Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, December 16th, 2018

This Sunday will be the third Sunday of Advent.  Traditionally, the theme of the day is Joy.  Some of the messages from John the Baptist may not reflect this theme, but ultimately the announcement from John is something to celebrate.  Zephaniah also announces news worth celebrating after several proclamations of doom and gloom.  Meanwhile, both Isaiah and Paul's letter to the Philippians invite us to rejoice and celebrate what the Lord has done for the Lord's people.

My other thoughts on these readings can be found below in the italicized text.  If you would like to discuss or debate what I have written, or if you would like to share your own opinions and questions, I invite you to write in the comments below.  I pledge to respond to all comments.

Zephaniah 3:14 - 20

 14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.
 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
 17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing
 18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.
 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

- The entirety of Zephaniah reads like a shorter version of Isaiah 13 – 23, which is a series of woe oracles against Israel and the surrounding nations.  Here in Zephaniah, the Lord declares a punishment against Jerusalem and Israel because the people have worshipped foreign gods.  The Lord also declares a punishment against the nations that mock Israel during its suffering.  The mood changes at the end of Zephaniah: the Lord will gather together the faithful remnant of Israel, re-establish the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel, and defeat the nations that are oppressing the Israelites.

- Zephaniah may be one of the reasons why many Jews rejected Jesus.  Zephaniah tells of the Lord arriving in the city as a warrior, perhaps a warrior king.  This was paired with the saving of the lame and the gathering of the outcast, which were hallmarks of the ministry of Jesus.  Therefore, the people may have connected his miracles to Zephaniah and expected that Jesus was the promised warrior king.

Isaiah 12:2 - 6

 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
 4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
 5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

- It’s interesting that we cut verse 1 out of Isaiah 12: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.”  (Isa 12:1 NRS)

- We are quick to read “the Holy One of Israel” in Isaiah 12:6 as Jesus.  But what/whom did the Israelites at the time of the exile identify as “the Holy One of Israel.”

Philippians 4:4 - 7

 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

- Back when Advent was a penitential season similar to Lent, the third Sunday of Advent was the one Sunday in the season during which the mood was playful and joyful.  The pink/rose candle in the Advent wreath represents this day to “rejoice.”

Luke 3:7 - 18

 7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
 10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"  11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."  12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"  13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."  14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

- The empire asked tax collectors to collect a prescribed amount of taxes from an area.  It was common for tax collectors to charge even higher amounts from the citizens within their zone of responsibility; these additional taxes became the tax collector’s salary.

- It was also common for military members to force non-Roman citizens to carry equipment, weapons, and other items for a mile so that the soldier could rest.  It appears that these military members have also been intimidating local citizens until the citizens paid a “protection fee.”

- We immediately understand the tree about to be cut down as representing one person.  But what if we read it as representing one nation, instead?

- While the wheat (the good) and the chaff (the bad) are separated on the threshing floor, each grain of wheat originally comes with chaff around the grain of wheat.  We tend to read this as the good people go to heaven and the bad people go to hell, but what if this is more like purification?  Each of us is “threshed” until our chaff is separated from us and tossed away/into the fire.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, December 9th, 2018

On this second Sunday of Advent, our readings focus on John the Baptist.  Our first reading is the prophecy from Malachi that a messenger will come to prepare the way of the Lord.  Our psalm reading is replaced by the Song of Zechariah, John's father.  And our Gospel reading is the first portion of the Luke's first story of John's public ministry.

So, how does John help us prepare for the arrival of Christ?  That is a question to ponder this week as we prepare for worship on Sunday.

You can find my initial reactions to these readings in the italicized text below.  I invite you to share your insights, questions, and reactions in the comment section below so that we can continue to discuss these readings.

Malachi 3:1 - 4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight-- indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.  2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.  4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

- “Malachi” means “my messenger.”

- Malachi declares that a messenger is on the way.  This is not just any messenger, but a “messenger of the covenant.”  This messenger will have a connection to the promises the Lord has made to the people of Israel.

- This messenger will be a purifier of the Levites.  This makes it a bit awkward to read through a Christological lens.  After all, weren’t the Levites opposed to Jesus and his ministry?  But if we view Christ on the cross as a sacrifice for our atonement (meaning that which restores the relationship between the Lord and us), then the role of the Levites falls into place; they are purified to offer the one great sacrifice.

- That being said, how would this message make sense without Christ?  How was it understood by the first people to receive it?

Luke 1:68 - 79

 68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

- Luke 1 tells the story of the birth of John the Baptist.  An angel appears to Zechariah as he was in the Temple offering a sacrifice of incense.  The angel reveals that Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and they are to name the child John.  To this point, Zechariah and Elizabeth have not been able to have children, and they are getting older, likely older than most people would expect them to give birth to children.  So Zechariah asks how he may trust the message.  The angel responds by taking away Zechariah’s voice until the child is born.  Months later, Elizabeth gives birth to a son.  On the day of his naming, the people want to name the child Zechariah, but Elizabeth and Zechariah insist that his name is John.  At this moment, Zechariah regains his voice, and this song recorded in Luke 1:68 – 79 is what pours out of his mouth.

- When the song changes from a general blessing to a direct address to “you, child,” we can picture Zechariah holding John in his arms and sharing the proclamation Zechariah received from the angel.

Philippians 1:3 - 11

 3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

- One can read Philippians 1:3 – 11 and believe that this is a call to good works because the Lord will only save those who produce “the harvest of righteousness.”  However, this reading would ignore the earlier statement from Paul in which he expresses confidence “that the one who began a good work among you (ed. ~ “you” is plural) will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”  The harvest of righteousness comes not from our desire and effort to do good works; the harvest of righteousness comes from the Lord’s work within us, planting the seed of faith and helping that seed sprout and grow.

- The references to the “day of Christ” look ahead to the end of the age when Christ will arrive on the Earth, resurrect us from the dead, and bring us into the Kingdom of God.

Luke 3:1 - 6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
 5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

- In Luke 3, John is undertaking the calling that was given to him even before his birth.

- “…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  This is not in the original proclamation from Isaiah 40:3 – 5.  There, the proclamation concludes by saying “Then the glory of God shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Perhaps this includes another proclamation from Isaiah, this time 52:10: “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  Either way, there is a connection between “the glory of the Lord” and “the salvation of God” who comes to Earth and gives his life for us.”

- Look at all these great names, and yet the word of the Lord comes to John son of Zechariah.  What does this tell us about who is worthy to be the messenger of God?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, December 2nd, 2018


Aren't you a little early with that, pastor?

By the typical calendar year, yes, of course.  However, by the liturgical calendar, we wrapped up the year with Christ the King Sunday on November 25th and we begin a new year with the first Sunday of Advent on December 2nd.

Oh, Advent!  So we are preparing for Christmas, right?

Well, yes and no.  "Advent" comes from the Latin word "advenio," which means "to arrive."  Advent is the season of the Church where we focus on the arrival of Christ.  And yes, that does mean the arrival of the baby Jesus at Christmas.  But it also means the future arrival of Jesus, when he will raise the dead from their graves and bring the Lord's people into the complete Kingdom (or Reign) of God on Earth.  At the beginning of Advent, we are more focused on the future arrival of Jesus.  As the season goes along, we will shift our focus to the first arrival of Jesus.

Keep this in mind as we take a look at the readings for this upcoming Sunday, December 2nd.  While the world around us is charging ahead towards Christmas, our readings this week are more focused on the future arrival of Jesus.

What else do you see within these readings?  What questions are you left with?  Share your insights and questions in the comments below so that we can continue the conversation!

Jeremiah 33:14 - 16

 14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."

- Oftentimes in the Old Testament, key ideas or claims will be repeated.  This is especially true in Hebrew poetry.  However, in this case, the “house of Israel and the house of Judah” are separate entities, reflecting the split in the kingdom after the death of Solomon.

- Interestingly, Jeremiah claims that Judah will be saved and Jerusalem, a city within the borders of Judah, will live in safety.  What has happened to Israel?  If my timeline is correct, Israel has already been captured by Assyria and no longer exists as an independent nation.  Therefore, the pledge to protect and preserve goes to the nation that still exists at the time of the proclamation.

Psalm 25:1 - 10

 1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
 2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
 3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
 4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
 6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O LORD!
 8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
 10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. 

- I don’t understand the choice of the first ten verses of Psalm 25 to pair with the Jeremiah 33 reading.  If we wanted to use Psalm 25, the back half of the Psalm appears to be a better fit.  In the back half, we get the proclamation that those who fear the Lord “will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land” (verse 13) and the psalmist’s plea, “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.” (verse 22)  These fit the Jeremiah discussion of what is happening for the people of Judah.  The rest of Psalm 25 is a self-focused psalm that does not fit with Jeremiah 33.

1 Thessalonians 3:9 - 13

 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?  10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

- This 1 Thessalonians reading is an odd choice as well.  There’s a token reference to the arrival of Jesus with all of his saints, but it merely introduces the topic rather than include more of the letter to further discuss the idea in detail.

Luke 21:25 - 36

 25 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.
 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
 29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.
 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
 34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,
 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

- “The Son of Man coming in a cloud” uses the same image that described a king or a general arriving in a city.  We saw this phrase twice in the readings for Christ the King Sunday.

- “Nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves” could be drawing on the sea as a symbol of chaos.  The nations are confused by the chaos around them.

- “Pass away” can be restated as “come to an end.”  Revelation suggests that heaven and earth will come to an end so that the New Jerusalem can be established on Earth.  These things will not disappear completely (though this is how the New Living Translation decides to translate/paraphrase this verse), but they will be so completely reformed that they must be identified as brand new.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for the 2018 WELCA Thankoffering Service (November 18, 2018)

Every year, Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (also known as Women of the ELCA or WELCA) organizes a "Thankoffering" service.  The service comes from a 19th Century practice of women collecting pennies and other coins throughout the year and bringing these coins to the Church as an offering.  Through these penny collections, women raised the money to build new church buildings, send missionaries around the world, and fund many other ministries of local congregations and national church bodies.  Today, these "Thankofferings" are a major funding source for the national ministries of the Women of the ELCA.  You can learn more about the history behind the Thankoffering Service here.

In a service designed around a special offering, you might expect a strong focus on stewardship and generosity.  In the suggested readings, however, there is a strong focus on the image of water.  In many cases, we are talking about literal water; in other cases, water serves as the symbol of Baptism.  From there, we can make the claim that our freedom from sin and death, which is given to us in Baptism, frees us to be generous with our time and our resources.

As always, the readings for this Sunday are below.  My comments are the readings are in italics.  My comments are meant to be the starting point of discussions and not the ending point of discussions.  If you have an insight to share, a dispute with something I've said, a question to raise regarding one of the readings, or any other response to what is shared here, I invite you to post it in the comments below so that we can continue the conversation.

Exodus 17:1 - 7

 1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"
 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"
 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."
 5 The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

- The whole point of this story is that the Lord will provide, even when it seems impossible.  Finding a source of water large enough for the Israelites within a random rock/cliff/boulder in the wilderness?  Impossible!  Until it happens.

- “Rock” does not tell us much about where Moses found the Lord’s source of water.  The alternate translations of “cliff” and “boulder” tell us more and are a better description of a location that can hold large amounts of water.

Psalm 104:1, 5 - 15

 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty.
 5 You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
 6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
 7 At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
 8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
 9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
 10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,
 11 giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst.
 12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
 13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
 14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
 15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.

- This is a long psalm.  Here, we focus on the portions discussing water and how the Lord has created, controlled, and used water for the sake of Creation.  We hear echos of the Creation story and the Flood.  We also see that water has a central role in Creation, for all of life depends on water.

1 Corinthians 12:12 - 31

 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
 15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
 16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.
 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

- 1 Corinthians 12 does not reference a body of water, but Paul bases his entire argument on the fact that we are all baptized into one body.  The waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit mean that every person and every community has a role to play/serve within the Church.

- We often read 1 Corinthians 12 and apply it to individuals.  Does our understanding of the passage change if we apply it to congregations and communities?  Does our understanding of the passage change if we claim that every congregation has a role to play within the Church and that we cannot cut our congregation off from the Church without causing the Church and our congregation to suffer?

- The Thankoffering can be wrapped into this passage.  Though we wonder if our small gift means anything, the national WELCA organization thrives off of the many small gifts coming together to fund various ministries.

John 4:5 - 26

 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
 10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
 11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
 15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
 16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."
 17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';
 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."
 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.
 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
 25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."
 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

- We again wrestle with the question of where water will come from.  Can Jesus draw water from this well when he has no bucket?  Impossible!  But in this case, Jesus is talking in symbolic terms, not literal terms.

- The living water of baptism will be the source of living water/eternal life within us.

- Our gifts can also be the spring of water that sustains others.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, November 11th, 2018

After two festival Sundays, we return to the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark.  The letter and the Gospel have advanced a couple of chapters, so we will not be able to build upon the previous stories without telling the previous stories that we have skipped over.

Across the readings, we have a theme of sacrifice and sacrificial giving.  When it comes to the widows, we focus on their giving from the little that they have.  When it comes to Jesus, we focus on how he sacrificed everything for us and then testifies on our behalf.

As you read through these Bible readings, what stands out as important to you?  What leaves you wanting to know more or questioning the significance of a particular detail?  I invite you to start the conversation around these things in the comments below!

1 Kings 17:8 - 16

 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9 "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you."  10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink."  11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand."  12 But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."  13 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  14 For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth."  15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.  16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

- The widow is down to the last meal for her and her son.  Without an intervention, they will die in days.  In her initial answer to Elijah, we can hear that she is without hope.  On one hand, why would she share from what little she has?  On the other hand, given Elijah’s promise, what does she have to lose?

- It is worth noting that this story takes place outside of Israel.  The Lord has brought a drought to the nation because the king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel, have led the nation away from the Lord.  They have worshipped other gods, especially Ba’al, and have abused their power.  The Lord could have performed this miracle within Israel, but the Lord chose to send Elijah away from Israel.  Here, we get a hint that people who are not Jews may also fall into the category of “the Lord’s people.”

Psalm 146

 1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
 2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
 4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
 5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
 8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
 9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
 10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD! 

- Psalm 146 is something that we should read before we vote.  In the United States, we tend to turn our political opinions into our identity and idolize our political leaders.  Here, we are reminded to trust the Lord above our political leaders.

- Read Psalm 146:9 alongside the headlines regarding the immigrant caravan working its way to the U.S. – Mexico border.

Hebrews 9:24 - 28

 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.  27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

- Read the statement of Jesus entering heaven “to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” together with “…it is appointed for mortals to die once, and then after that the judgment…”  Jesus testifies on our behalf, covering us with his righteousness.  We are judged to be righteous only because Jesus gives us his righteousness.

- A connection to Holy Communion: we do not re-sacrifice Jesus when we consecrate the bread and the wine.  We tell the story and we celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice, but we do not re-sacrifice Jesus on Sunday morning.

Mark 12:38 - 44

 38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

- The widow likely gave away the money she would use for her food that day.  That is why her gift was so great.

- How much of your salary would you have to give away before it could truly be considered “sacrificial giving?”  10%?  30%?  50%?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for All Saints Sunday 2018 (November 4th)

All Saints Day, originally scheduled on November 1st and usually transferred to the first Sunday of November, is a day to remember all the members of the Church who have died and now participate in the Church Triumphant (what we mean by the terms "participate" and "Church Triumphant" is closely bound to our understandings of what happens to us between our death and our resurrection from the dead; discussing these topics is well beyond the scope of this post).  It developed from the practice of dedicating a day on the calendar to remember and celebrate the life of a prominent member of the Church.  The date chosen was usually the date of the saint's death.  After some time, the calendar was filling up with commemorations and the Church was still looking to celebrate the lives and gifts of those who had died.  Therefore, the Church established a day as All Saints Day so that all who had died could be remembered and celebrated.

This day comes with a specific set of readings, with themes of the Lord's power over death and the promise of resurrection from the dead.  These themes are meant to be sources of hope and comfort as we grieve the deaths of beloved Church members as well as family members and friends.

I also read and hear other things within these readings; these are shared in the italicized text below.  What do you read and hear?  What questions do you want answered?  What clicks for you in a new way that you had not realized before today?  Let's have these conversations and others in the comments below!

Isaiah 25:6 - 9

 6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
 a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
 of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
 the sheet that is spread over all nations;
 8 he will swallow up death forever.
 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
 and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
 for the LORD has spoken.
 9 It will be said on that day,
 Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
 This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

- A banquet is a traditional form of celebration in the Ancient Near East.

- The invitation for “all peoples” to be at the banquet is in sharp contrast to the series of woe oracles against many nations in Isaiah 13 – 23.  Does “all peoples” mean all nations?  That is unclear from the literal reading of the passage because of the description of “his people” in verse 8 unless “his people” and “all peoples” are two descriptions of the same group!

- A common belief at this time is that death separates us from God.  Therefore, the statement that the Lord “will swallow up death forever” is a promise that the Lord will prevent that separation.

Psalm 24

 1 The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
 2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
 3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
 4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
 5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
 6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
 7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
 8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah

- Who may stand in God’s holy place?  In the life of the Temple, very few people could stand in God’s holy place.  One priest would stand in the Holy of Holies on one day of the year, and this priest would be chosen at random.  In the end, only one could stand in God’s holy place: Jesus, the son of God.

- The end of the psalm emphasizes the Lord as the warrior-God.  “The Lord of hosts” is a softened interpretation of YWHW tsavaot, which means “The Lord of armies/warfare.”

Revelation 21:1 - 6a

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
 "See, the home of God is among mortals.
 He will dwell with them;
 they will be his peoples,
 and God himself will be with them;
 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. 
 Death will be no more;
 mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
 for the first things have passed away."
 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."  6 Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."

- The sea was a symbol of chaos.  The disappearance/destruction of the sea means an end to chaos.

- Revelation 21:3 reminds me of the new covenant that was proclaimed in Jeremiah 31:31 – 34.  Compare the two passages:
1) “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33 NRSV)
2) “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 21:3-4a NRSV)

John 11:32 - 44

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."  35 Jesus began to weep.
 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"  37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."  40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"  41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me.  42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."  43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

- The mention of “four days” is significant.  The common belief was that the soul or spirit of a person remained with the body for three days.  During those three days, there was still a possibility of the soul or spirit reviving the body.  But on day four, that hope was gone, and the person was considered truly dead.  Therefore, the resurrection of Lazarus is on a higher level than the stories of bringing back to life someone who had died earlier in the day.

- Does “see(-ing) the glory of God” and recognizing what we have seen depend on our belief?  Does it depend on the work of the Holy Spirit?  Or is there something else at work here?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Reformation Sunday 2018 (October 28th)

As we approach Reformation Sunday, I have a couple of thoughts regarding the occasion itself.  My first thought goes toward the Latin phrase "ecclesia semper reformanda est."  This is usually translated for us as "The Church is always reforming," prompting us to think of ways we are reforming the Church.  However, the Latin grammar makes this phrase a PASSIVE phrase: "The Church is always being reformed."  By whom?  We are left to infer that the Church is being reformed by Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, Christ and the Holy Spirit may work through individual people to bring about reformation (such as what we saw develop through Martin Luther's writings), but we would miss the point if we claimed that the individuals were solely responsible for the resulting reformation.

My second thought goes to a sentiment we heard in greater volume last year.  Some suggest that the Church goes through a major reformation approximately every 500 years.  We saw this happen with the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the 1000's.  We saw this happen again with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's.  Perhaps we are living through a new reformation here in the 2000's.  It's hard to say what this reformation will look like because we are in the midst of the transition, which may be why the Church is facing many challenges today.

What else can we say as we approach Reformation Sunday 2018?  Below, in italics, are some of my thoughts regarding the readings for Sunday.  I invite you to add your own thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Jeremiah 31:31 - 34

 31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-- a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.  33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

- Jeremiah 31:32 refers to the covenant with Moses.  In striking this covenant, the Lord gave to the people (through Moses) the Ten Commandments.  This is the covenant the people broke.  This is the covenant we continue to break, even if grew up reciting it every Sunday morning in Sunday School.

- Does Jeremiah 31:33 become a better indicator of the Gospel if we read it as the Lord putting the Lord’s “instruction” in our hearts?  Hearing the word “law” in this statement may pull us away from reading this as a precursor to “the new covenant in (Jesus’) blood.”

- Is there an example of “know(-ing) the Lord” through the Lord’s forgiveness?

Psalm 46

 1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
 10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

- Psalm 46 is the textual basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

- “God is in the midst of the city.”  The psalmist was writing about the Lord’s presence on Earth, specifically in Jerusalem.  We can also hear this as a vision of the Lord in the midst of the New Jerusalem (i.e. heaven).  Which image is more comforting for you?  Why this image over the other one?

Romans 3:19 - 28

 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  20 For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;
 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith.  28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

- Romans 3 expands the promise of Jeremiah 31, discussing the limitations of the old covenant (that we could never keep our end of the bargain) and describing the new covenant.

- “…effective through faith.”  Whose faith?  Our faith or Jesus’ faith?  In my opinion, the sacrifice of atonement is effective through the faith of Jesus.  This matches Luther’s understanding of the sacraments, which are effective through what the Lord does in the water, bread, and wine, rather than being effective through the actions of the presider and/or the receiver of the sacraments.  The key is not what we do but what the Lord does.

John 8:31 - 36

 31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"

 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.  36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

- In the larger context of John 8, there is a lot going on here.  The chapter starts with the story of the mob, the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus.  Jesus refuses to condemn the woman and prevents the mob from carrying out their plan to stone her to death.  Then there is a long discussion of death, life, sin, forgiveness, the Son of Man (i.e. the Messiah), and Abraham; our passage is in the midst of this discussion.

- The people protest that they are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  This is incorrect: past generations of the children of Abraham were slaves of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians.  The current generations of the children of Abraham are under the control of the Romans.  By no means are they “free,” even if some of them have been granted Roman citizenship.

- In baptism, Jesus frees us from sin, completing an act that began at the Cross.

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?