Monday, February 27, 2017

Day 27: More Children and Little Children

Genesis 25, 26 & Matthew 18:1-20

Genesis 25:

Abraham marries a woman named Keturah in his old age, presumably after Sarah dies. She gives him six sons. Abraham gives each of these son’s gifts, but then sends them away so that they cannot compete with Isaac, the child of the promise. Perhaps Abraham had finally learned a little about wives and children from his experiences with Hagar and Ishmael.
Abraham reaches 175 years of age before he dies. We are told that he is buried by Isaac and Ishmael, in the same land he bought to bury Sarah. It is interesting that the other sons are not present.
Ishmael’s family is mentioned briefly. Ishmael has 12 sons who become 12 tribes. He died at 137 years of age. It is interesting that the phrase translated by the NRSV as “settled down alongside” can also be translated to mean “fell upon, made raids against.” This speaks to the view that Ishmael and his children were wild and violent. This may have been true, or it may have been the perception Israelites wanted to enforce to explain their dislike of those tribes.
More children are born in this book! This time we hear of Esau and Jacob. There is trouble from the start with these twins. Esau, meaning red, and Jacob meaning takes by the heel, start their life wrestling in the womb with one another. This foreshadows their tumultuous relationship.

Genesis 26

Isaac echoes his father’s mistake by trying to pass Rebekah off as his sitter to Abimelech and his people. When Abimelech learns of this he is upset and orders everyone to stay away from Rebekah. He later sees them as an even bigger threat and tells them to move on from his lands.
Isaac begins digging wells that his father had originally dug. Each one is contested. The third well, however, is not fought over and so he calls it Rehoboth, or room. Finally Isaac feels he has the room his family needs to grow.
Meanwhile, Esau marries not one, but two local women both Hittites. They make life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.

Matthew 18:1-20

The disciples are so often worried about their place in the kingdom of God. They are ambitious. They want to get in on the ground floor of the new world order. Imagine their surprise when they ask what it will take to be the greatest and they are pointed toward little children.
Jesus talks about having the faith of a child, the kind of faith that trusts completely because it’s never known anything else. Children were not held up in that society, in fact they were not really seen as anything other than property at worse and extensions of their parents at best.
Then Jesus talks about a model of conflict resolution. This model is fantastic! It keeps people from manipulating and triangulation one another. There is transparency and accountability. And at the end in verse 18 the you mentioned is plural. This is referring to the power of the church assembly to remove someone from the community who is a chronic trouble maker. A great idea in theory, but not always practiced well.

Day 26: A Wife for Isaac and Strange Things

Genesis 23, 24 and Matthew 17

In these passages we learn of a wife being chosen for Isaac. We also hear of some strange things happening on a mountainside with Jesus.

Gen 23:

Sarah dies at the age of 127. Abraham goes and buys the land to bury her. This is important. This is the first piece of land Abraham actually owns in the Promised Land. Abraham has continued to be a nomad, taking his flocks where there is food and water. He has not settled down anywhere. He buys the land so that he will be allowed access to it to be buried there himself.

Gen 24:

This chapter deals with finding a wife for Isaac. This is a BIG DEAL! Abraham knew that without a wife for his son the line would not continue. He wanted Isaac to marry one of his kinsmen, not someone from a local tribe. This was Abraham’s way of assuring that Isaac would continue to walk in the way of God and not fall to the temptation of worshipping local idols.
I don’t really understand ancient promise making, but this hand under the thigh business seems odd. It would put the promise maker and promise receiver in a vulnerable position to say the least.
There is an interesting focus on the young woman’s choice to come with the servant or not. Typically this choice would be made by the family, but it is clear here that the woman will be allowed to speak for herself. Under no circumstance is Isaac to go to the land of Abraham’s relatives. He does not want Isaac to settle there because it would be abandoning God’s Promised Land.
We meet Rebekah who gives amazing hospitality, watering not only the servant, but his 10 camels. The servant sees this as an answer to prayer and seeks to learn more about her and her willingness to marry. When all is arranged, the servant thanks God publicly for God’s actions.
How often do we publicly thank God for what we have received?
Strange Things are happening in the beginning of Matthew 17. The first 9 verses give us the Matthew account of the Transfiguration. You can find Sunday’s sermon on this passage HERE.
After the Transfiguration, Jesus is brought a boy with epilepsy that his disciples could not cure. Jesus’ response is to cure the boy, but also to cry out in exasperated tones about this corrupt generation. This is not the first, not the last time Jesus in Matthew will make such comments. The people have clung to the version of faith they have been taught, a version that has been corrupted by those in power.
Jesus gives the famous Mustard Seed comparison. Faith will produce fruit, and more fruit then is expected. As if to illustrate this point, Jesus and Peter have a chat about money. Temple tithes were due and Jesus and Peter had not paid them. Jesus points out that as the son of God he shouldn’t have to pay. But, because those in charge don’t understand that point, they will pay. And God will provide. He sends Peter fishing and tells him that in the mouth of the first fish he catches will be a coin that is exactly the cost of two temple dues. God provides what you need when you need it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Day 25: There be dragons & Name Changes

Job 41, 42 & Matthew 16

The last two chapters in Job give us repentance and dragons. Matthew tells us of Simon’s name change and then gives us proof that a name change doesn’t change everything.

Job 41:

Reading this description of a Leviathan I think dragons must have been real, or at least something dragon-like. This explanation could of course be of some fantastic mythical beast. The point of it however is to once again remind Job that God is bigger than the biggest baddy and will be the God of all creation, even Job.

Job 42:

Job is finally humbled by God’s speech. He admits that he did not speak truth but rather his own thoughts/interpretations of what was happening. There is a difference between our opinion and truth.
Job’s complaints took up several chapters. Here I am struck by the fact that his repentance is a few short verses. Sincere repentance does not have to be long or complex. He repents in dust and ashes and truly humbles himself. God forgives.
In verse seven, God confronts those who have been at Job’s side telling them to repent and to ask Job to pray for them. They provide sacrifices and ask for Job’s prayers. God forgives.
Job’s fortunes are restored and increased. We are told of more cattle, more sheep, more property. Job has more children, 7 sons- again the number of completion, and three daughters. I find it very interesting that we are told the daughters names and not the sons names. Also that the daughters are given an inheritance along with Job’s sons.

Matthew 16:

People ask Jesus again for a sign and Jesus speaks of the sign of Jonah. Traditionally I have thought of this sign being three days in the big fish = three days in the tomb before resurrection. But perhaps there is more. Jonah was sent to send a message of repentance to an unsavory group of people. The people heard and repented. Jonah however did not rejoice, he instead complained to God even as God grew shade up over him to protect him. Perhaps the Sadducees and Pharisees are like Jonah. They have the knowledge of God, the awareness of God, but they cannot believe that God would really save sinners such as those Jesus encounters.
Jesus continues by warning his disciples against the yeast of the Sadducees and Pharisees. The disciples are worried that Jesus is mad at them because they didn’t bring bread. They have witnessed Jesus feed thousands of people with a sack lunch yet they think Jesus is worried about running out of food!
How often have I seen God at work and shortly afterward worried that God can’t or won’t continue to be in charge?
Simon confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is pleased by this statement and says that God has revealed this to Simon, who will now be called Peter, or rock. He then tells the disciples to not say anything about him being the Messiah. A few short verses later Jesus tells Peter to “get behind my Satan.” How fickle we humans are! We grasp one thing about God and then assume we understand everything. Our viewpoint is so very, well, human.
Jesus then goes on to take about picking up a cross. This is not wearing a cross pendant or even having a cross tattoo. The cross was shameful, a means of executing criminals and rebellion leaders. Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that the way of Christ is not easy. It will not always be admired, in fact some very “good people” will think us less than, perhaps even criminal, for following him faithfully.

Day 24: God Answers & Table Scraps

Job 38, 39, 40 & Matthew 15:21-39

In our passages today, God answers Job’s complaints and a woman asks Jesus for table scraps. These chapters show us that God does respond, even if not on our time table.

Job 38:

God finally speaks- and he is having none of Job’s attitude. God asks Job essentially “Who do you think you are?” Who do we think we are? Too often we think that we would have made better choices, done better things, saved more people if we were God. It is God who causes the stars to move and tells the bear and her young it is time to hibernate. God assures Job and us, that God is in control, that God is the master of this world, and reminds us that we are not the end all be all.

Job 39:

God continues his speech talking about the animals and their young. God points out that God is better at caring for us than they are at caring for their own. God points out that you would not trust a wild Ox to plow your field. Neither should God rely on humankind's rational to keep the world in order.

Job 40:

God asks Job a very pointed question: Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty?”
Job responds with humility. He says, I’ll be quiet now, I am nothing, of a very small account. This is Job beginning to realize his fault in daring to judge God.
God responds by saying, if you are going to challenge me, then do it to my face! I who created the behemoth, and places for it to find shelter, also created and provide for you.

Matthew 15:21-39

This passage begins with the Canaanite woman, one of my personal heroes. Jesus essentially calls this woman and her family dogs, less than, because they are not Israelites. This is a line of thought that the Jewish readers of Matthew would have understood and even agreed with.
But the woman gives a theological response, even the dogs get the table scraps. At this point Jesus sees her and casts the demon out of her daughter instantly. Sometimes we have to be bold in asking for what we need, even from God.
Jesus goes on to cure many others and people are amazed. Healings lead to praise of God, that is the purpose of miracles in Matthew, for people to recognize God in their midst.
Jesus feeds the 4,000 because he has compassion for them after they have been with him and not eaten for three days. The disciples ask where they will find food. These same men witnessed and participated in the feeding of the 5,000 yet they still wonder where Jesus will find food.
How often do we forget the wonders God has done for us?
Jesus provides from 7 loaves and a few small fish a meal that feeds 4,000 men plus women and children with 7 basket-fulls left over. The number seven represents perfection/completion in scripture.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wisdom from the mouths of babes and Jesus as Mr. Clean

Day 23: Job 36, 37 & Matthew 15:1-20

Today’s scriptures continue with wisdom from the mouths of babes in Job and Mr. Clean type statements from Jesus. All of these passages allow us a glimpse into God’s true character.

Job 36:

Elihu is still speaking words of wisdom and at this point begins to praise God openly reminding Job and the others of God’s endurance and mighty power. He claims wisdom, whether this is the spirit of wisdom that earlier was said to only come from God, or youthful self-assurance we are not told. However, Elihu continues to warn Job against assigning blame to God for the current circumstances by God being cruel or unjust toward Job.
We all need friends who remind us of God’s presence and power in our lives, especially when we are suffering or questioning the current path we walk. Who is that person for you?

Job 37:

Here Elihu speaks of the kind of awe inspiring power God alone holds over the world which God creates. He also foreshadows God speaking directly to Job later in this book.
People thought of the sky as a hard substance, like a shield placed over the earth to separate earth and heaven. Only God could cause the clouds, rain, snow, wind, storms to cross the barrier of the sky and effect the earth. In verse 13 Elihu offers up some possible reasons for God correcting through all kind of means including weather. He says “whether for correction or for his land or for love God causes it to happen.” These thoughts offer a different perspective on the relationship God has with God’s creation. There are reasons for such things occurring and they fall within the category of care, not cruelty.

Matthew 15:1-20

Jesus is once again in a religious debate with the leaders of the day. They want to know why Jesus’ disciples do not wash before eating. Two thing to remember here. One, this is after the feeding of the 5,000 on a hillside and washing was most likely the last thing on their minds. And two, washing was not for hygiene as we think of it. This washing was a ritual washing, a washing that signified your purity to those around you.
Jesus calls them out on making this “tradition” equal to or even above the law. There is no law that says you must ritually wash before eating, but it had become a culturized norm. Jesus then goes on to speak about the laws order to care for, honor, thy father and mother. He says there are people being held in high esteem by the local religious leaders for promising their inheritance to the religious community and therefore not spending their resources to care for their elderly parents who now needed assistance.
Then we have the defiling argument. Jesus points out that it is not what goes into a person that defile, but rather what comes out. This is bawdy talk, of gut and bowls, but it makes Jesus’ point very clear. The detestable things that come out of a person’s gut/heart are evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. This is a typical list of sinful behavior use in ancient moral discourse. Jesus’ point is why focus on the ritual of washing hands, when it is the hearts of humanity that harbor evil.
What is it that defiles from within today? What am I worrying about on the outside rather than looking inside to “clean up?”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 22: Arrogance and Walking on Water

Day 22: Job 34, 35 & Matthew 14:22-36

Today’s readings are full of action. Job is called out for his arrogance, by an arrogant sounding youth. Jesus invites Peter to walk with him on water. These scriptures have a great deal to show us.

Job 34:

Elihu, the young man, is still speaking. He is giving a speech on what he thinks is really going on with Job. In verses 10-12 Elihu states that God does not do evil and that therefore these acts against Job are not evil, but rather just punishment. We must remember that the characters in Job do not know about the throne room scenes. They do not know that God is not the one handing out these harsh things to Job. There is a lack of understanding of God’s action by the people in this account. It leads me to wonder how often we think we know what God is about, but are really clouded by our own thoughts and views about justice.
Verse 14 speaks, in my mind, the most profound truth about God heard in this discourse so far. Elihu states that if God breathed in, that is took back the spirit he breathed out over the world at creation and into humankind at their birth, then the world would die, flesh would cease living, humans would return to dust. God’s spirit is not optional for life on earth, it is THE necessary thing.

Job 35:

Elihu claims that Job is arrogant and that God doesn’t answer Job because of the wickedness of pride. He reminds Job and the other men, that God will not remain silent for long. God is listening even now, he says in verse 14, so wait anxiously on him.

Matthew 14:22-36

Jesus goes off my himself to pray after feeding the 5,000. This should remind us that if Jesus needed time to recharge, we certainly should follow his example. The disciples go ahead on the boat and are faced with rocky water. Jesus comes to them on the water and they are afraid. Of course they are afraid! I would be terrified if what appeared to be one of my closest friends walking across the water in a storm to get in my boat.
Once Jesus speaks to them Peter says “If its really you Lord, call me out to walk to you.” Jesus calls to him and Peter steps out of the boat. But Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the storm and begins to sink. Jesus reaches out and rescues him.
I wonder how often I am like Peter. I see Jesus doing something, or feel Jesus calling me to something, and boldly step out in faith. However, I’m soon overwhelmed by the storms of life that threaten to overturn even the best boat. I panic and begin to sink. When will I learn that Jesus equips those he calls?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 20: Job and Jesus Mocked

Job 30, 31 and Matthew 13:31-58

Job 30:

Job recounts begin mocked by people in his community for his recent trials. This is a classic case of “kick a man while he’s down.” Specifically, Job mentions people younger than him, upstarts on translation calls them.
Why is it so easy for us as humans to attack others who are vulnerable?
Job is in pain day and night and cannot imagine any relief other than death. No one around him seems to be able or willing to help alleviate his suffering. While he has friends who have sat with him for 7 days in silence, these friends have not been able to offer comfort or peace.

Job 31:

In this section, Job begins to recount the ways in which he is innocent. Once more the claim of innocence echoes into the community. Job says he is not lustful, is not deceitful, in fact never kept deceitful company. He has not committed adultery, and he has treated his slaves as human “for God created them and me.”
Job claims to have cared for the defenseless, taking care of widows and orphans from a very young age. And he tells his friends, God, and anyone else listening, that he did not put his trust in money or treasure. This seems to be evidenced earlier in Job when he still praises God after losing everything he had.
An interesting claim is that Job has not mocked as he has been mocked. He has treated others with respect and not gossiped or maligned their names.

Matthew 13:31-58

In these passages Jesus continues speaking in parables to the crowds, his disciples, and us. Many of the parables make it into the lectionary and are familiar to those whose churches use the lectionary to help plan worship. Jesus uses agricultural references and fishing references because they would be familiar to the people he was speaking to at the time. I am not an agricultural person. I have a black thumb and have only cared for large animals on weekends at my Aunts cattle ranch, more of a novelty than actual practice. I have found it helpful to reimagine some of these parables for modern day hearers.
The kingdom of God is like Kudzu. It begins as a small plant and quickly covers everything in sight.
The kingdom of God is like glitter. Once you open it, you will never ever get it all cleaned up.
Both of these examples are about something that spreads without effort, without containment. The kingdom of God gets into everything! It will continue no matter what might attempt to choke it out.
At the end of this reading Jesus goes back to his hometown. Here he is mocked by those who knew him well. Two things stand out to me in this section. One, Jesus is unable to do miracles there because of their unbelief. I wonder how often we keep God from acting because we don’t believe God really can change anything. Two, this passage mentions four brothers of Jesus by name and also says he had sisters. Church history claims that he had 2 sisters, Salome, Josephs daughter from a previous marriage, and Mary (yes, another one) the importance of this is that it changes the way I think of Jesus’ family of origin. He was not an only child, doted on and spoiled. He was one of at least 7 children. There was always a community around him. Jesus was raised in the struggles and joys of a large family. Perhaps that helps explain some of his conflict resolution style.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Day 19: On Treasure and Weeds

Job 28, 29 & Matthew 13:1-30

Job speaks of treasure that people have found throughout the earth. Meanwhile, Jesus talks about how to find real value.

Job 28:

Job begins speaking here of the vast treasures that man has found in the earth. Treasure of gold, copper, and precious jewels. These things were buried so that no bird or beast might find them, yet man has plumbed the depths of the earth to find these treasures.
Wisdom, however, seems to be impossible to find. Job wails that wisdom is elusive at best. Why can human kind not seem to locate wisdom? Job says perhaps the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and it will be shown in the turning from evil ways.

Job 29:

Job says that he has turned from evil. He claims to have lived a life of justice and piety, speaking out against Eliphaz claims that he harmed widows and orphans. Job says that he did indeed care for the less fortunate. He had a place of honor, and yet God still abandoned him.

Matthew 13:1-30

This section of Matthew begins a list of parables Jesus tells his disciples. Jesus often taught in parables, using these stories to help people grasp ideas about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not something we can describe or know in a concrete way. Jesus uses these stories to help us understand the incomprehensible.
This is also one of the few times that Jesus gives the meaning of a parable to the listener rather than letting us determine it on our own.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Job 25. 26. 27 & Matthew 12:24-50

Job curses his enemies in these chapters. He seeks for them to be punished as well. Jesus, points out that we cannot work against evil for the purposes of evil.

Job 25:

This passage has Biblad speaking to Job. He calls out to Job that no one is innocent. He appears to make a case for original sin. Biblad seems to be asking Job to look at his life in a much more philosophical sense, realizing that sin is inevitable.

Job 26:

Job responds saying that God is indeed greater than anything. How can any of us even try to understand God? God’s power is beyond comprehension.

Job 27:

Job curses his enemies. He asks God to treat them with even more harshness than he has been treated. Again this is a case of misery loving company. His own suffering would, Job thinks, be bearable if others were going through it as well.

Matthew 12:24-50:

Jesus is accused of using the power of the devil to cast out demons. He quickly debunks this idea by stating that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Holy Spirit is at work in the casting out of demons. Jesus wants those present to know that what he does is through God and God alone.
Jesus then goes into a description of trees and fruit. You will know a tree by the fruit it bears. A good tree will produce good fruit. An unhealthy tree will produce fruit that is not worth eating.
This passage reminds me of a meme I saw today about beliefs.

Jesus goes on to predict his death and resurrection using Jonah as a metaphor. He ends this section by saying that family is not only something you are born into. Family, especially the family of God, is something that is constructed through the bonds of love.

Day 17: Accused of Sinning

Job 22, 23, 24 & Matthew 12:1-23

In these chapters we hear once again Job’s friends accusing him of sinning. Likewise in Matthew Jesus is accused of sinning by eating and healing on the Sabbath.

Job 22:

Eliphaz speaks in this chapter telling Job that his sins are not caring for the poor, taking advantage of the weak, sending the widow away empty and crushing orphan’s resources. These characteristics would seem clearly to us to be sinful. Eliphaz tells Job that he should treasure God above all things and if he did that, God would hear and end Job’s suffering.

Job 23:

Job maintains his innocence. At this point it might be more of a matter of pride than actual conviction of sinless behavior. He at this point expresses a fear of the Lord. This fear seems to be from no longer trusting the Lord. Job seems to be saying that God is fickle and therefore not to be trusted.

Job 24:

Job asks why God doesn’t punish the really wicked. Job calls for a day of judgement to occur. He wants everyone who has sinned to be called to account, instead of watching others prosper while he suffers.
This passage makes me think of the phrase “misery loves company.” Job does not like the feeling of being singled out to suffer. He wants others, those that really deserve in his mind to be punished, to suffer as well.

Matthew 12:1-23

Jesus is accused of sinning because he allows his disciples to pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath day. His response is one that points out their hypocrisy. It is permissible to do that which is good, even and especially on the Sabbath. Jesus makes a point that you would save your livestock on the Sabbath, how much more important should another human being be?
It is so easy to judge another’s behavior, and ignore our own sinfulness. Jesus points out that things that bring life will be held in higher regard than things that take or prevent life.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 16: Job Questions God and Jesus offers rest

Day 16

Job 20-21 & Matthew 11

The readings for today contain questions from Job and words of challenge and rest from Jesus. Job continues to debate with his so-called-friends about his lot in life. Jesus continues to prepare people for the reality of his ministry on earth.

Job 20

This chapter begins with Zophar once more challenging Job. He does not believe that Job is innocent. It doesn't make sense to him. The way Zophar sees the world is very similar to today's "prosperity Gospel", the idea that God will bless those who believe and punish those who do not. This line of thinking leads to the ultimate question, why do bad things happen to good people? Zophar cannot imagine that the events of Job's life were anything other than the judgement of God for some hidden sin. His words sound harsh to us, but he is trying to get his friend to confess and therefore find relief from his suffering.
We must remember that Job and his friends were not privy to the earlier conversations in the throne room. They do not know that the evil one is tormenting Job, not God. From their earthly perspective they do not see how these acts could be anything other than punishment.

Job 21

Job begins to take God to trial in this passage. He cannot fathom this reason behind his suffering and begs God to relent, even if that means turning God's eyes from Job. In our moments of suffering it is easy to put God on trial. "If God had been there, my baby would have lived." "If God was a loving God, I wouldn't have cancer." "If God cared at all, children would not be starving." These questions are harsh, hard to hear and hard to respond to with integrity.
I do not believe that God causes us to suffer. I do believe, however, that we are not always kept from the consequences of sin, be it ours or other peoples. With this view the questions above change focus. "God was there when my baby died. What comfort can I find in that truth?" "God loves me, how can I find God's love as I battle cancer?" "God care for us all, but God told us to love one another. Why are some throwing away food while others are starving? Why are the prosperous not helping those in need?"

Matthew 11

The previous chapter in Matthew tells about the sending out of the disciples. Chapter 11 deals with John's disciples questioning Jesus' identity and with Jesus explaining that his kingdom will be very different. John sends his followers to find out if Jesus is the one. John is in prison for preaching that the Messiah was coming. Jesus reassures John and his followers. He tells them to tell John what they have seen. They have been witnesses to the miracles Jesus has performed. They have heard his teachings with their own ears. They are now to take the spirit of wisdom with them as they interpret these actions.
Jesus ends this section by talking about rest. In a busy, constantly moving world these words are hopeful. But, I do not think they mean what we think they mean. Jesus offers rest, yes, but rest does not mean an absence of doing anything. Jesus doesn't say "follow me and you will live your lives sitting on a beach enjoying cocktails." Rest is the ability to be reassured. Rest is trusting that someone else is in control. Rest is the absence of struggle, struggle for power, struggle for your voice to be heard, struggle for your place in the sun. The kingdom we are called to is one in which we can rest from our constant seeking to be on the top. A place where we seek to serve one another in love, instead of subjecting one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day 9 Job suffers and the annoying skinny gate

Job 1-2 and Matthew 7

Today we take a break from Genesis and enter the world of Job. His story is one of have it all lose it all and familiar to many. We also continue with Matthew, finishing up the Sermon on the Mount.

Job 1

This book has two settings, the throne room of heaven and the earthly realm. God is in his heavens and is visited by the heavenly beings, including the accuser, called Satan in some translations. It is important for us to read this not as a first hand account of what happened in heaven and earth, but as a narrative explanation of the age-old question "Why do bad things happen to good people."
This opening prologue talks about a righteous man who has been very successful. Job praises God, prays for his children, and leads an upright life. God is pleased. But the accuser says that Job would not be faithful without all of his blessings. God takes the bet and allows Job to lose all that he has been blessed to hold.
I struggle with the idea of God and Satan placing bets on the outcome of our spiritual lives when our earthly lives are put through trauma. This seems heartless and cruel for both parties. As a literary device I get it, but as a characteristic of God it seems contrary to the witness of a loving God in the whole of scripture.
How would you react to losing all that you held dear? I am amazed that Job stands upright and can claim a faith in God through this series of unfortunate events. I would hope to have such faith and conviction, but pray to never be tested in such a manner.

Job 2

We are returned to the throne room of God, which in my imagination is beginning to look more and more like a man-cave. God again points to Job as a faithful man. Satan says he is only faithful because he is still healthy. God agrees to let Job suffer physically, as long as he does not die. 
I am an able bodied woman who has very few medical issues. I cannot for a moment begin to understand what constant pain and sores might do to a persons whole being. Job's suffering is so great that when his friends come to visit they do not recognize him. Now that I is something I can understand.
I have walked with people through grief, loss, illness and pain. I have been to visit people who physically or spiritually no longer resemble who I once knew. There are times when I myself have felt torn apart by grief and loss that I do not recognize myself. And this is where the book of Job begins to speak to me personally. In the visiting of these friends, who stay silent and keep watch with Job for seven days and seven nights, I see the witness of the community of faith surrounding one another. Sometimes a ministry of presence is the best thing to offer.

Matthew 7

The Sermon on the Mount is concluded in this chapter of Matthew. The teachings found in this chapter are ones I remember plainly from Sunday School. Before worrying about your brother's blind spots, check your own.No pearls before swine. Ask, seek, knock. The golden rule. Jesus' skinny gate (a Sunday School teacher once mentioned that overweight people would not be able to enter heaven because of the skinny gate). Good fruit= Good tree. 
I think they might be reduced in my memory to bumper sticker style slogans rather than life-giving words. Reading these words with Job has helped jar my thinking.
  • Where have I let my own notions of what should be, and should not be, keep me from really seeing the world as my brother sees?
  • What keeps us both from seeing what Jesus sees?
  • What have a thrown before unworthy people, causes, things and then been surprised at its ruin?
  • Am I asking, seeking and knocking or just talking about it?
  • Am I doing unto others at all, let alone as I would want them to do unto me?  
  • When am I choosing the easy path because it is easy? Where do I dare to squeeze into the narrow path?
  • What kind of fruit tree am I really? Are my fruits shiny on the outside, but full of emptiness or self-serving?
  • Do I claim to follow Jesus, but never check his directions?
  • Is my life built on the Christ, or am I trusting in another's faith to hold me strong? (This particularly challenges me as it compares to the idea of Job's children sitting in a house feasting together when the wind blows it down. Did they rely on their father's faith rather than claiming a life of righteousness for themselves?)
What challenges are you facing with these passages? Where are you being stretched?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bible in One year: Day 8

Genesis 20, 21, 22 and Matthew 6:19-34

The readings for today are some of the most popular and most troubling readings in the scriptures. I pray that God grants us all the ears to hear and eyes to understand these passages today.

Genesis 20

Abraham, a newly minted child of the covenant, cannot help himself. In today's reading he goes back to his old ways of doing things. Once more he plays the "she's my sister" card in order to save his own skin. My heart hurts for Sarah once more in this account. Abraham hands her over to be used by Abimelec.
This time God intervenes more directly telling Abimelec in a dream that he is sleeping with a married woman and that God will punish him for this action. This is news to Abimelec who confronts Abraham and is given a "She is my sister, and wife" response that to me is a complete lack of owning up to the situation. The writer goes on to tell us that all of Abimelec's wives and slaves had become barren because of his relationship with Sarah. (An interesting if not strange tidbit)

Genesis 21

The much-anticipated birth of the child of the covenant is celebrate in this chapter of Genesis. Isaac, child of laughter comes into the world with much celebration. Abraham celebrates fatherhood at the tender age of 100. Abraham fulfills the sign of the covenant having Isaac circumcised at eight days old. This reading is the picture of family happiness we have been hoping Sarah and Abraham would receive. At least if we look at the close up view.
The wide-angle lens picks up a much different family portrait. The camera pans out and we see that Sarah is still jealous of Hagar and her son Ishmael. This jealousy has gone underground during the pregnancy and birth, but during the infancy and toddler-hood of her son, Sarah sees that Ishmael is no longer a small child, but growing into a young man. She once more, sends Hagar and Ismael out into the wilderness in order to secure her son's place in the family.
I cannot begin to imagine the day-to-day life of a woman such as Sarah or Hagar. My life is more than a world away. I want to say that I could never be as cruel or as self-serving as Sarah, but I know that is not the case. I've just never been put to that test. What I find really interesting about this reading is God's action.
God shows Hagar water when she is convinced Ishmael will die. God offers comfort and solace. In verse 20, we are told that "God was with the boy and he grew up." God did not abandon Hagar and Ishmael even thought Abraham and Sarah cast them out. Likewise, God does not abandon any of God's children who may feel rejection at the hands of fellow believers.

Genesis 22

This reading is perhaps one of the most difficult for me to understand. I am a mother. I have three precious beautiful children. I cannot imagine for an instant sacrificing them to God. Even if God told me to do so. I'm not sure what to do with this passage.
Some commentaries I have read state that God was testing Abraham's loyalty. Perhaps the boy had become so important to Abraham that he was no longer trusting in God's promises but was instead trusting in the life and legacy he knew his son would provide. Others say that Abraham knew God would not really make this claim and going along with it was Abraham's way of testing God. The evidence given for this is that Abraham tells his son that God himself will provide the lamb for the offering.
What do you think these passages have to tell us about God and our relationship with God?

Matthew 6:19-34

Catchy phrases from Jesus! Many of these passages are "Meme worthy", meaning they are the kinds of statements that are easily quoted and apply to many situations. Store up treasures in heaven. No one can serve two masters. Don't worry, be happy!  This part of the sermon on the mount is recognizable in much of my culture.
However, making these sayings of Jesus into pithy quotes takes away their weight and bite. There is real soul-searching to be done in order to live lives based on these principles. God is willing and able to help us lead lives that rely less on this world and much more on God's kingdom. What good news for us all!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Bible in a Year:Day 7

I am so sorry!

I did not get the Daily Readings up on the 5th or 6th. My family was hit by the stomach bug and I am only now recovered enough to type.
I will recap all of the readings here, briefly.

Genesis 13

Abram and Lot separate in order to keep piece in the family. Abram is a wise man, more than one family has been torn apart over arguments about wealth and possessions.
God has been with Abram as he has moved from place to place and been faithful even when Abram has doubted and acted in fear. God's faithfulness is something beyond what any of us can really imagine. God blesses Abram and will continue to do so.
God still loves the world and continues to work in it and through it. Sometimes through human agency. I pray that the world would become more receptive to those bringing the message of God and that the world might hear the love of God especially in the midst of such hate and violence done and spoken in the Holy One's name.

Genesis 14

I will admit that I struggle with the first part of this chapter. I'm really not sure what this says about God. I think that Abram made the choice to get his kinsmen and with a number of fighters did just that. We have a tendency to think that God is always on the winners side, because the winner usually writes the story. I do feel that God has blessed Abram and has continued to be faithful to Abram, but I'm not really sure how God fits into all of this war action. I suppose it is that Abram believes that this land is his and his descendants and so he goes after it, not waiting for God to hand it to him, but believing it is already his and defends it chasing them for over 100 miles.
I guess God wants us to go to battle for things and people that are important to us, but again this whole war/concur stuff is hard for me to reconcile with the God who gave up himself to save us. Perhaps if I am to claim something for God, then I need to remove other influences that might poorly affect that area of my life?
I think it means that sometimes we battle and God lets us. I don't know that it is really God endorsed, but perhaps permitted? Jesus spoke so much of love and peace and giving that battling with earthly forces seems contrary to all of that. Again, just my honest struggles today.
I love the second half of this chapter however! I think it is amazingly cool that Melchizedek is called a priest of the Most High God, even though he has no known ties to the chosen people or to Abram. God is active outside of what we know and understand. God's love is being shown and received even when we are not made privy to it. Thanks be to God. Too often I think we see that God is with us therefore God must not be with "them." God is bigger than I could imagine. God's faithfulness to us does not preclude God's faithfulness to others. God sees so much more than we do and is active in so many more places. How rich and deep and wide is the love of God!
With this view of God, one supported by the Gospels, we can see God's activity is worldwide. It means that the world and all that is in it is God's and that God will act when we cannot find a way for God to act. Pulling a priest out of thin air is not a magic trick, it is an act of extreme grace and mercy for Abram and the people!

Genesis 15

This is God proclaiming the covenant with Abram. I am amazed by this passage because it really shows the covenant of grace as being of God's action. Abram makes the sacrifice, acknowledging God as God, but it is God's presence that walks between the halves, it is God's action that shows God's commitment. God will be and is faithful, this covenant is not one that Abram upholds, but rather the burden is on God to give a barren man so many offspring that they are not able to be counted.
This passage gives me hope in the midst of trials and tribulations. God continues to seek relationship with the world, even with those parts of the world that seem to be openly hostile towards God. I have little doubt of God's frustration with humanity from time to time, but I also do not doubt God's commitment to uphold the covenant of grace established with humanity and sealed in Christ.

Genesis 16

This reading is all about what happens when humans decide to step in for God. Sarai and Abram choose to grab at God's promise in their own way, instead of waiting on God's timing. God does not send Hagar away nor does God abandon Hagar. God offers relationship, sees her suffering and asks her to trust that God has a plan and promise for her and her child as well. This situation, not of God's making, but of Abram and Sarai's plan, yet God will seek to redeem it and cause good to come from it.
Today when I was reading, I put myself in Hagar's shoes. I wonder how willing I am to see God even in my wilderness situations. Hagar names God "The God who sees" and if I really believe that then what is it God is seeing in me? I am grateful for God who sees and takes notice and it gives me comfort to know that God is aware of me and my needs even when the world's needs seem so much greater than my own.
"His eye is on the sparrow" God watches over us all and that is amazing! It's also humbling. How much does God see that I chose not to see? How can the world see things as God does with God's eyes and God's heart? This seeing idea is so important especially in the story of Abram and it is super important in a world that likes to pretend no one sees what we don't want them to see.
(I wrote a Bible study on this topic for Intersections: Where Faith and Life meet, a resource for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in case anyone is interested)

Genesis 17

God does not leave us as we are. God joined into a relationship with Abram and through that relationship Abram is changed. To signify that change God gives him a new name and a sign to show the permanent change in his life and the lives of his family members. Once again God says that Abraham will be a nation and that God will bless his descendants with the land.  God does not need to be reminded, but at this point Abraham sure does. He's taken matters into his own hand and with the blessing of his wife, taken a slave woman as a bride and she is expecting. Abraham thinks this will be his heir, but God has promised a child by Sarai. Sarai's name is changed to Sarah and thereby is included in the blessing.
God does not forget God's promises to the world. God is faithful. God gave the sign of circumcision as a way to remind the people whose they were. This covenant sign was not original to Abraham. I have read that there were other groups who did this. But God re-purposed this sign and gave it new meaning to Abraham and those who would come after.
So here we have a sign that is to remind humanity of God's covenant and what happens? Humans argue about weather or not is necessary in order to be saved. Today some have the same argument over the mode and method of baptism, is one more binding or genuine than another. Wow, we people of God know how to turn a good grace filled thing into a problem, don't we!
Baptism is the outward sign of the inward action of the Holy Spirit in our denomination. It is a sign that you are a child of the covenant. That is why we baptize infants, to show that it is the work of God, not anything we can earn or deserve. I was baptized at 6 weeks old and while I obviously don't have any memories of the actual events, my mom was great at showing me the pictures and talking with me about it and how important it was to my family and church community. My church really lived into its baptismal vows and I hope that the church I am serving does as well

Matthew 5:1-26

This section on Matthew has been, and will continue to be the focus of the lectionary readings for the next several weeks. A sermon on Matthew 5:1-12 can be found here. Sunday's sermon on Matthew 5:13-16 can be found here.
This reading is part of the beloved sermon on the mount. These are Jesus' teachings to the disciples and they are so different from the common interpretations of God's word in that day, that they cause confusion and fear straight out of the gate. Honestly, they are still fairly counter cultural.
We don't see the poor as blessed, the grieving as blessed, the marginalized as blessed.
We still tend to hold those religious leaders among us to higher standards,even though Jesus says our righteousness must surpass theirs. We kill each other daily with our words or comments on Facebook and twitter, but we would not consider ourselves murders for such words.

Matthew 5:27-48

This reading continues to give us ideas contrary to those held by then vast majority of people in Jesus' time. There is a wonderful video by Walter Wink on Matthew 5:38-42 and an interpretation of these readings. You can watch that video here.
Christ calls us to love our enemies. It's not expected, its not easy, and yet he asks this of us. Jesus' way was a not and is not the way of the world. The way of Christ is narrow and steep, so much so that sometimes we are afraid to climb. But, the good news is that we do not climb alone, we walk the path with Christ who cut the path in the beginning.

Matthew 6:1-18

In this section of Matthew we get lessons on alms giving and prayer. The giving of alms, a practice of giving to those in need, is a good and blessed discipline. However, here, Jesus says that this giving is not something to do publicly, but rather privately. If you boldly proclaim what you do, then you will be admired by humans, but that admiration becomes your reward. If you give and that gift is between you and God, then your reward will be from God as well.
It is important to note that giving was done at a box in the temple with people watching. Often times people made big pronouncements before dropping their coins into the box. It would be like bringing a giant check to the front of the sanctuary to tell others what you are giving in your tithe.
"Your Father who sees in secret" is a phrase that is hopeful and scary. God sees the secret, even when the world does not know what you are doing for God's glory, God will know and that knowledge is enough. You don't need acclaim from humanity, for God sees and knows. That is good news for those who seek to do good without praise.
But it also means that God sees our secret deeds, our actions that are not so benevolent. The times when we choose to cheat or take because no one is watching or no one will get hurt. However, God who sees in secret will see there as well.
The same lesson is true of prayer. Jesus says that prayer is not for the public listening, it is between you and God. If you pray for the purpose of others hearing and thinking you pious, than that will be your reward. Prayer is communication between you and God, an honest open communication. Jesus gives us a guide for prayer here; we often call it The Lord's Prayer.

**** many of these thoughts come from previous blog posts on Genesis from this blog****