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Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: I Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23:1-5, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

Reading the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday brought to mind a Christmas song. I know it’s Lent, but sometimes scripture and the mind play tricks on us. I couldn’t remember much of the song but a single phrase, “Do you see what I see?” I looked it up and was surprised. I had forgotten that the context of that phrase is sheep and shepherds. I was having difficulty connecting Psalm 23 with the other readings, and now here it was in the lyrics of this song. Reflect on them and these lyrics and see where they take you.

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
do you see what I see?

A star, a star, dancing in the night.
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite.

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
do you hear what I hear?

A song, a song, high above the trees,
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea.

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
do you know what I know?

A Child, a Child shivers in the cold,
Let us bring Him silver and gold,
Let us bring Him silver and gold.

Said the king to the people everywhere,
listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people everywhere!
Listen to what I say !

The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night,
He will bring us goodness and light;
He will bring us goodness and light.

The title of this blog changes the question to read, “Do we see what God sees?” The Hebrew scripture reading from I Samuel, Chapter 16, tells about the selection of a king to succeed Saul. We’ll ignore the back story and simply ask, “What do you look for when selecting a king?” God tells Samuel to go check out Jesse’s sons. Samuel goes. Note that he is asked if he comes “peaceably,” to which he responds affirmatively. (vss. 4-5) Would that all our seeking for leadership began with agreement that the context is our desire for peace.

Do we see what God sees? “Pray for peace, people everywhere! Listen to what I say! The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light; He will bring us goodness and light.”

Jesse’s first son appears. Samuel thinks, “Surely this is the one.” (vs. 6) God says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature . . . for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (vs. 7) Do we see what God sees, noticing people’s true inner being rather than their “outward appearance”?

Ironically, when the last son, David, is called in from looking after the sheep, he is described as “ruddy” with “beautiful eyes, and . . . handsome.” (vs. 12) I guess even a good-looking guy can have a heart of gold. We need to look beyond both beauty and ugliness. I’ve heard that gorgeous women sometimes resent it when people don’t notice the real person beyond all that beauty. Do we see what God sees when we look at and interact with those around us, perhaps even when we look at ourselves?

The Gospel lesson is about blindness and sight and who really sees. Why is this man blind? Who sinned? (John 9:2) Jesus brushes the question aside, saying the man was born that way and blind or not, God dwells in him. Look for God in him. If you didn’t receive an e-mail from Kathy Jones about a blind quilter, you may want to type this link into your browser (sorry I can't seem to get it in so you can just click on it). http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=7lfaSmDxVZQ I’m betting at least some of you see God revealed in this blind quilter, who is not “handicapped,” but sometimes “inconvenienced.”

When the man is healed of his blindness the Pharisees ask, “How did this happen—and on the Sabbath, at that?” They looks to the man’s parents to explain, but they say, “Why don’t you talk to him? He’s old enough to speak for himself.” (vs. 23, with the entire conversation beginning in verse 13) The conversation continues, now with the man himself, who forthrightly tells the Pharisees what happened, declaring, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (vs. 25, with the conversation running from vs. 24-34) The question has become, “Who is really blind here?” The man finds it “astonishing” how little the Pharisees know and see and understand.” (vss. 30-34) In the end Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” (vs. 38) The Pharisees, religious leaders of that day, take offense: “Are you calling us blind?”

Do we see what God sees?—the blindness, perhaps, of our leaders, our own blindness? Do we see what God sees?—the value of people just as they are, however they were born? Do we see the power of God shining through those who are different? Do we see what God is doing beyond the limits of propriety we humans are prone to set (like Sabbath laws in this case)?

Notice that, early in this conversation, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” One cannot see without light, a topic addressed in the epistle reading from Ephesians. We are called to be light, to let light shine through us, and to live with the light of Christ shining on us, because “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” (See Ephesians 5:8-9 & 13-14) Do we see what God sees, i.e., a world in which all is illumined by the light of Christ? Is that the light we shine on things, the light we use when we look at people and events, perhaps when we feel trapped in darkness?

That brings us to Psalm 23, familiar to most, often quoted, used at funerals—the one I had difficulty connecting with the larger theme of seeing. The Christmas song I began with perhaps suggests that sheep and shepherds, on a quiet, clear, night, are able to see a peace which easily eludes us in the hustle and bustle of life. The song calls us to see peace and goodness and light in an unexpected place. Yet the life described in Psalm 23 is not an easy peace. The sheep encounter danger, walk through dark valleys, have enemies. Do we see what God sees? Where we might look and see enemies, do we find a table where we can all sit down and talk and perhaps overcome our enmity? We live in a day when enemies need such tables. Do we see the peace that God sees?
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95:1-11, Romans 5:1-111, John 4:5-42

Finding a way to deal with this week’s texts has not been easy.

Working with Bible study groups I have sometimes invited the group to do a “naive” reading of the text, noticing phrases that seemed to “leap” out at them, eliciting some response from them, reminding them of something that has happened in their own history. It is not always necessary to come at a scripture armed with “scholarly” background.

Here’s what you’re going to get this week: first—an overview of the texts; second, some phrases to which my own “naive” reading responded, with an invitation to you to reflect further on them—or find your own; third, a listing of three possible themes.

Exodus 17:1-7—A story about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. (vs. 1) They get thirsty and begin to complain. They begin to think maybe they were better off when they were back in Egypt. (vss. 1-3)

We might reflect on the human tendency to complain when the road to freedom gets tough, when resources run thin. We sometimes want to go back to a place where we at least knew where things stood. The freedom fighters in various African countries may at times feel like these wandering Israelites. Maybe we shouldn’t have started out on this endeavor! Someone once asked, “Why do people prefer known hells to unknown heavens?”

At any rate, water comes from a rock and the people’s thirst is slaked. (vss. 5-6) Note that the place is called “Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”

Psalm 95:1-11—The Psalms became the hymnbook for worship in the Temple. This Psalm would probably have been sung as the congregation processed in at the beginning of worship. “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (vss. 1-2) Suddenly the priest speaks with a word of warning, reminding the congregants of what happened in the wilderness. “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness . . . (vs. 8) Along with joyous songs, there needs to be heartfelt devotion. In the wilderness, they were “a people whose hearts go astray . . .” (vs. 10) Worshiping God is not to be a time of indecisive wandering in the wilderness.

Romans 5:1-11—The epistle to the Romans is, among other things, a lengthy, more or less systematic, development of Paul’s theology, written in the later years of his ministry. He is making his first trip to Rome. The letter introduces him and his theology to the Christian community there, seeking their support for further missionary work he wishes to undertake in Spain.

These verses deal most specifically with the kind of love which is willing to die even for an enemy, with Jesus being the prime example of that love. “ . . . rarely,” Paul writes, “will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ dies for us.” (vss. 7-8) Verse ten talks about us being “reconciled to God” “while we were enemies.” There’s neither time nor space to place this all in the context of the entirety of Paul’s theology as spelled out in this epistle. For now, in a time when the conflict of “enemies” is all around us, it is sufficient to let Jesus’ example remind us that “enemies” can ultimately only be dealt with effectively through the power of generous and gracious love. Our recent readings have taken us through the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

John 4:5-42—The Gospel lesson, 38 verses long, is all one story, but the story is about a conversation that ranges over a variety of rich and deep topics.

John’s Gospel differs from the other three. Rather than simply telling the story of Jesus and his teaching (although Matthew, Mark, and Luke each bring unique perspectives and emphases), this gospel is more like a sermon with the stories told as illustrations. It was looking at “John” in this way that made me begin to think of all of today’s readings as “Illustrations in Search of a Sermon.”

The conversation is with a Samaritan women which begins when Jesus asks her for a drink of water. He should not have spoken to her at all. Jews and Samaritans, although having shared some common history, had diverged and weren’t on speaking terms. She would have been considered “unclean.” (vs. 9) Furthermore, she was a woman. A proper Jewish man never would have spoken to an unaccompanied woman in this setting, much less engaged in a theological discussion with her.

The topics of conversation include the water of eternal life/living water (vss. 10-15) and the proper place to worship (vss. 19-24). Jesus says, “ . . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (vss. 23-24)

After the conversation, the woman goes back to her city and says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!’ (vs. 29) The story ends with many Samaritans believing, saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (vss.39-42)

Words and phrases that catch my attention:

From Exodus 17:7—“Is the Lord among us or not?”

From Psalm 95:7—“ . . . we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

From Romans 5:3-5—“ . . . suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . .”

From John 4:29—“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”—What does it mean and how does it feel when someone really knows us fully, understands who we really are, totally “gets’ us?

Reflect on these—or choose your own words and phrases from the various readings.

Finally, some possible themes:

Living Water—Dealt with in both Exodus and John

Crossing barriers—“Enemies” in Romans, “Samaritans” in John, “Hardened hearts” in Exodus and the Psalm

Endurance—Exodus, Psalm 95, and Romans
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121:1-8, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17 OR Matthew 17:1-9

We human beings are prone to keeping score. We play games and revel when our score is higher than that of our opponent. We count nuclear stockpiles and body bags to see which nations are the mightiest. We imagine God spying on our activities and keeping score. Scores are a way of measuring our worth, we imagine, so God must keep score. How else can we know who gets into heaven or who is valued and loved by the Almighty?

Thirty years or so ago I took a sabbatical at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study and retreat center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. Among those in residence during my three month stay was a Roman Catholic sister who became a table tennis companion. We refused to keep score during our daily games of ping pong. We played as long as we were having fun and had no idea who won or lost. To many it seemed to be taking things a bit too far. Maybe it seems so to you.

And what does it have to do with the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday? The various lessons are a reminder, for me, that I don’t believe in a God who keeps score.

The short reading from Genesis is one of the accounts of God’s “covenant” with Abraham. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. Those who are part of the Judeo-Christian tradition have a history which includes several agreements between God and God’s people. The covenant with Abraham is a promise that he (Abraham) will be the father of a great nation, a nation whose people will be blessed. (Genesis 12:2)

This promise is one which gives rise to the notion of a “chosen people” and a “promised land,” ideas whose influence has reached beyond Hebrew and Israelite history. They were applied by some of the founders of our country to America, and, in the Middle East, they continue to be part of the debate. Some talk about American “exceptionalism,” and many have a sense of “entitlement” about various benefits. We are a special people and deserve special treatment. I suspect many readers of this blog find such thinking troublesome. I know I do.

It can be tempered a little if one notices that the blessing is something to be passed on. “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing . . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (vss. 2-3) Unfortunately, that can be interpreted as what some have called “manifest destiny.” Of all the nations on earth, we are blessed, so it is our job to go out and save everybody else. We are superior and we must bring those who are inferior up to our standards. I doubt that there’s much peace in that direction, yet we’re still out there thinking we can solve the problems of every nation in the world, when the truth is that we don’t always do a great job of managing our own affairs.

The epistle reading from Romans looks at the Abraham story and puts it into a whole new context. The readers of this epistle may have had a tendency to think they could earn their way into God’s good graces, that if they just did the right things they would “deserve” God’s love and rewards. Paul reminds them that this was not the case with Abraham. God didn’t bless Abraham because he deserved it. Paul may have been remembering God’s declaration to his people in Deuteronomy 7:8 that they were chosen simply because of divine love not because of merit.

Many in all ages keep score using a set of rules or laws. The people in biblical times were no exception. How well you kept the Law was often taken to be a measure of your worth before God and one another. Abraham, however, lived before the Law was codified, before Moses went up to the mountain and received the tablets of stone. The blessing he received, Paul says, cannot be based on that scoreboard. The only thing Abraham did was trust and have faith and step out on the basis of a promise. He believed. (Romans 4:2-5) God is not a scorekeeper. God is a lover.

If the reading from Romans reminds us that we can’t keep score on the basis of our good deeds and obedience to a set of rules, the Gospel reading from John suggests that neither can we keep score on the basis of how well we understand.

The writer of this Gospel tells the story of Nicodemus a man of stature and intellect. He probably feels that it could be damaging to his reputation to be seen consulting with Jesus, so he comes at night. (John 3:1-2) His encounter with Jesus includes two verses that are frequently quoted. The phrase “born again” comes from the King James translation of verse 3, more appropriately translated in the New Revised Standard Version as “being born from above.” Since I don’t intend to focus on that in this blog, it is sufficient to say that I believe (and not I alone) that it refers to being born into a new way of looking at things, dying to and/or expanding the limited outlook we often bring to the affairs of this world.

The encounter ends with the oft-quoted words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (vs. 16) Many might see this as the focus of the passage, and perhaps it is, although some see it as a later addition. Whatever its place in the scheme of things, verse seventeen needs to be read along with it, for too often those who quote John 3:16 use it as a threatening weapon, forgetting the words, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (vs. 17)

When I read the entire passage, I notice how much of it is about “understanding.” The notion of being “born again” blew Nicodemus’ mind; it offended his intellect; he did not understand. (vs. 4) He asks, in verse 9, “How can these things be?” Jesus answers with a question, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

I suggest that a key verse is verse eight: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” What a blow to this man who was proud of his intellect! Jesus reminds him that at the center of faith is a great mystery, something we can’t quite get our minds around. If we can’t earn our way into heaven by good works, neither can we capture God’s Spirit in a cute phrase or sound bite. We can’t ace a test and come out at the top of the class assured that we are one of God’s favorites. What God has for us is simply blowing in the wind, and in that wind, I believe, is love beyond measure, so great that there isn’t room for it on the largest scoreboard in the world.

The alternative Gospel lesson is the same one used two weeks ago on Transfiguration Sunday, so I won’t comment further on it.

Applying the notion of scorekeeping to the Psalm, I see the suggestion that we not rely on how many points we have scored, or can score, to assure that we have a place in life. Instead we need to remember that our “help comes from the Lord . . . The Lord is our keeper . . . he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121;2, 5, 7-8)
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32:1-11, Romans 3:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

There are shadowy places in the human psyche, a dark side. We need look no further than the daily headlines to notice. I hesitate to put them in the same sentences, but consider Charlie Sheen and Muammar el-Quaddafi. The dark side, while we hate to admit it, is even closer. All we have to do is take an honest look within.

I’m not suggesting that we are bad people who need to spend many hours a day groveling before a judgmental God, but many psychologists stress the importance of facing our dark side—our shadows. Psychotherapist Carl Jung is perhaps the most well-known for his treatment of the shadowy side of our existence. I’m not going to try to offer a full psychological analysis here. Jung and others observe that the darkness within us is most dangerous when we fail to face it, to acknowledge it. Our humanity cannot be defined by darkness unless we allow it to manipulate behind the scenes.

Lent is a period when we remember the darkness in the Christian story. It is a story that makes us aware that darkness does its utmost to overcome the power of love and good. We live through “Good Friday” as darkness and light meet in fierce conflict before we arrive at Easter morning. Darkness comes full of aggression and violence and meets loving nonviolence which willingly faces whatever darkness throws at it. Jesus meets darkness head on and calls us to do the same—whether the darkness is personal (within us and in our relationships) or national and international. Nations, not just individuals, need to be aware of their dark sides.

Religion, theology, philosophy, ritual, have in every age tried to find satisfactory explanations of and ways to deal with the darkness. Where does it come from? Why do we do what we do? Why do we sometimes behave in ways that are self-destructive? Why do we sometimes hurt one another? If we feel bad when that happens (which I believe most of us do), how do we avoid getting stuck in those bad feelings (which some call “guilt”)?

The lectionary readings for the first Sunday in Lent encourage reflection on such questions.

The reading from Genesis is the primary story used in the Judeo-Christian scriptures to explain the source of the dark side of human existence. The serpent made me do it! Or was it the woman? The epistle reading from Romans picks up on and interprets Jesus in the light of the Genesis story.

Many of us don’t find the story very satisfying. Death and sin for all of us, it says, are here because Adam disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:17—you need to read to the end of the chapter to get the whole story).

We could look at the background and various interpretations of the story. Just as we have four Gospels offering differing perspectives on the same story, there are different storytellers in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. Their stories are interwoven rather than in separate books. Without getting into all the details of each perspective, this reading from Genesis, chapters two and three, is part of a narrative which pictures God in very human terms, entering into intimate relationship with human beings, walking in the garden with his creatures. It is as if God is a parent watching the children grow into adulthood.

As in every parent-child relationship, free will is at stake. Some see this story not negatively but as a coming-of-age story. The children need to learn right and wrong but when they do they may exercise their free will to make poor choices. Without freedom there is no morality, but with freedom there is the risk that darkness will be chosen. There’s even the old truth here that outlawing something sometimes makes it seem more attractive. I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to do!

None of this really explains much. It simply says that we make choices and that our choices are not always the wisest. It isn’t so much a consequence of something Adam did; it is that we are all Adam every day through all of time.

The passage from Romans puts it in terms of the affect of one person’s actions on other people, whether it is for good or ill (Romans 5:18-19). Paul was drawing upon a Hebrew understanding of psychology which did not draw sharp lines between the individual and the group. Every person’s act was an expression of the entire community and had an effect on the entire community. Jesus is the representative of the good which influences the whole and Adam is the representative of the sin which influences the whole.

Many of us are troubled if this is taken as a literal and rigid understanding of the dynamics of good and evil. At the same time, it calls us to recognize that our actions have consequences, that what happens in one generation reaches into successive generations unless unhealthy patterns are faced and broken. When we are overcome by the shadows within, those shadows fall upon people around us. We are not the only one’s to pay the price. It is also true that sometimes a good person has to pay a great price to bring healing light to the situation. Jesus was such a person, calling us to be among those who overcome darkness (our own and that of others) with light.

Healing light often comes in the form of forgiveness, one of the themes of Psalm 32. (See verse 1) Confession can be a way of facing the darkness, part of the road to healing light. (vss. 3-5)

Finally, the Gospel lesson focuses upon temptation. In Genesis it is Adam who is tempted; here it is Jesus. Matthew and Luke give similar accounts of Jesus’ temptation; Mark reduces it to two sentences: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Much has been written and many sermons preached about the nature of the three temptations (most commonly identified as temptations about the direction of his ministry—healer, miracle worker, powerful political figure). Perhaps Mark is right. All we need to know is that even Jesus was subject to temptation. Just as the God depicted in the Genesis story is very human, the Jesus we see in the Gospel lesson is very human. If we follow him, we will join him in temptations about the directions and priorities of our lives. Temptations require us to focus upon the choices we make and why we make them. Will we choose darkness or light?

Lent reminds us that it is a question that is always before us, and, in the end (or at the very beginning of his Gospel), the writer of John reminds us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) There is darkness in each one of us but we can face it because the power of light is stronger. It is when we try to bury or ignore that darkness that it is most dangerous.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lectionary Scriptures: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2:1-11 OR Psalm 99:1-9, II Peter 16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

This week’s Gospel lesson tells the story of Jesus taking Peter and James and John up a mountain where they saw him in a new light. Something really strange happened there. Matthew 17:2 says Jesus “was transfigured before them.” This Sunday is called “Transfiguration Sunday,” a day to reflect on that event. The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphosis. It refers to a major change.

So—did Jesus change, or did the way the disciples saw him change? Is it a moment when they suddenly see Jesus in a new way—in a new light?

It’s probably a waste of time to ask what “really” happened on that mountaintop. After all, mountaintop experiences cannot often be put into words. Matthew’s account tells us that Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (vs. 2) Moses and Elijah were there (vs. 3), but before we put too much weight on these as literal description, we need to note that “when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” (vs. 8)

The light shining on a scene, its source and direction, can make a lot of difference. Photographers are aware of the power of light to transform a scene, sometimes taking a whole series of photos of the same subject in different light. Movie makers spend a lot of time considering the appropriate light to convey the mood and image they desire. We even have an expression that recognizes the power of light to change the way we see things. We talk about seeing something “in a new light,” or say, “That’s sheds a whole new light on the matter.”

This day Peter and James and John seemed to see Jesus in a whole new light. They saw the power of God at work in him in a way they hadn’t grasped before. The voice they hear says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” (vs. 5) This new realization inspires awe in them. (vs. 6)

The epistle reading purports to give us the voice of Peter (although probably written later by an unknown admirer) describing those who were with Jesus on that occasion as “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (II Peter 1:16) Majesty is a word of grandeur. Majesty inspires awe. So much of what we are dealing with here is a response to the unexpected and mysterious insights that sometimes “dawn” on us. The readings from the Psalms reflect on the awe-inspiring majesty of kings. “The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble! . . . Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:1-3)

We find it difficult in our time and place to relate to kings, but are we able to stand in awe of the light of God in the people we meet in our daily living? Can we see them in a new light? Are there times when, standing in the presence of Jesus, new light is shed on all of life? There is available light and artificial light, back light, overhead light, the burst of a camera’s flash, late afternoon light casting long shadows, the light of a flickering candle in a dark room. Each day we are called to take note of the light that gives substance to our living. Where is the light today? Where are we going to find it? Where is it leading us? What kind of transfigurations are taking place on our mountains and in our valleys?

When the disciples came down from that mountain, they immediately met someone who needed healing. They had been to the mountaintop, but down in the valley they were unable to help this man. (Matthew 17:14-16) Jesus chided them about their “little faith.” (vss. 17-20) Standing in the light at the top of the mountain is not all that matters. Carrying the light into the valleys of life is equally important. What good is it if we go from Sunday worship glowing with enthusiasm and are unable to help those we meet during the week?

Miscellaneous other related and perhaps unrelated thoughts on this week’s readings:

1. The reading from Exodus is another mountaintop story, this time about Moses. Did Matthew intentionally intend to draw a parallel between Jesus and Moses? Certainly the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus is significant, fitting Matthew’s interest in presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish traditions of which he was part. Mountaintop experiences can sometimes help us see our own history and traditions in a new light, help us make new connections with the past which has laid the foundations upon which we are building.

2. Note that Psalm two contains the words spoken about Jesus on the mountaintop. “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7) In the Psalm they are probably applied to the entire Jewish people, or perhaps to a king who is being crowned. What if, in fact, those words were heard by all of God’s people? Wouldn’t that shed new light on our living?

3. The king described in Psalm 99 deserves praise and awe partly because he has “established equity . . . executed justice and righteousness.” (Psalm 99:4) Again, awe is not something reserved for the mountaintop. We are called to move ahead, mouths agape, when we perceive the possibilities of peace and justice around us.

4. Probably the cental message of the passage from II Peter is a warning about our tendency to impose our human interpretations as if all the truth of God could be contained in any person’s or group’s interpretation. (II Peter 1:15 & 20-21) We are to “be attentive to . . . a lamp shining in the dark place . . .” (vs. 19, which goes on to speak of the day dawning and the morning star rising)

5. When we are enjoying a mountaintop experience, there is a tendency to want to stay there forever, or to build memorials so we can go back and recover the experience. The disciples wanted to build dwellings to capture the glow of Jesus and Moses and Elijah. (Matthew 17:4) Jesus instead tells them to get up and move on. (vs. 7)

Lots of possibilities to think about, threads to weave into our lives. In fact, perhaps we can think of our lives as woven from threads of light. I guess I’m stretching it a little, but I believe Jesus is ever calling us to see him, ourselves, and life as full of light. He said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) He also said, “You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

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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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