Category Archives: Lectionary Reflection

Weekly Devotional 3 (Haggai 1:15; 2:1-9)

This is my weekly devotional, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, with a theme of inclusion. I started this exercise as a part of the IGRC For Unity newsletter. IGRC for United is a group of centrist and progressive United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan (and its punitive exclusion of LGBTQ people and those who support them), and are working for a United Methodist Church that is truly for all.

One of the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary is from Haggai. This is one of the “Table of Contents” books of the Bible. If I had an actual printed Bible, I would be turning to the table of contents to find it. I know its somewhere near the back of the Hebrew Bible, but its short and easy to flip past. It’s safe to say that the pages of this prophet are not well-worn. This does not mean it’s not worth reading.

Like any of the prophets, Haggai’s historical context is important; and unlike some prophets, it Haggai’s context is remarkably clear. “The second year of King Darius” can be translated to August of 520 BCE. Darius was “noted for his administrative genius and for his great building projects” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Cyrus the Great officially ended the Jewish exile in 538 BCE, 18 years before Haggai. The people were trying to rebuild the Temple, but it was not going well. There were some who considered it of secondary concern. Some were conflicted over how it should get done.

Haggai came to try to set the people on the course of rebuilding. He saw the construction of the Temple as an essential part of their relationship with God, and the people were too busy on their own pet projects to get to work on what mattered. There were some that thought that building something new wasn’t worth the trouble because there was no way that they could recreate what had come before.

Rebuilding is not about re-creating what came before. Pining for the “good old days,” while neglecting what needs to be done now is the most toxic impulse connected to nostalgia. If the Church is to be in the business of renewal and revival, it should not be trying to recreate the 1950’s. We are to seek a relationship with the living God. We are not called to build a museum to what things used to be.

In this passage, God promises restoration and salvation. The promises are rooted in how God has saved in the past, but this does not mean God is doing the same thing as before. God saved and will save again. We are to do our part, rebuilding our hearts, rebuilding our communities, and yes, rebuilding our churches – not in the image of what was before, but in the image of God who creates all, redeems all, and sustains all.

 

 

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Weekly Devotional 2 (Luke 6:20-31)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
Many churches will be recognizing All Saints’ Day this Sunday. The gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 6:20-31. Some call this “The Sermon on the Plain,” because it draws on many of the same themes and sources as Matthew’s much more famous Sermon on the Mount, but Luke 6:17 says that “Jesus came down from the mountain with them and stood on a large area of level ground.”
Geography matters in the gospels. In Matthew, the fact that Jesus was on a mountain was reminiscent of Moses receiving God’s Instruction on Mount Sinai. In Luke, Jesus is on “level ground.” This week’s passage even opens with “Jesus raised his eyes,” to speak. In Luke, Jesus is often about the business of “leveling.” Here, he speaks on level ground and then flips everything about how society decides who were “higher” and “lower.”
Translators differ on if Jesus called the people “Blessed,” or “Happy.” Of course, Luke adds the infamous “Woe to you…” or “How terrible for you…” Instead of thinking of Happy and Terrible, let me suggest “Honored” and “Shameful.” This was a culture where the strict code of honor and shame was very well known, and influenced actions, travel patterns, dinner plans, seating charts, family relations, and almost every aspect of the social world.
There, on the level ground, Jesus lifted his eyes to this ragtag group and called the poor, the hungry, and the hated “honored.” He reserved shame for the rich, the full, and those with good reputations. This was a reversal of all cultural norms. This was an undoing of the social structure that provided stability, and it was the foundation of what Jesus was doing. The Kingdom of God is built on the honor of the outcast and forgotten. Who are the poor, the hungry, and the hated who Jesus would call honored today? Who are those that are discarded, outcast, and marginalized? What would he say to those of us who are on the inside of our institutions and social structures? How shameful it is for us who are rich, full, and respected.
Then Jesus reminds us how to live into this reversal. Stop cycles of violence. Force someone to look you in the eye. Strip naked before your oppressors, thus bringing as much shame on them as it does on you. Don’t place yourself over another in need, shaming them for asking for help. These are rules to live by. This is how the Kingdom of God works. It’s not about shame and honor, placing some over and above others. It is a level ground, where even the Son of Man lifts his eyes to his disciples. On this day we honor those that have come before, we can be inspired to live a new way.
PRAYER: We pray for all the saints who have come before. We thank you for they have found rest after the course of labor. We remember the fathers, mothers, and parents of our faith who molded us, taught us, shaped us, and modeled for us what it looks like to follow Christ. Though they were not perfect, they showed us something beautiful. They led us to you, and for that we are eternally grateful. Let us be inspired by their journey, their struggles, and their triumphs. Guide us in Your Way until we may be reunited and feast together at your heavenly banquet. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

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Weekly Devotional 1 (Luke 18:9-14)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
The lectionary texts for October 27 include Luke 18:9-14. This is Jesus’ parable about two people praying: the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this story about two people praying to a group who “convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust” (Luke 18:9 Common English Bible).
The prayers of these two are vastly different, but in one important way they are alike. They are both praying the Psalms. The Pharisee is praying Psalm 17:3-5 “If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress…” The tax collector is praying Psalm 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy…”
The mistake the Pharisee makes is when he compares himself to the other. He creates a hierarchy, placing himself above the tax collector. Jesus’ Kingdom is not about hierarchy. It is not about social strata, or placing one above the other. Like Mary had sung in the beginning of the Gospel “He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52-53)
Like most parables, we are invited to see ourselves in these characters. It is easy to see yourself as the tax collector and others as the Pharisee. The surprising thing is though, that while the tax collector is “justified,” the Pharisee is not condemned by Jesus. The high is brought low, but not cast out. We must be careful in these divisive times, realizing that both progressives and conservatives can fall into the trap of the Pharisee:
  • Thank God I am not that godless, politically correct, unrealistic liberal…
  • Thank God I am not that close-minded, judgmental conservative…
Instead, focus our prayers on our own shortcomings, our own sin, our own celebrations, triumphs, and victories. This does not mean we ignore others, but we never place ourselves above others. God does not pick and choose. God welcomes and loves all.
PRAYER: O God, show mercy to us, sinners all. Forgive us for missing the mark of your love. Forgive us for the times we have looked upon others with scorn, disgust, or apathy. Help us to see others as fellow pilgrims to be encouraged, not as sinners to be condemned. Empower us to be righteous without being self-righteous. Strengthen us in our weakness, and help us to see all humanity as beloved and created in your image. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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