Sunday, August 20, 2017

Saving Scraps; a sermon from Matthew 15:10-28

Matthew 15:10-28
The Old Turtle and the broken truth. I asked Beth to read this book as the children’s message this morning specifically as an introduction to this morning’s scripture. The story of a world holding up the mantra You are Loved, sounds amazing, sounds peaceful, sounds Holy, and it is, but it is not the whole message.
You are a child of God. It’s an amazing, peaceful, Holy thing. But it’s not the whole truth, not by a long shot.
Let us listen for the word of God.
Read Matt 15:10-28
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:  it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”  Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”  Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The Word of God, for the People of God.
I have struggled and wrestled and fought with this scripture so much this week that it has seeped into my relationships with other people. I’ve talked about this scripture with friends and family. I’ve fought about this scripture with my Mom, and blessed the truth of these verses and found agreement with my brother. I even considered naming this sermon “Going to the Dogs” but couldn’t bring myself to be bold enough to put it in the bulletin.
I love and have loved this passage of scripture. It is an honest, clear theological debate between Jesus and a woman. And, like most of us in this world, my ears perk up when someone I perceive as “like me” is mentioned in scripture. I’ve had an affinity with this persistent, loud mouth woman who refuses to give up. I’ve admired her tenacity, her spirit. This woman, who gets in a theological debate with the Messiah, has always been my hero.
But there’s been a part that is unsatisfying about her story. Most of my life I have heard it interpreted in this manner.
Jesus is with the disciples, perhaps tiered in spirit if not physically, and this annoying woman makes her plea. Jesus ignores her, then denies her to test her. If she passes this litmus test of faith, her daughter will be healed. If not, well, let’s not think about this too much.
When viewed from this perspective, the woman, and her sick daughter, are turned into an object lesson with little to no actual value of their own. And that bothers me.
It bothers me because it doesn’t jive with the way Jesus acts in the Gospels in general and in Matthew specifically. It bothers me because it dismisses the experience as nothing more than a training exercise. It bothers me because the langue of test is nowhere in this scripture. It bothers me because it isn’t true, to the character of Christ, or to the witness of scripture.
Too often this story is read in isolation, which is why I choose to add verses 10-20 to our reading today. Context is key.
This section comes at the end of a discussion about the Pharisees and their purity culture obsession. They were so concerned about remaining pure and clean that they created an entire system of dos and don’ts and ins and outs. These laws and systems had become oppressive, rather than life affirming. They had been twisted and turned to keep people down instead of uniting God’s people under a shared identity. They had become tools to harm rather than signs of holiness.
Jesus argues against such systems, using words that would make any little boy giggle, saying that it’s not what you put into your body that makes you unclean, it’s what comes out of you that is unclean. Jesus’ potty humor here may make you smile, or may offend you, but it has a purpose. He goes on to say that it’s what comes out of the mouth, the words you speak, that show the cleanliness or uncleanliness of your heart.
Immediately following this we have the Canaanite woman calling out “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David.” This is shocking and unexpected. Why?
Well a couple of reasons. One, Canaanites had not been around for many, many years. The promised land had been the land of Canaan, and the region had been “cleansed” shall we say by the Israelites as they moved in.
There were not a group of people who called themselves Canaanites at this time, it was an ancient label meant to evoke a feeling, an image. “Outsider, other, Gentile.”
This woman was not Jewish, she was not of the family of Abraham, she was not a part of the family of God.
She however, has heard of this Jesus, this Lord, this Son of David, and as a mother, will do anything, even speak publicly to a man she is not related to in any way shape or form, for the sake of her ailing child.
And Jesus ignores her.
Perhaps he is exhausted from the crowds. Perhaps he doesn’t hear her. Perhaps he thinks one of the disciples will step up. These are all arguments I’ve heard, but they go in the face of what is on the page. He does not answer her at all.
He couldn’t have missed her crying out, described as squawking, and to be sure he doesn’t miss it, the disciples beg him to send her away. Send away this gentile, loud obnoxious women, Jesus. Her begging for mercy is getting on our nerves, we are sick of it. She needs to be quiet and go back where she comes from.
The disciples are uncomfortable. This Gentile woman is making a scene with her asking/demanding for mercy and healing. She should know better, she should know her place.
And Jesus doesn’t seem to disagree. “I was sent to the lost children of Israel.” That’s it. Jesus was sent to the people of Israel and everyone else is just out of luck.
She however, she persisted. She did not give up. She hit her knees in the dirt before him and again cried out “Lord, help me!”
Jesus looks at her there on her knees and says, “It’s not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”
Yes, this is Jesus here, calling a woman, an entire group of people, dogs. And not in the cute and cuddly, I love that puppy kind of way. Dogs were not pets. They were utilitarian at best, used as living alarm systems. But more often than not, they were scavengers, roaming the outskirts of town and launching missions into populated areas in search of food.
 Jesus say his mission as being to the children of Israel. The chosen people. God’s people. This gentile woman did not fit into the picture. She complicated things, perhaps even made him as uncomfortable as she made the disciples. She didn’t fit into how Jesus saw this whole thing working out.
And that’s a hard thing for many of us to hear. Jesus had to learn. As Jill Duffield points out perhaps at this point, “How can this be? He is Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, Son of David, divine, Jesus!
But he's fully human too, remember? Without sin, but fully human, and being fully human encompasses grief, frustration, desperation, fatigue, love, compassion and indifference. And I find this messy display of Jesus' complex discernment a relief. If Jesus has these feelings they are not only allowed, but sanctified and holy. It is also a relief to know that our circumstances today, no matter how dire or seemingly intractable, are not destined to be our circumstances forever. God is, after all, always doing a new thing, and Jesus in this story proves that truth.”[i]
The woman does not give up at this point, but instead says “Even the dogs get to eat scraps.” And with those words, in that moment. Jesus learns more about himself, recognizes more about his calling. He sounds joyful to me as he is honestly surprised by this gentile woman’s faith. His tone is celebratory as he agrees to heal her daughter and to step into this part of his mission, as a savior to not only Israel, but to the world.
It is as if she showed him the other half of that truth, you are loved, and so are they.
That is the truth that Jesus, for lack of a better word, learns in his encounter with the Canaanite Gentile woman. There is a wildness in God’s mercy. It spreads farther than we can imagine and is deeper than we can fathom.
Sometimes I am guilty of forgetting that truth. Sure, I know God is no made in my image. I know that God is reflected in the eyes and faces of all nations, races, genders. But it’s not always easy to see.
Jesus didn’t take the easy road here, and neither should we. We need to speak out against the things that are sinful, that harm God’s people, like the sin of While nationalism, the sin of Neo-Nazi attitudes and actions. These things must be condemned in the strongest of ways.
At the same time, we must not become that which we condemn. We must pray for, love, seek to teach those whose sins lead to actions and words of hate. We must not fight fire with fire, because if we keep doing that, the only thing that will happen is the whole world will burn.
The woman could have yelled at Jesus to treat her better. She could have spat in his face, called him racist and shook the dust off of her feet. She could have led a group of demonstrators against him. She could have called for Jesus and his people to be attacked. But instead, she humbled herself before him and honestly spoke of her need.
We need to humble ourselves before God and ask for what we really need. Healing, forgiveness, unity. We must listen when our brothers and sisters tell us what their lives are like. We must acknowledge that, in the words of Will Wheaton “It is a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your whole life!”
We must be willing to open our eyes, minds and hearts, just like Jesus. And have faith that the God in whose image we are all created, will heal us all.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fear Not: a sermon based on Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14:22-23
I have many fears, some might say phobias. They are not all rational, although some are very rational. I am scared of moths. I know there is nothing they can do to me; but their fluttering close to my person gives me the absolute willies and I cannot keep from hyperventilating. Perhaps it’s because they unnerve me, their tendency to fly into a flame, or perhaps it’s because a babysitter let me watch Mothra versus Godzilla when I was a young child. 

Whatever the reason, I fear them.
That is a little fear, one that I manage fairly well day to day. But I have much bigger fears, most of them centered on the wellbeing of my children in those moments when I am unable to be a physical barrier between them and something that might cause them harm.
I would be lying if I said that the recent uptick in talk of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles hasn’t cost me some sleepless, fear-filled nights. I fear for our nation and our world, specifically of what will happen if my generation doesn’t step up and step out. What kind of legacy will we leave for our kids?

And it is with these fears and worries and anxieties that I approach this text this morning. And perhaps because of those very things that I find such hope here.
Matthew’s Gospel takes us through some of the more dramatic moments of Jesus’s life. His birth, his greeting by the Wisemen, the proclaiming of his identity as the Messiah when he was only 8 days old , his healing of the blind and the paraplegic, to the feeding of the 5,000 we heard about last week. Jesus was certainly drawing attention and making a name for himself. But all of these things, this standing up to powers and principalities, it’s a dangerous thing. It had cost John the Baptist his head. Jesus needed some time to think things through, to pray, to be alone and recharge.
He sent his disciples ahead of him on the boat. Ahead where? Towards Capernaum, back into the region where he had faced persecution before. He compelled them to go and told them he would be along later. The road weary group loaded into the boat and began the journey to the other side, leaving Jesus to trek up the mountainside alone.
And while they were sailing along a storm came up, with wild winds and crashing waves. It is said that storms pop up on this lake even today in unexpected fierceness, catching many a sailor unaware. This is where the disciples found themselves that night. Riding out a storm, in a boat, on a lake. It must have reminded them of the storm they had encountered on this same lake, not so long ago.

In chapter 8 of Matthew we have the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the lake to get to the other side, which by the way was toward Gentile country, when a storm came up that shook the boat and rocked their courage. At that time Jesus had been in the boat with them and calmed the storm by rebuking the waves. They had been afraid and asked each other “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?”

I can almost see Peter and John looking at each other, realizing the storm is coming, but knowing Jesus isn’t in the boat this time. They do not have a sleeping savior to wake. They are on their own.
In our darkest times we often feel this same way. Alone. We cannot see Jesus, we cannot feel Jesus and we are convinced that we have been left to deal with crisis using the every man for himself mentality. And when this happens, fear sets in.
“Whether it’s the fear of a return of an illness, the stability of a fragile relationship of loneliness after loss, of not being accepted by those we esteem, of whether we’ll fare well in a new chapter in our lives, of what future our congregation has, of the direction of our country…. You name it, there is a lot in our individual, congregational, and corporate lives that can make us afraid. And that fear is debilitating. It sneaks up on us, paralyzes us, and makes it difficult to move forward at all, let alone with confidence. Fear, in short, is one of the primary things that robs the children of God of the abundant life God intends for us.”[i]
While the disciples were struggling, full of fear, wondering what might happen, Jesus was already on his way to them. Jesus went to them across the storm, walking on the water, he sought them out in the darkest times of their lives.
Jesus didn’t wait for the wind and waves to calm, but instead walked over them to the people who needed him the most. There are no circumstances that can separate us from the love of Christ, not even a surprise gale!
When the disciples saw him approach they thought he was a ghost. Who else would be out on a night like that? They had no frame of reference for someone walking on water. This was not like the scene from The Shack where Jesus and Mac have a fun foot race across a lake! 

In their fear they were convinced that this was a malevolent force that had come to add to their terror.
Sometimes the solution to our fears, the answer to our darkness, seems threatening and scary. An abused woman, feeling with her children in the middle of the night, that’s a freighting thing.

 A little girl surrounded by US deputy Marshals to go to her first day of school, that’s a scary sight. 

A lone person standing up against a tank; that is the stuff nightmares are made of.

But these are also moments when Christ is present. Standing up against injustice, walking the path toward freedom, loving in a place of hate. And in this moment of fear, where they were convinced a spirit or ghost had come along, they were immediately comforted by the voice of Jesus saying “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
They were saved! Jesus had arrived and as he had proven his power over the wind and waves, they all knew everything would be okay. Well, that’s how the story should have gone. But as we all know, past experiences don’t always increase our present understanding.[ii]
Peter asked for proof. This is a time when I relate to Peter so much. I’ve prayed the prayer asking for a sign, even when I’ve already received one. I’ve asked for confirmation, even when Jesus has offered everything short of a certified notarized engraved invitation to follow him. Peter asks for just a little bit more.
And instead of shutting him down, instead of lecturing him about how you should not put the Lord your God to the test, Jesus obliges and extends his grace to Peter, inviting him to stand upon the waves.
And here is where we usually hear the expression that we must be like Peter and “Step out of the boat.” Only, I’m not going to tell you that. I’m also not going to tell you to “keep your eyes on Jesus” to keep from sinking after stepping out. Quite honestly I think the other disciples made the right choice by staying in the boat. No one but the creator of the seas should be standing on them.
What I want to focus on is Jesus’ reaction to Peter. When Peter began to sink he cried out in fear “Save me Lord.” And immediately, instantly, without pause, Jesus reaches out and grabs Peter’s hand, saving him and leading him back to the boat.

That is the most compelling thing in this scripture for me. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to reach out even when our own stupid curiosity or pride got us into this mess. Jesus saves Peter, and all of us! Jesus will not let go! He will grab a hold and pull us back from all of our failings and restore us to our rightful place at his side.
For me, this is the heart of Matthew's Gospel, of our faith. God does not give up on us. God does not leave us alone, God will do for us what we cannot do on our own. “And this promise is the one thing I know of that helps us cope with and transcend fear. Transcend, not defeat. Fear is a part of our lives, and we should take care that being fearful is not equated with being faithless. Courage, after all, isn’t the absence of fear but the ability to take our stand and do what needs to be done even when we are afraid.”[iii]
We can face our dark nights of the soul, our fears, knowing that Jesus does not let us go. We can walk through the storms that will pop up, some unexpected, others that we have seen from far off, knowing that God does not leave us without hope. Take heart my friends, do not be afraid, for Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age.

[i] David Lose, In The Meantime. Pentecost 10A: Something More
[ii] Jill Duffield, Looking into the Lectionary 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
[iii] David Lose, In The Meantime. Pentecost 10A: Something More

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Day 99:Scorched Earth and a New Harvest

Joshua 10, 11, 12, and Luke 10:1-24

These chapters of Joshua continue to describe the scorched earth policy of the Israelites. Luke tells of the mission of the 70 or 72 and their discovery of a rich harvest.

Joshua 10

Having a fair sized city with troops like Gibeon scared the other forces in the area and led them to form a coalition to defeat the Gibeon people. Gibeon calls on Israel to help and they honor the treaty by defending the Gibeon people. While they have them on retreat, God sends a massive hail storm which kills more men than the Israelites had killed by the sword.
Joshua seals five kings in the cave where they have taken refuge until the battle is won. Then he returns and they are dragged out, feet put on necks, humiliated, hung, and buried in the cave in which they hid.
The next fifteen verses tell of seven victories Joshua and the Israelites defeated in the South.

Josh 11

The Scorched Earth policy continues leaving death and devastation everywhere. It is hard to read these verses without putting my own context and culture onto them. I feel such disgust at these action, specifically the humiliations and the murder of children, in the name of God. But perhaps, just perhaps, these victories were interpreted later as God’s favor- after all, history is written by the winners and they tend to gloss over the messy parts.

Joshua 12

This chapter is a summary, probably added by an editor, of the former kingdoms of the area, that is: a list of the victories of both Moses and Joshua.

Luke 10:1-24

Jesus sends of the 70 (or 72 if reading the Septuagint). He tells them the Harvest is plentiful. This harvest is probably not one of judgement, but rather a gathering of the people of God together. They are to go without provisions, but not alone. They are sent ion pairs for safety and accountability. They are to go quickly, with purpose. They are not to hang around and find out which house has a guest house and pool, but instead to go the first place that offers hospitality and stay there while they are in town. These people will be blessed by the words and Spirit of God. The towns and places that will not offer hospitality, they will be cursed. Shake the dust off of your feet and move on. God will deal with them accordingly.
The 70 (or72) return. They do not brag on themselves, instead with joy, they claim that through Jesus’ name all submitted to them. Jesus says – don’t rejoice in the powers- rejoice that you are a part of the kingdom of God.
Next we have an inside look at Jesus’ relationship with God the Father. Luke is really the only place we get a glimpse into this relationship.

Day 98: Holy War and The Way

Joshua 7, 8, 9, and Luke 9:37-62

These three chapters continue in describing the Israelites Holy War against the people of the region. We are given accounts of loss and victory in these chapters. Luke speaks to us about discipleship and what it really means to follow the way of Christ.

Joshua 7

We learn that there is one (at least one) individual who has taken things from the most recent battle in this Holy war and kept them for themselves rather than adding the silver and gold to the treasury. We know this, but Joshua has not yet realized.
Israel goes into battle against a small town with a small number of troops. While the NRSV says 2,000-3,000 there are good arguments that they actually sent 2 to 3 muster units which would have been significantly smaller in number. They fail and in the process lose 36 men. Joshua is beside himself and approaches God about the loss.
God tells Joshua that they failed because at least one of the Israelites has sinned against God and that they will not win another battle with this sin in their midst. Joshua begins a practice of casting lots to determine the guilty party. (This feels very Hunger Games to me)
Achan is chosen as the guilty party and he confesses. The messengers find a mantle from Shinar, 200 shekels of silver and a gold bar under his tent. They then proceed to collect everything he has including his sons, daughters, oxen, donkeys, sheep and tents (no mention of wife) and take them to the Valley of Achor. They stone him to death and then burn everything her has, including all he owns and his children, and then cover them with a pile of stones.
This is extreme and violent and I hate it. No doubt this served as a deterrent from taking things in the future and anyone who had stolen goods in their home was much more likely to get rid of them now.

Joshua 8

After the disappointment of his previous campaign, Joshua wisely consults with God before going out and making holy war. They send out 30,000 (again possible other translation is 30 muster units) and set an ambush to attack Ai. Their ruse works with the loss of approximately 150 people and the death of all in Ai.  After this bloody business, Joshua renews the covenant with God.

Joshua 9

The people of the area decide to team up against this new force of invading Israelites. Gibeon, however tries a different approach. They trick and lie their way into a treaty with Israel. Three days later Joshua learns of the trick, but still agrees to honor the treaty. However he adds that they will be second class people, water bearers and wood hewers. Which is a weird way to interpret Deut 29:11.

Luke 9:37-62

Jesus encounters a boy with a demon. His disciples, it appears, were not able to cast it out. (In another Gospel Jesus says this demon can only be cast out by prayer) Jesus here says “You faithless and perverse generation.” Is this a phrase for the father or is it directed at the disciples who could not offer healing? I tend to think the latter.
Luke then has the briefest discussion of who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus, aware of their thoughts, tells them that the least shall be first. I’m sure the disciples were not crazy about that kind of order. I know there are many times I’m not if I’m honest.
Jesus begins to teach and as he does it becomes increasingly clear that the Road to Jerusalem and The Way become almost synonymous with discipleship. While on the way, the disciples are upset by someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus says - Don’t worry about what others do- concentrate on what I’ve called you to do. There is a high level of irony here as the disciples were unable to do the very same thing just verses before!
The Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus because “his face is set toward Jerusalem.” The biggest point of contention between the Samaritans and Jews was where it was appropriate to worship. The Jews said Jerusalem and the Temple mount; the Samaritans claimed Mount Gerissim to be the proper place for worship. The Samaritans were offended that Jesus would be seeking to go to Jerusalem.
Jesus then addresses things that keep us from committing to discipleship. While these do not seem like unreasonable demands to us, they do show how we as humans tend to want to wait for things to be “right” before following God. We still use excuses today. However, the way of discipleship is costly.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Day 97: Walls and Tents

Joshua 4, 5, 6 and Luke 9:18-36

In these chapters the Israelites knock down walls and establish a foothold in the Promised Land. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus continues to reveal himself.

Joshua 4

“What do these stones mean to you?” Joshua has the men, one from each tribe of Israel, carry a heavy stone from the center of the Jordan to its banks. These stones were to be memorial markers, a symbol of the grace and mercy they had received from God. We are told that 40,000 soldiers dressed and armed for battle went across the Jordan along with the whole of the Israelites. An impressive show, no doubt.

Joshua 5

The neighbors hear of this massive force of people crossing into the region in such spectacular fashion, and are terrified. The military pageantry and the miraculous crossing do not bode well for the current inhabitants of the land.
Joshua then orders that the men be circumcised. Apparently circumcision had fallen out of favor with the Israelites. Perhaps it was due to their disappointment of not being allowed to enter the Promised Land earlier?
The people hold the first Passover feast, once they have recovered, in their new land. And with that feast, after 40 years of provision, the Manna stopped falling.
Joshua’s visit from a leader of the heavenly army sets firmly his position as the “new Moses.” With such heavenly preparation and conferral, the military actions can begin.

Joshua 6

“And the walls came tumbling down.” This section of Joshua is beloved in many Sunday Schools. I remember growing up marching around the table in the classroom seven times and then getting to shout at the top of our lungs.
Of course, the complete annihilation of all the inhabitants of the city was glossed over. When I read it now- I cannot help but imagine what the scene would have looked like. Unfortunately with televised pictures of the ruin in Aleppo and other cities, it is far too easy to imagine.
The people do save Rahab as promised, keeping covenant with her. She will later be mentioned in the family tree of Jesus.
There is no credible evidence archaeological or otherwise that the walls literally fell in Jericho. Some say the walking around was psychological warfare, which led the people to give up on the seventh day. Others think the marching was a distraction so that military men could sneak into the city and attack once they heard the trumpet blasts and screams from outside.
I know the point of this story is to show that God is with the Israelites, that no force, even a walled city could stand between them and the Promised Land. However, I struggle with the complete massacre angle.

Luke 9:18-36

Peter’s confession here is seen in contrast to Herod’s fears about Jesus. Jesus calls all of the disciples to faithful obedience, stressing that there will be all kinds of trials and tribulations. Jesus says that some (out of the twelve) standing there will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. This could be a reference to James, John and Peter who will be witnesses to the Transfiguration.
As Jesus is teaching these three men on a mountainside, his robes turn a dazzling white and two figures appear with him. Moses and Elijah! How they identified them is a mystery to me. Perhaps they were wearing name tags?
The three men hear the conversation about what it to take place in Jerusalem. Peter begins to babble about building tents or tabernacles as places of worship for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The scripture says he doesn’t know what he is saying. Then a cloud rests on them and they are terrified. Then a voice calls out “This is my son, my chosen; listen to him.” The cloud was one way God was seen in the Old Testament leading the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness.
When the presence of God leaves, they find Jesus alone standing with them. They speak to no one about what they have witnessed.

Day 96: Conquest and Mission

Joshua 1, 2, 3 and Luke 9:1-17

The book of Joshua tells us of the conquest of the Promised Land and its settlement by the tribes of Israel. These opening chapters tell of the preparation the people make for conquest. Luke gives us an account of the mission Jesus sends the twelve on in Judea.

Joshua 1

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” These words of comfort are given to Joshua as the preparations for the conquest of the Promised Land begin. Joshua tells the people to make ready, they will cross over the Jordan River in three days’ time. Here he instructs the Transjordanian tribes that their women, children and livestock can stay on the land they have been given by Moses, but that their warriors will cross over to help their fellow Israelites secure the land.

Joshua 2

Joshua sends spies into Jericho, and the first place they go is a prostitute’s house. I’m honestly not sure how to deal with that. Perhaps it would have been a place where strange men came and went and so people would think less of their arrival. Perhaps prostitutes were known to give away information.
Rahab proves to be shrewd and protects the men by hiding them on her roof and by giving the town officials false information of their location. By doing this she gets the spies to agree to save her and her whole family from the coming disaster. She ties a crimson cord in her window as a sign of protection for those within her walls.

Joshua 3

The Israelites camped at the Jordan for three days, a liturgical term. Joshua sends officials to tell the people that they are to follow the Ark of the Covenant, at a safe distance, the next day. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan and where they stepped, the water stopped flowing. All of the people passed by on dry land while the priests stood in the middle.

Luke 9:1-17

Jesus gives the twelve disciples a mission. It reminds me a bit of short term mission work. They go out into the surrounding areas bringing the good news and healing diseases.
Herod gets word of all that Jesus and his disciples are doing. He becomes anxious to see Jesus, because he fears that Jesus might be John the Baptist who he beheaded.
The disciples return eager to tell Jesus about all that they have accomplished. But somehow, word gets out that Jesus is around and the crowds begin to press in and follow them. Jesus speaks to the crowds, words of good news, and heals their illnesses. (The same things the disciples themselves had been doing.)
The crowds get hungry and the disciples beg Jesus to send them away for food. Jesus replies “you feed them.” But Jesus, they whine, we only have 5 fish and two loaves for the 13 of us! How can we feed 5,000 men?
Jesus tells them to gather the people in groups of fifty. Then, in a very liturgical moment, he blesses and breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples who distribute it to the people. When the remnants are collected there are 12 baskets leftover, one for each disciple.
It leads me to wonder, why are we so stingy with our fellow man? Especially considering God’s continued abundance with us?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Day 93: God's Favor and Favoring God

Deuteronomy 28, 29 and Luke 7:31-50

These chapters talk about what is means to find favor with God and to lose favor with God as the people of Israel. Luke also show us what life can look like when we show our favor of, or preference for, God.

Deuteronomy 28:

The first 14 verses of this chapter speak to the promises for Israel if they choose to follow God’s commands. They will be blessed with national security, prosperity, and political power. These things are purported to be what comes naturally from living in covenant with the Lord.
Beginning with verse 15 we get a picture of the curses that await the people if they do not live in covenant faithfully. It is important to remember that these scriptures were most likely collected and edited during the time of exile in Babylon. The view of the editors at the time might very well have been that the people had let God down and therefore were suffering the listed curses because of their lack of fidelity.

Deuteronomy 29

Here Moses rehearses the history of Israel with the people of God. These words are not just for those present, but for future generations. By following the commands, or revealed things of God, they will remain in right relationship with God. Most of our liturgical acts serve a similar function- reminding us of God’s promises and calling us to be faithful to the always faithful God.

Luke 7:31-50

Jesus is still talking here to the Pharisees and disciples about John and about Jesus’ own identity. The people of “this generation” who refuse to repent are compared to children who refuse to play a game with the other kids. They said John has a demon and Jesus ate and drank too much with the wrong people. Wisdom discerns when is the time to weep and to dance as found in Ecclesiastes. Wisdom’s children are those who hear God’s word and follow.
Then we are given the account of the so called sinful woman. What an outrageous outpouring of love and thanksgiving she offers! This is nothing short of an act of worship, worship of a heart who has experienced love and forgiveness. Simon, the Pharisee, and those around cannot see this as worship because they cannot look past their own rules/regulations of pure and unclean. They are blinded to compassion.
While they sit there having uncharitable thoughts, Jesus cements his prophetic status by knowing Simon's thoughts. He takes this opportunity to remind Simon, and all others present, that the past is erased by grace. And that the response to forgiveness is thanksgiving and worship.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Day 92: Creeds and Life Giving Words

Deuteronomy 26, 27 and Luke 7:1-30

These chapters of Deuteronomy turn us toward some of the creeds and liturgy of the Israelites’ worship. Creeds are a way of rehearsing what we believe in our faith communities. They are life affirming words. Likewise in Luke we get Jesus’ words which also bring life to those who hear them.

Deuteronomy 26

The editors begin this section with Moses reciting one of the creeds of the people. This creed, like other creeds, is designed to help people remember the mighty works of God. Hearing these words in worship would have been powerful, and in fact these words should still hold power for us today. That is the beauty of creeds of faith, they do not lose their ability to return you to God’s activity in the world over time.
Moses helps the people remember and ratify the covenant each time they meet. The phrase “This very day” is not only used to speak of the present tense but also as a remembrance that even now, we are committing ourselves to God.

Deuteronomy 27

Moses tells the people to set up memorial stones, again a way to remind them of God’s activity. These could be the stones talked of in Joshua 4.
The crowd of Israel stands here from one mountain to the other, six tribe leaders on each side. All of the people are called to respond to Moses’ words. The curses in verses 15-26 serve as a public code of conduct or the ethos of the People of God. Again these rules are to separate God’s people, to hold them as holy.

Luke 7:1-30

We have here the healing of the centurion’s slave. Jesus would have been unclean if he had gone into a gentile’s home. If the Centurion was really a “friend to the Jews” he would have been aware of this rule. In an act of compassion to Jesus the centurion tells him not to come, because he believes Jesus can heal just by speaking the words of life. Jesus interprets the man’s response as faith- faith he finds lacking in the children of Israel.
In verses 11-17 we have the story of the widow of Nain. Here Jesus shows compassion and is drawn to act. He touches the bier, or coffin, an act which would have made him ritually unclean. He then tells the man to rise and “gives him to his mother.” (The same words used in 1 Kings 17:23 when Elijah returns the widows son to life. Elijah has to do all sorts of bowing, begging, etc. to bring the boy back. Jesus only says Rise.)
The people respond to these acts of Jesus with fear. Fear is often the response to God breaking into our midst.
Verses 18-30 talk about John’s questioning of Jesus. John sends his disciples to ask “Are you the one who is to come?” John needs a reassurance that Jesus is the one he has been waiting for, and Jesus gives him that reassurance. John is here called greatest among men, but even he is lower than the least in heaven. Jesus here places himself above John the Baptist, essentially claiming his Messianic status.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Day 91: Insiders and Fruit bearers

Deuteronomy 23, 24, 25 and Luke 6:27-49

These passages deal who defining insiders and outsiders in the community of Israel. Insiders are those allowed to participate fully in the life of Israel and outsiders are kept out, even to the 10th generation. Luke gives us a glimpse of what “insiders” look like in Jesus’ kingdom. They are those who show love even to those that oppress them.

Deuteronomy 23:

This chapter describes who is inside the community by making sure everyone knows who is outside. Too often we still feel the need to be defined by what we are NOT. This chapter lists punishments to the outsider. If you are not an Israelite, then your kids up to 10 generations won’t be allowed to participate in the faith. Unless of course you are an Edomite or Egyptian, and those will only be excluded until the third generation.
The author continues to outline rules for keeping things “just so” in the community of faith, including the military camps, temple rites, banking practices, and even eating grapes from a neighbor’s field.

Deuteronomy 24:

This chapter contains some divorce decrees that prohibit the remarriage of a couple after they have been divorced and married other people and find themselves divorced and/or widowed. This, as odd as it sounds, is to protect the women. If they did remarry a previous spouse it would cause her second marriage to be seen as harlotry or wife swapping, both of which were looked down upon.
This chapter also offers rules that keep people focused on the concerns for humane treatment of others. It is sad that today, many of us could still use these rules to remind us to look past ourselves and how to care for others.

Deuteronomy 25

This chapter gives regulations for the settling of disputes. Some of these are different such a physical assault and money loaning to household issues.

Luke 6:27-49

This section of Luke introduces us to the Golden Rule. The entire section talks about loving all, even your enemies. Here lending is given a different context then in Deuteronomy. Here you are to lend, period. It doesn’t matter if you think they can pay you back, you are called to help others. Offer to help others, even when they are down on you.
Then we are given the statement on being hypocritical. Take the log out of your own eye, before you try to correct someone else. Too often we put ourselves as moral authorities over others. Jesus here says, deal with your own mess first! Because you can’t bear good fruit if you are a bad tree!
Fruit bearing is an important thing in Luke. You will know who a person is by what comes from them. In the words of Maya Angelou “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

Day 90: Warfare against Women and Blessings vs Woes

Deuteronomy 20, 21, 22 and Luke 6:1-26

Trigger Warning: These verses depict violence, violence against women, rape, and other horrific things.

I will honestly tell you that my blood boils reading some of these passages. I may have called out to God that these passages are not only awful for the women of antiquity, but that they perpetuate some of the injustices women of today face.

Deuteronomy 20:

This text reflects the conquest era of the Israelites. The idea that God was with them helped calm the fears of those going into battle. There is an odd course of events laid out for going into battle. The priests speak an oracle declaring God’s favor. Then the officials speak and give every man any reason they can possibly think of to stay home from war. If you have built a house, but not dedicated it, stay home. If you are engaged, but not married yet, stay home. If you have planted a field but not tasted the first fruits, stay home. I guess this leaves only men who feel they have nothing to lose entering battle.
They are told to first offer peace to a city they come to attack. If peace is accepted, the people in that city will become Israel’s slaves. So basically, slavery or warfare. After they are defeated, all men are too be killed, but the women, children and livestock can be kept as spoils of war. Again, the thought of people as property is greatly disturbing to me.
Then we learn that these good terms are only for people in cities far away! The residents of Canaan are not to be given such luxury as lifelong slavery. They are told to kill everything that draws breath so that they cannot be corrupted by their influences.
But here we get this odd note to save the trees, or at least the ones that bear fruit. Ecology in the midst of mass murder. Interesting.

Deuteronomy 21

This chapter begins a list of rules for community and for specifically the male head of household. Rules regarding a rural homicide are discussed in detail. If the murderer cannot be found, the nearest city or town must kill a heifer in a non-sacrificial manner (break the neck instead of killing at the tabernacle) and wash their hands over it to remove blood guilt. Admittedly this blood guilt, blood sacrifice stuff is odd to me, but this just seems super odd.
Now we get to the really fun part of you are a woman. If a man sees a woman of a conquered people and he desires her to be his wife he can take her captive, force her to shave her head and remove all signs of her ethnicity. Then have her mourn for her mother and father one month and after that he can “come into her.” Basically this allows a man to take a woman, strip her of her cultural and personal identity, and make her cover and mourn in the way the Israelites do, and then rape her. If that’s not bad enough, if she doesn’t “please him” he can let her go. Basically discard her into t a world where she has no rights and no family to care for her. This does not seem like justice to me and an argument that it is better than being a slave will not convince me otherwise.

Deuteronomy 22

This chapter gives more rules for interaction within polite society. Don’t take things that are not yours and return lost things to your neighbors. Good rules to live by. There is a prohibition against cross-dressing which seems very odd and out of place here. Some scholars say that this would have been a characteristic of some of the cults of the time and that is why the word abhorrent is used. There was great pressure to keep the cultic practices of Israel pure and unchanged by the society around it.
There is a long section about the accused bride. I can only assume that these words were meant to protect women from being unjustly divorced and set aside, but their words and methodology are abhorrent! If you hated your wife and wanted to set her aside you could claim that she was not a virgin when you wed. If her family can prove that she was a virgin, by producing the wedding night sheet with the required blood stain, then her father is paid twice amount specified for rape and she gets to stay his husband for life. What a joy that would be! (Sarcasm font here). If they cannot prove that she was a virgin then they will take her to the entrance to her father’s house and stone her. Public execution.
Let me just say that men do not seem to have been held to the same virginity expectations as women. Not that any of us should be surprised as that carries over to our own day and age.
Then we get the rules about how to punish someone who is raped. Yes, you read that right. If an engaged woman is raped in the city she shall be stoned because she didn’t cry out loud enough for someone to hear and come to her aid. I can’t even!!!
If she, again an engaged woman, is raped in the open, where no one is living, she will not be stoned because no one was around to hear her cry out. If a single unengaged woman is raped and he is caught in the act, she is to be married to him and he has to pay her “bride price” for violating her. He cannot divorce her ever.
Once again, I cannot begin to imagine such rules and regulations being around to help women. Our own American Society has been effected by these rules, the stigma of blaming the victim is only one of the legacies.

Luke 6:1-26

Jesus and his disciples pluck grain with their hands to eat on the Sabbath, a practice allowed in Deuteronomy 23:25. However, Exodus 34:21 expressly forbids harvesting on the Sabbath. Enter the dispute about what is lawful and what is not. Jesus says life giving things are allowed, food, healing, etc. The leaders disagree.
Jesus then calls the twelve disciples. The number twelve reminds us of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is reclaiming the children of Israel as God’s people.
Jesus gives his sermon on the plain. It has some similarities to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus lists blessings on those situations we normally find less that good. He then pronounces “woes” or judgement upon things that the world values. Jesus is good at turning tables.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Day 83: There be giants and Messiah is born

Deuteronomy 1, 2 and Luke 2:1-24

These passages give us a look once more at the Law of Moses. The people are facing giants, literally and figuratively in these chapters of Deuteronomy. In Luke we are given the birth story of Jesus, the Messiah.

Deuteronomy 1

Deuteronomy is the translation of the first few words of the book, these are the words. It also is often called the second law. It is the last book of the Pentateuch and it serves as not only a way to remember the past of God’s people, but to anticipate their future.
It begins with Moses telling that God has given instructions for the people, which the people chose to disobey. This disobedience led to a military defeat, but also to the generation of Israelites not being allowed to receive the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 2

The people are told to pass through the land of Esau, but not to antagonize anyone there, for God gave this land to Esau. They also pass through the lands given to Lot. Here we are told about the strange people, giants of the region. These so called giants held mythic stature in the area. Thought to be the descendants of angels and women, they were fierce warriors.
God tells the people to pas through the land of Sihon, as they did the lands of Esau and Lot, but king Sihon will not let them pass. Thus begins the bloody conquest of the Promised Land.

Luke 2:1-24

The theology of Luke is based in the idea that Jesus’ mission was divinely necessary. There is often harsh language about the Jews and Jewish authorities. It is important to note that almost all of the followers of Jesus in Luke are Jews. These issues were more of a family struggle than pitting a whole religion against another.
In Chapter 2 we get the birth story of Jesus. His parents have traveled to Bethlehem to be registered. The most likely scenario is that they are with Joseph’s family, and therefore not lone travelers, two people against the world, as we often see them characterized.
Shepherds are the first to learn of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were not the cream of the crop. They were not the kind of witnesses one would expect for any birth, let alone the birth of the Messiah, yet here they are. Mary ponders these things, the sayings and stories of the shepherds when they visit, in her heart. Mixed with the angelic proclamation to Mary and the greeting from Elizabeth, they must have made for very interesting food for thought.
Mary and Joseph are observant Jews. At 8 days of age they take Jesus to be circumcised and bring along the appropriate sacrifice. They bring two doves, not sheep, not bulls, for their first born son. This indicates that they were anything but wealthy. However, they did not let their lack of funds keep them from following the traditions.