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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Day 78: Faithfulness and Fear

Numbers 23, 24, 25 and Mark 16

Numbers switches from a talking donkey to God speaking directly to Balaam about God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. God will not abandon them, even when, as we learn their faithfulness is in question. In Mark we see the faithful women going to the tomb and being filled with fear.

Numbers 23

Balaam is asked by Balak to curse the people of Israel. God, however has other plans. Balaam shows faithfulness to God by sharing God’s word even at great personal risk. He gives two oracles that proclaim God’s favor for the Israelites.
When do people ask you to deny God or ask you to go against God’s purposes?

Numbers 24

This time Balaam’s preparations for speaking with God are different. The sacrifices are still ordered, but Balaam does not approach God thinking he can coerce God into cursing the Israelites. He returns with words that Balak does not want to hear.
These words in favor of Israel anger Balak and he sends Balaam on his way without any of the promised rewards/payment for his speaking with God. Balaam then warns that no one will crush the Israelites because the Lord is with them. After Balaam leaves, Balak leaves dejected as well.

Numbers 25

In this chapter we get a glimpse of the lack of faithfulness on the part of some of the people of Israel. God here tells Moses that all who have brought the religion of the Midianites into the people should be impaled. This word impaled can mean crucified or exposed. Moses does not make a public gathering, he tells the chiefs that these individuals are to be executed. But we have no language suggesting this was carried out by Moses or the chiefs.
Then we zoom in more closely and are told the story of one man taking a Midianite wife with Moses’ full knowledge and Moses does not stop it from occurring. It needs to be stated here that Moses himself had married a Midianite woman, so not all of Israel held the idea of intermarriage to be a bad thing.
This passage is really used as a way to elevate Aaron’s family, aka the priesthood, over Moses and his family. This is one of the times you see the priestly sector trying to step into the role of leadership in all things, not just worship.
We are told that the people are wailing at the tent of meeting. We then learn it is because of a plague that is seen as God’s judgement against Moses’ inaction. Elaezar is praised for killing the man and his wife and credited with ending the plague that killed 25,000.

Mark 16

The resurrection account in Mark 16 is unique. The women, three named here Mary, Mary mother of Joses and Salome, come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They worry over the size of the stone. They are met by a young man, some say it might be the same young man who ran naked from the garden of Gethsemane, not an angel. He tells them of the risen Lord. The women are terrified and said nothing to anyone. The women here would be the first to actually keep the Messianic secret pushed throughout the gospel of Mark. Only we know that they told someone, or else we would not have an account of the event!
The other endings of Mark were added later by communities that had been influenced by other Christians and letters or perhaps even other Gospels. These endings are in line with what has become fairly “orthodox” Christian thoughts surrounding the events following the resurrection of Christ.

Day 77: A serpent, a donkey, and two bandits

I apologize for falling behind on posting. I will be catching up over the next few days.

Numbers 20, 21, 22 and Mark 15:26-47

These passages deal with a more than slightly bizarre serpent, a very interesting donkey, and two bandits. Whoever said the Bible was boring has obviously never read these accounts!

Numbers 20

After 40 years of wondering in the desert the Israelites are approaching the Promised Land. However, as we know, not all of them will make the crossing because of their lack of faithfulness. Miriam dies and is buried here. We are given the story of Moses getting water from a rock at Meribah and this is where Moses and Aaron are told they will not enter the Promised Land.
In verse 28 we are given an odd account of Aaron being stripped of his robe and dyeing on a mountain top. There is not really a good explanation for this described and I am left to wonder how he died. If perhaps his death was not an execution. It certainly seems ceremonial enough for such.

Numbers 21

Here is one of the oddest passages of scriptures. Israeli is attacked by poisonous snakes, called fiery ones, perhaps because of the pain from their venom. God tells Moses to make a serpent of bronze, a poisonous snake of bronze, and hang it on a pole so that everyone who is bit might look at it and live. This seems a bit like sympathetic magic to me. Perhaps this is was leads to the snake worshiped in the time of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:4.
This passage continues with descriptions of what can only be called holy wars against the people of the area in their attempt to arrive at the Promised Land.

Numbers 22

Balaam enters the scene as a divination expert of the king Balak. It is interesting that this non-Israelites knows God, even calling the name Yahweh. Balak wants Balaam to curse the Israelites that are arriving from the wilderness. God tells Balaam not to curse them for they are blessed. God tells Balaam to go with Balak’s men to share what God has said.
On the way, Balaam’s donkey keeps acting funny. He stops in the middle of the road. He turns into odd fields and even gets Balaam stuck in an odd place between walls. Balaam cannot figure out what is going on with his beast and in anger strikes him. God opens the donkey’s mouth and the donkey tells Balaam that there has been a messenger from the Lord scaring him and that’s why he has changed direction. Yes, the donkey talks, Disney did not created talking animals. Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees the messenger and listens to his words.

Mark 15:26-47

In Mark’s gospel there are three crosses. Jesus is hung in the middle with a bandit on each side. Bandits were political up risers. These are not thieves, but rather individuals who have committed a crime against the Roman government and their political actions. Jesus is hung in the middle, perhaps because he was the one with the most prominence in the area. Jesus offers grace to these rabble rousers even in the midst of his own suffering and death.
Jesus quotes the opening lines from Psalm 22 during his crucifixion. This psalm has very evocative language and allows you to imagine Christ’s agony.
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses stay the whole time and see where Christ’s body is laid. This is important scene setting for the next chapter in Mark.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

All Shook Up: Easter 2017

Matthew 28:1-10 All Shook Up
He is risen.
He is risen indeed,
The great greeting on Easter in many Christian communities worldwide is a far cry from the words most likely uttered by Christ followers that first Easter morning.
Mary, the Magdalene and the other Mary, met early in the morning and walked together to the tomb of Jesus. I wonder what their conversation consisted of as they walked along the path to the grave. I wonder if they were sharing stories of Jesus that made them smile, like the time he welcomed little children to hear his words and receive his blessings.
Perhaps they talked about the things he had done that they did not understand. Why had he cursed that fig tree? What had he meant by saying they should hate their family?
Perhaps there were no words at all, just a deep shared grief as they went to the place where Jesus was buried.
When they arrived, no doubt, they expected to see a tomb. They expected to see all of the things you see in a burial ground. But what they expected, was not what they received.
As they sit there looking at the tomb, Matthew tells us that a great earthquake shakes the land. This is no random event. Matthew tells us that this earthquake happens as an angle of the Lord rolls the stone away from the tomb.
This is not the first earthquake in the book of Matthew. Just a few short verses before, when Jesus breathes his last breath, there is an earthquake that splits rocks. It opens the graves of some of the saints who have gone before and in tears the curtain in the temple from top to bottom.
These earthquakes, these tectonic shifts in the foundation of earth, are moments when heaven and earth connect. They connect in such a powerful way that the world as we know it is changed, upended, disturbed.
No one is safe from the divine reality that is ushered in at this moment. This moment, when everything is changed, when the resurrection of Christ occurs.
We have all heard the stories, seen the Facebook and YouTube videos, of people who have survived death, or even be resuscitated. We hear of people whose hearts have stopped, who have followed a great light only to be turned back. Perhaps we know personally some of these individuals.
But what happened to Jesus is not a resuscitation. It is not a reviving in the cool of the tomb. God breaks into the world and resurrects Jesus from the dead. New life and life abundant, the living water, life everlasting.
And, my friends, if even death is no longer a sure thing, what else might God have changed?
The angel speaks to the women telling them not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid, though the earth may quake, though the soldiers by the tomb are petrified with fear. They don’t understand that God is at work for good. Jesus is not here. He has been raised! Go and tell. He will meet you in Galilee.
And in Matthew’s account the two Mary’s begin running to tell the disciples what they have seen and heard. They go with fear and great joy. I love that line. I love it because it shows us that fear and joy can go hand in hand, much like doubt and faith often keep company.
The Mary’s are afraid of the unknown, of the tectonic shift in the world, of the earthquake that has just changed everything; but, but they are joyous over the news of the resurrection. They cannot wait to share what they have been told.
Suddenly, there on the road, they are met by Jesus. As they are going to do the thing they have been commanded to do, they find the risen Lord.
I took a youth group on a mission trip to Mexico in 1999. We were going to build a house for a family in the squatter’s section of a border town. We had spent time trying to prepare the kids for the extreme poverty they would witness. We talked with them about the difference between their homes and the 20 by 10 cinderblock home we were building. But there is no better teacher than experience.
Every night we would gather together back at the hotel and have a devotional time. On our next to last night a young man broke down in tears as he told us about his day.
Christian had watched a woman bath her two-year-old boy in a bucket of water that he knew was not clean enough to drink from. He had been shocked. A little later that same mother had come out to our work site with a basket full of homemade tortillas for the workers and a large jug of purified water for us to drink. Christian was overwhelmed by the love she had shown to us as strangers, when she had nothing to spare.
How many of you have had this experience? You go someone where thinking you are bringing the good news of Christ, only to find that he is already there!
These women, go to do what they have been told and along the way encounter Christ. Their response is not to question him about what he is doing there. They do not ask for identification or become frozen with fear. They see Christ and they fall at his feet and worship him.
When the risen Christ enters the world, nothing is ever the same, my friends. When God’s resurrection power intercedes, nothing is ever the same. The world is turned upside down, shaken to its very core.
When the kingdom of God breaks in the ways of thinking, living, being, the philosophies of scarcity, hate and fear, they are defeated.
Droughts are replaced with living water. The blind see, the lame walk. The last shall be first. These things that make no sense in the eyes of the world, are the cornerstone of the kingdom of God.
Today, I pray that we are all shook up by the resurrection presence of Jesus the Christ. I pray that the tectonic plates of what should be shift to what will be through Christ. I pray that the foundations of the earth are shattered, so that we might build on Christ’s foundation of love.
New life my friends, that’s the gift of Easter. New life, that shakes everything up.

Sunrise Service Easter 2017

Easter, April 16, 2017, Sunrise John 20
In 1650, Thomas Fuller, English theologian and historian said in his travelogue A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine and the confines thereof “It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.” People have debated for hundreds of years whether this is a fact or just a thoughtful notation. But there is no debating that this phrase has captured the human imagination.
There is an element of truth within it that speaks to us on deep levels. We’ve experienced the darkness and we know it can seem the most overwhelming just before the light breaks through.
Mary began her journey in this passage surrounded by the darkness. While it was still dark, John tells us, Mary made her way to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed. The darkness she walks through may indeed be the darkest time of her soul.
She is going to the grave of a man who gave her everything. Jesus had healed her from seven demons. Jesus had given her a spot among the faithful followers, roaming the countryside, sitting at his feet, soaking up the joy of his presence.
What will happen to her now? What will become of the life she has been shown? How will she ever be able to move past the darkness?
I think this is when Mary is the most relatable to me on a personal level. I’ve battled with depression throughout my life. There have been times when the darkness seemed impenetrable. Times when I could not imagine ever seeing sunshine again.
I, like most of us here today, have felt the pain of losing a loved one to death. We understand how it feels to go to the graveside, in the darkness of our grief and sit and wait, gathering that darkness like a blanket around our shoulders.
In her grief, in the dark, Mary went to the final resting place of Jesus, and when she arrived she saw that he was not there.
He was not there. Jesus’ body was gone. I wonder if she took a quick step back and counted the graves, just to make sure she was at the right place.
This past January, I returned to New Mexico for my Aunt Joyce’s funeral and while we were there the family decided to visit my grandparents grave site as well. Only, we couldn’t find it.
I’m sure it looked odd to see close to sixty people walking around that small cemetery looking for a headstone. Each of us remembered that the grave was on the West side, with the name facing the road, one row in from the edge. But it wasn’t there.
Finally, someone spotted it, two rows in, with the name facing a different direction. The confusion was caused by an extra row of bodies being added since their passing in 1983 and 1997 respectively. But no one can account for the stone being turned.
This confusion cannot begin to compare to Mary’s. Jesus is not misplaced. She has not miscounted tombs. He is simply no longer there.
In her angst, while it is still dark, she ran back to tell the disciples. Peter and John, the beloved disciple, return to the tomb with Mary. They ran to the tomb and find it empty, just as Mary had said. They entered the tomb, found it empty and believed. Believed what exactly? I think they believed Mary. They believed that Jesus’ body had been taken. They believed the darkness. The next verse says, “for yet, they did not understand the scripture, that he must be raised from the dead.”
Peter and John return home, still in the dark, still unaware of what this might mean. Still bound to and by the darkness.
Mary could not leave the place she last saw Jesus. She began to weep outside of the tomb. She cried tears of frustration, of loss, of fear, of love. It was bad enough to have Jesus die, but to not know where he body was? To not have a concrete place to take her thoughts and memories? This was like losing him all over again!
She looked into the tomb and saw two messengers, angles, dressed in white, one at the foot and one at the head. And in her darkness, she didn’t even seem shocked or surprised. She asked to know where Jesus’s body had been taken.
She turned around from the tomb and bumped into a man. And supposing him to be the gardener she asked, “If you have carried him away please tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
In the darkness, she could not recognize who was speaking with her. In the darkness, her grief kept her blind. In the darkness, she was bound to earthly understanding.
In the darkness, we too sometimes do not recognize the voice of Jesus. In the darkness, we too allow grief and loss to keep us blind to truth. In the darkness, we are bound to earthly understanding.
“Mary” With a word the sun began to shine. With a word, the scales fell from her eyes. With a word the creator of the universe reminded Mary of who she was, and whose she was.
“Teacher.” She responds. In that moment, the sun shined out. In that moment, Mary not only identifies Jesus, she also identifies herself; for what good is a teacher without a disciple?
“Do not cling to me,” Jesus told her. Don’t cling to the old way of understanding. Don’t let the darkness, the past, hold you captive any longer. You are free of all that darkness now!
This is the message for us as well my friends. As the sun dawns brightly in our lives, let us set aside the darkness that clings so tightly. Let us be unbound, set free.

And when we have been unbound, when we have faced the dawn, let us go and boldly proclaim “We have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 64: Love and the Least of these

Leviticus 19, 20 and Mark 9:30-50

These chapters give us the origin of Jesus’ greatest commandment, to love. They also chow us how Jesus turns things upside down with his teachings by elevating the least of these.

Leviticus 19

This section continues more prohibitions and rules for faith and practice. This is also where we get one of the most profound statements about the reality of God’s character. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love is a key aspect of God and as people who are seeking to become more Godlike we should seek to love. This verse specifically speaks to loving the alien in your midst.
Lending weight to the cultural verses descriptive for all times nature of some of these passages, in verse 20 we get a specific punishment for men who sleep with slaves that are not their property. They will not be put to death, because she was not free, not really a woman but property. It is hard to imagine that this is attempting to bring justice to a situation. The man is guilty and is to offer sacrifices, but the woman is not addressed. We hopefully see women as individuals, as creations of God, and as not property. Unfortunately, slavery is still alive and booming in our world, so would this section still apply to a person in these situations? I would say no, because even if someone else considers slavery acceptable we who profess in Christ’s lordship over all would have to find it detestable.

Leviticus 20

This chapter addresses punishment and penalties for those found to have broken statues. These include death for those who have sacrificed their children to other gods. These punishments serve to focus the people on the establishment of rituals and cultic practices unique to the nation of Israel.

Mark 9:30-50

Jesus speaks again here of his death and resurrection and the disciples do not understand. It makes me wonder how many times God tells me something before I actually believe it as truth?
There is an argument that starts about who will be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. This argument shows us a little bit about where the disciples thought things were headed. They expected a revolution and the positions of power that might come with a new regime. Jesus turns the table by telling them that the least of these is the greatest. Children had no special status in the ancient days, no value in and of themselves. I wonder who Jesus might pull forward today to demonstrate this truth to us?
Jesus then begins a litany of sins and actions. I don’t think Jesus is advocating self-harm or self-mutilation. I believe these are hyperbolic in nature. The idea here seems to be that we cannot acknowledge our sins and then do nothing to correct them. We must be prepared to make changes, even ones seen as drastic, to live kingdom lives.

Day 63: Vampires and Demons

Leviticus 17, 18 and Mark 9:1-29

These sections of scripture remind me of modern day horror obsession with vampires and demons. All the talk about blood leads me to imagine one of the vampires from a popular television series reading this chapter and deciding to become a “vegetarian,” and the casting out of a demon reminds me of other popular shows. Perhaps it is time for a “scary stories from scriptures” show.

Leviticus 17

Again, in Leviticus we are given rules dealing with the killing of animals. This is part of what leads scholars to believe that there are two sources for this particular book. His discussion of the slaughter of animals is twofold. It is placed here to keep people from the practice of idolatry. Apparently, people were sacrificing to other God’s in the fields instead of giving all honor to the One God. It is also to keep people from indiscriminately killing animals without plans to consume them.
This section then continues with the vampires prohibitions. There is to be no eating of blood. Period. Blood is the life source for living things and therefore sacred. Vampires aside, this practice was often associated with the worship of other gods. For someone who prefers all meat well-done, this is not a difficult prohibition to follow.

Leviticus 18

This scripture deals with sexual relations between people. There is an extensive discussion of incest, thirteen verses to be exact. This includes prohibitions of relationships between people related not by blood, but by marriage. I guess no one told soap opera writers about that little nuance.
Of course, the verse that in our day gets the most attention is verse 22. I really struggle to understand our inordinate level of interest in it. Some say that the use of the word abomination is what makes it stand out. I would beg to differ, as the word abomination is used over 100 times in scriptures and we do not have the same reaction to those issues as we do with male on male sexual activity. This word is applied to:
  • Eating meat three days after sacrificing
  • Egyptians and Hebrews eating at the same table
  • Eating birds of prey
  • Acts of idolatry
  • Using false or unfair weights during exchange
  • Mixed marriages
Very few of these things (idolatry perhaps, but only when its not about our own personal wealth or spending habits) get much play in the angry Christian rhetoric of our day. If we do not still hold to these as abominations, why does this one verse seem unchanged?
Proverbs 6:16-19 lists six things God hates and seven that are an abomination to the Lord. Guess what is not found in the list?
16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
19 a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.
I think our obsession about this verse says more about us than it does about God.

Mark 9:1-21

Mark continues showing Jesus’ miraculous works as he journeys closer and closer to the cross. Here we have the transfiguration of Jesus, where three of the disciples see Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses. Dear sweet Peter even offers to build them shrines to dwell in so that all might know of this miracle.
They engage Jesus in a discussion about why Elijah came first, which just seems odd to me. Jesus responds that the prophet came first to offer a way of seeing things as God does, but the people would not listen. Here he might also be referencing John the Baptist and his gruesome ends.
The disciples bring a boy to Jesus who has been held by a demon for years. They were not able to cast the demon out, even though they had successfully healed and cast out demons previously. Jesus’ response reminds me of those snickers commercials where the catch line is “you’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” This response of calling the disciples faithless and crying out about not being with them long seems out of character to the Sunday School Jesus we all know and love.
It is important to remember that Jesus’ ministry is only one year in Mark and very fast paced. JI believe Jesus is earnestly concerned that the disciples are not picking up what he is putting down.
It is here that we find my favorite verse in Mark “I believe, help my unbelief.” This is my prayer quite frequently. Jesus hears this prayer and is able to heal the boy. He later tells the disciples that this one could only come out through prayer.