Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Readings for Sunday, April 3, 2011

Our readings for Sunday seem to be totally unrelated: the choosing of a king, the good shepherd, darkness and light, and a man born blind.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 – King Saul, the first king of Israel, has gone off the reservation (lost his marbles, gone round the bend, or whatever euphemism you want for “going insane”) and God needs a replacement although it will be several years before the replacement actually becomes a king. God sends the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem and to the family of Jesse to anoint the future king. God rejects the first seven sons even though Samuel thinks one of them might be the one (they are tall, handsome, and athletic). The eighth son is out tending Jesse’s sheep and must be summoned. This is the one God wants and Samuel anoints him. His name? David. (He is described as “ruddy”.)

Psalm 23 – Since this is a Psalm of David and David was a shepherd for his father, Jesse, this Psalm is related to the first reading. The only question that crosses my mind when I read the King James Version at funerals is, “Why would I NOT want the good shepherd?”

Ephesians 5:8-14 – With Jesus we now live in the light and we should refrain from doing anything that would be categorized as darkness. Darkness is associated with evil and when evil deeds are brought into the light where we can see it, know it, and discuss it, it cannot survive for long. That is why open meeting laws in Minnesota are often called “Sunshine Laws”; nothing truly bad can happen if everyone can witness the planning and discussion.

John 9:1-41 – This is the entire chapter 9. Are the sins of the parents and grandparent suffered by their children? Does God punish sin into the third and fourth generations? Is someone with a handicap suffering because of their parent’s sin or their own? That is the basic question for all of chapter 9. Jesus’ answers are “No, no, and neither.” We sin because we are caught up in the structures of the world which declare that those not like us are lesser people. Systems and people within those systems who define themselves as opposed to those “others” At the end Jesus tells the Pharisees “If you were blind [or if you were someone whom society rejects and looks down on] you would not have sin [you are not caught up in the systems that need scapegoats]. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains [if you deny that you are a part of the system, and we all are in one way or another, then you won’t admit you need forgiveness].” How often do we who are Caucasian deny that we had or have anything to do with racism, especially in the past? We claim that we don’t need to ask forgiveness for racism. Does not our sin remain? NOTE: There are people who suffer because of the actions (sin?) of their parents. People with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) suffer because their mothers drank, sometimes heavily, during pregnancy.

How does God choose you? How do you live in the light? How blind can we be to our sin?

May God speak to you through the Word this week!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Readings for Sunday, March 27, 2011

This Wednesday we continue to read through Matthew’s account of the passion of Christ with the focus on Jesus before Caiaphas the high priest of the Temple. We also continue reading the Servant Songs in Isaiah and similar Psalms. The Scripture
Lessons for Wednesday night are:

Psalm 54
Isaiah 49:1-
Matthew 26:57-75

This Sunday the Old Testament and Psalm readings relate to the gospel which is about the Living Water. In the Epistle reading, Paul continues to discuss faith as it relates to salvation and righteousness.

Exodus 17:1-7 – The Israelites have followed Moses out into the desert as they are set free from the Egyptian slavery. They are headed to Mt. Sinai but every time they camp somewhere they have something to complain about: bitter (salty) water in chapter 15; nothing to eat in chapter 16; and now nothing to drink. When they complain to Moses, he complains about them to God who promptly solves the problem. Moses then names the place Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel) because the people argued and tested God. Yet the people, and Moses himself, fail to learn to trust God for all their needs. Do we trust God to provide for our needs (not wants)? Are we willing to endure a little uncertainty as we trust God?

Psalm 95 – The psalmist calls the people to worship and praise God who has created all things. He reminds us not to be stubborn like the Israelites at Massah and Meribah.

Romans 5:1-11 – Paul continues his teaching about faith from our reading last week. Since we are justified, made right, by our faith in Christ and not by anything we do, we now have peace with God. And not only that, God’s love is poured out into our hearts. Why? Because Christ died for us and his death brings us justification. There are two points to consider. First, in verse 1 Paul says that we are now at peace with God. Were we at war? The assumption is that, yes, WE are at war with God but God is NOT at war with us. Would a God who is at war with us send his Son to die for us? What then does that peace mean for us? Second, at the end of verse 9 we read “we will be saved through him (Jesus) from the wrath of God.” The actual Greek here does not have “of God”. Does it make any sense that one part of God, Jesus, will save us from another part of God? I checked about a dozen versions of the Bible and only two do not make the assumption that the wrath Paul is talking about is from God. We have been so indoctrinated to believe that God is a wrathful deity. However, I believe that the wrath Jesus saves us from is our own wrath, the wrath that has kept us at war with God.

John 4:5-42 – This is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who encounters Jesus and has her life changed by the Living Water. There are many similarities, or should I say opposites, in this story to the Nicodemus story in chapter 3 that we read last week.: a woman vs. a man; at noon vs. at night; out in the open vs. under cover; a Samaritan vs. a Jew; a sinner vs. a righteous Pharisee; sudden spiritual healing vs. none (or a slow conversion – see John 7:45-52 and John 19:38-42). Where have you encountered Jesus? How did you respond? Did you keep it to yourself or did you proclaim it to all who would listen? Have you drank from the well of the Living Water?

I pray that the readings this week will quench your thirst for God.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Readings for Sunday, March 20, 2011

Please keep the people of Japan in your prayers as they struggle to recover from the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami last Friday. Pray also for the workers and engineers who are struggling to control their nuclear reactors in Japan. For the people of PUC, donations to relief work in Japan can be made through the UCC church’s One Great Hour of Sharing by indicating how much you want to donate and writing “Pacific earthquake/tsunami” on the check. For the people of PUC and GEUMC, donations can be made to UMCOR by writing “Pacific Emergency #302131”.

Tomorrow we start our Wednesday Lenten services. I am focusing on Matthew’s Passion in chapters 26 and 27 and on the Servant Songs of Isaiah along with appropriate Psalms. Tomorrow the theme is “Betrayed” and we are reading Psalm 64, Isaiah 42:1-9, and Matthew 26:31-56. The service will be a modified TaizĂ© Service with three periods of silent prayer or contemplation. Please join us at 6:00 pm at Peace United Church North or 7:30 pm at Grey Eagle UMC.

This Sunday we begin four weeks of readings from the Gospel of John and we continue with readings from Romans. Our scripture readings are:

Genesis 12:1-4a – The story of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity begins and it starts with one man, Abram (later to be known as Abraham). God called an old man, 75 years old, to pick up and leave his ancestral home and travel to a new place where his descendants will be great. Other than the Bible nothing is known of this man Abram. This is to be expected. He was just one old man with a wife, servants and workers. As he passed through various lands that God led him to, who would take notice and remark about him. Just an ordinary guy whom God calls. How does God call you? Do you think your age matters to God?

Psalm 121 – The Psalmist wonders who will help him when he needs and his answer is “God” who never slumbers or turns away.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – The entirety of chapter 4 is Paul’s midrash (commentary or explanation of Biblical Texts common with Jewish rabbis, teachers, and scholars which Paul was one) on the Abraham story. Basically, Paul says it is all about faith. Abraham was accounted (treated, deemed, acknowledged) as righteous because he believed and followed. Therefore, all who believe and have faith will be accounted as righteous. This is the primary doctrine of the Protestants since Luther and Calvin: we are saved only by our faith in Jesus Christ. Those who don’t believe, well . . . . However, last week we read “ . . . so one man’s (Jesus) act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” How do we reconcile these two issues: only those who have faith are saved verses all people are justified and given life?

John 3:1-17 – Nicodemus is an interesting character in the Gospel of John. He appears three times and this is the first. He comes in secret to Jesus with many questions but hardly gets a chance. After Nick acknowledges that Jesus cannot perform the signs without the presence of God Jesus says that only those who are born from above can see God. When Nick questions this, Jesus teaches what it means to be born again. The big question for interpreters in chapter three is where does Jesus’ speech end? Some maintain that it ends at verse 15 and 16-21 is John’s commentary. Others hold that the speech goes to the end of verse 21. The famous John 3:16 is also seen as supporting the “faith alone” doctrine, but verse 17 might be its counter: Jesus comes to save the entire world.

I pray that these midrashim (plural of midrash – I learn something new everyday) on the reading will guide you to the texts and bless you in your walk with Christ.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Readings for Sunday, March 13, 2011

First, an announcement: Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead 1 hour on Saturday Night when you go to bed. Failure to do so will result in your arriving at church at the end of the service. Thank you for your consideration.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, it is traditional to remember how we have been sinful, selfish, and arrogant in our lives and to ask God’s forgiveness. The imposition of ashes is not a mark of pride that shows others how pious we have been, but a humbling moment as we acknowledge our sinfulness and seek reconciliation with God. The scripture verses, without comment are:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51: 1-17 (why 18 and 19 are left out is a mystery)
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (I will read 6:1-18)

Lent is a season of preparation and reflection as we prepare for the biggest celebration of the Christian year: Easter. It is the remembering of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Lent goes from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). If you count the days of Lent you will end up with 46 not 40. During Lent we don’t count Sundays since every Sunday is a mini-Easter, a celebration of the resurrection. Every year on the first Sunday in Lent we read the Gospel stories of the temptation of Christ. This Sunday is no different. Our readings follow.

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 – The verses in chapter two are from the second account of the creation. Here, the man is placed in the Garden at Eden and told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says that on that day the man will surely die. The verses that are skipped tell the story of God creating all living creatures to be a companion to the man. Since none are found to be the man’s helper, God creates woman. The verses in chapter 3 tell the story of Woman and Man giving in to the temptation offered by the serpent and eating from that tree. The reading, however, doesn’t complete the story and you should read the rest of the chapter. Oh, by the way, Man and Woman do not die at the time they eat the fruit. The first death recorded is the murder of Abel by Cain in chapter 4. I see a connection. Do you?

Psalm 32 – The psalmist rejoices in the forgiveness and steadfast love of the Lord for those who confess their sins.

Romans 5:12-19 – Four of the next five Sundays will have readings from Romans, though not in order. Again, why the Lectionary committee left off the final two verses of the chapter escapes me. I may read them in worship. Here Paul compares Adam (and Eve) to Christ. His argument is summed up in verse 18, “Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” This is another of many verses that seem to indicate salvation for all.

Matthew 4:1-11 – After Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit leads him out into the desert. Matthew seems to indicate that after 40 days of fasting the devil began the temptations. Mark and Luke indicate that the temptations occurred throughout the entire 40 days. The three temptations that Matthew and Luke report concern the temptation of body satiation, religious power, and political power. The devil quotes Scripture, thus showing us that scripture can easily be misused. Jesus also quotes scripture to resist and deny the temptation. The main feature of the temptations is Jesus’ denying or not believing the nature of his existence: “If you are the Son of God . . .” the devil repeats with each temptation. We are all tempted in small and great ways each day. How do we resist those temptations? Knowing the Bible is one step in the right direction.

May these reading guide you in your daily walk with God.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Readings for March 6 2011

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of Epiphany and is the Sunday we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus. Lent begins on the following Wednesday when we have our Ash Wednesday Services.

Our lessons focus our attention on the Transfiguration.

Exodus 24:12-18 – When the Israelites leave Egypt they head to Mt. Sinai (Chapter 19) and Moses goes up the mountain to receive the Law of the Lord beginning with the 10 Commandments (chapters 20-23). At the beginning of Chapter 24 Moses comes down the mountain to tell the people all that God had told him (there are no tablets yet). In our passage this week, God tells Moses to come back up and he will be given the tablets with all the commandments and Law. When Moses got there the “Glory of the Lord” descended on the mountain in the form of a fog but to the people below it appeared like a “devouring fire.” Moses enters the cloud and is there for 40 days while God gives him more instructions (chapters 25-31). Moses’ long delay on the mountain is what prompts the Israelites to worship the golden calf (chapter 32).

Psalm 99 – The Psalmist extols the might and holiness of God who is just, equitable, and forgives. This is the God who spoke to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel in the pillars of clouds.

2 Peter 1:16-21 – Peter states in this passage that the message he brought to his churches was not one of myths or fiction, but a message of the glory of Christ that he and others personally witnessed while they were on the mountain with Jesus. Therefore, their witness (prophetic message) is confirmed by God. He calls his churches to pay attention to this light shining in the darkness.

Matthew 17:1-9 – Six days after Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Matthew flatly says the Jesus changed (was transfigured) before them. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus prompting Peter, always brash, to declare that they would build three booths or tents for them. Suddenly they are enveloped by a cloud and the voice of God declares Jesus to be his Son, his beloved. The last three words of God comprise what I call the 11th Commandment of God and the only commandment of God given in the New Testament: “Listen to him”. With that, the disciples literally fall to the ground where they are roused by Jesus who is alone. As they descend the mountain Jesus tells the three disciples to tell no one.

May the written word of the Lord change your life to serve him.