Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35
Today’s Reflection:
I tend to be somewhat skeptical and question circumstances. While I generally assume positive intent in the actions of others, I always want to know the other side of the story to get the clearest picture available. In the passages today, questionable conduct of one or more parties is called into question and the whole story helps us understand exactly what was going on.

Under the New Covenant we no longer present physical sacrifices on an altar so the concept of the physical gift of an animal carcass (or multiple carcasses) seems foreign and strange. Yet, the majority of the history of our faith (if we consider Judaism as the early history of Christianity), making such offerings constituted a foundation of the faith. Part of the covenant between Abram and God included a significant animal sacrifice which came at the conclusion to a back-and-forth dialogue between Abram and God in which Abram challenged the faithfulness of God and sought reassurance that God would truly uphold his promise. The preparation of the animals, with a space between the halves, gave space for the participants to walk between the piles of halves. By walking between the halves, the participants signaled their understanding that the same would happen to them if they did not uphold their portion of the agreement. In the darkness, the fire pot and torch was God walking between the parts confirming his faithfulness in the covenant.

In the early history of the church, many false teachers spread a misunderstood (or self-serving) message of faith. As a result, many who called themselves Christian did not truly follow Christ’s teachings. Paul referred to these people as “enemies of the Cross of Christ” in his address to the church in Philippi. He pled with them to follow Christ the same way he does. While not specifically giving examples of their practice, the implication in the passage is that those who follow false teaching focus on earthly, temporal, goals. Those who, like Paul, follow the cross theology, focus on Heavenly, eternal goals. Even though, in name, both groups claimed Christ, the actions revealed the true followers.

Jesus’s interaction with the Pharisees demands a complex interpretation. Seemingly the Pharisees approach Jesus with his safety and concern at heart, warning him that Herod wants him dead. Luke’s view of the religious leadership in the time calls one to question their true intent. While seemingly concerned about the well-being of Jesus, the message could have been an attempt to get him out of town, to silence his message in the big city and make things easier for Herod (and for them). We cannot now know what motive prompted their visit to Christ, we do know that such a warning meant nothing to him as heeding it would interrupt the mission of Christ. His response foretells his death and resurrection (third day). His lament over Jerusalem, while historically inaccurate (Jerusalem was not known for killing prophets), symbolized the rejection God’s people often had for the prophets who called them on behavior that did not farther God’s kingdom. His pending death would complete the ministry on earth. His burial and resurrection then makes him the one they would be forced to call “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

During the Lenten season, as we give-up and take-up practices in faith, we too may be challenged on the action. We need to know the whole story and act accordingly. Why am I giving up? Why am I taking up? All of our actions should work to further God’s kingdom. During this time of Lent we need to be prepared to explain our purpose and know the whole story.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent 2013

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51

2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Today’s Reflection:

(Originally written for and based on the scriptures for Ash Wednesday, 2013. Due to the deaths of a family member and a co-worker that interrupted timely posting, I have adapted it as an overview of Lent 2013)


Growing up in a church that never mentioned the liturgical calendar, I was always fascinated by my friends’ talk of what they had to give up for Lent. (I also liked that we had fish in the school cafeteria every Friday.) It seemed like a very depressing time with all the pleasures taken from life. As I learned more about the purpose of the Lenten season, I learned to use it as a time of personal reflection and growth. It is about as adding on as much as it is about giving up.


Just as the Lenten season is shaped by Christ’s fast in the dessert which was a time for him to draw closer to God, we have the opportunity to draw closer to God as we refine our spiritual practices. The passages today help us see the way to grow in fellowship with God. All the passages unite in guiding us toward the right behavior in public and private worship.


My friends, in their childhood understanding of sacrifice in Lent got it entirely wrong. There is an either-or to rewards for our actions. The passages concur in that message: we can either have our rewards now through public recognition of our pious behavior (by bragging about all that we are doing without) or we can have our rewards for eternity by exercising our faith in a way that only strengthens our relationship with God and brings glory to him (sacrificing in quiet with a smile on our face in public). Isaiah, Psalms, and Matthew state as clearly as possible that we are to worship in a way that builds up the relationship without drawing any attention to ourselves.


During Lent we give up excess(es) in our life in order to take up a spiritual activity that helps us grow our relationship with God. It is not about bragging that I am going without chocolate until I break out the chocolate bunnies on Easter morning. Lent is our time in the wilderness developing our spiritual practices not our six weeks of misery developing our frown. Let’s smile as we celebrate (privately) our growing connection to God.

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.


First Sunday in Lent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91

Romans 10:8-13

Luke 4:1-13

Today’s Reflection:

While many people often think of Lent as a time of personal sacrifice, my pre-Lenten reading and preparation had turned me toward a focus on growth and seeking. In the five days before the start to the Lenten season, two young people who were fairly new, but important parts, of my life died unexpectedly. Whether I had planned it or not, those deaths and the following grief, forced me into a mood of seeking and growing.


The Gospel passage in Luke provides the traditional framework for Lent: Christ spending forty days in the desert, fasting and focusing on the work of God with the Holy Spirit. Christ gave up food and the comforts of home to spend the time hungry and exposed. The devil thought he picked the best possible time to tempt Jesus – the end of the forty days. He perceived Jesus’s hunger as the key to vulnerability. He could not have been more wrong. Jesus had spent forty days in close communion with God and the Holy Spirit; he may never have been stronger and more resilient to temptation.


The Psalms and Romans passages promise us protection from evil, scourges, natural dangers, and shame. They make life sound like a stroll through Candyland, yet, the two deaths in five days lead me to ask; why then do we have hardship? The best way I understand this is to consider it in eternal versus temporal terms. When God makes a promise it is assured that the promise will be kept: it will be kept in God’s time. It may not be fulfilled in human time. We will be protected for eternity, but we may indeed face difficulty in our lifetime. The difficulties we do face though will not destroy our faith or our connection to God. We may question why things happen, but eventually we find peace from God.


During the Lenten season struggle is permitted. The time we spend working out and building up our spiritual muscle is as important as the things we give up. Lent is not meant to be easy, but it allows us a unique time to grow spiritually. As we go through the forty days of seeking and growing in fellowship with God and the Holy Spirit, may we, like Christ, come out of the struggle stronger than coming into it.

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Transfiguration Sunday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Exodus 34:29-35

Psalm 99

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Luke 9:28-43

Today’s Reflection:

Sometimes, quite unexpectedly, an experience goes from mundane to life-changing and you leave the experience wondering how that happened or what was different. It may happen by attending a concert, hearing a lecture, reading a book. It can even happen during a worship experience in church! One of my experiences happened following an impulse buy of a cd after hearing it mentioned on a music talk-show on the radio. As I like to do – especially with classical music – I put on my headphones and put the music at just the right volume. When the music stopped exactly one hour later, I discovered that I had been sitting there with tears streaming down my face: the music moved me so much that, literally, a flood of joy came pouring out of me. The passages for today recount extraordinary encounters with people and God and the change that came from the encounter.


Being changed through an encounter with God is certainly not unexpected, but while we have been taught to expect some miraculous transformation of our heart, we do not usually consider the physical transformation that comes from God’s proximity. Moses and Jesus both glowed from the encounter with God. It does follow basic physics: objects reflect light. It is how we see: reflected light strikes our eye and is processed by the brain. The Jews believed that anyone who actually saw God would die from the exposure to such power and perfection. They even had difficulty looking at the reflected glow coming from Moses. That glow faded over time the farther Moses (and anyone with a direct encounter with God) moves from the event.


Paul reminds us that we are all able to be in contact with the Lord through the Spirit. Christ forever removed the veil between humankind and God so that we are in his presence and are being changed into the image of God. Not only should our hearts change, our countenances should reflect God’s presence in our lives. When we come in contact with God it is impossible to forget. The experience so completely alters us that nothing is ever the same again.


In the Bible texts today, the Jewish nation and the apostles with Christ saw the transfiguration of an individual following an encounter with God. We remember the transfiguration of Moses and Jesus. We need to focus on the transfiguration of us. Unlike with Moses and Jesus, our glow does not fade. It grows brighter as we are changed into his image through the working of the Holy Spirit. As we end the season of Epiphany, this time of Christ revealed, we learn that the revelation of Christ in the world today is the transfiguration of us into his likeness. With this new understanding, I have to ask: does the world see your glow?

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

Today’s Reflection:

Every generation grows up to certain bits of common knowledge that we take for granted. When science or some historical discovery proves that wrong, it shakes us: what can we trust? The passages today give us a direct look at the power of God with humankind – a constant that has been with us since the creation.


Jeremiah recounts the call of the prophet as a young man. Despite his youth and human uncertainty, God assured him, because he was God’s chosen one, that all He directed would happen. As happens with all prophets, or messengers of God, whatever he commands comes to pass because of God’s power bestowed upon the individual. God is at work through a man.


In Luke we see the same thing happening. Jesus beginning his ministry and accomplishing all things God wills. The difference between Jesus and the prophets is that instead of God at work through a man, it is God at work as a man. And like the prophets the resistance comes from those who see him as a man without recognizing the role of God in his actions. History often makes the people look foolish based on their actions. The Jews were well aware of the shortcomings of their forebears that caused God to intervene in their history. Jesus’s reminder of that history obviously struck a nerve with the people – of course, people on the wrong side of God never recognize it on their own.


I Corinthians provides the math and grammar that explains what is going on. We often focus on the definition of love that is central to the passage. The opening and closing, though, insist on the supremacy of love. Love is greater than faith (love > faith). Love is greater than hope (love > hope). Love is the greatest (love = greatest). And if God is love (God = love). Then (God = love = greatest).


The passages today have given examples of God accomplishing his will through a man and God accomplishing his will as a man. Knowing that God is love, we are commanded to keep that love as the focus of everything we do in doing his will, for without it, we are not doing God’s will. Black and white it is that simple. We collectively are responsible for showing the love as God defines it. The Church, and as a result, Christianity, suffers an image problem because it has forced a theological (read legalistic – i.e. “insisting on its own way”) focus as it moved away from focusing on the love. We are individually responsible for demonstrating the love. When we do our individual part, the collective benefits and God continues to work through mankind to accomplish his kingdom.

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.