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11.17.19

Readings

Psalm 98  •  Isaiah 65:17-25  •  Malachi 4:1-2a5  •  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  •  Luke 21:5-19

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Psalm 98 (Responsive Reading)

Once again we are reminded that only God is truly God.  Last week we saw King David himself proclaim that an earthly King is not, and never will be, God. Psalm 98 takes that acknowledgement a bit further by proclaiming the fact that God is God is enough to call us to a joyful praise in the midst of every circumstance and situation.  Not only does our recognition of God bring us to praise but it also brings us to a joy filled trust in God as the one that judges each of us. A true knowledge of God brings us to a expectation of the new and renewed he brings to us.

Isaiah 65:17-25

In this third part of the book of Isaiah, the prophet begins to tell the people what God will do after the exile.  During the time in Babylon, the exiled Jews had been slaves, building houses for others to live in and basically never seeing the fruits of their labors.  In this look at the future, Isaiah tells the people that God is creating something new where they will see the fruits, experience health, and know freedom.  More importantly, the people will not remember the pain of their path and will experience forgiveness of their sin.  While this prophesy is often used by Christian eschatologist, it is directly written to the exiled Israelites to grab hold and prepare to be a part of this new work that God is doing.  It is a call to watch and work, mostly, however, it is a call to trust God.

Malachi 4:1-2a5

Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament addressing the people after the exile and after temple is rebuilt.  While being a prophesy of certain hope, Malachi is primarily pronouncing the sinful nature of the priests and people.  In the short time since the exiles have returned, rebuilt the temple and restored Jerusalem and Judah, they have also turned their backs on God once again. This short passage from Malachi confronts the sin of the people while reminding them, once again, of the healing and restoration that awaits at their return to God.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

The church at Thessalonica was a community of believers that truly needed each other.  They were considered an enigmatic group to the non-believers of the city and a threat to the political and religious leaders.  Most in the church at Thessalonica did not have a Jewish past and were susceptible to the false teachers traveling through the area.  They also were faced actual persecution and, sometimes, were not allowed the basic freedoms of purchasing food and needed goods for their own survival.  They needed each other to help navigate life and faith.  There were those in their midst who had a very questionable faith combined with a draining one sided manner of relating.  They were not really functioning members of the Christian community but rather were selfishly using the other believers.  Paul tells the church to treat these questionable believers with the love of a brother while, at the same time, not permitting them to cause an undue burden on, or a distraction to, the church.

Luke 21:5-19

Jesus is now in the temple at Jerusalem with his disciples during the week leading up to his crucifixion.  As they stand in the temple an elderly widow give all that she has in the offering but the followers of Christ only seem to notice the man-made beauty of the building and ornaments. Jesus confronts their inability to see the sacrifice of the widow and instead focusing on things that will soon be torn down and destroyed.  As Christ points out their failure to see God’s work he addresses their priorities and faith knowing that they are soon to face a loss that will challenge everything they see as valuable.

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Haggai 1:14-2:9  •  Psalm 145  •  Job 19:23-27a  •  2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17  •  Luke 20:27-38

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Haggai 1:14-2:9 (it may help to also read Ezra 3:8-13)

The exiled Israelites are now back in Jerusalem, and Judah, after seventy plus years in exile and slavery.  They are rebuilding from the damage created by their own disobedience before the exile as well as the destruction of the invading Babylonian forces.  There is a great deal of vision, excitement, and exhaustion but also, among the elder returnees,  there is much disappointment.  The older generation, while excited to be home, remembers the beauty and grandeur of the past.  They watch the foundation laid for the new temple and see that it is smaller and in no way compares to the past glory of their memories.  While others cheer, this generation weeps.  The prophets remind them of God’s outpouring in their release from captivity and that he has much more to bless and give – but also caution that God’s new work may not look the same or live up to what they think was superiority of the past.

Psalm 145 (responsive reading)

The Psalm, written by King David, is a personal, and national, recognition that God is God and a King is not God.  Following slavery, the people who are still discovering themselves as well as well as grasping who God is, are now free but under the thumb of the Persian Empire who conquered the Babylonians.  They have demanded of God, and received, their own King, but now are having to learn that a King is not God – and, it is their own King who is making this proclamation.  This moment is emphasized through a recognition of who God is and all that he has done.

Job 19:23-27a

Job is struggling.  His life has been turn upside down and now he is thought to hold the blame for his own suffering.  A great deal of the book of Job is an account of his quest, and demand, for vindication of this perceived guilt.  In chapter 19 he is now vacillating between receiving this vindication post mortem via a relative who can attest to his innocence or, his true desire, to hear and see God proclaim Job’s innocence.  His desire for an earthly, and eternal, vindication comes at the end of the book of Job as God meets him – then, Job is satisfied.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Someone, or some group, has stirred up the church at Thessalonia teaching that the end days, the time of judgement (the Day of the Lord), are upon them. While many, even today, mistake this passage as being fully apocalyptic (end times teaching), it is actually a message of comfort and peace.  Paul reminds the church of what God has done while encouraging them to keep holding tight to God and what they have already been doing.  Paul tells the church to not be deceived by these false teachers of division and fear and, instead, to let the God of love and grace comfort and strengthen their hearts so they can do the same in the midst of their community.

Luke 20:27-38

The Sadducees were a community of priests who did not believe in the afterlife or resurrection.  They were, as a rule, more legalistic than the other primary priests community, the Pharisees.  In Luke 20 we see Jesus, now in Jerusalem and in the temple, facing an onslaught of religiously motivated intellectual attacks by the different religious leaders.  Our focus passage involves a group of Sadducees who attempt to engage Jesus in a debate about the reality of resurrection and life after death. They do this through a less than subtle legalistic approach revealing their attitudes towards women.  As the Sadducees think they have a fool proof plan to ‘win’ intellectually against Jesus, they instead, have many of their own faulty beliefs destroyed. Jesus not only presents proof of the resurrection, from the sadducees’ own accepted source, he also discredits their non-belief about angels. In the end, all the different religious leaders give up their effort to defeat Jesus on an intellectual and religious front choosing to walk away for the moment.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 31:27-34  •  Genesis 32:22-31  •  Psalm 119:97-104; 121 •  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5  •  Luke 18:1-8

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Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob, the primary character in this passage, comes from a long line of ‘less than perfect’ humans and greatly dysfunctional family environments. His grandfather, Abraham, twice gave his own wife away in an act of self protection, grew impatient with God’s promise so he birthed a child with his wife’s servant and then sent the child away to keep peace with his wife. Jacob’s own parents, Isaac and Rebekah, pitted Jacob and his brother Esau against each other through their blatant favoritism. It is no surprise, then, that Jacob continued to perpetuate this ‘less than perfect’ husband and father tradition creating an equally unhealthy life environment. Our passage today begins after Jacob has decided to return to his birth family and home. His decision was made after angering his in-laws and fearing for his life. The journey home was a fearful one for Jacob – he had originally left his own family fearing for his life after stealing brother Esau’s birthright. Now, after decades apart, Jacob was about to reunite with his brother having no idea if the brother was still furious and justifiably vengeful. A wrestling match, a new name, a painful limp, and a surprising reunion are all pivotal moments on Jacob’s journey home.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 We are nearing the end of our journey in the writings of Jeremiah and now see him preparing the people for the time that they will be able to return home to Judah. Jeremiah specifies two primary lessons in this passage. 1) each person bears personal responsibility for their own sin which cannot be blamed on their parents or others, and 2) their new relationship with God will be personal and internal rather than external and institutional. There will be a personal responsibility for repentance and personal accountability in life.

Psalm 119:97-104; 121 Our verses in chapter 119 remind us that wisdom and purity come from our own meditation on God’s truth. In Chapter 121, our responsive reading, reminds us that our true help comes from God.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Following the the teachings/cautions from Paul to Timothy about the coming false teachers, the conversation now turns to foundational truth. Paul begins to bring his mentoring letters to a close by focusing Timothy’s teaching, leading, living, and correcting on a foundation of truth.

Luke 18:1-8 Our focus passage this week is another strange parable from Jesus in which the focus is an odd mix of prayer, persistence and justice. Jesus makes a, possibly confusing and troubling, comparison between an unjust judge and God. Take a moment to let yourself wrestle with this comparison as well as the overall take-away for you from this parable.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12  •  2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111  •  2 Timothy 2:8-15  •  Luke 17:11-19

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Psalm 66:1-12 Our responsive reading comes from Psalm 66 – a praise to God for the deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt. The first twelve verses focus on remembering and praising God for their deliverance.  In the remainder of Psalm 66 the Psalmist turns from a remembering praise that is internal to a remembering praise that is external, a physical response –  a demonstrative transformation.

2 Kings 5:1-15 The common thread in the books of Kings is the rulers’ abuse of power and God’s provision of the prophets to provide accountability.  Elisha, who followed Elijah as the prophet of the Northern Kingdom – Israel, is in the beginning stages of his ministry.  The successful captain of the army of Aram (an adjacent country – current day Syria – and frequent enemy to Israel), a man named Naaman, is sent to see Elisha to be healed of leprosy (a situation which terrifies the King of Israel). The entire story is an interesting tale of the unexpected avenues of rescue and transformation.  A slave girl from Israel tells Naaman’s wife about the miraculous acts of Elisha and then the healing is almost sidetracked by Naaman’s own arrogance.

Jeremiah 29:1-7 A familiar text to us as we see Jeremiah addressing those who have already been, and those who are about to be, exiled from Judah.  He tells them that they are to continue on with life in the midst of their slavery for the decades to come.  They are to build homes, have children and give their children in marriage….and to work to make their captors successful.  An ironic instruction as Jeremiah himself was forbidden, by God, from marriage and having children due to the fact that they would be part of the coming exile and slavery.

2 Timothy 2:8-15 Last week we saw Paul reminding Timothy to remember his faith.  Now, Paul is calling Timothy to a security and confidence in that faith and of truth itself.  The reason for this urgency of faith is that Timothy is about to come face to face with false teachers who are set on misleading the church.

Luke 17:11-19 Our gospel reading takes place after the parables we have seen in the past weeks the teaching about faith from last week.  Jesus, as he is during most of the gospel of Luke, is one his way to Jerusalem, to the cross.  His encounter with the group of lepers gives us an enhanced understanding of personhood, redemption, cleansing and even salvation.  It is an undeniable demonstration of God’s love and the transformative act of recognition, gratitude, and praise.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26  •  Psalm 137; 37:1-4  •  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4  •  2 Timothy 1:1-14  •  Luke 17:5-10

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Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26  •  Psalm 137  •  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Our primary Old Testament passages have a common thread running through them – they all are written about, and probably during, the exile to Babylon.  As witnessed in the prophetic warnings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, both men warned of the coming catastrophe, the writings for this week take place during the actual exile.  These books give witness to the very real horror of lives turned upside down.  Just as Jeremiah warned the people against listening to the false prophets who primarily sought to tickle the ears of the politicians, religious leaders, and general population, these authors continue to seek and proclaim truth to a populous who continue to reject the reality of their situations.  They ignore the truth of their role in the devastation of the exile.

Lamentations is a series of five poems which document the tragedy of the exile on Judah as well as on those who have been left behind.  While the two chapters seem to depict a funeral asking difficult questions of ‘why’, the third chapter brings the reader to a hope – ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end…..’.  The book closes by begging for God’s mercy and restoration.

Psalm 137 is considered the most depressing and hopeless of all the Psalms.  Written from the perspective of those exiled from their homes to bondage in Babylon, the Psalm is a description of the despair and hopeless of the people.

Habakkuk is considered a minor and greatly unknown prophet.  Probably written in Jerusalem after most of the others had been exiled, Habakkuk seems to deeply love God and, at the same time, feels free to question God and the exile.  Understanding the nature of God to discipline the people and, at the same time, love them, is an agonizing conundrum for Habakkuk.  He is able to identify the selfishness of the people as a reason for the present discipline while still questioning God and diligently watching for God’s mercy.  Many are drawn to the writings of Habakkuk as they demonstrate the redemptive nature of asking difficult questions.

Psalm 37

Our Sunday responsive reading comes from Psalm 37 which was written during the Kingdom of David over four hundred years before the exile to Babylon.  Written to remind the people to trust God, the Psalm is an encouragement of faith to a people in times where questions and fear are a constant reality.

2 Timothy 1:1-14 and Luke 17:5-10

Both of our New Testament readings take us to the presence and reality of faith.  The apostles ask Jesus to ‘increase their faith’ while Paul writes a second, more personal, letter explaining the importance of faith to the young church leader Timothy.  While the apostles are asking the wrong question about faith, Paul is making sure that Timothy does not forget the women and men who have been instrumental in the faith he has and needs. Jesus explains that faith is given while Paul describes faith as being a ‘good treasure entrusted to you’.  As you read the Luke passage, take a moment to look earlier in the chapter and question ‘why did the apostles ask the wrong question?’.

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lectionary Reading

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 • Amos 6:1a, 4-7 and Psalm 146 • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 • Luke 16:19-31

Backstory

Luke 16:1-13
This parable told by Jesus is often erroneously titled ‘The Dishonest Manager’. The setting would have been the same life situation that the listeners lived in. A life environment where someone was at the top of the income and lifestyle ladder. This person(s) would have been the landowner, employer, and controller of most of the community. The folks at the bottom of the ladder would have lived, and worked, under the thumb of this rich landowner as tenant farmers expected to pay a portion of their earnings to the landowner. These farmers would need to grow high cash crops instead of produce that could feed and sustain them and their families. It was a constant struggle to survive. Inserted into this system was the middle man, the manager, who was expected to collect these payments from the farmers while taking extra for himself. This was a system that, in concept, worked well for all of society. Conceptually, those at the top, the rich and powerful, would allow the money to dribble down to the middle and eventually to the bottom. The problem with any economic or political system is that it is always at the mercy of those with the most power. If the top is selfish and unethical, then survival dictates that those in the middle and bottom become self-centered as well. As Jesus tells this parable he is calling on the listeners to look at what is of true value rather than wealth – what their lives are centered on. As you read this passage remember that it comes after the parable of the prodigal son and before the story of the poor man named Lazarus.

Amos 8:4-7
The prophet Amos began his ministry shortly before the prophet Isaiah began calling the people to return to God. Amos was from the Southern Kingdom (Judah), but his message was primarily directed to those in the Northern Kingdom (Israel). Amos message was so strong and offensive to those who listened that not long after arriving in the north he was forced to return to his southern home. Amos then confronted the selfish practices of the rich and their unethical treatment of the poor in writing. It is apparent throughout this short book that Amos was very focused on social justice as well as the equality of all men.

Psalm 113:1-8
Our responsive reading for this Sunday comes from Psalm 113, the first of six Psalm passages sung in conjunction with the traditional Passover observances. Psalm 113 and 114 are usually sung at the beginning of Passover as a reminder of the works and faithfulness of God. In Psalm 113 we also see God’s notice of, and concern for, the poor and needy.

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backstory headingFor Sunday, September 15, 2019

 

Lectionary Readings

Numbers 21:4-9  • Exodus 32:7-14  •  Psalm 51:1-10; 78:34-38  •  Jeremiah 4:4-9 

I Timothy 1:12-17  •  John 3:13-17  •  Luke 15:1-10 (C)

Backstory

A People, A Prophet, and God

Exodus 32:7-14 – After the people had experienced God’s act of freeing them from slavery in Egypt, parting the sea, constantly providing, naming them his ‘treasured possession’ and instructing them to be ‘a priestly kingdom and holy nation’, and, after he gave the commandments which began with ‘You shall have no other gods before me’, the people turned from God to other gods.  While Moses was on the mountain speaking with God, the people became impatient waiting for Moses and built an idol like they had in slavery. A heated debate between Moses and God, in response to the actions of the people, ensues.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Once again we see these same people failing to remember God.  This account takes place after the people have proven they did not trust God enough to enter the Promised Land and are now wandering in the desert until the next generation is grown.  Much like most of us, this group of humans are frequently unpleasant to be around – the become dissatisfied with Moses’ leadership and God’s provisions.  They complain about Moses and God.

Hopelessness with Hope

Jeremiah 4:11-28 – We have been looking at the persistent refusal of the people (centuries after entry into the Promised Land) to turn back to God.  Through the warnings of the prophet of Isaiah, and then Jeremiah, the people have refused to see and hear what God is communicating through these prophets.  Instead, they have continued a false Godless religion while progressively turning to the untruths of the politicians, religious leaders, and false prophets who who say things much more pleasant to hear.  Now, the time for cautions and warnings has come to an end.  It is the end of opportunities, and God is not changing his mind, however, his proclamation of doom comes also with a promised hope.

And then there is Joy

Luke 15:1-10 – Jesus is surrounded by religious leaders who are complaining and grumbling about the company that Jesus keeps.  They cannot grasp the fact that he is hanging around with ‘undesirables’.  Jesus responds to their negativity by pointing them to the Joy of God which he desires for us to have in our lives.

Joy Revealed

Psalm 51:1-10 – Our responsive reading this Sunday focuses on the personal experience of Joy that takes place in our own life when we turn back to God. In this Psalm, written by David, we see his recognition of his sin and need for reconciliation with God. It is an experience of repentance, joy, and hope.