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Reflections on the Sunday lectionary readings

Fret-free

Genesis 45:3-11, 15  •  Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40  •  1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50  •  Luke 6:27-38

Do not fret, the psalmist says. Do not get hot and bothered by those who do wrong. Joseph, at some point before the successful conclusion of his story as depicted in today's Genesis reading, must have landed on the same principle. He could continually sulk about his brothers, who threw him in a well, leaving him for dead or for the life of slavery which he endured for many years. He could be bitter about the politics of pharaoh's house, which landed him in prison, unjustly accused. Or he could look at what happened, reflecting on his contribution to what happened. For example, he could have used some of his time in prison to think about himself as his father's favorite, the impact on his brothers, and ways that he continued to act as a spoiled child. Then, he would be able to turn his attention away from "another somebody done somebody wrong song," as B.J. Thomas once put it, avoiding the allurement and familiarity of licking one's own wounds for a more positive use of his energies.

 

Jesus warns against ruminating on what another has done. In today's verses, he tells us in at least fourteen ways (I just counted) not to fret about others. Although this seems pretty straightforward, it is difficult to do. The pull to notice the behaviors of others begins early in life, as one learns expectations and functional roles in one's family unit. Going back to one's family without reactivity to them or pressure on them to perform in certain ways is difficult. Maintaining one's own self even with pressure from one's family to meet old expectations is also hard. Both will begin a process of untangling oneself while remaining connected to one's family. In a sense, "do not fret" begins at home.

 

Morning reflection: What family member could I connect with today? When my mind begins to focus on the behavior of others, what can I focus on instead?

Evening reflection: Was I able to connect with a family member? When did I fret today?

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Be the tree

Jeremiah 17:5-10  •  Psalm 1  •  1 Corinthians 15:12-20  •  Luke 6:17-26

Jeremiah begins the readings with a comment on anxiety, using a tree to paint the picture. This tree, planted near a stream and with roots that grew towards the water, is not afraid of the heat, and continues to have green leaves in the hottest of weather. Neither is this tree worried about a drought, knowing that water flows nearby, and it continues to bear fruit in dry years. This tree lives without anxiety.

 

We humans can avoid much anxiety by rooting ourselves in firm principles. Jesus provides a guide to finding one's own principles, beginning with his observation that the poor are blessed. This idea is far from obvious; no amount of romanticizing a life of poverty can avoid the hard realities of hunger and deprivation that it involves. To come up with such a statement, Jesus must have spent a lot of time thinking about it. Rooting oneself in firm principles begins here. When one's principles are automatic, inherited from one's family, they may or may not provide good roots growing towards living water. It is only by a careful review of one's principles over time, a willingness to eschew those that do not fit one's own view of life, and an effort to find and live according to one's own ideas, that one begins to grow a self.

 

Jesus, always respectful of his audience, does not explain how the poor are blessed. He leaves us to observe for ourselves how poverty shapes people differently than wealth. He leaves the ultimate example of what he believed in how he lived his life.

 

Morning reflection: How do I want to live my life today?

Evening reflection: What principles did I act on today? Where did I act in ways inconsistent with what is important to me?

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Fishing

Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)  •  Psalm 138  •  1 Corinthians 15:1-11  •  Luke 5:1-11

 

My idea of fishing is sitting with a pole by the bank of a lake or river. This picture, of a group catching fish with large nets cast over the side of a boat is a whole different side to fishing. It is hard work involving several people, with much cooperation required. The fish are caught, not individually, but many in one casting of a net. What can it mean to become one who is a catcher of people (v. 10), when this is the model?

 

First, one cannot fish this way alone. It requires one to work with others, always aware of a goal of an environment where people can thrive, where their best self can be free to exist. Second, it requires one to bring one's own best self to the environment. It is as though one must constantly fish to attend to one's feelings and discover one's own best thoughts. Third, this best self has to be clear to others; it must be constantly defined so that others can see it. If not, the fishing waters are muddied, so to speak. The vision is a place where each person is free and even encouraged to be a self while at the same time staying connected in a respectful way with all others. It is a lifelong fishing expedition.

 

Morning reflection: How can I be my best self with the people I will see today, while giving them room to thrive as well?

Evening reflection: Where did I see myself being clear? Where did I lack self-definition?

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The hometown boy speaks up

Jeremiah 1:4-10 • Psalm 71:1-6 • 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 • Luke 4:21-30

 

In today's story, Jesus has just finished reading a scripture passage which has everyone speaking well of him. Now, however, the crowd starts to get restless about this hometown boy done good. To make matters worse, Jesus himself begins to identify stories of God's care for foreigners: specifically, a widow at Zarephath of Sidon and Namaan the Syrian. The crowd becomes so angry that they try to throw him off a cliff.

 

Hatred between groups of people is nothing new. The Nazis hated the Jews. The Japanese hated the Koreans. The Hutus hated the Tutsis. The Turks hated the Armenians. Around the globe, groups of people have not only hated, but attempted to destroy other groups of people. It is an old story, and not confined to humans. Ant colonies will attack other same-species ant colonies. Many other animal species will often ward off members of their own species if not a part of their flock (ducks), herd (wolves), community (chimpanzees), or family group (prairie dogs).

 

Here, early in his ministry, Jesus is quick to say that we humans must let this behavior go. It is a deeply rooted instinct to be suspicious of the stranger, the foreigner. But this instinct, based in fear, can keep one from the kingdom of God, where patience and kindness reign, and where arrogance towards others has no place. 

 

Morning reflection: What chances will I have today to be welcoming of people who are different from me?

Evening reflection: What gets in the way of kindness towards others? 

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