Proper 17 (August 29, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Prov. 25:6-7; Ps. 112; Heb. 13:1-8, 15-16; Lk. 14:1, 7-14
The Muslim observance of Ramadan is more than half over. In this season, life slows down and attention is given to repentance, acts of compassion and family gatherings. Thankfully, the temperatures have begun to cool down, making fasting a bit less onerous. Year round, the call to prayer sounds from minarets around the city five times a day. During Ramadan, fasting begins with the first call to prayer at dawn and ends with the call to prayer at dusk. (To see BBC photographer Hugh Sykes' Ramadan pictures of holy sites in Karbala, Iraq, click here)
We are enjoying the four new SALT workers in our region. Sara Brubacher, Janae Detwiler, Trisha Fallon and Joanna Hoover are studying Arabic in Amman, before heading to their work sites. They take time each day to have lunch with us in the office. They are delightful young adults with a vision for service and learning to know Middle Eastern people and culture.
We have also enjoyed learning to know Holly and Ryan Snyder Thompson, who are diligently studying Farsi in Amman, while waiting for visas to go to Iran.
This week in the region, Israel announced that it will begin teaching Arabic language in Israeli public schools – a decision that could have long-term positive impact on Israeli-Palestinian relationships.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about good guests and good hosts.
Good guests. Both the Old Testament and Gospel readings warn against self-promotion. “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great;” warns the Solomon, “for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Prov. 25:6-7) Jesus tells a parable about a guest who takes the seat of honor, only to be disgraced when his host asks him to move to a lower seat (Lk. 14:7-10). “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,” Jesus concludes, “and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”(v.11)
Good hosts. Good hosts focus on those who are most vulnerable. The writer of Hebrews warns against two areas of neglect:
-“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2)
-“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (v.16)
Rather than inviting one’s friends and close relatives for dinner, Jesus tells his followers to welcome the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – those who may not be able to repay us (Lk. 14:13).
The psalmist notes that the hospitable are a “light for the upright” (Ps. 112:4a) and “gracious, merciful, and righteous” (v.4b). They deal generously and lend (v.5); they distribute freely and give to the poor (v. 9).
Whether as hosts or guests, the biblical call is to be humble. We are to find blessing in welcoming the stranger and sharing with those who are vulnerable; and in unpretentiously receiving the hospitality of others.
Proper 16 (August 22, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 58:9b-14; Ps. 103:1-8; Heb. 12:18-29; Lk. 13:10-17
This week we welcomed four new SALT (Serving and Learning Together) workers in our region. They will study Arabic for six weeks in Amman before beginning their assignments – two in Palestine/Israel, one in Jordan and one in Iraq.
There were many significant news stories in the region this week:
-The last U.S. combat brigade left Iraq after more than 7 years of war, even as explosions in Baghdad resulted in at least 68 deaths. Some 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq in advisory roles until the end of 2011. It has been nearly six months since elections took place in Iraq, but a government has yet to be formed and the number of civilian casualties has risen in recent months.
-Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to begin direct peace talks, Sept. 2, in Washington, D.C. Few have expectations that the talks will lead to a comprehensive settlement.
-Talk of an Israeli military strike on Iran was heightened after Russia announced that it would install nuclear fuel rods into Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station, Aug. 21.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about acceptable worship.
In the Old Testament reading, acceptable worship includes acting justly (Is. 58:9b), showing compassion (v.10) and honoring the Sabbath (vv. 13-14) -- which means to refrain from going our own ways, or serving our own interests or pursuing our own affairs (v. 13). God promises to continually guide and satisfy the needs of those who do these things (vv. 11, 14b).
The psalmist describes true worship as blessing God with “all that is within me” (Ps. 103:1) an not forgetting all of God’s benefits (v.2) – forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction with good, and justice for the oppressed (vv. 3-6).
The writer of Hebrews describes an acceptable worship as giving thanks to God with awe and reverence – for God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).
While the Old Testament reading reminds us to honor the Sabbath, the Gospel reading makes it clear that, limiting Sabbath activities does not preclude doing good to others. On the Sabbath, Jesus heals a woman who has been bound and crippled for 18 years (Lk. 13:10-13). A synagogue leader criticizes Jesus for doing so (v.14). Jesus reminds him that, if it is appropriate to untie animals and lead them to water on the Sabbath, it is certainly appropriate to free humans from bondage on the Sabbath (vv. 15-16).
With the many worries of life – from daily relationship struggles to geopolitical conflicts -- it is easy to focus on ourselves and our needs. Acceptable worship shifts our attention away from obsessing on our own interests and re-focuses it on the God who gives us life, and on serving others.
Proper 15 (August 15, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 23:23-29; Ps. 82; Heb. 11:29-12:2; Lk. 12:49-56
This week marked the beginning of Ramadan, during which many Muslims fast from dawn till dusk for a month. Ramadan begins 11 days earlier each year. It is now occurring in the part of the calendar year when daylight is longer and temperatures are hotter. Daryl and several colleagues in the MCC office fasted for the first day of Ramadan. Going without food was not that difficult. But, with temperatures in the high 90s, not drinking water from early morning till 7:30 p.m. was quite a challenge! The experience provided a deeper appreciation for the discipline required during Ramadan.
On Friday, we welcomed four EFL teachers who returned from northern Iraq, after teaching a five-week intensive English course at St. Peter’s Seminary in Erbil. The students showed remarkable improvement in their English language skills. The MCC teachers were creative, energetic and focused on their task, while building strong relationships with the seminary community. They maintained a positive attitude in spite of long days of teaching and temperatures soaring well above 120 degrees. We are grateful!
The Common Lectionary readings for this week condemn leaders who do not look after the well-being of the people, and remind us that the journey of faith is filled with struggles.
In the Old Testament reading, God chides the false prophets who try to make the people forget God’s name by prophesying dreams and lies, while claiming to speak on God’s behalf (Jer. 23:23-29). Such false prophets “do not profit this people at all,” God declares (v.32).
The psalmist criticizes leaders who fail to give justice to the weak, or to maintain the right of the lowly, or to rescue the weak and needy (Ps. 82:3-4).
The writer of Hebrews recounts many people of faith who experience dramatic victories during times of opposition. But the writer also notes that many people of faith have been tortured, tormented, mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, destitute, persecuted and even killed. (Heb. 11:36-38). Likewise, Jesus “endured the cross” (12:2b). In light of this “cloud of witnesses” the writer admonishes us cast off all that distracts us and “to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (12:1-2a)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus declares, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” (Lk. 12:50).
We would like the journey of faith to be easy and stress-free. But strong faith is no guarantee of comfortable living. The MCC community was deeply saddened this past week by the untimely death of MCC worker, Glen Lapp, in Afghanistan.
It still catches us off guard when we suffer for our faith. The Lectionary readings remind us that this should come as no surprise. How easily we forget. Let us run with perseverance the race set before us.
Proper 14 (August 8, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Gen. 15:1-6; Ps. 33:12-22; Heb. 11:1-3, 8-16; Lk. 12:32-40
This week we welcomed two returning International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) participants and said goodbye to two young Jordanian women who will be IVEPers in Canada for the next 11 months.
The temperatures in Amman were above 104 degrees (40 C) much of the week and we took a short respite at the Dead Sea with our son Jeremy and his friend Lyndsay. We also traveled to Karak to visit friends and tour the ancient Karak Castle – a “Crusader castle” and the historical setting for the movie Kingdom of Heaven.
In the region this week, a cross-border clash between Israeli and Lebanese soldiers resulted in the deaths of five persons and highlighted increasing tensions in the region. On a more pleasant note, results of the post-high school Tawjihi exams were announced, Aug. 7, in Jordan. Families whose children did well celebrate with fireworks and horn honking.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about placing our hope and trust in God and in God’s promises -- rather than in our current circumstances or in material things.
In the Old Testament reading, God promises the elderly and childless Abram that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:4). In spite of the fact that he and his wife were well past childbearing age, Abram believes God.
The psalmist warms that “a king is not saved by his great army” and “a warrior is not delivered by his great strength” (Ps. 33:16). Rather, God’s protection rests on those who fear God and hope in God’s steadfast love (v.18).
The Epistle reading states that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). The writer of Hebrews goes on to describe many biblical characters who demonstrated faith by acting on God’s promises. Amazingly, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” (v.13)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus assures his followers that God is pleased to give them the kingdom (Lk. 12:32-40). Therefore, they can live lightly, trusting God and storing up treasure in heaven rather than on earth.
It is much easier to place our trust in the things that we can see, feel and control – money, material possessions, weapons of war and our own schemes and plans. The journey of faith is about learning to depend on God’s steadfast love even when we don’t feel it, and to trust that God’s promises are true even when we do not yet see them fully realized.
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