Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 28 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13
Today’s Reflection:
Relationships! Just using the term conjures myriad images and feelings to flash through my mind. We have relationships of so many different types and with such different levels of importance and impact on our lives that we find it difficult to define “relationship” without caveats.  Each relationship fits a need in our life so no two relationships are the same. Likewise, each relationship comes with its own set of rules and challenges. Our relationship to God and God’s relationship to us may be the most challenging of them all, but when we look at today’s scriptures a fair question to ask ourselves is, “Does it have to be that difficult?”

Hosea’s time as prophet in the split nation of Israel and Judah came during a time of political turmoil in Israel. In addition to the political turmoil, the people had incorporated local religious practices into worship, violating God’s commandment. Hosea’s family, specifically the names of his children, symbolically represented the consequences that unfaithful behavior would have on the people of Israel. The degree to which the Jews in Israel violated the covenant with God invoked the use of harsh language for infidelity. Whoredom described the behavior of the people in worship because they also worshiped other gods.

In the Colossians passage we are reminded that even under the new covenant, God comes first. Historical practices in Judaism are put aside and human traditions are excluded. Only those things that are found in Christ’s teaching have room in the way we follow him. Paul, as is often his habit, presents a litany of things to avoid without saying anything specific about what to include: we are to do as Christ taught as guided by the Holy Spirit.

Luke offers one of the most powerful passages on God’s relationship with us. The lesson about how and what to pray is not only a model for praying, but also a guideline for our relationship to God. First we remember God’s place in our lives. Second we request that our needs (not wants) be met and thank God for doing so in the past. Finally we are to consider how we treat the people around us. One more time Jesus is restating his great commandment, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everything we do as Christians comes back to the idea that we reflect God’s love for us in the way we serve those around us. We make it far more complicated than God ever did. Those complications with their rules and interpretations takes Christ and his teaching out of first place in our worship and replace it with human generated religious tradition- exactly what Paul warned us against in Colossians. That behavior is no different than the spiritual adultery Hosea confronted.

After naming the various punishments the nation of Israel would face, Hosea promised that in the end those who were forsaken would again be called, “Children of the Living God.” The same promise applies to us today. When we live in relationship to God the way he desires, we carry that title still today. Because our human relationships are so complicated, our human minds want to apply the same rules to the relationship with God in spite of his repeated protestations to keep it simple.

Keep it simple: Love God; love your neighbor as yourself.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 21 Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Amos 8:1-12
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 52
Psalm 14
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42
Today’s Reflection:
The last few weeks have brought regular earnings reports from companies following the end of the accounting quarter. Many of the statements trumpeted positive profits. For those monitoring the broader scope of the nation’s economy those profits indicate the economy’s strength. Profit is good. Unfortunately in the drive for gain, some businesspeople skirt, stretch, bend, and break the rules. Such dishonest profits are not good. There is nothing unchristian about being successful in business; however, practices driven by greed, as we see in today’s passages, not only threaten the broader economy as we have experienced over the recent years, they violate God’s commandment.

The passage in Amos described the collapse of the nation’s economy due to greedy business practices that targeted poor and needy. They stole from the most vulnerable by manipulating currency and measurement systems. Amos’s vision of the basket of summer fruit reflected the end of the productive season for the trees and symbolized the end of a productive season for the Israeli economy. God’s judgment disrupted the normal natural order turning day to night, celebrations to sadness, and wealth to poverty. Amos even offered a new order of famine: the absence of God and holy instruction. This famine assured dire consequences for a nation that lost its spiritual compass. The Psalm passages reinforce the prophet’s message.

Amos’s Israel lost their connection to God. Genesis, Colossians, and Luke remind us that our relationship with God is direct and personal. Abraham prepared a meal for God (Genesis); Jesus sat and taught in small groups with people in the community (Luke); Jesus became a human embodiment of God to provide a way to reconcile God and humanity. Encounters with God throughout the Bible demonstrate the personal nature of God’s relationship with his creation. Every encounter with God, addressed a need of the person(s) involved.

Nothing has changed: our relationship with God remains personal. The personal nature of our relationship with God dictates that our actions outside our place of worship reflect God’s expectations of behavior. Amos gives us the example from business of ways disobedience to God’s way leads to a break from the personal relationship, but the rules apply to all aspects of our lives.

In the context of a prophet foretelling the fall of the nation, living according to God’s standards seems restrictive, but when we look at the wholeness of the scripture we find just the opposite. Wealth and fame in this life last only as long as this life. Permanent riches found through God only come with maintenance of a personal relationship. Gaining such security, is anything but restrictive; it liberates. God really does look out for the needs of each of us.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 14 Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Amos 7:7-17
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 82
Psalm 24
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37
Today’s Reflection:
I am the original owner of my house in what is actually a fairly small subdivision for Austin. Every time a new house was completed, those of us who already lived here welcomed the new residents. As the neighborhood filled we knew everyone up and down the street. Seven years later, my next door neighbor and I are the only people on the street still living here. Of the new neighbors, I only know the one who shares a fence with me and the one directly across the street. The people who lived in the time of Jesus could not have imagined the scale of the cities in which we live today, so the lawyer’s question that prompted the story of the good Samaritan rings especially true today: who is my neighbor?

The conversation began, as so many of Jesus’s conversations with the Jewish leadership began, with a lawyer asking Jesus a rigged question in an attempt to make say something incriminating. The answer comes from scripture: love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself. Two very straightforward concepts.

The first concept, the call to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind is a call to love God the way God loves us.

The second concept, the call to love one’s neighbor as oneself, though opened itself up to some interpretation. That is where the real challenge came to Jesus. How would he apply that concept? To make the point clear, Jesus told an illustrative story. By the time the story reached a conclusion, the questioner had only one conclusion to draw: the person who helped the one in need. We are neighbors to everyone in need. By the time all was settled we see that loving our neighbor as ourselves means loving him as God loves him.

Loving everyone in need the way God loves them was not the answer the lawyer expected to get. It put him in a situation where he was required to act. It puts us in a situation where we are required to act. Jesus mentions love regularly. The story of the good Samaritan moves from love as a concept to love as an action. The idea that we love our neighbor in the same way that God loves forces love to be active. God’s love for us is not a concept, it is a daily action.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

July 7 Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
2 Kings  5:1-14
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 30
Psalm 66
Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:-11, 16-20
Today’s Reflection:
A few years ago the Staples office supply stores began airing commercials that featured the “Easy Button” that solved all the world’s hard problems. The catch-line being that there was no such thing, but they (Staples) made it easy to get all the office supplies you needed for your home or business. In the faith traditions we often focus on the challenges to overcome in order to follow God’s direction. We often preach that there is no easy way, but the passages today offer some relief from those teachings. When we realize the work comes from an all-powerful God, the work suddenly becomes much more doable.

The account of Naaman in 2 Kings is one such story in which the participants sought the challenging way. Upon learning that healing could be possible through a prophet in Israel, his king sent Naaman and a sizable “offering” of silver, gold, and robes to the king of Israel. The expectations of that time were that 1) it would cost something (an offering), and 2) the king, being king, was the prophet of God. Those assumptions nearly provoked a war as the king of Israel saw the offering and message as a taunt. Fortunately, the prophet Elisha recognized that it was an act of faith that sent Naaman to Israel and called for him to come to his house.

Elisha’s next actions dispelled the protocols of the time. He gave directions for a very simple action that would cure Naaman’s leprosy - no offering or sacrifice required. He also refused to meet Naaman face-to-face, instead sending a servant to deliver the directions. He wanted it to be clear that rank in society had nothing to do with the ability of God to act through a person and to show that Naaman’s faith led to the cure, not some miraculous power contained within the prophet himself. To put it directly: God is present even when the prophet is not.

Naaman’s challenge was accepting something so simple. As a man of his time, and one in high position, he expected experiences to play out in a certain way. Elisha’s actions violated all those expectations. It took the wisdom of those in lesser positions to convince Naaman that he should at least try what the prophet said. When he accepted the advice and bathed in the Jordan, God healed him.

Sometimes it is just that easy. God’s commands are not always hard for us to follow, but we focus so often on the trials and tribulations of being Christian that we develop a mindset that anything God calls us to do is going to require some great sacrifice. As with Naaman, the sacrifice may be a preconceived notion. We may have to sacrifice some of our “beliefs”  because we have always been taught that his how to believe only to have God whisper a different message in our ear. We do not often consider changing a mindset as a great sacrifice, but the Bible is filled with stories, like Naaman (and Paul!) who had to adjust the way they believed to match the mind of God. Our deeply held beliefs guide our words and actions; changing those beliefs can be one of the biggest challenge any Christian faces. There is no “easy button” when faced with such decisions; we can only open our heart and our ears to the message God gives us now.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.