Saturday, September 29, 2012

part II

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This morning I'm going to Irondequoit Presbyterian Church to learn about a small group program called Alpha that introduces some of the main ideas of the Christian faith for discussion. I think it might be a good fit for Laurelton, so I'm going to learn more. If anyone else would like to join me, the program starts at 9:30 this morning and includes breakfast.

After Jesus rose from the dead he spent some time with his disciples, getting them ready for what would happen next. Then he rose into heaven. Those events form the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Acts, which is the story of God working through the church. Acts is a wonderful book to read when you are in a time of church renewal, like we are at Laurelton. As we pursue a new beginning, it's good to go back to the churches beginning. Acts is part two of Luke's Gospel, which you see in the introduction here. The writer begins by addressing Theophilus (which means lover of God) and relating the story he is about to tell to the one his reader has just finished reading. Notice Jesus instruction to the disciples: wait in Jerusalem for God's power. That's how the church begins, by waiting in prayer.

God bless,

Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Friday, September 28, 2012

Christ is Risen!

Good evening friends,
Today we're reminded that Jesus' death was not the end of the story. Christ rose again from the grave and met with his disciples to encourage them for their ministry to the world. With the resurrection a new phase of ministry began, a ministry we continue today. Our calling is to share God's amazing love in Christ with the world.

Blessings on your weekend,

Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 

8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Good evening/morning sisters and brothers,
We're skipping through these readings from Jesus' life pretty quickly, since the story is familiar to most of us. Throughout the story of Jesus' ministry, the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders grows. Jesus challenges their sense of order and their power. Finally, things come to a head and they see an opportunity to have Jesus arrested. They try him of blasphemy and convict him in religious court, but they don't have the power to put him to death. For that, they need the Roman governor to condemn him as well. His next step is off to see the governor, Pontius Pilate. As we see, Pilate condemns him to avoid upsetting the crowd, not because he believes Jesus is guilty. Jesus was innocent, but suffered for us.

God bless,

Mark 15:1-15
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ 13They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ 14Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

preparing for the end

Good morning friends,
In our reading for today Jesus tells his followers what to expect when the end of history comes. The early church expected the end very soon, but as we know "soon" can mean something different for God than for us. For many of us, the end of the world is not on our radar screens. We've seen generations come and go, but the world keeps spinning. We don't know when this will end; elsewhere Jesus says it's not for us to know. So we make plans expecting things to keep going as they are. But one day, trouble and persecution will come and Christ will return "to judge the quick and the dead." It's all in God's hands, so read, reflect, pray, and don't worry.

God bless,

Mark 13:9-23
9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 

18Pray that it may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. 22False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be alert; I have already told you everything.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

a house divided

Good morning friends,
Today's reading brings us to the start of Jesus' conflict with the religious leaders. The religious leaders try to account for the power Jesus has, so they accuse him of being in league with demonic powers. Jesus also reminds us that in even family is less important than faith. This is a passage to chew on, for sure.

God bless,

Mark 3:20-35
20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’

23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ 

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ 33And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Friday, September 21, 2012

the revolution begins

Good morning sisters and brothers,
If protests and the "Shot heard round the world," began the American Revolution, Mattathias's attack in our passage today begins the Maccabee revolution against Antiochus. Many Jews caved in to the pressure to offer royal sacrifices, but for some this was the final straw. It's interesting that the royal officials approached Mattathias and his family to recruit them as leaders of the assimilation project of the royal faith. The result is quite the opposite of what the officials intended.

God bless,

1 Maccabees 2:15-26
15 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. 16Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. 17Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: ‘You are a leader, honoured and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. 18Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honoured with silver and gold and many gifts.’ 

19 But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: ‘Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, 20I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. 21Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. 22We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.’

23 When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. 24When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. 25At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. 26Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

persecuted for righteousness

Good morning friends,
We read yesterday about Antiochus IV's persecution of observant Jews. As we see in today's passage, that persecution intensified to the point of mass executions and defiling the temple with pigs. The "desolating sacrilege" the author mentions probably refers to a statue of Zeus, who was proclaimed to be the god of all. The same phrase shows up in Mark's Gospel when Jesus describes the coming end of the world. Even in the darkest hour, God is still present.

God bless,


1 Maccabees 1:41-57
41 Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42and that all should give up their particular customs. 43All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45to forbid burnt-offerings and sacrifices and drink-offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50He added, ‘And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.’

51 In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. 52Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.

54 Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt-offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, 55and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

tolerance to oppression

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today at 5:30 we'll be gathering in Christler Hall for our first Supper and Scripture of the fall. Everyone is welcome to this opportunity to gather around good food and God's word. Tolerance and listening had been hallmarks of Alexander the Great's conquest. He tried to respect the cultures he conquered so they could feel like partners in a new kingdom rather than simply defeated subjects. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, one of his successors, took the opposite approach, as we see in our reading. While the Jewish community was largely left alone prior to this, under Antiochus a sever oppression begins.


1 Maccabees 1:20-31
20 After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred and forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. 21He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. 22He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink-offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. 23He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. 24Taking them all, he went into his own land.
He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance.

25 Israel mourned deeply in every community,
26   rulers and elders groaned,
young women and young men became faint,
   the beauty of the women faded.
27 Every bridegroom took up the lament;
   she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning.
28 Even the land trembled for its inhabitants,
   and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame. 

29 Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

a new empire in the picture

Good morning friends,
The next few readings take us out of the Bible we know, but into an important historical time for our faith. After the return of Judah from exile (late 6th century BCE) the Greek city states gained strength. As with other times in Jewish history, much of the fate of Israel Palestine was determined by outside empires. In this case, the Greek civilization had been in conflict with Persia for some time. In 335 BCE, Alexander the Great, King of Macedon and general of the Greek forces, invaded Persia, eventually conquering it. At that point Greece ruled Judah along with the surrounding area.

Alexander tried to unify his giant empire through tolerance and the spread of Greek culture. He left his subject peoples free in most ways but wanted Greek culture to provide a common language. Assimilation was a threat to Jewish culture and faith, because it came with polytheism. In the Jewish community there were different responses. Regardless, it was a fairly humane occupation during Alexander's reign and immediately afterwards. Jews were free to worship God and life was manageable. Later rulers would be harsher, eventually leading to a Jewish revolution. Our readings today and the next couple of days come from the Book of Maccabees. This book (actually 4 books) was written in the second of third century BCE and tell the story of oppression and rebellion by Jewish leaders. Protestants generally do not consider these books as part of the Bible; Catholics and some Episcopalians do. The term for this book and several others is the Apocrypha. At the very least, it gives insight into history that is important for us. Our reading starts with Alexander the Great.

God bless,

1 Maccabees 1:1-15
After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated King Darius of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) 2He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. 3He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. 4He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him. 

5 After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. 6So he summoned his most honoured officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. 7And after Alexander had reigned for twelve years, he died. 8 Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. 9They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their descendants after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth.

10 From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks.

11 In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.’ 12This proposal pleased them, 13and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. 14So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

Monday, September 17, 2012

mourning and rejoicing

Good morning sisters and brothers,
I hope the weekend was a good one for you. When the people of Judah returned from exile in Babylon they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. In this passage we see the people celebrating and praising God for the blessing of bringing them home and allowing them to rebuild the temple. At the same time, we also see the older members of the community weeping because the new temple wasn't the temple they remembered. This moment speaks volumes to the church today. Many of the younger members of the church rejoice at the new things God is doing in our community: deepening spirituality that's evident in our prayer vigils, strong growth and new members in our Bible study, and some new energy for New Beginnings. At the same time, many of us remember the "good old days" when there were more people in the church and life seemed simpler.

The truth is there is much to rejoice over and much to lament. What is lost is gone: the 1960's are not coming back. But God is doing something exciting at Laurelton and beyond. Jesus promises that even the gates of hell won't defeat the church, so we can trust the future to God's hands. We who are excited about the future need to remember that many are also mourning the past; we who mourn the past can also look to the future with hope because God is in charge: "His love endures forever!"

God bless,

Ezra 3:8-13
8In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their people, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work on the house of the Lord. 9And Jeshua with his sons and his kin, and Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and Hodaviah along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, their sons and kin, together took charge of the workers in the house of God.

10When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

12But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the end of exile

Good morning brothers and sisters (good evening night owls),
We've heard how God was with the people of Judah during the exile. Now we turn to the end of the exile. King Cyrus of Persia (which took over the Babylonian Empire) received a revelation from God that he should let the people of Judah return home. The passage mentions this fulfills Jeremiah's prophecy, which stated that Judah would be in captivity for 70 years. If there was any doubt that God uses people who aren't part of the "right" religion, this passage clears that up. God can work through anyone, at any time. How will God work through you today?

God bless,


Ezra 1:1-11
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a 2 written edict declared: 3Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them! —are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.” 

5The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites—everyone whose spirit God had stirred—got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. 7King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8King Cyrus of Persia had them released into the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives, twenty-nine; 10gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred ten; other vessels, one thousand; 11the total of the gold and silver vessels was five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar brought up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

"beauty pageant"

Good morning friends,
The Book of Esther is another great story about God's people in exile. Interestingly enough God is never mentioned in the book, but God's presence and protection is evident just the same. The book begins with a royal feast. Drunk and eager to impress his guests, King Ahasuerus (AKA King Xerxes) calls in his beautiful wife, Vashti, to dance for the crowd. She refuses, so after consulting with his advisers she loses her position as queen. To fill the gap, Ahasuerus holds a beauty pageant (which seems from our passage to have a sexual component as well). The winner of the contest will become queen. We aren't going to follow the whole story, so suffice it to say that the plot thickens after our passage.

God bless,


Esther 2:5-17
5Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. 6Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away. 7Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. 

8So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. 9The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem. 10Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. 

11Every day Mordecai would walk around in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared. 12The turn came for each girl to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their cosmetic treatment, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics for women. 13When the girl went in to the king she was given whatever she asked for to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14In the evening she went in; then in the morning she came back to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines; she did not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name. 

15When the turn came for Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was admired by all who saw her. 16When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus in his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, 17the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Daniel's reward

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading is a short one to follow up on yesterday's long reading. Daniel revealed the mystery of the king's dream to him and the King rewards him. As we know, prophets are not always appreciated for their wisdom. This king will prove fickle, but for the moment, the thing to note is that God makes Daniel thrive in exile.

God bless,


Daniel 2:46-49
46Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshiped Daniel, and commanded that a grain offering and incense be offered to him. 47The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!” 48Then the king promoted Daniel, gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nebuchadnezzar's dream interpretted

Good morning brothers and sisters,
On this morning we remember the horror of 11 years ago and we pray for all those affected by the events of September 11th here and around the world. Our reading for today is also a story about nations and empires. It's a very different story than the tragedy of 9/11, but it offers a caution our nation needs, a caution to every nation that feels a calling to world power. The Bible's clear word to every empire is that human power never lasts. During the course of the biblical story we see empires grow and shrink, rise and fall. We see Israel move from freedom, to prosperity and to defeat. We see the Assyrian Empire decline and the Babylonian Empire rise. As Daniel interprets King Nebuchadnezzar's dream we see that Babylon will give way to other empires, but that none of them will last. Take your time with this passage because it's an introduction to apocalyptic literature, which is a formative kind of writing for scripture.

God bless,


Daniel 2:31-45
31“You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.

34As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. 35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. 

36“This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37You, O king, the king of kings—to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, 38into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all—you are the head of gold. 39After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth. 40And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; just as iron crushes and smashes everything, it shall crush and shatter all these. 

41As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. 42As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 

44And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever; 45just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

royal dreams

Good morning friends,
In Saturday's reading the King ordered all his wisemen to tell him what he had dreamed and to interpret it. When they told him his request was impossible, he ordered them all to be killed. When Daniel finds out about this decree, which includes his friends and him, he asks for time from the king's officials and asks Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to pray for him. Then he prays to God for wisdom and to know the dream. It won't surprise us that God comes through for Daniel.

Blessings on your week,


Daniel 2:13-19, 24-30

13The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. 14Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; 15he asked Arioch, the royal official, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation. 17Then Daniel went to his home and informed his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 18and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions with the rest of the wise men of Babylon might not perish. 19Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

24Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will give the king the interpretation.” 25Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king and said to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who can tell the king the interpretation.” 26The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?”

27Daniel answered the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, 28but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed were these: 29To you, O king, as you lay in bed, came thoughts of what would be hereafter, and the revealer of mysteries disclosed to you what is to be. 30But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me because of any wisdom that I have more than any other living being, but in order that the interpretation may be known to the king and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

dreams of doom

Good morning friends,
First, a note about worship tomorrow: we'll being doing a back to school themed worship. Please bring a backpack or briefcase, a stethoscope or calculator: something that represents starting the school year (if you're a student) or your work if you aren't. We'll conclude worship by blessing your work and study.

Today's reading is a great story about the abuse and fear that comes with power. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that scares him, so he desperately wants to understand it. At the same time he is afraid that his wise men will make something up; he's feeling vulnerable. So he commands and threatens them to not only interpret the dream, but also to tell him what he dreamed to prove that they have insight. Much of the Book of Daniel is stories that suggest that even though the king has nearly absolute power, he is not really in charge. His power is threatened often by underlings who seek to manipulate him and by the fact that, even when we pretend otherwise, human power is always limited.

Blessings on your weekend,

Daniel 2:1-12
In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. 2So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, 3he said to them, “I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.”

4The Chaldeans said to the king (in Aramaic), “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will reveal the interpretation.” 5The king answered the Chaldeans, “This is a public decree: if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. 6But if you do tell me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.”

7They answered a second time, “Let the king first tell his servants the dream, then we can give its interpretation.” 8The king answered, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see I have firmly decreed: 9if you do not tell me the dream, there is but one verdict for you. You have agreed to speak lying and misleading words to me until things take a turn. Therefore, tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.”

10The Chaldeans answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! In fact no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.” 12Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

exile is the beginning

Good afternoon friends,
We read on Sunday about the defeat of Judah and the exile of the people. Scripture has a bunch of lamentations about that defeat; in many ways it was a devastating ending to the dream that had been Israel. Today we read the story in a different light, as the introduction to the Book of Daniel. God didn't abandon his people in exile. Things changed, but God didn't change. Daniel is a fascinating book that starts with six chapters of mostly funny stories about how God blessed and used Daniel and his friends to testify to God's love and power in Babylon. It ends with six chapters of visions that are often understood as visions of the end of time. Today's story has a special place in my heart as a vegetarian too. I hope you enjoy.

God bless,


Daniel 1: 1-13
In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods. 3Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

5The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 

9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12“Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

images of jealousy

Good morning brothers and sisters,
I'd like to remind you of two events that may be of interest to you. The first is an evening discussion about the state of our schools and what we can do to help. The event will include dinner and take place beginning at 5:45 on Monday, September 24 at Downtown Presbyterian Church. Let me know if you can attend; it will be a great chance to get to know others in the area who also want to support our kids in education. On Saturday, September 29th beginning at 8am at the East Henrietta Road Church of Christ (right by the expressway and Strong Hospital) there will be a seminar on trauma and violence in the community, including sessions on gangs, bullying and organ donation. Again, let me know if you're interested.

Today's reading is from the Prophet Ezekiel. God takes him to the temple to show him that some of the leaders of Judah are worshiping other gods and leading Judah into sin. Ezekiel can be tough to read because of the strange word choices. In this case he talks about an "image of jealousy," by which he means an idol set up in the temple. God calls us to follow; we often turn away, but God will always welcome us back.

God bless,


Ezekiel 8:1-6
In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. 2I looked, and there was a figure that looked like a human being; below what appeared to be its loins it was fire, and above the loins it was like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming amber.

3It stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, to the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. 4And the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I had seen in the valley.

5Then God said to me, “O mortal, lift up your eyes now in the direction of the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and there, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. 6He said to me, “Mortal, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? Yet you will see still greater abominations.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

letter to the exiles

Good morning brothers and sisters,
We've been following the story of Israel and Judah. Sunday we talked about the defeat of Israel and Judah (722 and 597 BCE, respectively) and the exile of the people to Assyria and Babylon. Today's reading is a letter God inspired Jeremiah to write to the exiles in Babylon. It's a great message about making a life under God's calling, no matter where we are. God is with us everywhere, all the time.

God bless,


Jeremiah 29:1-14
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. 10For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

finding the law

Good afternoon friends,
I hope you're enjoying this beautiful holiday weekend. Our reading doesn't go with it, but it's worth remembering that Labor Day is a reminder of the hard work of generations who built this country and of those who struggled to win workers the right to safe working conditions. The struggle for justice is always a matter of faith.

The last few days we've been reading about Hezekiah, one of the good Kings of Judah. He was followed by Mannaseh and Uzzah, two bad kings, and then by the hero of today's story, Josiah. It gives us some indication of the spiritual state of Judah that the chief priest can "find" the "Book of the Law." Scholars believe this book may have been an early version of what we now know as Deuteronomy. As soon as Josiah hears the law read, he realizes the kingdom is in big trouble because they have fallen so far from God's calling. He begins exactly how we should always begin when we realize we're living in opposition to God: he repents.

Blessings on your repentance, reflection and recreation,


2 Kings 22:1-13
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. 2He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

3In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, 4“Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; 5let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, 6that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

8The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 9Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.” Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.

11When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, 13“Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”