Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Naboth's vineyard

Good morning friends,
Yesterday's reading ended with Jezebel consoling (and gently mocking) her husband in his disappointment over Naboth's refusal to sell his vineyard. Jezebel told Ahab she would get him the vineyard he wanted; today we see her plan in action. Jezebel was obviously a powerful woman, so when she asked the elders of Jezreel to arrange a trial and execute Naboth, they are quick to obey.

We've seen it before in the Bible and in the news; powerful people are often temped to abuse their power for their own gain. Here the abuse is especially sneaky. Jezebel and Ahab don't want to take the radical step of simply taking the vineyard openly by force; instead they cloak their theft in the false trial of an innocent man. Thus they steal not only Naboth's vineyard, but also his reputation. Power is a dangerous but necessary thing. We are all called to be attentive to how we use the power we have: to use it to help others, not to take advantage of them.

God bless,

1 Kings 21:8-14
8So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. 9She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; 10seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.”

11The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. 13The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. 14Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

real estate and religion

Good morning all,
We've been away from Elijah's story for a little while. When we left that story Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and then fled from Ahab and Jezebel's wrath. God led him through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai and then sent him from there to anoint a new king for Syria and for Israel. We're skipping over a series of battles between King Ahab and King Ben-Hadad and a prophecy from another prophet that Ahab will die.

In today's reading we see Ahab strolling along when he sees a piece of land that he likes next to his palace, so he asks to buy it. In Israel buying and selling land was more complicated than what we're used to because God distributed the land to the various tribes when the land was conquered. As a result, Naboth's vineyard isn't just his property but a plot of land designated to his family for as long as his family has been around. There were ways one could sell one's land, particularly if one fell on hard times, but there were specific biblical rules about how and when that could happen. For this reason, and probably because he likes his vineyard, Naboth doesn't want to sell, so Ahab goes home disappointed. We'll see where the story goes from here.


1 Kings 21:1-7
Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” 3But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” 4Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

5His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” 6He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” 7His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Spirit and flesh

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterday Paul highlighted the difference between trusting in Christ and trusting in the law. Today he works on the differences between the spirit and the flesh. He begins with the idea of freedom because when we trust in Christ we are free from the law. He's quick to point out that freedom is not about doing whatever we want, but about using our freedom to do good. The whole law is summed up in the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself, so if we follow that guideline we will fulfill the law's purpose without the law.

Notice too what Paul talks about as "works of the flesh:" certainly the ones we expect like fornication, but also quarrels and factions. These things Paul warns about have always been wrong, whether under the law or now that the law is set aside. In the same way, the fruit of the Spirit, our new way of life in faith has always been approved by the law. Paul caps this section with a plea that summarizes his call to responsibility: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." Amen.

Blessings on your week,

Galatians 5:13-26
13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Good morning friends,
Paul's argument in today's reading amounts to: you can't have it both ways. Either we trust in faith working through love or we seek to justify ourselves through the law. If we want to be circumcised to fit in with those who encourage following the law then we have to follow the whole law and we show that we don't trust in Christ. Paul wants his audience to know how serious the issue is.

Our passage from Luke is a challenging one. Jesus responds to several potential disciples; the result is a picture of discipleship that is a little scary. Discipleship is hard: Jesus is homeless. Discipleship is demanding: those who pause to say goodbye to their family before taking off to follow aren't worthy. Following Jesus is wonderful, but it is not to be taken lightly and it's not for the faint of heart.

See you soon,

Galatians 5:1-12
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. 4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

7You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. 10I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. 11But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

*Sunday Luke 9:51-62
51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.

57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 59To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 62Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

free children of God

Good morning all,
The first part of our reading today will be familiar to those of us in church last Sunday. Paul's argument here is that while we were immature in our faith we needed to be guided by fixed rules like the law. But when we come to faith in Christ we no longer need those things. In Christ we become adopted children of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and free to follow God in love.

He uses the term "elemental spirits" twice in this passage. It's not entirely clear what he means by that. Some people think he's referring to basic facts of life such as food, air, water. In other words, before we came to Christ we were totally absorbed in the basic details of being alive, but now that we know Jesus we see that there is more to life than material things. Other people think Paul is talking about spirits the pagans thought were associated with the traditional elements: air, water, earth, fire. In that case he would be talking about worshiping other gods before we came to Christ. In both cases Paul's point is that now that we are Christian, we should be beyond slavery to smaller concerns. We shouldn't feel compelled to follow the law or to hold on to traditions that we held before or be trapped by thinking about material things all the time. Instead we can follow God in joy however God leads us.

Blessings on your weekend,

Galatians 4:1-11
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. 9Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? 10You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. 11I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

the cross, greatness and openness

Good morning all,
Today's reading is an interesting collection of sayings on discipleship. Jesus tells his disciples that he will be killed, and again this seems to go totally over their heads. Instead of asking him questions about why this is going to happen or what it means, the disciples get right into arguing about which of them is the greatest. Jesus reminds them that his community doesn't define greatness the same way the rest of the world does.

John (son of Zebedee, not the Baptist) then reports that they saw someone casting out demons in Jesus' names, but he wasn't part of the group. Jesus tells him not to worry about that because "Whoever is not against you is for you." This outlook opens the way for all kinds of ministry cooperation, even with those who don't share our views. It encourages us to look at others expecting to find common ground instead of being suspicious of people who aren't part of our group. Those are always words the church needs to hear.

God bless,

Luke 9:43-50
43And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, 44“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” 45But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

46An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” 49John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Good morning sisters and brothers,
We've just seen Herod puzzling over who Jesus is; now Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about the same question. The disciples dutifully report the leading theories: John the Baptist or one of the biblical prophets, even Elijah. Jesus doesn't let the disciples off with just reporting what others think; he also wants to know who they think he is. Peter hits the nail on the head: we can picture him answering without a pause that Jesus is the Messiah. In some of the other Gospel accounts Peter's insight is quickly followed by a rebuke because he challenges Jesus about the need to be crucified. In Luke's version this episode is left out.

But Jesus' words about being killed are certainly not left out. Right after hearing Peter say that he is the Messiah, Jesus makes it clear that he is not exactly the Messiah they are expecting. He tells them that he will be rejected, killed and raised again. For Jesus, and for us as his followers, power goes along with suffering. The Messiah suffers rejection, his followers take up their cross, and true life is gained by losing our life. Even though we forget it sometimes, success for Christians is defined in terms of the kingdom of God, not in terms of popularity or security. I wonder what it means for us to take up our cross today.

God bless,

Luke 9:18-27
18Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” 21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the twelve's first mission

Good morning friends,
Jesus has been traveling with his disciples for some time now. Today he sends the inner circle, the twelve out on their own to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal people who were physically or spiritually sick. He sends them out with only the clothes on their back and instructs them to stay with whoever will take them in. We can think of this as their internship. It's an opportunity for them to take on the ministry that will be entrusted to them after Jesus returns to heaven. The goal is to teach them to trust God to provide and care for them and to gain confidence for their ministry.

The other piece of this passage is King Herod's reaction to the amazing things he hears about Jesus. In some of the other Gospels we hear the story of how John was beheaded by Herod. That story isn't in Luke; before this Luke only tells us that Herod put John in prison. It seems that people had different guesses about who Jesus was: a prophet, even Elijah, but there wasn't a consensus. We know that Jesus was a prophet, but much more than that. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and our savior.

God bless,

Luke 9:1-10
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

7Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. 9Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.10On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

call and response

Good morning friends,
When Elijah hears the sound of shear silence he wraps his face in a cloak. He does this as a sign of reverence because he recognizes God's presence in the silence in a way God wasn't in the wind, earthquake or fire that came before. It's also a very practical gesture; people believed that one couldn't see God and live and Elijah is protecting himself. God's commission to Elijah is to anoint two kings and a new prophet, which doesn't seem like an inherently spiritual job, especially since one is the king of Aram (Syria). At the same time, the prophetic role is political as well as spiritual; the point is making God's will clear in the world, and that includes the political world.

He is to anoint his successor, Elisha. We haven't heard of Elisha before this, so we can imagine that Elisha is surprised to have this prophet appear at his field and throw a cloak over him. Whether he is surprised or not he says goodbye to his family, sacrifices his oxen, and takes on his new role as Elijah's servant and apprentice. What does Elisha's acceptance of this new adventure say to you today?

God bless,

1 Kings 19:13-21
13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

19So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

journey to the mountain

Good morning all,
Today's reading gets us back to Elijah's story. After Elijah defeated and killed the prophets of Baal, Jezebel was pretty upset with him. So today's passage finds him on the run again. I was hoping to find a good map showing all this, but this was the best I could find. Remember that most of Elijah's ministry has been in Israel, the northern kingdom. When he flees from Jezebel's wrath he goes all the way to the southern end of Judah to Beersheba, where he leaves his servant. Then he goes a day further into the desert and falls asleep wanting to die.

When the angel wakes him to feed him and sends him on his way, Elijah travels all the way to Mt. Horeb (AKA Mt. Sinai). There seems to be some conscious symbolism here since Sinai is where God first made the covenant with Israel. That means this episode in Elijah's life is a renewal of that covenant. We get another reference to this story when Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain for the transfiguration where he talks with Moses and Elijah. Tomorrow we'll see what God says to Elijah at the mountain and where that leads him.

God bless,

1 Kings 19:1-12
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

the law and a costly healing

Good morning and happy Fathers' Day,
This morning Paul discusses the relationship between the law and faith in Jesus Christ. Paul has already established that justification comes through faith in Christ, so the obvious question that follows is where he begins: "Why then the law?" The law, he says, was given because of transgressions; in other words we tend to do the wrong thing, so the law kept us in line. The law showed us the right way to act until faith came to bring us God's promised redemption.

Our passage from Luke shows a powerful healing story. Jesus and the disciples cross the sea of Galilee into the gentile land of the Garasene where they meet a man possessed by many spirits. Jesus faces a dual threat in this passage, the uncleanness of a gentile land where pigs are raised and a man possessed by many spirits, called legion. Many authors point to the name "Legion" as a symbol for Roman oppression, which is an interesting idea. It probably shouldn't surprise us that the people who see this healing and the demise of the herd of pigs are scared to have Jesus around. I wonder if we're scared of Christ's healing as well; are we worried that the cost of being healed of our demons might be higher than we want to pay?

Blessings and see you soon,

Galatians 3:19-29
19Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. 21Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 8:26-39
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"-29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)

30Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39"Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

a promise and a curse

Good morning all,
Today Paul continues his argument that we are justified by faith, not by the law. Today's arguments has two prongs. On the one hand he argues that no one can be justified by the law because scripture teaches: "Cursed is everyone who does not observe everything written in the law," which, no one can achieve. So based on that we are all under a curse, but Christ freed us from that curse by taking on the curse of the law: "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."

The other prong of Paul's argument is that the promise to Abraham came hundreds of years before the law, so the law can't cancel the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. That promise comes through Abraham to one of his descendants: Jesus. By faith in Christ we become one with him, so we also become children of God and heirs of Abraham's promise. Make sense? So now, by faith in Christ we are God's nation to be a blessing to the whole world. Thanks be to God.

God bless,

Galatians 3:10-18
10For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” 12But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

15Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

Friday, June 18, 2010

foolishness and faith

Good morning sisters and brothers,
In the last part of chapter 2 Paul argues that if following the law justifies us Christ died for nothing. Today he turns to the Galatians' own experience and gets more aggressive in his argument for faith. He asks them if they experienced God's presence through following the law or through believing in Jesus. Of course, this is a rhetorical question. Paul is probably the one who taught the Galatians about Jesus and who saw them received the Holy Spirit.

Paul also makes an argument based on Abraham, since Abraham is the ancestor of the Jewish people. He looks back to Genesis 15, to God's promise to make Abraham into a great nation. He reminds them that the promise was confirmed for Abraham after Abraham believed God. Later, Paul will discuss how the law came much later and so is clearly less important than Abraham's initial faith. It is that faith that God saw as righteousness; and that's why God tells Abraham that "through him the gentiles (nations) will be blessed. That blessing is the faith the gentiles in Galatia have experienced; for them and for us faith is how we stand before God.
God bless,

Galatians 3:1-9
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4Did you experience so much for nothing? —if it really was for nothing. 5Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

6Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

this little light of mine

Good morning all,
This parable may say more than it seems to if we sit with it for a while. On the surface it reminds us that the light we're given, the message Jesus teaches isn't to be kept to ourselves. Light is meant to give light to the whole room, not just to the lamp. Sometimes we Presbyterians are afraid to let others see the light Christ has given us. This parable also points to the end of time when everything that's hidden now will be revealed by Christ's light. Our little light is part of the light that will one day fill the world.

Jesus has some challenging things to say about family, and this passage is no exception. The word of God makes a new family of those who hear and do it, but that also means it challenges the bonds of the natural family when some believe and others do not. The family is expanded infinitely; old ties aren't cut, but they also don't have a monopoly on the bonds of family. We have thousands, millions of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, not just the few relatives we are born with. That family isn't just limited to the church either; there are plenty of people who belong to a different faith, or to no faith who still hear the word of God and do it. I know I have lots of room to grow when it comes to really treating that world-wide community as my family. I pray God would keep opening us up to our brothers and sisters around the world and right next door.

God bless,

Luke 8:16-25
16“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” 19Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 21But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

22One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, 23and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

be the good soil

Good morning friends,
We normally think of soil as passive, but in this parable the listeners are different kinds of soil. The sower sows God's word and the question is, what kind of soil will we be? Will we receive the word and bear fruit with patient endurance or will the cares of our lives choke out that growth? What kind of soil do you feel like today? What's your next step to be more receptive to God's word and to let it bear fruit in your life? How can Laurelton help you become better soil?

God bless,

Luke 8:4-15
4When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

9Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ 11“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God answers

Good morning all,
This morning Elijah and the prophets of Baal have their religious duel. Each side gets to prepare a sacrifice and call on their God; the god who answers is really God. Elijah gives Baal's prophets more than a level playing field: there are 450 of them against one of him. Furthermore, when his turn comes he douses his wood with water to make it harder for fire to appear. That way there's no question that he has rigged the outcome. God's answer is clear; the Lord's fire no only burns the offering, it also zaps the wood and even the water.

God is still the God who answers us. We're called to be faithful and to seek God with love and devotion even when that's not the easy or popular thing to do. Call out to God whenever you're in need. Sing praises when you're joyful. God is our God, waiting to hear from us.

God bless,

1 Kings 25-40
25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer.
They limped about the altar that they had made. 27At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

30Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

36At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” 40Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who is God?

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today’s reading starts the most direct confrontation between the worshipers of Baal and the worshipers of the Lord in Israel Elijah goes to King Ahab and proposes basically a religious duel. While he certainly has strong words for Ahab for leading Israel astray, he also challenges the people, since they have not kept faith with God either.

Elijah puts the question clearly: “How long will you go limping along with two different opinions?” For each of us there can be only one God; only one power that holds first place, first loyalty in our lives. There can be many different things that are important; but only one can be our Lord, otherwise we will limp along ineffectively. May God keep us on the right path this week.
God bless,

1 Kings 18:17-24
17When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel.

21Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

grace, forgiveness and love

Good morning all,
Paul has just finished telling his story of being called by God to be Christ's apostle and how, after beginning his ministry he met with Peter (Cephas) and James. Today he tells about a visit from Peter and how, even though Peter knew that Christ's grace made purity laws and table restriction irrelevant, he was led astray. At first it seems like Peter was following the gospel and not distinguishing between Jews and gentiles. Then leaders who saw the Law's restrictions as important came and Peter starting separating himself from gentile believers because he was afraid of the other leaders. Paul argues forcefully that making these distinctions between believers is putting our trust in the Law instead of in Christ, which means Christ died for nothing.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning we see Jesus in a Pharisee's house for dinner. A notorious sinner comes to see Jesus and washes his feet with her tears. In the face of the Pharisee's horror at this scene Jesus explains that the woman's love is the result of God's forgiveness of her sin. I think the two things that are most important here are that the woman loves because she is forgiven: God's forgiveness comes before she (or we) have done anything to deserve it; then we respond with love. The second thing is that both the woman and the Pharisee (and each of us) owes a debt we can't pay. We can't earn our forgiveness, but God forgives us anyway. So will we accept that forgiveness and open our hearts freely with love or will we close our hearts and spend our lives judging others?

God bless,

Galatians 2:11-20
11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

17But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Luke 7:36-8:3
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner." 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." 41"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 43Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly."

44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 48Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

divine revelation

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today we continue with Paul's letter to the Galatians. This passage may seem a bit confusing at first. Galatians makes the most sense if you just sit down and read it all at once, and it's short enough to do that without too much trouble. As we read earlier, Paul begins the letter by emphasizing that he is an apostle sent by Jesus Christ, not by people. This passage supports that statement because Paul makes it clear that his teaching comes straight from God. While he has met with leaders of the church in Jerusalem, it wasn't the first thing he did when he found Jesus. The leaders he met with agreed that he was teaching the right thing, but they didn't add anything to his teaching.

Paul's story is amazing in many ways, but this part of it is easy to skip over so let's think about it for a minute. Paul finds Christ in a stunning moment on the road to Damascus to persecute the church. He's blinded by a bright light and hears the voice of Jesus call him to ministry as an apostle. Paul's revelations from Jesus continue through dreams and visions and Bible study. He teaches that faith to many others as he plants new churches wherever he goes. 14 years later Paul meets with other Christian apostles to compare notes; sure enough, they are both teaching the same thing despite the fact that the other apostles travelled with Jesus in the flesh and Paul got his message from the risen Christ. May God strengthen us today by the power of the gospel of Jesus.


Galatians 2:1-10
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. 3But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.4But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— 5we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.

6And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) —those leaders contributed nothing to me. 7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8(for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lord and lord

Good morning all,
Our readings from Elijah's story so far have taken place during the drought God sent to let the Kings of Israel know God's power and anger with their idolatry. Today Elijah hears the announcement that God's drought is coming to an end. God sends him to tell the news to King Ahab. Elijah's contact person is a man named Obadiah. If you watch the word "lord" (both Lord and lord) in the story you'll see some interesting plays on how challenging loyalty can be in the real world. Obadiah works for the king and also follows the Lord. That's put him in some tough spots before because the queen led persecutions of God's prophets.

Obadiah is reverent of Elijah when he appears, but he's also scared. It's dangerous to take one's faith seriously, especially when faith brings persecution, so Obadiah fears that Elijah's appearance will make his tough balancing act even tougher. The question this passage and the few after it really focus on is "who is the Lord?" That's a question we have to answer everyday with our actions as well as our words. May we always find the courage to answer truly.

God bless,

1 Kings 18:1-16
After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year of the drought, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.” 2So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.

The famine was severe in Samaria. 3Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the Lord greatly; 4when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.) 5Then Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.” 6So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.

7As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” 8He answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” 9And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? 10As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you.

11But now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ 12As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. 13Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water? 14Yet now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here’; he will surely kill me.” 15Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” 16So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

death and healing

Good morning all,
We've been away from Elijah since Sunday, but now we're back to that story for a little while. God sent Elijah to a woman in Zarephath and gave her an endless supply of grain and oil so she, Elijah and her son could eat during the drought. After that saving miracle Elijah moved into the house and lived there for a while. I would expect it was quite an adjustment for Elijah to live with a family after being on his own; and I'm sure it was also an adjustment for the woman and her son to have this strange prophet living with them.

At some point in Elijah's stay the son dies. In those days, and unfortunately still sometimes today, it was believed that when something bad happened it was probably because the victim had sinned. That's the woman's first guess as to why her son has died; she feels that she has sinned and the presence of a holy man like Elijah has brought that sin to God's attention. Elijah doesn't make the same assumption, but instead (in private) he yells at God for taking the boy's life. You can hear his frustration with God that he would bring suffering with him to this place he has found kindness and refuge . It's OK to let God know when you're angry with God. God can take our anger or disappointment. The more open we are with God the stronger that relationship will be.


1 Kings 17:17-24
17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.”

He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.
23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Are you the one?

Good morning friends,
You probably remember John the Baptist's preaching earlier in Luke that prepared people for Jesus' ministry. Here sometime later, John has heard about Jesus' ministry, so naturally he wonders if Jesus is the Messiah or if he and his followers are waiting for someone else. Jesus answers that the signs he is doing speak for themselves.

Jesus tells the crowd about John, calling him more than a prophet and speaking about him as the forerunner of the Messiah. Jesus also reflects on the fact that he and John came with different approaches: John lived in the desert and fasted while Jesus travels to different places and receives the hospitality of many. Those in power who don't want to hear either message find reasons in John and Jesus' lifestyles to discount what they say, but wisdom speaks even if no one listens. May we always be open to hear what God would have us hear, even (and especially) when it challenges us.

God bless,

Luke 7:18-35
18The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

24When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

29(And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) 31“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ 33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Father of orphans and defender of widows

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Having just healed the slave of a centurion, Jesus and his disciples continue their journey and arrive at a town called Nain. There Jesus raises a a young man from the dead. It's interesting that both in our readings about Elijah and this reading today we hear about God taking special notice of widows. In ancient Israel (and many other places) women's places in society were mostly defined by their husband (or fathers before they were married). Women had no legal standing meaning that without a husband or father or son, they were very vulnerable. Scripture often calls God the father of orphans and defender of widows because God takes special care of those in need. Jesus follows God's priorities, so it shouldn't surprise us that he performs this mighty act for a widow. The church is also called to follow God's priorities, so in our ministry we should keep our eyes out for the most vulnerable in our society too.

God bless,

Luke 7:11-17
11Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!"15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Monday, June 7, 2010

under authority

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We're back to Luke this morning and we go with Jesus to Capernaum. Jesus has just finished his sermon on the plain (concluding with the story of two men who built houses, one on a rock and one on sand. As he comes into the city Jesus is approached by Jewish elders who ask him to heal the slave of a local centurion. Centurions were Roman military officers who commanded 100 soldiers. As a result they were pretty important local people. In this case the centurion has a good relationship with local Jewish leaders and has paid to have the synagogue built.

In Luke more than the other Gospels Jesus talks with and does miracles for people outside of Israel. Here, Jesus says he hasn't found faith like the centurion's in Israel so he marvels. The centurion seems to feel a kinship with Jesus because they both know the weight of authority; at the same time he knows he's not worthy of Jesus' time. May we never let the sense of our unworthiness get in the way of getting to know Jesus better.

God bless,

Luke 7:1-10
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”

6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”

9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

God's power

Good morning friends,
Paul here continues his argument that his presentation of the gospel comes from God, not from people. He makes two distinct arguments along those lines: the first is that he serves God, not people, so his words are not shaped to please people but to be true before God. The second is that his message came from God directly, so when he came to Christ he didn't need to go to the church first for instruction. The reason he makes these arguments is to underscore that God has made this incredible change in his life from being a persecutor of the church to being an apostle. God did this by grace, not by a work of the law. In the same way God seeks to transform the members of the Galatian church not through following the Law of Moses (human effort) but by a gift of God's grace. God can transform our lives as well if we can give up some of our precious control.

God bless,

Galatians 1:10-24
10Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

13You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.

15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

grace and greetings

Good morning all,
Today we begin Paul's letter to the Galatians. This is a powerful letter about how we are saved by God's grace in Jesus Christ apart from the works of the law. Imagine for a second that Paul, as a Pharisee, had spent his earlier life striving for righteousness through the law. Now he is convinced that the law was only meant to be a guardian for our morals until Jesus was revealed. That's quite a transformation and it has implications for Paul's whole understanding.

One thing you'll notice throughout this letter is that Paul is very forceful (we could also say aggressive) in his language. There were Jewish Christian teachers who taught that Christians had to obey the whole law of Moses; these ideas seem to have taken hold in Galatia. For Paul there are plenty of matters Christians can disagree about, but salvation by grace instead of the law is not one. We'll see his arguments play out as we read this letter. Notice also the emphasis Paul puts on the fact that he is commissioned by God, not by people. We'll see more about this later as well.

God bless,

Galatians 1:1-9
Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Friday, June 4, 2010

God's command

Good morning friends,
Yesterday we saw God send Elijah to deliver a message to the king and then hide in the dessert by a stream. As the drought sent by God continues, the wadi nourishing Elijah dries up. With that development, God sends Elijah to a widow to be kept safe. One thing that's interesting about this situation is that God tell's Elijah "I have commanded a widow there to feed you." When Elijah and the widow meet, it doesn't seem like she knows anything about God's plan for her to feed Elijah. God gave the command in the sense that he put a possibility in motion, but he didn't share that command with the main person involved.

Instead, for the widow and her son the command to feed Elijah comes to them through strange circumstances. Elijah visits and presents himself to the widow. She is at her wits end because she knows she and her son will starve. God miraculously feeds the woman and her son, which also allows her to feed Elijah. God's command is fulfilled, but for the woman involved it must feel more like an opportunity than a command. I wonder what commands God might be giving us through circumstances in our lives?

God bless,

1 Kings 17:8-24
8Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9"Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you."10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink."11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand."12But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."

13Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth."15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

drought and provision

Good morning all,
Yesterday we were introduced to King Ahab of Israel and told that his idolatry and lack of faithlessness to God were stunning. He and his wife Jezebel were huge supporters of the cults of Baal and Asherah in Israel. Baal was the Canaanite God of fertility and was in many ways God's greatest rival for worship since Baal's cult was most widespread among Israel's neighbors. Asherah was a goddess in the area who was often worshiped through sacred poles. So we met Ahab and Jezebel yesterday; today we meet Elijah, the prophet of God.

Elijah's ministry is supporting the worship of God and helping to keep Israel faithful. Obviously that's going to be a tough mission with the king and queen backing the other side. Interestingly, Ahab seems to respect Elijah, even though he is a thorn in his side, because he clearly speaks for God. Even though Ahab has turned away, he hasn't forgotten the God he knows is for Israel. In today's reading God sends Elijah to tell Ahab there will be a drought for three years to show God's power. After that announcement Elijah has to go and hide to be safe from Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah's ministry is something like guerilla warfare prophecy: he'll make a pronouncement from God and then disappear again. I pray God would use this story to encourage our courage and faithfulness.

God bless,

1 Kings 17:1-7
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 2The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3“Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

the king's idols

Good morning friends,
Over the next few weeks we're going to be switching gears a bit in the daily readings. We'll still be following Jesus in Luke's Gospel, but we'll also be reading some Old Testament stories, which we haven't done in a while, specifically we'll be following the stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. In these stories the land that had been the kingdom of Israel is divided into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah). This division first took place when King Solomon's son Rehoboam was king. One of the chief advisors, Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes to separate and established his capitol at Samaria, while Judah's capital remained Jerusalem.

The big issue throughout these cities is faithfulness to God. We'll often hear about the sin of Jeroboam, which means worshiping gods besides the LORD. Israel was generally seen as unfaithful, as we see in this passage, and the rulers were the instigators of this idolatry. Prophets were sent to call the people of Israel back to God, so that's what we'll see Elijah and Elisha doing, often at great risk. Our passage sets the stage for the stories to follow.

God bless,

1 Kings 16:29-34

29In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began to reign over Israel; Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. 31And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. 32He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33Ahab also made a sacred pole. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him. 34In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua son of Nun.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Solid rock

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading gives us a useful word about human behavior. Jesus tells his listeners that we act like who we are: you can't expect good behavior from bad people. At the same time, the "abundance of our heart" isn't always the same. Some days we can almost feel frustration build up inside us, and we find ourselves speaking and acting out of that abundance. Other days, especially days we pay attention to our blessings and the love that surrounds us, we feel full of goodwill and speak and act out of that abundance instead. What that means for Christian ethics is that we seek to be transformed each day more into Christ's image, replacing the evil treasure of selfishness inside us with the good treasure of God's love.

The second paragraph reminds us that calling Jesus our Lord is not enough, the point is following his word. If we don't follow Jesus any of our claims about what we believe ring hollow. Our lives need a solid foundation; otherwise the best building, the best education in the world will be wasted effort. As Christians our foundation is Christ our solid rock.


Luke 6:43-49

43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

46“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”