Daily Lectionary Reflection, Thursday, July 30

4A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4

“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Phillipians 4:11

The selection from Proverbs offers a garden variety of wise sayings from ancient minds. Understanding them as wise sayings also places these lines in proper place. In other words, they are not promises from God. God does not promise that “a slack hand causes poverty” or that dilience makes one right. Verses like these have, however, been preached in this way. They formed the basis of a Protestant Work ethic, fortifying the middle class in Modern America. Evidence that this verse and others from Proverbs are not promises are found in the lives of those born to money, like King Solomon. Born to wealth, one need not work too hard at all to continue on in riches. In addition, how many small businesses fail because of factors beyond control? Diligence does not guarantee riches.

All of that to say, the meaning is plain to see. Work hard and you’ll keep failure at bay. Put work in your relationships, your marriage, your family, and you’ll see that diligence pays off. Put work into self care and you’ll your waste line decrease, along with your stress. Put work into managing your money, and your future self with thank you. It’s a wise thing to acknowledge that the good things of life do not merely happen, but take time and diligence to cultivate.

The Apostle Paul shows how riches can be understood differently. He writes in today’s passage that he has not been in need. What an astounding statement! He writes from prison. Certainly, Paul needs freedom? Or a good hot meal? a bath? Has the apostle cracked? What could he mean? Paul shows us what it means for us to have the way we view the world reshaped by Christ. He has been given a new set of lens from God, that sees the world in abundance, even when abundance in typical terms is not present. Christ sustains him, mysteriously, in both plenty and in want. Paul has attained the most sought after thing, contentment.

As far removed as we are from a Roman prison cell, I wonder if the the strength we need from Christ, in America, is the strength to live with plenty? The desire for more lurks behind every ad, commercial, and trip to the store. In our consuming, we risk our own soul’s consumption by desire for more. It is a hungry beast, never satisfied with enough. Call it greed, call it whatever you like, but it will keep you from experiencing peace. For there is no peace, if the desire for more is always driving you. It leads to more debt, more hours at work, robs of sleep, and it leads to more stress. and mental health issues.

Paul reminds us today to seek Christ. Only Christ will satisfy our cravings . There is never enough for our greed, never. In Christ, there is enough to sustain one in life. May Christ strengthen us to withstand the world of plenty so as to live content in God.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Wednesday, July 29

7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; 

fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? Matthew 4:30

The Lectionary continues the exploration of wisdom. From Proverbs, a main refrain of Wisdom literature appears. Wisdom begins with the reverent fear of God. Jesus teaches wisdom in parables, earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Wisdom in Proverbs becomes embodied, as one crying out in the busy street to listen, but no one does. Jesus’ public ministry is before the crowds, but few ever become his disciples. Wisdom from God, truly embodied in Jesus, is available to all but understood by those who seek it. The disciples are such people. Some left behind the family business, as well as the family, to follow Jesus. Others, lucrative professions, like Matthew the tax collector, or subversive movements to overthrow the government, see Simon the Zealot. There were many who heard the teachings of Jesus, but few who stopped and followed him.

May you find time this day to stop and seek after the wisdom of God. May you hear and see what the Lord is doing, though the many do not. May you live into the kingdom.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Tuesday, July 28

“God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore…” I Kings 4:29

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Ephesians 6:10

God is the fountainhead of wisdom, strength, and power. So these paired lectionary readings remind us. Solomon, though rich, powerful, and socially desirable, receives the wisdom that got him there from God. The writer does not want us to get lost in the glamor of his fame. Solomon will eventually get lost along the way, and his kingdom will fall apart. Paul reminds the Ephesians that it is the Lord’s strength and power that sustains them. He matches action words, take, stand, make ready, and fasten, to gifts from God, righteousness, faith, salvation peace, and truth. God is the source of all of these things and more.

In both Solomon’s case and the readers of Ephesians case, they are to act with the gifts of God. The Lord has already given the gifts, Christmas has come and gone, now use what has been given. This is especially the point of Paul’s description of putting on the armor of God. The point is clear, God will not everything for you. Make use of what God’s given you. Weak as you may feel in the face of the evil one, whose weapons include despair, worry, anxiety, the Lord is with you. Paul answers the question before asked, go to God in prayer, empowered by the Spirit, and the weapons of the evil one cannot stand.

Note, scholars tell us that the sword described by Paul was the small sword used by Romans soldiers for defense. The word of God, the sword of the Spirit, defends us against the lies of the evil one. Jesus exemplifies this in his temptation in the desert. With every temptation given, Jesus readily responds with a word from scripture. What we do not see is scripture used as a weapon of attack against all those who do not believe. Attacking someone with scripture so as to “win them to Christ” goes against the Spirit of Christ. God woos us to relationship, God does not frighten us into obedience.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Monday, July 27

“Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” 1 Kings 3:25.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” -James 3:17.

The Lectionary points us to wisdom this week, and how necessary it is. Remember, wisdom, within the biblical canon, is about a way of life, not some theory or philosophy you happen to think smart or that it explains the existence of everything. Wisdom is about living, about how one lives one’s life. The lesson from James proves this as the writer describes wisdom in words of action and intent.

What strikes me as interesting, when holding these two passages together, I Kings 3:16-28 and Jame 3:13-18, is that Solomon’s initial judgment greatly contrasts with what James tells us here about wisdom. Splitting a baby is not gentle or full of mercy. Yet, We see that Solomon’s wisdom produces good fruit and mercy by exposing the hypocrisy of the other woman’s wisdom. In her own wisdom, she selfishly swapes babies, and mercilessly agrees to the initial judgment. Her wisdom, scripture tells us, is actually foolishness.

Perhaps, the wisdom from God can initially appear like the foolishness of the world. What separates them is the fruit. One brings death, and the other life. This is more than intent, because the baby actually survives the foolishness of the woman because of the wisdom of Solomon. Having good intentions isn’t enough. Carrying out the wisdom from God requires life giving actions.

Seek the wisdom of God, and James tells us that a harvest of righteousness and a field of peace is in store for you. In other words, pursue wisdom and you will have healthy, life giving, relationships, with God and one another. God’s wisdom isn’t a 3-steps-to-success type of plan but a way of life.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Thursday, July 16

Isaiah 41:21–29

Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.” Isaiah 41:21

The Lord is incensed at the continued idolatry of Israel. The Lord, who created all things, has little patience for God’s people who settle for lesser gods. Why settle for nothing, when you can have everything in the Lord? There is no real competition between the Lord of all and the material objects of worship. If we were to take God’s position, would we continue to put up with such a people? God furiously loves the people of God and refuses to put up with their shenanigans. God knows them to be better than their worst days, and their worst ways. So too does God love us, even when we turn to the idols of today – sex, money, and power. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us more than we know.

Hebrews 2:1-9

“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” Hebrews 2:1

The good news about Jesus easily derails when we do not return to scripture. The early Christians relied heavily upon the spoken word but as time passed the written word rose in importance. Too easily our memories fade, or twist, what we have heard. For the Christians reading the letter to the Hebrews, this meant an elevation of angels to the level of deity, among other issues. Lost in speculation, the people lose sight of the gospel message. The writer exhorts the readers to return to the message they first heard, the good news of God reconciling the world in Jesus Christ. Answering their questions about angels, the writer refocuses the conversation by reminding them of the Old Testament, specifically the Psalms. Jesus, as a human, was given by God the world, angels were not given such a high and lofty responsibility. They have a purpose but not this one.

Fascination with the more mystical side of our faith can help clarify as to the relationship between God and God’s creation. Angels are created beings, like humanity. Their role, mysterious as it is, is not our role. God gave humanity a unique role in all of creation, to tend to it and nurture it. What a privilege and responsibility! Because of this pride of place, it was essential for Jesus to take on the flesh of humanity to redeem all of creation. Entering into our creaturely existence, Jesus faced the temptations we all face, yet failed not. He is the pioneer of our faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us. He is the first to do this, Paul tells us. He is the apex of creation, the beginning and the end. So we turn to Jesus, with all the angels of heaven, and all creation, to worship him.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Wednesday, July 15

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.” -Proverbs 11:24

Abundance, not scarcity, characterizes the vantage point of faith. The wise teacher of Proverbs shows in this passage how this view works. Some see the world and think that giving freely will only lead to a life of poverty. Help one person, and you must help them all. So rather than help one, help none. That is the story of scarcity, the story of death.

The story of life tells us to gives freely, knowing that the created world was created in generosity. The loving God doesn’t withhold love, grace, and mercy. Following such a God means extending the same love to others. Give as it has been given to you. Love as you have been so loved. From such a vantage point there is not reason to war over resources. For there is enough for everyone, but not enough for everyone’s greed.

“Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?”’ Matthew 13:10

I cannot explain why Jesus doesn’t outline a three point plan for the kingdom of heaven, with a strategy to succeed. Jesus, rather than follow what we know to be proven leadership tactics, he tells stories, called parables. Parables serve as a prism to view the truth of God. With every turn of the prism you catch a glimmer of truth, a picture of the kingdom. Slowly sifting through these parables has an effect upon the reader, upon the disciple. The process, that is the journey of discipleship, transforms the disciple into one capable of understanding the parables of Jesus. Easily dismissing them has another effect. They read and hear but quickly dismiss them as mutterings of a overly spiritual, out of touch 1st century Jew. Quickly dismissing these parables quickly dismisses Jesus and the kingdom he promises. So ponder anew the words of Jesus, sit with them, turn them over in your mind, look for the glimpses of the kingdom.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Tuesday, July 14

Deuteronomy 28:1-14

“…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God” Deuteronomy 28:2

Conditional statements, like the one above, often come out of the mouth of God to Israel. In fact, one might get the impression that God has set Israel up for a salvation based upon Israel’s own merit. This impression has had serious consequences for the Jews. Martin Luther, furious with any attempt to use merit as part of salvation, railed against the Jews. He projected onto the Jews his beliefs about the Catholic church claiming that the Jewish religion bolstered itself up by works righteousness. In other words, Jews and Catholics, believed that one earned God’s acceptance and love. The seeds of antisemitism were planted and grew into the venomous tree bearing fruit in Nazi Germany, as well as other places. Martin Luther had many good qualities, this is not one of them. As has been written before, we are all saints and sinners.

With that said, the if/then statement of blessing given by God through Moses to Israel comes at the point where they have already been saved from Egypt. Salvation has already been accomplished. The rest of the Old Testament will tell of their faithfulness or lack thereof with sobering clarity. Yet, God does not reject Israel, though like a spurned lover, threatens to do so. God keeps coming back, again, and again, and again, and again. God refuses to give up on providing blessing to Israel. We call this grace. The if/then statements provide a framework for Israel to navigate the world, as God’s chosen and beloved people. It is not enough for Israel to be chosen by God for blessing, they must live like God’s chosen. Blending back into the surrounding nations isn’t an option. You do not win the lottery, only to go back to the living like you had not won. God, in Jesus Christ, has chosen all, will all choose God? We do not know, but those that do choose to take up their cross have a life to live to God.

Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” Ephesians 4:17

The issue for Paul here is identity, and identity correlates directly to how one lives in the world. Paul says you used to be this, now be this, for you are in Christ. In other terms, put off the old self and put on the new self. With a change in self comes a change in behavior and habit. Were you in the habit of using your hands to steal? If so, now make your new habit caring for the poor using your hands. A more contemporary example might be, were you in the habit of charging exorbitant interest on loans to the poor? Now, make your habit paying off the loans of the poor, create scholarships and advocate for equity. Laying claim to the identity Christ follower includes laying claim to a new way of life in the world. In short, Paul tells us our faith is a 24/7 faith.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Monday, July 13

Leviticus 26:3–20

And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword shall go through your land. Lev. 26:6

After weeks of difficult passages from the Old Testament, the Daily Lectionary gives us a break by reminding us of God’s vision of Shalom. Peace, within the parameters of scripture, excludes fear. What causes one fear? The threat of violence? The surprise attack from an animal (or more likely where I live, being bitten by a slithering snake)? The list of things that cause one to live in fear is long. In effect, a God secured peace banishes all fearful things.

Fear has a powerful effect upon us. Wars, nightmares, and distrust of creation emanate from it. Politicians, from any side of the aisle, promise to thwart fear through securing their people economically or militarily. In doing so, they only reproduce more fear, fear of being attacked, or tax policies that reproduce classism. Fear begets fear.

God offers a peace that excludes the means of fear, and by doing so excludes fear itself. Whether Israel ever lived into the promise of peace as portrayed here no one knows. What’s known is that the promise of peace, this kind of peace, continues on. Through Jesus, we have peace with God and one another, now. We have the promise of peace, too, where every tear will be wiped away, and. as one song says, we will learn war no more. Come Lord Jesus! Come!

1 Thessalonians 4:1–8

For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you. I Thess. 4:7

Paul reminds us today of God’s emphasis upon holiness. Holiness, for some, was a term to describe a way of life determined by “don’ts.” Don’t go to the movies. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t smoke. Don’t drive two-tone vehicles. Don’t shop on Sundays. Don’t smile either. Okay, that last one was made up. But you get the point. Holiness got a bad rap. So many rules, so little grace.

Reclaiming holiness, however, is imperative. It’s imperative because it describes our growth in love for God, one another, and ourselves. Holiness reverberates from a life dedicated to loving God and one another. It is not the enemy of such love, when holiness stands in the way of love, it is no longer holiness that’s pursued, but legalism.

Paul connects sanctification to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, empowering us to live into the kind of love shown to us in Jesus Christ. Paul uses fornification, driven by lustful passion, because it’s a practice linked to temple prostitution. Literally, it is a practice of worshiping another god by use of the body. How much time and money is spent on the worship of lust today? When quarantine began, pornography viewership soared. Our creaturely existence has not changed much since Paul’s time. Lust is a powerful god too. Millions of women and children have been abducted and sold into modern slavery at the service of lust. Paul warns us of fornification because he’s knows how powerful a force it can be.

How we live, what we do, what we think, and what we attach our emotions to, matters to God. The true worship of God leads one into a life different from the rest of the world. It doesn’t participate in dominant practices of society, like lust and pornography. Such a life is set aside to God, sanctified, and driven by the Spirit. It is a life of love.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Friday, July 10

Isaiah 48:6-11

“From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known….” Is. 28:6

Isaiah receives a promise from God to hear new things. Notice these are not novel things to God. They are things Isaiah, and presumably all of Israel, have yet to be told. One might have thought that all that God had to say had been said at Mt. Sinai to Moses. As I’ve said before, the prophets were not radicals, preaching a progressive agenda, but traditionalists pushing Israel to return to that old, old story found in the first five books of the Old Testament. Now, thousands of years later, God has something new-to-them to reveal. God has a Word for this moment.

Consider, what God may have to say to you today? What new thing God might have for you to hear? It may not be original, never been heard before, but it will be new to you. God’s voice doesn’t bounce around in an echo chamber of scripture but resonates within the world, with it a sense of wonder, awe, and beauty. Let those with ears to hear, hear a Word from God today.

Be warned though, if you sense God telling you something so new, so unbelievable, so avant garde, that it is not God but something else. Listen to the promptings of the Spirit, search the scriptures, and see what the community of faith has to say before claiming a new word from God. The guardrails of our faith keep us from falling into heresy and hypocrisy.

Romans 15:14-21

20 Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation,” Rms 15:20

The Apostle Paul draws his lengthy letter to an end with an explanation as to what he is up to. He reminds his listeners of his calling, an apostle to the gentiles, and why he does such work, that is for the sake of Christ. As I read this, I think, Paul didn’t live in the South for who in the South, let along America, hasn’t heard Christ named? Seems to me there are so many foundations, and half-built houses of faith, speaking metaphorically that is, that the apostle may just leave or never visit America at all. Many Christians in America opt to freely pick and choose which church they will attend for a moment, before moving on to the next. The experience is only as good as it is new, and not stale. Once boredom becomes a temptation, then on to the next house of faith. So many unfinished foundations of faith, some by Calvin, some by Wesley, some by Aquinas, some by Olsteen, some by Stanley, and none of them have an exact fit to each other, what would Paul say?

Even as so many have heard Christ named, as Paul puts it, one must agree that the current state of the United States, though viewed by many as a Christian Nation, resembles anything but a Christian Nation. Perhaps, Paul has a more significant understanding of what it means to hear Christ named, that we do. We name Christ but only as a cultural artifact, not as the living, resurrected Son of God.

I wonder if Paul wouldn’t tell us that the real work of evangelism in America, isn’t street preaching, or tracts, or memorized monologues littered with verses. Rather, it is discipleship. It is the long road of building up a faith, in a community, founded on the Prince of Peace, Lord of All, Jesus the Christ. Perhaps Paul would remind us that discipleship is filled with daily practices of prayer, scripture, service, and above all love. Discipleship sits at the heart of renewal for the Church in America. Forget about sanctifying a nation for the purposes of faith, seek first Christ, in the church, strengthen bonds of love, and live in unity. Perhaps with such a foundation, the nations, including America, will see the body of Christ and turn to the God in praise and thanksgiving.

Daily Lectionary Reflections, July 9

Isaiah 48:1-5

In reading this passage, two important phrases stand out, “…but not in truth or right” and “…so that you would not say, ‘My idol did them…'” The underlying theme, like so much of the prophets, is fidelity. God desires truthful worship, and compassionate living.

The first phrase concerns appearance. The condemnation falls upon a people who have used the Faith as a way to get what they want. They said the right things but in truth do not mean it. Hollow words of worship so as to attain selfish ambitions. So the question rises, why do you worship God? Is it to get what you want from God? Do you go to church, so that God will give you a pass on immoral decisions? Do you go to church, so that God will answer your prayers? God cannot be cajoled. Worship God, because as God’s creation, you can do no other thing but worship. Worship rightly done places the worshiper in a place of total dependence. Truthful worship results in thanksgiving for all the Lord has done and will do, regardless if it aligns with our desires. For God is God, and we are not.

The second concerns misattribution. The Lord directs attention to what has been declared in the past by the Lord. The message is simple, do not give credit to some created thing when the credit belongs to God. Do not say, “oh, what luck!” or “What are the chances of that?” when clearly God was at work. Giving credit to the god of luck, misattributes what God has clearly done. Consider evolution and all processes that have taken place, is this due to the god of random happenstance, or to the God who created heaven and earth?

The heart of the matter for Isaiah is truth. Do you truly worship God? With robust words of worship, directed at the on worthy of worship, come to the Lord with thanksgiving and praise!

Romans 2:12-16

The passage provokes more questions, than answers. For instance, what part of the law is Paul thinking of? Simply thinking of the ten commandments will not do. The Ten Commandments are built upon a particular belief in God, not some abtract moral code apart from God. What is readily apparent is that both Jews, who have the law, and all Gentiles, who do not have the law, will come under the search eye of God’s judgment. Sin has warped all of God’s good creation.

Acknowledging that sin has had such an effect upon the world is important for our Faith. We can set aside naive assumptions about the world, and know that sin lurks in the corner. Every saint we know, has sin in their past. Every movement towards justice, apart from the Spirit, will have the tinge of injustice. There is no sin free vantage point to retell history. We want new history books telling again history in light of what has been left out before. But even as that is a project worth doing, the story will continue to lack every moment of injustice. Christians may not be able to tell all the truth of history, but the Spirit helps us to see the sin of it all, especially our own. Perhaps that’s the most truthful thing we can do, confess our sins. Frightening as that sounds, the Spirit empowers us to confess our sin, and God is faithful and just to forgive us. So even as God knows the secrets of our hearts, we know that we have forgiveness in Christ. Thanks be to God!