Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 30 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46

Hosea 2:2-14

James 3:1-13

Matthew 13:44-52

Today’s Question:

What kind of relationship does God desire with me?

Today’s Reflection:

For many years the analogies proved to be one of the most challenging parts on the SAT. Understanding the relationships between things that do not seem to be naturally connected led to much anxiety.  Proficiency with the analogies required a deep understanding of word origins, literal and implied meaning, along with types of relationships that exist. The passages today may create similar anxiety among the readers of today. Symbolism fills the language of the prophet, the teacher, and the Messiah.


Each one focuses on relationships between people and God with the relationship presented in various symbolic ways. Hosea presents the relationship between God and his people as a marriage. James discourse on the tongue includes the image of a teacher presenting truth, while the Gospel passage gives the picture of business people making drastic moves for a thing of value. Each of the encounters gives us assurance of God’s consistency across the ages.


Hosea’s adulterous wife was the people of Israel, straying from the laws of God that led them through the desert and gave them the promised land. The descriptions he provides as he pleads with the people were ones they would recognize associated with pagan worship in the region. The passage ends with him planning to take the people back to the desert where their relationship with God was strongest with a chance to heal the relationship. That is why God sent prophets – to bring the people back into a healthy relationship.


The same thing happens with teachers who are given the weighty responsibility to teach all correctly. In the Christian era, they hold responsibility for passing Christ’s truth to all people so that they may not stray from the teaching of Christ. The teacher’s charge kept the people in the right relationship with God, as did (attempted) the prophets prior to Christ. All the talk about sins of the tongue in this passage comes down to the way we worship God. We cannot praise God and curse people and remain in the right relationship with God. Our character appears in the speech we use.


Jesus uses the imagery of business as he instructs on the values of Heaven (having the right relationship with God). He gives examples of people making sacrifices to acquire items of great value. They do whatever is necessary to get the item. New Christians had to be prepared for the sacrifices they would need to make. We, too, are called to sacrifice for the kingdom of God.


God gives us the directions we need to stay in relationship with him and those directions are consistent across the generations. Keeping the commands and remaining true to the covenant God makes with us keeps us in the right relationship with the Lord. Daily challenges come our way, from the tongue to more obvious pitfalls; however, we are equipped with teaching from the Holy Spirit to act in the way that keeps us in the right relationship with God and mankind. Each of the relationships is personal and that is exactly the way God wants it with us.


Over and over we see that our relationships with God and with humankind ultimately determine our own quality of life (and eternity). God gives us the directions; we just have to read them.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us continue to focus on the directions we are given to maintain the relationship God desires with us.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 23 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 93, 96, 34

Esther 3:1 – 4:3

James 1:19-27

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Today’s Question:

How do we control our human nature to live as God desires?

Today’s Reflection:

At work, almost everyone can cite at least one instance in which they saw my passion burst forth – energetically, emphatically. I know what I believe in my profession. When I see something different, I do not hesitate to speak up – energetically, emphatically. As Christians we are called to be doers of the word which requires that we follow the teaching of Christ guided by the Holy Spirit to do what God has demanded and equipped us to do.


The New Testament passages in James and Matthew give us specific directions for being doers of the word. That actual statement, “doers of the word,” comes from the James passage. Some define religion as the set of beliefs one holds based on the pew in which one sits on Sunday morning. The way I read the James passage, religion is what happens between noon on Sunday and 9:30 the next Sunday morning. Those who store away the volumes of teaching that comes from the pulpit or Bible study room– leaving it potential energy instead of converting it to kinetic energy – are no more followers of Christ than those who reject him entirely. That teaching, that belief, is worthless. Belief, without behaviors shaped by that belief, is not belief. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew when describing the behavior of the religious leaders. Their behavior glorified themselves in the eyes of man. It did not glorify God or even themselves in the eyes of God.


Both passages give us a reminder that our relationship with God is a private matter, not a public one. We have a 1:1 relationship with God. Every relationship is different. We honor that relationship by living it actively every day. Humbly. Quietly. When we draw attention to our work, we dishonor it; however, the doing of that work will draw attention without us trumpeting it on Twitter or Facebook. James 1:27 describes such a belief/lifestyle: one unstained by the world. That stands out because it is so different. We do not have to make it noticed.


The first verse in today’s James passage connects the testaments. Giving solid practical advice “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…” reminds us to get the complete story and to then respond as God would have us. The Esther passage from the Old Testament today sets up the story of the planned genocide of Jews because they remained true to the worship of God rather than following the king’s decree to worship him and his highest ranking official. The official, Haman, was so angry about one person’s, Mordecai, refusal to bow, that he successfully lobbied the king to set forth a decree that all Jews be killed on the selected day and their property raided. The connection to James 1 is striking. A leader, in anger, exercises his authority satisfy his desire for revenge that the decisions ultimately led to his own destruction. James follows the “quick to listen” statement with a reminder that our “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”


The people Jesus calls hypocrites in Matthew mirror Haman’s behavior. His actions demonstrated his personal (wounded) pride and vanity in his elevated position. The hypocrites actions demonstrated their own personal pride and vanity through the good actions (tithing, praying, etc.) done badly.


The passages also reflect our humanity. We all appreciate that pat on the back when we do something good. Though we may not admit it, we dream a little secret revenge when we feel we have been wronged: our brains are wired that way. James and Matthew provide directions for keeping those things under control. Following the guidance of Jesus as told in Matthew and then James practical direction in even broader aspects of life, we have the satisfaction that we did the right thing; internal peace of mind is better than a pat on the back. That pat is soon forgotten. Not enacting revenge does even more for our peace of mind. The pats we then receive for gaining peace of mind and being “doers” are eternal.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us overcome our vanity, pride, and desire for praise (revenge) in order to daily live the lives that truly change the world and grow God’s kingdom on earth.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84

Job 38:1, 18-41

Revelation 18:1-8

Matthew 5:21-26

Today’s Question:

How do we respond to those who disagree with us and our beliefs?

Today’s Reflection:

The attacks on United States embassies in Africa and the Middle East this week came about from factors both current and historic. One often cited reason behind the conflict between the Christian and Muslim world is intolerance. Both sides recite a litany of attacks on their belief by the other as justification for anger, frustration, and fear. The passages today allow us to focus on things we have in common.


God’s position in creation provides the centerpiece for many of the passages today. The Psalms praise God in his place in the heavens and identify connections between those who praise him. Psalm 24 and 84 concern the people who worship God and follow his directives. Psalm 29 makes reference to heavenly beings praising God, while Psalm 8 reminds us of our place in relationship to God. The Psalms encourage us to worship and follow God’s commands while reminding us of our special standing in creation.


In Job, God begins his response (defense) to the charges Job’s friends have made in their speeches to him. God’s response consists of questions that cover all of creation and God’s active involvement in it. The brief collection of questions in today’s selection gives an idea of the type of questions that methodically proceed through all parts of creation. Such questions as a teaching method come from the north African/Arabian tradition and are a common motif in literature from the region. It forces the listener (remember this comes out of an oral tradition) to reflect on what one has learned about God in creation. Connected to Psalm 8, the questions help us remember our place in creation when compared to the Creator.


The passage from Revelation foretells the (relatively soon) fall of Rome. Babylon served as the generic reference for power. The verses condemn all the leaders for their participation in evil deeds. When the author talks about leaders committing fornication, he includes the religious leaders’ infidelity to the Jewish tradition as a way to buy peace from the conquerors. Instead, he calls on the people of faith to leave the nation rather than join in the larger sin. The author describes a fall that will be twice what the nation did to other countries as it raided them. God offers the people an escape from the plagues that will come in the judgment removing themselves from the sin of the nation.


For a second week Jesus’s teaching from Matthew strikes at the heart of the law. For most of us, the command, “You shall not murder.” is easy to follow. Jesus redefines it as, “You shall not live in anger or insult.” He turns the law from a rare extreme to a common occurrence. Our conduct does not have to be extreme to violate the intent of the law – love your neighbor. We owe each other justice in every situation. We cannot be right with God if we are wrong with one another.


Today’s passages give us no place for intolerance and any such rhetoric or behavior runs contrary to the Bible. There is no verse that allows for vilification of those who believe differently than we do: as Christians, God commands us to share with them. We cannot control the world around us, but we can control us and become the difference that changes the world around us. Directing angry rhetoric toward those who believe differently than we do never succeeds in creating dialogue. Until there is dialogue, no change will take place. The Bible guides us to a united faith in God – not a war of words.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us seek what we have in common as we seek to live the command to love one another.


September 16, 2012; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B - Roman Catholic Lectionary


Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 9 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 63, 98, 103

Job 25:1-6, 27:1-6

Revelation 14:1-7, 13

Matthew 5:13-20

Today’s Question:

In the busyness of daily life, how do I do everything God would have me do?

Today’s Reflection:

My vocation keeps me busy year-round; however, there are a few times in the year when I think I would best be served if I could go a couple weeks without sleep and I wonder how to do everything I believe God wants me to do. The scriptures from today’s lectionary remind me that mostly God looks at how I do what I do rather than what I do.


The three Psalms of praise give some direction to how we should praise God. They remind us to be loud, jubilant, and constant in our praise for him. Though circumstances around us may challenge our faith in the instant, the scripture calls our attention to God’s eternal plan. Even when challenged, our praise in those times will carry rewards into eternity. In the context of today’s passages, I read Psalm 63:9 differently than before: though my opposition my kill me, they will suffer more. Last week the Job passage talked about the theme of reward and punishment. This week, I see that in a passage that is otherwise interpreted as a provision of safety.


Job continues to hear the challenges from his friends. Bildad offers the final rebuke, placing mankind in the most distant position from God – as the maggot which devours the dead. Surely mankind has no standing against God. Yet Job maintains his position of righteousness. No matter how unjust the events in Job’s life seems to be, he continues to be determined to hold onto his faith and seek justice from that same God. The clearness of Job’s conscience is something I can only hope to have.


So much of Revelation hides in symbolism. Some of it quiet unclear, and some of it much more clear. The symbols in the passage today have connections to other scriptures to help us understand them with more ease than some of the other passages. The numerology in the 144,000 – sometime called the elect – reflects the many who died for their faith (name written on their forehead) in the period up to the final judgment. Contrary to how some sects interpret the passage, the elect who make it to Heaven is not limited to that number. One hundred forty-four (12 X 12) is a complete number indicating multitudes (the thousands). It simply means many people will suffer persecution for following God before Christ returns. The reference to sexual purity connects to the ritual celibacy that comes as part of religious ceremony and war preparation, not an entire lifetime of abstinence.  The passage closes with the promise that affirms the importance of the lives we live before reaching Heaven. It states, without symbolism or interpretive language that the deeds we do go with us to Heaven.


Jesus calls us to join in his kingdom and share it by declaring that we are salt and light. Salt, joined to food, brings out its flavor. Too much and salt dominates; too little and the food tastes bland. We are to join in the world and by our actions shape the actions in the world around us by living the way God would have us. He commands us to share openly (as the light) in the world around us so that the entire world knows why we do as we do. Jesus further explains what the kind of living means. Following him does not excuse us from the law, but counts on us to live the law (as Jesus summarizes it – love God and love your neighbor). Jesus adamantly insists that the law exists for our good, but he comes and preaches the heart of the law rather than the letter of the law as so many in his time were preaching. Jesus could summarize the law into the two commandments because coming from the heart, it works for the good of all while the legalistic interpretation always pits persons against each other by virtue of interpretation.


Living our lives as salt and light, with a clear conscience, and building up deeds that will follow us to Heaven does not require that we go out and do something particularly challenging. We are called to live our lives, do our jobs, and interact from the perspective of loving God and our neighbor. We can minister by going to work. We can minister by shopping. We can minister by going to the gym. In all things, as we consider the good of others, we shine the light of God into our community.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us remember your commandment to love God and love one another in every action we do.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 2 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 148, 149, 150, 114, 115

Job 11:1-9, 13-20

Revelation 5:1-14

Matthew 5:1-12

Today’s Question:

Where is the hope in even challenging scripture?

Today’s Reflection:

Scriptures focusing on the end times normally make us shy away from in depth investigation because it is all so mysterious. From the occasional passage in the Old Testament to the entire book of Revelation, we find a great challenge in eschatological Biblical literature. As confusing as it may be, these scriptures offer us the great promise.


The Psalms today approach an eschatological tone in considering the tone of worship centering on God on his throne. The throng of people praising God with the angels with instruments and song. At the time these Psalms were composed, Jews did not believe in an afterlife (115:17), so it was a job in life to join the heavenly host in worshiping the God who had done so much for them.


The speech from Zophar focuses on the doctrinal theme of reward and punishment. Wisdom held that those who suffered did so because of some wrong they had done. Throughout much of the Old Testament, much of the scripture shared examples of that reward/punishment based on the behaviors of the people in the story. Zophar demands that Job refrain from his righteous speech because there is no way he can be righteous compared to God which comes from the traditional interpretation of the law at that time founded in the wisdom tradition.


In Revelation we see the manifestation of the Christ presented as both a lion and a lamb. The passage uses names, numerology, situation, and history to exult the risen Christ and his role in the eternity of the church. The numbers represent completeness and the names reflect title for the Messiah from the Old Testament. The persons present (24 elders) represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. As cryptic as the text may seem, it begins the revelation of the beginning of the new kingdom of God.


In the beatitudes beginning the “Sermon on the Mount” we find a guide for living through the tough times. They provide hope for the faithful in eternity. While often overlooked, they are eschatological in that the rewards promised in verse 12 will come when those who endured the hardships named (and foretold) in the passage come upon the person reaching heaven. We return to these verses very often for the hope they inspire for those who live a good life of those qualities.


The challenge in eschatological literature come from language filled with symbolism for an audience far different than we are today. Whether we fully understand any of the interpretations that come from reading of those scriptures, we can take hope from the promises made across scripture for those who achieve salvation.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us cling to the promise of Heaven.