Daily Lectionary Reflection, July 8

Jeremiah 13:1–11

Not having bought a loin cloth myself, the power of the metaphor seems to diminish, but let us walk through the metaphor to see what it might mean. The loin cloth was meant to be part of God’s array. It was meant to be near to the most vulnerable part of the body. Nearness expresses a sense of vulnerability and affection. The loins in scripture resemble the heart and the way in which people talk about their hearts. Such as when John Wesley declared his heart was strangely warmed. So a covering of the loins would be a pride of place for this article of clothing. Instead of serving as it should, the loin cloth has been balled up like a useless rag and hidden in a cleft of a rock. So Israel, rather than cling to God, has sought solace in a foreign place, and having done so, they have lost their usefulness to God. For Israel, their purpose in the world relies upon it’s fidelity to God. Lose that, and lose direction and meaning.

Pride motives Israel. Love motivates God. So Israel must again face humiliation at the hands of a super power, another Egypt. History repeats itself for those unwilling to listen to the wisdom of the past. Where Israel sees this exile as the end, God sees this as the way forward to humility, a way back to fidelity, a way back to love.

John 13:1–17

In Jeremiah, we see a people to stubborn to serve God. In John, we see a God/Man so humble he is willing to wash feet. Many scholars now argue that the gospels picture Jesus as Israel. Jesus does what Israel could not do. Paul shows in Romans that no one else could have done it either – see Romans 1:18-25. Jesus loves without regard to social roles, taking the lowest job imaginable, feet washer. Horrified, the disciples refuse. The lessons of pride and humility from their past have yet to be understood. So either be washed or have no part of what Jesus is about. Jesus extends that warning to include the roll of servant. Serve as Jesus did or have no part of Jesus. Strong a statement as that is, consider the humility it requires to acknowledge that you serve God and not yourself. To do more than lip service to this notion, Jesus asks us to serve our neighbor as a way to show that we indeed love God.

BUT what remains a mystery is that the writer tells us that Jesus loved his own, and loved them to the end. The next line tells us that Judas has gone to betray Jesus. Jesus’ love for Judas has not changed, though Judas has changed. Jesus sees the writing on the wall and knows what is in Judas’ heart, but Jesus still loves him. No matter how stubborn, how prideful, how greedy, one might become, Jesus will still wash one’s feet. Jesus will still clean, restore, and make new. How mysterious and marvelous!

Daily Lectionary Reflection – Tuesday, July 7th

Jeremiah 28:10–17

Here we have a prophetic gorilla theater on full display. Jeremiah wears a yoke in the public space at God’s request. The message is clear, Judah and the nations will come under foot of Babylon. Enter Hananiah. Hananiah is one whom we have been warned about by the Lord. He is a false prophet calling Jeremiah’s message fake news. He counters Jeremiah’s narrative by symbolic action breaking the yoke. His messages proclaims a mild view of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. Having supposedly won the day, he settles into his routine as the people’s prophet.

Hananiah’s wrongful message has dire consequences. Countering the softened message of a short lived defeat, Jeremiah tells the truth, hard as it might be, that judgement comes by way of Babylon. In addition, Hananiah will not survive the year. Hananiah’s bad theology kills. How foreign to our contemporary ears! Too often preachers and self ordained prophets alike proclaim a Gospel that mimics the promises of God, without thought to what it might do to their people or to themselves. God’s provision for life, manipulates into God’s desire for you to be wealthy. God’s willingness to hear and answer your prayers, manipulates into empty prayers for empty things like parking spaces and discounts on cheap goods. Or worse, God will protect the faithful that gather to worship, so do not worry about wearing a mask.

Wrong thinking contributes to wrong behavior, just as wrong behavior contributes to wrong thinking. Jeremiah warns us weigh the words we use. Those in leadership have been trusted with the message of life, use it for such, and live.

Romans 3:1–8

Our sin and immoral choices does not make God look good. That’s Paul’s point. The counter point goes something like this…look at how sinful I was and continue to be so, but look how good God is for loving me and forgiving me. I sin, God forgives. The subtle message is, “I make God look good.”

Paul will take us to the limits of grace in the rest of Romans, but makes clear in this passage that our salvation from sin and death does not free us to continue in sin. Rather, we are to come out of the realm of sin and death, and into the realm of life and peace in Christ. As you now live for Christ, do so not at church only but in your work, in your home, and in your leisure. Using God’s grace as an excuse to not feel guilty about actively planning to swindle your partners OR to have an affair OR vote for an immoral candidate, doesn’t work for Paul or for God. Strive for the life that is at peace with God, one another, and self.

Daily Lectionary – Monday, July 6

Jeremiah 27:1–11, 16–22

Following God is not easy. This episode in the life of Jeremiah and Israel shows just that. Counterintuitively, the Lord tells Israel, by way of Jeremiah, to serve Babylon. When you read the word Babylon, think Egypt, think conquering super power, think pending doom and gloom. The Lord doesn’t say the expected, stand and fight or I will deliver you as I did when Egypt chased after you. No. The Lord says fold the hand you’re playing. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in serving? Arrogance has brought Israel to the point of disaster. Pride goes before the fall, so fall they must and learn to walk again in humility before God.

To complicate matters, the priests and prophets, those charged with communicating to God’s people God’s message, are telling a different message. They speak the message, perhaps the hoped for message, of God’s deliverance. That they should fight, resist, and not serve Babylon. Who to listen to? The established priests and trusted prophets? OR the rogue prophet Jeremiah? When voices of influence conflict in matters of faith, the faithful are in trouble. Discerning God’s voice is not a matter of simply trusting your pastor or favorite Christian author, but of prayer, meditation upon God’s Word, hearing from a broad spectrum of voices e.g. the tradition of Christianity, and asking if it is wise e.g. does it make sense according to what is known about God. In short, discerning God’s voice requires scripture, experience, reason, and tradition. A church that blindly follows the established leaders, will willingly go against God.

Romans 1:18–25

This selection from Romans asks us two questions that matter for our daily life with God. One, how am I actively suppressing the truth? Two, in what ways am I using stuff to replace the worship of God? Those two questions are premised upon the indictments made by Paul against the Greeks. They knew the truth and suppressed it for wicked purposes. In their deception, they deceived themselves into worshiping something other than the God they knew to be true. In short Paul says, where you find a lie, you will find an idol.

In our fragility and in our sinfulness, we are easily deceived and self-deceived. Rather than face the God of truth, we create gods to sponsor our programs for happiness, security, and acceptance. Doing so, we create a world of comfortable and comforting lies. Paul will push the reader of Romans to see that true happiness, security, and acceptance is placed in the incarnate God, Jesus the Christ. Such trust opens up a world where the Spirit of God leads the faithful through a transformative journey. God’s beloved are no longer slaves to sin, but set free by love to love.

July 4th

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Today, in America, much is made of the weighted word “freedom.” Paul, that great apostle, makes much of freedom in Galatians. Freedom, however, understood by Paul and by Americans in general differs substantially. The hyper individualized form of freedom Americans fight for, stands apart from what Paul understands as freedom. For Paul, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection defeated the oppression of sin and death. Jesus freed humanity to love God and one another. The heavy chains of hate, jealousy, envy, deception, and on, no longer hold us back from loving one another. The free and freeing love of God sets us loose to seek the welfare of the community. This is freedom. So celebrate everyday your freedom in Christ and love one another, as Christ has so loved you.

Daily Lectionary Reflection, Friday, July 3

Zechariah 2:6-13

The rambunctious bunch of prophets, eccentric and seemingly erratic, preach a message of repentance. Repent and return to the Lord. They preach the traditionalist party line, return to the ancient wisdom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Return to the Mount with Moses and follow the law of God. But the message is not an Israel first message. It is not a nationalist message to make Israel great again. Rather, as Zechariah, and others such as Isaiah, preach, the return to God expands the boundaries of national identity. “Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord…,” so the people of Israel will find themselves in the company of the many nations they have been embroiled with over the years. Again, this message is nothing but a conservative agenda to return to the roots of faith, to discover again the blessing that shall come through Abraham to all the nations, as promised by God in Genesis.

Zechariah came long before Jesus ever walked the earth. Abraham came long, long time before Zechariah. Yet, the promise of God, though delayed, came to fruition in Jesus. Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee so long ago but the promise of God fulfilled in him remains as fresh as the summer breeze. The theological word for this is hope. We have have hope because God has fulfilled promises in the past. We have hope because we have been promised heaven. The land of Canaan rests upon the horizons of our faith, the land we journey to everyday. It is the place where tears are wiped away, sickness is banished, and war is no more. The Spirit leads us, as through a wilderness, to the promised land. May we faithfully follow the Spirit’s leading.

Romans 7:7-20

The Daily Lectionary continues our reading of Paul’s discussion of both law and the Spirit. Notice that Sin is treated as a thing that influences us and coops things meant for good for evil purposes, in this case the law. Notice too that Paul treats the law as something that is not universally known. Many of a kind of Christianity would have it believed that the law, specifically the Big 10 commandments, are universally known, a kind of innate knowledge available to all people, in all places, at all times. Paul, however, says that we do not know covetousness until we know the law. We have to be taught what constitutes sinful action. We don’t know that lying is wrong until we read it as such. The law stands as God’s revelation to Israel. So it is revealed to those of faith what God desires and what constitutes as sin.

Many a tree has been cut down to produce literature that tells people how they are sinners, that they know they are sinners, because they have a shared moral basis upon a universally known moral law. These tracts litter hotel rooms, restaurant tables, and the sidewalk. This sort of evangelism is foreign to Paul and to the Gospel. God, by the Spirit, reveals to us that Jesus is God’s Son. In following Jesus, God reveals to us in Word and Table what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The moral life follows conversion, it does not precede it. Since conversion relies upon God’s revealed truth, evangelism depends upon testimony and giving witness to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.

Daily Lectionary Reflections Thursday, July 2

Zechariah 1:1-6 Return to Me

Zechariah the prophet has a message to Israel, return to me. Not a novel message, the prophet, a traditionalist, speaks to Israel again the Word. Repent! Return to your roots. How often the prophets are written off as liberal yahoos determined to get justice for the poor and marginalized, with little care for financial gain. Not a fan of unbridled capitalism or corrupt political figures, the prophets declare a word of judgment again and again. Yet, what does Jeremiah tell us? Return to the Lord, a message given to and followed by their ancestors. Such a conservatism seeks to renew God’s people through the simple message of return to God, worshipping God alone, and care for the poor.

What sort of church would we have today if such simple instructions were followed? Worship God alone, not capitalism. Worship God alone, not nationalism. Worship God alone, not cultural relevancy. What would the church look like if such a simple practice was followed?

What would our communities look like, if the church prioritized the needs of the marginalized over the needs of the wealthy? What would the church look like if the church prioritized the spiritual needs of the unbelieving world? Would the programming change? Would the membership grow? We know not because we have not…yet.

Romans 7:1-6

Until death do us part. Those words have been uttered by countless couples in their wedding vows. The vow says that it stands until one of them dies. Once dead, the vow no longer binds the two together. So too, when we are baptized, we die to the law and its requirements. Having been put to death, we are raised in Christ to new life. This new life places one in the hands of the Spirit of God. Paul tells us, in Romans, that the Spirit opens up for us communion with God, the constant presence of Christ, and unity with one another. Wedded to the law and find yourself separated from one another and from God.

Excursus: What is the law? For the early followers of Christ, the law was the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some zealous Jewish Christians insisted that to be a faithful Christian disciple, one must indeed follow Christ by following the Law. Or in other words, all non-jewish followers of Jesus must become Jews and observe all of the Law, while still worship Jesus as Lord. Paul argues extensively here in Romans and in Galatians that the Law, though good, was a limited good. Meant more as an interim caretaker for God’s people, as a way to prepare for the coming of God’s son. The Law, like any other system, can be coopted by sin and used for deathly purposes.

Following Jeremiah, who admonishes Israel to return to God, Paul asks the question about what have we added to the simple worship of God alone? Must one dress a proper way to properly God? Not use certain four letter words to rightly worship God? Must one be a Republican or Democrat to worship God? Simply worshiping God alone rewrites what we understand as essential for faithful worship and faithful. What has been added to the simple worship of God alone develops into the kind of idolatry that lead Israel away from God. So repent, and return to God.