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Tuesday, October 30, 2007
What does it mean to look beyond our present understanding in order to see the amazing ways in which God’s promises are being fulfilled? In Sunday's readings, Jesus, the prophet Habakkuk, the psalmist, and Paul all see beyond the obvious and welcome God’s reign. Following their example, we are invited to live in the presence of God’s promises and work toward their fulfillment. Luke 19:1–10At the beginning of Luke 19, we find Jesus passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem; at the end of this chapter is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Again, the gospel reports that Jesus is criticized for associating with those considered unclean or outside the household of faith. In this story we encounter the discipleship of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who seeks out Jesus and is then transformed by the encounter. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were not paid by the Romans, but were entitled to collect whatever amounts they chose from the populace, paying the Roman government the required amount and keeping the difference. Decried by some as collaborators, despised by others for being ritually unclean because of their routine contact with Gentiles, and hated by others because of the tax burden they forced on the community, the gospel of Luke portrays tax collectors as the ultimate outsiders. The Pharisees considered Jesus’ interactions with them as an indication that he was not a true prophet of God. Jesus extends God’s grace to Zacchaeus by being willing to engage in that most intimate of Middle Eastern customs, the sharing of a meal in a person’s home. Sharing a meal brings Zacchaeus into community with Jesus. Zacchaeus welcomes the gift of God’s grace that Jesus gives and is transformed into a disciple who is generous in serving, who becomes rich toward God. Luke challenges the first readers, and us, to consider how we place ourselves in God’s presence and welcome Jesus Christ, who first and always welcomes us. The climax of the story comes when Jesus declares that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham” – one of God’s chosen people. Jesus announces that God’s salvation has come to Zacchaeus. Salvation in the Bible refers to God’s desire and activity to free humankind from sin, death, and the powers of evil – liberating people to live as God created them to live. The saving work of God that Jesus described in the stories of the lost coin and sheep in chapter 15 is also evident here. There is nowhere that the reign of God will not reach. In Habakkuk 1:1–4, 2:1–4, the prophet calls for the promise of God’s saving and liberating love to be written large enough for a runner to read. God’s goodness and grace will surely come. The righteous will, like the prophet standing on the rampart, continue to look for the salvation of God. God’s promises bring transformation. In Psalm 119:137–144 the psalmist proclaims that regardless of what happens, the people will know the coming of God’s promises. Zacchaeus’ life was transformed by being in Jesus’ presence. In 2 Thessalonians 1:1–4, 11–12, Paul reminds his readers that their faith is growing because of God’s presence in their lives. Paul calls on the Thessalonians to give thanks to God and to be confident that as God works within them, they will be able to live the lives to which they have been called. When people place themselves in God’s presence, lives are transformed. New possibilities for life and service become visible. We have a place in this story of God’s saving work. What new and fresh perspectives on life do we gain by living in Christ? What might we do, as individuals and as the church, to welcome Jesus – and the friends Jesus brings along – into our hearts and homes?
WELCOMING JESUS What does it mean to look beyond our present understanding in order to see the amazing ways in which God’s promises are being fulfilled? In this week’s readings, Jesus, the prophet Habakkuk, the psalmist, and Paul all see beyond the obvious and welcome God’s reign. Following their example, we are invited to live in the presence of God’s promises and work toward their fulfillment. Focus Scripture: Luke 19:1–10 At the beginning of Luke 19, we find Jesus passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem; at the end of this chapter is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Again, the gospel reports that Jesus is criticized for associating with those considered unclean or outside the household of faith. In this story we encounter the discipleship of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who seeks out Jesus and is then transformed by the encounter. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were not paid by the Romans, but were entitled to collect whatever amounts they chose from the populace, paying the Roman government the required amount and keeping the difference. Decried by some as collaborators, despised by others for being ritually unclean because of their routine contact with Gentiles, and hated by others because of the tax burden they forced on the community, the gospel of Luke portrays tax collectors as the ultimate outsiders. The Pharisees considered Jesus’ interactions with them as an indication that he was not a true prophet of God. Jesus extends God’s grace to Zacchaeus by being willing to engage in that most intimate of Middle Eastern customs, the sharing of a meal in a person’s home. Sharing a meal brings Zacchaeus into community with Jesus. Zacchaeus welcomes the gift of God’s grace that Jesus gives and is transformed into a disciple who is generous in serving, who becomes rich toward God. Luke challenges the first readers, and us, to consider how we place ourselves in God’s presence and welcome Jesus Christ, who first and always welcomes us. The climax of the story comes when Jesus declares that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham” – one of God’s chosen people. Jesus announces that God’s salvation has come to Zacchaeus. Salvation in the Bible refers to God’s desire and activity to free humankind from sin, death, and the powers of evil – liberating people to live as God created them to live. The saving work of God that Jesus described in the stories of the lost coin and sheep in chapter 15 is also evident here. There is nowhere that the reign of God will not reach. In Habakkuk 1:1–4, 2:1–4, the prophet calls for the promise of God’s saving and liberating love to be written large enough for a runner to read. God’s goodness and grace will surely come. The righteous will, like the prophet standing on the rampart, continue to look for the salvation of God. God’s promises bring transformation. In Psalm 119:137–144 the psalmist proclaims that regardless of what happens, the people will know the coming of God’s promises. Zacchaeus’ life was transformed by being in Jesus’ presence. In 2 Thessalonians 1:1–4, 11–12, Paul reminds his readers that their faith is growing because of God’s presence in their lives. Paul calls on the Thessalonians to give thanks to God and to be confident that as God works within them, they will be able to live the lives to which they have been called. • • • • • When people place themselves in God’s presence, lives are transformed. New possibilities for life and service become visible. We have a place in this story of God’s saving work. What new and fresh perspectives on life do we gain by living in Christ? What might we do, as individuals and as the church, to welcome Jesus – and the friends Jesus brings along – into our hearts and homes?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
God sustains humankind and all that exists with gifts of love. This premise is central in the readings today. As we place ourselves in God’s presence, we are mindful that the things we do don’t make us deserve the richness of God’s grace and mercy – these are gifts. We ground our lives in prayers of thanksgiving for such daily blessings. Luke 18:9–14 Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector extends the theme of prayer from the previous parable of the widow and the unjust judge. To Jesus’ hearers, a story that begins, “two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector,” is going to be a story of contrasts. Tax collectors were considered outsiders. They were collaborators with the Romans and, because of their frequent contact with Gentiles, were often ritually unclean and unable to participate in temple worship. The tax collector in Jesus’ story identifies himself as “a sinner.” Pharisees, on the other hand, dedicated themselves to the purity laws and temple worship. The Pharisee in the parable is convinced of his religious superiority and righteousness – right standing – with God. Jesus places the focus of the parable not on the Pharisee, but on the classic outsider, the tax collector. Here is a person who is convinced only of unworthiness. The tax collector places himself in God’s presence in the hope that, even though he is far from the centre of things both in the temple and in the community of the faithful, God will hear the anguished cry that he pours out. Jesus commends the tax collector for confessing the truth of his position before God. In this story of contrasts, the Pharisee who stands “by himself” is living a delusion. Neither he nor the tax collector, nor Jesus’ hearers, nor the readers of Luke’s gospel stand by themselves. Without God’s mercy, the tax collector and the Pharisee do not “have a prayer.” In this pair of parables at the beginning of Luke 18, Jesus lifts up the importance of prayer (verse 1) by lifting up the determination of the widow and the humility of the tax collector. In doing so, Jesus says something about the promise of persistent prayer and peril of presumptuous prayer. It is important to note that humility connotes a sense of “being grounded” rather than “being a doormat.” The root of humility is the Latin humus, “earth” or “ground.” To have humility as a disciple suggests grounding one’s life in God’s love – admitting mistakes and learning from them, being thankful instead of boastful, and serving with dignity. The prophet speaks of humankind’s dependence on God’s grace and mercy in Joel 2:23–32. It is God who provided the rain in the past and, despite lean years, it is God who will bring blessings in the future. The righteous live in recognition of their reliance on such gifts. Again in Psalm 65, the psalmist declares that it is God who sustains all life on earth. As God pours out blessings on the earth, God’s people respond in pouring out thanks and praise. In 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18, we hear Paul reflecting on ministry. Paul recognizes that, while he has kept the faith and poured his life into vocation as an apostle, it is God who gave Paul strength, who was a constant presence who rescued Paul time and again. As our lives are grounded in the loving ways of God’s reign, we are thankful and grateful to God. In humility, the tax collector expressed the truth of who he was in relation to God. God invites us to be equally truthful and to open our hearts to receive God’s gifts of grace and salvation. What does it mean to pour our hearts out to God? When God pours blessing and mercy upon us, what is our response?
Monday, October 15, 2007
God’s people are called to persistence in discipleship – persistence in prayer and meditation, proclaiming God’s word, and seeking justice. In the readings this week, the longing for justice and the coming of God’s reign are palpable. In such times, Jesus urges us to stand firm, with bold confidence that God will prevail. Luke 18:1–8 In chapter 17, the gospel of Luke reports Jesus’ response to the questions of the Pharisees concerning the timing of the coming of the God’s reign. Jesus’ parable in the focus passage is part of the response to these questions. However, it is not a story about signs and forecasts, but about the final hope of those who are held in low regard by society. The first of two parables about prayer in Luke 18, this story is Jesus’ call to disciples to “pray always and not to lose heart.” In ancient Israel, the duty of a judge was to maintain harmony in relationships and settle disputes among Israelites. Disputes involving widows and orphans were not uncommon in Israel (Psalm 82:3–4; Jeremiah 5:28–29). The law did not allow a widow to inherit her husband’s estate, which passed on to the deceased man’s sons or brothers. If these relatives did not act with justice and honour toward the widow of their father or brother, a judge was called in as the widow’s final and only hope. For those of Jesus’ hearers who were poor or without status in society, a story about a widow with no power or influence and a judge with no compassion would seem “business as usual.” They might assume justice would be denied again. However, in this story the widow’s persistence wins the day. The beautiful surprise of this story is that justice triumphs! No wonder the author of Luke interprets Jesus’ story as being about not losing heart. Whatever happens, God’s way of justice will prevail. Such hope – such certainty that God’s justice will finally come – is no easy thing. The author of Luke leaves Jesus’ question in verse 8 hanging for us to answer: will faith be found when the reign of God comes in its fullness? Those who are persistent in prayer do not lose heart as they wait and work for the coming of God’s reign. Jeremiah proclaims, “The days are surely coming” in Jeremiah 31:27–34. Regardless of how devastated and hopeless things may seem in the present, the prophet is confident to declare that there is a time coming when the people’s knowledge and experience of God will be so intimate that God’s will and desires will be imprinted in the very centre of their lives. Jeremiah’s words are a call to persistence in aligning one’s heart and one’s actions with God’s hopes for all creation. Intimate and persistent connection with God’s law, according to Psalm 119:97–104, brings wisdom and understanding. The concept of law in the Hebrew Scriptures is more than a codified set of rules. The whole story of God’s relationship with humankind is contained in this understanding of law. There is urgency in Timothy’s ministry to proclaim the message with which he has been entrusted. In 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5, the writer asserts that, for many, it will be easier to find messages that suit them than to persist in claiming the truth of God’s word. Many life experiences call for persistence. God will never be diverted from seeking to institute justice, peace, and grace everywhere. As disciples, we are called to embrace the discipline of persistence in prayer and in seeking the gifts of God’s reign for all. What is the role of the faith community in supporting persistence in individual members? What does it mean for you and your church to live with confidence that God will prevail?
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
As Jesus’ followers, we present ourselves to God and open ourselves to God’s presence with us. We encounter God’s grace and healing amid all the circumstances of our lives. As the passages for this Sunday reveal, this encounter may come in unexpected ways. We, in turn, are called to respond richly – in our relationship to God and our relationship with others. Luke 17:11–19 This story features a Samaritan, and takes place in the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee. In Jesus’ day, Samaritans honoured the holy traditions in the Hebrew Scriptures. They were descendants of those who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but centred their faith in Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. There was a mutual and long-standing resentment between Samaritans and the Jews, whose faith was centred in Jerusalem. In one sense, Samaritans were part of Judaism in that they revered the scriptures. In another sense, however, they were outside of Judaism that was defined as the community of allegiance to Jerusalem and its authorities. As the story opens, Jesus encounters ten individuals who have leprosy. In keeping with the Law, Jesus sends them to the priest to be declared clean and whole, an action necessary for them to be accepted again into the life of the community (Leviticus 14:23). On the way, they are healed. One, a Samaritan, turns back, praising God and returning to Jesus to give thanks for the healing. Jesus affirms the faithfulness of this healed one, and declares him clean and whole. This is more than a story about being polite; it speaks of the power of encounter with God – source of all life and wholeness. It is interesting to note the way this passage from Luke is translated in the New International Version Bible. Instead of referring to the ten as “lepers” in verse 12, the reference is to ten “who had leprosy.” The gospel of Luke emphasizes seeing or recognizing. This translation asks the reader to not define these individuals by their disease, instead recognizing the full humanity of all people, even (or perhaps especially) those on the margins of society or placed outside the community. Luke invites us to consider one another as God does. A picture of God’s mercy is painted by the prophet in Jeremiah 29:1, 4–7. God’s people are given a vision of hope in the midst of exile in Babylon: they will plant and live fruitfully in the foreign land, and God will be present to guide them. They are instructed to seek the welfare of the city, thereby securing their own welfare. God seeks the welfare of humankind, no matter the circumstances. This message is echoed in Psalm 66:1–12. God will “not let our feet slip.” What could possibly discourage the faithful from praising God’s constant presence? Keep ever in mind the nature of the God we follow. This is the message of 2 Timothy 2:8–15. Jesus’ followers can weather any challenge, even those posed by false teachers, when they hold fast to the truth of the gospel as they have received it. Like one who is healed, Christians are blessed to return again and again to God, the true source of grace and mercy. We rejoice in the gifts of healing and wholeness that we receive daily from God’s hand. Though our offering of praise and thanksgiving may not always flow freely, such a response shapes our discipleship. In what ways does faith heal and sustain you? How do you and your faith community return thanks for such grace?
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
We learn the faith in many different ways – from parents and friends, teachers, and the study of scripture, and from living in the Christian community. We are strengthened by hearing the faith stories of others and by passing on our own. We have a responsibility to nurture this faith and hand it on to others. It is the good treasure entrusted to us. 2 Timothy 1:1–14 Written from a prison setting, 2 Timothy is to Timothy, a young leader in the Christian community. It is a letter of encouragement and instruction to the early church. Labelled “Pastoral Letters/Epistles,” the letters to Timothy were probably not written by Paul – they speak to a church that is more structured than that of Paul’s day. Paul’s name is attached to them, giving them the authority of Paul’s teaching. With great affection the author writes, “To Timothy, my beloved child” and tells him that he is remembered daily in prayer. What a wonderful message to receive from a teacher and fellow worker! Faith is nurtured in human relationships, from generation to generation. As Timothy did, we learn the faith from parents and/or other teachers, and are sustained by the prayers of others. The faith lived in others and now lives in us; it is something alive and growing. The author reminds Timothy and the early church to rekindle the gift of God that they received in baptism, a “spirit of power and love and self-discipline.” We, too, recall the promises made at baptism and look for ways to live out our baptismal ministry every day as we grow in understanding. At baptism, the gathered community promises to support and nurture the candidates. All in the church have a responsibility to hand on to others what has been learned of the Christian faith. The letter encourages the fledgling church, reminding it that God, who saves and calls, is faithful and trustworthy in good times and bad. Paul is described as a herald (one who proclaims a message), an apostle (one who is sent), and a teacher (one who helps others to grow in the faith). The faith is that “good treasure” entrusted to Timothy and the early church – and to all of us. It is a gift of God to guard and to share, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Like the members of Timothy’s community, the ancient Hebrews also waited in hope for God’s salvation. The two readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, Lamentations 1:1–6 and Lamentations 3:19–26, are from a series of poems weeping over Israel’s fate. The leaders have been carried off into exile in Babylon; these poems are written for those left behind. The prophet weeps over Jerusalem – the “widow” who has been left desolate. The second passage adds a note of hope. God’s steadfast love will never end. God’s mercies are new every day. Psalm 137 is the lament of those in exile. How can Israel worship God away from the temple? How can Israel remain faithful in a foreign land? There they must guard the faith treasure entrusted to them. The closing verses of this psalm seem unbelievably harsh, but they reflect the pain and anger of an oppressed people. We are called to serve others in obedience to God’s teaching rather than in the hope of reward. In Luke 17:5–10, Jesus speaks to the disciples about humility and obedience. The disciples feel that they will need more faith. Jesus tells them that even a small amount of faith in God will be enough. It is God’s power that changes things. Faith is the good treasure that is its own reward. As we consider faith, the “good treasure” entrusted to us; what is the nature of this faith? How is the faith handed on from generation to generation? How can our faith lead us to hope when we find ourselves in the strange land? We give thanks for those who have led us and encouraged us in the faith.

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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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