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Monday, June 29, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 or Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 48:1-14 or Psalm 123:1-4, II Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-3 II Corinthians 12:9 may have been my mother’s favorite verse. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” words spoken by the Lord to Paul. The words hung over the kitchen sink, inscribed on a small plaque. She suffered a mental breakdown during my teen years, eventually spending time in the state mental institution in the days of electro-shock therapy. She went on to live a significant, relatively normal, life, characterized by much service to the community. She became what Henri Nouwen spoke of as a “wounded healer.” My parents were both living witnesses to the power of people who find their way through weakness to strength. Somehow they managed to convey to me, in a way that I internalized, that fighting was not acceptable behavior. It doesn’t sound very manly, but when a bully attacked me, I would simply go limp, and soon he would give up. When the Lord speaks to Paul in that verse quoted from II Corinthians, Paul has said that he will not boast about anything “except my weaknesses.” (II Corinthians 12:5) He concludes, in verse 10, with the declaration, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” It seems that when he is aware of his weakness he is also most aware of the power of Christ in him. (Vs. 9) Well, what about it? Doesn’t make much sense. To be powerful you have to scramble your way to the top, pushing aside everyone who gets in the way. Isn’t that the way it works—for individual and for nations? If you don’t stand up for what it yours, fight back, exact revenge, those bullies will take away everything you have. I admit I’ve often wondered whether radical obedience to the way of Jesus could ever work—especially on the grand scale of international power plays. We will probably hear a speech or two about what makes a “strong” nation this holiday weekend. Can we listen to them with hearts and minds that see power coming from a gentle inner Spirit that sees and measures not as the world sees and measures? Both Ezekiel and Mark speak to the need for people to hear the words of a prophet, to be called to account by a voice from another perspective. Ezekiel paints the picture of a rebellious nation which is “impudent and stubborn.” (Ezekiel 2:4) At least they will know that “there has been a prophet among them.” (vs. 5) Someone needs to continue to speak words that challenge the usual ways of power politics. Jesus, in the Gospel according to Mark, speaks of a prophet who is without honor in his hometown—he being that prophet. People can’t imagine that an ordinary carpenter, an ordinary anything, ordinary people like us, might have anything to say that would affect the course of history. When we worship and speak and act as Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ does the world know that prophets are in their midst. I hope we never stop hearing that prophetic word here and never stop doing our best to apply it in our living in our private and public activities. If you like to wonder about strange elements in biblical stories, you may want to speculate on this person whom Paul knew, described in the first part of the passage from II Corinthians. The person was “caught up to the third heaven.” It is there that the person “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” I’d rather be encouraged by the possibility of strength in weakness than five visions about things which cannot be told—nor probably understood. I’m sure there are graces beyond description in realms that reach from here to eternity. For the moment I’ll settle for grace which is sufficient to empower me in my weakness. Would that the world know more of such grace in its interpersonal and international functioning.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 1:1, 17-27 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24, Psalm 130:1-8 or Psalm 30:1-12 (optional with Lamentations 3:23-33), II Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43 TRUTH IN ADVERTISING DISCLAIMER: What I write here may or may not have anything to do with Pastor Rick’s Sunday sermon. Not even he knows at this point what he will say. We know that it will inspire and/or provoke us. Thank you, Rick, for what you bring to us each week. THIS WEEK’S COMMENTS: I once preached a sermon with an awkward title that went something like, “What Do You Cry About in Your Pillow at Night?” I also remember a clergy conference I attended where we were asked to think about the things we wanted to cry about. We were then instructed to sit on the floor and mourn aloud with vigor. The grief was almost overwhelming. Most of the scriptures for this Sunday have to do with mourning. In the midst of the mourning, however, there are words of hope. Death is not God’s final word; “joy” and “life” are what God is about. David, in II Samuel, chapter one, cries out about the death of Saul, and Saul’s son Jonathan, deeply loved by David. We could wonder about the relationship between David and Jonathan, mentioned in another recent blog. Whatever else it may or may not have been, it is a story that represents a deep level of friendship and commitment. David, remembering Jonathan, says (in II Samuel 1:26), “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan, greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” We could also see a theme here about the destructiveness and futility of war. Three times we hear the words, “How the mighty have fallen!” (II Samuel 1:19, 25, & 27) “How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” Certainly war and the losses associated with it—sometimes very personal to us—always personal to someone, a mother, a brother, a child. Many of the Psalms are laments, reminding us that it is okay to cry out in despair and frustration. Psalm 130 begins with the words, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” The alternate Psalm (#30) and the optional reading from the Hebrew scriptures (Lamentations 2:23-33) intertwine hope with the weeping. However one views various emotions attributed to God, the emphasis here is not on “negative” emotions, but on positive. “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11) God’s mercies “are new every morning.” (Lamentations 2:23—the verse from which we get the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”) The conditions, the circumstances, about which we weep will not last forever. African-American preaching in particular has emphasized that it is darkest before the dawn. Such an insight has led to sermon titles like “It’s Midnight, but Morning’s Coming” and “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming” referencing Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gospel lesson is also about death and life. Our modern minds have difficulty get around stories of resurrection. There’s an intriguing reference to the fact that Jairus’ daughter was “not dead but sleeping.” (Mark 7:39) When we go through life half-asleep, out of touch with the injustices around us, are we as good as dead? The story, and the story of the hemorrhaging woman that’s tucked into the middle of it, equate life and faith. To have faith is to be alive. (Mark 5:34) To even come near to Jesus is to draw life from his Spirit. (Mark 5:28) Along the way, though, there’s a lot of weeping and wailing, more of that mourning before the dawn (morning) comes. (Mark 5:38) So, what stirs our hearts so deeply that we cry out in frustration, in grief, even in anger? Personal things? Social things? Political things? Cry! Cry loudly! And don’t forget that joy comes in the morning, that God stands on the side of life, not death!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: I Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 or Job 38:1-11, Psalm 9:9-20 (optional with II Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16) or Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, II Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41 There are lots of lectionary choices for Sunday, June 21. Read them all if you want. One of the threads running through them is power and weakness and/or strength in the face of difficulty. I Samuel 17 starts off with the familiar story of Goliath. It’s full of violence. Even the "good" guy, the one who refuses to go into battle relaying on full military regalia and might, David, ends up flinging a stone so hard that it becomes imbedded in the giant enemy’s, Goliath, head. Then, for good measure, he buts Goliath’s head off. I don’t really know what to do with some of the details of the story. As much as I admire the lad with the sling, I’m offended. Mostly I’ve come to the story asking who are the giants threatening us. They can be personal (depression, addiction, loneliness, etc.), socio-economic (poverty, crime, overconsumption, greed), or political (terrorism, authoritarianism, racism, agism, sexism, and a lot of other "isms"), to name a few. The text calls us to trust God as our ally in fighting such giants. It explicitly wants us to "know," in I Samuel 17:47, "that the Lord does not save by sword and spear . . . " In the midst of a section of the Bible where we often see violence comes this warning against reliance upon the power of military might as a way of solving the problems of the world. I actually believe that I & II Samuel and I & II Kings constitute andantiwar tract in which the people are warned about reliance upon the power of a king. Look at I Samuel 8:4-18. The story is then told in violent detail until it leads inexoribly to the fall of the nation and the ruin of the people. In the end, relying upon military might leads to their, and our ruin. The passage from Job 38 is similar in that it warns us of the pride to think that we are the ones who make all things happen. There are so many things that happen that we don’t control—like last week’s windstorms or stock market crashes or 9/11 attacks. Yes, sometimes, many times, human hands are in the pot stirring things up, but it is the pride that we know and can predict all things that is not only arrogant, but dangerous. Pride and greed have gotten us into the current economic mess. Like the young David, we could do with a good dose of humility as we face the crises of this world. As Psalm 9:9 says, "The Lord is a stronghold . . . in times of trouble." Note in this Psalm that the Lord is again not on the side of the giants but on the side of the "oppressed" (vs. 9), and "the needy" (vs. 18). In the broad sweep of biblical history, we see that again and again. It’s not always comfortable for affluent people to realize that, but if we truly care about peace and justice, it reassures us when, like David, we face political and economic giants when the get out of hand and threaten to destroy the deeper values of human existence. The optional passage from I Samuel continues the story of David, offering us a love story between David and Jonathan (I Samuel 18:1-5). It then moves into the violence of Saul in the face of David’s popularity and success. Saul is jealous, perhaps driven a little mad, and attempts to kill David. Once again, we don’t get a very pretty picture of the machinations that occur in the inner workings of government. Earlier, in I Samuel 16:14 and following, David has been able to soothe Saul when the evil spirits overtake him, by playing the lyre for him. Apparently, Saul is now beyond that, but those who want to see peace and justice, and the healing of violence and troubled minds, may want to consider again the soothing and soul connecting (even across traditional lines of division) that music can sometimes bring. Both Psalm 107:25-30 and Mark 4:35-41 depict the soothing power of God in the face of the storms of life, storms perhaps being another way of talking about the giants we face. There is also an echo of the voice of God in Job asking who is really in charge anyway. We talk a lot about world peace, but a prerequisite to world peace is inner peace. Edwin Friedman has written about leaders needing to provide a "non-anxious presence." We get so anxious about so many things, even afraid. The shooting or shouting most often starts when we are anxious and fearful. We all need to hear the words, "Peace! Be still!" (Mark 4:39) Finally, the epistle, II Corinthinas 6:1-13, speaks also of strength in the face of adversity, in this case what Paul describes as "afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger." Is Paul complaining again? Theres’ more if you read the whole thing. The bottom line, though, is that he is alive and able to rejoice. He has learned, as he says elsewhere, "to be content with whatever I have." (Philippians 4:11) In II Corinthians 12:10 he makes a similar claim, while contrasting power and weakness. He puts himself on the side of weakness (David vs. Goliath) because that is where he realizes the strength and power of the love of Christ. He hears the Lord say, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Lots to think about. Lots to digest. I can’t wait to see what Rick will do with one or more of these scriptures. In the meantime, I hope all of us "weaklings" are able to find strength enough to prevent the Goliaths and windstorms from overcoming us—maybe even move on to a place where peace prevails, inwardly and outwardly.
Monday, June 08, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: I Samuel 15:34-16:13 or Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 20:1-9 or Psalm 92:1-5, II Corinthians 5:6-17, Mark 4:26-34 This week’s readings offer a rich selection, with the possibility of at least two themes. Selected verses leapt out at me in the first reading, so I’m mostly going to make quick comments on the inspiration of those specific verses rather than make an in-depth examination of the larger passages. 1 Samuel 16:7—“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” It is part of God’s instruction to Samuel as Samuel undertakes his God-give task of anointing a new king—a task, by the way, that he wasn’t too happy with initially. Not even God was very happy about allowing the people to have a king. It would only bring war and taxes, he said—and it did. But that’s another story. We easily chase after the popularity of beauty and physical attractiveness. The challenge to us is to see as the Lord sees, to look beyond outward appearances, the things that attract our senses and appetites, and see the true being, the true value, of the realities and people around us. It’s a little like the “born from above” of last week, being born into a new way of looking at and evaluating the things that matter in life. Psalm 20:7 overlaps, in that it also challenges our easy acquiescence to the powerful and the things of power. “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.” Chariots and horses—the instruments of war and symbols of position. Enough said! II Corinthians, chapter five, again picks up the theme of seeing in a new way. It begins with walking “by faith, not by sight,” (vs. 7) and moves on to a comparison of “outward appearance” and what is “in the heart.” (Vs. 12) It comes to conclusion, in verse 17: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view . . . if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” It is a call to see everything through new eyes, through the eyes of Christ. When we see things that way we realize what great possibility and potential God has intended for us and this world. We are called to be builders of the new, not those who cling on to the old myths and stereotypes and priorities and tunnel-vision that limits and stifles the way ahead. Going back to Ezekiel, we find the second theme, that of the flourishing growth which springs from God’s love. In Ezekiel 17:22-24, it is like a sprig which grows large enough to hold “every kind of bird.” “In the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.” The image is repeated in the Gospel lesson in Mark 4:31-32. Jesus speaks of a mustard seed, the smallest of all sees, that grows “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” We’re loving the presence of the birds outside our lofty windows. We live in the midst of the branches of tall trees, inhabited by a rich variety of birds—mourning doves, jays, sparrows, finches, flickers, starlings, robins, and many we haven’t identified yet. Sometimes they come right up onto our decks, dig around in our potted plants, even appear to sit outside the window watching us, trying to start of conversation. The rich variety of birds in the tree in a sign of God’s peaceable kingdom, of the pentecostal reality of which Pastor Rick spoke last Sunday. In Psalm 92:12, it is God’s people who “flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” The part I like here is that “in old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap.” We’ve moved from those who dwell in the tree to being the tree, and the point is that when God is giving the growth, our lives continue to bear fruit. It is the nature of God’s Love, planted in human lives, to take root and grow and bear fruit. Mark 4:26-34 gives us a couple of parables of growth, and there are others in the Gospels. The most basic point of all the growth parables is that when the seed is planted, some of it will grow. Whatever seeds of kindness we plant, whatever efforts we make toward peace and justice, whenever we reach out in love, there will be some fruit from that effort. It may not always seem like it. It may not come quickly. We may never even see the results, but, with the eyes of faith, we believe and declare that it will grow, in God’s good time. When we let God love us and let that love use us, the possibilities of growth are beyond our imagining, so great that we can’t see them unless we see things through new eyes.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29:1-11, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 Two of this week's texts continue the focus on the Holy Spirit, serving as a follow-up to our celebration of Pentecost this past Sunday—Romans 8 and John 3. We find that this Holy Sprit can be a bit dangerous. It can’t be controlled. You never know, things might get out of hand if the Holy Spirit goes to work on us. It could even change us in ways that would be a little like being “born” all over again (John 3:3). At least that’s what Jesus told Nicodemus. No wonder Nicodemus was confused. Surely I can’t go back into my mother’s womb and start over again! That’s when Jesus tells him about this dangerous Spirit that is like a wind that blows wherever it chooses. You don’t quite know where it comes from or where it’s going, and if you let it get hold of you it will carry you right along with it. (John 3:8) Being “born again,” “born from above” (as several translations have it), is equated with being “born of the Spirit.” Jesus is talking about “spiritual” birth, a renewal of the inner spirit, being born into a new way of looking at and responding to the world. Perhaps we need to stop, set aside all previous assumptions, and look at the world new, or look at it as if we had been given new eyes, new eyes coming from the realization that we are the children of God, sharing in God’s very identity and Spirit. The Romans passage tells us that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) Children frequently partake of the spirit bestowed upon them by their parents, their way of viewing the world being shaped by their parents. Imagine the possibilities when God is the parent. We could be blown off our feet by seeing, even if through a glass darkly, the world around us, its people, it problems and possibilities, through the eyes of our father/mother God. Was it the Spirit of God Bob Dylan heard “Blowin’ In The Wind”? He asked a series of questions, such as: “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” “How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?” “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” Great, profound, and disturbing questions. “The answer, my friend,” Dylan say, “is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” If we want to be part of the answer to the questions facing us in these troubled times perhaps we can start by letting ourselves be blown along by the wind of God’s Spirit. In 1907, Jessie Adams, an English Quaker, penned a hymn, I Feel the Winds of God Today. The first stanza begins and the final stanza ends with these words: “I feel the winds of God today; Today my sail I lift.” One of the striking sentences in the middle of the hymn says, “If cast on shores of selfish ease, or pleasure I should be, Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.” There’s a wind blowing out there. Do you feel it? It might blow us all over. Wouldn’t that be great?

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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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