Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, January 21st, 2018

This week, I could use your feedback.  I typically spend part of my Tuesday studying these passages with my local colleagues, asking our questions, testing each others' responses, and sharing our perspectives on the passages.  Unfortunately, this week's gathering was cancelled due to the snow and ice that fell on the region during Sunday and Monday.  Therefore, I will share my initial thoughts from reading these passages, and I hope to interact with your questions, responses, and perspectives as I prepare to preach on Sunday morning.

If this is your first time reading this series of posts on my blog, welcome!  Below here, you will find the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 21st (all readings are from the New Revised Standard Version).  After each reading, I include my thoughts in italics.  If you have any questions or comments regarding the readings themselves or my thoughts stemming from the readings, I invite you to leave them in the comments below, where I can respond to you.  Thanks for reading!

Jonah 3:1 - 5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
  10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

How did the people of Nineveh know that Jonah’s message was from God?  The only message that the Bible quotes is “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  The initial call to Jonah was “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it…” (Jonah 1:2), so we do not get a good picture of Jonah’s message.  Yet the people (and the king in the missing verses) hear the Lord in Jonah’s message and repent.  It’s like the narrator was in such a rush to get to the repentance and Jonah’s tantrum that the narrator did not include what the Lord asked Jonah to say!  Or was that message enough?  Would it be enough for us, who are already a part of the Body of Christ?


Psalm 62:5 - 12

 5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
 7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
 8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
 9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
 10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
 11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

 12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

Psalm 62 makes the case that the Lord is the only thing that can fully uphold our trust and our faith.  Anything else will fail and will disappoint us.


1 Corinthians 7:29 - 31

29Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7 reads like we are in an emergency situation.  Forget all emotional attachments and focus on this one thing that is happening right now.  What does the larger context tell us (without getting into 8:1 – 13, the reading for the following week)?  It’s a discussion of marriage and divorce within the current time, which Paul treats like an emergency situation.  If you are married, stay married.  If you are single, stay single.  If you are engaged…well, Paul advises you to stay single, but get married if you must.  In any case, do not let these things distract you from the Lord and what the Lord is doing/about to do.  The discussion continues to the end of the chapter (verse 40).  I could extend the reading, even to include the verses before it…but that would probably commit me to preaching on this passage.


Mark 1:14 - 20

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

  16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark’s account of Jesus calling these first few disciples is pretty straightforward.  Jesus calls them to come with him, and they go, leaving their fishing business behind.  Yet we also know that they do fish from time to time during Jesus’ ministry.  What do we make of this?  We can speak on obedience to the call or Jesus’ charisma to get these four to follow without question.  But does it point to the cross and the empty tomb?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, January 14, 2018

My apologies for not getting this posted earlier in the week.  I have been sick since this past weekend, and that has altered my routine and my schedule over the last few days.

You will see in these readings a general theme of what it means to be known by the Lord.  We see the Lord directly addressing Samuel.  We hear reflections of how deeply the Lord knows us because the Lord created us.  We are reminded of the Holy Spirit's presence within us.  And we hear the story of Jesus describing Nathanael to his face before Nathanael has a chance to introduce himself.  It is worth asking whether the fact that the Lord knows us so well gives us comfort and strength or gives us cause for concern, stress, and discomfort.

The readings for Sunday are below.  After each reading, you will find my thoughts and reactions in italics.  I encourage you to leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.

1 Samuel 3:1 - 10 [11 - 20]

1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
  2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
  10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
  15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
  19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.]

Samuel “was ministering to the Lord,” but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”  This calling from the Lord was Samuel’s first direct interaction with the Lord, even though he had grown up as a part of Israel’s religious structure under the tutelage of Eli.  This was not the ideal first calling for Samuel, to deliver a harsh message from the Lord to Eli.  What’s the good news here?  That the Lord can and does call people to carry the Lord’s messages?  That Samuel is established as a trustworthy prophet?  There’s not much to this story without telling a larger story of Eli and his sons and/or Samuel’s full career.


Psalm 139:1 - 6, 13 - 18

 1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.
 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.


 13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
 18 I try to count them-- they are more than the sand; I come to the end-- I am still with you.

Psalm 139 reflects on how deeply we are known by the Lord, our Creator.  The Lord formed every part of our bodies, knows every thought that crosses our minds, and knows every emotion that we experience.  There is nothing that we can hide from the Lord.  This can be a scary thought.  For the psalmist, however, this is a great comfort; therefore, the psalmist invites us to find comfort in this realization.


1 Corinthians 6:12 - 20

12“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

We could spend our time in 1 Corinthians 6 worrying about Christian ideals in regards to sex, tattoos, and other body issues.  However, the passage is prefaced with the discussion of all things being “lawful.”  We see this in society today: we may have the freedom to do something, but that does not mean that it is a good idea to do it or that doing it will actually be good for us.  Martin Luther’s understanding of freedom is that we are freed from justifying ourselves before the Lord so that we are free for service to our neighbor.  Another piece of the puzzle is verse 19 (emphasis added): “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and THAT YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN?”  So often, our discussion of freedom, including the freedom of what we will do with/to our own bodies, assumes that our bodies are our own to do with what we please.  Paul argues that this is not true: our bodies belong to the Lord, our Creator.

A colleague mentioned that she cannot read this passage in worship without commenting upon it because of how the passage has been taught and used against others in the past.  When you hear this passage and its discussion of our bodies as part of our relationship with Christ, what is stirred within your mind?  Do you feel comforted that the Lord knows us so well?  Or do you feel judged, perhaps because someone has used the language of "your body is a temple" to shame you?


John 1:43 - 51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Sometimes, we cannot truly comprehend something without experiencing it for ourselves.  This is why the invitation to experience it is so critical.  This also goes to how we share our faith with others.  We can talk and talk and talk, but for many, they will not truly understand or comprehend without accepting and invitation to meet Jesus through the Church (both corporate worship including the sacraments and individual members).  Worth noting: Nathanael’s confession comes before Peter’s confession, but it is Peter who identifies Jesus as the Messiah/Christ (Hebrew/Greek terms).  Jesus demonstrates a knowledge of Nathanael that echoes Psalm 139.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday (January 7th, 2018)

This upcoming Sunday, we will celebrate Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, where we hear one of the accounts of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  As we commemorate Jesus' baptism, we are reminded of our own baptisms...or, if we are not baptized, perhaps we feel a renewed tug to the font, a new invitation to be baptized.

What about you?  What do you hear when you read these passages?  What questions are you left with?  What do you notice this time around that you have overlooked in the past?  You can share your responses in the comments below!  My comments will be in italics after each passage (all Bible passages are from the New Revised Standard Version or NRSV).

Genesis 1:1 - 5

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1 is the first day of the Creation story.  The light is born and is separated from the darkness.  We hear echoes of this in John 1: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”  Otherwise, it’s just kind of there.


Psalm 29

 1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
 2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
 3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
 4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
 5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
 6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
 7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
 8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
 9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
 10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

 11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29 emphasizes the Lord’s power over creation.  It goes well with the reading of the Creation story, but how does it play with Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism?


Acts 19:1 - 7

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

Acts 19 extends the discussion of the differences between John’s baptism and what we have been given as the sacrament of baptism.  John’s baptism was a form of confession and repentance.  Baptism in the name of the Lord is the Lord’s action, making the salvation that comes through the Cross and the Resurrection applicable to us as individuals and bonding us to the rest of the Body of Christ.


Mark 1:4 - 11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


During the Advent season, we heard the portion about John himself.  The new part of the story is the baptism of Jesus.  The Gospel of Mark does not waste much time in telling the story: Jesus arrives, John baptizes Jesus, the Spirit descends, a voice is heard, the end.  Then, Jesus is driven into the wilderness…but that’s for February.  Certainly, the arrival of the Spirit is the key moment.  Perhaps we can connect this to the arrival of the Spirit in Acts 19 and spin something out of that…

Returning to the Acts 19 and Mark 1 passages: We can make the point about the differences between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism by pointing to our practices regarding bathing and confession.  We bathe on a regular basis to keep ourselves clean.  We confess our sins at the beginning of most worship services (and preferably at other times during the week as well).  While John’s baptism primarily marked entry into a community of disciples, it is a baptism that would need be repeated regularly when used as a ritual form of confession and forgiveness.  The Lord’s baptism is different: it is a one-time event that we cannot erase or invalidate (though sometimes we may lose the meaning of baptism).  In baptism, we are united with Christ and initiated into the community of the Church.  We may wander from the community, or we may feel like we are separated from Christ, but we do not need to be re-baptized to re-establish our connection with Christ or re-enter the community of the Church.