Saturday, January 31, 2009

Matthew 8:28-9:1

Jesus heals the Gadarene demoniacs

When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, "If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine." And he said to them, "Go!" So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.

Comments: There are several things about this story that have always given me pause. First of all why would the demons challenge Jesus? I find that evil is always challenging the good. Evil always tries to sully the good. Anyone who tries to live a life of joy and gratitude is a magnet for those who cannot tolerate goodness. It is as if they cannot stand for goodness to be triumphant. Jesus sent the demons into the pigs. Of course, swine were considered unclean and were abhorrent to the Jews of the area. The demons were consigned to the unclean where they would not be bothersome to the Jews of the region.

I have also wondered why there would be swine in Israel. But the Galilee was a region that was quite pluralistic. There were many Greeks, Romans and other peoples in the Galilee. Jews were a minority in the area of the Gadara. So Jesus was preaching not only to the Jews but to all kinds of people. The demoniacs were also living in an ‘unclean’ area—among the tombs. So this whole story reminds me that God is able to overcome evil even when evil targets those who are good.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Deuteronomy 12:28-32

Warnings against idolatry

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, "How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same." You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it.

Comment: As the people of Israel enter into the Promised Land they are warned not to commingle with the Canaanites and other peoples because they worship other gods. The most important issue was to remain true to the only God—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph. This kind of religious purity was and is still foremost to conservative and orthodox Judaism. Many of the religions of the Middle East called for the practice of religious prostitution and even child sacrifice. The ethics of the early Hebrews understood the sacredness of life and so religious pluralism was not permitted.

Today we are hearing these words in a new light. The call from God is not for racial purity or religious purity. The call from God is to an ethic of living with respect. I have often said I have more in common with a faithful Jew, Moslem or Hindu than I have with a lukewarm Christian, whose Christianity is based upon law and not the constantly revealing relationship with the God who loves all. In our 21st century, the ethic of respect must prevail if we are not going to factionalize into warring factions. Our Christianity must be willing to recognize that proselytizing among those who already know God in some way is disrespectful. My Hindu, Moslem, First Nation and Jewish friends have as much to teach me of the ways of the God who loves me, as my Christian friends do. It is when we can live with that confidence, then we do not need to impose our faith on others to feel secure.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Deuteronomy 3:23-29

Moses sees Canaan from afar

At that time, too, I entreated the Lord, saying: "O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon." But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The Lord said to me, "Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see." So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.

Comment: I have always thought it was jolly unfair of God to not allow Moses to live in the Promised Land. But acts always have consequences. The early Hebrews did not think individualistically the way we do in American culture. The deeds of the Hebrew people were accounted to Moses. But Moses did get to SEE the Promised Land.

Often we do not get to see the fruits of our labor. But we get to see the ALMOST. For me, who has worked in civil rights for most of my life, the inauguration of President Obama was SEEING the Promised Land. Of course, we have not eradicated racism. We still have a long way to go on women’s equality and we are still in the desert on the issue of LGBT persons. But seeing a glimpse gives one heart for the journey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mark 3:13-19a

Jesus appoints the twelve

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Comment: There was an understanding among the people of Israel that when the Messiah came, or a sign that the Messiah would come was when all of the Twelve Tribes of Israel were reunited. Ten of the original 12 had been dispersed in the 7th century BCE when the Assyrians had conquered the Northern kingdom. In Mark, Jesus appoints twelve disciples to prepare for the reunification of the Hebrew people.

Matthew and Mark use this list for the Twelve. Luke has adds Jude in place of Thaddaeus. The Gospel of John has a different list. The term ‘apostle’ means ‘one who is sent.’ Paul was called an apostle even though he had never met the living Jesus. So the title apostle is not always consistent in Scripture. By our baptismal vows, all Christians are apostles—we are sent out to proclaim the Good News that God loves us and that God is accessible to us.


Monday, January 26, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Live the life assigned

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.

Comments: Paul believed that the second coming of Christ would be in his lifetime. (Paul didn’t get it right all the time, just like all the other apostles!) The majority of the followers of Jesus in Corinth were Greeks by heritage. There were those who were followers of Jesus who were Jewish that were traveling and preaching in the various synagogues that the Greeks had to become Jews and follow Mosaic Law to be a part of the synagogues of Corinth. For Greeks, circumcision was a shameful mutilation of the body. For Jews, it was a sign of the covenant that God had with the Chosen People. Paul is saying to them—it doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not. What is going on in the heart is what it what is important.

I don’t think we appreciate the clash of culture that was going on in the first century. Many Jews had become like the culture of the area around them. The Jews from Jerusalem were holding on to traditions of their culture. It caused tremendous problems for both sides. Add the Romanizing of the whole region brought another level of disorientation for the people of the Roman Empire. I am wondering if this is not like the present problems in Iraq. The modernization of traditional values with the pressure of American culture leads to the kind of anger and swing toward fundamentalism. Paul’s wisdom, that it isn’t about the culture, it is about one’s relationship with God holds true today. It isn’t the outward observance that is important, but the way one lives out the relationship with God with respect and honor that appeals to God.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Luke 10:13-16

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

Comment: This passage often bothers us if taken out of context. Jesus has been rejected by the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, both towns in the Galilee. The term woe may also be translated alas and be less of a curse than the sigh of a prophet over the recalcitrance of the people of those towns. This passage is found only in Lk. Is this showing Jesus as bent on vengeance or recognizing that the towns of Galilee are sowing their own retribution?

It is so easy to ignore the prophets of our times. It is so easy to continue in our self-centered ways. But the sigh of Jesus over our waywardness is not to be ignored. The invitation to be connected with all of creation is Jesus’ call. When we reject it, we fail not only ourselves and God, but a whole new life of respect and inclusion.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cabin Fever Five

Singing Owl has posted a good Friday Five for us in Upstate.
Sorry for the late posting! My daughter's car won't start, and I just returned from driving her to work. I think she made need a block heater. Speaking of that...
Here in snow country we are settled in to what is a very long stretch of potentially boring days. The holidays are over. It is a very long time till we will get outside on a regular basis. The snow that seemed so beautiful at first is now dirty and the snow banks are piling up. Our vehicles are all the same shade of brownish grey, but if we go to the car wash our doors will freeze shut. People get grumpy. Of course, not everyone lives in a cold climate, but even in warmer places the days till springtime can get long. Help! Please give us five suggestions for combating cabin fever and staying cheerful in our monochromatic world?

1. I am heading to TX to visit my mom next week. It is in the 70’s there. After a week of -4, it will be a welcome relief. I am also going to be preaching in Ft Worth which has been closed to women’s ministry in my denomination for 30 years. I am totally stoked!
2. On Inauguration day I took a sick day (I had a cold) and watched all the events. I must admit I have not felt so patriotic since JFK was sworn in.
3. I tend to wear bright colors when it gets this cold. It makes me think that I am warmer than I am.
4. I like to cook when it gets this cold. I am making Spaghetti from scratch today. Pot roasts, chili, stews are all good when we come home to a warm house and good smells.
5. I visit my chiropractor because I tend to tense up when it gets this cold. He straightens me out and I feel better.

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Jeremiah denounces his persecutors

O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, "Violence and destruction!"
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
"Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!"
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
"Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him."
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.

Comments: I have a colleague who translates the opening lines of this as “ You have seduced me and I have been screwed.” The Hebrew is almost as graphic as that—there is a sexual connotation in the words used by Jeremiah. It is often the cry of those who continue in the line of prophet in society and the Church. Those who are called to that role are not able to be silent in the face of injustice, but it does not win friends. In fact, it is often the friend that betrays because God’s truth is a heavy burden. Being a prophet is a lonely vocation. But the prophet finds delight in the work of God when the downtrodden are raised up. I guess that is why I found the Inauguration so thrilling and confirming.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jeremiah 19:1-15

Jeremiah announces disaster

Thus said the Lord: Go and buy a potter's earthenware jug. Take with you some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests, and go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say: Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to bring such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind. Therefore the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the siege, and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.

Then you shall break the jug in the sight of those who go with you, and shall say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, so that it can never be mended. In Topheth they shall bury until there is no more room to bury. Thus will I do to this place, says the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Topheth - all the houses upon whose roofs offerings have been made to the whole host of heaven, and libations have been poured out to other gods.

When Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, he stood in the court of the Lord's house and said to all the people: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am now bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their necks, refusing to hear my words.

Comment: Prophecy is not an easy task. Jeremiah is a young man who is trying to speak truth to the powerful of Jerusalem. The broken pot was his “show and tell.” It was to tell the powers that Jerusalem was going to be reduced to potsherds. It was Divine vengeance that he preached.

I am not too sure about Divine vengeance, but I do know that incidents of violence beget violence. When we are unjust, injustice often is our reward. I have been especially wary of the violence that is going to come after illegally holding people at Gitmo and other secret prisons. The kind of retaliation will come. Did Judah deserve the destruction that it experienced? Do we deserve attacks upon the US because we have been unjust? I can’t even think about the kind of disruption of peoples’ lives that unjust imprisonment means. Perhaps the act of closing Gitmo will help portray our repentance. But the retribution may still come.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Psalm 86 Walking in God's way

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Comment: This psalmist speaks so much of my life in this song. He praises, asks for mercy, and asks to learn of God’s way. To recognize God as the center of one’s life, to recognize that I am not worthy of God’s love but am willing to change my life knowing it is what God wants of me is what I want my life to be about. This psalm give a good outline by which I can evaluate my relationship with God.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Psalm 1:1-3

1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Comments: This is not the passage assigned for today. But following the Inauguration I have chosen to use this passage to offer as a hope for our nation, and hope for our new President.

As one who has worked for civil rights all my life, this is a day has great meaning for me. My prayers today are for our new President.

Monday, January 19, 2009

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

Believers are called out

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

"I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore come out from them,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be your father,
and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty."

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

Comment: II Corinthians is a difficult book to understand. There are some scholars that do not believe II Cor. to be a work of Paul. But if understood in the context of Paul’s other writings, Paul is trying to hold up what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in the context of Corinth’s pluralistic society. He is trying to keep the Corinthians from involving themselves in the dominant religious systems of their city—that of the gods Aphrodite and Asclepius. He is teaching them to shun the religious practices of their surroundings—the fertility cults and the eating of food offered to idols—both practices that would have been common in Corinth. Evidently the followers of Jesus in Corinth did not follow Mosaic Law and this would have put them at odds with those Jewish followers of Jesus. ‘Beliar’ is an uncommon word for Paul, but it was used by contemporaries to denote evil or a demon.

What are we to make of this passage? We who follow Christ are to make a distinction between ourselves and those who follow the gods of society. We are to recognize that we are called to stand apart from the aspects of common culture that would lead us away from faith in Christ. Does that mean that we cannot associate with those whose ways are not ours? I don’t think so. We are called to recognize that our relationship with God is what gives rise to our ethics. It is our commitment to loving others—recognizing that we are the Temple of God and do not participate in those actions that would damage that friendship with Christ. I do not have to prohibit others—especially those who do not believe as I do, from what they do. I must be willing to live out the ethics that Christ would have for me. This means that I, as a Christian, am always at odds with the society around me. My baptismal vows set me apart. This means that I cannot judge my actions by the norms of society, but by the love that Christ showed me in the Cross.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Matthew 25:1-13

Wise and foolish bridesmaids

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Comments: For Matthew, one of the important aspects of Jesus’ ministry is his teaching about the coming new age when God will reign. The story of the wise and foolish women is one of those parables. The purpose of this story is for followers of Jesus to be spiritually prepared for the coming of God. For Matthew, there is punishment for those who are not ready. This parable is found only in Mt. In it Mt is dealing with the problem that Jesus has not returned. He is trying to remind people that God will not return in ordinary time (Gk chronos).

In my experience Christ comes into my heart not when I am waiting, but often in hindsight. The Ah-ha experience of the Divine Presence is not something that I can stay up and wait for. It is something that just happens and I need to be willing to see it as an experience of God. This means that I need to have at my disposal enough knowledge of faith so that I can see Christ’s ‘breaking through’ into my life for what it is. It is a kind of spiritual ‘be prepared’.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Take me baby or Leave me. Friday Five

Songbird has left an interesting Friday Five. She posted a video which I don’t know how to do. And the music I probably wouldn’t put on my blog anyhow. But then she poses the following question.

Although written by a young man, this song from "Rent" became an anthem for women of a certain age ready to be taken on their own terms. Maureen and Joanne love each other, but they are *very* different.

Whether it's new friends or new loves or new employers, what are five things people should know about you?

1. In matters of justice and honesty, I don’t back down.
2. In matters of faith, I want to know how much we hold in common and celebrate that.
3. In matters of living, I want others to live as freely as I but with respect.
4. In matters of food, give me BBQ.
5. In matters of football, I am with anyone who is playing against Washington!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Judges 2:6-15 Failure to Remember

Note: I put my laptop in the shop today. It has caught a cold and needs more space. But I am going through a bit of withdrawl and am having to use the desktop that I haven't used in a long time. This computer is having difficulty uploading pictures. Sorry

When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites all went to their own inheritances to take possession of the land. The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years. So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

Over and over in the book of Judges we find that the Israelites did not remember what God had done for them. This period of the Judges was a time of tribal warfare and captivity. Wisely, the writer of Judges attributes this straying after other gods as a failure to remember the goodness of God and all that he had done for the children of Israel.

All too often, we forget the goodness of God. It is easy to fall into thinking that we have made our own way in life, not recognizing the grace of God in all that we are and do. For the Israelites it was easy to go after the gods of Astarte or Baal, they were omnipresent in their society. Astarte was the goddess of sexuality. Today we follow after godlessness—not allowing ourselves to admit how dependent we are on God’s grace.

Are we in a time, like the time of the Judges, when we have forgotten all that God has done for us? Perhaps. But I think we are more likely building our own time in which it is easier for us to be mindless of our roots in God’s actions. Christians must have a memory—all religions have memory—it is necessary for us to remember what God has done for us.
Those sects which fail to observe their history or try to rewrite their history according to their own desires detach themselves from the God who brought the Israelites from Egypt. And they fail to stand in the awe of our ancestors at the mighty works of the Divine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Psalm 69:1-5, 30-36

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. ...

I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall live in it.

-Comments: I do love this hymn. All too often I have gotten into ‘deep waters’ in my life and I am thankful for the Psalmist’s words. These are the words of a poor man who cannot afford the contributions of the wealthy. He offers his song even in his dire straights, not pleading but with thanksgiving. This portion of the psalm does not have the vengence that the psalmist asks God to deliver to his enemies.

All too often we sanitize the words of the Bible, never understanding the lives of the writers. The alternative is to hear the vengence as God's will. Neither is a an appropriate way of understanding how God acts in the lives of people then or now. Life in Biblical times was much more brutal than it is today. To attribute evil befalling enemies as divine action would be one way of understanding the power of God.

All Hebrew laments end in thanksgiving. Hardship is always viewd through the lens of God's generosity. I need to keep this in mind.

Monday, January 12, 2009


From Bishop Robinson: [via Episcopal Cafe]

"I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, "We are One," to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the "I have a dream speech" was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president's commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community."

From Integrity USA's press release:

Integrity is delighted at today’s announcement of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson’s role in the upcoming Inaugural celebrations. Following on the heels of yesterday’s selection of the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins as the first woman preacher for the January 21st National Prayer Service, today’s news is yet another indication that we are entering an historic era of diversity and inclusion.

“Bishop Robinson’s selection by the President-elect to pray God’s blessings on the opening event of the Inaugural week is good news not only for gay and lesbian Americans but for all who share the audacious hope of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal,” said Integrity President Susan Russell.

“It also gives us hope that the age of an ‘America’s Pastor’ is behind us and that we enter a new era where diverse voices of faith speak from the particularity of their own experience of God’s grace, love and power. While there are many miles to go before we are done with racism, sexism and homophobia in this country, we look forward to Barack Obama’s inauguration, to Sharon Watkins’ sermon and to Gene Robinson’s prayers as signs of great progress and profound hope.

Comment: Eiihawwwww! (That is Texan for Wooohooo!!)

Romans 4:1-12

God makes righteous apart from works

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:

"Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin."

Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, "Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness." How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Comments: This is a proof-text to support the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. This is Paul at his rabbinic finest. Many passages of Paul’s letters try to “prove” certain points of theology with the writings of Hebrew scripture. For centuries, for millennia, Christians and Jews have tried to ‘prove’ the rightness of faith by using Scripture to justify what they believe. Ultimately, trying to ‘prove’ the existence of God by quoting Scripture is fruitless. The only thing we can do is find in Scripture underpinning for the relationship we have with the Divine.

Abraham understood God’s love and care for him long before he was circumcised. Abraham and the males of his family were circumcised as a sign of his faith. The circumcision did not give him faith. This is the same for sacraments. Baptism and Communion are signs of faith. And while they confer grace, they are done because the faith is already there. This is why I give Holy Communion to those who may not be baptized but have come to the altar rail as a sign of their faith. I would rather err on the side of generosity than damage the faith of one who comes wishing to know God’s grace in the sacrament. God can give grace to whomever God choses.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday Five: Pancakes

Sophia from Revgals has given us a fun Friday Five:

Last week Sally gave us a beautiful, spiritually reflective Friday Five, so it's time for something light and fluffy (literally). It's inspired by the fact that as I write this my dear spouse TechnoGuy, with the assistance of daughter Ladybug, is making a batch of chocolate chip pancakes with two Christmas presents. One is the Knott's Berry Farm mix which came along with jam, boysenberry syrup, and biscuit mix from my aunt (we ended up with two sets, since my parents passed theirs on to avoid sweet and carb-y temptation). The other is the large size Black and Decker electric skillet he was thrilled that I got him online -- our trusty wedding present normal size one still works at going on 20 years, but the Teflon is getting worn, and he wanted more cooking space. So pull up a chair to the kitchen table and tell us all about your pancake preferences.

1. Scratch or mix? Buttermilk or plain?

I seldom make pancakes. I will get them out—usually IHOP.

2. Pure and simple, or with additions cooked in?

The best pancakes I had was from a little diner in Watsonville, CA. They were sourdough. I don’t like things added to them. No fruit, chocolate chips. I will stand for some nuts but prefer them plain.

3. For breakfast or for dinner?

I will eat them at anytime

4. Preferred syrup or other topping? How about the best side dish?

If I can’t get REAL maple syrup, then I prefer brown sugar.

5. Favorite pancake restaurant?

IHOP, here in NY. Danny’s in Watsonville.

Bonus: Any tasty recipes out there, for pancakes or other special breakfast dishes? Bring 'em on!

John 8:39-59:

Jesus' name: I AM

They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God."

The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death." The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?" Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, 'He is our God,' though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Comments: This passage is so full of meaning that I would have to spend the whole day commenting on it to open it completely. First of all, this is classic John rather than Jesus. John’ community in the last part of the 1st century was in conflict with the synagogues in the various places in the Middle East. John was not in Jerusalem because by this point, Jerusalem had been destroyed. But the fight between the Johaninne followers and the Jewish leaders who did not follow Jesus was quite strong and followers of Jesus were being excommunicated from the synagogue.

John is trying to show how Jesus understood his authority. He called God his Father and put the emphasis not on the law but on the love of God. For Jesus to say “I am” was to invoke the unspeakable name of God. The Pharisees would have seen Jesus as blasphemous.

All too often when people of faith try to compare their religion, the rules get in the way. Jesus was trying to teach the Jewish people that God was by far more familiar than the present worship and religious laws taught. The Jewish leadership saw this as a threat to their authority and leadership. Jesus was trying to inform the people that God’s love was over-arching and not stuck in rules and rituals. We in the church often make the rules or the liturgy so important that we forget how important being loving toward each other manifests God’ desire for us. God’s love comes before Abraham, before doctrine, before ways of worship.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Exodus 2:11-25

Young Moses escapes from Pharaoh

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known." When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, "How is it that you have come back so soon today?" They said, "An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock." He said to his daughters, "Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread." Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, "I have been an alien residing in a foreign land."

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Comments: Gershom comes from the words for ‘stranger’ in ancient Hebrew. It seems strange to us to name a child in such a way. Names in the Bible usually have meanings of their own. In this case Gershom is a play on words, a very important literary device in Hebrew.

These passages are part of the foundational story of the Hebrew people and consequently the story of Jesus. They become the Christian’s story also as adopted children of Israel and heirs of the promise of God.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Exodus 1:22-2:10 The Birth of Moses

God saves Moses from Pharaoh

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, "This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water."

The story of Moses and the murder of the Hebrew children is a “foundational story”. A similar story was part of the foundational history of Assyria. Sargon, a king of Assyria has a similar story of his birth and saving by a princess of Assyria in 7th century BC. This does not make the story of Moses untrue. It makes this story part of a way of claiming how Moses was destined to be the leader of his people.

This passage is paralleled in Matthew with the story of Herod’s murder of the Innocents from yesterday’s passage. In Matthew the story becomes a way to identify Jesus as the New Moses.

Scripture is not mere history of the post-Enlightenment type. Scripture often uses literary devices to catch the believer’s eye and show how important this person is. I do not doubt that Moses was a powerful leader of what became the Hebrew people. It is interesting that in Egyptian, the word Mose means ‘son’, a common name in Egyptian.

These little tidbits of information add to how I understand the story of Moses. It tells me that special things happened to this leader of the Hebrew people and it lead to his becoming a holy law giver for the people. It shows how God was understood as having acted in the life of this important leader of the Hebrew people. Did it happen exactly this way? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The story tells of how the generations after Moses understood how God acted in the life of one who was such a great leader. And it parallels with how God had drawn me out of the hot waters of my life.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany: Matthew 2:1-12

Christ revealed to the nations

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Comments: Today is Epiphany. This was the second most important feast of the Church before Christmas became more popular in the Middle Ages. In fact, December 25th was not celebrated until the 4th century. It was Epiphany that was the earliest date for the celebration of the Incarnation of God. Today among most of the Orthodox churches January 6th is still the date that the manifestation of God as human is celebrated. Rather than emphasizing the birth of Jesus, Epiphany puts an emphasis on the Baptism of Jesus and the start of his ministry.

In the West we tend to put emphasis on the arrival of the Three Kings or Magi. In Mediterranean countries and Latin America, this is when children receive their gifts. The gifts of the Magi were gold, frankincense and myrrh. Traditionally these gifts symbolized, kingship, priesthood and victory over the grave.

The Magi were of the priestly tribe or class of Zoroastrians, a monotheistic religion that believed in resurrection that came from the area now encompassed by Iran. The Magi were schooled in astrology and wisdom.

I am taken by the Magi’s unwillingness to return to Herod. They were people who understood the difference between the power of Herod and the truth of the Christ. They came from their country searching for the truth and found it not in Herod’s castle but in a humble stall.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Luke 6:27-31

Do to others as you would have them do to you

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Comments: The Golden Rule is not unique to Jesus. Hillel, the great Rabbi of just before Jesus’ time and Confucius in the east both used sayings that were similar to the Golden Rule. They phrase it in the negative. “Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.” It is the basis of ethical behavior for many cultures.

But Jesus takes it farther than ethics. Jesus teaches a generosity that goes beyond “good sense.” It is why Christianity is so hard to live. This generosity, this mindlessness of self, contradicts our basic instinct of self-protection. Jesus teaches kenosis, a self-emptying that offers to God that instinct. I can only empty myself if I am confident that God will provide what I need. I can only do this if I am willing to trust God. Faith requires that what I need will be provided and I can live on what God provides. This goes way beyond my good working class ethic. It seems a reckless way to live, but it is the loving way. Scary!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

James 4:1-10

Humble yourselves before God

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

"God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble."

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

-Comments: Karen Armstrong says that religion is a call to transformation. James understands that too. The call of the Spirit is to the reformation of the heart. To repent,to be transformed requires humility. Humility, that sense of recognizing that I am not the center of the universe is the beginning place of all faith. Without humility it is impossible to submit to God.

James’ theology was that the world was evil. I do not agree with that theology, but James was talking about the social systems that ruled his day. Social systems often are laced with values that are contrary to faith. They are generally about power, security and making money. But James was trying to assure the followers of Jesus that they were on the right track by being opposed to the social structures of his day. Christianity, I believe, must be counter-cultural as Jesus was counter-cultural. Faith in God says that loving others is more important than power.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Proverbs 1:1-7

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young--
Let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Comments: This is a good reading for the first day back after the New Year. Wisdom was what a righteous person was supposed to court in the time after the Exile. We don’t talk about wisdom that much these days—a pity. We need it so much. Wisdom was not just the accumulation of facts. It is much more. Ultimately it is about relationships. Knowledge serves relationships. And ultimately faith is about THE relationship, the bond between God and humanity in Jesus Christ.

Is wisdom something that we can attain, or is it graced? Wisdom is that which comes from the interaction between God and the human, so it is both. I know I have to prepare myself by being knowledgeable about people, events and things. That is part of leadership. But once I have that knowledge I have to use it wisely. That can only come with the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Name of Jesus Psalm 8

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Comments: I have always loved this psalm. It speaks the name of God as does creation. I can’t seem to get my Hebrew concordance to load today but I think that there must be some word for God in this psalm that does not translate well into English. In various translations ‘sovereign’ is called ‘governor’, ‘king’ and ‘Lord’. It is hard in the present day to understand the name of God. The ancients called God ‘Ya’--A name that can be like the breath yet one who is so powerful at to create the universe

The name of Jesus, Yeshua, in Hebrew means ‘God (Ya) saves’. It was a popular name in the first century. It was a majestic name, reminding people of Joshua, a warrior who had saved the people. But this Jesus was to be savior of a different ilk. This Yeshua is who continues to remind us to save through peace.