Monday, June 25, 2012

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Readings for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/1/12: 
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27:
  • David laments the deaths of both Jonathan, who he loved dearly, and Saul, who spent a lot of time trying to kill David. Could you give someone like Saul such a lament? Apparently, David was sympathetic to the obvious psychological distress Saul seemed to be in over David's rise to power.
  • "greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" David and Jonathan are constantly expressing their love for one another. What was their relationship like, do you think? Today, we don't encourage such emotional expressions from men, especially directed at other men.
Psalm 130:
  • A favorite Psalm. My favorite musical setting of this Psalm is the John Rutter Requiem.
  • Out of the depths - what are the depths from which you call to God? Do you remember to call to God from your lowest low?
  • This psalm shows a great faith and hope in God's grace and forgiving mercy, unlike some psalms that are more bent on vengeance: "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord , who could stand?" It is a nice change.
  • wait, wait, wait the psalmist says. I've read statistics before about how many years of our life we spending waiting in line for things. How much of your life do you spend waiting on God? Are you more patient about waiting in line for concert tickets than you are about waiting for God? 
  • Relate this Psalm to the text from 2 Samuel. They are both laments. Do you lament to God?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15:
  • Paul 'butters up' the Corinthians, telling them they excel in everything else already, so no doubt they will excel in following the teachings he gives now.
  • :11 "finish doing it" - Good advice for the church. How often do we get fired up with new ideas, new hope, new visions for our church, only to run out of steam and energy and creativity before we follow through?
  • Paul is talking about a deep generosity - "your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance." Fair balance - do we have much of that today in terms of abundance and need? Hardly!
Mark 5:21-43:
  • Synagogue leaders weren't always welcoming to Jesus and his teaching - and yet Jairus humbles himself and turns to Jesus in need. When was the last time you had to humble yourself?
  • The woman knows just being near to Jesus, touching him, will bring her healing. Can you imagine her faith?
  • The KJV of the Bible calls the young girl in this passage a "damsel." I just can't picture Jesus saying damsel, can you?! :)
  • "something to eat" - the eating in passages like this is a sign confirming she's really alive and really human, not some spirit.
  • The little girl's perspective is one we never get - we hear from everyone else. What do you think she was thinking when she was raised? Have you ever had a near-death experience?

Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Readings for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 6/24/12:
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-40, Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-40:
  • What's your Goliath? I read this passage, and see such a cartoon childhood-Bible-story image. But for the Israelites - terror. What would be a comparable image of terror for you?
  • :39 - David removing the armor reminds me of a scene from the movie Contact - Jodie Foster, traveling in the machine, is strapped to a chair that wasn't in the specifications, for her safety, supposedly. But eventually she realizes that the chair is only holding her back, and once she unstraps herself from it, she floats calmly and safely. What kind of things do we try to add into our lives that are only holding us back?
  • appearances - David's early story is all about appearances. Goliath thinks he knows what David is all about because of how he looks. What would your appearance say about you? Is that who you are? When do you let appearances influence what you think about others?
Psalm 9:9-20:
  • "a stronghold for the oppressed" - God is the safe place for those who have no other.
  • Not my favorite psalm - a lot of "I hate my enemies - get 'em, God!" talk.
  • "let the nations know that they are only human." What a timely reminder, eh? Someone needs to remind the nations today of this truth - not God, but humans.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13:
  • "an acceptable time" - God's time and our time don't always seem to mesh. We're so rushed, we rarely seem able to wait for God's action. But when the acceptable time comes, when God acts, we don't always seem ready to respond! Jesus was all about the time being now, the kingdom being at hand - here, arrived. Do we miss the message? Are we late?
  • :4-:10 - What a description from Paul, and how he has sought to mold himself and his ministry. Can you apply these descriptors to yourself? What would your 'list' look like?
  • "no restriction in our affection" "open wide your hearts also" - beautiful. It is hard to live without putting conditions on our love of others. How open are your hearts?
Mark 4:35-41:
  • "Have you no  faith?" If I were the disciples, I admit, I'd be on Jesus' case too! After all, early in the gospel account, maybe they don't know him well enough yet.
  • Still, aren't they fisherman, many of them? And Jesus a rabbi? What exactly were they expecting of him? A miracle performer only?
  • I imagine Jesus wasn't thrilled, either, that they accused him of not caring. Why, in crisis times, do we sometimes throw out the most hurtful things we can think of to say?

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Readings for Third Sunday after Pentecost, 6/17/12:
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Psalm 20, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 4:26-34

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13:
  • What does it mean for God to be sorry God did something? I hope God is never sorry/disappointed over something done in relation to me! What weighty words.
  • This is a classic story of God calling an unexpected person. David seems to be the last choice of all the brothers - except to God.
  • "how long will you grieve?" God asks Samuel. Sometimes we can get bogged down in bad decisions, plans gone wrong, etc., that distract us from following God. God says - Get on with it. There are other plans. Other ways I can work. You just have to keep moving, keep being open to God's creativity.
  • "for the Lord does not see as mortals see" - THANK GOD for that!!! God sees insides, not outsides. God sees potential, not past.
Psalm 20:
  • This is a psalm that is a prayer of blessing for someone else: "May God do ____ for you." Do you pray blessings on others? Do you let them know you are doing so for them?
  • "May [God] grant you your heart's desire, and fulfill all your plans." - What is your true heart's desire?
  • "Some take pride in chariots, some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God." Well said. Where does your pride come from - what do you put your pride in?
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17:
  • "we walk by faith, not by sight." I've played trust-building games at camp when I was little, where one partner would be blindfolded, the other leading the blindfolded one on a "faith walk." For those who have the gift of sight, this kind of play is a real challenge. God asks us to make our whole life plan based on where God leads, not the road that we may see ahead of us. That's a challenge!
  • "we make it our aim to pleas God." Sometimes when I've struggled to know what was right or wrong in a situation, I've reframed the issue: "What action would be most pleasing to God?" Looking at it this way has helped - something may not be wrong per se, but I can sometimes figure out what might please God the most.
  • "well known to God." Ah, Paul and his ego. Are you well known to God? I hope so, but I'm not always so confident of myself as Paul ;) "to boast about us." Paul uses the word boast more than any other person in the scriptures. This has always been my struggle with Paul. I know what he's saying, but the way he says it...
  • "we regard no one from a human point of view" - instead we're called to see each other through Jesus' eyes, through God's eyes. How does that change how you see people?
  • "new creations" - a new chance in Christ. Clean slate. Fresh hope.
Mark 4:26-34:
  • What's this first section of parable about? Chris Haslam says that Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God will continue to grow even if we don't see it, and even if we do "not know how", like the planter here. Still, the kingdom arrives and harvest comes. Don't miss it! It happens with us or in spite of us.
  • "greatest of all the shrubs"? Hardly! Sure, the mustard seed will grow into a hardly plant, but not enormous. But Jesus' point is that the kingdom of God is deceptively pervasive! He exaggerates the analogy to make the point - bigger than you can imagine!
  • "explained everything in private to his disciples." What's the benefit of not explaining the parables to everyone, do you think?

Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, "Changed from Glory into Glory: To Be Continued..."

Sermon 6/10/12
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Changed from Glory into Glory: To Be Continued…

            Have you ever been watching a movie or TV program, and you are to that really awesome, intense part, and things are getting just so good – and then the screen turns to black, and up pop three words: to be continued. Groan! How frustrating is a “to be continued,” when you really want to know how something will end right now? I will confess to you that I am a person who usually flips to the end of the book and reads the last few pages of a novel, to see how it ends. Of course, I still read the whole book anyway, and I have never thought of it as something that ruins the book for me – I love to read! But I like to know where I’m headed – I like to know where the story is going. And so I just take a bit of a peak at the ending. But with some book series, and with tv or movies, I can’t skip to the end. Sometimes, I might even have to wait years for the next one to come out. I might want to know where we’re going, but I just have to wait and see how things will unfold.
            I’ve shared with some of you before my own call story, my call to become a pastor. The process for ordination for United Methodist elders is rather long. I started the process officially when I was 18, and I was finally ordained when I was 27 years old. I literally spent a third of my life at the time in “the process.” But as I was finally nearing ordination, I had to remind myself, that just because I was about to achieve a particular goal, even one I had worked for so long and so hard, it didn’t mean that I could just be finished with responding to God’s call. When it comes to God’s call on our lives, there is always another chapter, always a to be continued, and as far as I can tell with life, there is just no way to skip ahead and read pages we haven’t gotten to yet so we know where we’re going.
            In our epistle lesson from 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing about faith that perseveres through incredible difficulty. In the section right before our reading from today, Paul says, “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” Paul sees his suffering as a way that Jesus can be made more visible to others. That’s the theme that our text continues with today. Paul writes, “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” Everything Paul does is in hopes that God’s grace, God’s unconditional love, is experienced in all its fullness by more people.
            Over the last three years, I hope you have heard me talk about a few things. First, I hope you have heard me ask you lots of questions. I received a card from one of you this last week that said something like, “Thank you for letting me ask all those questions, and thank you for your responses. Well, you really just asked me more questions in return, but thank you for making me think.” I think asking questions is a way we explore the breadth and depth of our faith. And the biggest question we can ask is the one that we start asking as children: Why? Why? Why? Why? As a congregation, the “why” I’ve wanted you to ask is this: Why do we do this thing? Why church? Why bother? Why, when things are so challenging, do we keep at it? When we face struggles, why not just call it a day, close up shop, and go off to other congregations and communities of faith where things are not such a challenge? Why? How would you answer that question? Paul answers that it is worth preserving through everything so that the number of people who can experience God’s grace, which is always available to us, but which we don’t always reach for, just increases and increases.
            Second, I hope you have heard me say a little bit about how I would answer the “why” question, at least one answer. We have tried, during the last few years, and will always try to be answering questions about how we understand God’s vision for our work. What is your vision? What is our vision? What is God’s vision for us? And my answer has been and is this: I want this church to be a place where people’s lives change because they’ve encountered the living Christ. I want our experiences of God to turn our lives upside down. If you come here to praise God, and you praise God with your whole heart, and if you find that your life is changed by knowing God more, then why wouldn’t you want to share your experience with others? My vision for this congregation is that it is a community of faith where being a part of God’s family is so meaningful that you can’t help but want to talk about it with others. I hope you are so grounded in your faith that it is simply a part of how you live and move and exist in the world, so that is it part of every decision you make. You feed the hungry because you were deeply moved by Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 and can’t stand to see more people starving in the midst of abundance. You care for children because you understand that children have the easiest time seeing God, and you want to see through their eyes. You visit shut-in members because you understand what the apostle Paul means when he talks about us being essential parts of the body of Christ. If your life has meaning it didn’t have before, if you have purpose, and if you have this unfailing love of God – how can you not share that, share your life with others? I want your life to be your witness in the world.
            My hope for you is that like Paul, you find that God’s grace is so worth sharing that you see your struggles not as obstacles, but as one more way, one more opportunity, one more avenue that will help you make it easier to share God’s grace with people who are already hurt and struggling, people who are already lost and lonely, who are just waiting for someone to reach out and extend to them the invitation to God’s kingdom.
            Friends, these three years have been just one chapter in God’s unfolding story. My story, your story, the story of First United, and beyond that, the story of God and God’s people. God invites us to be co-authors, writing together the story of Jesus and his love, a story that is for all times, all places, and all people, a story that is always to be continued. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Lectionary Notes for Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Readings for Second Sunday after Pentecost, 6/10/12: 

  • 1 Samuel 8:4-20, 
  • Psalm 138, 
  • 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, 
  • Mark 3:20-35

1 Samuel 8:4-20:
  • The people, who have been governed by Judges, demand of Samuel, the last of the Judges, a king. They want a king just like other nations, and thing Samuel is too old to continue leading them. God wants the people to understand that God is the ruler. 
  • Even so, God acquiesces to the demands of the people, and offers them a king, but warns them of the cost that come with getting their own way. I find it interesting that God is willing to give the people what they want. Things will not go smoothly, but God will still work with the people, even when they choose a path that is less than the best for them. 
  • How has God worked with you anyway, even when you have made less-than-the-best life choices? 
  • What kind of warnings has God given you when you were on the verge of making a bad decision? Did you change course? Do it anyway? What happened? 
Psalm 138:
  • Not surprisingly, another psalm that ends with talk of the psalmist's enemies and God's protection from them!
  • This psalm is in thanks and praise for God's faithfulness, for answered prayers, etc. It's good to remember to thank God for our gifts. We remember to turn to God in need - turning to God in blessings is easier to omit.
  • "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me." I believe that free will is one of God's greatest gifts to us. And yet, I also take comfort and strength from knowing that God has purposes to see fulfilled in me. But for this to happen, I think, we have to take an active part. God works with us.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1:
  • Paul writes with a personal voice about suffering and persevering through affliction, faith deepening rather than wavering in times of trial. What times of affliction have you experienced? Has your faith wavered? Strengthened? 
  • How is your inner nature renewed? 
  • Paul tries to show our afflictions as "momentary" when you compare them with the weight of eternity. We know we perceive time as moving fast or slow depending on what we are experiencing in the moment. Paul encourages the faithful to put our struggles in perspective. In light of eternity, suffering is a temporary moment. 
Mark 3:20-35:
  • Jesus' family tries to restrain him when the crowds think Jesus has gone mad. We don't know if the family restrains him for protection, or because they agree with the crowds, and we don't know who in his family this text refers to. However, these interesting details don't seem to be the point of the passage, rather, Jesus' authority is the main topic. 
  • Jesus says that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We often quote this verse in the context of strife in our family/church/etc. But here, Jesus specifically means it to show that his good actions cannot be of Satan.
  • Check out Chris Haslam's comments on blaspheming against the Holy Spirit for some helpful comments. 
  • "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." We all have an opportunity to be in the immediate family of Jesus when we resemble him, imitate him in our actions: following the will of God as he does.