Friday, June 29, 2007

The Depth of History


1 Samuel 9:1-14
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible puts verse 9 in parentheses: “(Formerly in Israel anyone who went to inquire of God would say, ‘Come let us go to the seer’; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.)” What I like about this verse is that it shows that our understanding of scripture should not be limited to a simple “then” and “now”, as if all the events of scripture happened at one time. The history of ancient Israel was of so great a depth that when the writers of books like 1 Samuel set about to do their work, they were dealing with material that was already old and some of which needed to be explained to their contemporaries (like the uses of the words prophet and seer). We’re dealing with millennia of time here, not just months or years, yet God was at work throughout, interacting with succeeding generations of people and responding to their changing customs and attitudes with justice and mercy.

Acts 7:17-29
History plays a vital role in the continuing words of Stephen before the council in Acts 7. Here he is retelling the story of God’s people, in this case the sojourn in Egypt. Interestingly, Stephen says the following in verse 19, “(Pharaoh) dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die.” In verse 21 it says, “and when (Moses) was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him…” (Abandonment is a cruel form of death, of course, that involves leaving a baby in some isolated spot to die from the elements or starvation.) That’s a slightly different story than what we find in Exodus 1:22 where Pharaoh tells his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” Exodus goes on to say that Moses was placed in a basket in the Nile with hopes that he would be safe. But Stephen says only that Moses was abandoned. Again, history flows through scripture and not only do we get the original stories themselves, but often we read of other generations reacting to those stories, or quoting the verses and interpreting these words for themselves.

Luke 22:31-38
Lo and behold, what do we find in Luke? Jesus quoting scripture and showing how it applies to him! (I love it when all of the readings come together like this!!) In verse 37 Jesus quotes Isaiah 53:12 when he says, “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” God, who has been at work throughout the history of Israel, that winding ribbon of lives intertwined with God’s presence, is at work in Jesus as well, and in fact the whole history of Israel comes to a focal point in Jesus after which nothing will ever be the same. Wow!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Community and Grace


1 Samuel 8:1-22
The words of verse 7 really struck me this morning. “(A)nd the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’” At the time Israel amounted to a confederation of tribes. The monarchy would unite the nation, but, as Samuel tries to convince the people, it would bring a significant downside. But they weren’t willing to take his warning and insisted on a king so that they could be like all the other nations. God had established a unique relationship with the people of Israel, one that should have carried them forward in prosperity and peace, but the people were not interested in maintaining it. They wanted to be like all the others. How sad! But then, how often do we reject a relationship with God to pursue other goals? How often do we turn our backs on the unique relationship that God has established with us through Jesus Christ? Too often. And we get ourselves into trouble when we do so.

Acts 6:15-7:16
I wonder what it means that Stephen’s “face was like the face of an angel” (16:15) Perhaps it means that the members of the council could not deny that he was a messenger from God, or that he had utter confidence in what he was doing. We say someone is angelic when they are beautiful or very well behaved, especially children. But I don’t think that’s what this would mean. But it must have been important for Luke to mention it here in Acts. Did God so fill Stephen with the power of the Spirit that it showed in his demeanor, that he radiated God’s grace? If so, why did the council end up stoning Stephen anyway? The people of God are often called on to accept difficult challenges but to do so with grace and with a positive attitude. I admit that I don’t always act like an angel when I find myself in a difficult situation, and that’s something I need to work on.

Luke 22:24-30
Verses 25 and 26 echo back to what Samuel was telling the people about kings. “But (Jesus) said to (the disciples), ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.’” Of course, this is radical thinking, but you can see how it is based on the same unique relationship that God had with the people of Israel. When we trust God we don’t have to worry about “who’s in charge” because we know that God is. Jesus called together a new community based not on authority, but on humble service reflecting the love of God. Wow! What a concept!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Responding to God's Call


Acts 6:1-16
Look at verse 8: “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Now look back at the beginning of chapter 6. There we read that Stephen had been set aside essentially to wait tables and make sure that the Hellenist widows got as much food as the Hebrew widows did. Yet God used Stephen to do “great wonders and signs among the people.” It would seem that our willingness to serve within the community of faith can present us with opportunities and roles to play that we might never expect. Now granted I’m a minister’s son, but I’ve done many more things in the life of the church than I ever expected to be called on to do, from working as temporary janitor and as church secretary, to directing youth groups and coordinating response to tornados for Presbytery. Oh, and I’m also a minister. I never expected to do any of these things necessarily. But over time God has called me to respond to different circumstances and to serve the church in different ways. Stephen, a deacon, acted more like a presbyter or bishop. What are we being called to do? Where are we being sent to go?

Luke 22:14-23
The words of institution (found in verses 19 and 20) are among the most meaningful in all of scripture for they established a practice that the church has followed for centuries. That one of the apostles present at this meal would betray Jesus seems significant as well. When we gather around the table today we do so as a motley crew of sinners in need of redemption. God welcomes us anyway and pours out grace and mercy to us in the process.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

God's Will, God's Word


Act 5:27-42
Gamaliel’s advice to the council is profound. In verses 38 and 39 he says, “if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God.” I wonder how often we find ourselves “fighting against God,” doing things that oppose God’s will for our lives? Along the same lines are the words of Psalm 146:3-4, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” In either case it’s like Debbie says, “It’s easier to do things God’s way to begin with.” How true that is.

Luke 21:37-22:13
Portions of verses 37 and 38 say, “Every day he was teaching in the temple…And all the people would get us early in the morning to listen to him…” What a wonderful opportunity to listen to Jesus! I’m not a morning person, but I’d like to think that I’d make an exception if I had the chance to listen to Jesus teach, to hear what my Savior had to say. But there are ways to listen to Jesus that are available to us. Prayer is a way to hear the voice of God speaking to us, and reading the Bible gives us the chance to hear what Jesus has to say to us in our lives. In fact, we trust the Holy Spirit to be at work helping us to hear and to understand what God is saying in the world of scripture. And it doesn’t have to be early in the morning, either. It can be any time of day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

God On the Move


1 Samuel 5:1-12
Interesting in this story is the fact that God is able to respond to human activity and to act accordingly. It is also amusing at just how powerless Dagon, god of the Philistines, was in the presence of the God of Israel. Not only was the idol knocked around, but it was defaced and disfigured as well. God is sovereign, not just because we say so, but because it is true. And woe to any who seek to prove otherwise!

Acts 5:12-26
Here is another story of God’s ability to respond to human activity. When the apostles are put into jail, an angel of the Lord leads them out during the night so that they may resume their teaching in the temple. Only now, instead of worshippers of foreign idols, it is the priests of Israel who find themselves on the “wrong side” in the debate. God has moved in a new direction and not all people are willing to accept that fact.

Luke 21:29-36
God will continue to act in human history because God has a plan and a design for the future. It may not be the way we would want it, and it may cause us discomfort, but God will draw all things to a close when God wills for it to happen. God remains on the move within human history, sovereign and glorious.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thirsting for God


Psalm 63
Thirsting for God, “my soul thirsts for you;” Most of us have been thirsty before, some of us may have even been parched. Some of us who have had surgery will remember that feeling of a dry mouth needing the cool refreshment of a sip of water after awaking from the procedure. But thirsting for God? The Psalmist said his soul thirsted for God and his flesh was faint. It is not difficult for me to imagine that many of us wake each morning saying thank you to God for another day; or asking God to be present throughout the events of a day. But that might be where our thirsting ends. Most of us are self-sufficient and in control. But the Psalmist reminds us that God’s steadfast love is better than life and his lips will praise God and he will lift his hands and call on God’s name. This Psalm, today reminds me that the words I utter throughout the day ought to give praise to God, and the work I do as “I lift up my hands” should point to God’s love and grace.

Song of Solomon 5:10-16
Song of Solomon 7:1-2 (3-5) 6-7a (9)
Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.

Love is a gift of the divine. Those who have experienced this love are blessed, whether it is the love of a friend, significant other, or family—love is a unique gift of the divine and it is to be cherished and shared.

II Corinthians 13:1-13
It is apparent that Paul is grieved about the situation in Corinth. He spoke to them as a parent speaks to a beloved child; he chided; he challenged; he stated his position; and then he encouraged them. But he obviously felt strongly about each of the Christian communities that they would continue the “good work that was begun in them”, without quarreling and fighting. But more than simply not quarreling he charged them to greet another with a “holy kiss”, the peace of Christ be with you . . . When you greet someone with a “holy kiss”, with the peace of Christ and mean it, it begins the process of building bridges and making peace.

Luke 20:1-8
The chief priests and scribes and elders demonstrate what too many of us do—weigh the options instead of simply speaking the truth in love. They decided not to answer Jesus to save face and save their own skins.

Friday, June 15, 2007

In God's Strength


Psalm 84
“They go from strength to strength” this is such a great line. How often do I feel like I go from one obligation to another; how often do I feel like I go from one crisis to another; how often do I feel like I go from this to that? But where does one find himself/herself going from strength to strength? It is in God’s presence. “I can do all things through God who strengthens me . . .”(Philippians 4:13) “All things are possible with God . . .” (Matthew 19:26) But how often do we give to God our day . . . at the beginning and at the end, so that the middle allows us to “go from strength to strength”? It is worth it every time. It takes rearranging your life’s priorities but the benefits are beyond all that we can imagine—“we will go from strength to strength”.

Song of Solomon
A love story, a poem from one love to another, it reminds me that love begins in God and ends in God and it is beautiful.

II Corinthians 12:11-21
It is interesting that in Corinthians we find a church in conflict, concerned about what Paul is doing and Paul is concerned about them. The question Paul seems to be challenging them with is the ministry that he started among them was in the name of Jesus Christ—there are no other motives.

Luke 19:41-48
In no uncertain terms Jesus challenged the people to be who they were called to be and do what they were called to do. The house of God had become a place just like society not a place where God’s work began and ended in asking for God’s strength and presence to be a part of everything that went on. To do God’s work, requires that people begin and end in prayer and then make every offering, every task, and every service a prayer to God—in this we will go from strength to strength.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Loveing, Trusting, and Praising God


Song of Solomon 1:1-3, 9-11, 15-16a, 2:1-3a
These readings alternate beteen the words of a woman and those of a man, each expressing their love and devotion for one another. As such, many have seen this exchange as symbolic of the love of God for Israel, Christ's love for the Church, or Christ's love for the individual believer. In any case, there is love and regard and respect apparent in these verses. They express great joy. God certainly invites that kind of love, devotion, and joy in our lives, if only we will focus ourselves on God.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Verses 8-9a are insightful: "Three times (writes Paul) I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for powere is made perfect in weakness.'" We do not know what Paul was afflicted with, what he prayed to be relieved of, but God's words offer hope to us all, espceially when we face difficulties or challenges. God's grace is sufficient and we are most powerful when we reject human power for God's grace, even if our trust in God appears to the world to be weakness.

Luke 19:28-40
I focused in on verses 39-40: "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, order your disciples to stop.' He answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.'" Christ's Lordship calls for our attention. But sometimes we may find it "inconvenient" or "embarrassing" to worship Christ with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. No matter. God will raise up stones, in necessary, to offer praise. Whuy not go ahead and make our voices a part of the chorus? Why not do what we know is right, even if others find it to be"inappropriate"?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007



I Samuel 2:12-26
This story is a contrast of sorts. It begins by telling us that the sons of Eli were scoundrels and ends with the news that Samuel grew in “stature and in favor with the Lord and other people.” When you read this story the sons of Eli were scoundrels. They had no regard for the offerings or the gifts of God. There was some sense that they thought they could get away with anything. Samuel, on the other hand matured in his relationship with God and with other people. There seems to be a challenge that we need both a relationship with God and a relationship with others. And a solid understanding of our relationship with God enables us to value God’s gifts and God’s people.

Acts 2:1-21
The disciples ability to speak in other languages does not leave the crowd speechless, but it does leave them questioning, “what does all this mean?” God’s presence and word to us can leave us wondering and questioning: “what does all this mean?” When the disciples spoke there was someone to interpret. The questions and wondering didn’t last long, but the Spirit was welcomed into lives that had been paralyzed by fear, complacency and oppression. And the Spirit pushed the people beyond what they thought capable or that they imagined possible. The Spirit is still working today in our lives. Where are we being challenged?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

God's Will and God's Presence

Psalm 12
Verse 5 is an important reminder of God’s love and compassion for the poorest of society. “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up, says the Lord; ‘I will place them in the safety for which they long.’ I recently heard part of the speech made by musician/activist Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in which he says, “…God is with the vulnerable and the poor; God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house; God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives; God is in the cries heard beneath the rubble of war; God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives; and God is with us if we are with them.” God takes sides and calls us to take sides as well, to care for the least and the lost and to make our society fair and just in God’s terms.

Deuteronomy 30:11-20
Verses 11-14 struck me today: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” We do not have to go searching for God’s will or God’s presence. It is in our midst. But we can’t hide from God’s will either or assume that it does not apply to us. Nor can we relegate it to one hour a week, or exempt a period of time from God’s sovereignty. God’s will is in our midst at all times and in all places, and God’s word is valid no matter who we are or where we are.

Luke 19:1-10
The gospel lesson offers a good example of God’s presence in our midst. Verse 10 says, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Jesus indeed went and found Zacchaeus the tax collector from Jericho. God seeks us out as well, enters into our lives and lays claim to who we are and what we do. There is great comfort in the thought that God comes looking! But there is also the responsibility to do what Zacchaeus did, to seek to correct our misdeeds and to live a life of righteousness.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Humility and Sight

2 Corinthians 10:1-18
Verses 17 and 18 say, “’Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.” This is almost a retelling of the parable in Luke 18:9-14 where the Pharisee and the tax collector each pray in the temple but the humility of the tax collector is praised by Jesus over the haughtiness of the Pharisee. (See the entry for June 8, 2007.) Paul, though, is making the same point based on his experiences with the Christians in Corinth, real experiences with real people. It also makes me think of the words of Micah 6:8, “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” We should always take pride in what we are doing. We should always do our best. But we should do all things to the glory of God and not for our own aggrandizement. Clearly humility is an important aspect of a life of faith.

Luke 18:31-43
The contrast in this passage is between the disciples who are “blind” to Jesus’ foretelling of his passion (“what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what he said”—verse 34) and the blind man who understands that Jesus is the Son of David. The blind man “gets it” but the ones who can see do not. So I wonder: do I really understand what God is saying to me? Am I responding in faithful obedience, or am I blinded by the cares of the world to what God is doing and how I might be a part of it?

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Community Faith


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
When you read through verses 6-9 notice that the personal pronoun is first person plural: “When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us…we cried to the Lord…the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression…” and so forth. Neither the writer of these words, nor the original readers were present when those events took place, but they claimed them as their own as though they had been there. As Christians we continue to understand the events of salvation history to be our stories, too. The communion liturgy is one place this is very evident. Here the officiant of the meal will often include words that retell the history of God’s people and use the same first person plural pronouns as used in Deuteronomy 26. For me it is helpful to be reminded that I belong to a community of faith and that the community has a long and continual relationship with the one who has called us into being.

2 Corinthians 8:16-24
Community plays a very important role in the reading from 2 Corinthians, too. In verses 20 and 21 Paul writes, “We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others.” Paul is referring to a collection he is taking on behalf of the members of the church in Jerusalem, one to which he hopes the Corinthian Christians will contribute generously. Not only does Paul feel connected to and responsible for the church in Corinth, but he feels the same connection to and responsibility for the church in Jerusalem. It is his intention that the Christian community show mutual concern for one another, gentiles and Jewish Christians alike. And Paul intends for his actions to be above reproach, in the sight of God and of the community to which he obviously feels accountable. Paul recognizes the web of relationships that we share when we are called to be God’s people. Ours is a community faith.

Luke 18:9-14
One of my first sermons in seminary was based on this text, and while it was a dreadful bit of preaching, the passage has remained one of my favorites. I think it is important to note that while ours is a community faith, it is also vitally important for us as a part of that community to take responsibility for our own lives and our own actions. Nonetheless, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector represent types of people with whom Jesus’ audience would have been familiar and with whom they would have come in contact on a regular basis. It is important to realize that we do not live in a vacuum but that life is filled with relationships and encounters that help to color and shape our faith.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Finding Hope in God's Grace


Deuteronomy 13:1-11
2 Corinthians 13:1-11
The instructions in Deuteronomy to kill by stoning anyone who proselytes on behalf of foreign gods sounds brutal to our ears. That is essentially what happened to the young girl in Iraq who was stoned to death by members of her own religion for falling in love with a Muslim man. (It was called an honor killing.) The horrible and inexcusable event was caught on video and gained international infamy. Or perhaps we think of the many people martyred for their faith before, during, and after the Reformation in Europe; Christians killing Christians. Such acts of murder, too, were inexcusable. But the writer of Deuteronomy considered idolatry to be a tremendous threat to the people of God and made certain they understood just how serious it was. So how do we relate to this passage? Paul sheds light on the matter in 2 Corinthians 7:10: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” No matter what we do, if we rely on God’s grace we will find forgiveness that leads to reconciliation. God loves us that much. But if we turn our backs on God and seek our redemption or our salvation elsewhere—in drugs perhaps, or in adultery, anything we might call idolatry or worldliness—then we are as good as dead anyway because we have separated ourselves from the true source of hope. The admonition in Deuteronomy is harsh to our ears, but the call to a life centered in God is real and crucial if we are to find our fullest joy.

Luke 17:20-37
I love the words of Jesus found in parts of verses 20 and 21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” In this case the world “among” could also be translated “within”. Either way, though, the message is clear. If you are waiting for a discernable event, or quantifiable conditions to indicate that God’s reign is near, you are going to miss it. We already live in the presence of God’s reign. We already stand in the light of God’s sovereign providence. The kingdom of God has been described by some as “already but not yet” meaning that God is at work now, but that the fullness of God’s will has not been accomplished. Still, how wonderful to know that God is at work in our midst and that the kingdom of God is already growing and taking shape around and within us! Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

God's Presence and God's Grace


Deuteronomy 12:1-12
Verse 11 says, "…then you shall bring everything that I command you to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name…" It is uplifting to me to realize that God's presence in our lives is God's chloice, not ours; that God draws us to God, not the other way around. The writer of Deuteronomy was warning the people of Israel against idol worship, and the effect is to remind us that God is all we need in our living, that God as a source of grace is more than sufficient.

2 Corinthians 6:3-7:1
In verse 6:16 Paul quotes Leviticus 26:12: "I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Like Deuteronomy, Paul is urging his readers to separate themselves from pagan practices, but here again we are reminded of the nearness of God and of God's grace and love.

Luke 17:11-19
The grace of God is seen again in Luke where Jesus heals ten lepers. When only one of them returns to give thanks Jesus tells him, "your faith has made you well." To accept the presence of God and God's grace in our midst and to believe in this God of love is to find healing and hope for our lives. Our faith does make us well in so many ways.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Keeping God at the Center of Our Lives


Psalm 57
Psalm 57 is a psalm/song of trust. The psalmist is confident of God’s care and salvation. As we read the psalm we can almost hear the music getting louder and louder echoing the Psalmist’s words until there is a loud crescendo of voices and instruments, praising God at the end. Our lives should be full of such joy and praise as well.


Deuteronomy 11:13-19
Verses 18 and 19 echo words from Deuteronomy 6:6-9. In each case the point is that the importance of God’s word can not be overstated! “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” In other words, the word of God is to be a constant presence in our lives, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Our problems stem from all the things that compete for our attention, all of the potential idols in our lives. Every day we are tempted to listen to what our culture says is “good” or “essential” or “what we deserve” when what we are called to focus on is the word of God and the will of God. Our children need instruction, too, and not just our own family members, but all the children of our faith communities. Every time we witness a baptism we vow as congregations to help raise that child in the Christians faith. That vow requires active participation in the ministry of the church and especially in the lives of our youngest members.

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2
Wow! This section of 2 Corinthians is full of powerful images. I’ve underlined most of it as significant to me at one time or other. But today I focused on verses 14 and 15: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Paul says something similar to this in Romans 14:7-9, the point in each case being to remind his readers that we should no longer live only in or through ourselves. We live in and through Jesus Christ. Our lives, in fact, belong to Jesus Christ because he has died for us. In other worlds, to truly live we must find our lives in Christ, trust in him, be guided by him in all we do. Paul says that Christ should be a constant factor in our lives, the way Deuteronomy challenges us to keep God’s word before ourselves at all times.