Sunday, January 31, 2010

A prophet is never accepted in his/her hometown

This Sunday we have just one reading, and it's from Luke. You may remember that this is the continuation of last Sunday's reading, which presents Jesus preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, his hometown. This is the first long account we have of Jesus' message, so we can read it sort of like a mission statement for his ministry. The first part of his message was from Isaiah and it talks about God's Spirit anointing the prophet to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and release to the oppressed. Jesus reads that and begins his message with our first sentence, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

When they hear that everyone is impressed and they speak well of Jesus. Things get dicey, though when Jesus continues. The issue, I think, is that he undercuts the idea that his hometown or even the nation of Israel (or the church) has a special claim on God. Now there is no doubt that God and Israel have an eternal covenant and that God loves Israel in a special way. But that doesn't limit God, and God shows love and grace to many surprising people. Here Jesus gives two examples of miraculous love shown through a prophet, both times to people who were not from the chosen people. That's often how God reaches out, but it's a message that is never popular with those on the inside. So, Jesus says, a prophet is never accepted in his hometown.

Blessings on the reading and on your Sunday worship,

Sunday 1/31 Luke 4:21-30

21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

food for idols, protecting the other's conscience

The reason I started this blog was to provide a forum to discuss these daily readings. When you read the reading on the blog you can leave comments after it and others can respond to them. I think this could be a cool opportunity to talk with each other about what the passage says to us. I also send these readings out to my congregation and others by email, which is less interactive but puts the readings in front of you each morning. If you'd like to be added to the distribution list, feel free to send me your email.

Today Paul wraps up his discussion of food sacrificed to idols with a summary. The basic principle he lays out here is that everything is God's; so we can eat whatever we want as long as we do it with praise and thanksgiving for God. But because eating something someone else tells us has been sacrificed to an idol sends them the wrong message we should not eat something when someone tells us it was sacrificed. The goal is to always look out for how our actions can affect others.

The big principle here is very useful in thinking about what we do. It seems like Paul is saying, "Do whatever you want." In reality he's encouraging freedom with a very helpful test: "Do everything to the glory of God." I think if we find ourselves with a tricky decision to make and we use the question: "How does this decision glorify God," it will shed a lot of light on the problem. The same goes for his advise to avoid giving offense to anyone.

Sometimes we think of avoiding offense as keeping our beliefs to ourselves so no one knows we disagree with them. That's not what Paul means at all. We've seen him be very outspoken about his beliefs in this letter, and when we read Acts we see that he's equally outspoken with non-believers. Paul means being careful in our behavior and speech so we don't seem immoral or weak in our character. That way our actions strengthen our witness to God's love in Christ and we live our lives with integrity. That sounds like a good goal to me.

Blessings on the weekend,

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

23“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. 25Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, 26for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.” 27If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.

28But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience? 30If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 32Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. 1Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sharing the bread and cup, fleeing from idols

Good morning friends,
Today Paul takes his discussion of idolatry in something of a surprising direction. Earlier he discussed eating food sacrificed to idols as something to be avoided because it might lead weaker members of the church astray. Here he seems to think that the church is in more danger than before and warns them strongly to "flee from the worship of idols." I wonder if he felt like, while his earlier advise was sound it might have left too much room for accommodation. Here wants to be very clear that idol worship is dangerous and horrible so there can be no confusion.

We were talking on Wednesday evening about how Paul's writing can feel "changeable" because he shifts gears so often. A big part of that variability is because Paul moves from practical to theological matters seamlessly. And the reason he does that is that his practical advise is always grounded in theology. Whenever he thinks about the how the church or individual Christian should behave it comes back to who God is and what a Christian's behavior says about God.

This passage is a good demonstration of this. Paul talks about how sharing the bread and cup of communion makes the church one body and makes us one with Christ. In the same way, he warns, sharing a meal related to idol worship can have the same unifying power and we can't be united to both Christ and idols. So even though it is OK to eat food that might have been sacrificed to idols, we can't have anything to do with idol worship, because Christians only worship one God. We have freedom, but we have to use it responsibly. Paul will talk at more length a bit later about how powerful the ritual of communion is and how closely tied to the church's unity. Here we see that the bread and cup make a diverse group of people one body in the Lord. Amen.


Friday 1/29 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.15I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?

19What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

a warning

Good morning,
Our reading today gives us Paul interpreting the Old Testament story of Israel wandering in the desert. He interprets passing through the sea as baptism (the cloud is the presence of God who travelled ahead of Israel as cloud by day and pillar of fire by night). He also talks about drinking the same spiritual drink, which refers to God providing water from a rock. The point of this comparison is to warn the Corinthians that even though they are part of the community of faith, sharing baptism and communion, they can still fall out of God's favor if they aren't faithful.

To follow this up Paul provides examples of the people of Israel failing to be faithful at times in their journey and suffering God's punishment as a result. It's interesting that Paul focuses on sexual immorality from the golden calf story in Exodus. While his reading of the text makes sense, that "play" in this situation probably means sex, the real issue in that episode was idolatry, which Paul only mentions briefly.

Paul doesn't just warn, though; he also encourages. He reminds the people that everyone faces temptation, but that God gives us a way out of temptation and the strength to endure it. That doesn't mean it's easy, but with God's help we can stand firm when we're tempted. A community of faith is a great asset in facing trials too, since our sisters and brothers can remind us of God's love when we can't feel it.


1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

self-discipline, all things to all people

Good morning everyone,

Starting with the new year, I've been sharing daily scripture readings along with introductory notes with my congregation by email. It's been exciting to hear from people that getting the readings in their mail boxes each day has encouraged them to spend some time with the Bible each day. I'd like to build on this by posting the same readings and notes on a blog so that people can engage with others about the readings. We're about halfway through First Corinthians now and it would be great to add some people to the conversation. So without further ado, here's today's reading:

Today Paul continues his discussion on why he has the right to live by the gospel but chooses not to. One interesting thing Paul points out is that he takes pride in his work to make the gospel "free of charge." He says he has nothing to boast about for proclaiming the gospel because God laid an obligation to proclaim it on his heart. So when he proclaims the gospel, he's just doing what he's supposed to be doing. Where he feels like he has a reward or opportunity to boast for going above and beyond what God commissioned him to do is that he doesn't received payment or living expenses to support him in preaching, but instead supports himself by outside work.

Paul continues by explaining how he meets everyone on their own terms, putting aside his rights, to bring others to faith. Here's where the commonly used phrase "all things to all people" comes from. The trick here is to adapt to proclaim and explain the gospel to different people in different situations without compromising one's integrity. Often if we try to be all things to all people we end up being inauthentic or lose track of who God calls us to be uniquely. It is a tricky balance to strike. One of the ways Paul keeps that balance is by reminding himself and his readers that while he becomes "as" many different kinds of people he is not. So he becomes "as one under the law" to win those under the law, but "I myself am not under the law." I think too, it's important that Paul is open about what he is not. He acts "as" someone under or outside the law in terms of making himself understandable to them, but I don't think he's trying to pretend to be any of those things.

Like the previous paragraph, the last paragraph speaks about dedication to the gospel of God's love. Paul uses the language of competition here, which is useful because it describes the discipline and dedication needed to succeed as an athlete. The risk is that it can lead us to think we're competing with others in the faith, which is not true. Instead we need each other to run the race of faith successfully.



1 Corinthians 9:12-27

12If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! 16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

24Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.