Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Readings for February 27, 2011

We didn’t get the snow as early as we thought but we finally got the snow. If you are sick and tired of snow like me, just wait until March which is, on average, the snowiest month.

This week we finish (almost) our readings in 1 Corinthians and the Sermon on the Mount (there is one more reading on Ash Wednesday). The themes this week are God’s salvation, God’s judgment, God’s provision.

Isaiah 49:8-16a – The Lord proclaims to the people of Israel that he has saved his people and cared for them and called them to return to the land he gave them. Note the celebratory nature of verse 13 and the feminine nature of God in verse 15. Often we think and speak of God as Father but in this verse God is the perfect mother who never forgets or cares for her children. This fits with the theme in our Matthew reading.

Psalm 131 – Another reading which pictures the feminine side of God as the psalmist speaks of his quiet dependence on God’s provision.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 – Paul has defended the ministries of all who have worked with the church in Corinth: himself, Apollos and Peter. In verse 1 Paul says that they should simply be thought of as servants of Christ and stewards of God. As such, they should all be judged in their trustworthiness (v. 2). However, he is not worried (v. 3) because the only true judge is God (v. 4). The kicker verse then comes: “Don’t judge because God will shine light into the darkness and reveal the motives of our hearts.” OK, so far so good. But then comes the last phrase of verse 5. Here are several different versions of it:

NRSV – Then each one will receive commendation from God.
NET – Then each will receive recognition from God.
NIV – At that time each will receive their praise from God.
NLT – Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.
NASB – Then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
KJV – and then shall every man have praise of God.

How do you take this one phrase? The NET, NIV, NASB and KJV are all very conservative translations (in many experts’ opinions) and they seem to say that all people will be judged by God and then God will give them praise/commendation/recognition. Is this, dare I say, universal praise? Does this lead to, dare I say again, universal salvation? Hmmmmm........

Matthew 6:24-34 – First, to get into the mood of the passage, listen to Bobby McFerrin sing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

We skipped the portion of the Sermon on the Mount dealing with almsgiving, prayer, fasting, treasures, and the eye. The section on prayer includes the Lord’s Prayer. We will read these for Ash Wednesday. Verse 24 seems to be a “one-off” on serving two masters: God and wealth. It seems to be out of place with this week’s reading and would better be paired with the section on treasures, verses 19-21. The bulk of the reading is about worrying. While it is medically proven (I think) that excessive worrying leads to all kinds of physical and mental health problems that is not what Jesus is talking about. For Jesus, it is all about trusting in the providence of God. Jesus acknowledges that there are plenty of things to worry about (v. 34) but our hearts never the less need to be given to God in utmost trust. One more thing, reread verse 33. Is this a “works” verse? In other words, if we do the “striving” God will do the “giving”. Or is our “striving” better thought of as giving our hearts and trust over to the power of God’s Spirit working in and through us?

I pray that these words will inspire you to read God’s Word and grow in God’s Spirit!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Readings for February 20, 2011

A mid-February thaw that feels really nice. Perhaps this will reduce any chance of flooding in the area and along the Red River.

Our readings for this week:

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 – This selection begins with God telling Moses to tell all the people, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” As we will see in our Gospel lesson, Jesus uses and reinterprets this line in his teaching. What does it mean for you and I to be holy? Can we ever be as holy as God? This is followed with a series of instructions about living in relationship to all neighbors: don’t harvest all fruits and grains so the poor may have something, don’t steal, don’t deal falsely, don’t lie, don’t swear falsely, don’t defraud, don’t cheat the laborers, don’t revile the deaf, don’t cause the blind to stumble, don’t be unjust, don’t be partial, don’t slander, don’t profit by your neighbor’s blood, don’t hate your kin, and don’t take vengeance or bear a grudge to any of your people. (I left out a second injunction against stealing.) At the end of all these “don’t’s” we get our only “do” and it is the 2nd greatest commandment (according to Jesus), “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” If you live by this last instruction you will never have to worry about violating all the others.

Psalm 119:33-40 – A second week with this long acrostic poem (see last week’s comments). In this section all the lines begin with the fifth letter of the Hebrew Alefbet (the first two letters: Alef and Beit) which is Hei. These verses call on God to teach the person speaking the Psalm to teach him or her the commandments, ordinances, and ways of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 – I read 10-15 in church this past week, accidentally in Grey Eagle and on purpose in Long Prairie. The foundation of Jesus Christ has been poured in Corinth and now the people need to honor the church that they have become. They should take care not to bring that church (temple in Paul’s word) down. They should not pursue human wisdom but seek to allow God’s wisdom to grow in them by becoming fools for Christ. Finally, it is not about which leader they follow (Paul, Appollos, Peter, or Gary); it is all about Christ to whom they belong.

Matthew 5:38-48 – We are still reading portions of the Sermon on the Mount and this week we have two more reinterpretations of the law. In Jesus’ words, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . .” The first one is one of the most famous, but not in the formula but in what living out that interpretation looks like: turning the other cheek, giving the shirt with the coat, and walking a second mile. The law Jesus quotes, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, is all about stopping the escalation of violence. Jesus’ reinterpretation, “do not resist the evildoer”, is all about ending violence. The second one is similar: instead of loving neighbors (Leviticus above) and hating enemies Jesus says to love our enemies. In the past 10 years we have heard a lot about “evildoers” and “enemies” but have we lived up to Jesus’ standards for loving and not resisting? Some would say that Jesus was talking about personal relationships and not national actions. Why shouldn’t Jesus’ standards be applied to our nation?

I pray that the words of Jesus and all the writers of the Bible will lift you up in love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Readings for February 13, 2011

This week we continue our readings in Matthew (The Sermon on the Mount) and in 1 Corinthians.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – Deuteronomy is the fifth book in the Pentateuch and is written as Moses’ final speech before all of Israel. It is analogous to a President’s farewell speech as the office is past on the the successor. The body of Moses’ address is about remembrance of all that God has done for Israel and a reminder of the blessings that Israel will receive if they remain faithful or the curses they receive if they are faithless. The six verses we read this week are the end of that address and Moses sums everything up in terms of life and death: if you follow God you have life and prosperity; if not then you get death and adversity. He admonishes Israel to choose life. Do we choose life by following the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Or do we choose death? Following this reading Moses chooses Joshua to succeed him and commands the Levite priests to read the law out loud every 7 years (chapter 31); recited a song for Israel and God tells him of his coming death (32); gives his final blessing to Israel (33); and then heads to the mountains to die (34).

Psalm 119:1-8 – Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm and I believe the longest chapter in the Bible. It is an acrostic Psalm in which every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22, is used. It is made up of 22 stanzas each having 8 verses. In each stanza every verse starts with the same letter and each stanza progresses through the Hebrew letters. The entire Psalm, all 176 verses, is in praise of God’s Law and reflect the call of Moses to be faithful.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 – Paul begins to dig down into the divisions that rock the church and there are many. He begins by saying that he came to them with words of grace that were easy to understand, baby food as opposed to adult food. He can’t yet give them complex answers because they are still not ready as shown by their division over who they follow: Paul or Apollos (or Peter? See chapter 1:12.) Paul says that what he has done and what Apollos has done is insignificant to what God has done. Here he moves from the baby food – adult food metaphor to a garden metaphor: Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave growth. “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” How has God given growth to your church? Or maybe we have forgotten to water the plants?

Matthew 5:21-37 – “You have heard it said . . . But I say to you . . .” The last half of Matthew 5 contains 6 of those statements. This week we read 4 of them and next week the last two. The 4 topics this week are Anger, Adultery, Divorce, and Oaths. Don’t get too bogged down in the specifics because I think Jesus is trying to get at the underlying attitudes that lead to relationship breaking actions: unresolved anger can lead to murder; lusting can lead to adultery; easy divorce (as in the days of Jesus) trivializes covenantal relationships, and swearing (giving oaths not saying bad words) often and easily can lead others to distrust. A word about divorce: I don’t think that Jesus is advocating that a woman stay in a violent relationship. God wants all our relationship to be loving, caring and respectful and when one (usually the man) is violent (physically, emotionally, sexually) to the other or their children then the marriage doesn’t exist except on a legal piece of paper. If you are in a violent relationship GET OUT NOW. There is no excuse for any kind of violence and God wants you safe.

May these words inspire you to read your Bible every day and grow in God’s love.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Readings for February 6, 2011

The purpose of this weekly entry is to encourage you to read your Bible each day. If you would like to receive these comments in your email inbox please send me a note at lpgeparish@embarqmail.com. If you know of a friend or family member who has an email address and they would be interested in receiving this note, please send me a note at the same address and give me their name and email address. I am be happy to include them.

What does it mean to be a “light shining in the darkness”? Is it the words you speak everyday? Is it all about going to church? Is it about the things you do? This week's lessons probe these questions.

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12) [13-14] – The lectionary assigns the first 9 verses and makes the next 3 optional. I have added the last two just to finish the chapter, because they deal with the same subject: right worship. The Lord wants to know why the people worship and seek the Lord yet their lives don’t reflect these things. The first 12 verses are concerned with fasting. The people fast (as a form of worship) but don’t receive any notice from the Lord. The Lord says it’s because they fast for all the wrong reasons: self-interest that leads to oppression of workers, quarrelling, and fighting. The people believe that fasting is all about sitting in sackcloth and ashes and not eating. The Lords says that the purpose is much more than not eating. It is about justice, freedom, feeding the hungry, giving room to the homeless, and covering the naked. When we do these things “then your light shall break forth like the dawn” (vs. 8) and our “light shall rise in the darkness and our gloom be like the noonday.” Verses 13 and 14 cover the same issues but related to Sabbath observance.

Psalm 112:1-9 (10) – “Happy (Blessed) are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.” (vs. 1) The rest of the Psalms then goes on to describe the actions of that person: gracious, merciful, righteous, generous, lender (without interest is implied), just, firm hearts, secure in the Lord, distribute freely, and they give to the poor. This person “rises in the darkness as a light for the upright.” (vs. 4)

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16) – This passage says nothing about light. The impart of this passage goes back to a line in this past week’s reading: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” (vs. 1:25). Paul came to Corinth not to be wiser then the Greek philosophers but with trembling and the Spirit so that the new believers would trust in God’s power and wisdom, not humanity’s. Humans who don’t believe and accept God and Jesus Christ will never understand God’s wisdom, but those who believe have received the Spirit which brings God’s wisdom. Verse 16 is interesting. Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13 to ask “Who knows God’s mind?” He then answers, “We do because we have the mind of Christ.” What does it mean to have the mind of Christ?

Matthew 5:13-20 – More from the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 13 is a troubling statement about being the salt of the earth and losing its saltiness. Wrestle with this verse. 14-16 is about being a light to the world. That light needs to be set up high so all will see it, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Reminds me of the Sunday School song verse, “Hide it under a bushel, No! I’m gonna let it shine.” In verses 17-20 Jesus says that he came to fulfill all of the Law and Prophets and the Law will persist in its entirety until the end. Those who break the law will be least in the Kingdom and those who keep it will be greatest. Notice that Jesus, in this passage at least, does not say the Law breakers will be cast into eternal Hell and Damnation. They too will be in the Kingdom, but with a lesser status. From this point on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus goes on to reinterpret the Law; many times making it even tougher. (You have heard “don’t commit adultery” but I say don’t look at another person with lust.)

I pray that these words will inspire you to explore each reading so that your light may shine in a world of darkness.