Sunday, January 25, 2009

Third Sunday After Epiphany - Year B

really fake looking fake money

This week's Lectionary readings are:

I've always liked this story from Jonah. Jonah prophesies, the people listen and repent, and God listens and staves off the threatened destruction. Later, people complain about the prophecy (and prophet) being false. I don't have any great conclusions, just new thoughts every time I read it. Today, it reminds me of staying up all night to make sure that there were no problems with the Y2K switchover (and installing last minute patches.) Like so many companies, because we worked hard (and because the people in Australasia worked out the bugs) everything went well when the moment came.

Psalm 62:10b, if riches increase, do not set your heart on them, reminds me of something my father told me about investments during the recessions of the 70's and 80's - it's only paper money. His theory was that until you cashed out your investment to use it for something else, any profit or loss was only on paper. A good reminder for these times, or any others.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Second Sunday after Epiphany - Year B

colorful image of Jesus with 4 disciples in front of 2 ships and a fisherman and a lot of seagulls

This week's Lectionary readings are:

Several things from this weeks readings stuck out at me.

One was I Samuel 3:1b The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. I think it's an interesting reminder that prophets and visionaries may not always be readily apparent, but that doesn't mean that they don't exist or that the Lord isn't speaking to us. And like Samuel, we may not be aware that that is what is happening.

Another interesting line is Psalm 139:6 Such knowledge [that God has] is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. This is a key concept in my faith. I believe that many holy things are way beyond my understanding and I can only understand them imperfectly. That means that I (and the community of believers) can believe things that are later shown to be false because it was the best our limited human understanding could do at the time.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baptism of the Lord - Year B

Fresco depicting John the Baptist baptising Jesus amongst a crowd of onlookers

The Lectionary reading for the Baptism of the Lord is:
Today's reading is the second lectionary reading of Epiphany, somewhat jarringly to me, it is the first this lectionary year which deals with Jesus as an adult. It's like, Boom! Tuesday he was this baby getting gifts from the 3 Kings, today he's a an adult getting baptised. Speaking of adults getting baptised. I think there is a lot to be said for waiting to be baptised until you are at least old enough to understand what's going on and remember it. Certainly this was the case with Jesus. His parents took him to the temple to be redeemed as a baby, but as we see in theMark reading, it wasn't until he was an adult that he decided he should be baptised.

I recently read an interesting comment on Genesis 1 in a book by Jim Seybert. He points out that God didn't start by thinking about something, planning something, or discussing something, he created something and sometimes that's just what we need to do - create something.

With all the recent readings from and this week about Paul, I'd like to point out an interesting blog post I found about Paul - Declaring War on Saint Paul. Interestingly, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago where I told him (in response to him telling me that he had major problems with Christianity because of Paul) that I thought that most of what Paul had to say needs to be filtered by the fact that he pretty obvously had some serious zeal of the convert stuff going on (particularly with regard to perfectionism) that had he lived longer he probably would have moderated. Then this weekend I've seen several references similar to what I told my friend. It's funny what you find when you start looking for it.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany of the Lord - Year B

Colorful image of Mary holding Jesus in the stable with the 3 wise men, a donkey and a horse

Epiphany is also known as "3 Kings Day" and I think I may have been an adult before I was aware that the wise men didn't arrive on the night that Jesus was born (not that that was likely to have been December 25th.) Then again, most of what I know about the Christmas story I learned from playing with the nativity scene.

Today's Lectionary readings are:

I was particularly taken by the last 3 lines from the psalm (Psalm 72:12-14):
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.[NRSV]

This is very much a description of what Jesus did in his lifetime.

WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) is a common catch phrase you hear a lot. And even for those who take their faith beyond catch phrases, the Messiah (whether we believe him to have appeared or are still waiting), like the prophets, is someone we should look to as a model for our behavior. This seems like good behavior for us to model.

Image Attribution:
He, Qi. The Magi, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 7, 2014]. Original source:
Blogged with the Flock Browser

20141206 typo and link corrections, added attribution for image

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Second Sunday After Christmas - Year B

Young girl jumping on top of a grassy hill

This week's Lectionary reading is:
I don't think I've mentioned that when the Lectionary puts verses in parenthesis, they are optional. Also, when the reading calls for verses from the Apocrypha, the Lectionary provides alternative verses from the Hebrew Bible or New Testament for those who don't include the Apocrypha in their canon.

Comparing current news and the reading from Jeremiah makes it hard to believe that the Messiah has come. However, I reject that argument. I certainly don't want to get into appologetics, but I'm sure that the situation depicted in Jeremiah 31:12:
They shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow to the goodness of Yahweh, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. [WEB]
has occurred multiple times over the last ~2000 years. (For that matter, it could be talking about after the Second Coming but I'm not even going to get into that here.)

Many Palestinians are unitarian Christians, so I feel an extra tie to them. However, any kind of violence and terrorism is wrong and I pray for a quick resolution, healing for those who are harmed and limited damages, injuries, and deaths.

I found the first half of the last verse (18) of the John reading interesting, it says No one has seen God at any time. Yet, the stories of the early prophets (Abraham, Isaac, ...) include a number of stories of talking with or seeing God.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day - Year B

In honor of Public Domain Day, all quotes given are from the public domain World English Bible (WEB). Being in the public domain is only one of the reasons I use the WEB translation regularly. Today's image is not public domain, but it is under a Creative Commons license.

3 angels blowing trumpets with branches from pine tree in the background, captioned Happy New Year 2009 to All of You (c) 2008 CIEBILSKI Photography (released under Creative Commons Attribution / Non-Commercial License)

There are actually 2 potential reading for January 1st, one for New Year's Day and one for the Holy Name of Jesus/Mary Mother of God. The intention is that a congregation can celebrate one or the other.  Since I'm not feeling particularly spiritual at the moment, I'm doing the readings for New Year's Day.

The lectionary readings for New Year's Day are:

I've always liked this reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, which is probably better known these days as the song Turn! Turn! Turn! You can listen to it using the widget below, which comes from one of my employer's business partners who I therefore know is very careful about getting legal permissions to stream songs (Lala.) (Not one of our artists though!)

The thing I like about this reading - beyond the poetry of it, which is fantastic - is that it reminds us that there is a time for all things. It is not necessarily that war or recession or hording stuff is bad, it is that it has it's place and we need to determine if now is the proper place and time. Likewise, when it is the time for things that are difficult, bad, sad or uncomfortable, the time for their opposite - the easy, good, happy, and comfortable will come. We don't always have to love everyone, build up, and be joyful - sometimes those aren't appropriate responses. I also very much like the meaning in the later (9-13), less poetic verses:
What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God.[WEB]

We should enjoy our work and our time off. We should do good as we can. We should party (rejoice) as we can. And although it's clearer in the NRSV than the WEB, God has given us the gift of understanding past, present and future so that we can take comfort and strength from past memories and future plans.

Psalm 8:5-8 :
For you have made him a little lower than God,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You make him ruler over the works of your hands.
You have put all things under his feet:
All sheep and cattle,
yes, and the animals of the field,
The birds of the sky, the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes through the paths of the seas.[WEB]

along with Genesis 1:26-30
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.[WEB]
and Genesis 9:2-3
The fear of you and the dread of you will be on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the sky. Everything that the ground teems with, and all the fish of the sea are delivered into your hand. Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As the green herb, I have given everything to you.[WEB]
are often used to prove that God has given the earth for people to use. What doesn't seem to be taken into account in those discussions, and I think should (particularly since it's in the context of BOTH the Genesis stories and I think to a large extent the point of putting it in the psalm), is that "with great power comes great responsibility."

I think the point of this section of the psalm is that God thinks so much of us that he trusts us with this amazing responsibility. And the counter-point of trust is living up to it, not taking advantage of it, as I think most people - myself included, tend to do. My friend, Craig, has a video highlighting humanity taking advantage of dominion over cows called bovinity. It's somewhat disturbing and I don't necessarily agree with all of his presentation (I'd highlight things he ignored and ignore some he highlighted if I were doing it), but he's a very interesting videographer and it's definitely on topic.

An aside on the source of "with great power comes great responsibility". I went looking for the source of this quote so I could properly attribute it. In his blog, Rabbi Josh Waxman attributes it to a maamar (formal statement/discourse by a rabbi) by Rabbi ben Chaviva (details and background including an earlier reference to the Mishnas here.) My Hebrew scholarship is not good enough to find a date. There are a number of other theories as to it's origins, including references to similar statements in the New Testament (Luke and one of the Epistles.) All three of these originate in Judaism in the 3 centuries before or after the birth of Jesus, so Waxman's attribution is probably correct. The many people who attribute the original quote to Stan Lee - well they are probably wrong, even if Mr Lee is extremely talented.

As for the Matthew reading, first off, I believe that the last line (25:46) where Jesus sends those who were uncharitable into eternal punishment(WEB), we are seeing the human side of Jesus. He is still human at that time and I personal believe that God is too good to eternally damn anyone (Yeah, yeah, pesky unitarian) and that we have ample evidence to show that. (That said, I'm not saying I believe God lets you be purposely mean and evil and have no consequences in the afterlife. Something like the LDS viewpoint seems like a good explaination to me, see here and here.)

However, I also think it is very important for us to remember and practice verses 36 & 36:

.. I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.

where "me" is clarified in verse 40 as inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me[WEB - equivalent translation from notes] Remember that this is not only a Christian tradition, there are similar statements about hospitality toward strangers and those in need in the Hebrew bible. I'm guilty of not always living this one. I'm very good at remembering that the stranger, the poor, the homeless and the vulnerable is a person just like me and speaking to them as such, but I'm not as good at pitching in and helping them. Part of this is because I feel vulnerable to being taken advantage of or worse (as a short female who tends to see the best in people and be nice, I think I get taken advantage of more than most people.) And part of it is because I feel powerless to do anything that is truly helpful, rather than condescending, enabling, or well-meant but detrimental. (My friend, Terrie Lynn Bittner, has an excellent article about this here.) Or at least, I feel powerless to do something actually useful without putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation. In my defense, however, I have had people come back to me and tell me that my treating them with compassion and as an equal when they were troubled strangers made all the difference to them. However, I would still like to be able to back my words with effective actions.
Blogged with the Flock Browser