impose his vision of the Messiah onto Jesus.

- Jesus comments about attempting to save our lives only to lose them reminded me of this comment from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (Episode 4): 

- Where do we see the death of one thing lead to the birth or growth of another thing?