Sunday, August 26, 2012

Twent-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 26, 2012 - Year B - Roman Catholic

Today's Readings

First Reading: John 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Psalm: Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32

Gospel Reading: John 6:60-69

August 26 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 146, 147, 111, 112, 113

Job 4:1-6, 12-21

Revelation 4

Mark 6:1-6

Today’s Question:

What do we do when confronted by our own doubt?

Today’s Reflection:

I dread being asked a question for which I should know the answer, but cannot recall it instantly. Even as I eventually recall the response at some point in the near future, I face a period of doubt, even over a subject at which I am considered an expert. The same thing happens to all of us from time to time when we confront a situation that conflicts with our belief - or what we have been taught is church doctrine. The passages today give us some guidance about facing doubt.


The Psalms passages remind us of who God is and why we worship him. They could be read, with their listing of God’s works, as saying he has “earned” our worship. Such an interpretation does not take into consideration the entirety of scripture. We worship for God for who he is, not the things he has done. Several of the verses address the concept of doubt we see in the overall collection. In 146, verse 8 mentions “opening the eyes of the blind” – helping those who do not know or understand him to know God. Psalm 147:5 speaks of his “understanding beyond measure.” The passages assure us of that the things God “does” emanate from his nature, not from any effort to “earn” our devotion.


One of the most challenging books in the Bible, Job, takes us through a lengthy debate about why things happen to people, and how we respond when those things happen. The verses from chapter four today come from one of his friends who have come to Job following his loses. He questions Job’s perspective on the situation after praising Job for his good works in supporting others through difficulty. He suggests that Job may be too close to the events to have a good view of it and goes on to recount a dream (revelation) he had. The dream brings out a brief revelation of God’s nature and asks the question of whether anyone can be good in the presence of God who is perfect. He doubts Job’s claims to have suffered unjustly because no matter how good he is, he was not “good” in relation to God.


In Revelation chapter 4 we are brought to the throne of God where all doubt is cast aside by the presence of God himself. Ecstatic worship and splendid sights abound in the presence when we encounter the nature of God directly – with no more middle-man giving it to us. Connections to history come with the 24 worshipers (tribes of Israel + apostles), the thunder and lightning (God’s appearance on the mountaintop). The creatures represent creation and God’s eternal watchfulness over it. The fulfillment of our faith comes in that presence.


Jesus encounters people he has known his entire life in the Mark passage. The familiarity blinds the people to seeing who he is. They knew his siblings, hired him for construction work, worshiped with him at synagogue. Suddenly he becomes a breakout faith leader. Their familiarity created an insurmountable doubt in his words as a teacher. Unlike the woman whose faith moved her to simply touch his garment for healing, the people of his hometown lack enough faith despite evidence.


Doubt is not something for us to fear. While God is eternally consistent in his nature, we struggle to understand the “why” behind everything that happens. We are driven to understand things that are beyond our understanding. Doubting forces us to ask the questions that move us forward in understanding. The understanding we gain comes in knowing God’s nature. We do not always understand the “why,” be we grow in our faith. Job, the elders at the throne, and the people of Jesus’s hometown all dealt with doubt. Some grew, some overcame, and some failed. I am in the Jobian category but look forward to the elders’ experience.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us embrace the doubts we have from time to time and take the opportunity to grow in our faith.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 19, 2012 - Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B - Roman Catholic Lectionary



August 19 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 118, 145

Judges 16:15-31

2 Corinthians 13:1-11

Mark 5:25-34

Today’s Question:

How do we judge who has lived faithfully and is it our position to judge?

Today’s Reflection:

Every day life demands us to make decisions. Some are the mundane what to wear, which cereal to have for breakfast type decisions while the ethical how to respond to the angry email or the racist/sexist/off-color joke in the break room provide us the opportunity to demonstrate our faith’s status in our daily lives. We often think making a “faith decision” implies a call to ministry or a missionary field. The Scriptures for today focus on the everyday decisions we make.


Psalms of praise seem to dominate the book. The two praise Psalms today connect the people with specific reasons and directions for praising in the Temple. They detail specific events when the power of God intervened in the lives of his people. Reminding the Israelites of the special history helped to keep the people faithful across generations before any written document of faith was created. When they lived faithfully, God was faithful to them.


The story of Samson (in Judges) has long been used as a story to warn Christians about being influenced by people who do not share common beliefs with them (anyone who is not a Christian). Samson’s story though, goes deeper than poor choice of a girlfriend. While it was a matter of the heart that led to Samson’s fall, the story further illustrates the power of a vow made to God (as we saw last week). He had been so pestered by Delilah, that he used a phrase (tired to death) found in prophetic literature when a prophet would rather die than give the appointed message to the people. The nazirite vow (as presented Biblically) would have come to an end with the first person Samson killed. Cutting the hair was one way of voluntarily leaving the sect (though one could rejoin after regrowing the hair). It was likely Samson (as many others) did not take the specifics of the vow seriously, yet with Samson the vow had a special meaning as it was through that vow that he had the special relationship with God. As a military leader and judge of the people, he had special standing through a blessing from God. While many others could break the vow without consequence, Samson was bound to a higher standard as a person called to live faithfully to God in order to execute his will.


Paul’s experience with the church at Corinth had been one of difficulty since its founding. He made visits and sent letters and messengers with instructions to escape the false teachings and divisions with which the church had long struggled. As Paul closed the final passage of what we now know as 2 Corinthians, he stridently warns them about continuing to operate in ways outside the church teaching. Perhaps the strongest of his admonitions let the church know they could not continue to judge (test) others when there was little proof that they would pass the test themselves. Because Paul sometimes wrote in a legalistic and technical style, the language can be hard to understand; nevertheless, in this passage he makes it clear that God is the Judge and he will stand with anyone living faithfully – no matter what conclusion the world (or the church at Corinth) came to.


The woman who navigated the crowd to touch Jesus’s clothing was one of several stories in which a person received healing based on actions that demonstrated their faith. We often hear about the “power of faith.” Jesus noticed the woman when he felt the power drawn from him. Jesus called out the woman and affirmed that it was her faith that had healed her.


The passages today offer a range of faithful (or unfaithful) actions and the consequences that emerge from them. Samson likely considered his ultimate capitulation to Delilah as something of little or no consequence, yet it led to his death and trouble for the people of Israel. The Corinthian church struggled with faithful living and their role in evaluating what constituted following God. As a result, divisions and strife leading to a damaged witness in the community and the emergent Christian presence throughout the Mediterranean define the church to us today. For the faithful woman, living her faith was a matter of health or illness for her alone, yet she became an example for all future Christians. Regardless what we think of the connection to our faith in the decisions we make, the Bible makes clear that living by faith involves everything we do, not just those decisions we make for church. While it is something we do individually, its impact extends beyond our personal sphere.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us daily walk in faith in all parts of our life knowing that God stands with those who do and understanding the consequences for those who do not.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B - Roman Catholic Lectionary



August 12 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46

Judges 11:1-11, 29-40

2 Corinthians 11:21-31

Mark 4:35-41

Today’s Question:

What happens when the Spirit is with us in our endeavors?

Today’s Reflection:

There are times when I need my entire team around me, all working the same direction to accomplish our work goals. Sometimes I just need one or two select people to get things done more efficiently. Every once in a while I find myself resorting to bargaining and sometimes even shaming them to get done what needs to be done. Often, I stand up and do the work by example. We see some of the same things happening in the passages today as the Holy Spirit works through people to accomplish God’s plan.


The Psalms passages celebrate God’s presence with his people and myriad benefits from that presence. Examples from worship and history remind the people of God’s grace when they keep in good standing with him while citing a few instances of what happens when they turn from God.


The circumstances around Jephthah coming to leadership in the Israelite army offer elements of the prodigal son and Abraham stories. His status by birth caused him to be an outcast among those in line to inherit leadership, so he fled and became a self-made man (largely by plunder). His skill as a military leader, though, captured the attention of the leadership in Israel when they were under attack. He comes back, with the spirit of the Lord upon him, and delivers victory for the Israelites. Sadly, his own vanity tempers what could have been a glorious celebration. Despite the spirit already being with him, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord stating what he would do if he was given success over the Ammonites. Many scholars believe he misspoke in making his vow; nevertheless, he was bound by the words he said. When his daughter appeared to greet him, the foolishness of his vow became apparent. In an ironic twist, after defeating the Ammonites who practiced child sacrifice, Jephthah found himself bound to sacrifice his child which was not acceptable in Jewish culture.


Even though the circumstances are particularly gruesome, the exchange between Jephthah and his daughter demonstrates a contrast between vanity and wisdom. His vow, and then his response to his daughter when she comes out to greet him (he blames her for putting him in the grievous situation of having to kill her) furthers the idea of his self-centered focus. Her response places her as the voice of wisdom. She too makes a deal (with her father) so she can prepare for her death. Dying a virgin especially distressed women in that time because they had never given birth to a child who would carry on their name. That she was never named in the story reflects that forgotten nature.


As often happens in the letters of Paul, he addresses conflict within the church. The 2 Corinthians versus are the central part of a much longer speech delivered by Paul against the opponents who challenge his authority. He defends himself by both bragging about the abuse he has endured (much of it at their hands – a move to shame them) while building the difference between true Apostles and the false apostles circulating through the church at the time. Paul concludes this portion of the speech by declaring his reliance on God’s power to see him through – no matter what the opposition does. That presence of God with him proves that he is a true Apostle.


Although early in the ministry of Jesus, he has shown authority over the spirit world. In this popular passage, Jesus and the Apostles are crossing a sea when the storm arises while Jesus sleeps. Everyone else has great fear, but Jesus calmly steps out, silences the wind, calms the sea, and challenges the faith of those with him.  He is Jesus after all, and he has power over all creation. Those around him do not understand the fullness of what it means to be with Jesus; they only know history- storms are dangerous and people drown. Jesus calm and assurance reminds us that everything is different with him.


God’s presence with all the players in the selections today shows the effects of God’s participation in actions of his people. The degree of faith of those people distinguishes each situation. The Judges passage shows a failure of belief as Jephthah bargains with God despite already having the blessing. Paul contrasts that lack of full faith with his overwhelming response to God. Those with Jesus on the boat are learning to be faithful even though they do not fully understand it. Negotiating the faith landscape can be tricky as we come into the trek with experience and a personal history. Bargaining, shaming, modeling have all worked for us in different situations in the past. With the Holy Spirit none of that is required. When we act on God’s will, God provides all we need to be successful. He knows our every need and is faithful to supply; we have to overcome our experience and history and accept his grace.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us welcome your presence with us and accept that presence as it is, knowing it is all we need to do your will.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Roman Catholic - Year B

August 5 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 93, 96, 34

Judges 6:1-24

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Mark 3:20-30

Today’s Question:

What role does giving have for Christians today?

Today’s Reflection:

Like Gideon, I struggled with the message from the texts today. When I first read the passages, the texts struck me as being all over the place topically. Normally, on the first reading, I recognize a theme and meditate on it as I re-read the passages. Confusion reigned through the first few readings. Finally, the Gospel passage came into focus and the remaining scriptures illuminated.


All three Psalms today focus on the praise of God. In that praise, they offer a guide for good and right worship (Psalm 96) and good and right living (Psalm 34). They put the law in language that applies to daily life and reminds us that worship can be a joyful experience, not something confined to stuffy ritual.


Whenever a passage begins, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” prepare for trials and tribulations. Judges 6 starts off with Israel being captured by the frequent foe, Midian. The occupation forced the Israelites into hiding in the caves and remote reaches of the mountains. They were unable to raise their animals or crops. As often happens in the history of Israel, God anoints a leader to save his people. God holds his 1:1 meeting with Gideon. While Gideon does not recognize God, he accepts the message and offers a gift of food for the Lord. Even though they were starving, Gideon presents food to the stranger. He follows the rules of hospitality and is willing to give what his family desperately needs. The response of the angel of the Lord confirms the message Gideon received and begins the process releasing Israel from its punishment.


“God loves a cheerful giver!” comes directly from the 2 Corinthians passage this week. Paul explains the value of giving to the work of God around the world. The passage is as much about evangelism as it is about offerings. When we give, we are rewarded so that we can continue giving. Sharing and offering comes from generosity rather than compulsion.


The difference between the Holy Spirit and Satan provides the focus of the Gospel passage. While the leaders attempt to discredit Jesus by accusing him of using the power of Satan to do the miracles. Jesus, as he so often does, uses the power of the parable to counter the charges. He explains the difference between God and Satan. While the passage does not directly address giving, the Holy Spirit – a gift from God, which we accept and receive salvation, or reject (blaspheme) and receive damnation, is presented as the force which allows the God’s work to be done.


Giving, whether commanded as the tithe or voluntary as an offering, has been the source of much conflict – to the point of murder - in the Bible. It has led to blessing and cursing. Nevertheless, we continue to misunderstand what God wants from it. Ultimately, God does not “need” a single contribution from any of us. Our giving, though, connects us intimately to the work of God around the world. He wants us to be a part of it and gives us the opportunity by giving both monetarily and spiritually.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us examine our hearts that we may give in ways that glorifies God and connects us to his work around the world.