Archives for May 2017

Psalm 66:8–15; Proverbs 11; 1 Corinthians 15:17–28

Psalm 66:8–15: This middle stanza is a fervent prayer of both thanksgiving and supplication, as it recounts God’s former interventions with Israel. It begins pretty conventionally with a call to worship and a reminder of how God has kept the psalmist (if not all of Israel) on a straight path:
Bless, O peoples, our God,
and make heard the sound of His praise,
Who has kept us in life,
and let not our foot stumble.” (8, 9)

Our psalmist then recalls from history how God has kept them on that straight path via various trials and tribulations:
For You tested us, God,
You refined us as silver refined.
You trapped us in a net,
placed heavy cords around our loins.
You let people ride over us.” (10-12a)

This is a good reminder that life is not smooth and easy—even for us people of faith. New Christians who think they’re therefore entitled to a free pass from obstacles and tough times are simply deluding themselves. In fact, in this post-Christian world we find ourselves in, living an honest Christian life may even be tougher than for those who have no faith at all.

But without fail God always brings us to the other side of tribulation—and in that reality lies our great hope:
We came into fire and water—
and You brought us out to great ease.” (12b)

The poem’s point of  view suddenly shifts to the first person as the psalmist describes how he will fulfill his promise to thank God at the temple for bringing him through all the trials he has endured:
I shall come to Your house with burnt-offerings
I shall pay to You my vows
that my lips uttered,
that my mouth spoke in my straits.” (13, 14)

The question here is, do I remember to pray a prayer of thanksgiving when God has carried me through tough times—which since I’m sitting here writing this morning, he assuredly has?

Proverbs 11: Well, our author, speaking as Solomon, certainly has no shortage of practical tips to live by. Each tip in this chapter has exactly the same two-line structure. The first line is a proposition; the second is a contrasting truth. Some propositions are positive, others are in the negative. Unfortunately, the verses seem to written in no discernible order. For example, the first verse is about how God is pleased when the merchant uses accurate weights. The verse that follows is a philosophical statement—and actually, one of my favorites:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace;
    but wisdom is with the humble.” (2)

and later, the same idea:
Be assured, the wicked will not go unpunished,
    but those who are righteous will escape.” (21)

Pride is the beginning of downfall—or as my dad always said, “the chickens come home to roost.”

Other sayings in the chapter have become cliches because cliches are based on fundamental—even obvious—truths. But that does make them any less useful to review. Examples:
The righteous are delivered from trouble,
    and the wicked get into it instead.” (8)

and…

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
    and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.” (10)

As we might expect, the issue of the consequences of speech (and tweets) is front and center:
Whoever belittles another lacks sense,
    but an intelligent person remains silent.
A gossip goes about telling secrets,
    but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.” (12, 13)

And he reminds us of the sweet fruits of generosity. (These are good verses for a stewardship sermon…):
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer;
    others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
A generous person will be enriched,
    and one who gives water will get water.” (24, 25)

Our author’s penultimate aphorism states  a general truth that is certainly appropriate to our time:
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
    but violence takes lives away.” (30)

But alas, our world seems steeped in violence and we too often await justice delayed. One only hopes the final verse proves true sooner rather than later:
If the righteous are repaid on earth,
    how much more the wicked and the sinner!” (31)

1 Corinthians 15:17–28: Paul’s essay on the resurrection of the dead begins clearly enough. Jesus’ resurrection is essential to our salvation: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (17)

Christ’s resurrection is the “first fruits,” i.e., the very first time in history that a human was resurrected with a new, yet similar, body. Christ is the “first fruit” example  of the resurrection that awaits all of us at the end of history, whether we are dead or alive. Paul is at his logical best: Just as Adam’s original sin is responsible for our mortality, Christ’s resurrection is responsible for our immortality: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (22) Christ’s resurrection came first, and then Paul tells us that this same resurrection into new bodies will happen “at his [second] coming those who belong to Christ.” (23)

This would have been a good place for Paul to stop. But Paul, being Paul, goes on to talk about the end of history and what happens—causing these verses to become the subject of numerous books and sermons that purport to understand exactly what Paul is describing. It’s all pretty murky to me.

For example, what does Paul mean by “Then comes the end, when he [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he [Christ] has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” (24)  Perhaps he is referring to Christ’s millennial reign that is described in more detail in the book of Revelation. Or perhaps, Paul was convinced that Christ was returning in his own lifetime and would overthrow the Roman government. However, upon reflection this latter idea would be the kind of treasonous thinking that Paul went to great pains to avoid elsewhere.  One statement is clear, though: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (26) Which presumably occurs at the end of history.

But then I think Paul complicates things by trying to explain that Christ is subject to God when he quotes Scripture, “For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (27a) Which the requires him to point out that Christ isn’t actually included in the “all things:” “it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him.” (27b)

His conclusion, such as it is, simply says that in the end, Christ will step down and God will  be in charge of all things when history ends. Which, when I think about the Trinity where God and Christ are somehow conjoined causes my head to explode.

Psalm 66:1–7 Proverbs 9:7–10:32; 1 Corinthians 15:3–16

Psalm 66:1–7: One thing we can say about thanksgiving psalms is that they are not quietly introspective. There are no suggestions for meditation or prayer. Rather, our psalmist commands, “Shout out to God.” It’s all about worshipping God in fulsome joy:
Hymn His name’s glory.
Make His praise glory.
Say to God, ‘How awesome Your deeds.
Before Your great strength Your enemies quail.” (2,3)

Nor is worship confined to the Jews alone or to a single location. The joy that God brings overflows to all creation and all people:
All the earth bows down to You,
and they hymn to You, hymn Your name.” (4)

Admittedly, there’s some poetic hyperbole here. I believe that all the earth will bow down to God only at the end of history. But this verse is indicative of the sheer joy that worship can bring. The question of course is when has worship brought those same feelings of untrammeled joy to me? I can think of a few occasions, but they have been rare.

Our poet provides a sound reason for this joyful worship in the next verse:
Come and see the acts of God,
awesome in works over humankind.” (5)

The lesson here is that while there seems to be unchecked evil running over the earth, there is also ample evidence that God is still very much in charge of his creation—and of us humans.  The uncounted acts of kindness that people do for others may not make the evening news, but if people were indifferent to God’s goodness the world would be a far harsher, far more evil place.

Our poet recalls how the escape from Egypt and crossing the Jordan river into the promised land—compressed here into a single verse—was a stunning example of God’s intervening goodness:
He turned the sea into dry land,
the torrent they crossed on foot.
There we rejoiced in Him.” (6)

This stanza ends with a reminder that God is fully in charge and is well aware of the evil that humans do:
He rules in His might forever.
His eyes probe the nations.
Let the wayward not rise up.” (7)

So when we lose hope that humans have irrevocably mucked things up, this psalm is a healthy reminder of who is really in charge of creation.

Proverbs 9:7–10:32: The speech by wisdom having ended, our author turns to a compilation of what the NRSV heads as “General Maxims.” Nevertheless, the benefits of wisdom are still very much on our author’s mind as he reminds us of its ongoing impact on our lives. In short, we must never stop learning:
Give instruction  to the wise, and they will become wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.” (9:11)

Once again we detect the author’s latent misogyny. Earlier, it was the adulteress who led men astray. Here, his negative example of folly is also female:
The foolish woman is loud;
    she is ignorant and knows nothing.

“You who are simple, turn in here!”
    And to those without sense she says,
 “Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” 
 (9:13)

Regardless of its gender, folly inevitably brings on a grim fate:
But they do not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” (9:14)

In the next chapter our author provides a compilation of Solomonic sayings—and there’s probably no reason to doubt that many of them did indeed emanate from Solomon himself. Children are at the top of Solomon’s list:
A wise child makes a glad father,
    but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.” (10:1) 

(Notice that once again, folly is associated with the female.)

The sayings continue, reminding us that hard work is required to achieve anything worthwhile:
A slack hand causes poverty,
    but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (10:4)

There are so many aphorisms in this chapter that we can only highlight a few. But they all pretty much remain as true today as they were several millennia ago. Their inherent truth is a stark reminder that human nature has not evolved one whit since Solomon’s time. One in particular applies nicely to current events in Washington DC and the curse of the Age of Twitter:
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but the prudent are restrained in speech.” (10:19)

There’s also a happy reminder that for evildoers the chickens eventually come home to roost:
The fear of the Lord prolongs life,
    but the years of the wicked will be short.
The hope of the righteous ends in gladness,
    but the expectation of the wicked comes to nothing.” (27, 28)

Although I confess that in the short term it too often seems like the wicked and the stupid seem to be winning. But at least we can take some comfort in these verses about the long run.

1 Corinthians 15:3–16: Before he launches into the theological complexity of the resurrection of the dead, Paul summarizes the core message of the Good News, reminding the Corinthians of his own bona fides as a first-hand witness to the historical actuality of Christ’s resurrection: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (4-8)

Paul also provides an excellent template for how we are to live as Christians. We have been saved by grace, but that same free gift should induce us to work hard for the cause of Christ: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (10) (Paul was certainly no shrinking violet when he asserts “I worked harder than any of them”…)

Having pretty firmly established that he is fully competent to speak on behalf of Christ, Paul launches into an explanation that Christ’s resurrection is a “foretaste of the feast to come for every believer: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (13, 14) To underscore his point, Paul repeats himself: “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.” (16)

Even though it’s a part of the Apostle’s Creed, I confess to having difficulty with the whole idea of the resurrection of the dead. This concept may have seemed perfectly clear to Paul as he writes just a few years after Christ’s own resurrection.  As we’ve observed elsewhere, Paul firmly believed he and his contemporaries were living near the end of history and the Christ’s return was imminent, even during their own lifetimes.

But now some 2000 years later this becomes a more difficult idea to accept at face value. My own feeling is that the whole theology of the resurrection of the dead is attempting to describe an event that regardless of Paul’s and others’ efforts at explanation remains beyond human comprehension.

 

Psalm 65:9b–14; Proverbs 8:1–9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:36–15:2

Psalm 65:9b–14: Our psalmist turns his attention to how God’s creative power provides water which in turn provides natural abundance to the benefit of humankind:
The portals of morning and evening You gladden.
You pay mind to the earth and soak it.
You greatly enrich it.
God’s stream filled with water.
You ready their grain, for so You ready it.” (9b-10)

The imagery of water, which was the most precious resource of all in semi-arid Israel, intensifies as our poet describes its beneficial effects on the landscape, including farms. We can almost feel the rain and mist over the land in a rich poetic cascade:
Quench the thirst of the furrows.smooth out its hillocks,
melt it with showers, its growth You will bless.
You crown Your bountiful year,
Your pathways drip with ripeness.
The wilderness meadows do drip,
and with joy the hills are girded.” (11-13)

The concluding verse describes a pastoral scene that truly brings joy to the mind’s eye as we fully comprehend the almost startling idea of pastures and valleys breaking out in song:
The pastures are clothed with flocks
and the valleys clothed with grain.
they shout for joy, they even sing.” (14)

This psalm is a marvelous evocation of God’s beneficence in the creation he has given to us and that he sustains for us. The water image is a reminder of our own baptism. Truly, water is the source of all life and we squander its riches by pollution and waste at our peril.

Proverbs 8:1–9:6: In what I think to be a stroke of creative genius, our author moves from describing the benefits of wisdom to writing in wisdom’s own voice. We may be inclined to ignore fatherly advice about wisdom, but we cannot ignore the words of wisdom itself. This is a chapter that every leader in Washington DC could benefit by reading and then applying its multiple virtues:
To you, O people, I call,
    and my cry is to all that live.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
    acquire intelligence, you who lack it.” (8:4,5)

Would that these “simple ones” learn prudence and acquire intelligence—both qualities in awfully short supply these days. There is little question that in this culture of acquisitiveness and power-seeking the fundamental truth is that “wisdom is better than jewels,/ and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (8:11)

Wisdom is much more than knowledge, and as our author reminds us, prudence and discretion are its essential hallmarks:
I, wisdom, live with prudence,
    and I attain knowledge and discretion.” (8:12)

Contrast those qualities with what wisdom is not:
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
    and perverted speech I hate.” (8:13)

Not surprisingly, ur author asserts that the people who would benefit most by following a path of wisdom are our leaders. One supposes that he wrote in a time of poor leadership in Israel, but the words wisdom speaks here in the first person are even more germane today:
By me kings reign,
    and rulers decree what is just;
by me rulers rule,
    and nobles, all who govern rightly.
I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me diligently find me.” (8:15-17)

I must agree with our author. Wisdom is no evolutionary accident that humans stumbled upon. Rather, wisdom is a god-created gift:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” (8:22-23)

In fact wisdom—God’s wisdom—existed before Creation itself:
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—

When he established the heavens, I was there.” (8:24-27)

Moreover, Wisdom exists at the base of God’s own joy at what he has created, especially us humans:
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.” (8:30, 31)

The chapter concludes with a bold promise:
For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord;” (8:35)

If we were curious about the source of the title of T.E. Lawrence’s autobiography, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, it is right here:
Wisdom has built her house,
    she has hewn her seven pillars.” (9:1)

But the more crucial statement in this passage applies to all human behavior. Wisdom is a gift to be unwrapped. Would that more of us do what wisdom asks of us as her speech concludes:
Lay aside immaturity,  and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.” (9:6)

So, the question hangs in the air: Where have all the wise and mature people in our political infrastructure gone? Or even in our own churches?

1 Corinthians 14:36–15:2: Paul writes that whether the spiritual gift is glossalia or prophecy, or we presume, other spiritual gifts, it must be grounded in God, not in our own ego: “Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.” (14:37) Above all, Paul insists, “all things should be done decently and in order.” (14:40) Untrammeled , disorganized, unserious worship is anathema to Paul—and I’m happy to say, to most Lutherans.

We now arrive at one of the most complicated and controversial chapters in this letter—and perhaps in the entire New Testament. It’s easy to see why Paul writes about this as the last subject in 1 Corinthians. He opens this essay with a reminder that whatever is to come at the end of time, it’s essential that we who have faith “hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.” (15:2) For what Paul is about to talk about must be understood in a framework grounded in faith.

…And the Moravians will reveal what this is all about over the next few days’ readings.

Psalm 65:1–9a; Proverbs 7; 1 Corinthians 14:20–35

Psalm 65:1–9a: In this psalm of thanksgiving, our poet believes that God’s greatness is beyond words and thus, he should be worshipped in silence as he calls all others to pray in silence as well:
To your silence is praise, god, in Zion,
and to You a vow will be paid.
O, listener to prayer,
Unto You all flesh shall come.” (2, 3)

Our psalmist’s worship opens—as should all worship, IMHO—with confession, here recognizing the important reality that we cannot bear our sins in silence and must at some point come to God:
My deeds of mischief are too much for me.
Our crimes but You atone.” (4)

Confession completed, the poem moves on into full worship mode in an aura of joy of a God who gives us far more than we deserve—or even expect:
Happy whom You chose to draw close,
he will dwell in your courts.
May we be sated with your house’s bounty,
the holiness of Your temple.” (5)

Although centered at the temple at Jerusalem, the songs of worship expand to encompass a God who both acts and rescues all creation:
With awesome acts justly You answer us,
our rescuing God,
refuge of all the earth’s ends
and the far-flung sea.” (6)

As is the case in virtually every psalm of thanksgiving, God’s power is on full display via his acts in natural creation, as well as his intervention in the affairs of humankind:
Who sets mountains firm in His power,
—He is girded in might—
Who quiets the roars of the seas,
the roar of their waves and the tumult of nations.” (7,8)

I am struck by the parallel here of God who quiets the seas will also quiet the conflicts of nations. And such is my prayer at this fraught time in history. And I pray that someday the assertion of the psalmist will come to pass:
“And those who dwell at earth’s ends will fear Your signs.” (9a)

But right now, we humans are too self-absorbed and self-centered to realize that God is truly the one who controls our collective destiny. But will we listen to him? I am not optimistic

Proverbs 7: Given his relentless lecturing on the consequences of adultery, one is left with the impression that author must have been very close to an adulterous relationship—or to be somewhat heretical, perhaps even been in an adulterous relationship himself.

Having already lectured about the conceptual evil of adultery, in this chapter he provides a real-life example of its consequences:
I observed among the youths,
    a young man without sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness.” (7-9)

But given the misogynist bent of our author, it is the woman who seduces the youth:
Then a woman comes toward him,
    decked out like a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
    and at every corner she lies in wait.
She seizes him and kisses him…” (10-13a)

And it is the married woman who proposes the amorous hookup (shades of Mrs Robinson in “The Graduate.”):
Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
    let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey.” (18, 19)

Alas, the youth falls for her line:
With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
Right away he follows her,
    and goes like an ox to the slaughter...” (21, 22)

So, our author concludes, as if lecturing to a group of adolescents:
And now, my children, listen to me,
    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Do not let your hearts turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths.” (24, 25)

Perhaps to truly strike the fear of God into his audience, our author concludes that to fall into this seductive trap is to set oneself up for an awful fate:
For many are those she has laid low,
    and numerous are her victims.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death.” (26, 27)

Regardless of what we may think of our author’s point of view about the woman seducing the man, I think it’s worth remembering the lesson here. Adultery is a life-ruining affair for all concerned.

1 Corinthians 14:20–35: It’s pretty clear by this time in the letter that glossalia—speaking in tongues—was rampant at the church at Corinth. Paul pretty much accuses them of thinking like children rather than adults: “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” (20)

He makes his case by quoting Isaiah 28:11, which allows him to assert that “Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers,” (22) and rather logically conclude, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (23) To which I can only add, “amen!”

For Paul, prophecy is far superior to tongues because at its heart, prophecy is rational argumentation—and Paul is the poster child for rational argumentation.

But Paul is also a realist and he knows that his words will not eliminate glossalia, but he attempts to tamp it down by assigning it a limited role within worship—and then only of it has a clear purpose to “build up” rather than create dissension: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (26)

Moreover, whoever is leading worship needs to limit the amount of glossalia and in perhaps the toughest obstacle, to require another person interpret it: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret.” (27) If no one is there to interpret, the the tongue-speakers must remain quiet: “But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.” (28) As always, prophecy is preferable and it has a clear purpose, “so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” (31)

Finally, Paul asserts that worship must be an orderly affair because “God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” (33) Having been to some worship services in my past that were way too casual, even verging on disorder, I heartily agree with Paul.

This reading concludes with one of Paul’s more divisive statements: “women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (34, 35)

As we know too well, those words have been ripped out of both their biblical and cultural contexts. I’m pretty sure Paul places this statement here immediately after his discussion about glossalia because it may have been mostly women speaking in tongues at Corinth that was creating the problem. As well, the culture of the time was far more restrictive regarding the public role of women. Paul doubtless felt that the prohibition would create greater order at worship. As well, newcomers to the faith would not be as shocked—and possibly repelled—by women speaking at worship.

But we live in a far different culture and Paul’s words here have deprived too many churches of the gifts of women. And they are the poorer for it.

 

Psalm 63; Proverbs 5; 1 Corinthians 13:8–14:5

Psalm 63: This thanksgiving psalm opens with a stark metaphor of thirst in the desert as the psalmist describes his intense quest for God:
“God, my god, for You I search.
My throat thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You
in a land waste and parched with no water.” (2)

I think it is in the desert places of our own lives where we are more likely to encounter God. Our defenses are down and we realize that we are no longer as in control of our lives as we once thought. I certainly know that has been true for me.

Our poet finds God in the desert and expresses ecstatic joy that becomes worship:
For Your kindness is better than life.
My lips praise You.
Thus, I bless You while I live,
Your name I lift up my palms.” (4,5)

In contrast with the thirst of the desert our poet finds a sumptuous feast in worship:
As with ripest repast my being is sated,
And with lips of glad song my mouth declares praise.” (6)

Gratitude beyond measure for God’s presence envelopes our poet, even as he lies in bed alone at night:
Yes, I recalled You on my couch.
In the night-watches I dwelled upon You.
For You were a help to me,
and in Your wings’ shadow I uttered glad song.
My being clings to You,
for Your right hand has sustained me.” (7-9)

These verses remind us that God is always present and that we can find him and worship him even in the dark of night and far from church. Not every experience with God occurs in community. God is present even in our deepest solitude. And in some ways it’s in solitude that we may be more likely to encounter God.

No David psalm would be complete without a passing reference to his enemies and the corresponding wish for their destruction:
But they for disaster have sought my life—
may they plunge to the depth of the earth.
May their blood be shed by the sword,
may they be served up to the foxes.” (10,11)

I love the contrasting images involving of meals. Our psalmist is sated by God’s generosity while he hopes his enemies become the main course for feasting animals.

Nor would a psalm would be complete without some reference to the power of speech—and here it is in the negative as the poet concludes his psalm with the idea “all who swear by God will revel” [because] the mouth of liars is muzzled.” (12) Given the current situation in Washington DC I wouldn’t object if every mouth—liar or not—were muzzled.

Proverbs 5: At first glance there seems to be a misogynistic undertone here as our author continues to dispense his advice:
For the lips of a loose  woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.” (3,4)

Of course there’s also some truth to his assertion as women have been seducing men (and the other way round) all through history. And as he asserts, “Her feet go down to death.” (5a) If not to death then certainly to ruin.

Our author describes a pretty elaborate set of bad consequences should his listener fail to heed his warning:
you will give your honor to others,
    and your years to the merciless,
and strangers will take their fill of your wealth,
    and your labors will go to the house of an alien;
and at the end of your life you will groan.” (9b-11)

And it will all come to deep and very public regret. We are reminded of public officials and not a few ministers who have trod this very path:
you say, “Oh, how I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.
Now I am at the point of utter ruin
    in the public assembly.” (12-14)

The far better way is to remain faithful to one’s own spouse as our poet uses a powerful metaphor of water to contrast the sexually faith life with the dissolute path of seduction:
Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?” (15, 16)

It all boils down to discipline, which I think is completely true as we witness so much self-centered indiscipline in today’s culture. As usual, the warnings, the consequences , and the rewards of faithfulness are exactly the same today as they were three millennia ago:
For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord,
    and he examines all their paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare them,
    and they are caught in the toils of their sin.
They die for lack of discipline,
    and because of their great folly they are lost.”  (21-23)

Truer words have never been spoken, and these days we seem to be witnessing folly on a huge scale on all sides in Washington DC.

1 Corinthians 13:8–14:5: Paul tells us that love is the one sure thing: “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.” (13:8) And love trumps all else, even such wonderful things as faith and hope. For these cannot exist without love: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (13:13)

Paul shifts the theme away from love to the maturity that true love for God brings to our lives. And as the author of Proverbs reminds us, this requires the adult discipline that comes with love-based maturity: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (13:11) What is disturbing is when we see adults engaging in childish behavior, which again seems on full display on Washington DC.

But even as disciplined, mature adults we will not understand everything, especially God’s ways. As Paul famously reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (13:12) So when someone asserts they have true knowledge of what God intends for them (or worse, for me) in a particular circumstance it’s always helpful to recall this verse. God is loving and kind but he is also inscrutable.

In the next chapter paul turns to the thorny issue of tongues (glossalia) as a spiritual gift. This is still a thorny issue in many churches today. Glossalia is not a means of communication but rather a gift that really benefits only to the individual: “For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.” (14:2) and “Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves.” (14:4a)

Paul the contrasts the public benefits of prophecy—”those who prophesy build up the church.” (4b)—with the private benefits of glossalia. So even though Paul has no particular problem with people speaking in tongues, he’d prefer more to prophesy since that’s a positive influence on the health of the church: “One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” (5)

I’m a bit more conservative than Paul: I’d be happy to not have tongues at all since its very weirdness (at least in our culture) becomes a distraction at best and a divisive issue (as it has in many churches) at worst.

 

Psalm 62; Proverbs 3:21–4:27; 1 Corinthians 12:27–13:7

Psalm 62: There’s an excellent contemporary song, whose first line—”Only in God is my heart at rest”—is the first line of this psalm. Alter translates it somewhat differently, but I think it is a powerful opening stanza for any prayer in any circumstance:
Only in God is my being quiet.
From Him my rescue.
Only he is my rock and my rescue,
my stronghold—I shall not stumble.” (2, 3)

What is not in the song are the verses that follow where our poet speaks to what I take to be a cabal plotting against David in whose voice the psalm is written:
How long will you demolish a man—
commit murder, each one of you—
like a leaning wall,
a shaky fence?
Only from his high place they schemed to shake him,
They took pleasure in lies.” (4, 5a)

Perhaps worse than the conspiracy itself is that the conspirators were conniving hypocrites:
With their mouths they blessed
and inwardly cursed.” (5b)

Realizing the enormity of the evil around him, our poet’s David repeats the refrain of the opening, reassuring himself, “Only in God be quiet, my being,/ from Him is my hope.” (7) But our poet has David remember that God is not solely for David, God is for all people, and it is God to whom we bring our worries and our confessions:
Trust in Him at all times, O people.
Pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our shelter.” (9)

Moreover, he continues, do not be deceived by those who are out to get you, even if it the short run reward is personal gain:
Do not trust in oppression
and of theft have no illusions.
Though it bear the fruit of wealth,
“set not your heart upon it.” (11)

This is our poet’s crucial insight and totally applicable to today. How we love to be distracted from God by the promise of wealth or power. Yet in the long run, all that comes to nothing. The alternative—turning to God— is far superior:
One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that strength is but God’s,
and Yours, Master, is kindness.” (12)

God is indeed the source of our strength and he is a bottomless well of kindness. Would that I come to that well more frequently than I do. For it is there that I am both protected and nourished.

Proverbs 3:21–4:27: Speaking of security, our Solomonic author seems to out a little more faith into wisdom—albeit coming from God—than in trusting God directly. Nevertheless, this God-given wisdom protects us:
Do not be afraid of sudden panic,
    or of the storm that strikes the wicked;
for the Lord will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught.” (3:25, 26)

A whole list of “Do nots” follows that focus on relationships with others, including keeping one’s word (28); not harming or conspiring against one’s neighbor (29); not quarreling (30); or being envious of rapacious wickedness (30). It’s also wise to remember that “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,/but he blesses the abode of the righteous.” (3:33)

Chapter 4 focuses on giving parental advice:
Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain  insight;
for I give you good precepts:
    do not forsake my teaching.” (4:1,2)

After advising his children to “Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth,” (4:5) our author reminds his children to avoid the same kind of wicked company today’s psalm warns against:
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on.” (4:14, 15)

Which is pretty much what our psalmist is saying. But unlike the psalmist who sees trust in God as the key to protection, here the instructions are much more didactic—and dare I say, less inspiring. Nevertheless, it’s important advice that remains completely relevant today:
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you.” (4:23-25)

As in so many Psalms, we see the emphasis here on being careful in our speech because words can be powerful weapons that create havoc and perhaps even worse, undermine trust. And there’s no question that a “straight gaze” ahead to a God-given goal is far superior than the mindless distractions that, as far as this author is concerned (with reason!), lead to no good end.

My best friend in high school, alas, allowed himself to be distracted by drugs at UC Berkeley and essentially ruined a life that held enormous promise. We may think this advice to follow the straight path is hokey, but it is grounded in great truth, and leads to a far richer life.

1 Corinthians 12:27–13:7: Paul closes his argument about spiritual gifts by pointing our that it is God who has brought different people with different gifts into the church: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.” (12:28) In short, your gifts are God-given, people. Use them and be neither disparaging nor envious of the gifts of others.

Then Paul tells the Corinthians, “I will show you a still more excellent way,” (12:31) which is at the very foundation of how we exercise those gifts. That of course is love, as we come to what I believe is the most well-known and the most-quoted piece of Pauline writing: his famous discourse on love.

Love trumps everything else: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (13:1) Absent love, Paul tells us, we are nothing even if our life is full of deep understanding of mysteries and packed with good deeds.

Rather, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (13:4-7)

This passage has been ripped out of its context so many times—especially at weddings—that people tend to think Paul is talking about romantic love. He is not. This is where English falls short of Greek that had different words for different types of love. Paul is describing a far, far deeper love, a mature agape love that is at the very foundation of meaningful human relationships—and of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul is talking especially about the love that must be present in each person in the body of Christ, the church. Alas, this is where it seems so often to be missing most of all.

The unspoken question hangs in the air: Do I have a love that will endure the irritations an small injustices that are so often on display at church? Even more importantly, am I a source of irritation and injustice with other Christians such that I have negated the power of agape love with my own self-centeredness?

 

Psalm 61; Proverbs 2:9–3:20; 1 Corinthians 12:12–26

Psalm 61: This psalm of supplication has a far more gentle feel than some of the others that call upon God to listen up and to destroy enemies. The opening verse even suggests it is sung rather than spoken:
Hear, God, my song,
listen close to my prayer.” (2)

And unlike others that after lines of doubt express confidence in God’s rescue only at the last few lines, our psalmist here knows that God is a reliable rescuing force no matter where the poet might find himself:
From the end of the earth I call You.
When my heart faints, You lead me to a rock high
above me.” (3)

God is not only rescuer, he is also shelter from tribulation as the psalmist asks rhetorically to remain with God throughout his life. For me, this is a beautiful expression of a life lived in confident faith—the faith wrapped in gratitude that God will never abandon us.
For You have been a shelter to me,
a tower of strength in the face of the foe.
Let me dwell in Your tent for all time,
let me shelter in Your wings’ hiding-place.” (4, 5)

Again there is confidence not only that God has heard his prayer but that he will act:
For You, God, have heard my vows,
You have granted the plea of those who fear Your name.” (6)

Suddenly the focus shifts from the psalmist’s own needs to a concluding plea that God increase the longevity of the king:
Days may You add to the days of the king,
his years be like those of generations untold.
May he ever abide in the presence of God.
Steadfast kindness ordain to preserve him. (7,8)

While at first glance this petition on behalf of the king seems to be a non-sequitur, it is really just a desire on the part of a subject that the king enjoy the same protection in God as the psalmist has found for himself. We do much the same thing today when we pray for the well-being of our political leaders (even though this seems to be increasingly difficult). Paul also advises somewhere that we are to pray for our secular leaders.

Proverbs 2:9–3:20: The Moravians seem intent on zipping quickly through Proverbs.

Our author continues to assert that the man who follows God will obtain innumerable benefits:
“Then you will understand righteousness and justice
    and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;” (2:9,10)

Wisdom as a gift from God is also the key to avoiding the enticements of sexual immorality with an adulteress:
You will be saved from the loose woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words,
who forsakes the partner of her youth
    and forgets her sacred covenant;” (2:16, 17)

Again we are reminded to trust in God’s wisdom, not our own wits, in these famous verses (which I recall memorizing many years ago):
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.” (3: 5,6)

But there’s more than just trusting God. We must also endure his correction, which will strengthen us in the long run:
My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves the one he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights.” (3:11, 12)

I tend to recoil form the idea of a God who would allow bad things to happen to me, but there’s little question that at least in my own experience that it has been the difficult times that have not only brought me closer to God, but I think have also increased whatever amount of wisdom I may possess.

Then there is the idea of “true wealth” that is found in wisdom rather than pecuniary gain:
Happy are those who find wisdom,
    and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver,
    and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.” (3:13-15)

As I have grown older I see the truth of this statement. Life is not about acquiring wealth or power. It is about being closer to family, to friends, and to God. And for me, there is no greater truth expressed in this reading than right here:
[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called happy.” (3:18)

Wisdom received from God is truly the source of the true happiness and contentment in life.

1 Corinthians 12:12–26: Paul continues his essay on spiritual gifts by addressing the issue within the Corinthian church that some people with “greater gifts” have been lording it over others seemingly less blessed. He uses the famous metaphor of the body, stating that “as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (12) In short, everyone plays a vital role in the well-being of the church.

Paul then famously goes on to point out that a living body has many ‘members’ —what I would call components or sub-systems—each with a different function but all working together harmoniously: “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (14) He makes the logical argument that even if the foot and ear were to call themselves something else that apparently has a higher status, a  hand and eye respectively, they remain still a foot and an ear. I take this to mean we have been given specific gifts and functions and that ambition to be something other than who we are is a futile undertaking.

This is all to the good because Paul is making it clear that the foot and ear are just as essential to the functioning of the body as its more popular members: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (17)

The crucial issue here is that  it is “God [who] arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (18) In other words, our gifts are God-given. And God insists on a variety of gifts for the church to be a healthy body: “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (19)

Paul gets to the nub of the conflict by noting that because each part of the physical and metaphorical body is God-given, one part cannot reject the other: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (21) In fact, Paul continues, some of these parts of the body that “we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.” (23) This seems a clear reference to sexual organs and while they may be hidden form view they are just as honorable—and necessary.

So too in church where many may labor without visibility or public acknowledgement. These folks hidden from view deserve even greater respect than the more visible leadership. Alas, there are too many church leaders who think it’s all about them and the church suffers for their self-centeredness. We can be sure that whatever was going on at Corinth is still going on today and we need the constant reminder that “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (26) And I fear there are a lot of suffering churches out there.

 

Psalm 60; Proverbs 1:1–2:8; 1 Corinthians 11:31–12:11

Psalm 60: This psalm’s superscription asserts it is linked to the incidents described in 2 Samuel 10 when David led Israel’s army against Moab and Edom. The opening verses show no hesitation in complaining to God, who was angry with Israel and expressed his anger in earthquakes and other punishments—none of which are described in the 2 Samuel passage:
God, You have abandoned us, breached us.
You were incensed—restore us to life!
You made the land quake, You cracked it.
Heal its shards, for it has toppled.
You sated Your people with harsh drink,
You made us drink poison wine.” (3-5)

There’s a longing on the part of the psalmist (speaking as David) to restore the previous relationship, “You once gave to those who fear You/ a banner for rallying because of the truth.” (6) as the psalmist goes on to recount a past when God rejoiced in the his relationship with Israel by naming various tribes:
God once spoke in His holiness:
‘Let me exult and share out Shechem,
and the valley of Sukkoth I shall measure
Mine is Gilead and Mine Manasseh,
and Ephraim My foremost stronghold,
Judah My scepter.” (8, 9)

Our psalmist contrasts that once excellent relationship with God’s longstanding negative attitude to Israel’s enemies:
Moab is My washbasin,
upon Edom I fling my sandal,
over Philistia I shout exultant.” (10)

The idea here seems to be pleading with God to join Israel, which he once loved against its enemies which he has always despised. The psalmist’s David asks directly for God’s help at this time of crisis:
Who will lead me to the besieged town,
Who will guide me to Edom?” (11)

The final three verses follow the usual arc of supplication from wondering why God has abandoned them to a concluding confidence that God will indeed on their side:
Have You not, O God, abandoned us?
You do not sally forth, God, with our armies.
Give us help against the foes
when rescue by man is in vain.
Through God we shall gather strength,
and He will stamp out our foes.” (12-14)

This is the emotional path we so often follow in our own relationship with God. We feel deserted and alone, but after reflecting and yes, yelling at God for a while, our spirit is restored knowing that God is indeed on our side.

Proverbs 1:1–2:8: The author(s) of Proverbs attribute this collection of wise sayings to Solomon, although I suspect these aphorisms and observations were collected much later in Israel’s history.

The prologue clearly sets out the purpose of this book:
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young…” (1:2-4)

But above all this is the key precept: a wise man has a relationship with God:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (1:7)

Happily for all mothers and fathers, the first proverb in this book is one that states that parents are the civilizing source of knowledge to children:
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
    and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head,
    and pendants for your neck.” (1:8, 9)

The parent’s first word of advice to her child is exactly what we encounter in so many psalms. They warn against consorting with evil companions:
My child, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.” (1:10)

The reason is simple: conspiracy and greed are self-destructive and lead inevitably to a bad end:
For in vain is the net baited
    while the bird is looking on;
yet they lie in wait—to kill themselves!
    and set an ambush—for their own lives!
Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors.” (1:17-19)

Rather, we should follow the ways of wisdom—presented here as a female:
Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.” (1:20)

And then we encounter a verse that seems to perfectly capture the zeitgeist of American society in 2017:
How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?” (1:22)

If we ever needed as general description of the typical Facebook post or Twitter tweet it is right here.

The author goes on to describe the benefits of wisdom, reminding us that true wisdom is God-given:
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
    he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice
    and preserving the way of his faithful ones.” (2:6-8)

But we need to remember that acquiring wisdom requires effort on our part. It does not come automatically:
…treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding.” (2:2)

These verses remind me that information—in which we are so inundated—is not knowledge, much less wisdom. But because our culture no longer fears God, I think it is stuck in collective simplemindedness and unable to discriminate between what is true and what is false.

1 Corinthians 11:31–12:11:
Paul concludes his essay on the difference between Communion and plain old eating, advising the Corinthians, “If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation.” (11:34a) He also makes the intriguing statement, “About the other things I will give instructions when I come.” (12:34b) One wonders what they were about.

We now arrive at one of the centerpieces of this letter: Paul’s essay on spiritual gifts. While Paul does not come out and give us the back story, his words suggest that the Corinthians were creating a hierarchy of gifts, thereby setting certain people with certain skills as being superior to others less blessed. Moreover, they probably felt the gifts were self-created rather than coming from God. Paul sets them straight on both fronts.

Paul is clear on this point: all gifts have the same source—and it’s not ourselves: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (12:4-6)  Equally important, the gifts have a single immutable purpose: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7) That is, gifts are for the benefit of the entire community, not just the individual. In short, gifts are a means, not an end.

Paul, being Paul, goes on to list the various types of gifts including faith, working miracles, prophecy, and healing. These all come from the Holy Spirit, including the one that is still contentious today, glossalia: “to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (12:10)

Regardless of my attitude about some of these gifts, as well ongoing theological debates as whether or not they are still relevant today, there is one immutable reality: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (12:11) So it is good if we identify and use our gifts. But it is far less good if we use our gifts as a means of feeling superior to others.

 

Psalm 59:11–18; Job 42; 1 Corinthians 11:17–30

Psalm 59:11–18: Our psalmist continues to express his faith that God will wreak vengeance against his enemies:
My steadfast God will come to meet me,
God will grant me the sight of my foes’ defeat.” (11)

However, he changes is mind about wishing for their death, but would prefer God to make an example of them, demonstrating to others the folly of rejecting God:
Do not kill them lest my people forget.
Through Your force make them wander, pull them down,
our shield and master.” (12)

In fact, it should be their own deceitful words that bring them down and become objects of derision:

Through their mouth’s offense, the word of their lips
they will be trapped in their haughtiness,
and through the oaths and the falsehood they utter.” (13)

How many times have I wished for those whom I believe to be deceitful to be hoisted on their own petard!  There is scarcely a more satisfying feeling to see someone trapped by his own lie. Usually they are politicians…

Perhaps in the heat of the emotion that envelopes this psalm, our psalmist suddenly changes his mind and now he wishes for the fairly violent death of those same enemies—and that it would be good if those deaths receive widespread publicity as an example of God’s power and the cost of abandoning God:
Destroy, O destroy in wrath, that they be no more,
and it will be known to the ends of the earth
that God rules over Jacob.” (14)

Clearly, our psalmist is writing in stream of consciousness about the evil these enemies have wrought as he suddenly switches back to recalling their behavior, this time comparing them to roving packs of dogs:
They come back at evening,
they mutter like dogs.
They prowl round the town.
They wander in search of food
if they are not sated, till they pass the night.” (15,16)

The food in this case being their innocent victims. The psalm concludes with one more declaration of the poet’s steadfast faith in God and in God’s protection:
But I shall sing of Your strength,
and chant gladly each morning of our kindness.” (17a)

I think this psalm brilliantly lays out in poetry the kinds of thoughts that rattle through our head when we have been wronged by someone. We can think all kinds of evil thoughts and hope they are targets of God’s vengeance. But in the end we can trust only in our relationship with God because unlike humans, God is resolutely faithful and recognizing this we sing with the psalmist:
My strength, to You I would hymn,
for God is my fortress,
my steadfast God.” (18)

Job 42: The story of Job is wrapped up fairly efficiently in this final chapter as Job finally speaks, admitting that he may have been a bit too presumptuous regarding his relationship with God:
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (3)

But Job’s more significant statement is the one that for me describes the essential element of true faith in God:
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (5, 6)

Here, I think, is the author’s message: Faith is not just an intellectual ‘hearing exercise,’ but true faith is comes by recognizing that  God is God and seeing ourselves for the sinners we are. Recognizing this state of sinfulness, regardless of our good deeds and our good words is the core of faith. It is this recognition of “despising myself,” which Job expresses here that leads to repentance—and to being acceptable to God.

Job’s erstwhile friends receive their comeuppance because rather than recognize and repent as Job as, they have bloviated about theology and their suppositions of what God does and does not do. God lays it on the line to Eliphaz: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (7)

In the end, it’s really quite simple: Job recognizes that God is God and he—like all of us— is God’s broken creature and in this recognition, he repents. The three friends have not done this yet. All they’ve done is talk. So it is Job who must intercede with God on behalf of his friends and “and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.” (9) BTW, Elihu is not mentioned. I wonder what his fate was?

Restoration follows repentance as “the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (10)

So what’s the takeaway from this often troubling book? For me it is that we must recognize that God is God and that’s there’s nothing we can do about. Further, it is the height of arrogance for us his creatures to pretend we understand God’s intentions and motivations. All we can do is recognize that we are not God, but are only his sinful creatures.

We also need to remember that we have a profound advantage over Job and his friends. We know that Jesus Christ came to die for us and to restore us to a right relationship with God. And we do not need to take 42 chapters of speeches to figure this out.

1 Corinthians 11:17–30: Paul emphasizes that the factions at Corinth have pretty much created chaos that is especially visible around their attempts to recreate the Last Supper: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.” (20, 21)

Paul makes it clear that the Lord’s supper is no ordinary meal. In fact, he remonstrates, “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?” (22) So Paul establishes good practice—a practice whose words we still hear today every time we come to the table of Jesus—words worth quoting in their entirety:
…that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for  you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (23-26)

We can be grateful that Paul said these words for each time we hear them we are connected directly back to the vey earliest Church.

Accompanying this institution Paul immediately warns the folks at Corinth—and all of us—hat we must take our participation very seriously: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.” (27)

And he follows with a crucial instruction that we too often ignore: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (28) In other words we must be fully aware of who we are and what we have done before partaking. Which is one of the reasons I find the idea of a worship service that includes communion but excludes confession to be incomplete because it subtly allows us to skip over Paul’s instruction about self-examination.

Psalm 59:1–9; Job 41; 1 Corinthians 11:3–16

Psalm 59:1–9: The introductory verse of this psalm refers to the incident described in I Samuel 19 where Saul sends assassins to David’s house. WIth the help of his wife, Michal, David manages to escape. The first stanza is a straightforward prayer of supplication as David prays for God to rescue him:
Save me from my enemies, my God,
over those who rise against me make me safe.” (2)

Not surprisingly, our psalmist, speaking as David, castigates his pursuers as evil and himself as the innocent subject of a vast conspiracy:
Save me from the wrongdoers,
and from men of bloodshed rescue me.
For, look, they lie in wait for my life,
the powerful scheme against me
—not for my wrong nor my offense, O Lord.” (3-5)

This is yet another example of why the Psalms are so psychologically on target. David rightly feels attacked and just as we would in the same circumstance, he casts himself as the weaker, oppressed party. And he calls out for justice, whose outcome is usually the punishment of his traitorous enemies: “Do not pardon all wrongdoing traitors.” (6b)

He goes on to describe his murderous enemies in stark metaphor:
…they mutter like dogs
They prowl round the town.” (7)

Then, as happens so frequently in the Psalms, the focus shifts from the enemy’s attempts to take David’s life to the generally destructive energy of slanderous speech:
“Look, they speak out with their mouths—
and swords on their lips—” (8)

We cannot over-emphasize the theme of the evil effects of slanderous speech that threads through the Psalms. The same kind of speech we witness too frequently in social media. But in the end, as far as God is concerned, evil speech is ineffectual:
And You, Lord, laugh at them,
You mock all the nations.” (9)

Once again, we’ve encountered a sudden shift from David’s personal danger to God’s all-encompassing view of creation. But would God actually “mock all the nations”? I think this is a descriptively emotional comment on the part of the psalmist rather than an accurate theological statement. Again, the Psalms are primarily emotional expression and worship, not deep theology.

Job 41: As far as the author of Job is concerned, God is just as wordy as Elihu. He now spends many verses describing Leviathan, the oceanic parallel to land-based Behemoth. Once again, God asks a rhetorical question verging on the sarcastic:
Can you draw out Leviathan  with a fishhook,
    or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
    or pierce its jaw with a hook?” (1-2)

Leviathan has no interaction with humans as God’s sarcasm intensifies:
Will it make many supplications to you?
    Will it speak soft words to you?
Will it make a covenant with you
    to be taken as your servant forever?
Will you play with it as with a bird,
    or will you put it on leash for your girls?
Will traders bargain over it?
    Will they divide it up among the merchants?” (3-6)

These questions answer themselves: Of course not. So Job’s God goes on for quite a while describing the frightening qualities of Leviathan, including:
There is terror all around its teeth.
Its back is made of shields in rows,
shut up closely as with a seal.” (14b, 15)

And my particular favorite:
Its sneezes flash forth light,
    and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.” (18)

I have to believe that the author of Revelation was familiar with God’s speech here in Job as many of the adjectives and similes are very similar as they connote immense power, e.g., “From its mouth go flaming torches; / sparks of fire leap out.” (19) Any human efforts to conquer Leviathan will prove fruitless:
The arrow cannot make it flee;
    slingstones, for it, are turned to chaff.
Clubs are counted as chaff;
    it laughs at the rattle of javelins.” (28, 29)

All very entertaining, but why would God say any of this? Is he cynically driving his point home for Job? Or perhaps our author is using his imagination and literary license to once again make the point that God is God and there’s absolutely nothing we humans can do about anything that God creates or wills into existence, including these mythical beasts. In any event, by this time we readers we’re saying, “OK, I get it enough already. Yes, you’re God and we’re not.”

But perhaps that’s the point. We constantly want to be small-g gods ourselves and we try over and over to conceive of our puny human selves as having power over creation. That’s certainly true today as we tend to believe there’s a technological solution to every problem. When we in fact do not. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of this hubris is thinking that we have the power to halt or reverse climate change. Yes, we can—and should—become better stewards of the planet, but just as we cannot control Behemoth or Leviathan it’s futile to think we can usurp God’s true creative power.

1 Corinthians 11:3–16: We arrive at one of Paul’s more troubling, almost misogynistic, passages where he deals with the apparently contentious issue at Corinth about headgear during worship:  “Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.” (4,5)  Really, Paul? That may have been important in the Corinthian culture, but we live in a very different world today—although I’m old enough to remember when Catholic women were required to wear headcovering or hats at mass. I also remember my Mom wearing hats to church on Sundays in the 1950’s.

But for me, headgear is not the most troubling aspect of this passage. Again, bearing in mind that Paul was writing in a particular time to a particular culture, he had a rather rigid view of sexual hierarchy: “but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.” (7b-9) One wonders how many husbands down through the centuries have used this passage to justify unfair oppression of their wives.  Since many churches take Scripture quite literally, we have an entire sector of Christianity where women cannot take leadership roles—much less become pastors.

These same folks tend to skip right over Paul’s rather tepid assertion that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.” (11) And he even acknowledges that men are born via women: “ For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman;” (12) Yes, we are in partnering relationship and yes, there is a need for clear understanding of roles within a male-female relationship. But IMHO too much wrong has been committed based on Paul’s assertion of man being over woman.

On balance, I’m left pretty annoyed with Paul that he would take up this much scriptural space worrying about things like hair length: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (14, 15) Frankly, I think Paul is trying to (no pun intended) disentangle himself from an issue that was peculiar to a particular time and place. While there is truth here about male-female relationships, we should nevertheless read this passage in his cultural context and thoughtfully see what and how they apply—or don’t apply—in our own cultural context.