Friday, July 30, 2010

eternity and today

Good morning friends,
Today's reading from Colossians reminds us that belonging to Jesus changes our whole life. When we live in faith we put all the bad things we might have done in the past behind us and embrace a new way of living that is focused on loving others and loving God. There should be no part of our life that our faith doesn't transform. It's easy for that to sound like a demand we can't meet. Really it's an invitation to open our hearts and lives up to God so Christ's light can drive out our darkness. The new life we lead us Christ living in us by the Spirit. We are all one joyful family in Jesus, or at least we are all invited to be one joyful family.

The reading from Luke is a reminder that life is not about things. Even though our culture preaches accumulation non-stop, Christians are called to a different way of life. The questions this passage wants us to ask ourselves is: If your life ended tomorrow, what story would it tell? What priorities are revealed by the way we spend our time and money? Are those the priorities and values we want our life to proclaim? If not, what is God's call for your next day, your next month? May we always live in the light of God's eternal love.

God bless,

Colossians 3:1-11
1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8But now you must get rid of all such things-anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

*Sunday Luke 12:13-21
13Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." 20But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

hypocrisy and integrity

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This morning's reading is somewhat disturbing, but it is a great reminder to live with integrity. Integrity is a word we hear often enough; probably 80% of us work for a company that has integrity somewhere in it's mission statement. To me the heart of integrity is saying and doing what we believe, and its opposite is hypocrisy. Jesus warns his disciples about the "leaven of the Pharisees" and says that in the future everyone's secrets will be made known. The accusation is that the Pharisees aren't practicing what they preach. In the same way, if we believe in Jesus, we should never be ashamed of that.

The other focus in the passage is the importance of the Holy Spirit. As we've talked about some in worship, this may be the most neglected person of the Trinity. We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we don't necessarily make a practice of listening for her guidance. God always surrounds us with love and the Spirit is always available to guide us in Christ's footsteps. That certainly comforts me when I don't know what to do. I hope it will comfort you the next time you feel in over your head.


Luke 12:1-12
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. 2Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

4“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. 5But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 7But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

8“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; 9but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. 10And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

killing the prophets

Good morning friends,
While hearing Jesus criticize the Pharisees for their focus on the details of the Law while missing the point, a lawyer complains that Jesus is insulting lawyers as well when he says things like that. (When Luke talks about lawyers here he's talking about experts in the Law of Moses, not secular lawyers.) Jesus responds by making it clear that the "insult" the lawyer complains about isn't by accident. His woes against the lawyers center on the idea that they use the law to make following God harder instead of easier; they keep people out instead of helping them to know God.

Jesus mentions here a tradition he talks about a few times, that the people kill the prophets God sends to call them back to righteousness. He mentions specifically Abel from way back in the beginning who was killed by his brother for bringing God a better offering. He also mentions Zechariah "who perished between the altar and the sanctuary." Zechariah was a priest who served in Judah in the 800's. His ministry was a time of turning away from God to idol worship, and he warned the people to turn back to God. For this ministry he was stoned to death. (The story is in 2 Chronicles 24.) It's hard to listen to voices that tell us we're doing the wrong thing, but often God sends those voices to help us. I pray that we would listen well to criticism and seek to hear what God might be trying to say to us.

Luke 11:45-54
45One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” 46And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. 47Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, 51from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation.

52Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” 53When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, 54lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

outside and inside

Good morning all,
Jesus again shows that he isn't afraid or concerned with upsetting his audience. Here the question is ritual hand washing, though Jesus expands that to include ritual washing of plates and utensils as well. We think of washing things for meals mostly as a health issue; for the Pharisees it was a religious issue. The word Pharisee actually means "separated one," because one of their main concerns was maintaining separation from non-Jews. The Pharisees didn't go as far as a few sects in Judaism at the time and withdraw from society completely, but washing after contact with non-Jews was an important part of their religious practice.

Jesus criticizes them here not for seeking to separate themselves, but for being too concerned with outward ritual and not enough with the inner life of faith. His biggest accusation is that they are "like unmarked graves that people walk over without knowing." The reason this is such a harsh thing to say is that dead bodies were ritually impure, so a grave was seen as a huge source of spiritual contamination that people would avoid. Jesus says that the Pharisees present a clean outward appearance, so they don't give people any warning, but inside they are dangerously impure. The inner life and outer life are both important and they should both point to justice and love for God. May it be so for us today.


Luke 11:37-44
37While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. 42“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 43Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. 44Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jonah, Solomon and Jesus

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Our passage for this morning begins with a woman in the crowd yelling out blessings on Jesus' mother for having given birth to him. It hadn't really struck me until I was glancing at this passage yesterday, but this outcry is very brave of this woman. Yesterday's passage showed "some" in the crowd (and I think we're safe to assume these "some" were religious leaders) accusing Jesus of using Satan's power. In the midst of these accusations this woman dares to openly praise Jesus.

The other thing that strikes me seeing this passage next to yesterday's reading is that Jesus is not phased by accusation or by praise. Yesterday he responded to doubt and accusation with defense and teaching, not being intimidated by the opposition of people in the crowd. Today he isn't sidetracked from giving prophetic warnings by the positive responses of others in the crowd. He responds to what is going on around him, but he doesn't hold back any part of the message because of worry about upsetting people. "Sign of Jonah" is an interesting metaphor here that Jesus doesn't explain much. In Matthew's Gospel Jesus explains a little further: "Just as Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights." May our generation have ears to hear the word of repentance and hope.

God bless,

Luke 11:27-36
27While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” 28But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

29When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

33“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. 34Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. 35Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. 36If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

demons and kingdoms

Good morning friends,
Our reading picks up from where Sunday's reading left off: Jesus taught the disciples how to pray and promised that God would always give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. It's unclear if today's conversation takes place in the same place or if there is a break between that conversation and this one. Jesus' opponents accuse him of casting out demons by Satan's power. Jesus responds that a house divided against itself can't stand, and suggests instead that his exorcism is a sign of God's kingdom among them.

To go along with this point Jesus tells two stories, one a parable about a strong man guarding his home and the other about the fate of the cast out demon. What do you think the point of the story of the strong man is? Why does Jesus tell the story of the exiled demon? How does a healed person avoid the fate of the healed person in this story? May we have eyes to see signs of God's kingdom around us today.

God bless,

Luke 11:14-26
14Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.

17But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

fasting and humility

Good morning all,
This morning's reading continues Paul's train of thought about finding our center in Christ, not in "elemental spirits" or in other powers. There's some uncertainty what the term "elemental spirits" means but it seems to have to do with spirits associated with stars or elements of the world (earth, air, fire, water). As we see in today's reading there also seems to have been teachings floating around in Colossae that encouraged ascetic practices (fasting, dietary restrictions, etc.).

It's interesting to see Paul's response to these ideas since he has a reputation as a pretty strict person, and elsewhere he had nothing good to say about excessive food or drink. Paul's point is that what matters is holding fast to Christ. Food is neither good nor bad; fasting is neither good nor bad in itself. The question is what leads us to lean more on Christ and to live by his light. That's a good guideline in general for us, along with how our actions impact others.
God bless you as you start the new week,

Colossians 2:16-23
16Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

prayer and God's fullness

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's first reading shows Paul continuing his argument for the Colossians. While he talks about circumcision in the second paragraph, teachers pushing the Jewish law on Christians isn't Paul's main concern in Colossae. Instead, it seems people in Colossae were tempted by a focus on angels, planets and heavenly powers. Paul's argument is that Christ is unique, having the whole fullness of God in a human body. In Christ, not in other heavenly powers, we find forgiveness, freedom and new life.

Our passage from Luke shows Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray, a lesson we are always in need of. We learn to pray by seeking God's guidance and spending time listening to God. This prayer is an excellent example of how prayer should be, and Jesus' encouragement to ask, search and knock remind us that God always wants to hear from us.


Colossians 2:6-15
6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

* Luke 11:1-13
1He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

5And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

hope and editing

Good morning friends,
Our reading today draws the Book of Amos to a close. You'll notice an abrupt change of tone in this reading, though there were hints of the same hopefulness yesterday. Most scholars believe that these passages of renewal were added to Amos later rather than being part of the original book. This is for a few reasons, most of all because the style is so out of synch with the rest of the book, but also because today's words make much more sense written in exile rather than during Amos's prosperous era.

Sometimes it's challenging to face the seams and inconsistencies in the biblical text. At the same time we believe that God speaks through the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was active in inspiring the original writers of the text, imperfect and diverse as they were, and the Spirit is active in our hearts as we read today. Scripture is no less sacred because it is complicated, and God is not finished speaking to us through the Bible today. These words of hope probably didn't come from Amos's pen, but they are still God's word for us today.

God bless,

Amos 9:11-15
11On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; 12in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this.

13The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. 14I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 15I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Israel and the nations

Good morning everyone,
We are nearing the end of Amos and the words of judgment continue. I think the most interesting development in this passage is in the second paragraph. Amos says (speaking for God), "Are you not like the Ethiopians to me?" He then goes on to mention the story of the exodus from Egypt along with the stories of the Philistines and Arameans moving to their current homes. The point here is that not only did God bring Israel out of Egypt to their land, he also brought other nations to where they are now. In other words, Israel is not the only nation God leads and pays attention to.

It's important to read this word in context, especially since Christians have a long history of anti-semitism. Amos was delivering God's word to Israel when they felt very self-assured and when their sense of God's unique favor made many complacent. The point was to remind them that they weren't the only nation God had dealings with. While this passage tends to downplay the relationship between God and Israel there are many other passages that emphasize that Israel is indeed special to God. The New Testament also affirms that God's covenant with Israel lasts forever. As with most scripture the most productive way to hear this passage is as a caution when we are tempted to think too well of ourselves either personally or nationally or in the church. The truth is that God does know each of us uniquely and has plans for us, but God also knows and cares for all the people in the world and indeed for all creation.

God bless,

Amos 9:1-10
I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape. 2Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. 3Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them; and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them. 4And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good.

5The Lord, God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; 6who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name. 7Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? 8The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth—except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, says the Lord. 9For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground. 10All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

weights and measures

Good morning friends,
Undeterred by the priest's discouragement or his report to the king about Amos's preaching, Amos keeps sharing God's message. This is an odd vision because it's not at all obvious what a basket of summer fruit has to do with anything. As it turns out this vision is a play on words because the word for "summer fruit" and the word for "end" are similar in Hebrew (that's an insight from the study Bible, not my memory of Hebrew vocabulary). We can expect that Amos's vision of the end is going to be disturbing, and indeed it is.

We also hear more threats against those who take advantage of the poor. In this case the focus is on dishonest business practices. An ephah is a volume measure for grain or other things and a shekel is a weigh measure for money, so when you read this passage imagine a merchant in the market selling grain using falsely small baskets for their product and weighing their customers' money against a falsely balanced scale. Fair business practices are a matter of religious law as well as business ethics, and the Torah speaks specifically against dishonest weights and measures. Of course Israel's law as a nation was given by God, so there's not really a distinction between religious and secular law. On a broader level, the way we approach our daily lives, from work to shopping is part of how we live and express our faith.


Amos 8:1-14
This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. 13In that day the beautiful young women and the young men shall faint for thirst. 14Those who swear by Ashimah of Samaria, and say, “As your god lives, O Dan,” and, “As the way of Beer-sheba lives”— they shall fall, and never rise again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

you can't silence the word

Good morning all,
We read this passage a week and a half ago in worship. It is a pretty jarring passage. Yesterday we saw Amos's vision of God with a plumb line; here we see the religious leader's response to his words. It seems that Amos was preaching at Bethel, one of the major religious centers of Israel, and a site that had been important religiously since before there were kings in Israel. As a priest Amaziah should hear and accept God's word, even though with this message we certainly wouldn't expect him to be happy about it. Instead he seeks to silence Amos because his words are too harsh.

The trouble is, silencing bad news doesn't make it go away. Instead, Amaziah is rejecting God's warning and loosing the opportunity to repent. As we see from Amos's prophesy, he is also angering God by trying to silence God's messenger. There's always a part of us that wants to hide from bad news and run away from our weaknesses. I pray that God would give us ears to hear and eyes to see so that we might receive judgement as an opportunity to return to God with all our strength.

God bless,

Amos 7:10-17
10Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16“Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” 17Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

judgment and intercession

Good morning friends,
Our reading for today shows God and Amos talking. God shows Amos three visions of judgment against Israel; the first by locusts, the second by fire and the last by the sword. The first two times Amos pleads with God for mercy and God changes his mind. The last time Amos doesn't plead and the judgment stands. I wonder why Amos doesn't protest this last judgment. Maybe he feels it is appropriate? or maybe he feels he's already pushing his luck. Or maybe, since the judgment is only against the pagan shrines, the sanctuaries Amos has raised questions about and the ruling family, Amos feels like this last judgment might bring Israel back to what it should be by correcting injustice. It's hard to tell.

There are echos here of Abraham pleading with God about Sodom and Gomorrah. With the threat of locust we think about Egypt. We might also think about the prophet Joel whose short book is based on a plague of locusts in Israel. I like the image of the prophet pleading with God for mercy. It also reminds us that now that Christ is risen he speaks for us in heaven. As we hear some times as our assurance of pardon from Romans: "Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ and Christ died for us; Christ rose for us; Christ reigns now in power for us; Christ prays for us." May we be shaken from complacency by Amos's words of warning and assured of God's love by Christ's ministry for us.
God bless,

Amos 7:1-9
This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). 2When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3The Lord relented concerning this; “It shall not be,” said the Lord.

4This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord God was calling for a shower of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5Then I said, “O Lord God, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6The Lord relented concerning this; “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.

7This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

seeking maturity

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This morning we continue our reading from yesterday's service as Paul begins his letter to the Colossians. From my reading it seems that the Christians in Colossae were interested in astrology and angels and heavenly powers. Paul doesn't outright tell them they can't have these kinds of curiosities but he works hard in this letter to make sure their focus is on God through Jesus Christ. Twice in our passage for today Paul refers to the mystery of God, explaining that this mystery has now been revealed to the saints (in other words to his readers). That revealed mystery is Jesus Christ himself, and Christ is the heart of everything Paul preaches.

In addition to his emphasis on Christ as God's revealed mystery Paul also talks a good deal about struggle and suffering in terms of his ministry. This reminds the Colossians of Paul's efforts so they will pay more attention and it reminds them to expect some hardship as part of their discipleship. Wisdom and growth in maturity are the other themes Paul really hammers on in this section. While the mystery of Christ is revealed when we come to faith, our life after that is one of growth. We aren't finished when we accept Christ, so Paul wants to make sure the Colossians don't get too comfortable at their current level but keep making progress towards the goal of full maturity (Christ is our model for what that looks like). All of these hopes Paul has for the Christians of Colossae are good goals for our community as well as we work to gain more spiritual maturity and as we focus on Christ who even now lives in us.

Blessings on your week,

Colossians 1:24-2:5
24I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. 2I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
4I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

judgment and comfort

Good morning friends,
In our passage today Amos attacks the discrepancy between "those who are at ease" and the "ruin of Joseph." Here in particular it seems like his concern is that those who have wealth and power use it to insulate themselves from other people's problems. So even while part of society might be doing well, Amos calls Israel a ruin. I think sometimes of our military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan not having what they need to rebuild nations in ruins. In contrast I think about how little we at home, who don't have relatives serving, have been asked to sacrifice.

Amos also laments over those who "put away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence..." By this he means those who rule by force for their own benefit and forget that one day they will be judged. Sometimes thinking about judgement just scares us or turns us away from our faith because it is "too negative." That's not the way I want us to hear this word. Instead I hope we hear it as a challenge to think of life not only in the short term: bills, financial security, comfort, but also in terms of the bigger picture: how we want our life to look in the frame of eternity. When you look back on your life with God one day what do you want the picture to look like? Where is your calling and responsibility?

God bless,

Amos 6:1-14
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! 2Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than their territory, 3O you that put far away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence? 4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

8The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the Lord, the God of hosts): I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it. 9If ten people remain in one house, they shall die. 10And if a relative, one who burns the dead, shall take up the body to bring it out of the house, and shall say to someone in the innermost parts of the house, “Is anyone else with you?” the answer will come, “No.” Then the relative shall say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.” 11See, the Lord commands, and the great house shall be shattered to bits, and the little house to pieces.

12Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood— 13you who rejoice in Lo-debar, who say, “Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?” 14Indeed, I am raising up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says the Lord, the God of hosts, and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi Arabah.

Friday, July 16, 2010

justice and judgment

Good morning all,
This morning's reading contains probably the best known line in the Book of Amos: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream;" made famous for many of us by Martin Luther King, Jr. As we've seen before, the idea here is that worship without justice offends God.

The other part of this passage refers to the "Day of the Lord," which is a slightly unclear reference. It seems to refer to an understanding that at some point God would intervene to give Israel victory. More generally it points to the assurance that God is on Israel's side. Amos warns the comfortable that that won't turn out to be the case. Their oppression of the poor means that when God acts in judgment they will not like the result. God wants us to change our lives whenever we are acting against justice. So let justice roll down like waters and let us turn to God in hope and repentance.


Amos 5:16-27
16Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!” They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing; 17in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the Lord. 18Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 19as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. 20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. 25Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves; 27therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

lament for judgment

Good morning all,
This morning Amos switches gears poetically, while his message stays pretty consistent. He calls his words for today a lament, a song/poem of mourning for Israel's fate. In addition to lamenting the coming defeat of Israel Amos calls on Israel to repent and turn back to God. In almost the same breath he warns them that they shouldn't turn to God through some of the traditional places of worship like Gilgal and Bethel because these shrines are going to be destroyed.

Amos returns to the idea that Israel will be judged for their injustice against the poor. He lists a set of offenses like abusing the poor and taking bribes against the righteous. Then he proclaims that those who built houses of stone (in other words, the wealthy) won't live in those houses because they will be conquered by others. Amos doesn't hold out much hope for Israel in the coming years, but he looks for mercy after judgement for the "remnant of Joseph".

Amos is challenging because his proclamation is so harsh. At the same time we know that the one who judges Israel and the rest of the world is the same one who sent his son to take that judgment for us. Even on the darkest days we can count on God's love, as we seek the strength to turn back to God when we go off course.

Blessings on your day,

Amos 5:1-15

Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel: 2Fallen, no more to rise, is maiden Israel; forsaken on her land, with no one to raise her up. 3For thus says the Lord God: The city that marched out a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which marched out a hundred shall have ten left. 4For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: Seek me and live; 5but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing. 6Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. 7Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground! 8The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name, 9who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

10They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 11Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. 13Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 14Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

hardship and repentance

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This morning's reading is a challenging one. Amos lists off disasters that have fallen on Israel beginning with "Cleanness of teeth" (famine) and including things like "killing your young men with the sword." All of these disasters are said to have come from God and were sent to call the people back to faithfulness to God. When things went badly for our puritan ancestors when they first moved to this continent, whether it was a bad harvest or illness or anything else, they considered the possibility that God was correcting them for some sin. Their response to hardship was to fast and meet together to pray so they could see where they were going wrong and mend their ways.

Today we usually understand different sources for our hardships: crops fail because the weather wasn't right; illness comes from germs, etc. The advantage to our viewpoint is that often by seeking a scientific cause to our problems we can find a cure. Also, we don't end up burdened by the idea that God is causing our hardship, which often makes our relationship with God more positive. On the other hand, we've lost the habit of repenting and seeking God anytime something goes wrong, and sometimes we feel like God is far away from real life. I wonder if there is a way to balance the two approaches where we can take hardship (and success too) as a call to examine our lives and repent while not assuming that everything that goes wrong is God's doing. Scripture has three main ways of looking at suffering. Sometimes suffering is random, things just happen. Other times suffering is the result of injustice: an abused spouse suffers not for her sin but because her spouse is unjust. And sometimes we suffer because we have done something wrong. These different causes are often mixed together, but we can always respond by seeking the Lord and trying to be more faithful.

God bless,

Amos 4:6-13
6I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. 7And I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered; 8so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.

9I struck you with blight and mildew; I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. 10I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses; and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. 11I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a brand snatched from the fire; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.

12Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel! 13For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

worship and righteousness

Good morning friends,
In this morning's reading Amos addresses the wealthy women in Israel, condemning them for living luxuriously while the poor languish. Bashan was a fertile area in Israel that was famous for its well-nourished, plump cattle. And as Amos refers to, according to my study Bible the Assyrians often did lead prisoners away from conquered places with hooks through their noses.

In addition to the prophecy of doom for the people of Israel, Amos criticizes their attention to religious ritual in sarcastic terms. His point is that they do the ritual they should but in the wrong spirit because their faith doesn't influence their lives. Jesus levels a similar charge at the Pharisees much later: "Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites, you tithe mint and cumin but have neglected the weightier matters of the law like justice. You should have done this without neglecting the other." Faith isn't just going to worship and tithing faithfully; faith is trying to live every part of our lives by God's values, especially justice for all people.

God bless,

Amos 4:1-5
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!” 2The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. 3Through breaches in the wall you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon, says the Lord. 4Come to Bethel—and transgress; to Gilgal—and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; 5bring a thank-offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! says the Lord God.

Monday, July 12, 2010

judgment and destruction

Good morning friends,
This morning we are back to Amos and he's in full force. Speaking for God he invites the Philistines and Egyptians to witness the injustice and oppression in Samaria (Israel's capital after the division). He foresees the invasion and defeat of Samaria with the only "rescue" being a few pieces of furniture. While he expects the total destruction of Samaria he also envisions the destruction of Bethel (standing in for the religious life of the nation) and the destruction of the wealthy people's homes. Since hypocritical religious worship (worship without justice) and social oppression by the rich are Amos's biggest concerns, this extra detail fits well with the rest of his work. These harsh words remind us how much God hates injustice. May we work to be part of the justice and peace God is building today.

God bless,

Amos 3:9-15
9Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.” 10They do not know how to do right, says the Lord, those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds. 11Therefore thus says the Lord God: An adversary shall surround the land, and strip you of your defense; and your strongholds shall be plundered. 12Thus says the Lord: As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who live in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

13Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob, says the Lord God, the God of hosts: 14On the day I punish Israel for its transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. 15I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the Lord.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

parables and introductions

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Our first reading is one of the most familiar parables Jesus told, the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story in response to the question of who is our neighbor. "Samaritan" might not mean much to us today but in Jesus' time Samaritans were despised for having taken Israel's land and for worshiping the same God but in the wrong way. If you imagine a group that are thought of badly both ethnically and morally, plug them into the place of the Samaritan and you have a pretty good idea of how shocking this would have been to Jesus' audience. Aside from this aspect of the story the uncompromising "go and do likewise" is a constant challenge to our limited compassion.

Our passage from the beginning of Paul's letter to the Colossians is a powerful testament to hope in God's love. He praises the Colossians for their faith and love and prays that their hope in the gospel would keep bearing fruit in them.

God bless,

Luke 10:25-37
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

*Sunday Colossians 1:1-14
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

3In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

God's revelation

Good morning friends,
After some time immersed in Amos over the last several days today's passage from Luke is a bit of a surprise. We pick up with the second half of our passage from last Sunday's worship when Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples as an advance team. Today those seventy returned to Jesus rejoicing at the power of his name. They were able to heal and cast out devils. Jesus confirms their joy, saying in their victory over demons Jesus saw Satan's defeat. At the same time he reminds them not to be so excited about these wonders, but instead to rejoice in their salvation.

Jesus gives thanks to God for the way God reveals himself to the simple (like the disciples) instead of to the wise scholars (like the Pharisees). He doesn't get into why this is, but only that that is God's "gracious will." We can rejoice and be glad because we've been chosen to get to know and share God's mission today. It really doesn't matter if we feel up to the task, if we think we're qualified to be God's ambassadors or not. God has called us and in Jesus name God gives us all the power we need for our ministry.

God bless,

Luke 10:17-24
17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

21At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

disaster and judgment

Good morning friends,
This morning Amos again casts his rebuke to Israel in terms of their special relationship with God. That relationship comes with a greater obligation to live the right way. Then he uses a series of cause and effect illustrations to tell Israel that the disaster they will soon experience comes from God's judgment against them. He also emphasizes again that he as a prophet doesn't speak of his own free will but because God's word demands it.

This passage exemplifies a strong view of God's control in the universe (the theological term is providence). This is a troubling viewpoint for many of us, especially those who have experienced random disaster. This is not the only biblical understanding of suffering, however. Suffering is presented at different times in scripture as sometimes random and other times a result of injustice that makes the righteous suffer. This diversity fits with our experience: sometimes we get in trouble because we do something we shouldn't, other times because someone else does something they shouldn't and sometimes things just go wrong. Amos's message is that sooner or later injustice has a penalty; that's a warning that's always worth keeping in mind.


Amos 3:1-8
Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. 3Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment? 4Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from its den, if it has caught nothing? 5Does a bird fall into a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing? 6Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster befall a city, unless the Lord has done it? 7Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. 8The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

ignoring the warnings

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterdays reading concluded with Amos critiquing the powerful in Israel for abusing the vulnerable. He picks up from there by retelling what God has done for Israel. In addition to familiar episodes like the exodus he mentions raising up nazirites and prophets. We're pretty familiar with prophets, but less so with nazirites. A nazirite was a person who made a promise to God to be committed to God in a particular way that included not drinking alcohol, not cutting his hair and not going near a dead body, even the body of a close relative. This vow was for a period of time, not permanently and was voluntarily taken on to get closer to God. The indictment here is that the powerful in Israel had undercut God's communication and refused to hear his word.

So not only are they not doing the right thing, they are also refusing to listen to God's correction. Judgement comes as a result of that refusal. We aren't ever going to be perfect, but we can seek God's guidance in scripture, prayer and the community to see where we are going wrong and find the way back to the right path. May God always give us ears to hear.

God bless,

Amos 2:9-16
9Yet I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of cedars, and who was as strong as oaks; I destroyed his fruit above, and his roots beneath. 10Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. 11And I raised up some of your children to be prophets and some of your youths to be nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel? says the Lord. 12But you made the nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, “You shall not prophesy.”

13So, I will press you down in your place, just as a cart presses down when it is full of sheaves. 14Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain their strength, nor shall the mighty save their lives; 15those who handle the bow shall not stand, and those who are swift of foot shall not save themselves, nor shall those who ride horses save their lives; 16and those who are stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, says the Lord.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

sin and righteousness

Good morning everyone,
Today Amos's warnings get closer to home and he certainly doesn't pull any punches. He moves from the oracles against the nations to oracles against Judah and Israel. Notice the formula he uses is the same because even though God has a special relationship with Israel he rules all nations, so all of us face God as judge in the same way. Judah's sin is abandoning God's law, and their punishment will be fire, which probably means being burned by a conquering army. Amos is more specific in speaking against Israel: their sin has more to do with oppression of the poor and abuses by the powerful. The image of selling the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals is powerful and fitting for the way powerful people sometimes think of others, especially others without power, purely in terms of "profit centers."

Let me add two pieces of background that will help explain some of Amos's language. First, as God's special people Israel (and also Christians) are called to "be holy as I am holy." The book of Leviticus spells out in painstaking detail what it means to be holy like God, but the point is that people with a special relationship with God represent him, so when they act in ways that are wrong it desecrates God as well. Second, it was common practice when making a loan to take a piece of property belonging to the borrower as collateral. Scripture put limits on what could be taken and how it could be taken to protect the borrower, since they were probably in a vulnerable situation already. What do you think Amos's words here have to say to our society today?

God bless,

Amos 2:4-8
4Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but they have been led astray by the same lies after which their ancestors walked. 5So I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.

6Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— 7they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; 8they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

war crimes

Good morning friends,
This morning Amos continues his oracles against the nations. Many of the historical references are hard to place exactly here, though Amos's words certainly whet our curiosity. When Amos talks about Edom pursuing his brother he means persecuting Israel. The Bible traces the nation of Israel back to Isaac's son, Jacob (who's name was later changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel). It also traces the neighboring nation of Edom back to Jacob's brother Esau. Genesis tells the story of Jacob fleeing from Esau after tricking their father into giving him the blessing that was meant for Esau. The conclusion of that story is Esau's forgiveness of Jacob.

The other oracles presented here all condemn the nations for atrocities committed in wartime. Even in war, and even in nations that aren't Israel, there are certain standards of conduct we are expected to follow. Some kinds of violence are always out of bounds. It's interesting to read these oracles this week as our Presbyterian Church's general assembly is meeting to discern God's call to the church in many different ways. During this General Assembly the church is considering several proposals relating to war and peacemaking. Let's remember to keep our denomination in prayer as we seek the future God has for us and look for new ways to witness to God's love in a violent world.

God bless,

Amos 1:11-2:3

11Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity; he maintained his anger perpetually, and kept his wrath forever. 12So I will send a fire on Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah. 13Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory. 14So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah, fire that shall devour its strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a storm on the day of the whirlwind; 15then their king shall go into exile, he and his officials together, says the Lord.

Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. 2So I will send a fire on Moab, and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth, and Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet; 3I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its officials with him, says the Lord.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Judging the nations

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today we jump into the prophet Amos, one of my favorite prophets because of his clear message of social justice. Amos probably prophesied and wrote in the 750's BCE in the Northern Kingdom, though he was from the South (Tekoa is about 10 miles from Jerusalem.) In this time Samaria was relatively stable and prosperous, but the Assyrian Empire to the east was becoming stronger and extending its influence. As it turns out, Assyria conquers Israel in 722 BCE.

Amos begins his book with a common form in prophetic writing, the oracle against the nations. Here he presents God's judgment against Syria (Aram), Gaza/Philistia and Tyre. You'll notice a repeated introduction for these oracles: "For three transgressions of_____ and for for I will not revoke the punishment..." This repetition gives structure to this part of the book. God judges these nations for their conduct in war; later we'll see Israel taken to task for social oppression. For Amos especially, news, social relations and politics are all a matter of faith. May we have eyes to see God's guidance everywhere.

God bless,

Amos 1:1-9
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake. 2And he said: The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.

3Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron. 4So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. 5I will break the gate bars of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and the one who holds the scepter from Beth-eden; and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir, says the Lord.

6Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they carried into exile entire communities, to hand them over to Edom. 7So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, fire that shall devour its strongholds. 8I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says the Lord God. 9Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they delivered entire communities over to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of kinship. 10So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, fire that shall devour its strongholds.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

the cross and the kingdom

Good morning and Happy Fourth to all,
Our reading from Luke shows Jesus sending out seventy disciples to prepare the way for his future travels. Like he did earlier with the 12, he gives these seventy disciples his power to heal and cast our spirits and sends them to preach the coming of the kingdom. Notice that the coming of the kingdom is used as both a promise (to those who hear) and a threat (to those who refuse to hear.)

As Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians he gives the church concluding advice, like building each other up and helping each other out of sin. He also returns to the theme of circumcision, emphasizing that nothing matters to Christians but the cross of Christ, even if that cross seems shameful to the world around us. May God gives us the courage to hope for the kingdom and cling to the cross as we work for the good of all.

God bless,

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'16"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

*Sunday Galatians 6:1-18
1My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.
6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised-only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule-peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. 18May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Elijah's departure

Good morning friends,
Yesterday we left Elijah and Elisha having just crossed the Jordan on dry land after Elisha parted the waters. Today Elijah gives Elisha an opportunity for a last request before he disappears. It's interesting that Elijah doesn't die but instead is taken up into heaven alive. Obviously, Elijah's in rare company in this: Enoch (Methusalah's father) and Jesus are the only other people I know who went into heaven alive. This odd ending is part of the reason people believed Elijah would return to earth to prepare the way for the Messiah.

God chose Elisha as Elijah's successor and this passage seals that succession. From this point until Elisha's death in 2 Kings 13 he is the main character in the story along with various kings of Israel, Judah and Syria. This passage is where we'll leave the story of Kings. The most famous miracle Elisha performs is healing Naaman, the Syrian general, but I thought this was a familiar enough story to pass by (you can read it in 2 Kings 5 if you want a refresher). Our Old Testament reading now turns to the prophet Amos.


2 Kings 2:9-15
9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

13He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. 15When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Elijah's last journey

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Last week we met Elisha, whom God told Elijah to anoint as "prophet in his place." We read about Elijah's call of Elisha but we haven't heard anything since then about Elisha. Today and tomorrow we will see the end of Elijah's ministry and the beginning of Elisha's independent ministry. As you'll notice, in each of several places Elijah and Elisha go together on this last journey a "company" of prophets greets them and secretly tells Elisha the news that his master will be taken up. In that time besides the prophets we normally read about there were groups or schools of prophets in several different places. It's not exactly clear what their role was, but like the famous prophets they spoke for God. Of course being a prophet in Israel was dangerous then because Ahab and Jezebel persecuted the prophets.

The symbol of Elijah dividing the River Jordan with his mantle is powerful. It recalls not only Israel crossing the Red Sea into freedom but also Israel crossing the Jordan into the promised land forty years later. For us as Christians we think about those two events and this story when we remember Jesus being baptized by John at the Jordan. God was working in Israel to bring them to freedom and into their land. God was at work in Elijah and Elisha in their prophetic ministry. God was at work in Jesus in his ministry beginning in his baptism at the Jordan, and God is at work in our ministry as we are joined to Christ and to all the people of God in our baptism. May God guide your ministry today.


2 Kings 2:1-8
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.

7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

the prophet's threat

Good morning all,
Today we finish our reading of the story of Naboth's vineyard. Ahab gets the news about Naboth's death and goes to take possession of the vineyard. There Elijah meets him and proclaims God's judgment against him. Notice that Elijah not only tells Ahab what God said, he even speaks for God using first person ("I will bring disaster on you.") It's interesting too that Ahab calls Elijah his enemy but doesn't try to kill him. It seems that Ahab, despite turning away from God, still respects Elijah because he is obviously God's prophet.

We leave this story here, but the real conclusion is a bit further in 1 and 2 Kings. A few chapters later Ahab is killed in battle and the dogs indeed lick up his blood. Not too long after that a new king of Israel will kill Jezebel and the rest of Ahab's family and the dogs eat Jezebel's body. Even the most powerful human being is ultimately powerless against God. People can oppress others and hurt them, but all human power comes to an end and in the end God alone rules creation. That truth gave strength to the early Christian martyrs and to all the faithful who stand up against injustice to witness to God's love for all people. May we always put our trust in God.

God bless,

1 Kings 21:15-26
15As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
17Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 18Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

20Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, 21I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; 22and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. 23Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’ 24Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.” 25(Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)