Category Archives: Kyle’s Korner

1 Corinthians

I’m not sure this is “breaking news” or a “developing story” but I need to say that many people believe that 1 Corinthians is one of Paul’s most valuable letters for the Church today. I agree. Paul’s clarity on the character and mind of an apostle, his vigorous presentation of the gospel, and the vivid pictures of the of the actual life and problems of a particular local church at the middle of the first century generate and illustrate its value when Paul wrote it and its continued significant today.

Paul was writing this letter to the church in Corinth, a mostly Gentile congregation and a congregation in a city where the most of the people had been, or were still, adherents of pagan religions. In the opinion of Fred Craddock and Eugene Boring (People’s New Testament Commentary), these folks, likely, did not leave the previous understandings of religion and ethics behind when they were baptized. Paul’s articulation of the basic Christian understanding in this letter, however basic it seems to us today, was radical and unorthodox to the people in the church at Corinth.

Paul was writing this letter to the church in Corinth as a response to particular practical problems of Corinthian church life. Reading this letter is our best window into the life of a first century Christian congregation. Paul responds to these “practical” issues theologically, according to Craddock and Boring, illustrating Paul’s conviction that all life is to be understood in light of the gospel.

In addition to an introduction and some concluding remarks, 1 Corinthians is divided into two parts. The first part (1:10 – 6:20) is Paul’s response to what he had heard. Paul was in Corinth to establish the church. He stayed there about a year or so to get things going and stable. Paul continued on his journeys but kept up with the congregation through people he had sent there to report back. The people reporting back to Paul gave their understandings of the issues facing the congregation. In this first part, Paul seems to be addressing these concerns.

In the second part 1 Corinthians (7:1 – 16:30) Paul responds to the issues in the letter the church had sent to Paul. While that letter was not preserved for our reading, we do have some idea about its contents. Paul responds to issues concerning a) marriage, b) food offered to idols, c) forms of worship, and d) the resurrection.

Woven throughout the letter is the theme of unity. Paul talks often about the “bond of unity,” which, contrary to our thinking today, is NOT good-natured tolerance of one another, but the common gospel and a common baptism already shared by all Christians. Let me more direct — the Unity of the Church is the gospel and our baptism. Nothing else matters. Throughout history in the Church, think about all of the disagreements, fights, divisions we have created and why they happened. None of it ultimately matters because the Church is unified. Think about the ways First Christian Church has disagreed, fought, and divided itself. None of that matters because we are still one because we were all baptized into the same water and we will all be treated by God with grace. Sometimes we lose perspective on that point.

1 Corinthians 12 illustrates this unity and this grace beautifully. Paul writes that there are many gifts, but the same Spirit who gives these gifts. Each of the gifts given is important and necessary for the unity of the Body of Christ. Paul delivers his vision for the unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, as a wholeness of a body. Each part of the body plays a different and important role in the health and wholeness of the body. As members of the Body of Christ, we are all important, no matter what role we play. There are parts that are more exalted and other parts that are less respected. There are parts of the body that are central to the health and stability of the body and parts that are on the periphery but are still needed for health and stability to maintain wholeness. We need the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the feet to move us and the hands to get work done.

Following his chapters on unity, Paul moves to love. 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings as it describes a deepness and bondedness in love. Unfortunately, we have relegated “The Love Chapter” to talk about romantic love between married couples. While it’s very applicable to marriages, the depth of love Paul talks about goes way beyond love in a family unit. As Paul writes, he applies his view of love to the spiritual gifts given by the Spirit, the unity of the body, and how we are to love one another in a way that is inspired by God’s love in Christ for us through the Holy Spirit. Maybe the next time you hear 1 Corinthians 13 read at a wedding, remember where in Paul’s letter it comes and hear a greater call to love than just to your spouse.

Paul’s discussion of the resurrection, to me, is more important than the Gospel accounts. I treasure the story of Jesus’ resurrection as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us but I think Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, tells us what it means to believe. The discussion toward the end of the chapter about things perishable and imperishable, mortal and immortal gives us a glimpse into the significance of daily living and ongoing faith. While I am sad at the death of a loved one, I am confident and hopeful that their spirit will live on forever. The stories, the memories, the values, and the character remain on this earth to inspire, to comfort, and to console those who are left on earth to continue to live our days. Those we encounter on our journey, those who have gone before us on the path of faith provide a model and a framework for how we are to live. Our faith in God remains strong through their witness and the telling of their stories keeps their witness alive. Through it all, Paul assures us that there is no death, just life changes.

Joshua: The Next Generations

As the book of Joshua begins, the people of Israel are preparing to settle into Canaan, their Promised Land. Moses, their leader from Egypt to now, has died and Joshua has succeeded him. This is the opening scene in the narrative about Israel’s life in its new land. Optimism and excitement are the predominant moods of the people. They are ready to live in the land that God had promised them.

The book of Joshua simplifies what was a long and complex process by which the Israelite tribes came to settle in Canaan. According to commentators, the narrative does not reflect the actual course of events. Instead, some details are missing; others are rearranged. One commentator writes, “Archaeological excavations, supplemented by sociological analysis, have helped reconstruct the history of the settlement period. All this has made it clear that the book of Joshua, using an idealized historical narrative, intends to describe Israel, past and future, its relationship with God, and the kind of society it wished to be.”

In American history, think about the stories of the “white man” settling the American Frontier and their relationship with the tribes already living on the land. Today, we have a very different picture of those days. With a little perspective on how we wish we would have treated those tribes, we can describe the horrible things the whites, the American government, did to those sovereign tribes. With the backing of a government and the organization of a military, the American Frontier was “claimed” for future generations. Often times, the justification for such conduct was found in Joshua and the American belief that God wanted them to have this land, regardless of who was living there.

Now, go back to Joshua for a minute. Think about what life might have been like for the tribes of Israel seeking to settle the land. In spite of what the book of Joshua tells us, there was probably very little agreement and coordination among the tribes of Israel. Instead, each tribe wanted to go its own way. After all, that was what life in the wilderness must have been like — confusing, people grumbling, and wanting to do it their way, not Moses’. Now, with new leadership, the tribes are more likely to be disorganized, less unified with differences among the tribes and their leadership. Instead, at a time when Israel lacked a real leader, one is created for them and they rally under Joshua’s leadership. Could this be more of what the people wanted under David’s reign several hundred years later? Israel wanted a strong leader, a unifying spirit, and an awesome presence in the face of their adversaries. I wonder if you, too, hear these echoes today as a new presidential administration seeks to lead our country.

The format of the content of Joshua divides into three parts: 1) Chapters 1-12 describe the settlement of the Israelite tribes in Canaan as a result of a successful military campaign led by Joshua against the Canaanites. 2) Chapters 13-21 report the distribution of the land among the victorious tribes. These geographical lists probably come from the period of the Israelite monarchy. Here they serve to describe the extent of the Israelite occupation of Canaan. 3) Chapters 22-24 include three stories that focus on the loyalty that Israelite tribes owe to their God who has given them the land they now occupy.

I have to admit that the violence depicted in the settlement period turns me off. For years, I have ignored Joshua altogether because of it. In a time when our country is at war (with competing ideologies foreign and domestic), there is a tendency for folks to call upon the book of Joshua and spiritualize the violence showing God’s favor for “our side”. I think that’s what those settling the American Frontier believed and their actions toward those tribes were justified because of it. I believe that violence that serves to unsettle individuals, families, and/or groups of families from their land is evil — no matter who is being violent or by what justification they believe they have.

One commentator writes: “What the book of Joshua affirms is that God’s purpose for Israel was served even by this evil. The aim of the book was not to edify but to move its readers to obedience. For ancient Israel this obedience was an act of faith in the God who brings good out of evil.” I must trust that the redemptive power of God continues to be at work in the world — continuing to bring good out of the evil so prevalent in our experience today.

Reading through the Prophets

Since mid-December in our readings through the Bible, we have been immersed in the prophets. We have read Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and most of Isaiah in the “Major Prophets.” (Daniel is the other “Major” prophet.) Also, we have read or will read the “Minor Prophets” Nahum, Habakkuk, Joel, Micah, Zephaniah, Jude, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Obadiah by the middle of February.

In order to better understand each prophet, it is helpful to talk about what a prophet in the Bible is and is not. It is common for us to believe that a prophet is someone who predicts the future — someone who sees what is about to happen to warn us. We get in our heads the idea that a prophet is like a fortune teller who tries to tell us what we, as individuals and as a community, will become. These people focus on human behaviors and thoughts. However, prophets in the Bible don’t operate that way.

In his 1962 work, The Prophets: An Introduction — for decades the starting point for all study related to prophets in the Bible — Rabbi Abraham Heschel says that prophets in the Bible “maintain a consciousness toward God.” Heschel says the prophet “speaks from the perspective of God as perceived from the perspective of his own situation” to be mindful about who God is and who we are in relation to God. A prophet seeks to be mindful of God’s heart and desire for God’s people within the prophet’s own context.

Often we are caught up in our daily view of life — sometimes only feeling slightly toward the ways we fall short of feeling as God feels, sometimes not at all. Heschel says that a prophet is someone who feels fiercely as God has thrust a burden upon the prophet’s soul. “Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world,” says Heschel. “God is raging in the prophet’s words.”

Prophets, religious prophets, abound in all times throughout human history. Prophets are living today, helping people of faith to see more clearly the world through the eyes of God and to feel more deeply what that heart of God feels. There are people who claim to be prophets, but are just loud and irritating. Gaining a glimpse of true prophecy in today’s time calls us to explore the context, meaning, and message of biblical prophets.

Biblical prophets carry a special weight in our understanding of God’s relationship with people. However, according to Joseph Blenkinsopp in The Harper’s Bible Commentary, those whom we think of as prophets formed only a small and in some respects anomalous minority among Israelite prophets at any given time. They often spoke of contemporary prophecy that they, themselves, condemned as inauthentic (for example Jeremiah 23 & Ezekiel 13). Authentic prophecy is not immediately known in the moment but from the test of time and a living into the vision set by the prophet.

Whether they have their own book in the Bible or are important figures in the story of God’s relationship with humans (Elijah, John the Baptizer are examples of prophets who don’t have their own books), all prophets lived in a particular time and place. As we understand that context, we then gain insight into their message to the people. Prophets who lived before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem leading to the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE) had a message of warning in the hopes of reform. Prophets who lived through and after the Exile sought to comfort the people and reframe their life and faith apart from the Temple in Jerusalem.

The time when the prophet lived shaped the message. The place where the prophet lived shaped the message. The audience to whom the prophet spoke shaped the message. Many prophets spoke to the powerful and wealthy — seeking to reform their ways to avoid a collapse in the structure of society. Where and how the leaders led dictated to where and how the people followed. Other prophets spoke to the people — seeking to understand their condition differently than how the leadership shaped it and lifting them to a higher sense of God’s desire for their lives.

The language of the prophet is difficult for us to hear as the utterances of prophets are rarely cryptic. According to Heschel, prophets’ words are urging, alarming, forcing onward, as if the words gushed forth from the heart of God, seeking entrance to the heart and mind of humans, carrying a summons as well as an involvement. “Grandeur, no dignity, is important. The language is luminous and explosive, firm and contingent, harsh and compassionate, a fusion of contradictions,” he says.

One of the other ways prophets are difficult to read is that prophets don’t tell stories; prophets cast events. They hold a mirror to our behavior, allowing us to see ourselves more plainly, and intensifying responsibility. Further, prophets are impatient with excuses and contemptuous of pretenses and self-pity.

In all of this, it is important for us to recognize and understand the context of each prophet. Their context helps us understand their message to the people. Then, as we understand our context, we can begin applying the principles of the prophet’s message to us. This probably goes without saying, but you know me, I’ll say it anyway… Rarely can we take the prophet’s words and apply them directly to us. This is another reason why reading the prophets is difficult. There is tremendous richness in the words of the prophets to us. Yet, we need to be open to something other than direct correspondence to our time and place. Instead, take a moment in reading the prophets to know when are where the prophet lived and to whom the prophet was speaking. Then, we can begin to understand more deeply the heart of God and God’s desire for us today.

February Reading Schedule

1   Micah 4-5                     Isaiah 52
2   Micah 6-7                     Isaiah 53
3   2 Thessalonians       Isaiah 54
4   2 Peter                          Isaiah 55
5   OFF
6   Zephaniah                  Isaiah 56
7   Jude                              Isaiah 57
8   Haggai                          Isaiah 58
9   Zechariah 1-3            Isaiah 59
10  Zechariah 4-6         Isaiah 60
11  Zechariah 7-9         Isaiah 61
12  OFF
13  Zechariah 10-12     Isaiah 62
14  Zechariah 13-14     Isaiah 63
15  Malachi 1-2              Isaiah 64
16  Malachi 3-4              Isaiah 65
17  Obadiah                    Isaiah 66
18  Joshua 1-3               Psalm 52
19  OFF
20  Joshua 4-6               Psalm 53
21  Joshua 7-9               Psalm 54
22  Joshua 10-12          Psalm 55
23  Joshua 13-15          Psalm 56
24  Joshua 16-18          Psalm 57
25  Joshua 19-21          Psalm 58
26  OFF
27  Joshua 22-24          Psalm 59
28  1 Corinthians 1-2   Psalm 60

January Reading Schedule

2 Ezekiel 1-4              Isaiah 26
3 Ezekiel 5-7              Isaiah 27
4 Ezekiel 8-11           Isaiah 28
5 Ezekiel 12-15         Isaiah 29
6 Ezekiel 16-19         Isaiah 30
7 Ezekiel 20-23         Isaiah 31
9 Ezekiel 24-26        Isaiah 32
10 Ezekiel 27-30      Isaiah 33
11 Ezekiel 31-34      Isaiah 34
12 Ezekiel 35-38      Isaiah 35
13 Ezekiel 39-42      Isaiah 36
14 Ezekiel 43-45      Isaiah 37
15 OFF
16 Ezekiel 46-48      Isaiah 38
17 1 John 1-3           Isaiah 39
18 1 John 4-6           Isaiah 40
19 2 John & 3 John       Isaiah 41
20 Lamentations 1-3    Isaiah 42
21 Lamentations 4-6    Isaiah 43
22 OFF
23 1 Peter 1-3           Isaiah 44
24 1 Peter 4-6           Isaiah 45
25 Nahum                 Isaiah 46
26 Habakkuk           Isaiah 47
27 1 Thessalonians 1-2          Isaiah 48
28 1 Thessalonians 3-5          Isaiah 49
29 OFF
30 Joel                        Isaiah 50
31 Micah 1-3             Isaiah 51

Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is my favorite Gospel for preaching and inspiration. Especially as we approach Christmas Eve, I love Luke. From the beginning, the intent of Luke is clear — to present Jesus as the One who will break through the divine-human divide to restore the relationship between God and God’s people to wholeness. Through the tenderness and compassion of Jesus extended to everyone who has need, we gain a glimpse of what living in that restored relationship looks like and feels like. The love of God, the grace of God, is universal; it is not just for the faithful Jews. It is not just for people living in and around Jerusalem at the time Jesus put his sandals on the earth. It is not just some cosmic, hoped for ideal. The love of God permeates all times and all places for all people. The barrier between God and humanity is removed, never to be put back in place.

At this time of year, we are familiar with chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s gospel. We love to hear and find hope in the stories of the prophecies to Zechariah and Elizabeth regarding John the Baptizer. We find courage in the angel’s appearance to Mary and her conviction to be faithful. We trust in the witness of Simeon and Anna as they recognized the mission and ministry Jesus was to live for all people everywhere.

As a freshman in college, I sang in the Phillips University Choir. I am forever grateful to our director that year, Dr. Jerry Blackstone. We sang a version of the “Nunc Dimittis” (Luke 2:29-32, named for the first words of the Latin translation) that has forever touched my soul. As Simeon held the infant Jesus, he proclaimed, “Master (or Lord), now you are dismissing your slave (or servant) in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Those words, paraphrased, to music, are powerful. They witness to the reality and a moment in time that changes to course of life as it is known — salvation for all peoples, a light for revelation and glory. As we approach this Christmas Day, may we gain a glimpse of that reality and how it might change us and the way we live.

That’s just the first two chapters and there’s more to come! The Gospel of Luke is volume one of the Luke-Acts story. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ life and ministry outside of Jerusalem and his journey to Jerusalem to face the cross and open us to the empty tomb. Acts tells us of the peoples’ response to the empty tomb and the sharing of God’s love for all people beyond Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.

More than the other gospels, Luke challenges our ideas of what is expected or common. Luke challenges our ideas about how we experience God’s presence and activity in our lives and in the lives of others. Luke is one of the “Synoptic Gospels” (synoptic meaning “same view” — Matthew, Mark, and Luke) because, like Matthew, it follows the outline of Jesus’ ministry according to Mark. Mark provides the structure and the basic content contained in the Synoptics. Mark does not have any unique stories or teachings of Jesus. However, Matthew and Luke have common material that is not in Mark and they each have stories about Jesus that is unique to their gospel.

It is this unique material and perspective on Jesus’ life and ministry that separates Luke from the other writers. This uniqueness is exemplified continually through the words and works of Jesus extending compassion and tenderness to all who are needy. No individual or group is above or below, too far or too near, the challenge of seeing the world in a new way in the realm of God. In Luke, it is usually the Outsider who first recognizes who Jesus is and what he is doing. It is the one who is not expected to have faith that has faith. The one sheep out of 100 is not too insignificant to stop everything else and care for that lost one.

Last Sunday, when it was 24 degrees, north wind blowing, and ice on the ground, I was the last to leave the church (worship had been at First Presbyterian for the cantata). As I walked to my car, someone was walking through the parking lot. We greeted each other and mentioned the cold weather. In a moment, I offered the person a ride to wherever they were going. I’m not in the habit of just offering strangers rides, but there was something about this person and this exchange that led me to offer. The woman seemed surprised at my offer and, surprisingly, she accepted. Again, I don’t think she is in the habit of accepting rides from strangers, but something seemed different about this moment.

As it turned, she was just getting off of work from Hardee’s. She works many Sunday mornings, but when she isn’t working, she attends Bright Temple. As soon as she can find a job that won’t have her working Sunday mornings, I think she will move on from Hardee’s so that she will be able to worship with her church family. In the 5 minutes or so to Park Trail Apartments, we connected and that connection reinforced the reality I experience is not everyone’s reality.

My reality is that I don’t live in the cold. I live in a warm house with plenty of warm clothes where I can prepare warm food and drive in a car that is warm. I exit that warm car go into a warm building where I work or shop or play. In the places I go, I am in relationships with people whose personalities are warm toward me and I toward them. I do not live in the cold, I merely go through it from one warm place to another. Even next week, when I go to northern Iowa for Christmas, the temperatures will be cold, but everything else about that time will be warm.

Today, this week, this winter, whenever you read the Gospel of Luke, I invite you to reflect on your reality — where there is warmth and tenderness and compassion. I invite you to reflect on ways you can share that reality for others who don’t expect warmth or tenderness or compassion. The message of Luke’s gospel is simple and profound: you will find warmth in God’s love, tenderness, and compassion in unexpected places, from unexpected sources, and in unexpected ways. May you be open to receiving and sharing generously with others today and always. Merry Christmas!

Letter of James

The Letter of James begins with a greeting that is similar to many greetings in letters (or epistles) in the New Testament. But other than that, James lacks other formal characteristics of a letter. This letter reads more like an elegant treatise than a letter to particular group. That’s not intended to diminish this letter in any way, but to describe the tone and the context.

There are a couple of potent quotables (to borrow a “Jeopardy” category) in James — 1:22 says, “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” and 2:17 says, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” These quotes and several others lead us to believe that the Letter of James pushes us to consider an ethic that is deeply Christian, a way of living and thinking that is fundamental to be a Christian, or in “Christian-ese,” piety. This ethic, or piety, presented in James is centered around conflicts or tensions between rich and poor.

Biblical scholar, A.K.M. Adam says that throughout the letter, James drives toward the point that our theological integrity — our whole-hearted, consistent, comprehensive devotion to God — requires of us a particular kind of life and character. As God brought us into being in an act of perfectly free giving, so we — “a kind of first fruits of his creatures” — display God’s own changeless goodness and generosity by truthfulness, humility, gratitude, patience, steadfastness, and generous provision for those who depend on us. In 1:8, James criticized those who respond to God with only partial commitment as “double-minded and unstable in every way”, echoing Jesus’ warning against setting one’s heart on earthly treasures, or against putting one’s hand to the plough and looking back. James understands the inclination to mix allegiance to God with practical concerns for oneself, but cautions his readers that such divided loyalties will not withstand the trial of hard times.

James 2:14-26 has echoes in material we have recently read — Galatians 2:1-14 — in that age-old discussion about the relationship between faith and works. James and Paul (the writer of Galatians) agree that a Christian life should be expressed by deeds of charity, but not bound by rituals and rules of religion that create barriers to expressing one’s love for neighbor. Yet, to merely have faith and not act in love toward others, James says, does not fulfill the purpose of having faith. James advocates for people with faith to naturally act that faith, allow faith to change their lives and, in turn, change the lives of those they encounter. What a powerful witness it would be to the power of Christian belief if there would be a collection of individuals who possessed such faith and sought to act their faith!

I am struck by how pertinent the wisdom of chapter 3 remains (particularly 3:1-10). Our tongues have power to bless and curse. These days, it’s easier to curse, criticize, say what’s wrong and/or tell everyone how we would have done it differently and/or better. It’s easier to say something quick and witty that drips with sarcasm or cutting another down. It’s easier to sit on the sidelines and play armchair quarterback or backward looking analyst. It’s easier to do because that is what will get you noticed or encourage others to respond. Negativity, criticism, and picking things apart is what gets the clicks on social media. I wonder, sometimes, if Christians, the Church, has lost it’s voice because we have been more concerned with telling others how to live their lives, getting noticed by saying outlandish things in a brash way. I wonder if we have lost our voice because we have forgotten to use the power of the tongue to bless. I wonder if we have lost our voice because what we thought we were doing was blessing, but came across to others as cursing. I wonder if we have lost our voice because we had a stronger need to “be right” than to “do the right thing.”

In moving into chapter 5, James knows that the people to whom he was writing (past, present, and future) were still fallible creatures and would fall short. In this season of Advent, in preparation for Christmas, may we come to understand James’ perspective on how to live with our socioeconomic differences — which create differences in perspectives on how the world works and relationships sometimes function — in Charles Dickens’ character, Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol. Sometimes we need to see the world with new eyes to understand how wealth and privilege — or the lack of it — shapes how we see others and others see us.

In 5:7 James encourages us all to be patient for the day when Christ will come again and all of the work through the ages will come to fruition. The seeds have been planted and the farmer is hard at work for the harvest. In the meantime, “beloved, do not grumble against one another.” (5:9)


So, I’m still playing catch up this week. I’ve had a few blog posts stewing, but haven’t published yet. This week and next, I hope to be completely caught up. In helping to understand the book of Deuteronomy I encourage you to read the “Foreword” for the book found in your Bible to understand the form and order of the text.

My friend and colleague, Cara Gilger, once said that one of the most striking things she found in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, where Moses is recounting the Israelite’s journey, is the idea of choosing your battles. In Deuteronomy 1:22-43 recaps how the Israelites were called into the land, but because of their doubt, they changed their minds about wanting to fight their battle. When told of their punishment for disobedience the Israelites then wanted to fight, even after being warned that God would not be with them.

Gilger writes, “How often have I tried to fight a “battle” that I knew I couldn’t win either with my family or at school or work? I think this passage reminds me of the value of listening to God in a discernment process. I think so often we get caught up in what we want or what will be easy or fun or in our best interest and we forget, like the Israelites that we are connected and one generation’s decision can affect many generations to come.”

Currently, in the news, the story about the oil pipeline being constructed in South Dakota strikes a chord with me about long term consequences for our decisions. Supporters of the pipeline encourage us to think about the jobs and economic benefits to come with this pipeline. Those opposed to the pipeline are against it because of the long term harm to the environment (disturbance in construction and potential future accidents) and the land that is considered sacred by the Tribes who live in that area. How is God speaking in this moment? What do we view as most important in looking toward the future? Are the economy and the environment on opposite ends of God’s voice?

Chapter 5 begins the largest portion of Deuteronomy which communicates the law. One my favorite passages comes from the sixth chapter where Moses commands the people to love their God with all their hearts and to share this with their children, at home and when they are away. How do we share our stories of faith? How might we consider that which God has called all of God’s people to do—share their stories of faith and love. How have you experienced God’s love at FCC? What else can we do?

Chapter 12 begins the restatement of the Law Code that dominates the purpose of Deuteronomy. This section of the narrative is to establish social order within the Israelite community as the people of God, giving them boundaries for what is appropriate behavior, how to treat one another and how to celebrate God’s presence properly. As you read these sections consider how these social codes can be still be seen in our culture and what ones seem silly or even ridiculous now. What strikes you as odd? What seems familiar?

For example, most of the foods the Israelites are encouraged not to eat in chapter 14 are still foods that we don’t eat, however they were banned from eating animals that chewed cud and one of the most eaten animals in the American culture is the cow. Some scholars have suggested that these food laws were developed over time and reflected an overall concern for the health of the community, but more than likely the concern was for ritual purity. At that time, there was a pressing concern for the purity of the community and this idea that an individual could contaminate the purity of the whole community. This was not in the metaphorical sense we think of today, but rather the Israelites would have considered this very literal since they did not see themselves as individual first and community members second as we do. Therefore, what each individual does to their own body effects the body of the whole community in the sight of God.

In chapter 27, tensions between law and grace emerge, tensions that are at the heart of the apostle Paul’s writings to the Romans and Galatians in the New Testament. As the people of Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan and into the Promised Land, the law appeared to be the indispensable key to success and achievement. Ronald Clements writes, “Yet for those, like the deuteronomic authors, looking back over what had happened since the death of Moses there was a consciousness of failure and disaster. The law had been the guidebook Israel had failed to follow. Accordingly, chapters 27-30, brings a consciousness to this fact very forcefully to the reader. The book of Deuteronomy is an optimistic document, setting out a story full of promise and hoped-for achievement. Yet hidden away in many of its warning speeches and poetry is a very gloomy and despairing note. It is a warning concerning the curse of the law and the pain of regret felt by authors surveying the prospect of a world that might have been. Only by coming to terms with this note of gloom and near despair does a fresh message of hope and renewal come to the surface.”

I wonder how Deuteronomy, on this level, speaks to us today…

Letter to the Galatians

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians has been deemed by many scholars to be the “Magna Carta of Christian Liberty” because it deals with the question of whether Gentiles must become Jews before they can become Christians. Paul writes this letter generally to the church in Galatia that he established. However, the content of the letter is pointed to address the issues at hand.

The target of his pointed language is at Peter who has been known to have eaten many meals with the people in the church without observing Jewish food laws. Paul attacks Peter, a strict advocate that Gentiles must become Jews before they can become “real” Christians, over his personally relaxed attitude toward Jewish food laws when he is dining with the Galatians while maintaining his very public cry for strict adherence to all things Jewish — food, circumcision, and other purity laws.

We, Disciples, don’t have creeds or tests of faith and believe that the Table of Grace is open to everyone seeking God’s love, grace, and wholeness. However, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we have established barriers to being a full participant in the life and ministry of our congregations. At some point (which is code for “we should have been considering this all along, but we aren’t, so I mean now”), we need to consider what those barriers are, why we have them, and how we might begin to remove those barriers so that all might feel welcome.

To that end, Alicia Vargas, a dean and professor at Pacific Lutheran Seminary, encourages us to ask these questions of Galatians and ourselves:
In his mission to take to gospel of Jesus Christ to non-Jews, Paul confronted the large questions of ethnic and religious practices and requirements for Christians of different backgrounds and traditions. How do we as the church measure up in these kinds of questions?
To what extent are our congregations mixed at all, combinations of people from divergent ethnic and religious/denominational backgrounds?
Do we diligently strive to find ways to be both fully respectful of racial/ethnic differences among the people while at the same time being mindful and discerning of what are those things that are and are not essential in making us who we are?
In our churches, do we implicitly or explicitly require new participants (“members”) to conform to previously existing patterns of congregational behavior? Are there requirements or expectations for specific doctrinal affirmations or other expected behaviors?
How diligent are we in discerning what is necessary and what is contingent in these matters of congregational life and faith?
And as important as these matters are, — and they are very important — do we really and truly take to heart Paul’s message that no human acts or works, none whatsoever, are what ultimately justify us with God?

Humans have expectations of who God is and how God acts. In the Church, we heap our expectations on one another and barriers to who gets in and who doesn’t. What would/could our congregations look like if we removed the barriers and relaxed our grip on what we thought God is doing? Galatians helps frame that conversation for us today.

December Reading Schedule

1 James 1-2 Psalm 50
2 James 3-5 Psalm 51
3 Luke 1-3 Isaiah 1
5 Luke 4-6 Isaiah 2
6 Luke 7-9 Isaiah 3
7 Luke 10-12 Isaiah 4
8 Luke 13-15 Isaiah 5
9 Luke 16-18 Isaiah 6
10 Luke 19-21 Isaiah 7
11 OFF
12 Luke 22-24 Isaiah 8
13 Jeremiah 1-3 Isaiah 9
14 Jeremiah 4-6 Isaiah 10
15 Jeremiah 7-9 Isaiah 11
16 Jeremiah 10-12 Isaiah 12
17 Jeremiah 13-15 Isaiah 13
18 OFF
19 Jeremiah 16-18 Isaiah 14
20 Jeremiah 19-21 Isaiah 15
21 Jeremiah 22-24 Isaiah 16
22 Jeremiah 25-27 Isaiah 17
23 Jeremiah 28-30 Isaiah 18
24 Jeremiah 31-33 Isaiah 19
25 OFF
26 Jeremiah 34-36 Isaiah 20
27 Jeremiah 37-39 Isaiah 21
28 Jeremiah 40-42 Isaiah 22
29 Jeremiah 43-46 Isaiah 23
30 Jeremiah 47-49 Isaiah 24
31 Jeremiah 50-52 Isaiah 25