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Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Isaiah 2:1–5 The opening chapters of Isaiah address a time of crisis in Judah. The armies of Assyria posed a serious threat as its empire expanded. The northern kingdom of Israel was being threatened first. It was sent into captivity by Assyria in 722 bce. Over the next two decades, Assyria threatened Judah with the same fate. Yet another peril involved injustice within Judah. Prophets like Isaiah warned against both sets of dangers. Yet these same prophets invited hope, as Isaiah does here. The focus scripture reads almost word for word with Micah 4:1–4. Prophets often announce unexpected reversals. In verse 4, tools of death will be hammered into tools of life. Warning levied against Jerusalem (1:21) gives way to this promising word. Another surprising development has to do with the identity of the pilgrims who will stream to Mount Zion. “All nations” shall come. “Nations” translates a Hebrew word that also means “Gentiles.” The city, like its vision, is inclusive of all God’s people. God’s “holy mountain” is a key image in this passage. Jerusalem was built on a ridge. “Zion” was the name of one portion of that ridge. Zion came over time to be a synonym for the temple and Jerusalem itself. Mountains were often identified as “holy.” They were seen as places of encounter with God. In this vision, such encounter takes the form of holy instruction. Underlying this passage is a vision of God’s peace or shalom. Shalom is more than an absence of conflict. Shalom is the presence of conditions that make for life. It includes security and a state of “truce,” but goes beyond them. Shalom involves justice and sharing. Shalom assures freedom from want and an abundance of life’s gifts. A caution is in order. Prosperity and security are not always signs of God’s shalom. Plenty and comfort can create false optimism; Isaiah and other prophets confront the pride and denial that then can result. The focus scripture closes on an open-ended note. The last verse can be read as an invitation to join this journey to Mount Zion. It also can be read as a warning not to travel the paths described in the remaining verses of the chapter. Both meanings fit the prophetic call. Now is the time to follow God’s leading. Peace, goodness, and vigilance play important roles in the additional scriptures. Hope and community rely on the exercise of all three. In Psalm 122, the psalmist prays for peace and offers a benediction upon others. The psalm closes with the resolution to seek the community’s good. In Romans 13:11–14, the nearness of God’s salvation serves two roles. First, it identifies Paul’s basis for hope in God’s peace. Second, it serves as cause for our “living honourably.” That hope moves us to seek the good in our relationships with God and one another. Paul urges our wakefulness, based on knowing what time it is. On the other hand, Matthew 24:36–44 summons vigilance because we do not know the hour of God’s coming. Sunday’s lessons encourage us to join the procession that leads to God’s peace for all. Who are the prophets among us? How do their words of invitation and warning grow out of a vision of God’s peace? How might we journey through Advent as pilgrims who seek, and disciples who practice, the ways of God’s shalom?
Friday, November 23, 2007
Reign of Christ Sunday completes the church year. The readings for Sunday give us a variety of pictures of who Jesus is – firstborn of creation, righteous king, one who suffers and yet reigns over the world, the one who comes to show us what God is like. As individuals and as the church, we are learning as we journey with God towards the full reign of Christ. Colossians 1:11–20 The author of Colossians is not certain. Many scholars place its writing at a time after Paul’s death. The letter bears Paul’s name, likely an honour to a loved teacher bestowed by the writer. This letter warns the community against false teachers and, in this passage, speaks to the meaning of what Jesus has done. Verses 15–20 appear to be a fragment of an early hymn, perhaps one familiar to the Colossians. Christ is praised here as the image of God, agent of creation, and one who has redeemed and reconciled the world. The writer calls on the Christians in Colossae to join in giving thanks to God for the gifts they receive in Christ. The letter describes Jesus the Christ as the “firstborn of all creation” (verse 15). The Nicene Creed tries to describe this in the phrase “begotten, not made.” Jesus is the image (in Greek, ikon) of the invisible God, the visible manifestation in the world of who God is. Christ makes God visible. The hymn praises Christ as the agent of creation. All things have been created through Christ, and all things hold together in Christ. These words call us back to the reading from Hebrews 13:8 on September 2: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Through Jesus the Christ, the new heaven and earth are established. Colossians 1: 20 describes how, through Jesus’ death on the cross, God makes peace with the world. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is redemption for those who follow Jesus Christ. As were the disciples in Colossae, we also are empowered to live new lives in Christ. The other texts give us a variety of images of the reign of Christ. In Jeremiah 23:1–6, the prophet tells the people that Judah’s kings, called by God to be good shepherds to the people, have betrayed them. But God will be the people’s shepherd, bringing them to safety. God will raise up a righteous king from the house of David to bring about God’s reign of justice and peace. In the writings of the prophets, this one who will come was known as the Messiah, the anointed one. God is raising up a mighty Savior who will bring salvation, forgiveness, and peace, declares the father of John the Baptist in Luke 1:68–79. This Song of Zechariah is a prophecy regarding John, the one sent by God to prepare the way and to announce the coming of the Messiah. God’s Messiah is not one who comes in triumphant conquest, but one who serves through suffering for the sake of others. Luke 23:33–43 is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus, by his death on the cross, provides a different image of kingship. In the midst of his own suffering, Jesus shows compassion and forgiveness. Jesus shows love to those held in low regard by society. It is the thief who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. His prayer is ours – “remember us when you come into your kingdom.” Our Lessons for Sunday provide us with many different images of Jesus the Christ – the one in whom all creation is directed and held together; the good shepherd; the redeemer; the one who suffers, dies, and rises again; the head of the church. These images are pictures and symbols of what we cannot express fully in words. The images speak to each one of us in different ways. Which of these pictures speaks to you most clearly? What images would you use to describe the work and importance
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, a reign of harmony and wholeness for all creation. As disciples, we are called to explore what it means to live into that vision and to help bring about a world of justice and peace. What does it mean to be open to the new thing that God is doing in our midst? Isaiah 65:17–25 Many scholars believe these verses were written after 539 BCE, when the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon. The community faced difficulties. Their return was not as triumphant as they had hoped. Much had to be rebuilt as they took up their lives again. The prophet encourages them, reminding them of God’s promise of salvation – God will not remember Israel’s disobedience. The word remember in scripture means bringing a past event into the present with all the power of the original. The words of the prophet assure readers today that our sins no longer have power over us, that God brings healing and wholeness. How can we put aside painful parts of our story now finished? What from our past is important for us to remember and to carry with us? God has a dream and is bringing about a new heaven and a new earth to those who are faithful. The prophet declares that God’s people are part of that dream. In the new heaven and earth, they will live out full lives. The created world, too, will exist in harmony as it did in stories of the first creation. The serpent of Genesis 3 is cursed. We also are blessed in the ordinary routines of everyday life. God hears and answers, listens and supports. God delights and rejoices in us. God continues to create and to call us forward into the dream of a new creation of peace and harmony. Other people of faith may have different ideas of what the new vision is. How do we live in peace with one another as we explore the new world to which God calls us? Isaiah 12, written when the people of Israel were threatened by Assyria, is a hymn of praise for all that God has done. It incorporates many quotations from the psalms. The name Isaiah means “God has saved.” Surely God is my salvation, the prophet affirms. When the people trust God, they sing and shout for joy. God is in the midst of their lives. We continue to look for signs of the new creation, giving thanks that God’s comfort is real. Paul calls the early Christian community to continue to live out their faith, in contrast to those who have stopped working because they believe that Jesus would return very soon. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, Paul reminds them that he worked to earn his living while he was with them. The words of Paul also call us to continue to live our lives faithfully, finding God in the ordinariness of everyday life. Jesus warns his followers to not be too preoccupied with rumours of the end of the world. Luke 21:5–19 was written down after the destruction of the temple. In this passage, Jesus, standing in the temple courtyard, speaks of the coming destruction. Jesus tells that before the new heaven and earth come about, Christians will be persecuted for their faith. God will help them find the words to testify to their faith and will reward their endurance. God continues to create. Today, what are the signs that God is making a new heaven and earth? Our Sunday lessons move us toward the conclusion of the church year, to the Reign of Christ celebration next week and to Advent when we welcome the Promised One whose coming breaks into human history to begin God’s new day. What is our role in working to bring about a world of justice and peace for all? How do we live into this vision and help to create it?

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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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