Daily Lectionary Aug. 18, 2010

“God is Not a White Man”

Reflections on Psalm 15

There is a great new video on YouTube called “God is not a White Man” by Gungor which whimsically (but quite seriously) goes after the common misconceptions of God and offers the alternative “God is Love, and God loves everyone.”  Sounds like Jesus might have written that one.

How does God love to people?  It starts by creating the good conditions that enable them to flourish: a Garden of fruitfulness with enough for everyone, and humans to share it with.  Ah, but put humans in a Garden, and pretty soon there will be trouble.  We have a hard time keeping the Garden tended and an even harder time blessing each other.  God shows Love by guiding us into correcting our impulses that would desecrate relationships on both the personal level and the social and economic levels.

Today’s Daily Lectionary texts begin with Psalm 15 that explores the ways in which community between persons can break down, and makes it a matter of God’s concern.

1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;

Speaking the truth is a condition required for right relationships – and God loves us by making our impulse to run to him with our vendettas against each other out-of-bounds.

We are not to corrupt relationships with our tongues:

3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

In the ancient language of “love or despise” (no complex middle ground) the ways of the wicked who intentionally corrupt relationships through slander and reproaches must by rejected:

4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the LORD;

Rather, the person who is able to stand in God’s presence is one whose mouth will not do damage to another – even it it means doing damage to oneself – by making an oath that will unexpectedly put you in a disadvantage – but fulfilling it anyway, rather than creating a community in which trust has broken down:

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

But the conditions of a flourishing human community cannot just be personal and private.  They must include economic relationships as well.  The strong always take advantage of the weak among humans – so God’s love guides economic behavior (in the context of an ancient agrarian culture) forbidding usury:

5 who do not lend money at interest,

We go further: this society must be one in which the poor are treated equally at the court.  Rich people must not be allowed to blind the eyes of justice with their tempting cash. Yes, this is “social justice” (say it loud):

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

God shows love for the people he made by creating the original conditions for them to flourish in, and by showing them how to maintain those conditions.  He offers this blessing:

Those who do these things shall never be moved

Here it is, all together:

1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent?Who may dwell on your holy hill?2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,and speak the truth from their heart;3 who do not slander with their tongue,and do no evil to their friends,nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,but who honor those who fear the LORD;who stand by their oath even to their hurt;5 who do not lend money at interest,and do not take a bribe against the innocent.Those who do these things shall never be moved

Is it any wonder that following this trajectory, Jesus comes, as today’s gospel reading shows, healing, feeding, rejecting the ideology of scarcity (and therefore competition for scarce resources) in favor of sharing, which leads to satisfaction and abundance for all, and even left overs (see John 6:1-15).

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Aug. 11, 2010

The daily lectionary texts are here.

Identity Politics: no new ideasU.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill

Christopher Hill, America’s ambassador to Iraq whose term is nearly complete, was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition today.   He was asked about the future of the country after the American troops leave, given the sectarian divisions.  His answer was that he had reasons for optimism (I think we pay our ambassadors to say that when they are “on the record”) but that the issues were far more complex than is usually understood.

He described Iraq as the meeting point of Sunni and Shia Islam, and between Arabs and Turkmen (of course, Kurds as well).  The way to describe the politics in places like that is “identity politics”.  People self-identify according to ethnicity or religion (sometimes the two go inseparably together, sometimes not) which determines their political allegiances.  (In psychological experiments, people will unconsciously support people and believe their claims on the basis of nothing more profound than that they are wearing the same color wrist-band – this article is amazing).  I found the same thing is true among Serbs and Croats, between Hungarians and Romanians; I think it is deeply human.

The same identity-politics showed its ugly head immediately in the early days of the church as our lectionary reading from Acts 6 describes:

1Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

The same identity-politics was assumed when Jesus met the woman at the well in our gospel text for today:

7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Identity-politics is only a hair’s breadth away from ethnic conflict (see the Jews vs. Philistines in the Samson story which the OT lectionary today is following, Judges 13), which is  not far from ethnic-cleansing – which brings us back to Iraq – and all the other ethnically based conflicts we have witnessed: Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, etc.  There are no new ideas.

Except that Jesus sat down at that well in Samaria where Jews don’t have any dealings with Samaritans, and had dealings with that woman of Samaria.  That was a new idea.  And the early church, following that new idea put exclusively Greek men in charge of the distribution that the Greek widows had felt cut out of by the Jewish widows, making discrimination against Greeks impossible, in effect saying: “you don’t think we are fair: fine – you distribute it yourself.”  That deal is even better than “I cut, you choose.”

One new humanity, no dividing wall of hostility, no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female: that is the Kingdom of God.  The alternative is an earth swollen with mass graves.

Aug. 10, 2010

The Daily Lectionary texts can be found here.

Unlikelihoods

If you were to read just this phrase from one of the lectionary texts today:

“Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.

you would have no idea where it came from – which of the several different narratives it could be: (source)

  • Sarai (later named Sarah by the Lord) Genesis 16
  • Rebekah Genesis 25:21
  • Rachel Genesis 30
  • Monah’s wife (No name is given for her, she later becomes the mother of Samson) Judges 13
  • Hannah 1 Samuel 1
  • Michal 2 Sam 6
  • The Shunammite Woman 11 Kings 4
  • Elisabeth Luke 1

In today’s reading from Judges 13 it’s about the woman who will give birth to Samson.

If the original creation blessing was fruitfulness, why is there so much barrenness?  In a world-gone-wrong, it seems that God’s intentions for the world become the least likely to happen.

And yet, I was reminded today as I did my morning treadmill bit, listening to a podcast by N.T. Wright, that in spite of it all, we seem hard-wired for hope.  Almost everyone believes that the world ought to  be an ordered beautiful place (like the Garden) in spite of all the ugliness and chaos all around; that new life can come from a barren womb; that there is a a reason to “hope in God” in the confidence that,

I shall again praise him, my help 6and my God.

Aug. 9, 2010 Daily Lectionary

Daily Lectionary Texts

John 3:3  Seeing the Kingdom of God

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Today I expect to see people I know, first my family, then later on, people from the congregation.  I expect to see traffic on Airport Blvd, retail malls and their signs, a hospital and all that entails, the normal things.

Will I see the Kingdom of God today?  Where should I look for it?  How will I know it?  Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born from above to see the Kingdom.

I feel like I need to see the Kingdom of God as I do my work and live my life today.  I want to see the Kingdom of God as I look at my family.  I want to see the Kingdom of God as I look at people facing surgery in the hospital.  I want to see the Kingdom of God as I look at the world that presents itself to me through the screen of my computer.  I want to see the kingdom of God today.

Aug. 6, 2010

Healing, mortality, and kindness

24 When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, … 27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Healing stories are complicated.  We probably pray more prayers for healing than anyIntensive Care by Ria Kock other single thing.  We care for those we love when they are injured or ill.  We want them restored to vitality and health.  We believe in God.  We know he can heal.  Sometimes he does.

But he made us physical, mortal, finite, and we will all break down and die.  There will be an end, which for most of us will be the conclusion of a long period of sickness.

In our times we have been blessed by huge advances in medicine and technology to extend life, return health, to increase vitality.  And yet one day, none of the efforts we can make will be successful.  One might think that this would lead care-givers to despair – or at least callousness as they tend to elderly critically ill patients.

This past week I have seen so much of the opposite; I have seen genuine care and compassion so often from the folks at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola as they tend to an accident victim who is a member of our congregation in Gulf Shores.   Doing their work professionally is expected – they are paid to do that.  Doing their work compassionately is a grace – a huge grace that they extend to people they only know as patients.

Perhaps this kindness is truly the effect of Christianity’s healing stories: people matter to God who made them and loves them, especially when they are injured or ill.  These stories have formed our consciences: they produce care-givers with compassion.

Aug. 5, 2010

Salvation

ACTS 4:1-12

10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

The name “Jesus” is our English version of the Greek way of saying his name, which was a translation of the Hebrew name Joshua – which is an English version of that Hebrew name, which literally means “Yahweh is salvation” or we could say “God saves”.   Nobody else and nothing else saves us.   From what?

But a whole lot of us think that we need to be saved from going out of our minds by the insane world we live in by using illegal drugs.  So many of us think this way that Mexico has a huge internal war going on between drug lords for control over the market which mostly goes to us.  This year over 23,000 people have already been killed – most often, quite brutally.  Lots of us think escaping our troubles on drugs will save us from the life we find so unpleasant, so we buy the drugs in such great quantities that huge profits are there to be made.   The people who think that money they get from selling them will save them are willing to kill to get it.  It seems that not even the whole Mexican army nor the American law enforcement community can save us from any of this.

Some of us think that we will be saved by our ability to control the world.  Just today the news reported that China is angry with us over our “interest” in the South China sea disputes.   They consider that sea their back yard and don’t want us messing in it.  But we have a pretty big military, so we can.  And since we think we will be saved by our global power, we do.

But the military is being stretched thin now by all the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has a hard time finding recruits – especially ones that do not have a history of illegal drug use.  This is beginning to move in a circular direction.

Perhaps we could attract more quality recruits if we paid them better, but that would mean raising taxes, and since we are all saved by our money, we don’t want to have to spend more of it to be saved by our military; the problem can drive you to use drugs.

Unless there is another source of salvation.

Aug 4, 2010

The Bible and Netflix

ACTS 3:12-26

12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this

If you watch a weekly series TV show then after one episode, no matter what cliff they left you hanging on, you have to wait a week to get the next bit.   The trouble with watching a series on Netflix is that you can decide to stay up later and watch the next episode.  Only, the trouble is that Aaron Sorkin, the genius behind Studio 60 is a genius on all kinds of levels, one of which is that he knows very well how to make a cliff hanger that keeps you in suspense, needing the next episode.  The trouble is, the next episode will leave you as needy as this one; it must be something like what addicts experience.

And it must be like what readers of the Bible experience.  “why do you wonder…?”  it’s because the story is never finished.  It’s always a cliff hanger.  It’s always about the almost fulfilled but partly yet-to-be fulfilled promise.  It’s always about “wait for the next thing to happen” which is what most of the story implies.

And that is exactly where I live: somewhere between the “already” of the Kingdom of God and the “not yet” of its fulfillment.  Somewhere between the resurrection of the firstfruits and the final harvest.  Somewhere between “as it is in heaven” and “on earth”.

A while back, David J. A. Clines wrote a small but seminal book called “The Theme of theThe Theme of the Pentateuch (Jsot Supplement Series, 10) Pentateuch“.  He argued in the book that the theme was the partial fulfillment and partial un-fulfillment of the Promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12.   The promise started out personal “I will bless you” and expanded to national “and make you a great nation” and practical “this land I will give to you”  and then, finally, perpetual, “I will make you a light to the nations and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”  How can that be anything but open-ended and perpetually un-fulfilled?

But anyway, that’s what we get with Jesus too – who inaugurated the Kingdom of God but who made it clear that there was a future fulfillment yet to come which was even greater than the kingdom’s present, provisional state.

This is where I live: between the “already” and the “not yet.”  I want to be what I am only partly and not fully: redeemed.  I want to live in the Spirit completely, not just intermittently, but find myself inconsistent and intermittent.   I want to believe 100% but find myself praying, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”  (MARK 9:24).

I want to pray “thy will be done” but I’m not at all certain what that will entails.  I keep having to wait for the next episode.   And that one will be a cliff-hanger too; I’m sure.