1 Samuel 8-11

Good morning! Today in 1 Samuel 8-11 we finally see the transition of “political” authority from Samuel the judge to Saul, Israel’s first king. “Political” is in quotation marks because there was no sacred-secular split in the manner of formal American structures today. Both Saul and Samuel are understood as leaders with divine authority who follow God, but after this time Saul and other kings will take over public leadership of Israel, while still relying on prophets like Samuel to convey God’s will to them and the people. This relationship will work well sometimes, but also cause mighty problems when prophets and kings disagree about the right course of action for the country. Royal leaders could use coercive military force to get their way, but prophets always had the “trump card” (so to speak) of divine authority on their side (if the people and/or king believed they truly knew God’s wishes).

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Easter in Galilee

Community United Church of Christ (St. Paul Park, Minnesota)

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Even during Holy Week, it’s not all work and no play for your local minister. Especially when a new season of “House of Cards” was recently released. If you don’t know it, “House of Cards” is a TV show on Netflix, about a husband and wife striving for the US presidency, and stopping at nothing to get what they want. When a new season is released all the episodes are available at once, so across the country for the last month every night from the street you can see curtains flickering with the light of binge-watchers up far beyond a reasonable hour. That’s why you might have seen me with bags under my eyes recently. Because, as Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything, except temptation.”

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1 Samuel 1-4

Good morning! Today we start the books of Samuel, which bridge from the time of the judges to the first two kings of a united Israel, Saul and David. These books chart a move away from power by virtue of an inherited priestly office to power based more on God’s choice of righteous leaders. Today in 1 Samuel 1-4 we see a great failing of the “old way” under corrupt priests, but the “new way” of royal authority will reveal its own problems in due time. From here through the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets have less formal authority over Israel’s leaders, but speak more reliably as the voice of divine morality.

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Good morning! Today it’s a delight to share with you one of the gems of the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth. This book is set in the time of the Judges, and it displays a much more compassionate response to foreigners than that which we have read in Judges. Ruth is a lovely piece of literature, using word plays and sophisticated reversals to show the action of God and people “behind the scenes” working for personal kindness that later turns into national blessing. If you’re in the practice of reading my commentary first but have not read the book of Ruth before, do yourself the favor of stopping here and reading the Bible passage first this time. Continue reading “Ruth”

Dining with Divine Mercy

Community United Church of Christ (St. Paul Park, Minnesota)

Scripture: Mark 14: 17-42

“Was ever another command so obeyed?”, Dom Gregory Dix asks about “Do this in remembrance of me”. He goes on, “For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, from every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of the fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.  [People] have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church…while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; …tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp…; gorgeously, for the canonization of S. Joan of Arc – one could fill many pages with the reasons why [people] have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.”[1] The universality of communion—it’s one of the things I love most about this tradition.

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Judges 17-19

Good morning! Today’s passage (Judges 17-19) is the first of a terrible two-day set of stories that close out the book of Judges. This era started out with more righteous judges like Deborah, who were succeeded by half-decent folks like Gideon, and then the amoral power of Abimelech and Jephthah. At least all of these folks sought to defeat non-Israelite threats. Now though, we see utter chaos in the tribes of Israel against one another. Strength unhinged from righteousness has led to anarchy, as a repeated refrain emphasizes: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” In the narrative arc of the Bible, these terrible times help justify the later urge to have a king. The stories today also smear residents of northern tribes, suggesting that they were written at a time when southern Judah and northern Israel were at war with one another.

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