Tuesday, June 26, 2012

July 1 Ordinary Time Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 118, 145

Numbers 21:4-9, 21-35

Acts 17:12-34

Luke 13:10-17

Today’s Question:

How do we respond when we face opposition to our belief?

Today’s Reflection:

No matter how absolutely perfect is an idea I have at work, I can count on a certain handful of people to be in opposition to it. We come from vastly different philosophical and experiential perspectives, so our natural inclination leads us to respond to ideas from the other as questionable, different, or simply not what we would do. Even good ideas that undoubtedly move us in a way we need to go face that skepticism. I want to declare, “resistance is futile!” As much as this happens in the professional realm, acting on faith compounds the resistance one finds when confronted with those whose faith is different.

Today’s passages in the Psalms celebrate a God who supports, chastises, and redeems his people. No matter the circumstance, we have a God who supports us as long as we do that which he asks of us. Psalm 118:6 places that support of God over any opposition of mortal man by asking the question (paraphrased) “When God is with me who cares what others do?” The passages also recognize that from time-to-time we fall short of what God wants, but he does not totally reject us when we fail – and despite the ways others view that shortcoming, God redeems and brings us fully back into his good graces – even as leaders as 118:22 promises. The redemptive power of God overwhelms all shortcomings and provides comfort in all doubt.

One more time in Numbers we see the Israelites in a state of discontent. As they wander in the wilderness, they reach a level of frustration to the point that they speak out directly against God and Moses. The attack on God and Moses lead to an infestation of venomous snakes that killed many people. One more time, the Israelites come in repentance and God offers a means of salvation for his people. The means of rescue later became an idol for many and was likely the serpent idol destroyed later in the history of the Israelites. Despite the discontent of the people, God continued to stand with them in conflicts as they encountered established peoples in the lands where they were wandering. When a king stood against them or blocked their way, God delivered a resounding victory to the Israelites and as one passage demonstrated today complete annihilation of one king and all his people. Even though the Israelites became frustrated with the circumstances in which they found themselves, they held on to their faith and remained with God.

When Paul faced dangerous threats from Jews in one region, he traveled to a new area and continued his ministry there. One such event took him to Athens, a center of scholarship and religion. In his teachings there, he encountered people from all spectrums of the society. The encounter brought him notice and he was called to speak at the center of debate in the city. Paul, through his conversations and study, came in well prepared to connect the beliefs of the people there to the good news of Jesus. He took the cold hard statues of the many gods of the Greeks and presented instead a living God in answer to the question the scholars had about the unknown god. Unlike the other gods, Paul’s God personally connected with everyone and was the ancestor of every man. Opposition questioned him. Some rejected it outright. Others sought more information. Some accepted his teaching. The ideas were far from the historical faith of the Athenians. Paul, though, continued to teach and share the Gospel.

Yet again a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders forms the center of another lesson about working in God’s will. When Jesus heals a woman long afflicted by an ailment, the leader challenges him for breaking the Sabbath. Jesus turns the confrontation around and basically asks what has more value a woman afflicted by Satan or one’s pack animals, for even the law allows for care of animals on the Sabbath.

God’s love demands that we continue doing his will no matter the circumstance or resistance we find. The military attacks faced by the Israelites, the political challenges confronted by Paul, and the religious intolerance Jesus faced give us a variety of the resistance we find even in the world today. Search the headlines and all forms can be found much more commonly than we might expect, especially for military attacks. In the last few months the every Sunday attacks on Christian churches in Africa have become standard fare. Both pro and anti-church political activities flourish across the world. Perhaps most difficult to address are the dogma-on-dogma battles that happen within the Church. When every side claims the will of God as motivation, common ground can be hard to find. Sometimes finding good will presents the hardest challenge we face. Nevertheless, God demands we persist. When we open our eyes beyond the basic dogma that guides our own actions and connect to the wholeness of God’s word and will, the limits we face fade away into minor glitches.


After seeing the outcome of the different situations presented in the passages today, I can hear God whispering, “resistance is futile,” as I move forward and do what he commands.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us seek to genuinely seek to know God’s will and persist through the challenges we face, knowing that God will provide all that we need to do his will.




Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 24 - Ordinary Time Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46

Numbers 14:26-45

Acts 15:1-12

Luke 12:49-56

Today’s Question:

How do we respond in challenging situations?

Today’s Reflection:

Conflict and discontent have been a part of the social (dis)order longer than the church itself. Human nature (free will?) leads us to have different interpretations of events around us and in times of rapid change, as we see in some of the Bible passages today, change leads to stress which escalates to open conflict between people and can threaten the church itself.

The Psalms passages provide assurances of God’s service and care for us in times of trouble. No matter what we have going on in our lives, God supports us through such times. I find particular assurance in Psalm 46:1 which reminds me that God is “a very present help in trouble.” Regardless of catastrophe happening across the world around us, God is there.

The newly rescued Israelites faced no shortage of conflict themselves. Despite experiencing first-hand the dramatic miracles in their rescue, they still doubted God’s ability to provide the promised land. After hearing of the peoples who inhabited the land, they refused to go forward and claim God’s promise. For this reason, God condemned the generation of leaders to wander the desert one year for every day they had spied on the land. Even despite the proclamation, a group of Israelites decided to go ahead and as a result were destroyed by the peoples they encountered. The Israelites lived off God’s promise from day-to-day. Nevertheless, they refused to act on the belief when it came to claiming the land God provided for them. Their human nature could not accept their own power in God.

Today’s Acts passage lets us see just how little things have changed in the church since its beginning. One group of believers held on to the Old Testament law, for little more reason than God had commanded it. They believed in the New Covenant through Jesus, but they had trouble giving up the Old Covenant. There had been a way for Gentiles to convert to Judaism, but that involved circumcision and following a set of rules. It was the way they knew. Suddenly there was that tradition that was completely gone and there was a totally new way of doing things.

How often do we see this in the church today?

I find myself sympathizing with those who came in teaching the requirement of circumcision. Anything different violated what they had been taught for a lifetime – and many generations before. Nevertheless, I find myself cheering for the apostles as they proclaim the living word of God and his love and salvation for ALL people. The debate on the New Covenant provided a seminal moment in the church that shapes much of what we do today – yet even today, we continue to face disputes on the way to do things because of tradition even when new learning should guide new actions.

Jesus indicated as much through the event cited in Luke.  He foretells coming conflicts as people interpret his teachings even focusing on the closest relationships. The conflicts about his teachings not only exist across groups, but within the tightest social structures. While we often want to see Jesus one who brought peace and unity, the reality remains that he brought division between the people of his time: a tradition that continues today.
Just like the ancient Israelites, Christians today continue to battle over God’s command. We interpret scripture to satisfy our own belief and support traditions as we have been taught – regardless of the entirety of scripture. We all find a verse here and there that support our beliefs.

As painful as change can be, we cannot afford to support our faith only with the shallow faith that comes from holding selective verses above the others. Our God is complete as is his word. The Holy Spirit does not act independent of the Father, nor does the Son keep his voice from the Holy Spirit. In the same way, we are demanded to take the entire Word as our guide. Failure to do otherwise puts us in the same circumstance as the Israelites in the wilderness: in the least bound by our own fears and unable to act with the power God has given us at the most preventing others whom God would have us bring to him from seeing God’s love. Just like the apostles and the Jews, God would have us work together to understand his desire for the world.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us learn to see beyond ourselves in a ways that accept the fullness of God’s love and being. Help us through times of conflict and change in a way that not only promotes our personal growth, but promotes the growth of your kingdom.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 17 - Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 93, 96, 34

Numbers 6:22-27

Acts 13:1-12

Luke 12:41-48

Today’s Question:

What happens when we have a call from God?

Today’s Reflection:

Very often the catch-phrase for why we do or do not do something in the realm of church is that it “was my calling” or “it was not my calling.” I have used it before – sometimes because it was a task I just did not want to do and other times quiet genuinely because I believed my calling was in a different ministry. Today’s passages all deal with callings.

The Psalms passages are all Psalms of praise, honoring God for his place and his works or his personal interactions with the people of Israel. A connection can be made, particularly with the interactions with the people of Israel to the Numbers passage. Aaron and his sons had already been called to be priests, but the Lord gave specific blessings to the Israelites as his people. The entire population was called to him. History has shown the many blessings that came from honoring that relationship and despairs for ignoring it.

Acts gives us an account of two people, Barnabas and Saul being called out for a special ministry as defined by the Lord. The rest of the passage shows what happens when people actually follow the calling. They were able to counter the wicked and witness to people with the full power of God.

Jesus’s parables provide some of the deepest teaching of Christ, but also some of the most challenging as he did not say, “Hey you, Mr. Pharisee, this is about you!” or “Hey Christian, this is about you!” We have to know the relationships between the people in the story. This passage in Luke is for all Jews and Christians. As the people of God – Old Testament and New Testament - we are all given assignments from God. Jesus leaves no doubt about the consequences of ignoring the direction.

Today’s passages are only three of many passages that record what happens when God calls individuals to do his work in this world. From the patriarchs to the prophets to the apostles the Bible is filled with ordinary humans doing extraordinary works simply by following God’s direction. Jesus’s parable demands that we consider ourselves as Christians called of God and given responsibility for the world in which we live. From the passages today, we learn that God equips those he calls with all that is needed to accomplish the mission (Acts), those who follow the mission are blessed (Numbers), and those who fail to follow the mission are punished (Luke). Just as recent passages have challenged our reliance on the Holy Spirit, now we are challenged to accept the mission God has for each of us in his kingdom here on Earth. Consistently God reminds us that he made us active participants in the world with him. He leaves no space for passive involvement.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us not only accept the assignment God has prepared for us, but to enthusiastically embrace it, knowing he will provide for every need.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10 - Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84

Ecclesiastes 6:1-12

Acts 10:9-23

Luke 12:32-40

Today’s Question:

How do we balance our spiritual pride and humility?

Today’s Reflection:

Next to the battle between good and evil, the battle between vanity and humility dominates pages of Biblical text. Sometime we are told to take pride. Other times we are told to remain humble. It is enough to make one throw his hands up in frustration. This week’s passages provide a collection of lessons on pride and vanity as we seek to navigate this world behaving well.

Each of the Psalms presents praise of God and his magnificence. Rewards come when we worship God in all his goodness. By taking this step we gain and we come into closer fellowship with him and maintain our proper status with him – being neither too vain nor too humble.

The wisdom book of Ecclesiastes focuses much of its text on vanity. The passage in chapter six presents some challenges to interpretation as much of what is presented as folly runs contrary to traditional Jewish tradition. When looked at the whole, though, the lessons provide insight into a great folly – false humility. The author presents people who have been blessed by God, but do not enjoy the blessing. While the author gives no reason for these people rejecting the blessing, his text makes it clear that rejecting the goodness God provides in our life is as bad as vainly gloating over the blessings or holding ourselves up as something we are not. Both extremes violate our right relationship with God.

How often do we decide what is holy and good based on our feelings rather than the desires of God? Peter’s encounter with the sheet of “unclean” foods coupled with the arrival of the Gentile centurion helped him realize the fullness of the New Covenant in Christ. The command from the voice that accompanied the sheet coming down from heaven stating, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,” applies to both the food on the sheet and Gentiles. It also reminds us about our levels of vanity and humility. Peter responded according to the tradition in which he had been raised while he had not fully understood the completeness of the Christ’s lessons. The encounter with both “unclean” food and “unclean” people, all righteous in the eyes of God, helped him grow in God’s kingdom.

Finally the Gospel passage from Luke addresses both wealth and austerity. While some read it to promote communal living and sharing of all resources, as is with all lessons from Christ, the message goes much deeper. We are to do those things that draw us closer to Heaven and ever live in preparation for our eternity in Heaven, rather than concentrating on epicurean delights of the earthly life. The passage does not conflict with the Ecclesiastes. It does not tell us to reject the blessings of God, but cautions us against making earthly blessings from God the aim of our faith and works.

Living with the correct level of humility and vanity always seems to be a slippery slope for the believer. The passages today help give us insight – the right status for us is guided, honestly by maintaining the right relationship with God – as the Psalms guide us – to worship him in all his majesty.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us keep our hearts focused on you, Lord, to keep our relationship with you holy and vital.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday - June 3

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 146, 147, 111, 112, 113

Job 38:1-11, 42:1-5

Revelation 19:4-6

John 1:29-34

Today’s Question:

Who is the God we celebrate on Trinity Sunday?

Today’s Reflection:

Trinity Sunday brings to the forefront one of the most challenging concepts of Christianity: the concept of a triune god. 3=1=3=GOD. I have heard teachers try to explain it using the states of water, something almost everyone is familiar with, to explain the concept. Solid, liquid, gas, but all the same compound. The explanation fails in that the three states do not exist naturally at the same time. The physics of temperature prevent that. Our triune God, though, exists constantly and eternally, in all iterations simultaneously. The passages today force us to consider some of the difficult questions about God.

Job has long proven to be a thorn in the side of theologians as the interaction between Job and God raises questions that are difficult to answer. God fails to answer Job’s challenges, instead responding, in an Oz-ian way, “I am great and powerful. Fear me.” After a time, Job comes back with a response that is ironic at best and possibly sarcastic. God ultimately caves and restores to Job double what was taken as part of God’s wager with Satan. The idea that God would wager with Satan and then cave into the object of the wager, raises immense challenges to the idea of an infallible God.

The Revelation passage offers a brief description of universal praise. The use of the word, “Hallelujah” occurs only in these passages of the New Testament. It is a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament that means, “praise Yaweh” and comes in here as it occurs in the celebration of the restoration of the Holy City. It comes at the time when humanity begins the eternal life in Heaven in the presence of God.

In John, John recounts the baptism of Jesus, not by telling of the event, but revealing his reaction to it. The passage reflects typical John writing with riddles and twisted sentences that logically prove Jesus’s “Christness.” Among the Gospels, the John account of the baptism differs in that it does not describe the actual event and it does not describe the distinct presence of each part of the Trinity. It does emphasize Jesus as Christ.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in each of the passages today comes from the fact that each of the passages leaves us with an incomplete vision of God. Recognition of the complexity of the deity builds the greater part of the wonder of Trinity Sunday. As we take this time to look into the nature of God, we can celebrate a God bigger than we are capable to understand. Passages through the Bible present the argument of the wisdom tradition and of the knowledge tradition. Both are panes to the same window that give part of the picture. Today, we rejoice in those parts we know and look forward to the time when we can see clearly the triune God we worship.

Today’s Prayer: Let us recognize our limitations and accept the limitlessness of our God. Open our eyes, ears, and hearts to rejoice in the challenge of the present and promise of the future.