Category Archives: Lectionary Reflection

Inclusivity Devotional: Jesus makes a poop joke

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 29, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-23

Jesus’ popularity was growing. Crowds were coming. Word of Jesus’ popularity had reached King Herod. Stories of plentiful food and calming storms circulating among the people. Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Wherever he went – villages, cities, or farming communities – they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.”

The Good News of Christ had come. People had bread. People were fed. Even the storms seemed to obey this wandering preacher. The movement was gaining steam and lives were being transformed. Herod wasn’t the only one in Jerusalem who had heard about Jesus. Enter the Pharisees and Legal Experts from Jerusalem. They came to see just what was going on, and what did they see?

They didn’t see the people with enough to eat. They didn’t see people’s lives being restored. They didn’t see the good news preached to the poor and oppressed. They saw the disciples not washing their hands. Germ-theory and best COVID practices aside, this is not what they should have seen. They were students of Torah – they should have seen God’s greatest commandment being lived out. Instead of rejoicing at the love of God and love of neighbor that was overflowing, they saw only the breaking of tradition.

“That’s not how we do it!” They complained to Jesus. “We have rules to follow. We have a discipline to uphold” (Mark 7:5 paraphrased).

They were worried that breaking their tradition could contaminate them. They were worried that if the proper way was not upheld, they would lose their relationship with God. They were convinced that the rules they had created were as important as the Law of God. Jesus, frustrated with their lack of being able to see what was actually happening, reminds them of what truly matters. The rules, well-intentioned as they were – had missed the point.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, “Your worship of me is empty since they teach instruction that are human words. You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you” (Mark 7:7-8).

To get this point across to his disciples, he makes a wonderful poop joke (yes, Jesus makes a poop joke!). What enters the mouth exits the other end and goes into the sewer. The Pharisees were concerned about a rule that mattered about as much as what drains into the sewer. What harms our relationship with God is not breaking human rules. It is denying God’s love. They missed the gospel happening right in front of their face by focusing on what comes to a pile of waste. If they had really been paying attention, they would have seen God’s people being fed instead of hands not being washed.

In the end, we are left to reflect on what are human rules and what is God’s Law. God’s Law is love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love each other. Love yourself. To deny these aspects of love is to ignore God’s commandment. Jesus differentiates between human rules and God’s Law is love. Human rules should help us follow God’s Law. God’s focus is on the heart. So should ours. Focus on the heart. Focus on the love. When the rules and traditions stop helping us do that, they should be ignored. They are worth about as much as what flows into the sewer.

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Inclusivity Devotional: The Armor of God

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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 Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 22, 2021

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the devastating loss of human life, the threats to human dignity, and the fear of a looming humanitarian crisis cast a dark shadow over the reading of Ephesians this week. War metaphors to describe faith in Christ should always give us pause. This is especially so this week.

As we read the author of Ephesian’s language about putting on the armor of God, it is impossible not to think about the wars waged in the name of Christ over the centuries. My mind also goes to old Sunday school posters showing a man in armor – often anachronistic medieval armor – with each piece labeled.

While the labels were things like “peace” and “righteousness” and “truth,” I can’t help but feel like images of the warrior with shield, sword, and a full knight’s steal armor were painting a more lasting image than the words that went along with them. The lesson was simple: we are to be warriors for God, and if this means fighting an actual violent war, then so be it.

It is easy to read this passage and quickly presume that we are the warriors of God, and that all who oppose us are “the rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” It is a short step then, to name those forces of evil. Once they are named, they can then be vanquished, and the armor of God can help us achieve this. For far too long and far too often, this passage has been used to justify militaristic, protectionist discrimination against those considered to be the “forces of evil” and the “darkness of this age.”

To get the full picture of this armor, we must take this letter in its context. This is not meant to be turned into a recruiting poster for God’s army. This is not a rallying cry for Christians to attack and belittle those with whom we disagree. This is certainly not a letter for those living comfortably within the dominant culture.

The letter to the Ephesians was a letter of encouragement to a people facing troubling persecution. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city with important temples and pagan institutions. It was growing much more difficult to participate in the commercial and social life of the city while still following Christ. This letter was meant to remind the Christians how to live in a pagan, oppressive community.

This still feels like a call to arms for Christians who feel they are under attack. The enemies they may name today are secularism, atheism, and liberalism. Many fear the “gay agenda” or buy into conspiracy theories about powerful cabals of child-trafficking predators who are trying to run our government, steal elections, and inject the mark of the beast into our arms. Many Christians feel as if they are fighting a valiant spiritual war by denying the full humanity of LGBTQ people, long-term effects of institutional racism, the existence of a deadly virus, and the efficacy of a vaccine that has proven safe and effective.

It is important to not fall into the same trap and demonize and dehumanize others. People cannot be easily categorized or labeled. Terms such conservative, traditional, orthodox, liberal, and progressive do little to describe humans who care, love, hurt, and learn. The only path we have is to stand firm, but to stand firm with loving kindness. The armor of God is truth, justice, and peace. So, how do we live in a world of increased polarization, misinformation, and vitriol?

The writer of Ephesians does not offer a solution but does give us some guiding principles. Stand firm, but not obstinate. Do not react in anger against your neighbors. Do not respond to violent and militaristic oppression with violent militaristic opposition. Who is my enemy? Not people deceived by misinformation, but forces of oppression, consumerism, addiction, racism, sexism, and homophobia which can be found inside ourselves as much as they are found in others.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” ~ Nelson Mandela

“Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will – and determination – to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Inclusivity Devotional: The Bread of Life

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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 Revised Common Lectionary readings for August 15, 2021

Gospel Reading: John 6:51-58

The Gospel reading this week is the fourth of a five-week journey through the sixth chapter of John. Known as the Bread of Life discourse, chapter six begins with the feeding of a “large crowd” of people. Interestingly, John’s Gospel does not give a head count. Starting with a youth’s lunch of 5 loaves and two fish. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to all those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish. After the meal, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.

In the ensuing discussion over what just happened, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He faces opposition from those who do not understand. They compare his bread to the bread of heaven which fell for Moses in the wilderness. This is why this passage begins, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

The talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is not a helpful metaphor for a lot of people. It feels overly graphic and a little gross. This teaching however, is a great chance for us to remove the Sacrament of Communion from the blood and violence of substitutionary atonement. Jesus is the bread of life. This is very different from “this is my body, broken for you.” 

For many, the idea that Jesus had to be sacrificed for the sin of the world to appease an angry God is an illogical interpretation of the Trinity. If God is love, the violent sacrifice of God’s Son is not a helpful metaphor. Let me add here that substitutionary atonement is a metaphor. It is a Biblical metaphor, but it is but one of many ways that Paul and early Christians came to understand the atoning work of Jesus. Through the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, humanity and all creation is reconciled to God. 

Unlike what some would have us believe, there are many ways of understanding how this happens. Here, Jesus does not call himself the sacrificial lamb. He does not point to a broken piece of bread. He reminds his disciples that he is the bread of life. He is bread that is plentiful. He is bread that fulfills, satisfies, and leaves no one hungry.

Jesus uses eating as a metaphor to describe the intense and intimate relationship he has with those who believe. We cannot be separated from Jesus any more than we can be separated from bread that we eat. When we read that we are to eat his “flesh” we should remember that it is the “flesh” that is the eternal Word of God. In the prelude of John, we are told that the incarnation happens when “the Word became flesh and made his home among us.”

Now Jesus tells us that by eating the flesh, we have life. Jesus revealed God’s way of abundant life for all people. We are invited to not simply believe, but to abide with him. When we do, we are joined in the eternal life of the eternal Word. We eat the bread – not just at the ritual of Communion – but in the life that is abiding with Christ. 

We abide with Christ and eat the bread when we live in non-violent love and grace. We eat the bread when we live as Jesus lives, eat as Jesus eats, heal as Jesus heals, invite as Jesus invites, and love as Jesus loves. When we do this, we abide with Christ. We eat the living bread and live into eternal life.

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Inclusivity Devotional: David and Bathsheba

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. 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.


Lectionary First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 (The Rape of Bathsheba)

Bethsabée *oil on canvas *60.5 x 100 cm *signed b.l.: J.L.GEROME *1889

Our first reading this week is the second part of the sad saga of David and Bathsheba. It is fraught with problems and triggers that can do harm to victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and parents who have suffered from infant death or miscarriage. There is little good news in this story, but perhaps it is a chance to undo some damage that preachers and interpreters have done over the centuries. Bathsheba is perhaps the greatest victim of “victim-blaming” in history, and the one shining light from this text makes this clear.  

The Common English Bible puts it bluntly: “But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes” (2 Samuel 11:27b, CEB). At no point in the text is Bathsheba blamed. Generations of interpreters have read consent into Bathsheba’s actions. A blog post from the site womeninscripture.com says, “David did not rape Bathsheba, as evidenced by his subsequent actions. He vehemently loved her.” The idea that David’s love for Bathsheba exempts him from raping her is appalling.  

Womanist scholar Wilda Gafney has a different reading of the situation: “To come when beckoned by the king does not imply consent. I argue that Bathsheba’s going with David’s soldiers on her own two feet should in no way be read as consent, but rather as holding on to a shred of dignity by not being dragged or carried out… Rape is an abuse of power that can include relational and positional power, in addition to physical power. The power dynamic is clear: David uses the power and authority of his office to wield lethal violence to keep her. He sees her, sends for her, and has sex with her without her consent. He rapes her. In the subsequent narrative [this week’s text], Nathan and God treat David as a rapist by condemning him but not imputing sin to Bathsheba as a complicit, consenting person. Their treatment of her is consistent with the treatment of women who are raped in the Torah statues” (Gafney, Womanist Midrash, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017; p. 215)  

God’s judgment is upon David. Unfortunately, the punishment of David is laid down at the feet of his children and his family. The fact that David’s children – especially the child in Bathsheba’s womb – would be punished for David’s sin is disturbing. Especially to those who have suffered from infertility, infant death, or miscarriage, this does not feel like justice.  

If, however, you read more into the story of David’s life, you may see something else is revealed. David spent his life treating women as pawns. He used, manipulated, and discarded women as was politically expedient. David set up a household built on violence against women, and violence against women lived on in his line. The narrative reveals that David’s children were torn apart by rape, vengeance, murder, and rivalry. His kingdom, while going to Solomon, crumbles soon thereafter. A student of family systems, generational trauma, and domestic violence might recognize that the patterns David set up in his own family continued. And while I do not believe that this was God punishing David for his sin, the trouble in David’s children’s lives does feel as if it is the fruit of David’s actions.  

So, where is the good news in this story? I do not think there is good news in this text. The good news is left for today’s interpreters, preachers, and commentators to see the story for what it is: a cautionary tale that has tragic consequences for all involved. Instead of ignoring Bathsheba (or worse, blaming her), perhaps we can give her a voice. We can give voice to the millions of women who have been victim to violence. We can speak against the power dynamics, misguided understandings of love (I’m looking at you, author at womeninscripture.com), and toxic masculinity that allows for men in power to thrive in their abuse.  

In the end, David found grace and forgiveness, but he was also held accountable. His actions, while forgiven by God, also had dire consequences. We who follow Christ know that Jesus came from David’s line. David’s earthly kingdom split quickly and disintegrated in time. Jesus’ Kingdom, unlike David’s, is not built on violence. It is built on the dignity of all people. It is built on love and compassion. It is built upon the things that first helped David rise to power – faith, hope, and a good shepherd’s care for others.

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Inclusivity Devotional 5 (Luke 23:33-43)

This devotional is a part of my effort to create weekly devotional readings based on the Revised Common Lectionary that look at a Biblical passage through the lens of inclusivity. It is my firm belief that the Bible points me toward an inclusive and fully affirming attitude toward LGBTQ people. Some devotions will be more explicitly about LGBTQ inclusion than others.

November 24, 2019 is known in the Christian year as Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday. This is a relatively new observance in the Christian year. It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. and has only been observed on the last Sunday before Advent since the 1970s. The purpose of the day is to recognize that Christ is the sovereign over all creation. Some call it a response to the rising secularism and nationalism of the day.

World War I was only a few years in the past. Europe was still cleaning up after the destruction of the war, which was the result of rising nationalism and alliance. At the same time, new nations were starting to rebuild and claim their place in the world stage. 1925 was the year that Mussolini rose to power in Italy. It was also the year the Adolf Hitler restarted the Nazi party. In Europe, there were the first inklings of fascism rising. In the United States, there was an increased sense of isolationism and anti-immigrant legislation.

While Mussolini marched in Rome, the Pope declared that Christ is King. This historical moment seems very important in today’s world political climate. Nationalism is on the rise in Europe. President Donald Trump’s “America First” populism is well documented. The world in 2019 is very different than it was in 1925, but many see similar trends and disturbing parallels.

Enter Christ the King. It is in this climate that we must declare that Christ is the King. The national powers, military might, and economic forces are not what reign on Earth. God created all things, and the universal and eternal Christ reigns. And just what kind of King is Jesus? What does it mean to say “Christ is King”?

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 23:33-43, which details the story of Jesus on the Cross. This is the image of Kingship for Christians. It is not the triumphant victor, riding in on a conquering war-horse. It is the lamb slain. It is the self-sacrificial love that would forgive even those who held the hammers. It is the peace that comes even to two men also being crucified.

Lest we forget, Jesus was executed by a King for treason. He was killed in the name of the Emperor for claiming to be “King of the Jews.” In his mightiest act on earth, he submitted to the worst punishment that the kings of the earth could hand out. The Kingship we need now is not that of the Emperor. The King that saves is not the one who punishes, executes criminals, and carries out wars. The King that saves is the one who loves, even to the end. The King that saves is the one who rises over violence. The King we need is Christ the King, Christ the Crucified, Christ the giver of grace. Lord in your mercy, hear us.

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Inclusivity Devotional 4 (Luke 21:5-19)

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 Gospel reading for November 17 in the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 21:5-19. This is one of those weeks where the lectionary, and most of the subtitles of modern printed Bibles, do a disservice to the text. Many Bibles separate verses 1-4 from the story we have for today, which is a huge mistake. In fact, to truly see this passage and its power, the reader should go back to at least 20:45.
   But first, let’s look at the passage the lectionary gives us. In verses 5-19 Jesus predicts not only the Temple’s fate, which is disastrous, but also predicts the coming troubles for those who follow him. Verse 5 opens with people talking about the beauty of the Temple. Jesus responds that this beautiful structure will all come crashing down. What’s more, in the coming days things are going to get worse. He reminds his followers that remaining faithful to him will come at great cost. Many of the things Jesus mentions, earthquakes, famine, and epidemics were not altogether uncommon. These things however, were often interpreted as signs of God’s punishing judgment. Instead, Jesus is reminding them that even in the midst of trial, God’s plan is still unfolding. The disasters are not a sign of God’s wrath, but instead should serve as reminder’s of Jesus’ predictions. The disciples could take comfort in the midst of disaster knowing that their God is still with them.
   Of course, the destruction of the Temple did occur some 40 years later. It is difficult to overstate the trauma of this event, even to the early Christian church. Instead of seeing it as a disaster though, followers of Christ were called to see even this devastation as a sign that God was working in the world – not causing the destruction, but working even through such destruction to bring God’s Kingdom.
   Now, let’s get back to verses 1-4. This is known as “the widow’s offering.” Jesus saw a widow give the last of what she had to the Temple. In the very next scene, the people are marveling at its beauty. Jesus did not see its beauty – although it was quite magnificent. Instead, he only saw an institution that was taking a widow’s last coins. The beauty of the outside of the institution did not match the fruit that it was bearing. Instead of being a place where people were inspired to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien, it was a place where marginalized were pushed farther away. In the verses immediately before the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against those who “cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.”
   The widow’s offering and the beauty of the Temple served as a perfect object lesson for Jesus, and it should serve as a timely warning for us in the grand temples of Methodism today. We live in an institution that has appeared to have a beautiful facade. It is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. There are great cathedrals in our cities, first churches in our towns, General Boards and Agencies that wield power and influence. The Cross and the Flame is indeed a beautiful ornament dedicated to God. Perhaps on the inside though, something has been ill. Does the fruit of exclusion match the fruit that Christ calls us to bear?
   Jesus’ prediction against the Temple came on the heels of witnessing first hand the “devouring of widow’s homes.” What would he say about the Church who continues to marginalize and do harm to our LGBTQ siblings?

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Inclusivity 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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Inclusivity Devotional 2 (Luke 6:20-31)

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Inclusivity 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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