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2 Samuel 8Bureaucracy

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Commentary will explain for us that what we read today will both settle and unsettle us.  After reading the accounts of combat, the writer brings us to a kind of resting place where he summarizes for us the results of recent warfare; we have the borders of David’s new nation defined.  We also see how David determines to administer his newly-forged kingdom, and with this description of personnel and policy we have a foreshadowing of what is to come.  An uneasy feeling may flicker through us when we realize that David – who has been so faithful to God – now allows himself to nibble at the edges of his authenticity.

From THE HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY, page 267: “Skirting the edges of Deuteronomic law (“nor is he to multiply greatly for himself silver and gold,” Deut. 17:17), the king dedicates gifts and booty of silver and gold to Yhwh [Yahweh] (8:11).  So “Yhwh gave David victory everywhere he went (v. 14) . . . For David’s sons to be priests is to flout the Mosaic law that draws the priesthood exclusively from the tribe of Levi . . . Many versions, like many commentators, have attempted to smooth the text by rewriting it”.  It seems that with David – just as we find in our own lives – with every gain of stability there will be a fluttering of worry.

Almost daily in our world of instant, mass communication we have word that more nepotism has been exposed.  Another leader falls to the noisy masses; one more plot of corrupt practices covered by officials is revealed.  There is nothing new in our modern headlines and today we see that bureaucracy breeds its own end.  Transparency may be the present watchword for leaders, but dishonesty appears to be the practice.  There is something about power that corrupts even the best of us.

In Jesus’ early church the structure was horizontal; it lacked a hierarchy of platoons and divisions; there was no ladder for priests to climb.  Jesus names Peter as the rock (Matthew 16:18) on which the church will be erected by those who accompany him . . . and by billions of kingdom-builders to come.  Christ does not lay out an elaborate bureaucracy of functionaries.  Instead, he charges each of us with our own participation function in his community according to our gifts.

In 2 Samuel 11 we hear of David’s sin with Bathsheba.  Can it be that we begin to see David wobble in chapter 8 once he establishes the kingdom of Israel, once he becomes comfortable?  Perhaps we can learn a lesson from today’s story, and perhaps it is this.  When we find ourselves on firm ground and feeling confident in a newly-formed strength, we will want to pause and reflect on the subtle snares that lie hidden in our success.  This is not to say that we ought not enjoy the satisfaction that comes from having achieved stability in our lives; but it is to say that once we humans conquer our enemies and our fears . . . we must remember who it is who makes all of this conquest and all of this steadiness possible.  And so we pray . . .

Good and patient God, Remind us that when we celebrate stability after chaos, we celebrate you.  Tell us often that when we find peace after struggle, that peace is you.  Guide us in the remembering that layers of power do not govern well but that a convoluted structure leaves many little places for little demons to hide.  We know that you want to erase fear from our lives.  We know that you want to bring us stability.  We know that you are present to us and in us directly.  We know how much you love us.  Keep us from creating labyrinths that separate us from one another and from you.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, together with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us.  Amen. 


Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 267. Print.

Image from: http://www.visualsermons.co.uk/

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Amos 3: This World . . . and the Next

Monday, July 2, 2018

Each time we visit this prophecy we have the opportunity to hear God speak to us on the topic of social justice.  For they know not how to do what is right . . . storing up in their castles what they have extorted and robbed.  The gathering of wealth at the expense of others is something many of us may not want to ponder.  We may not want to think about how much we have stored up in our homes and in our accounts that may have arrived in our hands because someone somewhere struggled to make ends meet on low wages.  We may want to open our IRA statement without wondering if the dividends were partially gained or fully gained on the backs of those who have no political or social voice.  In each news cycle we can find stories about companies and individuals who happily ignore today’s message.  Companies keep double books in order to hide their safety infractions (http://www.connectmidmissouri.com/news/story.aspx?id=635646 ), priests are involved in sex scandals (http://www.americancatholic.org/news/clergysexabuse/  ), scientists squabble over the truth or lie of global warming and the consequences for our planet (https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/).  There is an endless stream of information that asks us to think about how we act.  Today’s Noontime tells us that there is nothing new in this.  For millennia we humans have been taking advantage of one another . . . and hoping all the while that no one sees us.  Amos reminds us that God sees all.

When we turn blind eyes to corruption we have forgotten that our actions have consequences, and Jesus reminds us of this with a number of parables defining stewardship.  One story in Luke 16 even demonstrates how a corrupt steward bargains with his master’s debtors in order to save himself.  And while Jesus does not make the case that the wealthy do not go to heaven, he does plainly say (Matthew 19:23, Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25) that a rich man will have to bend a bit and be willing to sacrifice as a camel does to enter the eye of the needle.  (This is likely a reference to the pedestrian door in a large city gate – the camel will have to pass through on its knees.)  Jesus tells us that all of us are called to humility no matter our station in life . . . and so we ought to become accustomed to putting ourselves last rather than first, to serving rather than expecting to be served.

The picture of the world that Amos describes is a world gone mad with greed and envy; God will eradicate all that has been stored in silos and greenhouses, ivory apartments and summer houses.  The enemy shall strip you of your strength and pillage your castles.  Jesus paints another possibility for us.  He describes a world in which we think of one another before self, in which we pray for our enemies rather than condemn them.  And this is a prospect that all us might welcome.  Even those who are so self-centered as to be narcissists might pause to think . . . how much better it is to share what we have rather than to lose all.  But in our striving to survive we so often forget that in this finite world we prepare for the next.  We either conveniently forget, or we willfully ignore, the words we hear today: There is a consequence for what we say and think and do . . . and woe to those who take advantage of the marginalized who have no voice.

I have shared with a number of my friends that I honestly believe that our lives on this planet are a complex, interlocking dress rehearsal for the real life which follows; and that if we do not learn the art of sharing as God asks on this planet then we will still have to learn this in the next dimension.  I believe that we are living in a complicated laboratory which is full of hypotheses and lesson plans for us to learn the art of love as presented to us by God among us, Jesus.  I believe that if we struggle to tend to the despair of the great disorder within our society today . . . we are already living in the kingdom we thought was only a dream.

If we believe this world is beyond hope . . . let us act as if we are living in the next . . .


Image from: http://www.all-creatures.org/hope/

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 2, 2011.

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Esther 3: Preamble – A Reprise

Sir John Everett Millais: Esther

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

At Christmas time several years ago, we reflected on Esther 3 as a preamble to the Jesus story. The coming of light. A voice asking for mercy. Justice amidst corruption. The presence of simplicity in a complicated world. Plots and schemes returning to haunt their authors.

As the story unfolds, we see our own modern headlines in the verses. Millennia later, what have we learned?

Bulletins were sent out by couriers to all the king’s provinces with orders to massacre, kill, and eliminate all the Jews—youngsters and old men, women and babies—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month Adar, and to plunder their goods. 

We sift into groups that exclude. We gather words and weapons to assault “the other”. Millenia later, where do we invest our resources?

There is an odd set of people scattered through the provinces of your kingdom who don’t fit in. Their customs and ways are different from those of everybody else. Worse, they disregard the king’s laws. They’re an affront; the king shouldn’t put up with them. If it please the king, let orders be given that they be destroyed. I’ll pay for it myself. I’ll deposit 375 tons of silver in the royal bank to finance the operation.

We shrink from corruption. We turn away because we believe we have no power. Millennia later, how many Hamans stalk the innocent?

At the king’s command, the couriers took off; the order was also posted in the palace complex of Susa. The king and Haman sat back and had a drink while the city of Susa reeled from the news.

We gather in solidarity. We welcome and heal. Millennia later, what is our story?

When we compare varying versions of these verses, we open ourselves to seeing “the other”. 

Tomorrow, one small woman.

To read three posts on Esther 3, enter the word Preamble into the search bar and explore, or visit: https://thenoontimes.com/2015/12/25/esther-3-and-b-preamble-part-i/

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Esther 2: A Plot Discovered

Johannes Spilberg the Younger: The Feast of Esther

Monday, February 12, 2018

What do we do when we have possession of information about a harmful plot? This is the question posed by today’s reading. Esther comes to the attention of King Xerxes, and the king gave a great banquet to all his officials and ministers—“Esther’s banquet.” He also granted a holiday to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality.

Amidst this celebration, Mordecai reports a plot to assassinate the king not to the king directly, but through his cousin Esther. We might pause to ask ourselves what we do with information that comes to us that indicates danger to others or ourselves.

On this day, with Mordecai sitting at the King’s Gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the entrance, had it in for the king and were making plans to kill King Xerxes. But Mordecai learned of the plot and told Queen Esther, who then told King Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. When the thing was investigated and confirmed as true, the two men were hanged on a gallows. 

God says: When you stumble across a plot that threatens harm, bring your tension and worry to me, and listen for my counsel. Always remain faithful to a life of compassion, hope and mercy. Always forgive those who harm you while asking me to transform hardened hearts and stiff shoulders. Always be wary of associates who draw you into grumbling, hoping to bring you into the schemes they weave. Remember that Jesus instructed you to “render to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and to God what belongs to God”. (Matthew 22:21) Remember to align yourself with me for I have great plans in mind for you.

It is tempting to complain about the corruption around us without acknowledging our part in a corrupt structure. It is comfortable to be silent while others wage war around us.

What do we do when we have possession of information about a plot that does harm? Today Esther and Mordecai give us insight. Today we reflect on the plots we discover. And we reflect on what we are to do.

Through the last several hundred years, numerous thinkers, writers, spiritual and political leaders have reminded us that evil grows quickly when good people remain silent. We may want to explore some of these quotes at: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/04/good-men-do/

To learn more about the dangers in reporting an assassination plot in ancient days, visit: http://thetorah.com/why-does-mordechai-not-report-the-assassination-plot-directly-to-ahasuerus/

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Psalm 89: A Hymn in Time of National Struggle – Part V

Saturday, January 27, 2018

John Singleton Copley: Eli and Samuel

Finding the Servant

We have taken a quick journey through the Books of Samuel to see that life in our century has much in common with life in ancient days. Some might say that as a species, we have not made much progress. Others may disagree, pointing to improved living conditions for some, though not for all. The Old Testament perspective we see in 1 and 2 Samuel gives way to the New Testament good news that God has come to live among us as a clear sign of God’s love for us. The message that Jesus brings is clear, although not always altogether comfortable. Christ calls us today to tend to those on the margins of our societies who do not benefit from the advances some of us have made, and this clearly will cause times of national struggle.

If we look at the Books of Samuel more closely, and the vivid characters who tell their stories so well, we see clear lessons for living.

How do we handle the corruption we experience? We might take a lesson from God’s message to us when we remember that the young prophet Samuel – who leads a young nation to unity – is raised by a corrupt Temple priest. If God protects and guides a faithful servant to blossom and grow in an environment that lacks authenticity, then we must trust God to protect and guide us today. (1 Samuel 3)

What do we do with our feelings of jealousy or envy?  It is possible to hear a message when we recount the story of Saul’s greed and disappointment when the women sing, Saul has killed thousands, but David tens of thousands. If God inspires David to show courage and love to his enemies, then we must trust God to inspire us today. (1 Samuel 18-19)

Matteo Roselli: The Triumph of David

How might we step out of our comfort zone? Perhaps we learn something about the story of David showing mercy to Saul during the time when Saul persecuted David. If God provides strength and hope to a faithful servant during a time of national turmoil, then we must trust God to bring us strength and hope today. (1 Samuel 24)

How might we better understand God’s plan? We might learn a lesson when we take in the story of David among the Philistines. If we find ourselves working well with our enemies – much to our surprise – then we must trust God’s wisdom and grace more than we trust our own instincts. (1 Samuel 27)

We hear this story . . . we take it in . . . and then we reply with the psalmist and King David . . . O Lord, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.

When we compare other translations of these chapters in 1 Samuel, we open ourselves to God’s fidelity, hope, love, grace and wisdom.

We can learn more about the priest Eli who raised the prophet Samuel in the Temple when we visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/4-rise-samuel-and-fall-eli-and-sons-1-samuel-31-422

Tomorrow, more lessons from Samuel.  

 

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1 Timothy 5:20: Scolding

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The fine line we walk to avoid scandal while revealing it with love is difficult to navegate. Do we ignore the hypocrisy we see each day? Do we hide from those who practice deceit and hope to keep ourselves safe? Do we bend to corruption hoping that we will escape unscathed?

Rebuke publicly all those who commit sins, so that the rest may be afraid. (GNT)

Actions that avoid confrontation may help us to avoid immediate conflict, but what do they set up for us later? Are these strategies effective over the long run? Are these tactics useful when we all attempt to come together for the common good?

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. (NRSV)

Jesus tells us that if some home or town will not welcome you or listen to you, then leave that place and shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10)

The psalmist reminds us (Psalm 101) that we must refuse to take a second look at corrupting people and degrading things.

If anyone falls into sin, call that person on the carpet. Those who are inclined that way will know right off they can’t get by with it. (MSG)

It seems better – or easier – to avoid conflict, to placate the powerful, and bow to the bully; yet, in our hearts we know that ultimately, only the fidelity of truth will conquer lies. Only the hope of goodness can combat evil. And only the light of authentic honesty can erase corruption. Today we have an opportunity to explore how we act, and how we react to an imperfect world.

To learn more about how to respond to a scolding, click on the image above, or visit: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stuck/201202/how-survive-being-scolded 

 

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Isaiah 22:19-23: A Peg in a Sure Spot

Visit The Ohio Barn Project

Sunday, September 3, 2017

In the world’s present climate, leaders who look for security might take heed of these words from the prophet Isaiah.

The Lord will remove you from office and bring you down from your high position. (GNT)

In our federal, state and local organizations, we see those we know will fall.

I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your post. (NRSV)

In our homes and workplaces, we interact with those we know will be snatched away.

I will remove you from your office,
I will snatch you from your post. (CJB)

In our hearts and minds, we guard against becoming the corrupt who take refuge in their own comfort at the expense of those on the margins.

God is about to sack you, to throw you to the dogs. He’ll grab you by the hair, swing you round and round dizzyingly, and then let you go, sailing through the air like a ball, until you’re out of sight. (MSG)

So who will replace the corrupt leader? Who will arrive to guide and protect us?

I will fasten him firmly in place like a peg, and he will be a source of honor to his whole family. (GNT)

That leader is already among us.

I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house. (NRSV)

That leader is already our shepherd.

I will place the key of David’s house
on his shoulder;
no one will shut what he opens;
no one will open what he shuts. (CJB)

That leader will never abandon us.

I’ll pound him like a nail into a solid wall. (MSG)

That leader is a sure peg in the solid wall of faith. On this we can hang our hope. In this we can believe and love.

When we compare these and other versions of these verses, we know that we must rely on the one sure peg of Christ’s great love that God pounds into our hearts through the indwelling of the Spirit. 

To reflect on the sturdiness of sure posts in sure beams, and to learn about the preservation of old barns built with peg and post technology, click on the image above or visit The Ohio Barn Project at: http://barnart.weebly.com/ohio-barn-project.html 

For another reflection on this blog, see Euphoria at: https://thenoontimes.com/tag/sure-peg-in-sure-spot/ 

 

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Proverbs 6:1-11: The Deer and the Ant

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

“Cut your losses,” the writer of Proverbs tells us. “Run from the corruption in which you find yourself. Maybe you knowingly followed the path into darkness; perhaps you stumbled into it unwittingly, but whatever the case, remove yourself from the influence of the evil one. It is never too late to return to the path of light, integrity and honesty”.

“And then consider the story of the ant who instinctively works to do as she is called to do. She does not laze around on hot summer days,” we read. “She stores up. She measures out. She preserves and takes care. This is an example worth emulating”.

Scripture is of full of allegories and parables; they give us simple lessons to imitate. What stories do our own lives teach? Are we the ant or the deer? What legends do we establish? What values do we validate? What knowledge and beauty do we find that instruct us so simply and so well?

When we compare different versions of these verses, we discover the story of our own life that we might share. 

 

 

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1 Kings 1: Power Changes Hands

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

As Easter approaches, and as we witness the swirling tides of power grow and collapse around us, we remember this reflection from March 14, 2008; and we remember that we are children of God, living with God’s loving promise.

This is a story or power ebbing and rising.  It is also a story of corruption, convolution and byzantine conniving.  And it is also the story of God’s providence, God’s openness to the impossible being possible, and God’s awesome ability to turn all harm to good.  Just reading the first chapter of this book gives us a sliver of our history as Yahweh’s people.  It can even give us a context for the corruption in our church structure today.  We know who we are as God’s children: we are created, we are loved, we are longed for, we are anointed, we are blessed, we are saved, we dance an intimate dance with our God.  The greater question for us may be: Who am I in God’s creation? 

Sometimes these answers are more difficult to live with. If we believe, for example, in the sanctity of life, we must also believe that torture is an unjust way of interrogating people. If we believe that the Christ is present in the world today through us, we are still all God’s children, even if we cannot all agree about all of the details of an issue.

When we read about the people in these historical books, we come away with the assurance that no matter the era or epoch, we are all God’s people under the same skin.  We all err.  We all have the opportunity for redemption.  We may all make reparation.  We may all forgive and be forgiven.  We are all God’s children.

When we read ACTS OF THE APOSTLES to remind myself of the many struggles which the early Church had during its formation, we can see clearly the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s nurturing, abiding presence hovering constantly around these early apostles.  We see power transferring from the Pharisees and their separatist thinking to the apostles and their universal salvation thinking.  And even among the early Christians there was dissent: the necessity of circumcision, the need for baptism by the spirit, and so on.  The Holy Spirit shepherded these people . . . and shepherds us today.

In both the Old and New Testaments we read of the human qualities of contrivance, deceit and falsehood . . . and we also read of honesty and redemption.  Nathan, Bathsheba, Adonijah, Solomon, Zadok are all characters in this tale from long ago . . . and they are the people we see before us on the television screen each evening when we tune in to hear the day’s news.  When we watch these people of then . . . or of today . . . how do we see ourselves responding?  How do we witness to The Word?  How do we react as children of God?

We might ponder these things tonight in our evening prayer.

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