Sunday, December 9, 2018

Just drop the blanket, Linus.

After preaching this morning on the story from Luke about the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds--you know it from Luke!-- I ran across this reference to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" from 2015. While watching that TV show, I was always amazed that a child--Linus, in this case, could recite scripture from memory. Some willing suspension of disbelief here. After all, it's "Peanuts."
Three years ago was the 50th anniversary of that Christmas TV classic. In one of many good commentaries on the show, Pastor Jason Sarokski noticed a visual cue that Charles Schultz had used to display a Christian truth. The animator had Linus drop his beloved blue blanket while he was reciting that story from Luke. The truth, from history and from the mouth of a child, is that God's coming to earth enables us to let go of the fake comfort, and embrace the radical truth of the story:
Like the hymn says...
Our hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood (death, for those of squeamish sensibility) and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

Who needs blankets. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bible in a Year Homestretch

At the beginning of January, I took up a reading schedule that has me reading the whole of the biblical text by the end of 2018. A few years ago our little church had a push to read the whole bible in 90 days! This is a little bit slower.
What's been different this time through? A little more awareness for me of the vast spiritual landscape that is contained within scripture, and a little more sadness that more people don't have access to this wonder. I keep motivated by having a 'checklist' which gives me satisfaction when I see what's been accomplished in the 'to do' list. I wonder what's being accomplished in me. Is God looking at God's own checklist, to see my soul progress? This pilgrim feels like God is accomplishing something for my soul.
In a few weeks, it will be done. Then what is God going to do next?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

July-Good inside reading weather

July starts out hot and muggy, perfect weather for indoors reading. If you're following the schedule with "the little church with a big mission" you'll be handed an opportunity to catch up.
We'll finish the Gospel of Luke, FINALLY finish the book of Psalms, tackle the little NT letters of Collosians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and complete 1 & 2 Chronicles.

Some questions to wonder about while you're reading:
1. You may notice that 1 & 2 Chronicles are a retelling of the history of the Kings (1&2). Why did our faith ancestors want to keep both the Kings and Chronicles in the bible, since they repeat many of the same events? That's a fair question. We sometimes ask the same question about the four gospels. Of what advantage to us is this diversity, and what, exactly is this diversity/difference between the Kings and the Chronicles?
2. Of the three NT letters for this month, only 1 Thessalonians is an 'undisputed' letter of Paul. The other two claim Pauline authority, and also include Timothy. What is at stake in understanding who wrote these letters?
3. Ending the Book of Psalms is a magnificent praise psalm, number 150, which has been set to modern music a number of times. Now that you've finished the book, can you imagine why our protestant ancestors used it as their only hymnbook?
4. I have asked us to reflect on each writing in the bible as being composed for a purpose. How can we imagine those writings being used? In what settings were they read or heard? The Gospel of Luke has sometimes been described as an "irenic" (peaceful) gospel, that is, written to propose that the followers of Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles, could have continued fellowship in their religious expressions in the synagogues. The split between Christians and Jews happened at some period, but it's hard to know the exact circumstances. Some point to the Council of Jamnia inserting a curse on Christians into the daily synagogue prayer, although that's disputed. How is Luke a gospel proposing peace?

Keep asking questions. Matthew 7:7-8 "‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. "

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Take and Read"--an invitation to the summer book club

If you are reading along the bible in a year schedule, you'll notice the four tracks that happen this month:
1. the gospel of Luke
2  two of the Pauline letters--Ephesians and Philippians
3. a look at a special Psalm--#119
4. the OT stories about the Kings (books 1 & 2) who succeeded King David, whose stories we read in 1 & 2 Samuel.
It's a lot to take in, but take heart! I want to continue to encourage your reading by promoting a 'summer book club' for June/July/August where those who feel led can meet in person on Sunday mornings for the book club discussion at 10am at Church of the Covenant. It's hard to do bible reading by yourself. I've always found that reading with a club enhances the experience. There are always people who see new things in scripture and whose experience can speak to my understanding. Last Sunday we touched on the experience of St. Augustine, whose life was transformed when he heard an invitation to 'take and read' the letter of Paul to the Romans as a young man. [See Augustine's Confessions, Book 8, Chap 12] Coffee will be served.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mark's Gospel

If you are reading the bible in a year with LCWABM ("little church with a big mission"), you are finishing the Gospel of Mark during May, ticking off those reading boxes as we make our way through the scripture. Being "methodical" is not the only way to appreciate the scope and power of the Gospels. Another way to appreciate the bible is to read it with mystics and poets. Macolm Guite is such. His blog post St. Marks Day included a sonnet and commentary about the evangelist represented by the lion.
The four evangelists--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--are represented in our sanctuary by the four medallions behind the pulpit.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Being Methodical in May!

When the whole world is turning pink, it's hard to concentrate on the sedentary practice of reading. I want to be outside, enjoying the weather. Spring has finally come. How can I keep up the motivation?
But she persisted!
I am a person motivated by methodology. When I can break up an assignments into smaller parts, and tick off a list of each task done, I can move through a long project with gusto. In fact, the physical action of checking off boxes actually motivates me to keep going. Do you have a similar way of rewarding yourself with accomplishment? Take advantage of knowing your motivational way and you'll be able to follow through on many projects. I like the method we've chosen to read the bible in a year, because it moves in 4 separate tracks: 1) the gospels, 2) the letters and other writings of the NT, 3) the wisdom literature of the OT and 4) the rest of the OT grouped by history and and prophets. It seems to me that the emphasis on the gospels being our primary biblical writings is the right one.
In May, the Bible-in-a-year readers move into the second half of the Gospel of Mark, keep moving through the letters of Paul in the NT by looking at 2 Corinthians and Galatians, and also tackle the history of the early kingdom of Israel by the book of Samuel, conveniently divided for us into parts 1 and 2 by the Greek translators of the Hebrew text in the version known as the Septuagint.
As we saw in Joshua and Judges, the books of 1 & 2 Samuel, and later 1 & 2 Kings, will continue a particular point of view--that of a theoretical Deuteronomic historian. The story keeps asking the question "What is God doing in our history that forms us as a people?" Are kings good or bad? It depends. We can ask why the Jews considered it important to preserve this point of view in their history.  The Book of Samuel is a theological evaluation of kingship in general and of dynastic kingship and King David in particular, the most celebrated King in all of Israel's history. The Kingdom of David lasted barely 40 years, but it became the touchstone of all history of the Jews. The main themes of the book are introduced in the opening poem (the "Song of Hannah"): (1), the sovereignty of Yahweh, God of Israel; (2), the reversal of human fortunes; and (3), kingship. These themes are played out in the stories of the three main characters, Samuel, Saul and David.
By reading the ending of the Gospel of Mark this month we have an opportunity to discuss the way in which early Christians encountered teachers and disciples. How did the church keep going after the death of all the earthly witnesses of Jesus?
The letter writing Paul is certainly part of the answer. His letter(s) to the church at Corinth and to the Galatians keep being relevant to gatherings of Christians today. Even as our electronic age makes the art of letter writing less and less practiced, more and more people have access to literature and literacy than ever before. How are we curating the collection of letters today? Paul's letters themselves are an amazing testament to the story of Jesus.
Finally, this month, we'll get all the way up to Psalm 118 in the Wisdom literature track. Keep singing! And yes, it's ok to read outside.

Easter Monday--notes on April's Reading the Bible in a Year

SORRY for the late PUBLISHING!
I meant to post this last month, but didn't get it done. Sorry, all.
We began a new calendar quarter of reading the Bible in a Year on Easter Monday, the first day of the Easter octave.  Christian history is full of traditions and teachings that are a vast reservior of wisdom for modern Christians. However we seldom take advantage of them. My Christian brothers and sisters from Africa are much more attuned to the wisdom of the ancestors when it comes to looking for wisdom in how we are to live.
The NT letter we are reading in the month of April is Paul's letter to the church at Corinth. Easter Sunday's lectionary text, and my preaching text from [Easter], came from the great 15th chapter of that letter, Paul's amazing defense of the resurrection. For Paul the only reality that governed his existence was the real, bodily resurrection of Christ that put him in touch with the grace of God. How Paul changed from a persecutor of the Way of Jesus into a tireless promoter of the Gospel is one of the great mysteries, but also great blessings in understanding Christian origins. The advice he was asked to give to the Corinthians and put down for them in this letter, is one of the great passages of pastoral wisdom collected in the first century after Jesus.
April's Gospel reading is from Mark. I remember that before we went on a pilgrimage to Israel with a group from my father's church, we were asked to read the Gospel of Mark, the shortest gospel, but the one that put the Jew Jesus into the immediacy of the Roman world, with all the complexities of that relationship right in the foreground. As we traveled the sites in Israel that Christian pilgrims visit, the scripture came alive for us in new ways. I was thrilled to see the places and sights that Jesus visited during his brief ministry. The ending of Mark provides great material for discussing how and why it was written--shorter or longer versions.
Our OT passages for April are the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth--stories from Israel's history after Moses and before its "kings." The stories describe the dilemmas of tribal organization without a strong central figure: how can the people defend themselves against enemies, internal and external, with different 'gods' and make a cohesive people? How can outsiders be part of God's people?
Finally in April, we make it through almost the whole Book of Psalms. Have you noticed how much of the identity of Israel is formed by singing its songs? Paying attention to what we sing and how we worship is part of our witness, too.
Keep Reading!
The reading schedule for reading the bible in a year can be found on the church website.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

TL;DR from Babylon Bee

Not able to keep up with the reading schedule for "Read the Bible in a Year?"

Best summary of the 66 books of the bible yet posted on Babylon Bee.
Yea, you can read this.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Did you make the one month marker?

LCWABM is attempting to read the bible in one year. That is, some of us in the church are. I am working to make my own daily bible reading schedule transparent and disciplined. I have to admit that it's hard. I just made the schedule in January--through the first part of the Missionary Discourse in Matthew, chapter 10, completed the Acts story of the council in Jerusalem, chapter 15, all the Psalms up to the 23rd, and finished the whole book of Genesis, the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs. It seems both familiar and new. I'm reading with eyes out for the relationships between all these texts, as well as ways to make them more familiar to the people I'm leading. Knowing and living these texts as our foundational stories has so much to do with the quality of our spiritual lives together. I'm grateful to the saints at 2666 Military Road for being intentional about this discipline. We can't appropriate the texts with understanding unless we are reading them in a community.
On to February!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bible Reading, more notes

Yesterday a colleague told me about visiting the new Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. He allowed that he was pleasantly surprised at 1) the high quality of the design displays and 2) the wide (or wider than expected) views about the bible that are depicted. Those of us from more progressive traditions have been skeptical, considering the museum's source of funding and inspiration. Since our LTWABM is reading the bible this year, I'm hoping to organize a trip and see for myself.
Reading the bible is always a daunting task. The last time our church attempted this, we went straight through, from Genesis to Revelation. This time, we're following a more divided reading plan, and it may be more disconnected than what we are used to. Peoples from aural and oral cultures were much more used to memorization and keeping large amounts of text in their heads. With modern-day reliance on printed material, always available, we don't use our brains that way.  When we read something in one part of the bible, it's not immediately apparent that we can remember another part and make a connection. I'm hoping that be reading different selections in the bible over time, people can see the relationships between the different parts of the text.
However, the reading plan we're following is designed for pacing, not necessarily content. The stories of the patriarchs in Genesis do come up again and again in later books of the OT, as well as the gospels and the rest of the NT. However, the reading schedule is not designed to match those passages. I'll be doing that in the Adult Sunday morning class at 9:45am. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Back to the Bible - starting observations

Some folks at LCWBM [Little Church With a Big Mission] are going to read the bible in a year. New Year resolutions or no, reading the bible is always a good practice. I hope to encourage us all, and have each encourage each to be stewards of our brains and hearts for bible reading.
Here are some of my notes from nearly two weeks into task.
The schedule has us reading a gospel passage, another NT passage, a couple of psalms (or other wisdom literature) and then something from the rest of the Old Testament each day. Just because of the volume of words in each category, we have to read gobs from the OT, while we read just little bits from the NT. I find myself racing through Genesis and just chewing on Matthew.
Genesis stories are familiar but I always find something new. Did I remember that Abraham passed off poor Sarah as his sister twice?  Sarah could have her own say in #MeToo. This is why I object to reading the bible as a handbook for behavior. On what basis could one look at Abraham as exemplary in everything he does? Yes, he is held up as faithful, but consistently righteous?  Yet, God counts him as righteous, as Paul remembers in his letter to the Romans.
I'm now reading the Psalms with more sympathy for the way the psalmists zero in on righteousness as a defining characteristic of this God we worship. They are constantly (at least in this first section of the Psalms) contrasting God's righteousness with peoples' lack of righteousness. Psalm 1 has it right--there are two ways to be oriented in the world--one way leads to a flourishing life and one way leads to death. Judgement, meaning the ability to exercise discernment about which is which--is the characteristic that the psalmists seem to want to impart. Paying attention to the bedrock characteristics of Israel's God--justice and mercy--is the way that leads to life.
Those Acts passages we read last year in the Tuesday bible study group, are now getting another pass through, too.
I want to start reading with a hyperlink button so that I can annotate passages with a link to where they are re-iterated or re-interpreted in another part of the bible. It's fascinating!
Matthew, the thoroughly Jewish gospel, is the gospel to start making those NT - OT connections. That opening geneology? A connection to the patriarch Abraham, so that we will know that the NT is a continuation of the OT story.