Monthly Archives: May 2007

July 15

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July 15 2007
Ordinary 15 C

Luke 10.25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

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This story is extremely well-known, both in and outside the church, but we often miss just how edgy it is. The Samaritan just keeps on giving—he stops to help someone he despises (and who despises him), he spends a lot of money (two days wages up front), he even delays his journey and stays overnight with the wounded man. The wounded man allows himself to be cared for not only by a stranger, but by the lowest of low, the outcast, a member of a hated community. How does that feel?

It’s hard to allow yourself to be cared for. It’s also hard to care for someone to this degree. Both are behaviors we normally expect to exhibit only with and for our families—not for our neighbors, no matter what Jesus says. So perhaps what Jesus is saying is not only “everyone in the world is your neighbor, even if you don’t like them” but also “treat your neighbor like your family,” and “remember you don’t get to choose your family”—in other words, love them as you love yourself. If only it were so simple. This text is extremely demanding. We have to allow ourselves to be cared for, we have to care for others…we have to allow our contempt to be met with grace and we have to be the ones extending grace. It’s no easy task, and yet Jesus says “go and do likewise.”

July 8

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text for July 8
Ordinary 14

2 kings 5:1-14

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

This wonderful story invites us to reflect on the question: where do we find healing? In the story, the “powerful” people (Naaman, the king) have no idea where to find healing, while the “little” people (the slave girl, Naaman’s servants) seem to know just where to look and just what to do. It seems to suggest that power (wealth, status, control, etc.) can blind us to the possibility of healing, and that sometimes we have to be “brought low”, broken down, humbled, before we can find the healing we need.

July 1

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For July 1 (Ordinary 13)

2 kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

This is the story of perhaps the greatest prophet of Israel (Elijah) passing the torch (or the mantle) to his successor (Elisha). We spent a good bit of time talking about what it means to be a prophet and whether or not we are all called to be prophets. We concluded that, if a prophet is someone who shares God’s vision for the world, then we are all called to be prophets, whether in big ways or small ways. And if that’s the case, then maybe this story gives us some pointers on what it takes to be a prophet. Maybe the first thing to notice is that Elisha won’t give up and won’t stay put. Elijah keeps trying to get him to stop, to stay back, but Elisha keeps refusing. So one sign that Elisha is ready to be a prophet is that he stubbornly refuses to stop doing what he thinks God is calling him to do—even when Elijah tells him to! A second thing to notice is that, when Elijah asks Elisha what he wants, Elisha isn’t shy. He doesn’t say, “oh, I’m fine, really, don’t bother about me.” He says he wants double Elijah’s power! He asks for it all; he’s bold (brash?); he dreams huge dreams. There may be more here, but how might our lives (and the life of our congregation) be different if we stubbornly refused to be diverted from God’s call and if we were bold and dreamt big dreams?

June 24

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1 Kings 19.9-15a (The Message)

Elijah walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb. When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep.
Then the word of God came to him: “So Elijah, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve been working my heart out for God,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”
A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for God, because the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
God said, “Go back the way you came through the desert to Damascus.”

Galatians 3.26-29 (NRSV)

for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
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After much discussion of the traditional ways of interpreting these two texts, which seem at first glace to have very little to do with one another, we settled on two possible foci, which are related.

First we talked about looking for God in all the wrong places—how we would call things like tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes “acts of God” when the 1 Kings text tells us that God was not in those things for Elijah. We often think of God speaking in a big booming voice, doing miracles and making a big show, when really it’s the small voice, the gentle whisper, the silence where we can find God.

The related “point” is that we often think we understand God and the way God works—but the reality is that God is far beyond our comprehension and is constantly trying to show us God’s vision for humanity and the church—a community that does not make distinctions, a community where everyone is equal, a community where those who consider themselves privileged and those who consider themselves not-privileged live together as brothers and sisters, a community where all are one in Christ Jesus, a community where the still small voice can be heard.

June 10

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Luke 7.36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

After talking about a variety of things in the LSG, our conversation began to focus on this sentence: “her sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love.” Showing love is a response to the forgiveness and grace given us by God. We don’t earn forgiveness or grace with our love, we respond to grace with love.

We wondered whether it’s fair to assume that people who are not demonstrative are not forgiven, loving people, but that ended up getting put aside when we realized that the issue isn’t about going over the top showing love for Jesus–though that can be important–but the issue is simply in loving, period. The woman showed great love, in her way. Simon the Pharisee, however, does not appear to be even being a good host, let alone being loving. His demeaning words about the woman show that he has little love for people unlike him.

So the good news for us in this text is that we cannot earn our forgiveness–it’s given before we can ask or do anything. The challenge for us in this text is to live lovingly in response to the grace we’ve received. What does that look like?