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?

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