What are we really thankful for?
2010-11-17 by Ro Ruffin

In 2 Corinthians 1:1-13, we have Paul defending his apostolic status.  The greater part of his argument consists of the claim that in his suffering and affliction God not only spared, but consoled and comforted him.  He does not say God caused the affliction, but suggests that because of the comfort and salvation that followed the suffering, he is able to stand as an example and an encouragement to others who suffer.             

If we consider this in conjunction with Old Testament passages that say God causes destruction (prior to forgiveness and re-establishment) to those who are disobedient (see Micah, for one), even Israel, then a literal interpretation of God’s destruction of the sinner will easily lead to the simplistic conclusion that God causes evil occurrences in our world.About all this:  First, it is dangerous to take this position.  Such a viewpoint leads to comments such as “The Jews must be guilty of some evil, or the Nazi’s would not have murdered 6 million of them.”  Then there is the infamous way Jerry Falwell, speaking with Pat Robertson on the 700 Club, attacked pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, the ACLU, and anyone else he considered unworthy of God’s love, for the 9/11 attacks.  It may well be that the Persians were able to conquer God’s chosen and the other peoples in that area of the world because they had grown lax.  The leaders, according to Micah’s book, had become fat and happy, and very probably arrogant in the assumption that they were favored by God (sound familiar?).  Without vigilance in such a world, a downfall seems all but given.  Only the timing seems uncertain.  And someone like Micah, who is clearly awake and aware, and most probably a highly intuitive person, could read the signs.Scholars point to the several phases of the textual evolution of Micah (Mercer Commentary on the Bible, 1995) beginning with what they believe to be the legitimate section (Chapters 1-3), followed by additions made about one hundred years later during the reforms of King Josiah, and completed with additions made to account for the exilic and post-exilic period(s).  7:5 falls within the last permutation, and looks like a summary of the whole problem…the sin that brought about God’s punishment…the people were abusing their fellows so that God was forced to put an end to it all, and, finally chastised, the people repent, and wait on God…with perfect trust. The evolution of the book of Micah is important to this discussion in a “hindsight is 20/20” sort of way, because whether-or-not it does God justice, and whether-or-not people are really taking responsibility in this, is somewhat suspect.  But, you argue, they are saying their own sin caused the overthrow of their nation.  Sort of.  They are saying that God did it because of them.  So, not only are they so important that God can be pushed into becoming violent, but they are also saying that the violence that ensued was God’s, not humanity’s.  The question I have here is, how much theodicy discussion will I approach in order to suggest to the Christian that we are a generation that refuses to take responsibility for our own actions?  I also wonder how to deal with Paul’s unassailable notion that God is with us in all things, from joy to distress, affliction, and comfort.  The problem I see arising from this is that many have taken his words to mean that God does the afflicting so that good things will come out of it, rather than that bad things happen, yet God, working in and with humans, can bring about much good if we are willing and able to trust and to endure, and to work with God for God’s good purposes.  Absolute dependence on, that is, trust in God is our call. This is how Paul can speak of contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4).  What is more, Paul indicates in the same chapter, that we are to be united as one body in Christ, and that this unity is not removed from the nearness of God.  Thus he speaks of prayer and supplication in 4:6.  He follows up this idea with other practical things that must be done – meditation on goodness – and actions that are in keeping with God’s command to love (as were seen in Paul’s actions).  The promise then follows – God will be with us and give us peace.  It does not say that God will keep us from all affliction in this world.  That would be foolish and maybe even impossible.  The promise is that God will be our constant companion and our constant comforter, not our bodyguard.  It also does not say that God inflicts, though one may certainly see how people have come to interpret his words this way.  It is bad theology, and leads to a lot of talk that is hard to swallow, and that I believe even does much harm.  It eschews responsibility, and people do not grow up.

On the Sidelines
2010-11-16 by Stephen Schuette

Luke 23:33-43; Jeremiah 23:1-6

Painters and other artists through the years have depicted the scene so it’s not too usual to try to understand it visually.  Cinematically I’d begin with a focus on Jesus himself and then broaden to the two who are crucified beside him.  They are different, of course.  One is mocking and bitter about his life and its ending, the other is reflecting about his life and the regrets he carries, accepting of responsibility, and wondering about a larger sense of salvation.

Panning out further there’s the soldiers who also mock Jesus as well as the leaders who are actively scoffing.  So as a “type” the first one being crucified with Jesus has a lot of company while the second is utterly alone in his respectful appeal to Jesus.

But panning out further you see “…the people who stood by watching.”  These are the spectators, standing on the sidelines, and there are more of them than any of the others.  They stand there, completely neutral, and in terms of the scene itself you have to wonder what they are thinking.  I suspect it’s where we would, at least in terms of a beginning, insert ourselves into the scene.  Could these be Jeremiah’s “scattered sheep” finally wandered over to Golgotha by chance and now are facing a decision about this particular scene and whether it means anything, and if so, what?  As they watch I’d focus on their eyes, perhaps zooming in enough to pick up a reflection of the cross in the iris, ending the scene with the now-reflected shot that is in all other respects identical to the way the scene opened.

So it’s the ones on the sidelines that are of interest.  They have yet to reveal any sympathy or lack of it.  They have yet to express any regrets that they carry or any participation in projecting their frustration onto the crucified.  They have yet to identify themselves or identify who Jesus is for them – and how that fits together.

But the fact is that they are now witnesses who cannot remain on the sidelines.  Either they (and we) will see Jesus or misunderstand Jesus, come to know Jesus or not.

With Prayer and Thanksgiving
2010-11-14 by Ro Ruffin

Psalm 28:7, Psalm 56:11, Micah 7:5, 2 Corinthians 1:9, and Philippians 4:4.

For some time now I have been disturbed by a popular trend.  It has to do with giving thanks, so this seems like the ideal time to think it through.  Here is what has been bothering me: I keep hearing wonderful, faithful Christians say things like, “It was because of the cancer that God has been able to make me so strong,” and “I truly believe that God allowed me to be raped by my father because it has made me stronger, and now I am able to help others through their nightmares.” And, “I wouldn’t be who I am, or as strong as I am, if my mother hadn’t abandoned me.”

Are we really saying that God is responsible for such evil?  Some say that it is really the devil that causes all these horrors.  Really?  The devil made me do it?  I thought Flip Wilson put that one to rest a long time ago. 

The broad question is, of course, the question of theodicy.  But, I gave up trying to figure that out many years ago.  What I guess I really want to know is, when are we human beings ever going to take responsibility for our actions?  If I believed that God – the God of mercy, grace, salvation, resurrection, i.e., love – was responsible for all the evil that befalls us, I suspect I would have to look elsewhere for a god to follow. 

“Because it made me stronger; it made me who I am today” and all such ideas, are just too simplistic. 

So, Thanksgiving is nearly upon us.  I don’t buy that God causes, or even allows all the terrible things that happen.  All I know for sure is that when my mind is full of gratitude, my heart follows.  And, when my heart if full of gratitude, I am fully present for others in their need.  Life is good, but it is still full of evil.

I have decided it is time to look at some scriptural references for gratitude (thanks/thanksgiving) and for the other concept that so often accompanies it: trust.  Trust in spite of it all?  Simple, yes, but not simplistic.  It is really about the relationship…God the redeemer, the savior, the lover.  It is time to research a few scriptural references:  Psalm 28:7, Psalm 56:11, Micah 7:5, 2 Corinthians 1:9, and Philippians 4:4.

Thank You to Our Guest Blogger; Cheating the System; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
2010-11-12 by David von Schlichten

Bill has done a sharp and fine job of sharing his reflections, especially on Isaiah 65. Stephen Schuette has also provided a substantial reflection. Scroll down and dive in.

I'm probably going to preach on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, which declares that those who don't work shouldn't eat. At Wednesday Bible study, one of my parishioners immediately saw this passage as a critique of the welfare system. We then all talked about how, yes, yes, there are people who cheat the system (Isn't it interesting that we always think we need to emphasize this point?). At the same time, there are many people in genuine need.

Actually, I would say that people who cheat the system are also in genuine need; they may just need to be cared for differently. It irritates me how many of us oversimplify complex issues by creating categories such as "Those who cheat the system" and "Those who don't." As if every poor person is either exclusively one or the other, and as if being in one or the other determines whether you "deserve" help. Come on.

In any event, my understanding of the 2 Thessalonians text is that it is referring to people who aren't working because they're expecting the parousia at any minute and so figure that there is no point in working. However, the Bible makes it clear that we are to keep on doing God's work, regardless of when the parousia will be.

This passage got me thinking about other excuses we make for not doing God's work. Here's one: "The world's such a mess, why bother trying to do anything about it?" "You can't fight City Hall." "Whatever will be, will be."

The 2 Thessalonians passage addresses passivity and calls for us Christians not to make excuses but to be active, confident that God will make sure that our work is not in vain.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Welcome, Bill Hennessey!
2010-11-12 by David Howell

Wecome and thank you to our guest blogger, Bill Hennessey!
Bill Hennessy is pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Williamsville, NY, a suburb of Buffalo.  He's been in parish ministry his whole career beginning in 1989.  North is his fourth congregation, having served as associate pastor in Peoria, Illinois, solo pastor in Kitchener, Ontario, and head of staff in Bay City, MI before moving to Buffalo in 2008.  Bill and his wife Beth were married in 1988 after meeting at McCormick Seminary, Chicago.  Beth is ordained in the American Baptist Church but is currently not working outside the home.  They have two kids -- Matt who is 14 and Sarah who is nearly 9.  They also share their home with a black lab mix named Molly.  Bill's passions include Beth, spending time with his kids, and playing the Irish tin whistle (just passably).  Lately he's been learning to kayak and hopes to pursue it more if the cold ever lets up in Buffalo.

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