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Thursday, May 29, 2008
NOTE: This will be my last entry for awhile. I'm taking a break through the summer. I'll be back blogging in September. Genesis 6:9–22; 7:24; 8:14–19 The book of Genesis took form when the Hebrew exiles were in Babylon, between 586 and 536 BCE. The exiles discussed their experiences and God’s activity in Hebrew history as they reflected on their current situation. These reflections brought hope for a different future. Each time the stories were told, people learned more about God: God was present. God listened and watched. God was not a bystander. God was involved. God was not against them, but for them. In Sunday's focus passage, God is imagined as having already seen the results of people’s wickedness (Genesis 6:11–12). The earth – once good – is now corrupt. When the earth was created, God spoke all creation into being and then saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This story seems a “reverse” of that account of creation. God sees, then speaks (Genesis 6:12-13). Human sinfulness leads to Earth’s destruction; but, in an act of grace and compassion God will re-create and redeem. Destruction will not be final. Noah is obedient to God, and witnesses God’s renewal of creation after the flood. God’s covenant with Noah is evidence of God’s commitment to faithfully protect the earth (Genesis 8:21). In an ancient worldview, where gods were considered responsible for the future, destruction provided a way to clear away the past and allow a new beginning. This story of the great flood conveys immense hope for the future. Human responsibility for destruction is admitted, but God has a righteous person and a plan. Noah listens and obeys God’s instructions. People will once again enjoy a relationship with God, beginning with Noah’s family. Having received God’s plan (Genesis 6:14–21), Noah stays the distance and plays his part. God involves people in bringing about the redemption that only God can accomplish. Such action is a witness to God’s grace and compassion. Imagine you are a Hebrew exile. How might you feel as you hear this story of God’s re-creation and redemption? Perhaps you would recall the creation story because it echoes in this story. Maybe you would compare God to the Babylonian gods. Likely, you would hear that God is different than the gods of your captors: God is able to re-create and redeem; God is gracious and compassionate; God enjoys relationships with people. In this reflection, you are reminded of God’s identity and your own. In this story, water is the means of God’s cleansing and rebirth. Christian tradition associates such living water with Baptism, recalling the power of water to cleanse and make new. The other readings affirm that God’s presence with us is certain and that the possibility of new beginnings is found in relationship with God. Psalm 46 offers an image of God who strengthens us through waters that “make glad” in the midst of waters that threaten. In Romans 1:16–17; 3:22b–28 (29–31), Paul reminds us that we cannot earn God’s saving work in our lives. We can only receive in faith. Jesus taught with authority about living in God’s way. In Matthew 7:21–29, the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implores disciples to trust his teaching and take action based on God’s word. God continues to redeem and transform, offering the gift of new beginnings in our lives and in all creation. How might we respond to such opportunity in your worship and service? In what ways can we cooperate with God’s ongoing work of creation?
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Sunday's lessons proclaim that God cares for us and provides for our needs. The realm of God, which Matthew calls the “kingdom of heaven,” is now; we are formed by God’s ongoing relationship with us. When we are distracted by the requirements and details of everyday living, Jesus invites us to entrust our lives to God’s Spirit and follow in God’s way. Matthew 6:24–34 This text is set within the section of Matthew called “The Sermon on the Mount.” This sermon, found in chapters 5–7, follows Jesus’ call to the disciples. It summarizes Jesus’ teachings about living as a community of God’s people. Earlier, Moses taught God’s law to the Israelites, to form them as a community of God’s people. Matthew’s first readers would have seen links between Moses and Jesus in this “Sermon on the Mount.” Images such as going up the mountain were clues. At the heart of the law revealed to Moses is God’s covenant with God’s people (Exodus 20–32). Jesus affirmed the principles of the law that Moses taught, but interpreted it differently than many of the religious authorities of that time. This caused confrontations between Jesus and some religious leaders. Jesus’ teaching about the meaning of the law might have seemed revolutionary, but the law remained central for Jesus as he taught the disciples about what it means to seek God’s way and live in the present and future reign of God (Matthew 5:17–19). No one can serve two sources of authority equally. Those who follow Christ, including Matthew’s community, must make a choice (6:24) between the presence and character of God and that of wealth. Wealth can be the focus of one’s trust and love, becoming an idol that distracts from knowing and serving God. God’s presence empowers disciples to focus on compassion for the neighbour. Wild lilies grow prolifically. Their brilliant flowers clothe brown Palestinian hillsides in beauty. King Solomon was famous for his ornate possessions, but Jesus teaches that these were nothing compared to the God-given beauty of the lily blooms. In Jesus’ time, grass clippings were used as fuel for cooking. How surprising that he says God cares about grass. In this text, Jesus is teaching the disciples, and us, about knowing God’s character, God’s righteousness. Jesus teaches that our character can reflect God’s righteousness when we live in God’s way. Worry about our own needs leads us to seek security in possessions, power, or beauty. These distractions divert our attention. Distracted, we might ignore others’ need for the abundant gifts that God gives. Being alert and open to God’s grace and compassion can overcome worry about being acceptable to God. Living in God’s way can relieve worry and build character. For Matthew, the church would grow as anxious people could find healing in Jesus’ teaching. Worshipping God would be the natural response to such gifts. The other readings lift up how seeking God’s way shapes our lives. Isaiah 49:8–16a affirms that we need not worry–God will not forget God’s covenant relationship with us. Psalm 131 rejoices that God’s presence helps us to calm our distractedness, reassuring us of the reason to hope. In 1 Corinthians 4:1–5, Paul tells how awareness of God’s presence in his life has formed him as a servant of Christ and steward of “God’s mysteries.” Knowing that God alone will judge and commend, Paul is freed to reflect and express God’s gracious and compassionate character in his living. Living in God’s presence forms character and inner beauty, nourishing our worship of God. What does it mean that God knows you and is involved in your well-being? What distracts you from acts of grace and outrageous compassion?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The Confluence of recent events involving a pastor, a historic presidential candidacy, and a sister church in our denomination (Trinity UCC in Chicago), has prompted the leadership of the United Church of Christ to call for a "sacred conversation" among Amiercan church people about race and ethnicity in our culture. Why talk about this at church? Because corporate media outlets seem more interested in generating heat than light on the subject. Because the one place still the most segregated by choice in American life is the church sanctuary (and other houses of worship). Diverstiy is an unchanging fact in our culture. It is important for peole whose life journeys, political perspectives, and relgious experiences differ sharply, to speak openly and honstly with one another about issues important to everyone. We can live with respect, understanding and empathy, or we can live in scorn, division and acrimony. Join us this Sunday, May 18, and share in this sacred conversation. Lessons: Genesis 1:2-4; Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16-20; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.

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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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