Monday, September 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 9:30 - 37

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

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

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