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Zephaniah 3:18-20: Seek Restoration

Nubian Museum: Shebitku’s Statue

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The prophet Zephaniah wrote sometime between the years of 635 to 630 B.C.E.  His is a brief prophecy and its message is succinct: there is a day if universal judgment which will arrive surely . . .  and this judgment will be followed by restoration.  Earlier in this chapter he refers to the town of Cush saying that beyond the rivers of this town the scattered peoples will bring offerings.  Cush was located south of the upper cataracts of the Nile in the area referred to as Nubia.  It was a land of great wealth with commerce routes which brought to the Mediterranean materials such as gold and silver, cosmetics, balsam, incense, myrrh, ostrich eggs, and other wild animal products.  Jeremiah also refers to this place as a source of topaz.  Further, these people were from to time a powerful political force: the Nubian pharaoh Shebitku defeats the Assyrian Sennacherib in Israel in 701 B.C.E. – an astounding account recorded in 2 Kings.  (Zondervan 1519.)  Their power, however, seems to have collapsed after 671 B.C.E.

What does all of this signify?  The restoration this prophet foretells is universal.  It will be bestowed on even those who have been scattered as far off as Cush – even those who have been held captive by her alluring power and cosmopolitan life.

Sing, O Daughter Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!  . . .  I will give you honor and praise among all the people of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your eyes.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1519. Print. For more about Cush, click on the map image, or visit: https://ancientpatriarchs.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/who-was-cush/ 

A Favorite from November 23, 2007.

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Mark 5:21-43: Seek Christ – Part I

George Percy Jacomb-Hood: The Raising of Jairus’s Daughter – Guildhall Art Gallery, London, UK

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman with a Hemorrhage

What I like most about the Gospel of Mark is its intricate simplicity that causes us to pause, look and contemplate – if we only take the time.  In today’s reading we have the intertwined stories of an important official of the synagogue, Jarius, and an un-named, apparently insignificant woman.  The juxtaposition and the interweaving of these people and their stories are masterful: the expiring daughter of a religious official, and the dying nameless woman.  Both are daughters of Jesus.

There are so many details to observe and ponder.

  • Jesus’ touch cures – even when he does not initiate the healing.
  • Jesus asks who has touched him – when surely he knows – and affords the nameless woman the opportunity to interact with him – he then affirms her faith and proclaims it to those who surround them.
  • Jesus feels his healing power go out – each time he heals it costs him something.
  • Jesus enters the home of the synagogue official – knowing that the corruption in the religious structure will bring him to his human end.
  • Jesus suffers the ridicule of the mourners, and then puts them out – but he takes the child’s parents and his apostles with him when he cures.
  • Jesus tells those who witness the raising of Jarius’ daughter from death that they must not tell anyone of this miracle – knowing that he will be ignored.
  • Jesus asks that the child be fed – and in so doing he returns everyone to a new normalcy.

Everywhere Jesus goes, and for everyone he touches, he comforts, heals, saves . . . and challenges.  He teaches by both word and action.  He affirms the faith people have in him and in his kingdom.  He brings hope to the most hopeless of situations.  He acts in love always, even toward those who do him harm.  He acts in peace and unity. He acts in us.

Tomorrow, Jesus as brother, father, lover and redeemer.

Adapted from a reflection written on November 2, 2007.

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Daniel 2:20-23: Seek God

William Brassey Hole: Daniel Interprets the Dream of Nebuchadnezzar

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Canticle of Praise

If we want to seek God, we do well to begin with praising God. In the Northern Hemisphere as we bring in the harvests from a season of plenty, we reflect on one who praises God well.

The story of Daniel is well-known to us.  He and his comrades were taken to the Babylonian court, as were many of the talented young Jewish men, and there he interprets king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  When he is graced with the gift of a vision from God, he reveals the mystery of the king’s dream. Daniel wisely acknowledges the source of his talent and so he properly and immediately thanks and praises his God with these beautiful verses.  They are ones that we might recite each morning and each evening at the rising and the closing of our day.

God is wise and powerful!
    Praise God forever and ever.

Daniel brings to full potential not only himself but also the Jewish nation . . . in a creative, saintly way.  He takes no care for his own circumstances – which are at the minimum unpleasant and at the worst life-threatening – because he knows that God will protect and guide him.  Daniel is only concerned about fulfilling the part of God’s plan which he has been called to enact.  He pushes himself toward the potential planted in him by God.  So do the saints.  So may we.

Let us praise God as Daniel does.

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and power are God’s.

What an awesome God we have.  Let us join him and the community of saints as we seek to know ourselves better, to share ourselves better, to heal ourselves and others better.

God reveals deep and hidden things and knows what is in the darkness, for the light dwells with God.

Let us open to the light of the revealed Christ.  Let us put that light on a lampstand for all creation to see.

To you, O God . . . I give thanks and praise, because you have given me wisdom and power.

Amen.

Adapted from a Favorite from November 1, 2007.

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2 Samuel 14 & 15: Deceit – Part I

Eustache Le Sueur: The Rape of Tamar

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

David, Amnon, Tamar, AbsalomJoab, the woman from Tekoa, Zadok the priest, Ziba, Ahithophel.  What an amazing cast of characters to play the roles we find in this tale we have visited often – the story of a family fueled by envy, payback, and violence – the story of a family spiraling into self-destruction.  Exile and Return, Forgiveness and Revenge.  These are themes familiar to any people on any day in any generation.  Today’s reading presents us with a window into the lives of several members of Jesus’ family tree as we see them plot and connive with tremendous skill; but eventually we see that gains born of deceit have no place in honest relationships; and this is a lesson we may want to carry into our own most intimate relationships . . . especially our relationship with God.

The first verse in chapter 15 stands out to us: After this Absalom provided himself with chariots, horses, and fifty henchmen.

Absalom returns home after having murdered his brother Amnon, and he is pardoned by his father, King David.  Yet his first act is to begin to lay the ground work to continue his life of deception and connivance.  Clearly he did not learn much during his years in exile in Geshur.  Perhaps he spent them in denial of his own deeds, brooding about how he had been wronged and plotting to continue his revenge . . . rather than spending time in introspection.  Perhaps he nursed his anger, allowing hatred to bloom in his heart . . . in the place where forgiveness rightly dwells.

Tomorrow, a prince of a powerful nation.

A Favorite from November 21, 2008.

 

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1 Kings 9:1-9: Promise and Warning – Part II

Friday, November 3, 2017

Written on October 24, 2009

In our parish scripture group, we are studying 1 Corinthians.  Through prayer, conversation and reflection we discover that Paul cautions the people of Corinth just as God cautions each of us, just as Yahweh cautions Solomon.  In chapter 10 of this letter, Paul outlines several ways in which we begin to stray from God: falling into the worship of things that are not of God, living an immoral life, testing Christ, grumbling about the leadership God sends to us, thinking that we can stand on our own.  All of these temptations, writes Paul, have the same antidote: the intervention of God with his offer to unite with him in the person of Christ in the Holy Spirit.  When we offer our sufferings to God in Christ’s name we become libations poured out as Christ’s blood.  When we allow ourselves to be broken in the Spirit we become sustenance for others as they also struggle to come together in Christ.  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  Just as the Corinthians are offered a warning and a promise, so too is Solomon, and so too are we . . . the choice to reject or share the gift of eternal life . . . the choice of discipleship.

As we read the story of Solomon we see how he missteps: He does not realize that although something may be permissible it may not be for one’s good.  Solomon marries foreign wives in order to enter into peace pacts with surrounding nations.  These unions later pull down his kingdom because they bring with them relationships with earthly gods rather than union with the one true God.  These relationships bring about a temporary peace but in the end they are celebrations of all that holds us apart rather than of that which brings us together.  As Paul writes everything is lawful but not everything is beneficial . . . not everything builds up.  For this is how we can see if the spirit is with our actions, it will bear fruit which Paul defines clearly.  When he writes to the Galatians he cautions against immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts and orgies.  He reminds them and us that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  (Galatians 5:19-24)

What Solomon fails to see is the warning we are all given – that life outside of the Spirit cannot bring the Promise of God.  No amount of cleverness, no amount of stubbornness, no effort – whether human or demonic – can withstand the steadfastness, the tranquility, the permanence and the surety of God’s promise.  When we invest ourselves we will want to heed God’s warning and place all that we have and all that we are in the promise of God’s constant presence and love.  Let us trust and hope in Christ Jesus.

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Ancient Jerusalem

Isaiah 44: Remember This

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

We have spent nearly a month reflecting with Ezra and Nehemiah, discovering the blessings that can rise from disaster and loss, considering the benefit of rebuilding a relationship that appears forever gone. Today we examine how the action of one we believe to be our enemy can bring us opportunities for transformation and rebirth.

The prophet Isaiah brings us the familiar words of the Lord.

“Israel, remember this;
    remember that you are my servant.
I created you to be my servant,
    and I will never forget you.
I have swept your sins away like a cloud.
    Come back to me; I am the one who saves you.”

A people who suffers exile because they had turned away from God, hear that the Lord still longs for their return. And the people respond.

Shout for joy, you heavens!
    Shout, deep places of the earth!
Shout for joy, mountains, and every tree of the forest!
The Lord has shown his greatness
    by saving his people Israel.

The Lord then tells the people that their enemy Cyrus will be the instrument of their liberation.

I say to Cyrus, “You are the one who will rule for me;
    you will do what I want you to do:
    you will order that Jerusalem be rebuilt
    and that the foundations of the Temple be laid.”

When we remember the stories of old, do we also remember the ironies they hold? When we think about the stories of our future, do we open our hearts to the ironies that await us? When we reflect on the story we live in the present, do we remember that God is always with us, calling us home to rebuild what we believe is lost.

These verses are taken from The Good News Bible. When we explore multiple translations of these words, we find new ways to remember.

To learn more about the story of Ezra and Nehemiah, click on the image of Jerusalem above or visit: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ezra-nehemiah/ 

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Nehemiah 8: Promulgation 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Today’s reflection is a Favorite written during Christmastide on December 30, 2010.

Ezra, the priest, brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we gather in our places of worship, like Ezra, Nehemiah and the Jewish people, we might make resolutions to enact what we say we believe.

Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we make decisions we base them on what it is we see Jesus doing in the Gospels.

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of the Lord, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we act in the Spirit of the law as well as the letter.

Then all the people went to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if we celebrate the Spirit by acting in the Spirit humbly yet with passion . . . being unafraid of what society might say or think about us.

. . . for they understood the words that had been expounded to them.

I am wondering how our lives might be different if we promulgate the story of how God has saved us . . . and how much God loves us.

I am wondering . . .

The great celebration described in today’s Noontime is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles or Booths and more information may be found at http://www.christcenteredmall.com/teachings/feasts/tabernacles.htm

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Cyrus the Great

Ezra 1:1-6: Stirring Up the Spirit

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Unless we spend time with the story of Ezra, we miss the many miracles that call a broken people back home.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict. (NRSV)

Unless we reflect on these ancient verses, we fail to hear the message that with God all things are possible.

In the first year that Cyrus of Persia was emperor, the Lord made what he had said through the prophet Jeremiah come true. He prompted Cyrus to issue the following command and send it out in writing to be read aloud everywhere in his empire. (GNT)

Unless we attend to the story of King Cyrus of Persia and Ezra the priest, we ignore the healing love of the Spirit.

In the first year of Koresh king of Persia, in order for the word of Adonai prophesied by Yirmeyahu to be fulfilled, Adonai stirred up the spirit of Koresh king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his whole kingdom, which he also put in writing. (CJB)

Unless we listen for the voice within that promises to stir up the Spirit in us, refuse the gift of everlasting life.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—this fulfilled the Message of God preached by Jeremiah—God prodded Cyrus king of Persia to make an official announcement throughout his kingdom. (MSG)

aftertheexile_herocoreTo better understand the events surrounding the Jewish people’s return to Jerusalem, click on the image to the left or visit; http://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/after-the-exile-gods-people-return-to-judea

For more information about King Cyrus and Ezra, visit http://biblehub.com/topical/e/ezra-nehemiah.htm and http://biblehub.com/topical/c/cyrus.htm

When we use the scripture link to explore varying translations of these verses, we begin to see the stirring of the Spirit in our own lives as we ask: When has God put opportunities for change in our path? When have impossible circumstances turned in our favor? When have we helped others to see the movement of the Spirit in their lives?

 

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1 Kings 20: Victory

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ahab is an unscrupulous leader who does anything to gain advantage, and today we watch him violate a ban on war – an action for which he will later pay with his life.  In Chapter 21 is the famous story of his seizure of Naboth’s vineyard.  In Chapter 22 he will die in battle.  Ben-hadad, one of several men of this name in the Old Testament, attacks Samaria several times, is victorious once, but more frequently suffers defeat.

Reading through the ups and downs of the fortunes of individual men, we see a picture that is much like our own lives. Things go well for a while among nations, and then they sour.  Leaders agree in principle to a concept, later they back away.  Promises once looked to for hopeful solutions to grave problems become lost in pride and greed.

We might become caught up in the drama and tragedy of lives spent so quickly and thoughtlessly. 

We might become despondent when we watch good ideas wither from neglect.

We might become pessimistic or even cynical when we see goodness overtaken by evil. 

We might become hopeless as we witness continual injustice.

This will happen when we see as humans see . . . and this will not happen when we see as God sees.

Thomas Matthews Rooke: Elijah Prophesises to Ahab and Jezebel their End

When we see as humans see, we take today’s story and see a series of military and political victories and losses.  When we see as God sees we are cognizant of the many lives caught up in the machine of battle in which leaders engage coolly, moving war equipment and troops as if they were pieces on a chessboard.

When we see as humans see, we regard each day as a series of battles to be fought and won: getting to work on time through traffic, battling with colleagues for agendas, making certain that our perspective is the one seen by friends or colleagues.

When we see as God sees, we regard each day as a gift through which we experience many interchanges with family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers.  We see the wisdom in coming to consensus, of standing in solidarity, of witnessing to injustice and of handing over our problems to God.  These are the victories that nourish.  These are the victories that give life.

When we see as humans see, time and location are often stumbling blocks.  When we see as God sees, they are gifts to be received, shared and returned in gratitude to the one who gives us life.  These are the many small victories that build up as our treasure.  These are the victories that cannot be taken away, that cannot be reversed.  These are the victories that will last an eternity.

A Favorite from December 20, 2009.

For more images by Thomas Matthews Rooke of the Ahab, Jezebel, Naboth and ELijah stories, visit: https://artuk.org/discover/artists/rooke-thomas-matthews-18421942

To learn more about Ahab, visit: http://biblehub.com/topical/a/ahab.htm 

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