Saturday, November 28, 2020

Advent 1B

Advent 1B 2020 Isaiah 64:1

Advent 2020

"We are people of hope! Why do we party on Friday evenings? Why do we go to church on Sundays?" Cornel West

Faith, Love, and Hope, these three make us faith-filled lovers and hopers.

Prayer from Psalm 80

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
You have fed us with the bread of tears, and given us tears to drink in full measure.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Advent Hope

With the first Sunday of Advent, the church begins a new year of grace as it waits for Jesus' birth. Maybe you know esperar in Spanish means wait, hope, and expect? Blue is the color for Advent; blue is the color of hope, although churches that only have purple/violet paraments may use those, of course. Advent is a harbinger of Easter when we celebrate the fulfillment of hope. Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to the November 30th Feast of Saint Andrew, Andrew the son of Zebedee who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. According to the infinitely reliable wikipedia, "Andrew [is]… patron saint of Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia in addition to Scotland."

Pictorial advent calendars are fun for all ages. Opening each window tab reveals a mini-surprise that brings us closer to the gift of Jesus' birth, brings us nearer the day we'll give gifts to each other and unwrap gifts we've received. At church and in homes, Advent wreaths are another familiar sign of the season, so popular since in the northern hemisphere we celebrate the birth of Jesus-light-of-the-world at the darkest time of year.

But calendars and candles are homespun and tame. They have become too familiar. Advent calls us to get to the root, literally to be radical.

Advent Apocalyptic

Every year's scripture readings open up Advent with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it—the end of death, destruction, empire, violence, exploitation. The end of despair and discouragement. The dawn of hope and possibility. Apocalyptic/ apocalypse means revealing or uncovering something that's hidden. Very broadly, apocalyptic is a type of writing that uses one concept to illustrate another and that needs to be interpreted.

The word Advent means toward (ad) the coming (venire). With calls to repentance and hope, Advent is a season of waiting and watching.

Although we're looking at a snippet of the first reading from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, we're now in Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year B with Mark as the featured gospel. Here are some notes about Mark.

Isaiah 64

1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Memory / COVID-19

Today's first reading from Third Isaiah comes from back home in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile as they tried to rebuild community and physical structures. Along the way from Egypt through the promised land, into exile and back, the Israelites had lived some solid theology. Like us, in their heads they knew God could not be controlled by humans or confined to a small space. They already had experienced God as an extraordinary deity who heard the people, traveled alongside and entered into unbreakable covenant them them. In their heads they knew God never would leave them. However, similar to this year 2020, events had gone down in ways that made them wonder if God had disappeared.

At least since March 2020 it sometimes feels as if God may have abandoned this planet. Even people who routinely trust God, frequently sense God's presence, and pray a lot have had serious doubts. This week's second reading in 1 Corinthians 1:7 says "we wait for the revealing [literally apocalypse] of our Lord Jesus Christ." In today's first reading the people beg for God's self-revelation and intervention because they have a history with this God. They remember. And they remind God.

Calendars and candles have become too familiar. Advent calls us to the root – to ground zero – of our lives together as people of God. Just as God's people Israel did, when we worship and celebrate the sacraments we recreate our history with God where we are and with God's people in every place, every time. Worship and sacraments make those past events present to us right here and right now. As we re-member and re-enact the past, we can anticipate God's future redemption and astonishing actions yet to come because we have a history with this God. We remember and we remind God. Getting to the taproot of our lives together with God, we actually remember the future, as we wait and watch and actively look for signs of God's tomorrows breaking into our midst.

Maybe especially during this advent when we still can't physically gather in a church building or fellowship hall, we need to keep telling our God stories with scripture and with our own testimonies of God's faithfulness. We remind each other and we remind God. Did anyone mention how providential that this global pandemic has happened at a time most people have an internet connection? I believe some people have!

From Advent into Christmas, we probably sing about God's promises and God's faithfulness more than any other time. What are your favorite advent songs and Christmas Carols? Do you have any favorite winter songs that don't mention Jesus or Bethlehem but capture the Nativity mood?

Here's my short list. What's on yours? I'd love to know!

• People Look East, the Time is Near for the Crowning of the Year
• Prepare the Way, O Zion
• From Handel's Messiah, Comfort, Ye – Every Valley is probably my favorite, but then there's
• For Unto us a Child is Born, and His Name Shall be Call├Ęd
• Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
• Lo, He Comes, with Clouds Descending
• Canticle of the Turning based on Mary's Magnificat in Luke
• Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying
• Do You Hear What I hear? –a Christian-popular crossover hit
• Where Are You, Christmas?
• Valley Winter Song by Fountains of Wayne (RIP, Adam Schlesinger who died of COVID-19)
Christmas Cantata by Daniel Pinkham

• What do you imagine your Advent 2020 will look like?
• Christmas Eve and Day?

During Advent we wait for Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who obliterates divisions between earth and heaven, who comes to earth in a body like ours that's made out of stuff of the earth. This Jesus heals creation's brokenness and prepares our future. The Hebrew for "tear open" in our Isaiah passage implies a rip or rupture that cannot be mended, and is similar to the word used when the temple curtain tore at Jesus' death.

"We are people of hope! Why do we party on Friday evenings? Why do we go to church on Sundays?" Cornel West

Faith, Love, and Hope, these three make us faith-filled lovers and hopers. Let's sing it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mark's Gospel

Concept, Author, Date

• Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year B belongs to Mark's gospel. Along with Luke and Matthew, Mark is a synoptic gospel that views Jesus from a similar perspective, although each has a distinctive personality. As the shortest and most immediate of the four canonical gospels, Mark is the one for texting and tweeting.

• Prior to Mark, good news or gospel was the returning Roman general's announcement of annihilating the enemy. Mark subverts that into the Good News of God's victory over sin and death, the triumph of the reign of life. All known manuscripts carry the heading The Gospel According to Mark, but this Mark probably is an unknown person or group and not Peter's ministry companion John Mark.

• Probably written to Greek speaking gentile Christians, possibly but not probably as early as 45 C.E., almost definitely no later than shortly after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E..


A variety of documents that circulated in the dynamic oral tradition before being written down. Scholars sometimes consider a possible source called Q for the first letter of the German Quelle that means source or river. Was there a Q? Not known. Was Mark Q? Probably not. Between them, Matthew and Luke include 631 of Mark's 661 verses, with about 90% in Matthew; 50% in Luke.

World View, Content

• Proclamation / announcement rather than history
• No birth narrative
• No resurrection account
• Mark doesn't mention Jesus' earthly father Joseph
• Many miracles, healings, and exorcisms
• Mark famously features the Messianic secret: Jesus tells everyone don't tell anyone!

After his baptism followed by 40 days in the wilderness that Matthew and Luke also report (but in greater detail), Jesus calls disciples Simon, Andrew, James, and John; then his first act of public ministry is casting out a demon during a synagogue service.

Just as for Luke, in Mark's gospel the journey to Jerusalem and the cross is partciularly intentional and incessant. For Mark, Jesus' passion and death give us the fullest understanding of Jesus' purpose and identity .

Mark particularly asks, "Where do we look for God? Where do we find God?"

• Not hidden behind clouds or anywhere far from earth
• Not in the temple
• Not in established religious, economic, political institutions

But we do find God:
• Outside the city limits
• In the wilderness
• In the stranger and outcast
• In, with, and under all creation
• On the cross

Do we find God in the mainline church and in mainstream society?

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Reign of Christ 2020


From Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, Ahmal and the Night Visitors:

The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

On love, on love alone will he build his kingdom…
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

Matthew's Year

This is the last Sunday in Revised Common Lectionary Year A with gospel readings mostly from Matthew. What does Matthew emphasize?

Matthew begins with Jesus' genealogy as the story of a new creation. Matthew's Jesus is God-with-us, from an angel instructing Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel (God with us), to the end of his narrative when Jesus promises to be with us always, and then sends his followers out as his presence in the world. Only Matthew brings us the flight into Egypt, where Jesus becomes a refugee. Matthew's Jesus is the new Moses and the new King David.

• This Outline and Review of Matthew's gospel is considerably longer than the above paragraph, but not full of endless details.

Reign of Christ / Christ the King

Every year the church's year of grace ends with the feast of Christ the King / Reign of Christ. Just as every Sunday is Easter, every Sunday acknowledges Jesus' reign and rule. Jesus reigns at the intersection of creation's need and human response. The world knows the fullness of the reign of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ when all creation experiences God's grace-filled abundance right here and right now.

This is Jesus' final address before his trial, conviction, passion, death, and resurrection.
Matthew 25:31-40

31"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. 32Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, 33putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
35I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37-39"Then those sheep are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' 40Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'"

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Royals and Rulers

Talk about royalty–kings, queens, duchesses, dukes, princesses and princes? Kingdoms and principalities? In this digital age we still see scandal sheets at the supermarket checkout. Social media teaser links and TV magazine shows love stories about royals, especially British ones, but have Harry and Meghan and Archie faded into near-oblivion? British royals particularly are well aware of their positions of service to the people. What about others in authority? What about Jesus' rule? How about ours?

Martin Luther reminds us if we want to see God's power, sovereignty, and lordship, look to the Bethlehem manger. Look to the Calvary cross. This Jesus, this Christ, rules against all ordinary human assumptions of power, glory, fame. Unlike other gods of the ancient near east, Jesus reveals a god not of a particular people and place, but a God for all people and all places. Jesus' authority and reign is one of servanthood. Our presence in the world as Jesus' hands, voice, eyes, and ears also is the way of service, the way of being and acting we sometimes call neighborology.

The sacraments model our everydays outside of our gathering around Word and Sacrament on Sundays and other feast days. The sending charge at the end of the liturgy often is something like, "The service is ended; our service begins" – "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." What about Jesus' rule? How about ours? Jesus serves at the intersection of creation's need and our human response. Even during COVID-tide, we discover Jesus in those around us. Exactly as Jesus explains in today's gospel reading, we serve Jesus by responding to the needs of our neighbors. And it gets reversed! In our presence among them, in our service to them, our neighbors meet Jesus. In us! Talk about royalty!

Next week we start a new year of grace with the first Sunday of Advent and the gospel according to Mark, Revised Common Lectionary Year B.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Matthew Outline and Review

Matthew's Year

Revised Common Lectionary Year A has featured the Gospel According to Matthew. Along with Luke and Mark, Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that have a similar perspective, although each has a distinctive focus and personality.


• No indication of "Matthew" as author until the second century, but we can assume followers of apostle and tax collector Matthew.


• Circa 80 - 90. By the time Matthew's community recorded this gospel, the second Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed, but the J-Temple still was standing during Jesus' earthly life.


• Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Matthew may have drawn upon one or two other written sources, but there's no consensus.


• Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic, the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke.


• Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos. Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation as he narrates Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
• Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation; Luke's genealogy goes back to Adam, father of all humanity.


• Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch, Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That particular Antioch is part of present-day Turkey. There's also an Antioch, Ohio, USA.

World View – Content

• Salvation (integrity, wholeness, redemption, shalom) for all the world, for everyone everywhere
• Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God
• Concern about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions
• New David, "Son of David" not a temporary short-term monarch; this new David reigns forever.
• Jesus as God-with-us, from the time an angel instructs Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel, to Jesus' Great Commission at the end of the gospel and his promise to be with us forever.
• Matthew tells us about Jesus' earthly father Joseph; Luke tells us about Mary.
• Visit of the Magi at Epiphany: ethnic foreigners from a different religion reveal God for the world, the young Jesus as Savior of all. Tradition says three kings because of three gifts.
• Flight into Egypt: a new Exodus out of Egypt with Jesus as the new Moses/liberator; Jesus' family unwillingly uprooted as refugees parallels dislocation during the Babylonian exile.
• Five discourses parallel the five books of Torah/Pentateuch. Sermon on the Mount explains ten commandments/ten words God gave the people through Moses from Mount Sinai.
• Some parables are unique to Matthew.
• The only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia" with some guidelines for church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting. Ecclesiastical and ecclesiology are words about the church.
• Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Pentecost 24A

Matthew 25:14-30

14"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Prayer from Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Amen!

This Week

The famous Parable of the Talents! Although parables in the gospels often begin with, "The reign of God is like, the kingdom of heaven will be like," you'll notice this story doesn't mention the Reign of Heaven/Kingdom of God. The Parable of the Talents, beloved of stewardship committees and stewardship drives. Parables are a type of story that compares – literally "casts alongside" different ideas. In Matthew chapter 25, this one comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited people in need.
• The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. verses 16-18

A talent was approximately what a laborer would earn in twenty years. We derive our talent concept for special abilities from this word. The year 2020 has been different from any other, but during normal formal stewardship times the church asks us to pledge financial and other ways we'll contribute our particular talents to the church's ministry and the world's future.

In Jesus's time and place, people believed all resources were finite, so everyone assumed a zero-sum existence. If the rich got richer, the poor must have gotten poorer. If someone's social status increased, someone else's must have decreased. Given that embedded expectation, the third slave did the logical thing by burying the money he'd received so his assets wouldn't decrease. After all, in his lowly situation, he could not have expected better finances or a better social position, meaning any changes he experienced would be negative ones. However, a slave was bound to do the master's grunt work, in this case growing his wealth, which explains the master's anger.

The master chides, "Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest." verse 27

Despite the master telling the guy he could have invested that money, the Old Testament forbids banking and interest on loans; Jesus announces the Time of Jubilee when debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough." When that time arrives, saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations.

Textual note: New Testament words for slave and servant get translated into English almost randomly as either servant or slave, but the Greek in this passage actually is slave.


One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic moving up on ten months—depending on how and when you started counting.

As we've frequently observed, we first ask about scripture's original context, yet we need to contextualize scripture by placing it in our own social, cultural, and economic setting. in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to make the gospel local! This passage from Matthew's gospel isn't about entrepreneurship, it ain't Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, it's not investment banking or municipal bonds, although we absolutely need ways to get what we need, whether that means using dollars, pesos, or euros; whether it leads to baking for baby-sitting, or another type of exchange.

In Matthew chapter 25, this parable comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited those in need. We hear about bridesmaids waiting for the groom (interpreted in several places as the church awaiting Jesus); we hear Jesus retrospectively looking back at how his followers lived out the gospel.

Stewardship committees and stewardship endeavors love this parable because it is about using God-given resources of talent, treasure, and time in ways that multiply the presence of the reign of God in the world; as that happens, both giver and gifted enter into the joy that results from faithful use (stewardship) of monetary and other gifts God has given us. The gospel abolishes counting and calculation, but individuals, churches, and other organizations need money to survive and thrive. Keeping track of cash flow and reserves is an important aspect of trusting God in those areas of receiving and giving.

COVID-19 / Into God's Future

"Well done, good and trustworthy one, enter into the joy…" The master promises faithful servants will be in charge of (steward of) many things, "more will be given."

One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic for too long. During formal stewardship times the church asks for pledges of money, abilities, and linear time people will contribute to the church's ministry and the world's future. God already has been to our future and waits for us there; we've received talents/gifts to contribute to "The Exhibition of the Reign of Heaven to the World" as one of the PC(USA)'s Great Ends of the Church describes it. But unless we're an essential worker, what on earth can we do during Stay Safe Stay Home / Safer at Home / Tier Four Lockdown?

Matthew 25:19, "After a long time" impresses me as being about the gift of time. Weeks, months, and years it takes to earn enough to support yourself and your household, to have enough to donate to causes. Minimally it takes months to acquire basic skills in a craft or a trade, longer to become an expert. If you study music or accounting or history in school, four years of classes is only the beginning. You'll need more time to become close to expert. You know what else? We've had time to pray more!

• Rather than identifying with one of the three servants/slaves or imagining the master specifically as Jesus, what does this passage reveal about the gifts of God?
• Does it promise or imply anything about trusting God with our future?
• Would you call this a parable of grace or a parable of judgment?
• Jesus announces Jubilee when all debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough" so saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations. Amidst uncertainty during COVID-19, what do you imagine God is doing at your future, at the church's future, and for the world's future?

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Pentecost 23A

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
• Intervening verses 3b-13 narrate from Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, and Esau; to Egypt, Moses and Aaron; then to deliverance in the Red Sea to Exodus wanderings through the desert; finally entry into Canaan with the gift of the land with its bounty along with many descendants. God's actions. God's faithfulness. This history with God's grace-filled provision forms "why" for Israel continuing to trust Yahweh as their real god.
14"Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

16Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God."

19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." 21And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the Lord!" 22Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel." 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey." 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Prayer: Psalm 70

Make haste, o God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt. Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified. But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.

King James Version

Hearing, Doing

This alternate first reading for today from the book of Joshua pairs well with the designated first reading from Amos 5:24 that concludes, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Joshua, the sixth book of the OT chronicles Israel's actual entry into the Promised Land of Canaan forty years after leaving Egypt. Canaan already was occupied with people who worshiped many other gods of various types. Joshua 24:15 includes the famous "…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." This is another covenant text; here's the covenant handout from Lent 2019 again.

Before Joshua asks the people whether or not they will serve the real God of heaven and earth, "The Lord," he gives them reasons for trusting God by retelling substantial portions of the people's centuries-long experiences with God. This God hears and heeds, acts and cares; God rescues, protects, frees, and redeems. This God of signs and wonders is powerful enough to annihilate enemies. This God reliably comes through for the people every time.

19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. … 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey."

After the people affirm they will serve God, Joshua tells them they cannot serve this holy God, yet again they insist they definitely will. What does it mean to put away other, "foreign" gods (we all have them now and then—a god is anything we put before and above God at any time) and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of Israel, God of Jesus Christ?

Holy God, Holy People

What does it mean to put away other gods and put the real God first before anything or anyone else? What does it mean to serve a holy God? What does it mean to be holy people in the image of that Holy God?

In Leviticus 19:2 God instructs Moses, "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." The chapter then summarizes the commandments and even includes love your neighbor as yourself in verse 18b. We know the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant call us to righteous lives of justice, love, and mercy.

Most likely everyone has some acquaintance with the worldwide United Methodist Church that's probably the largest church body in the tradition of John and Charles Wesley, and you may know about holiness churches that later derived from that tradition. Historically members of those churches don't drink alcohol or smoke nicotine; recreational drugs are off limits, too. (Some don't dance socially… just like some midwestern Lutherans and Scots Presbyterians?) Those practices and prohibitions help keep head, heart, and body clear and clean for lives of service to God and neighbor, because true holiness in God's image is both inward and outward.

Witness, Testimony

22Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."

Although the people agreed to testify to their choosing to serve God, chapter 24 continues,
26Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27Joshua said to all the people, "See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God." 28So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

• Stones and other objects that serve as witnesses (seeing or hearing) in the Hebrew bible would make a interesting standalone study if someone would like to prepare and present one when we begin gathering in person again.

• You might enjoy Joshua 16-17-18-19 where Joshua portions out those inheritances of allotments (land plots and cities) to the different tribes.

• No questions this week! Please be well, stay well, and continue praying for our country and our world.