Proper 12 (July 26, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
II Kings 4:42-44; Ps. 145:10-18; Eph. 3:14-21: John 6:1-21
This week we met with four remarkable young Jordanian women. Two had just returned from Canada, where they served with MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). It was amazing to see how their self-confidence had grown during the past year. Two others are preparing to spend a year abroad – one in California the other in British Columbia. IVEP participants live with a host family and volunteer in a local organization.
MCC has a sister program – Serving and Learning Together (SALT) – in which young adults from Canada and the United States spend a year in another country. Next month, MCC’s Jordan and Palestine programs will welcome three new SALT workers.
We celebrated Cindy’s birthday, July 24. Daryl prepared a huge dish of saffron rice and chicken. We’ll be eating leftovers for a week! Cindy enjoyed receiving cards from friends and family around the world.
In the region this week, Iraqi Kurds went to the polls to elect a new president and parliament, July 25. While “Kurdistan” – as the three northern Iraqi provinces are known – is officially part of Iraq, it also has a semi-autonomous government.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about God’s generous provision of enough.
In the Old Testament reading, a man brings a gift of 20 barley loaves and fresh ears of grain to Elisha during a time of famine. The prophet tells him: “Give it to the people and let them eat” (II Kings 4:42). The man argues that it will not be enough food for 100 people. But Elisha repeats his command and says that, not only will there be enough, there will be leftovers! The man complies. The crowd eats. There is enough – and then some.
The Gospel reading tells a parallel story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 (John 6:1-14). The stakes are much higher. A young boy has only 5 barley loaves and two fish. The disciples are skeptical that this will be enough. “What are they among so many people?” asks Andrew. But Jesus blesses these small gifts and has his disciples distribute them to the crowd, who eats and is satisfied. The disciples collect 12 baskets of leftovers!
The psalmist also speaks of enough. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15-16).
In the Epistle reading, Paul prays that the church will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) and proclaims that God’s power at work within us “Is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (v.20).
In God’s economy, there is enough for all -- and then some. Where there is human need, it is not because God has failed to provide. It is because we humans hoard for ourselves or because we fear that the gifts we have to offer will not be enough in the face of great needs.
We were encouraged this week by stories of how IVEP volunteers shared their gifts with communities in Canada this past year -- and how God multiplied their contributions.
What gifts are we not sharing for fear that they will not be enough?
Proper 11 (July 19, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 23:1-6; Ps. 23; Eph. 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
This week we met in Bethlehem with MCC’s Palestine Advisory Committee. They offered wise counsel regarding program priorities in the region and helped us plan for the 60th anniversary of MCC’s work in Palestine.
We also celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary, July 18, with dinner at our favorite restaurant in Amman. We were married in 1981 – in a sunrise service on an island at Pine Lake Camp in Meridian, Mississippi!
In the region this week, “Breaking the Silence,” a group of Israeli soldiers spoke out about widespread abuses against Palestinian civilians during the Gaza war in January 2009. Their 81-page report details numerous examples of disregard for civilian life in Gaza. MCC workers recently traveled to Gaza and reported that the humanitarian situation has deteriorated since the war.
Post-election unrest continues in Iran, with more street demonstrations and a former president calling for the Iranian government to release protesters who are being held in jail. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Iran is running out of time to dialogue about its nuclear program. She warned that further isolation and even military action are possible.
In Iraq, four people were killed and more than thirty injured when six churches were bombed in Baghdad in a span of 24 hours.
The Common Lectionary readings this week offer encouraging reminders that God is our shepherd even as human leaders frequently fail us.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God confronts the shepherds who “destroy and scatter the sheep” (Jer. 23:1) and promises to gather the sheep back to their fold and to raise up new shepherds who will care for the people (vv.3-4).
The familiar Psalm 23 offers the powerful image of God as the faithful shepherd who nurtures, calms, and restores us; and leads us in just paths. (vv. 2-3). Even in the darkest valleys and in the presence of our enemies, God is present with us (v.4-5).
In the Epistle reading, Paul writes about Christ’s costly concern for our well-being. Through his death, Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, creating one new humanity (Eph. 2:14-15). Through Christ, all groups have equal access to God and are members of God’s household (vv. 18-19).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus has compassion for the crowd because they are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34a). He teaches and feeds them (vv. 34b-44) and heals their sick (vv. 53-56).
In the midst of global turmoil, these are timely reminders that, even when – perhaps especially when -- human leaders fail us, God is faithful to shepherd us.
Proper 9 (July 5, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ezek. 2:1-5; Ps. 123; II Cor. 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
This week we traveled to northern Iraq where we met MCC partners who are doing impressive and courageous work. We experienced hospitality in a number of Iraqi homes and heard many stories about daily life.
Since the war in 2003, much of the Christian community in Iraq has either left the country or fled to Ainkawa and other towns in the north. Not only have individuals and families been uprooted, but entire institutions such as schools and orphanages as well.
We stayed at St. Peter’s Seminary, which trains the Chaldean Catholic priests who serve across Iraq. MCC provides an English language teacher to the seminary, which was formerly located in Baghdad.
We visited two new MCC Global Family partners. Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are a Chaldean order of Catholic nuns who operate a kindergarten for some 300 children, using tents as classrooms. St. Anne’s Orphanage provides a loving home for young girls.
We also spoke with a priest from Baghdad, who described his harrowing experience of being kidnapped. He continues to serve as a parish priest and to run a school for a diverse group of children in Baghdad.
We were in Iraq on the day that U.S. troops officially pulled out of major urban areas. Among Iraqis, there seems to be a mixture of excitement and fear. There is a sense of pride that Iraqis are now “in charge” and yet concern that the coming months could witness a serious rise in ethnic violence.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about our vulnerability and dependence on God.
In the Old Testament reading, the priest and prophet Ezekiel is dependent on God for courage and protection. God calls Ezekiel to speak to the people of Israel, whom God describes as rebellious, impudent and stubborn (Ezek. 2:3-4). God says that, whether or not the people listen, Ezekiel is not to be afraid of their words or looks (v. 6).
The psalmist describes our dependence on God’s mercy. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,” writes the psalmist, “so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us” (Ps. 123:2).
In the Epistle reading, Paul describes his dependence on God’s grace. Paul says that he has been given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming too elated or proud of the extraordinary visions that he has received (II Cor. 12:7). Three times Paul prays for God to take away the thorn, but God responds, “My grace is sufficient for you…” (v.9a).
In the Gospel reading, the disciples are dependent on God’s provision. Jesus sends them out two by two to proclaim a message of repentance and to heal the sick. He orders them to take nothing except a staff, “no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (Mark 6:8).
We spend much of our energy trying not to be vulnerable or dependent. But this week’s Lectionary readings remind us God’s power is most at work precisely in such moments. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” God reassures Paul (II Cor. 12:9b). And in their time of vulnerability, Jesus’ disciples – by God’s power -- cast out demons and heal the sick (Mark 6:13).
We saw this reality being lived out by our sisters and brothers in Iraq this week. We pray that we will more fully embrace our weaknesses and dependence as opportunities for God’s Spirit to work in extraordinary ways.
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