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Tuesday, September 18, 2007
People of faith pray. The author of the letter to Timothy urges Christians to pray for everyone, including political leaders, so that all people may live in peace. (!) Our readings today encourage us to seek God’s reign of peace and wholeness – shalom – as we live as citizens both of our own countries and of God’s realm. 1 Timothy 2:1–7 As the decades passed after Jesus’ resurrection, the new Christian communities realized that Jesus would not return soon. They had to find ways to organize their lives for worship and service. Leaders like Paul wrote letters of teaching, explaining Jesus’ identity and work of redemption. They also wrote letters of encouragement and direction, suggesting ways in which the new churches might live according to the gospel. Paul first met Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16), and they worked closely together on several of Paul’s journeys. Timothy became leader of the Christian community at Ephesus, a church facing the challenge of false teachers. The letters to Timothy may date from a later time than the life of Paul, but they reflect Paul’s teaching and wish to pass on a lifetime of wisdom to a younger leader. In the focus passage, the author teaches about prayer, reminding Christians that there are many kinds of prayer and urging them to pray for everyone. Then comes the difficult question facing those who lived in the Roman Empire. Should a Christian pray for those in authority – for an emperor who was honoured as a god, before whose statue incense was burned and oaths taken? In a time of persecution, the author tells the community that they should pray for political leaders so that all might live in peace. This is not yielding to pagan custom, but a desire to see God’s peace (shalom) established, with justice for all people. For, the author says, God desires for all to come to the saving knowledge of the truth of the gospel. The author proclaims this message of inclusion because of belief that there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, Jesus Christ. In verse 6, Jesus is described as “a ransom for all.” Though Christian theology has several ways of exploring what this means, a cornerstone of the faith is belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ declare God’s victory over evil and bring new life. This is the kernel of the author’s message. Like the church in Timothy’s time, Jesus’ hearers struggle to find a way to live in the world, and yet not of it. In Luke 16:1–13, Jesus tells a story of the shrewd manager. Accused of squandering his master’s money, the manager visits the debtors with a plan to repay the master and provide for his own future. Jesus commends him for finding a way to live in the current situation and speaks to the responsibility to live faithfully into the shalom of God’s reign. Lament can be a prayer for shalom when the relationship with God seems broken. In Jeremiah 8:18–9:1, the prophet laments over Judah. The people have been unfaithful to God’s commands. Leaders have been carried off into exile. Why does God not help? Psalm 79:1–9 echoes Jeremiah’s lament, weeping over the destruction of the Temple and the death of the people at the hands of the Babylonians. This is what life is like in the absence of shalom. God is a God of redemptive grace, forgiving and restoring to wholeness all who call on God’s name. This week, we consider our lives as people of prayer. What does it mean to call on God’s name, to pray in Jesus’ name? As citizens both of our own country and of God’s realm, what does it mean to pray for those in authority? As we pray for peace, how do we work for justice?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
OF GREAT VALUE The God we follow showers us with blessing each day. Through a lost sheep and a lost coin, Jesus teaches about God, who can be trusted to seek us always, pursuing us with steadfast love. God’s intention is to save. God’s people are called to live within this treasure and gift, rejoicing as the faith community grows. Luke 15:1–10 In chapter 14 of Luke, we learn that large crowds were following Jesus to hear him teach. Among them were tax collectors, Pharisees, and scribes. As chapter 15 opens, we hear grumbling among the Pharisees and the scribes: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus responds to their complaint with parables. Imagine the response of the crowd who listens to these stories: Who puts 99 sheep in jeopardy to risk that one might be found? No one who is trying to run a livestock business! Who turns the whole house upside down – lighting a lamp and using precious oil – to search for a small amount of money and then, when it is found, throws a party? No one! But we might hear in these parables how God acts. God can be trusted to seek us and love us. Through these parables, we sense that the flock of sheep and the set of coins were not complete until the lost members were found. The Pharisees and the scribes perhaps understood, in keeping with many in first-century Middle Eastern cultures, that wealth and good fortune were signs of God’s blessing and that poverty was a sign of a person’s sin. Not only does Jesus upset this understanding, in the parables God first is cast in the role of a shepherd, a class of labourers held in low esteem within first-century Jewish culture. Then, even more shockingly, God is cast as a woman, the least powerful group in their culture. No wonder the gospel that Jesus proclaimed was seen as good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). In these parables we can glimpse God’s way, God’s searching love. The Pharisees and the scribes have been shocked by how Jesus seeks out those whom they perceive to be of little value. God, however, is persistent in love for all. The reign of God that Jesus proclaims is an upside-down world where one sheep is worth spending the energy normally reserved for 100, where one coin is worth domestic disruption and expenditure, and where one repentant sinner is cause for rejoicing. Jesus’ parables challenge all who listen to grow in understanding of what it means to be foolish, to be wise, to be lost, and to be found. Who will join in the celebration of God’s mercy? Even when hope is dim, God can be trusted. In the barren land described in Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28, a wasteland of the people’s own making, there is little hope. But even in such a place of desolation and among those who have sinned greatly, God – who seeks all who are lost – will be present and will not give up. The psalmist, in Psalm 14, trusts that God will restore God’s people. God will not forget those who are poor and who have been mistreated by those in power. Sin will not have the final word in God’s reign. Paul knows that he has received undeserved mercy, and gives thanks for this blessing in 1 Timothy 1:12–17. The good news for all is that, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep and a woman a lost coin, God can be trusted to seek, to save, and to love. From Jesus’ teaching, we learn that God’s determination to seek us and to love us is beyond what humankind would consider wise or even rational. Jesus risked all to reach those in need of God’s saving grace. When have you felt most “lost” and most “found”? In what ways might you and your church be as relentlessly loving as God?
Thursday, September 06, 2007
What does it mean to be the church? Jesus and Paul call us to embrace both the cost and promise of living in a faith community shaped and transformed by the gospel. Because God is already present in every situation, we can work with confidence through the challenges we face, helping one another to live as faithful disciples. Philemon 1–21 Paul wrote many letters of encouragement and advice to the small communities of Christians throughout the Mediterranean world. But this letter is different. It is a personal business letter, written primarily to Philemon, though the letter mentions other Christians who meet at Philemon’s home. Paul, writing from prison, has a request for Philemon. In prison Paul has met Philemon’s slave, Onesimus. Perhaps Onesimus is in prison as a runaway. Perhaps Philemon has sent this slave to minister to Paul in prison. However this slave happens to be in prison, through Paul’s teaching Onesimus has become a Christian. Onesimus (meaning “useful”) once seemed useless to Philemon, but now is beneficial to Paul and to the community. Paul is sending Onesimus back, asking Philemon to forgive him and to receive him as a brother in Christ. Paul gently reminds Philemon that he owes Paul a debt, and suggests obliquely that Philemon might even consider freeing this slave. Slavery was customary in New Testament times, and Jesus tells stories of servants and masters. But here we see how the gospel message from its earliest times is beginning to disrupt and transform accepted social structures. The early Christian communities had to face some challenges. Is it right to own slaves? What happens when the slave of a Christian becomes a Christian, too? Paul’s word to them and to us is that, slave or free, we are all children of God. We are brothers and sisters in the faith, and equal in worth. What does it mean to be the church, a community so transformed in Christ? Paul’s words set a standard of behaviour, reminding disciples to be inclusive, hospitable, and forgiving. Disciples are called to exceed the demands of the law in hospitality. Belonging to the Christian community will cost Philemon something, but obedience to the gospel brings a new and different freedom for him and for Onesimus. Accustomed structures and customs are being transformed by Christ, and disciples are freed to respond to God’s call. The crowds described in Luke 14:25–33 follow Jesus because many think he is on a victory march to Jerusalem to reveal himself as Messiah, God’s anointed saviour. But Jesus tells them the high cost of discipleship. Following Jesus means giving up possessions. It means putting first things first and giving as much attention to the gospel message as to business or politics. Jeremiah speaks God’s transforming message not only in words, but in dramatic actions. In Jeremiah 18:1–11, the prophet visits the potter’s house and tells of God as the potter, reworking the clay (Israel) when the vessel is spoiled. Israel is called to repent and change. As Onesimus and Philemon are transformed by the gospel, as the disciples are set free to serve, so Israel is being shaped and changed by obedience to God. Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18 celebrates the way in which God has formed and shaped us in a wonderful way, even from before our birth. Inside each of us there is great potential, and God is at work in us before we recognize it. There is both cost and promise in following Jesus. As we continue on our spiritual journy, God is present in our lives, shaping and transforming us. Through us, transformation comes to all those communities of which we are part.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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