Tag Archives: the bible

Gospel Reflection for April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday

31 Mar

Sunday Readings: Acts 10.34,37-43; Colossians 3.1-4 (Easter Vigil: Mark 16.1-7);  John 20.1-9 (10-18)

“I have seen the Lord,” Mary Magdalene announces to the community of Jesus’ disciples when she returns from encountering her Teacher on Easter morning (John 20.18). Jesus sends her as the apostle to the apostles to tell them, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We share Jesus’ relationship with God. That’s a wow.

Personally I am a late comer to relationship with Jesus. It is creation that awakened me to divine presence in the world—in the flowering ditches of my childhood and the meadows of mountain hikes.  It is the wonder of seeds sprouting, rooting, growing, multiplying that grounds my faith. In my deepest adult experience of God it is the Spirit I found underlying my existence, affirming I was okay.

Jesus lives his life so fast. He encounters opposition as soon as he opens his mouth in Galilee. Although he prays that God take the cup of suffering from him, he faces it. In the three short last days he makes bread and wine signs of his wholehearted self-giving; he undergoes the pain and humiliation of his passion, and dies on the cross.

However, now that I am older and go to funerals for family and more frequently, I see the Lord in lives lived long and slowly, lives poured out over years of days for spouses and children, for the good of neighbor and the common civic good.

I watched sisters in their 90s walk slowly into the Vespers that welcomed the Vatican visitors to our congregation. These women have poured out their lives endlessly for the work of the gospel and aren’t done yet. They were among the women the Vatican was investigating and in whom I see the Lord.

In whom have you seen the Lord?

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Gospel Reflection for March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday

24 Mar

Sunday Readings: Mark 11.1-10; Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; Mark 14.1-15.47

“When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve…. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is pour out for many.  I will never drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God'”.

(Mark 14.17, 22-25)

 Jesus refers to sharing the cup as a covenant, a new agreement about our relationship with God.  Ancient Israel ratified its covenant in blood, signifying that the people pledged with their lives to keep the terms of the covenant, the ten commandments.  The community that tells Jesus’ story understands his gestures at the last supper as a new covenant that expresses his willingness to love them unto death.

What do you promise with your life?

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Gospel Reflection for March 22, 2015, 5th Sunday of Lent

16 Mar

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 5.7-9; John 12.22-33

“The hour has come in which the Son of Man will be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will be bear much fruit.”

(John 12.23-24)

In John’s gospel the hour of Jesus’ death is the moment when God will glorify Jesus’ name. A dynamic process begins, a passing over, a planting that will bear fruit a hundred fold. In being lifted up — first on the cross and ultimately from the tomb — Jesus will draw all people to himself.

At the heart of Christian faith is Jesus’ life-giving resurrection from his self-giving death. In death Jesus entrusts his life to God, the same life-giving Creator that hides the promise of new life in seeds. Jesus’ imminent death will no more be an end than Lazarus’s death was or than the planting of a seed is.

What is the hour in which you are living right now?

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Gospel Reflection for March 15, 2015, 4th Sunday of Lent

10 Mar

Sunday Readings: 2 Chronicles 36.14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2.4-10; John 3.14-21

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have life forever.”

(John 3.16)

Jesus’ mission is not to condemn the world but to save it. He calls us who believe in him to do likewise. Like Nicodemus, we find this hard to understand. We are accustomed to the harsh realities of our world, such as terrorism, collateral damage, market forces, corporate downsizing, beheadings. We take the daily condemnation and crucifixion of millions of our fellow human beings for granted. But, as Nicodemus eventually does, we, too, by the grace of God, can leave our destructive deeds behind and come to the foot of the cross to stand in the light of the one like us who lifted us up. We can begin now to see God’s kingdom in our midst and live the new life Jesus brings.

Who can I or we take down from their crosses? Whose sorrow and pain can we help nurse?

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Forgiveness

5 Mar
Photo via Flickr user Quantumlars

Photo via Flickr user Quantumlars

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. –Matthew 18: 23-35

Ok, nothing like a light, cheery story to start your day. The only comfort we can find in this passage, amidst the throwing people into prison and the handing people over to be tortured is that fact that it’s a parable. The allegory is clear. We’re the slaves, and it’s not going to go over well with God if we don’t forgive the people in our lives. But maybe Jesus doesn’t expect us to take the parable literally? We hope?

We can get lost in the weeds, digging into the details here: A talent is a whole heck of a lot more than a denarius, so the Lord is forgiving a much larger debt than the slave refuses to forgive his peer. We could muse about how hard it is to ask for patience from other people, how humiliating it is to admit that we need more time, more help, more money. But we can only skirt around the last two verses for so long. This forgiveness thing is serious. Scary serious.

So he means it—that we are actually supposed to do the impossible– forgiving not just seven times but seven times seven. Or in other words, always, all the time. Perhaps Jesus wants to blow our hair back a bit here with this violent parable because of those last two words—your heart. It is your heart on the line. Refusing to forgive, as the Buddha points out, is like grasping hot coal to throw at another. It is the throwers hand that gets burned. Holding onto hurt hurts us. Forgiving is our healing work, too. When we are brave enough to forgive from our own heart, it is our heart that is changed. That heart change frees us to live more fully, to love more fiercely, to know God more closely.

Forgiveness is the way out. It opens up a whole new future full of possibility. The landowner shows the slave the way out, but he doesn’t choose to follow. God shows us the way by forgiving us every day. Then, God invites us to give it a try, to find freedom in letting go of the need to keep score, letting go of the anger inside of us. We’ll fall short. Of course. We’re human. But the more we ask for God’s patience and recognize that we are shown mercy, the more courageous we can be to have a change of heart ourselves.

Gospel Reflection for March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent

3 Mar

Sunday Readings: Exodus 20.1-17; 1 Corinthians 1.22-25; John 2.13-25

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

(John 2.16)

Jesus’ cleansing the temple calls us to clean our houses this Lent — to examine our hearts. Our fast-paced, productive lives can erode our relationships with God, make us feel like cogs in the wheels of commerce rather than friends of God, who live and love in friendship with the Giver of Life. Coffee and conversation can help us reengage with those we love. Walks in the emerging spring can reawaken our connectedness to all that is, our place in the holy whole that is our Earth home. They can stir us to get practical about caring for creation where we live. Lent calls us to assess what we consume and what consumes us. It calls us to revive our faith in resurrection as a continuing process in our lives.

What housecleaning do you need to do in our life? How can we help clean up our biosphere so life on Earth becomes sustainable? What is one thing you can do?

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Gospel Reflection for March 1, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Lent

24 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 22.1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8.31-34; Mark 9.2-10

“Suddenly looking around, Peter, James, and John no longer saw anyone with them — only Jesus.”

(Mark 9.8)

The Orthodox Church sees in the transfiguration what the whole of Christian life is about — transformation into Christ. Prayer leads to transforming communion with God. This mystical experience to the prophetic; communion leads to action.

Both Jesus and his disciples need the profound, prayerful heartening of the transfiguration moment to sustain them on the journey to Jerusalem and beyond. Life at the foot of the mountain will test the vision.

What vision for your Christian future are you testing at the foot of the mountain?

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What Else?

20 Feb
via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.” The man asked, “What in particular?” Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.” The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

–Matthew 19:16-22

I identify with the young man in this story, so much so that I have to chuckle. I am a doer, an achiever, one who wants to earn God’s love and promises on my own accord. In school and more recently as an employee, I acted like this young man, saying to my teachers and supervisors, “Ok, done. Did that. Checklist complete. What’s next? What else can I do?” Read: How can I show you even more how competent, efficient and productive I am and thus gain your respect and approval?

I even acted like the young man in Matthew 19 during Lent. I got good at giving things up as a young girl. When I was twelve I gave up soda and candy and eating between meals. It was easy. So then decided to give things up and do more good. For example, one Lent I sent a nice note to someone different every day in addition to giving up everything I thought to be a vice. Look at me go, God.

The young man in Matthew goes so far as to treat the Ten Commandments like a checklist. Check, check, check. Got it. Now what? What else can I do? What is next? I, like this young man, was looking to Jesus for the same rewards I got from my teachers and bosses. Jesus, like he so often does in his ministry, elevates the conversation. He let’s me and the young man know that we are not even playing the right game. Following Jesus requires a lighter load.

The season of Lent is a time that invites us to downshift our lives. We take a deep breath, look around, and take stock of what we are holding tightly and what we can’t bear to let go. Jesus gives us a hint that it’s probably the wrong stuff, and it’s the stuff that is limiting us from following him. For years, I couldn’t bear to let go of my accomplishments. I clung to my competence and my ability to do do do more and do it well. And when I was finished, I’d go back to see what else there was for me to do. I don’t need to let go of chocolate and add more to my Good Samaritan to-do list. This Lent, I am praying about playing the wrong game. It’s not about doing more. What I cling to is doing more. For me, it is about embracing the being part of human being. Following Jesus means letting go of the spiritual checklist to be more free to love.

Gospel Reflection for February 22, 2015, 1st Sunday of Lent

19 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 9.8-15; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.12-15

“Immediately after his baptism the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.”

(Mark 1.12)

Every Lent we tend to own up to our self-destructive habits and recommit to become more kind, loving, and prayerful, to say nothing of healthier. What if it is our affections that pull us more strongly to accomplish our dreams than the ascetic disciplines we often consider?

What if our senses are not the problem, leading us into temptation at every side, but are the catalysts for meeting the people in our lives? The senses are doorways to community. They stir our memories of connections with others and open our hearts to those we see, hear, and touch each day.

What if we need to fall in love again with those closest to us, giving them time and ear to reengage? What if we make a point this Lent to do with family and friends what unfailingly brings us joy and recharges our batteries?

With whom or what might you fall in love again this Lent?

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Sin of Hiding

13 Feb

In my undergraduate program, a fellow religion major wrote her thesis on the shadow side of Augustine’s Confessions. The sin of arrogance, for example, has a shadow side: the sin of hiding. It has stuck with me because at times Augustine’s writing is easy for me to dismiss in my personal life. My struggles are different than his. Like Aristotle’s virtues, it’s helpful for me to remember that there are two ditches to avoid, the excess and the deficiency. After reading through Matthew 6 with high school students

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

I asked them, “Do you know any showy Christians?” I got a resounding affirmative, accompanied by groans and eye rolls. “Okay, what does that look like in your world, when Christians are showy?”

“There are people in my school who are really vocal about their faith on Twitter and can go over the top. It seems a little inauthentic because it is just words.”

“Or the kids who hang out with people who drink but need everyone to know that they don’t drink, like they are better somehow.”

“How about the football players who gather to pray in the middle of the field? It makes me wonder if people of different faiths feel excluded.”

I wondered, due to the strength of their negative reaction, if in their quest to not be showy, they were hiding. I didn’t even have to raise the idea of a shadow side. One young woman pushed back, “Is there a difference between showing off and being authentic? Aren’t there times when it is appropriate to claim your story and beliefs publicly?”

We talked about how, as a group, we tend to be good at taking verses like Matthew 6:16-18 seriously. We can take it too far, as stoic Scandinavians, and hide. We use passages like this one to justify our hiding. I’m guilty of it. Sometimes I write safe, not venturing into controversial territory so as to not offend. Telling people that I teach theology, what I see assumptions and projections in their nonverbal, subtle reactions makes me want to downplay my role to the next person. I let the showy Christians have the floor. But there is room for my story, there is space for my beliefs if I am brave enough to come out of hiding.

In Matthew 6 we talk about using oil while fasting instead of looking somber. Today social media raises new questions about the heart of the verse in our quest to follow Jesus’ teaching. The #UseMeInstead campaign is one example, or maybe we’ll see another round of #Ashtag next week. Where is the line between acts of integrity and acts of arrogance using our faith for good versus using our faith for harm? Where is the line between my public faith and my private practice? Knowing my tendencies, it’s important for me to remember that there is a tension to be sought day in and day out between the sin of arrogance and the sin of hiding.

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