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Daily Bible Reflections for the Week of March 29, 2020

Saturday, April 4, 2020
Psalm 42-43

To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?’
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?

O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

During this time of physical, societal, and financial uncertainty, our faith may simulate this instability; one day we question God’s plan and the next day we pray to His omnipotence. The writer of Psalm 42 and 43 expresses these sentiments, and thus we can draw strength that although the writer had a wavering path, confidence in God prevailed.

This pastoral language depicts a great need: As the deer pants for the water brooks/So my soul pants for You, O God (42:1). We crave water, the living water, from our God and Saviour. As Passion Week approaches, typically we reflect, pray, and desire a personal connection with Jesus; the One who baptised us with His water and His blood. Our souls pant for refreshing, cleansing water to quench our thirst and cleanse the discouragement.

Yet, like the psalmist, we face discouragement: Why are you in despair, O my soul (42:5)? Perhaps our aging muscles fail to offer strength, or societal distancing leaves seconds and minutes turning slowly into hours. Our despair lays deep within our soul, and we cry out in wonder of the absence of our faith. We may even think that God has forgotten us: I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me” (42:9)?

However, take comfort in the words of the psalmist: acknowledge fear, recognize discouragement, and then take refuge in our omnipotent Father: O Send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me: Let them bring me to Your holy hill (43:3).

Through this time of uncertainty, and as we approach Passion Week, heed the words of the psalmist. Know that you, like many, may fluctuate in emotions of uncertainty, but God does not. He is our hope and He will not forget us.

[Katherine MacLean]

Friday, April 3, 2020
Mark 10:32-40

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

Mark goes out of his way to tell us that the disciples (or the whole crowd?) were “amazed” and “afraid.” The other evangelists don’t include this detail. Moreover, Matthew, in his version, polishes up the description of the disciples, by having James and John’s mother make the request for status on their behalf, rather than it being James and John themselves. Matthew keeps their hands clean.

But it’s that little nugget at the beginning, the “amazed” and “afraid” that really intrigues me. I’ve written a sticky note in my head for that one. It seems so simple, but one of the common and useful questions to engage when facilitating Bible study is: what stuck out to you/what seemed odd or funny? I’ll be digging into some commentaries and books to look further into this, and next time I’m on the UW campus — whenever it opens — I’ll log on to a computer and go on the hunt for scholarly articles that have addressed that particular verse.

Is that inappropriate, insensitive, self-seeking request from James and John related to the group’s amazement and fear? Is it a coping mechanism? A behaviour that comes out when under stress?

What about you? You might not be quite as taken by verse 32 as I am, but are there parts of the Bible that have made you curious, or troubled you? Verses that pop up in familiar readings that have always made you say “HMMMMMMMM…” What are they?

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Thursday, April 2, 2020
Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.”’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

For some, like St. Francis of Assisi, this story has brought about a profound revolution in one’s life. For others it has caused no small amount of discomfort, if not outright fear. How could Jesus demand so much from us? How is this practical? Is this the same Jesus who welcomed sinners, now raising the bar impossibly high?

This passage, I suspect, is more than just practical advice. The lesson is deeper than being a rule pointing us in one direction over another. It’s a story about how when God calls us, it embraces all of us. We can’t squirrel away a part of ourselves, buried from God’s reach, to be kept for ourselves alone. This might mean that there will be times when we realize that we need to make some changes in our lives. But there are also times when we come to the realization that God wants to make use of the WHOLE of us. That part of us that we never liked, or thought we had to hide or run away from — whether an aspect of our personality, a hobby, or a past experience — sometimes God can make use of that to reach out to others.

“[Y]ou will have treasure in heaven…” What does that mean to you? Is it some sort of deferred gratification? A reward you’ll receive one day, within the pearly gates? Or is it the breaking in of heaven in our world today? Those experiences and revelations that remind us that, when we allow ourselves to be surprised by God, things tend to transpire in a way beyond what “we can ask or imagine?”

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
2 Corinthians 2:14 – 3:6

Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Imagine a Roman military squad processing into a city they’ve taken over, following a bloody battle in the surrounding fields. They’ve stripped their prisoners and are parading them for onlookers to see. Flags are waving, and the horses and armour are impressive. And part of this parade is someone waving a thurible of smoky incense. It’s a single fragrance, but for the Roman forces it’s the smell of victory. For the city folk it’s the smell of defeat, of dread.

It’s likely that Paul is making creative use of this image in this letter to the Corinthian church, in his description of Christians as bearing a fragrance. It’s an extreme metaphor. Our translations, or our lack of understanding of the background behind the scriptures often insulates us from the hard-hitting nature of the Bible. Take a moment to think about this next time you’re reading from one of the epistles and come across a reference to being a “servant” or “follower” of Christ. It hits harder when you read it as “slave of Christ,” doesn’t it? (It might stun us, but ultimately, this can lead to the dismantling of our ordinary assumptions around power dynamics. If Christ is everyone’s Lord, then that will impact how we relate to others, and how we use our own authority.)

“[W]e are the aroma of Christ…. [God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant.” We, the Church, have a role to play in the world. We’re more than just spectators, more than just casual fans. In recent years many Christian thinkers have shifted in how they conceive of the Christian mission in the world. The old way of describing the situation was something like “The Church of God has a mission in the world.” God could and would empower us to accomplish what we hoped to do. But the re-oriented way of speaking of our ministry comes more from our understanding of God as Trinity — a community of Love that, in God’s very nature, is always reaching out and embracing others. So the new way of speaking is more like this: “The God of mission has a Church in the world.” It’s not our mission, it’s God’s. God is working, even (perhaps especially) when we don’t notice it. Nevertheless, God calls us into this mission.

This time of isolation, sabbath, waiting, may very well be part of our participation in God’s mission. On the famous British comedy The IT Crowd the nerds working in the basement of a huge business office are known for answering every phone call with “Did you try turning it off and on again?” anticipating that each question is about a malfunctioning computer. Maybe this moment is like having a computer turned off and on again? How will we be changed after we’ve been rebooted? Will we be more in tune with God’s mission in the world?

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Psalm 124, 125, 126

A Song of Ascents. Of David.
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

A Song of Ascents.
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time on and for evermore.
For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
so that the righteous may not stretch out
their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts.
But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways
the Lord will lead away with evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel!

A Song of Ascents.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

PSALM 124:
The helplessness of the speaker is clear. The Lord protected the people from the dangers of war and natural disasters. The images jump from a beast devouring the people, to a flood of raging waters. The Lord is praised. The image jumps back to a bird escaping being torn by sharp teeth, escaping from a broken snare. The Lord who made Heaven and Earth is the protector.

The speaker realizes his helpless and frail nature and that of others. This weakness is in contrast to the power and strength of the Lord, who prevents all these disasters. The Creator is on their side.

At this time, I am deeply aware how fragile and vulnerable we all are. Everyone is behind closed doors at home. And the Coronavirus is passing over us, like the Angel of Death. Echoes of Moses. David moved from cave to cave escaping the death squads King Saul sent after him. More echoes. We wash our hands and we keep a safe distance, but ultimately, our protection is in the hands of the Lord, our only strength.

PSALM 125:
In this song, the strength of the Lord is compared to Mount Zion. In fact the mountains surrounding Jerusalem are described like strong arms enfolding the city. And those who trust in the Lord are able to draw from that strength. But there is still danger. The land given to the righteous remains under the control of wicked people. And living in that culture, surrounded by that wickedness is a huge temptation for the people to give in and conform.

The singer calls on the Lord to take care of the good, whose hearts are upright. And there is a warning. Those who give in and follow crooked ways will be banished with the evildoers.

This song could have been written yesterday. We too are the Lord’s people, living in a culture that pulls on us to give priority to money and power and the need for recognition – all the flash points where we argue with our friends and family. The last line: Peace be on Israel is true for us. Peace be on us. With a peaceful, upright heart, we will not give in. We will, as Jesus said, be in the world but not of it.

PSALM 126:
Some day, the ill fortunes that befall societies will go away. In this rich land we only have a virus
plague. Other lands suffer all the time from decades of war, poverty, famine and oppression. When their fortunes are restored, they too will sing songs of joy. Their restoration will indeed be like a dream.

I’m fascinated by the second part of Verse 2. “Then it was said among the nations, ‘the Lord has done great things for them.’” Outsiders seem to think a person or a society is blessed by the Lord only when they can see success and riches flow. It’s such a false concept. It’s as twisted and wrong as the Prosperity Gospel preached by so many false prophets these days. The truth is, the Lord never ever abandons people and nations, especially during their suffering times.

The Negev has seasonal rainfall. The dry river bed rushes with water in the wet season. The land is restored. The singer adds that image to the songs of joy. Those who go out weeping will return carrying sheaves. It’s a poetic way of saying those who go forward with faith while suffering will be rewarded.

Taken together, these three psalms echo the same message: the Lord is always strong and it is to the Lord we must turn in times of trouble, not the false gods around us. With the Lord we are safe.

[Peter Mansell]

Monday, March 30, 2020
Romans 12:1-21

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

With this bit from Romans, Paul is coming toward the end of his letter to the Roman church. He’s written a letter that has been probed, debated, and written about by some of the most brilliant and influential Christian thinkers that have ever put pen to paper.

In the preceding few chapters Paul has explored salvation history — how God was revealed to the Jews, but God also calls the gentiles to faith. This leads to questions about the place of the Jewish Law, and the relationship between the Jews and the gentiles. These big, ‘macro’ issues are followed up by today’s reading: a bunch of seemingly scattershot ethical exhortations. In other words, if the traditional Law isn’t the be-all and end-all of one’s self-understanding, what is? How should we act? How do we know if we’re behaving properly? Well: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” If the primary religious duty is no longer about the sacrifice of animals in the Temple, then, Paul writes, it’s about the whole of our lives being a sacrifice — albeit a living one — to God. How we live is our offering to God.

This, of course, isn’t necessarily easy. I doubt the hours I spent scrolling through vapid social media posts was a worthy sacrifice to God… Nor was avoiding the person panhandling outside the bank, etc., etc. There is always so much working against us, leading us to make bad, or at least selfish decisions. “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes, “but be transformed.” To be conformed is to be moulded into a certain shape, from the outside. But the change that Paul calls for is transformation — a change that starts from the inside (by the Spirit) and then radiates outward from there.

In our own day there is a huge desire for change to happen in our world. But so often we frame this change as a “to do” list, or as pressure to conform to one or other group; this strikes me as just replacing one power structure with another. (‘Conform to this new way of thinking/doing, or else you’ll be publicly shamed!!!’) This doesn’t strike me as what Paul is talking about. If we are looking for authentic, lasting change in the world, I believe that the starting point is our insides — our attitudes, our minds, our guts, our hearts. And that change, if it’s to have any hope, will begin from inside ourselves. And many less tangible, undervalued things have a crucial role to play in this: prayer, worship, meditation, scripture reading, learning to embrace silence, and working on our emotions.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Sunday, March 29, 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//texts.php?id=28

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to wait. Waiting for a particularly important phone call or email (refreshing the screen every five seconds), waiting for the results of a test (medical or academic), waiting to get to your destination. A couple of Thursdays ago, following our 7:00 PM compline liturgy, I popped into the grocery store, thinking it wise to get a few supplies, ‘just in case.’ Once I got in there I realized that the toilet paper apocalypse had begun, and the checkout lines stretched across the length of the store. I walked right back out the way I came; I wasn’t going to WAIT that long to get a handful of groceries.

The readings today speak of waiting… of that in-between space that is hard to occupy. The bones that are waiting to be enfleshed and have life breathed back into them… The Psalmist waiting for God like a watchman keeping guard during the night… Waiting to be set free from our oh-so-human flawed nature, as we seek to live fully “in the Spirit…” And the various characters in the gospel story, waiting for Jesus to arrive and bring some relief out of a horrible situation. Even Jesus himself, emotionally vacillating between grief and hope.

We, too, are in something of an in-between waiting period right now, mostly confined to our homes. But this is part of the human experience. It’s part of the experience of salvation. Our faith in God doesn’t make us immune to the terrors and challenges of life. But it does give us reason to trust that God can bring life out the gravest of situations.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Fr. Gerry’s sermon for the day can be found here, in the “sermon” section of the website.