Sunday, July 28, 2019

Denied prayers in the Bible

The Bible records many cases of answered prayers. But it also records some cases of prayers that were denied.

Abraham prayed that God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham had family living there, which may have motivated his prayer. He appealed to God to spare the city, confident that the Lord would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked. The Bible records that instead the few righteous were warned to flee. Abraham's relatives were among them.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed that the cup should pass from him -- generally taken to mean that he should be spared death by crucifixion. If ever a prayer should convince us of Jesus' full participation in our humanity, that is the one. And if ever he had join in the suffering of all that humanity must suffer, then he joined us that night with the devastating refusal of his prayer. After Jesus met an utterly brutal end, God made that right too and raised Jesus from the dead.

In both these cases the prayer was heard. The petitioner was right to think that God was listening, and that God was working in the situation. The one in prayer was even right in their confidence that, because of God's goodness, things would in the end be well again. But that did not mean that they received exactly what they asked.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Mary and Martha are back again

I am hoping that the mandatory overtime at work -- such a common feature of my summers -- will come to an end sometime over the next few weeks, and I can again develop deeper material that requires more thought and research and soul-searching. But in the meantime, I am grateful that today's lesson was on Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.
As they went on their way, he entered into a certain village, and a woman named Martha received him into her house. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word. But Martha was distracted with serving, and she came up to him, and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to serve? Ask her to help me.”
Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
 On a day in which I consider thinking, "I should do more," maybe it was a good day to remember that that's not always the best. 
Some events recorded in Scripture are old friends, and this one I welcome back again. Bless the evangelists, and the lectionary! And most of all bless Christ's compassion. When he advocates for Mary, it builds my faith that yes, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. 


Sunday, July 14, 2019

What is the right involvement of a congregation in service and charity?

The New Testament is full of instruction that we should reach out to those in need. What is a local congregation's role in promoting that?

Consider some of the New Testament's teachings on mercy and generosity:
  • All the acts of mercy that Jesus described in describing the Last Day: Giving food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Garage sales and similar events to benefit the poor: "Sell what you have and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33)
  • Donating excess material goods: "If you have two cloaks, give to him who has none, and who has extra food likewise" (Luke 3:11)
  • Collecting for disaster relief (1 Corinthians 16:1)
  • Helping support the poor (Galatians 2:10)
  • In particular caring for widows and orphans (Acts 6:1-7, James 1:27)
  • Bearing each others' burdens (Galatians 6:2)

Sometimes the acts described seem to come from an individual, sometimes from the family (who are instructed to care for widows in their own family), sometimes from the unified efforts of believers.

I'm curious whether other people are satisfied with the efforts of their churches in providing, organizing, or recognizing opportunities for their people to serve.