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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for December, 2010

Are We Reverently Responsive?

Luke 5:1-26    Ezekiel 48    Isaiah 66

Thank you for journeying with us through the Bible this year! I trust that this daily blog has been helpful to you. I would love to know who our fellow travelers have been, so I invite you to use the comment option today to leave your name. Peace to you, beloved of God! May you forever stay in the story and keep singing the song! Now on to our final reflection . . .

“And the name of that city from that time on shall be, The Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35). This is the final vision of Ezekiel: the New Jerusalem shall be known as the place where God is. Isaiah, likewise, concludes with an expectation of a new heaven and earth, and envisions “all flesh” coming to Jerusalem to worship before the Lord (Isaiah 66:23). And the year’s final reading from the gospel of Luke leaves us with a picture of  people glorifying God and filled with awe as they come in contact with Jesus (Luke 5:26). What might we learn from these texts as we complete our read through the Bible project and move into a new year?

“And they glorified God” (Luke 5:26). When? Most immediately, as they witness a paralyzed man stand up, take his bed, and go home, “glorifying God” (v.25). But this wasn’t the only “strange” and awe-inspiring thing they had seen . . . Others had been healed. And they had witnessed Jesus forgiving sin. And there was the following (v.11). And the evidence (v.14). And the faith (v.20) . . . What led the people to glorify God? It was a response to seeing Jesus doing the work of God in and through . . . people. Which leads back to a question concerning the prophets and their final word: How will “all flesh” know that “The Lord is There?”  Well.

“This is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). The last phrase is translated in this way in The Message: “reverently responsive to what I say.” Is not this the way folks know that God is present? As people humbly and obediently prove to be “reverently responsive” to God’s word? Observe, by way of example, the man healed of leprosy. Jesus is quite specific: his testimony will be his cleansed and obedient life, not his words (Luke 5:14). And what, then, of us? It is one thing to read God’s word, but it is quite another to be reverently responsive to that word. Are we? Will we be? This much is certain: As we are, people will know that the Lord is present, and they will glorify God! Have you completed the journey through the word? Well done! Have you entered the story and joined the song? Well. The answer to that lies in the testimony of life — yours and mine. May we forever be people of the story and singers of the song. May we be reverently responsive to God’s living word. And may all flesh glorify God! Amen. And Amen.

“For as the new heavens
and the new earth,

which I will make,
shall remain before me, says the Lord;
so shall your descendants
and your name remain.

From new moon to new moon,
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
says the Lord.”
— Isaiah 66:22,23

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Have You Seen This?

Luke 4:31-44    Ezekiel 46-47    Isaiah 65

“Mortal, have you seen this?” (Ezekiel 47:6). Have you, in your reading of God’s word, had a good look at where the story is heading? Do you see it in Jesus, as he cures the sick and commands unclean spirits “with authority and power” (Luke 4:36)? How about in Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from the throne of God, giving life wherever it flows (Ezekiel 47:9)? Or Isaiah’s prophecy of wolf and lamb eating together in peace (Isaiah 65:25)? Do you see the trajectory of the story? Hear the consistent theme of the song? Son of Adam . . . Daughter of Eve . . . Child of God  . . . have you seen this?

“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). And, while we aren’t there yet, we’re closer than we were. And it will happen. The coming of Jesus guarantees it, demonstrating God’s authority and power to accomplish what the prophets envisioned: Evil vanquished! Weeping replaced by rejoicing! Death gives way to life, as stagnant waters teem with life and deserts blossom and bear fruit! Healing! Wholeness! Peace! And all are invited (Ezekiel 47:21-23)! “Everything will live where the river goes” (Ezekiel 47:9). The dwelling of God will be among mortals (Revelation 21:3; Ezekiel 37:27) and death will be no more in God’s new creation (Revelation 21:4; Isaiah 35:10). This is where we are headed. This is the direction toward which the story flows; every rivulet, every stream. And it will be so. This is why:

“Here I am, here I am” (Isaiah 65:1). God is here. Now. Always available. Always “ready to be sought out.” With hand extended, offering to touch and heal (Luke 4:40). Always. And this, too, is seen throughout the story, is it not? “Here I am,” says God. And “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together.” Guaranteed! May you see it. May you believe it. May you expect it. And may you forever live the story and sing the song. Amen.

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent — its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.”
— Isaiah 65:25

Drama, or No, God Is With Us

Luke 4:1-30    Ezekiel 44-45    Isaiah 64

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). So prays the prophet Isaiah on behalf of his people. “Stop hiding! Reveal yourself! Dramatically. Powerfully. Make mountains quake and adversaries tremble! Now!”  . . . Perhaps you understand the desire. Perhaps you have prayed in much the same way . . . And, as Ezekiel witnesses “the glory of the Lord” filling the temple (Ezekiel 44:4), we see that sometimes God’s presence is, indeed, dramatically known. Yet, it is in Luke’s reporting of the initial movements of Jesus’ ministry that our more common experience of God-with-us is revealed: as a strengthening presence in the midst of wilderness and temptation (Luke 4:1-13), or as an unexpected challenger of our assumptions, easily missed or quickly rejected (4:14-30).

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The claim? In Jesus God has, indeed, torn heaven open and come down (Luke 3:21,22). Yet, rather than quaking mountains and trembling adversaries, the signs of his coming are a hometown boy declaring that God loves all people — even foreigners (v.25-27)! The response is a rattling rage and outright rejection (v.28,29) . . . And there it is: God present and unrecognized. I wonder how many times it has happened to us? We seek God . . . ask for God’s help . . . cry out for strength . . . and, failing to recognize God-with-us, also fail to avail ourselves of God’s presence . . . It doesn’t have to be this way, beloved. There is another way. It is the way of Jesus in the wilderness.

“It is written” (Luke 4:4,8). So Jesus responds to the temptation to doubt his sonship. So Jesus availed himself of the power and presence of God in the wilderness. Prayer . . . solitude . . . fasting . . . silence . . . and God’s word already given . . . These are the resources Jesus drew upon. There was no need for more than this. God was already present with Jesus. As God is with us. Drama, or no. Is this not the heart of the story we have been reading? The challenge isn’t in convincing God to show up, the true challenge is to tune in and recognize God-with-us. This we do through intentionality and discipline, following the model of Jesus himself. Read God’s word. Listen in prayer. Be quiet and attentive to God present. Stop assuming and pay attention . . . May you know God with you always. May you be open and receptive to the Spirit’s guidance. And may you always remember that God “works for those who wait” (Isaiah 64:4). Amen.

“Yet, O Lord, you are our father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.”
— Isaiah 64:8

We Are God’s Beloved Children.

Luke 3:21-38    Ezekiel 42-43    Isaiah 63

“You, O Lord, are our father” (Isaiah 63:16). And alongside this word of the prophet, today’s readings include Luke’s identification of Jesus as “son of Adam, son of God” (Luke 3:38). Why does Luke (unlike Matthew) trace Jesus’ heritage past Abraham, and through Adam, to God? And why would Luke, who has made clear his intention to write “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of the gospel, insert Jesus’ genealogy between his baptism and temptation, which both Matthew and Mark intimately link? Well. It appears that Luke intends to include us in the story. All of us. Do you see it? We, like Jesus, are children of Adam, children of God. God is father of us all. Beloved of God, we are in this story together. And God is with us . . .

“And the earth shone with his glory” (Ezekiel 43:2). And when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, “the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him” (Luke 3:21,22). Quite a contrast between these images and that of a people who ask God to “look down from heaven and see” (Isaiah 63:15)! Beloved, God our father has never been content to simply observe our story from a distance. The earth shines with God’s glory. Heaven is open. A child is born. A son is given. The Spirit descends. God is present. And God’s deepest desire for every one of us is expressed in the word spoken over Jesus:

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The word stands in stark contrast to that of Isaiah, “they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit” (Isaiah 63:10). And in the contrast we see our choice: please God or grieve God. Rebel or obey. And we do have the choice, as Jesus, “son of Adam, son of God,” reveals; for we, like him, share a common heritage as beloved children of God. And this is true whether we believe it, or not (and not believing it is, as Luke 4 will reveal, our common temptation).  Sons of  Adam, sons of God . . . daughters of Eve, daughters of God . . . We are all God’s beloved children, and nothing can change this. May we, therefore, follow Jesus, our brother, in obedience and prayer. And may we each receive and hear that most precious word of the father, “you are my beloved child, and I am very, very proud of you!” Amen.

“You, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old
is your name.”
— Isaiah 63:16

Preparing the Way.

Luke 3:1-20    Ezekiel 40-41    Isaiah 62

“Prepare the way for the people” (Isaiah 62:10). And “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4). Add to these words Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (Ezekiel 40-41), and it is the theme of preparation that emerges as the predominant message in today’s readings. Prepare the way for the Lord and the people! Make the paths straight and clear! “Your salvation comes!” (Luke 3:6; Isaiah 62:11). And how, as we read the words of these three prophets of God, are such preparations made? What is the work that makes for a straight and clear path between the Lord and “the Redeemed of the Lord”? (Isaiah 62:12). Well.

“Mortal, look closely and listen attentively” (Ezekiel 40:4). In these instructions the essential root of preparation is to be found. Do you see it? “The word of God came to John” (Luke 3:2) . . . “the hand of the Lord was upon me” (Ezekiel 40:1) . . . “the Lord has proclaimed” (Isaiah 62:11). The first work of preparation is the work of God on our behalf. First God speaks. First God takes action. And we? We are to “look closely and listen attentively” so that we may catch the vision of what God is doing (this is the purpose of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple), and that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). Pay attention to what the Lord is already saying and doing. This is, on our side of things, the primary movement of preparation. We do well to get this straight. Then:

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). So says John. For so it is that we prove we are paying attention. Repentance. Transformation. Out with the old, in with the new! Begin to walk the path that has been prepared. By the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16). How is it with us on this third day of Christmas? We have celebrated God’s great act of salvation . . . Are we living into it? We have been paying attention to God’s word . . . How is it bearing fruit in out lives? Are you preparing the way? Am I? May we look closely and listen attentively. May we be active partners with God in preparing the way of salvation. And may we bear fruits worthy of repentance. Amen.

“Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways  made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
— Luke 3:5,6

The Spirit of God is Upon Us . . .

Luke 2:21-52    Ezekiel 38-39    Isaiah 61

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1). And it is in the power of this spirit that the prophet Isaiah is “sent” to “bring good news to the oppressed.” So, too, “the Holy Spirit was upon” Simeon, guiding him to Jesus and empowering him to praise God, proclaiming, “my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:25-32). Just as it was the spirit in Ezekiel (2:2) that made it possible for him to hear and declare “the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 38:1) . . . Today’s readings lift up the essential role of the Spirit in the story of God with us.

“Guided by the Spirit” (Luke 2:27). Guided. Led. Where? “To the temple.” Yes. And Anna the prophetess? She “never left the temple” (v.37). And they both saw Jesus and declared God’s salvation. Do you suppose the Holy Spirit was upon Anna as well? Could she have been guided to Jesus any other way? And how about you and me? How, do you suppose, any of us comes to Jesus? How is it that any of us are invited and led into the story? Is it not by the Spirit of the Lord God? Indeed it is. God acting “upon” and “in” us, revealing the word of the Lord and leading us to those places, spaces, and crossroads where, if we are paying attention, we may “see” and receive the salvation of God. And join the song. For this is, honestly, the rest of the story . . .

“To bring good news to the oppressed” (Isaiah 61:1). It is for this that the Spirit comes upon Isaiah. And Ezekiel, Simeon, and Anna. And Jesus, too (as we shall soon read in Luke 3 and 4). Never is it simply for ourselves that the Spirit comes, filling, revealing and guiding. Never. Those who “see” God’s salvation (Simeon) and are thereby “clothed” with it (Isaiah) are always lead and empowered to “proclaim” that salvation as prophets and priests (Isaiah 61:6) in the world. Always. And to all. Remember, on this second day of Christmas, that Jesus came as light for all people (Luke 2:32), especially the oppressed, brokenhearted, and bound, for the Lord loves justice (Isaiah 61:1-3,8). Beloved, the Spirit of the Lord God is upon you. Enter the story. Join the song. To the glory of God. Amen.

“For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light of revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your People Israel.”
— Luke 2:30-32

Pondering the Light of Christmas

Luke 2:1-20    Ezekiel 37    Isaiah 60

Once you have read the Christmas Day texts, I invite you to further reflect upon a portion of these scriptures following the “lectio divina” pattern we have been using from time to time. May God work within your soul during this time of quiet listening. Christmas blessings!

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
—  Isaiah 60:1

“My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
—  Ezekiel 37:27

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
— Luke 2:19,20

Listen. Hear God Speaking. Prayerfully read Isaiah 60:1, Ezekiel 37:27, and Luke 2:19,20 three times, each time answering these questions:
What?  (What word or phrase strikes me most in the texts at this moment?)
So What?  (What is going on in my life that is influencing my hearing?)
Now What? (What is God encouraging me to be and do in my circumstance now?)
As this time of listening draws to a close, give yourself over to God in prayer. Allow the prayer of Samuel to guide you: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9-10).

Share The Word. What spoke to you in these scriptures? How has the glory of the Lord risen upon you this Christmas season? What work of treasuring and/or praise might God be calling you into as a response to the word? Consider sharing with someone today any insights gained . . .

“The sun shall no longer be
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give light to you by night;

but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.”
— Isaiah 60:19

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