Saturday, October 27, 2012

October 28 - Ordinary Time

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

Psalm 63, 98, 103

Esther 3:1-15

1 Corinthians 10:15-25

Matthew 18:15-20

Today’s Question:

What guidance does the Bible give about our affiliation with others?

Today’s Reflection:

There were so many clever ways to begin today’s reflection that I felt stymied by a bit of writer’s block. I wanted to relate tales of Baptist pot-luck dinners. But then Arab proverbs came to mind. The passages, filled with food events and relationships bring to mind many of the conflicts in the Bible. Each of the passages considers relationships that are beneficial to some and harmful to others – most of which are celebrated around the table.

He who lies down with dogs wakes up with fleas.

The Arab proverb won out because the Baptist pot-luck food was always just too good.

Just as the Bible provides guidance in our relationship with God, it provides guidance to the relationships we have in daily life. Who we affiliate with, and how we affiliate with them matters. Affiliations professionally, religiously, and socially shape how we are seen by others.

King Ahasuerus, generally portrayed as a good leader, finds himself in an awkward position through his friendship, and trust of Haman, his chief advisor. His trust in Haman allowed him to give him full authority across the nation. That friendship, demonstrated through meals and drinking together, hid from him the vain motives behind Haman’s actions. Fortunately, he became aware of the motives in time to counteract them, but not before he was connected to the actions; after all, his signet ring sealed the original decree.

Food offered to God in the Temple, after the ritual, could be eaten by the priests according to the law. All offerings followed kosher guidelines and were known to be ritualistic and symbolic. The foods offered to gods in Corinthians did not follow the same guidelines. Daniel, in Bel and the Dragon, an Apocryphal book, caught the priests of Baal stealing the food left out for an idol in an attempt to show the idol was alive and actually ate the food left for it – meaning the food was anything but symbolic. The same idea comes out in Corinthians. Though, under the New Covenant, the food was acceptable to eat, it was tainted by the sin through the intention behind its preparation. Paul seeks to make that distinction for us: just because the food would cause us no harm, does not mean the action of partaking in it would not.

Do not mistake the passage to mean we cannot reach out to sinners – Jesus commanded us to. What Paul means for us is to not become immersed in the activities of those who live un-Christian lives. Jesus regularly engaged those who were outcasts of faith to demonstrate the power of salvation, but he never engaged in the tax fraud, prostitution, or other behaviors that defined the people his ministry touched. The same is true for us: we are called to share the path of salvation, but we do not have to walk the same path to get there.

Just as the Corinthians passage discusses our affiliation with the “unchurched,” the Matthew passage discusses division within the church. Following Biblical laws of testimony, it provides step-by-step guidelines for resolving conflicts within the church family. Conflicts with those we care about create much more pain and strife than those with people to whom we do not have an emotional attachment. Our hearts operate that way. Conflicts in the church can either destroy our faith or make it stronger. The guidelines Matthew provides help us make our faith stronger and our relationships within the church stronger.

We are judged by the company we keep both inside and outside religious circles, but God sets the standards to protect our secular and holy reputations. It is not nearly as difficult as we sometime pretend it is with our feelings on our sleeves, but keeping a good reputation can be maintained by all.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us consider those around us and the example we set for them by following the example you have set for us.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21 - Ordinary Time

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

Psalm 148, 149, 114, 115

Song of Solomon 2:8-17

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Matthew 16:13-20

Today’s Question:

What does a good relationship with God look like?

Today’s Reflection:

I often sound like a broken record as I say over and over again that God wants to be in relationship with us. Each passage today records a time of close connection between God and humankind. From the time of the Israelites wandering the desert to the disciples sitting with Christ, understanding his connection to us. God took care of them and continues to provide for us. As Paul points out in the Corinthian passage, no test exceeds what we can stand.

That is the heart of the relationship.

Our lives will not be all frolicking in the fields as in the Song of Solomon, but if we maintain our relationship with God, snakes bites and other afflictions will not kill us in the wilderness. We want the Song of Solomon experience without the work. Even Adam and Eve, in the garden, had work. God assigned them the task of stewardship over all creation. We too, face the challenge of work to keep the right relationship with God. Like the Israelites, provision and protection come to us when we follow God’s will for us. Provision and protection do not come with a promise of ease; lots of walking is involved.

When we think about our relationship with God, the prophets and their descriptions of doom do not have to dominate. The Song of Solomon shows a sanguine springtime connection. It is not all gloom and doom; we have examples of happiness in our connection with God. As we work through the daily tasks God calls us to do we come into the healthy relationship. For my personal theology, based on the relationship between God and humanity, the passage from Song of Solomon paints the picture of the relationship between God and humankind when it works. God’s provision for us dominates the landscape.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us work together with God to keep our relationship vibrant, lively, and strong.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14 - Ordinary Time

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

Psalm 146, 147, 111,112,113

Micah 6:1-8

1 Corinthians 4:9-16

Matthew 15:21-28

Today’s Question:

How do we understand the breadth of God’s love in troubling situations?

Today’s Reflection:

Despite trying to be an open, outgoing, upbeat, and positive person, on some days I am downright crabby. Projects are not going right. Interruptions mar my train of thought. I am just not myself. People who know me well understand that something is really wrong when I am having one of those days. The Bible, though, even gives examples of people struggling with being the person God wants them to be. It does not excuse me for snapping at a co-worker or friend when they do not deserve it, but it does offer hope that I can overcome that bad day because, hopefully, my character is judged by my life, not one ill conceived response.


The Biblical passage that most troubles me is the passage in Matthew we read today. Jesus is outright crabby with the woman and insults all Gentiles. Over the years, I have heard numerous sermons and essays written on the passage, but none have made me comfortable with Jesus’s response to the woman – though he eventually grants her request when she calls him on his insult. He even contradicts his own ministry by saying he only came for the Jews. I usually just skip the passage or read on to the next in which the “Jesus I like” returns.


The devil on my shoulder sometimes prompts me to enjoy Jesus’s sharp remarks: he was snappy too! But why was this comment directed at a woman who believed in him and recognized his Lordship? The Sadducees and Pharisees deserved this kind of response, and while Jesus regularly called their hypocrisy and lack of understanding, he never dealt them direct insults. Yet here his response to the woman sounded like something they would say. This is not the Jesus I like.


The key to this passage comes in the crumbs. Even the crumbs, the remnants, of God’s love are sufficient for us, for with even that, the woman’s daughter was healed. Passages in the Psalms and the prophets proclaim the breadth of God’s presence in all creation. This passage transfers that breadth to God’s love for all people. Even the crumbs are enough to meet even overwhelming needs. I am still troubled by the process by which Jesus makes the point, but I do take comfort from knowing that even the crumbs of God’s love covers us all.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us be satisfied by the power of the crumbs.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 7 - Ordinary Time

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

Psalm 118, 145

Hosea 13:4-14

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Matthew 14:1-12

Today’s Question:

How do we overcome the vanity that affects our relationship with God?

Today’s Reflection:

Yesterday I watched an amazing video on YouTube. A group of tourists, animal watching in Africa, were watching and filming a herd of gazelles crossing the road ahead of them. Suddenly, a previously unseen leopard leapt up and grabbed a gazelle in mid-bound. Neither the herd of gazelles nor the vehicle filled with tourists expected such a sudden attack. The leopard lay completely camouflaged in the grass beside the road. The gazelles seemed to think the presence of humans had removed natural threats – and I am betting the tourists thought the same thing: fearsome creatures flee before our presence. The vanity that derives from human nature so often drives our decisions and behaviors.

Today’s scriptures dramatically illustrate what happens when human vanity comes between humankind and God. That vanity comes in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources. As God points out in Hosea, when he took care of Israel’s needs, the people became too comfortable and forgot about him. The Corinthian battle comes between fully-human and fully-God, and in Matthew it happens when a public declaration backfires. In our imperfection, too many openings allow for personal vanity, however it manifests, to interfere with our relationship with God. When it interferes, the outcome never works out in our favor.

I relate with many of the people in the passages today, but the Israelites in the time of Hosea sound so much like the people of today. When things go well and we are comfortable, we like to reward ourselves with congratulatory “job well-done” statements. We like to brag about the things we have accomplished, to show-off the things we have done. When our things, our works, take precedence to our relationship with God, the relationship suffers. History shows those things going well, crumble when we rely solely on our own wisdom.

Maintaining humility proves challenging to even the most sincere, but as always, God gives us the tool to make it possible: the Holy Spirit, or the “mind of Christ,” as Paul writes to the Corinthians. Christ’s experience as fully human and fully God bridges that gap between our human nature and godly purpose. We have available something the early Jews and Herod did not have, THE Spirit that guides us to understand our purpose from the perspective of God. No matter how much I want to be me, he wants me to be much more. To borrow a phrase from politics: I didn’t build it (me).

Just as the gazelles and tourists never anticipated the ambush about to take place in their midst, we rarely anticipate the challenges that can overwhelm our well made plans. Our vanity disintegrates when dashed with reality life brings our way. Relief comes when we mend the relationship we have with God, yet we keep repeating the cycle.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us keep our hearts open to the Spirit that keeps our vanity weak and our relationship with God strong.