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Sunday, March 25, 2007
As we entered the Season of Lent, we considered God’s abundant love and steadfast promise and how these shape our lives. As we enter this Holy Week and encounter again the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and final days on earth, we call out for God’s abundant mercy and give thanks for God’s faithfulness in our lives. Luke 19:28–40 (and Luke 22:14—23:56)“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” The psalmist’s words in Psalm 118:26, part of the Liturgy of the Palms, set the scene for our entrance into the events of Holy Week. Today on Palm Sunday we, too, shout our praises. Later, Jesus will move beyond the jubilant crowds toward the true revelation of his identity and purpose on the cross. And we will follow, quieting our voices as we enter into the passion of our God. The writer of Luke tells us that the throngs of disciples are shouting triumphantly because of the deeds of power they have witnessed. Jesus has told them, however, that the ultimate revelation of his identity will be through betrayal, death, and resurrection (9:22). This shift begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey, recalling the messianic promise: “Your king comes to you...humble and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Kings in Jesus’ day served by ruling, but Jesus is one who rules by serving, even to the point of suffering and death. During the Last Supper, Jesus reminds the disciples that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:26). The writer of Luke intends readers to understand that the events of this week are part of God’s plan and that Jesus understands how he is to be engaged in the fulfillment of that plan (Luke 18:31, 22:37). This plan will not be thwarted. If the disciples stop their proclamation, then even the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40). God’s plan does not end with Jesus’ resurrection. As we will see through the readings for the Easter season, the book of Acts – the second volume of the two-volume work that is Luke-Acts – takes up God’s plan in the life of the church. Throughout Holy Week are warnings and hints about the struggle that there will be in the lives of the faithful (Luke 22:28–33, 23:28–31). Jesus’ conduct while under trial becomes a model for all faithful followers in their trials. The promise of Jesus’ resurrection becomes a promise for the church. We learn more about life as a servant in Isaiah 50:4–9a. The servant figure in this passage may be an unknown individual or a personification of the whole nation. Though treated harshly and unfairly, the servant trusts in God’s vindication. Christian tradition has found a resonance between the servant’s experience and Jesus’ suffering as he faced the cross. The verses of Psalm 31:9–16 are the lament of a faithful servant. This heartfelt cry to God is painful and vivid. Yet, the psalmist trusts God. At times, the only prayer humanly possible is “You are my God.” Jesus’ death is not a loss of hope. Philippians 2:5–11 declares, in the words of an early Christian hymn, that “God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.” By quoting this hymn, Paul connects us to the way that the faithful followers in the early church understood the events of Holy Week. Paul urges the Philippians to imitate Jesus. Though “equal with God,” Jesus “emptied himself” by taking the form of a servant. There are cries of anguish, trust, thanks, and hope as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem. God hears them all! Faithful servants today experience Holy Week though many traditions and rituals. Which Holy Week traditions are most meaningful to you? If you could begin a new tradition for Holy Week, what would it be?
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
There are moments in life that call for extravagance, moments when we must lay aside calculation and caution, and give of ourselves wholeheartedly. Mary is a model of such an outpouring of love and devotion. Some things are worth giving all that we have and all that we are. John 12:1–8 The author of John’s gospel offers us the contrast between two very different responses to Jesus by the disciples. In the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ time, Mary is a most unlikely model of true discipleship, but that is how she is portrayed. Mary understands who Jesus is and the significance of the events that are taking place. Mary understands, believes, and acts. Judas is portrayed as a self-centred, bitter thief. He appears unwilling or unable to appreciate the significance of the moment. Elsewhere, this gospel predicts that there will be many who see but not understand (John 1:11; 6:36, 9:39). Mary’s act is extravagant and beautiful. “A pound of nard” is no bottle of cheap scent from a discount shop, but a luxury item worth nearly a year’s wage, according to Judas. The act is also beautiful in the intimacy of the scene John portrays: the table of food, the company of friends, the effusion of scent throughout the room, and the locks of Mary’s hair caressing Jesus’ feet. Judas raises a logical, if difficult, question about the appropriateness of such an extravagant gift. Shouldn’t the nard have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor? Jesus affirms the importance of Mary’s gift. In verse 8, Jesus reminds the disciples of their responsibility to continue to offer aid to those who are poor (see Deuteronomy 15:11) after his death. Jesus upholds Mary’s decision to love and serve him while it is possible to do so. Mary gives herself to what she knows and believes about Jesus. It was Jesus who raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. Like John the Baptizer at the opening of this gospel, Mary sees and testifies in her act of anointing that Jesus is “the chosen one” (1:34). Mary ministers to Jesus in a way that mirrors the ways he has ministered to her and her loved ones, and also anticipates the new thing that Jesus will do for all people in his extravagant, self-giving death and resurrection. Isaiah 43:16–21 anticipates that God will do a “new thing” (verse 19). For the people of Israel, the exodus from Egypt was a moment of God’s extravagant love. In this text the new thing God will do is portrayed as a kind of second exodus. God will redeem the people from exile and restore them. This new thing is about to happen; this is the moment. Who will recognize it? In Psalm 126 we encounter an ecstatic outpouring of joy for all God has done in the past. We can almost hear the “hoorah” of those who have been suddenly and unexpectedly saved from disaster. This psalm is also a prayer, bidding God once again to turn human weeping into joy. Like Mary pouring out her love by anointing Jesus with expensive perfume, Paul shows his desire to know Christ in Philippians 3:4b–14 by pouring out his credentials and achievements. Paul considers these designations to be rubbish (the Greek word also means “dung” or “excrement”) in comparison to the new life to be gained in Christ. During Lent the church anticipates Easter. In these readings we anticipate the extravagant outpouring of God’s love that raises us to new life with Christ. In what ways do you perceive the outpouring of God’s love in your life? In what ways are you willing to pour out the love of Christ through your life?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Love That Welcomes Images of God’s steadfast love and forgiveness emerge in the accounts of a father running out to welcome home a wayward son, and of a people feasting in their homeland after years of wandering. These stories prompt us to shout for joy, celebrating God’s bountiful mercy and committing ourselves to our own ministries of reconciliation. Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32 Chapter 15 of Luke reports Jesus’ response to Pharisees and scribes who grumble, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (verse 2). These critics were concerned that such breaking of bread implied Jesus’ full acceptance of these individuals. Jesus responds by telling three parables: the shepherd and the lost sheep (verses 4–7), the woman and the lost coin (verses 8–10), and the father who welcomes a son “who was lost and has been found” (verse 32). The third parable is often called The Prodigal Son. As the actual meaning of prodigal is “excessively extravagant” or “lavish,” perhaps a better title would be The Prodigal Father. A child who rejects family and wastes the family fortune is not news. Neither is a child who harbours resentment that a parent might forgive such a sibling. However, a parent who is willing to risk prestige and wealth to let a child leave the family and then extend forgiveness when life apart from family sours – this is news. It’s good news when we consider how this is a story about God’s nature. According to Jewish customs of the time, the younger of two sons would receive one-third of the estate at the time of the father’s death. In handing over the younger son’s portion of the inheritance, the father allows himself to be killed metaphorically. The younger son takes the fortune and lives as if his father were dead. Perhaps the most striking element of this story for Jesus’ original hearers would have been the image of a father running to meet his son. Men of wealth and position never ran in public and certainly never ran to someone who held a less honourable position. Also, the fatted calf ki1led at the son’s return would only have been prepared for a visiting dignitary or for the wedding of one’s child, both opportunities to demonstrate prestige in the community. The father discounts such honour in welcoming home the “lost” son. This father had powerful love for both the younger and the elder sons. Jesus speaks through this parable of God’s love for all, both the “sinners” and the Pharisees. Another joyous feast of reconciliation is described in Joshua 5:9–12. After forty years wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel cross the Jordan and enter the land promised to them. God rolls away their “disgrace” as they join in the Passover meal. Their entry into the land is marked by the end of one kind of provision by God, manna, and the beginning of another, the produce of Canaan. We are not told what their relationship is to the Canaanites already in the land. Psalm 32 describes God in ways similar to the image of the prodigal father in the story from Luke. The psalmist writes of the joy of being reconciled with God and being wrapped in God’s steadfast, forgiving, embracing love. Paul calls us to regard others as God regards us: with love and forgiveness. In 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 we hear the call to take up the ministry of reconciliation, offering to others the reconciliation that God has extended to us and all creation. Nothing in God’s creation is ever so lost that it is beyond God’s finding. God seeks reconciliation with all, extending forgiveness and welcoming us to a place at the joyous feast. In what ways might our communities and the world be changed through our own ministries of reconciliation in Christ’s name?
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Our longing for God may at times find expression in a thirsting for holy and personal encounter. God’s steadfast love promises that such yearning will be satisfied. Our lives continually move between those hopes of encounter and their fulfillment by God. At beginning of day and at its end, our seeking of God is met by God’s seeking of us. Psalm 63:1–8 Psalm 63 cannot be boxed into a single category of psalm. Its stanzas have elements of lament, thanksgiving, trust, and praise blended together. At the core of this psalm is the understanding that life relies on God’s presence. The seeking of God’s presence opens the psalm. Verse 8 affirms the psalmist’s “clinging” to that presence, confessing God to be One who upholds. Psalm 63 provides subtle hints at how relationship with God intends to encompass the whole of our lives. There is, first, the pairing of thirsting and feasting. The experiences appear opposite, yet both provide settings for the psalmist – and for us – to find encounter with God. There is also in the reading language of morning and evening. Evening is explicit in verse 6. Morning comes more hidden in verse 1, where the verb translated as “seek” (shachar) can mean seek “early” or “in the morning.” At day’s beginning as at its end, we rely on God. Note the pronouns of address used all the way through this psalm: “I” and “you.” They remind the community of the intensely personal and relational nature of encounter with God. The social implications of this passage do not appear until the omitted verses (9–11). There, the tone shifts from an expression of vengeance to rejoicing in God. Psalm 63 invites us to practices of prayer and spiritual formation. What makes up the “seeking” of the psalm’s opening verse is clarified in the verbs of verse 6. “Think of you” (zakar, literally “remember” or “imprint”) and “meditate on you.” These disciplines grow out of encounter with the God who “satisfies” the thirst for relationship. The psalmist urges time spent nourishing the spirit (“soul”) with such devotional practices. One common theme in today’s readings is life lived in “interim” times. The psalm’s image of being satisfied by God is present in the readings from Isaiah and Paul. Isaiah 55:1–9 speaks of a feast made possible by God’s grace (“without price”). 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 remembers God’s gift of manna and water to the people of Israel in the wilderness. Both passages celebrate God’s faithfulness to provide what is needed for life. Yet our times often consist of hopeful waiting. Such waiting, whether for the experience of “satisfying” affirmed earlier or a clear sense of God’s purposes in trying circumstances, can make faith difficult. Luke 13:1–9 relates two situations that might be taken to suggest God’s absence. Those experiences are followed by Jesus’ parable of the fig tree. The parable focuses on patient waiting joined with hopeful action. Parables themselves are a form of teaching that requires patient reflection to open oneself to their meanings. In the Corinthians text, Paul’s language of testing suggests interim times that bring a call to live faithfully even while we trust in God’s faithfulness. All of our readings build upon the core affirmation of Psalm 63 – our lives find their source and hope in God. As individuals and communities of faith, we are to seek God’s presence as those whose lives depend upon that presence. In what ways have you thirsted for God on your faith journey? What does this psalm inspire you to do this next week to feed your relationship with God?
Our longing for God may at times find expression in a thirsting for holy and personal encounter. God’s steadfast love promises that such yearning will be satisfied. Our lives continually move between those hopes of encounter and their fulfillment by God. At beginning of day and at its end, our seeking of God is met by God’s seeking of us. Psalm 63:1–8 Psalm 63 cannot be boxed into a single category of psalm. Its stanzas have elements of lament, thanksgiving, trust, and praise blended together. At the core of this psalm is the understanding that life relies on God’s presence. The seeking of God’s presence opens the psalm. Verse 8 affirms the psalmist’s “clinging” to that presence, confessing God to be One who upholds. Psalm 63 provides subtle hints at how relationship with God intends to encompass the whole of our lives. There is, first, the pairing of thirsting and feasting. The experiences appear opposite, yet both provide settings for the psalmist – and for us – to find encounter with God. There is also in the reading language of morning and evening. Evening is explicit in verse 6. Morning comes more hidden in verse 1, where the verb translated as “seek” (shachar) can mean seek “early” or “in the morning.” At day’s beginning as at its end, we rely on God. Note the pronouns of address used all the way through this psalm: “I” and “you.” They remind the community of the intensely personal and relational nature of encounter with God. The social implications of this passage do not appear until the omitted verses (9–11). There, the tone shifts from an expression of vengeance to rejoicing in God. Psalm 63 invites us to practices of prayer and spiritual formation. What makes up the “seeking” of the psalm’s opening verse is clarified in the verbs of verse 6. “Think of you” (zakar, literally “remember” or “imprint”) and “meditate on you.” These disciplines grow out of encounter with the God who “satisfies” the thirst for relationship. The psalmist urges time spent nourishing the spirit (“soul”) with such devotional practices. One common theme in today’s readings is life lived in “interim” times. The psalm’s image of being satisfied by God is present in the readings from Isaiah and Paul. Isaiah 55:1–9 speaks of a feast made possible by God’s grace (“without price”). 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 remembers God’s gift of manna and water to the people of Israel in the wilderness. Both passages celebrate God’s faithfulness to provide what is needed for life. Yet our times often consist of hopeful waiting. Such waiting, whether for the experience of “satisfying” affirmed earlier or a clear sense of God’s purposes in trying circumstances, can make faith difficult. Luke 13:1–9 relates two situations that might be taken to suggest God’s absence. Those experiences are followed by Jesus’ parable of the fig tree. The parable focuses on patient waiting joined with hopeful action. Parables themselves are a form of teaching that requires patient reflection to open oneself to their meanings. In the Corinthians text, Paul’s language of testing suggests interim times that bring a call to live faithfully even while we trust in God’s faithfulness. All of our readings build upon the core affirmation of Psalm 63 – our lives find their source and hope in God. As individuals and communities of faith, we are to seek God’s presence as those whose lives depend upon that presence. In what ways have you thirsted for God on your faith journey? What does this psalm inspire you to do this next week to feed your relationship with God?

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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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