Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Delight Yourselves in Rich Food!

Lectionary Readings for March 3. Isaiah 55:1-9, Ps 63:1-8, 1 Cor. 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Isaiah 55 only has 13 verses, why stop at verse 9? Reading these, I had 3 different songs pop into my head. (Anyone notice more than that?) It's beautiful, poetic language and the scripture is familiar, thanks to our hymnody and camp songs. The verse that sticks out most for me, however, has no melody attached to it. (Some background: Our worship committee has long been talking about the issue of 'fragmentation', wondering how to approach the problem of distraction and busyness in our society and church. We wonder how to help ourselves think about priorities and the importance of faith and church community. This has bounced around in my head for awhile-to no great revelations!) Verse 2: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food."

This is a good starting point for thinking about fragmentation and priorities for life. There is a challenge, but also a promise of delight in what is good. It doesn't sound like denial and deprivation, but delightful indulgence in the right things. Last week at a pastor's council meeting for MCA, we had a short discussion about the problem of so much vacation travelling (and other expensive amusements) among our people. While we weren't saying no to all of it, we wonder about the amount of time and money spent amusing ourselves. (One pastor mused that church budgets would look great if we put as much into them as we do into our vacations.) What are the effects on church community? Are our priorities in balance? How do we challenge this in ways that are enriching and encouraging instead of loaded with guilt?

1 Corinthians 10:12  "So if you think that you are standing, watch out that you do not fall." A warning against self-righteousness! Maybe a helpful thing to read after doing some of the priorities thinking, especially when we are good at justifying our priorities and questioning those of others.

Any thoughts on these or the two scriptures I didn't blog about?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Comfort and Challenge

Lectionary Readings for February 24
Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Phil 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:13-35, Luke 9:28-36
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

I'm at home by myself this morning, so I read Psalm 27 out loud. (Neat experience! I encourage you to try it). Reading aloud, the words become more than little black marks on nice paper. The feelings of the text, and my responses to it added an experience of texture and depth, leaving the meanings ringing in my head. I look forward to wlaking with these words today. Verse 1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life-of whom shall I be afraid?" This passage is so encouraging, helping to drain away anxiety and refocus thoughts on God. Our work, our calling, our reason for being doesn't depend on us, it is about Diving purpose and intention for the world. What a gift of comfort!

The Philippians passage is challenging, especially to readers who are living a comfortable life. When the writer, Paul, says that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ, with their god being their stomach and with their minds on earthly things, I am challenged. I wonder if I pay too much attention to my desires and not enough to the needs of others. That phrase "enemies of the cross of Christ" might not be only referring to people who have taken a stand against Christianity. It might also be understood as referring to believers who are adverse to sacrifice-unwilling to pay the price of their beliefs when they are challenged. I don't think Christian are called to seek out suffering, but if we truly follow Christ, there are times when we will be called to sacrifice. To give of ourselves when it is not convienient, to give our time, our resources, and maybe to take "heat" sometimes for being disciples in word and deed.

What verses, ideas, comforts, and challenges come out of these scriptures for you?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Devil and Jesus Quote Scripture at Each Other

Lectionary readings for February 17, First Lent. Deut. 26:1-11, Ps. 91:1-2, 9-16, Rom. 10: 8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
By Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Whenever the lectionary leaves verses out of a passage, I set to reading those bits. I'm not sure why verses 3-8 are left out of Psalm 91 (maybe just to shorten the reading) but maybe it's to leave out troubling implications of 7-8. Here, the righteous person is saved while those around her/him succumb to arrows or pestilence or some other nasty. This is the "punishment of the wicked." This smacks of prosperity gospel thinking with the good prospering and the evil getting the smackdown. But this doesn't jive with reality. We all know of evil people who strike it rich/healthy, and good people who are poor/sick. Verse 15 seems more real; "I will be with them in trouble..." Here it's much easier to see that trouble comes even to the righteous. To quote some scripture; "the rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:45) Faith doesn't give us a ticket out of trouble, but a tool for dealing with it.
I don't want to leave out nasty bits like verse 7-8. These are good for generating discussion and discernment-helping us to engage each other in some good interpretive work.

In the Luke passage, the story of the temptation of Jesus, the devil quotes a bit of Psalm 91 to Jesus. "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and on their hands they will bear you up..." Jesus refuses to go with this convenient interpretation to serve himself, and quotes back; "it is said, do not put the Lord your God to the test." 

Interesting how the interpretation of scripture is at issue here-simply quoting verses and taking them at face value is certainly not what Jesus is about! This is a wonderful, and humbling, reminder for all of us to read the left out bits, ask questions, engage each other for help, and listen for differing interpretations that may help us to hear God's voice more clearly.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Haughty are Far Away

Lectionary Readings for Feb. 10. Isaiah 6:1-13, Psalm 138, 1 Cor. 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Sometimes the lectionary readings seem to have nothing to do with each other-not this time! Following up on last weeks thoughts where Jeremiah felt he was unworthy to fulfill his calling, look at these:

Isaiah: "Woe is me! I am lost for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..."
Psalm 138: For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away."
1 Cor: "I am the least of all apostles, unfit to be called an apostle..."
Luke: "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

The same feeling Jeremiah had, of being out of his league, is echoed by so many of the great Biblical leaders. (Isaiah, Paul, and Peter here, Jeremiah and Moses also come immediately to mind.) The common thread in their success is that they rely on God, not on themselves, as they go about doing what they are called to do.

The Psalm stands out in all of this for me. In the last year or so, Tim and I have had discussions with a number of people who are losing interest in faith and the church. Most have nothing against the church, but they aren't interested, it feels like just one more demand on their lives. "Irrelevant", "I find what I need elsewhere" are two of the things we've heard. I wonder if this apathy is a result of wealth. We have money and time for so many activities, so much travel, so many things. We no longer feel an immediate need to rely on God (or the church) for help, community, social outlets, teaching, etc...because we find these things elsewhere.

People who struggle, however, look to God. I saw this in Sudan when I visited in 2010. Our group met people who had nothing, all human institutions had failed them. (No banks, no stores, no jobs, you couldn't even mail a letter!) The church, however, was strong and vibrant. It was working to help people, to offer hope, to build community, to teach...and they were doing it all as people who had nothing but faith. It was awe-inspiring, and humbling. The Nuer people worshipping with us understand this, and their faith and hard work is inspiring. If we think back to our own histories, most of us have parents or grandparents who were also refugees. Many also tell stories of how faith kept them alive.

Last Friday, Tim lead a Bible study overview of the Old Testament with a number of people from the Nuer group. He came home excited. One comment he made was that, if we locate ourselves in Israel's story, right now we are like the Israelites living in comfort and complacency. Jeremiah and the prophets are railing against us, telling us our wealth and the injustices of our way of life is leading to destruction. We're at a point where it is hard to listen, because life is good and God feels distant. This is where the words of Psalm 138 fit in. "the haughty he perceives from far away." Maybe when things are going well, we run the risk of moving further from God. I don't think God has distanced his/her self from us, I think we've distanced ourselves from God.