Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Lesson for December 29th

A calendar showing the leap year day. (Image by Wikipedia)
When did you experience God this year?

Isaiah 12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

As each year draws to a close, various news outlets offer lists and summaries of important stories from the preceding twelve months.

The Holy Bible similarly captures over 4,000 years of history so that we might learn from our spiritual ancestors’ experiences with God and recognize God presence among us now.

As you read summaries of news articles, watch videos of significant events, or listen to playlists of popular music from the last twelve months, talk with your family and friends about where you experienced God’s presence.

A Lesson for December 22nd

Dove of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit confirms visions

Luke 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? …

What is the difference between a spiritual vision and a delusion? People with divinely inspired visions and people with delusions can both draw followers, but one’s community of faith confirms a spiritual vision.

Two-thousand years ago a young girl received perplexing news from the angel Gabriel, that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, and bear a son who would be called the Son of God. Mary hurried to her older cousin’s home and received the greeting above. While Elizabeth expresses surprise and awe, I imagine Mary was no less stunned on hearing Gabriel’s message confirmed.

Many  people have told me of experiencing God. I often hear how the Spirit provided a sense of calm and clarity, when panic or distress would seem appropriate. Occasionally people report a divine presence holding their hand through a crisis. Other inferences have been disquieting.

One could easily dismiss such experiences as subliminal suggestions. But spiritual people keep themselves open to God working in us and through us and test inferences with other believers and with Scripture.

January 2: “Time and Time Again”

I. The Text: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1-8 Israel would have depended nearly exclusively on farming, and hence on discerning the season for all things under heaven. Planting too soon would have risked losing seed to soggy soil. Planting too late, risked losing crops to frost. Similarly childbirth and construction had optimal seasons. Even today, foundations are laid in the fall, before cold temperatures makes pouring concrete impractical.

9 The Teacher’s question echoes in people outside the church: What difference does it make?

13 This is the answer: “Eat, drink, and enjoy one’s labor, for that is a gift from God!”

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

Continuing through the end of the chapter picks up the nihilistic attitude in much of Ecclesiastes.
Stopping after v. 15 leaves open the possibility of a redeeming God.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Hebrew manuscripts show unusually few variants/emendations in this passage. This implies that this poem was well known and widely accepted.
  • New Jerusalem Bible translates each of the items in vv 2 – 8 as gerunds. Thus v. 2 becomes “a time for giving birth and a time for dying,”emphasizing the actions of those who labor.
  • NJB sets vv 14 – 16 as poetry connecting verses 12 – 22.
  • The Message translates v. 1 as “There is an opportune time to do things, a right time to …”

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Verses 1:1 and 12:9-10 ascribe this book to Qoheleth, the Teacher/Preacher, a sage. Language forms and vocabulary indicate it was written within a few decades of 250 BC. Attribution to Solomon follows from desires of honoring Solomon by extrapolating from the term son of David (1:1), an appellation given to others (c.f. Matt. 1:20).

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Qoheleth developed a unique vocabulary and style to adapt Hebrew to expressing philosophy.
  • “Toil” used by Qoheleth interchangeably with “life”, emphasizes hard labor, thus differing from other uses of this verb in the Hebrew Bible.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • The book acts like a stream of consciousness, making parsing into short readings impractical. Some have deemed the whole book to be poetry and others the whole book as prose, with little agreement among those who find it a mixture of prose and poetry.
  • The repetition in verses 3:1-8 and pairing of opposites conveys the range of life, without placing values on either side of the pairs, thus showing that in due time, all things are part of the business of God, and not merely the things we like.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center of Gravity: Qoheleth seems to be searching for meaning in life and finds only a vapor (vanity). Although he acknowledges God behind all things, he notes that laborers cannot fathom what God has done, nor change one iota of what God has done or will do.

Emotional Center: Uncertainty of the value of our contributions in life.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

W Sibley Towner (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Ecclesiastes,” Abingdon, 1997) cites a medieval midrash as interpreting verse 5 as two pairs that once behaved as metaphors for sexual relations. He reflects on keeping as paired with throwing away as invoking the virtues of prudence (keeping) and providence (generously throwing away) and brings in Matthew 5:45-46 & 5:48 as exhorting God’s perfection. He writes, “If everything occurs on the God’-given schedule, then this list cannot be weeded.” And a paragraph later states: “One can the hear in this poem a challenge to be wise, to be ethical, to discern when one’s actions are in keeping with God’s time and then act decisively.” He considers the value of a time to die as giving a useful motivator for poetry. He contrasts Qoheleth’s challenge of discernment with the deterministic philosophy of Islam.

John J. Collins (Knox Preaching Guides: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, John Knox Press, 1980) writes “wisdom is not simply the knowledge of what is right or wrong, but rather lies in the timing, since the same thing may be good or bad on different occasions.”

A Lesson for December 15th

Christmas card by Louis Prang
Image via Wikipedia

Mark 1:1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark’s Gospel does not begin by detailing how Jesus was born, but with proclamation. In the original Greek manuscript, the word translated above as “good news” in Mark’s day had a broader meaning of announcing. Thus this passage marks the beginning of the announcing of Jesus Christ.

The ending of Mark’s Gospel highlights the importance of continuing to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. The oldest manuscripts end with the women fleeing from the tomb afraid to tell anyone what they had seen and heard. What it they had let fear keep them silent? What fears are keeping you silent?

The good news of Jesus Christ relies on our continuing to tell the story and to tell how each one of us has experienced this story as good news. We do this by sending Christmas cards and singing carols. We do this by supporting the needs of our neighbors and joining friends and family in worship of the Triune God.

A Lesson for December 8th

Isaiah's Lips Anointed with Fire
Cleansing of Isaiah's Lips

Isaiah 6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Who am I to talk about God?

32 weeks ago I presumed writing a weekly blog about Scripture intersecting life would be easy. My plan is simple: Read the daily lectionary and observe current events as reported in the media, then look for parallels. The hard part is starting with Scripture and allowing Scripture to intersect with life. Using a reading plan, for this blog the Daily Lectionary, prompts me to consider passages I might otherwise skip past and then look for events that correlate.

Many people try to avoid speaking about God, leaving such discussions for the experts: theologians and pastors. Isaiah tried this approach saying: “”Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips …” and an angel cleansed his lips with a burning coal. For Christians, baptism marks our being cleansed for doing God’s work in the world for speaking a word of grace to our neighbors.

When has God given you an opportunity to speak about the divine?

A Lesson for December 1st

a musical present
A Gift Received by Giving (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Psalm 50:12“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.

What does God want for Christmas?

In my family we hint to one another what we would like to find under the tree. Then we call various parents and ask, “What would my nephew like for Christmas?”

Like many families, we also do some year-end giving to various organizations we like to support. One memorable Christmas, my wife and I figured out how much we would give then laid that much in play money on the table and our children helped us divide it between the regional food bank, an international aid agency, the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the local animal shelter. I enjoyed that gift as much as the sled I received when I was about 8-years old, which still hangs on our garage wall.

What will you give God this Christmas?