Saturday, August 31, 2013

September 1 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Today’s Reflection:
The start of school brings students to new schools with the challenge of finding their place. Unfortunately schools copy greater society with a social hierarchy and everyone finds, or is put in, their level. One new girl sat by herself the first few days. She was clearly shy as she hardly responded when I greeted her as I made my way around the tables. I make it a point to speak to every lunch table so no one feels left out and every student has some access to me each day. On the fourth day, I noticed a group of girls approach her table and invite her to join with them at lunch. They quickly engaged in “getting to know you” banter and asked the girl why she changed schools. She shared her story of being bullied and always left alone. The girls assured her she was safe with them. They, knowingly or not, lived Jesus’s directions for interacting with one another as found in the scriptures today.

The Old Testament passages from Jeremiah and the Psalms relate times when the people’s relationship with God failed to live up to the covenant. God right away challenges the people to name the fault their ancestors found in him knowing there was no such fault. Nevertheless, the people in the time of the prophet Jeremiah had fallen far from the covenant by adopting gods and a culture taken from other peoples. Their actions took them away from God’s plan. God laments the direction of his people as they live in ways that do not honor him or lead to a prosperous nation. The people of Israel, just like the Christians today are challenged to keep the right relationship with God.

One reason keeping the right relationship with God is such a challenge is because as Christians, we are called to reflect that relationship through the way we treat others. The Hebrews and Luke passages direct us to care for all people no matter what their circumstances - actually focusing on the care we should show for others in spite of their circumstances with mentions of those in prison, those being tortured, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Despite the class system that so quickly sorts people in society, we are to ignore that system and carefully consider how we value ourselves against the standing society has determined.

God is consistent and his promises are true. The passages direct us to care for those who have needs greater than our own for that care directly reflects our faith in the promises of God. While at first glance the focus of the Old Testament passages and the New Testament passages seem to have a completely different focus, upon reflection we see how closely tied our relationship to God is with our relationship with all people. When we lack faith in God, it becomes quite easy to ignore our duty to the poor, the ill, and the imprisoned for we ourselves fear becoming one of “them.” When our relationship is right with God, we live with the certainty that even if we become one of “them,” God’s promise to meet our needs remains, so we can meet someone else’s needs with joy.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 11 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40
Today’s Reflection:
As a classroom teacher, school counselor, and now school administrator I have always told my students “An assignment is not complete until it is turned in.” Imagine my embarrassment upon discovering when I posted the Aug. 18 post, that I had never posted the Aug. 11 post. It is even more embarrassing because I proudly declare one of the passages to be my “personal favorite” in the Bible.

I always hesitate before saying it aloud, because I am certain there is some degree of blasphemy associated with it, but one of the passages included in today’s readings is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. The Hebrews “Faith Passage” has been my favorite passage for years and find it increasingly relevant today. So much media seems focused on finding something wrong with  everything, that there is the attitude projected that if you are not a skeptic, you are a fool. Faith is just the opposite: it requires believing in something so much it guides my actions. The verses in Hebrews 11 and into 12 help explain the concept of faith which, the more I study, becomes more clear and more complicated at the same time - especially as I see faith as a guiding concept in so many other passages of the Bible.

The Hebrews passage on faith begins with definitions that cover philosophical and practical applications of faith. The more philosophical definitions closely resemble definitions found in current dictionaries and in the common language. The practical definition sets up a list of individuals across Biblical history and the example of faith they demonstrated. While the definitions focus on the philosophy of belief and creation, the historical examples all demonstrate ways they lived their faith by turning it into action. Paul, writing in Romans and in James makes the same argument for Christian faith - that without turning it into actions inspired/guided by faith, the faith was dead (or at least immature enough that actions were not yet evident [my addition]).

The Isaiah and Psalm passages provide a solid foundation for the idea that faith is dynamic, active, and visibly demonstrable to the world around the believer. In both passages, it appears that the people of Israel had the ritual part of religion settled and set. The prophet and the psalmist (and God) knew that the actions of the people in the days between synagogue violated God’s expectations for his people - and in some of the examples, the actions of the people outside worship time ran exactly contrary to God’s direction. Both texts make it clear that the “perfect” worship of the people means nothing to God and in fact, offends him when our whole lives do not match that hour.

Ultimately, faith brings completeness to our life. Faith is not an action and there is no one action that demonstrates faith. When faith is the guide that shapes our actions, the consistency in our actions reflects the beliefs we hold. Faith is a force that transforms lives. Faith is our connection to God. The many facets to faith make it one of the most fascinating and challenging parts of Christianity. Every study on faith  that I do brings even more to consider - and maybe that is the greatest thing about faith: it always keeps growing.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56
Today’s Reflection:
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, captured a universal truth in his popular poem “To a Mouse...,” “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.” The same idea is often expressed as Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. No matter how well-organized we think we are, we find ourselves making mid-event adjustments. The Biblical authors of today’s passages from Isaiah and Hebrews recognized that the same rules apply when it comes to our religion and its execution.

The prophet in Isaiah 5 uses a parable recounting the woes of an exemplar vintner. The vintner used state-of-the-art practices in his vineyard yet the harvest was virtually unusable. Perfect execution does not always yield perfect results because some unrecognized element is missing. As a prophet, rather than leaving the meaning to interpretation, he reveals that the vineyard and vines represent Israel and Judah, and the missing element was faithful obedience to God’s plan. The societal outcomes failed to reflect the care God provided for his people across history. As the prophets frequently lamented across Israel’s history, the leaders and the people had religious practice and obedience to the letter of the law down to a science while forgetting genuine religious practice originates in the hearts of the people and forgetting the intent of the law. They went through the motions but missed the connection to God.

The author of Hebrews, following a series of verses that extols the virtues of faith, adds depth to the concept by expanding the understanding of the reward that comes from faith. Faith saved some in life (physical, earthly life). Faith martyred others in life (physical, earthly life). Faith left some disappointed with life (physical, earthly life). Faith rewards all who have it with eternity.

Most definitions of faith refer to words like “confidence,” “belief,” “religion.” If we only look at Hebrews 11:1 these would be good definitions. When I look at the entirety of the Hebrews passage on faith and other passages like the one in Isaiah, I define faith as our connection to God. No one mentioned in the passages was remembered for their belief; they are remembered because of their connection (or not) to God and the ways that translated (or not) into actions that reflect the Godly nature of the connection.

The rules of “faith” often get reduced to the doctrine and dogma of a religious group. As such, those perfect plans do not lead to much. Recognizing that faith, as our connection to God, transforms our relationship with God into actions that reflect the relationship. The best laid plans of all creation oft go awry, but the plans of the Creator as completed by his people reflect his nearness and care for all of creation.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

August 4 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Psalm 49
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21
Today’s Reflection:
Twenty-two years ago when I started my career in education the most common line I heard from well-meaning friends and family members was, “but you’re smart. You can make much more money if you get a different job.” They were probably right about the the difference in income, but there is no guarantee; I likely would not have been as passionate about any other job. Passion and dedication makes a huge difference in success in any area. Today’s passages remind us to focus on those things that are important and eternal.

The author of Ecclesiastes laments that a lifetime of work comes to nothing at death. His search for wisdom and understanding also meant nothing for him beyond his life. He realizes that the profits accumulated over a life would be enjoyed by the heirs who had not spent the time and work to appreciated the gain. If one leaves with the views of the author, no effort in life is worth the outcome.

Fortunately, we have the epistle and Gospel to help us reframe the view of our life’s work. The writer of Ecclesiastes is right in that the wealth of a human life means nothing at the conclusion of that life, but when we work on spiritual gain we have profits that mature on death.

The passages about heavenly treasure always prove among the most difficult to fully understand. The cautions against greed are explicit and fit clearly into the rest of the Gospel message. Placing a value on heavenly rewards, though, challenges the cautions against wealth. Other scriptures promise that an eternity with God is the reward we gain by our faith in Christ.

The vague notion of “treasures in heaven” strikes me in much the same way those well-intentioned friends did when they suggested a different career for more money. Some things we do in life, we do because they are the right things to do. We do them because they are what we are called to do. Focusing on the directions from Christ on how to live may be the way to deposit value into a heavenly saving account, but I have found it also improves my quality of life now.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.