Sue Whitt

Author's details

Name: Sue Whitt
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Sunday's Child: Reflections on readings for September 30 — September 30, 2014
  2. Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 29 — September 29, 2014
  3. Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 28 — September 28, 2014
  4. Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 27 — September 27, 2014
  5. Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 26 — September 26, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Sunday's Child: Daily Prayer, Wednesday, May 23, 2012 — 1 comment
  2. Sunday's Child: Health care, When they’re against you, a Reflection on Ephesians 6:10-20 — 1 comment
  3. Sunday's Child: Who Gets In, a Reflection on Psalm 15 — 1 comment
  4. Sunday's Child: Daily Prayer, Sunday, February 24, 2013 — 1 comment
  5. Sunday's Child: Daily Prayer, Sunday, August 4, 2013 — 1 comment

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Sep 30 2014

Sunday's Child: Reflections on readings for September 30

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Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed by the glorious name of the Lord forever;
may the Lord's glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.
(adapted from Psalm 72:18-19)

Isaiah 60:1-62:5
"I will greatly rejoice," Isaiah says. He talks about the gifts of salvation and righteousness. "Gratitude will spring up in you as inevitably as a garden grows from seeds."

But, keep reading.

Isaiah switches from the past tense to the future, "I'll not rest until Jerusalem is vindicated."

Jerusalem needs saving, and not only for its own sake. The salvation of Jerusalem will be a lesson for all who see it.

When Israel was in a situation so bad that its continued existence seemed unlikely, God, through the prophet Isaiah, promised to rescue them. "I will not keep silent, and I won't rest until Israel is vindicated."

Then Isaiah expands on the promise. Not only will they be rescued, but also everybody will know about it-- "her salvation like a burning torch."

OTOH, some commentators believe that the promise not to keep silent and not to rest are Isaiah's, rather than his proclaiming God's words.

Under the heading, troubling or reassuring?, no mention is made of their need to repent, or even to ask for, deliverance.

God is going to marry Jerusalem and be as joyful as a bridegroom.

How easy--or how hard--is it to imagine that God is joyful?

Quote from Walter Brueggemann's commentary on Isaiah 40-66:
It is worth noting that the term rendered "married" is from the same root as Baal, the god of fertility, and the land that is "married" is a land "baaled," or literally in the Hebrew, Be'ulah, that is, "Buelah land." The imagery of divorce or widowhood (see 54:4-6) is transposed into an agricultural term for a land barren and unproductive. Now this peole is revived and the city is restored; the land is recovered for fruitfulness and productivity.....The language is especially freighted, because marriage metaphors in that ancient world include fruifulness and generativity.

Philippians 1:27-2:18
Paul, in prison, is writing to a church that he had founded. "Stay unified," he tells them, "Stick together." The example he gives them is of Christ. "He was willing to give up anything and everything."

Paul reminds them that God can work through them to accomplish God's intentions. "Any sacrifice I make for you is worth it," Paul says. "I rejoice over you, and you must rejoice with me."

Paul encouraged Christians to live in community and to care for one another. How might such a community look now?

Generations of Hope is a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.

Read more about this amazing experiment

In their The First Paul, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer us three understandings of this passage by contemporary scholars:

    1) Christ is being contrasted with Adam, who with Eve wanted to be like God. Rather, he emptied himself.

    2) The text is referring to the preexistent Christ, the prebirth Jesus, who emptied himself to become human; that is, vulnerable, even to the point of being executed.

    3) Paul's first hearers would have been aware that the Roman emperor claimed to be "in the form of God" and regarded "equality with God as something to be exploited." They would have heard the claims that the emperor was divine, Lord, Son of God, Savior of the World, bringer of peace on earth. Paul is making the radical claim that Jesus Christ is the one who deserves the titles instead of Caesar.

Borg and Crossan say we don't have to choose between these three interpretations:
All make the same claim. What we see in Jesus--Christ crucified and raised as "Jesus Christ the Lord"--is the way, the path. This, Paul says in this text, is the mind that the followers of Jesus are to have. What we see in Jesus is the way, the path, of personal transformation. And it is the way, the path, of advocacy of a way of life very different from and in opposition to the normalcy of "this world." And it would cost Paul his life.
Psalm 72:1-20
Although this psalm is a prayer for a king, we can also pray that an elected leader would exhibit many of these attributes.

Proverbs 24:11-12
If you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, "look, we did not know this"--
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it/
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Prayer for Today: O Lord, focus our attention today on your will for us. Transform us into your disciples. Amen.

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Sep 29 2014

Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 29

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My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age,
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
(Psalm 71:8-9)

Isaiah 57:15-59:21
Try this--Read the first section of the daily newspaper. Or, listen to someone complain about how things are going. Then read what Isaiah had to say about people who seem to have been a lot like us. They said they wanted to be God's people, but what they did was whatever suited themselves. They were regularly attending worship services, but they didn't let what they learned there change their lives very much.

Isaiah gives some examples; e.g., not paying an adequate wage to employees, quarreling, threatening violence. I'm struck by how timely these criticisms of behavior are. Can we accept that God does not approve of these behaviors now?

Then Isaiah speaks of what does constitute appropriate worship of God: to ensure that the poor are given opportunities to care for themselves, to share your own resources with them until they are able to do so.

It gets harder. Bring the homeless poor into your house. Get clothes for them. I'm hoping that God doesn't really expect me to take this literally but will give me credit for helping support a home somewhere that I myself don't spend the night. What do you think?

Offer food to the hungry. Satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Would this requirement include access to health care?

Those are the ifs. The then: Your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

Isaiah says that if you do these things, then the Lord will take care of you. I am helped by Walter Breuggemann's commentary on Isaiah:
We may take this conditionality of "if-then" as a hard-nosed, "legalistic" requirement, that is, as a "work." But we may also regard this conditionality as a shrewd assessment about how "social security" really works. Well-being comes only in a community of neighbors. The alternative here implicitly warned against is selfishness, greed, indifference, and exploitation that are anti-community. These latter practices are never the basis of a viable life in the world, and can never be.
If a nation--and the people that make up that nation--continually and continuously care for each other, making sure that each person has a life of freedom, is well-fed, and has afflictions addresses, well, what would such a nation be like? How could it be anything other than the way that Isaiah describes it.

Try it out.

Philippians 1:1-26
For whatever reason, English speakers dropped the singular second-person pronoun. So, we can't tell when "you" means "thee"; i.e., singular, and when it means "you"; i.,e., plural.

So, I looked up this passage in my Greek New Testament to make sure which you that Paul was writing to. And, of course, the you is plural. In the American South, we would say y'all but probably wouldn't write it.

In any case, read this passage as if it is written to your congregation, not just to you personally. Paul is concerned about how all of you are, and how all of you are treating each other, and how all of you are working to do the work that Jesus Christ intended for all of you to do.

Further, as each of us waits for the promise of Advent to be fulfilled, we need to keep in mind that salvation is not merely a personal matter, a case of my being plucked out of a bad situation, but rather a much bigger matter, a case of the world in which I live being transformed.

Be tough-minded, not naive: I really do prefer reading narratives and prayers in the Bible more than epistles. I like working out the story line in the narratives. I like being given ways of speaking to and listening to God. But, I get bogged down trying to follow the train of thought in the letters.

Here's an example of my trying to work out the meaning of this passage:

What Paul is praying for the congregation of Philippi--that they will use knowledge and insight to determine what to do so they will ready for the day of Christ. Paul's criteria--they will have produced a harvest of righteousness. I have to pause--does Paul mean that being pure and blameless precedes or causes righteousness or does righteousness come through Jesus Christ's efforts or some combination? Carl R. Holladay offers a good summary: Be tough-minded not naive.

Psalm 71:1-24
Use Psalm 71 to help you pray in times of despair--threats by enemies or difficulties resulting from aging:
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
The psalmist recognizes how God has helped in the past and asks for continued help:
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
Proverbs 24:9-10
The devising of folly is sin,
and the scoffer is an abomination to all.
If you faint in the day of adversity
your strength being small;

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 71 to acknowledge the help you have already received or the help you need right now.

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Sep 28 2014

Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 28

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Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
(Psalm 70:1)

Isaiah 54:1-57:14

A country church on a state highway was trying to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage on its new Family Life Center. One of the favorites was selling tickets for catfish suppers, grilled hamburgers, even chitlins, once.

On their sign out front, the preacher would post:
    Catfish Supper
    June 27, 5-7 p.m
    Cost $8
    Isaiah 55:2

No one ever told her they thought the sign was funny or appropriate.

Isaiah is writing to exiles in Babylon describing for them what their new life in an old place will be. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. God promises to make with them an everlasting covenant. And because God has done so much for them, they are to reach out to strangers, to foreign strangers....

Isaiah's message focuses on the positive. God sends rain to the earth and the rain returns to heaven. But, before returning, that rain causes seeds to sprout. Isaiah relates God's promise: "As the rain accomplishes my purpose, so does my word."

Isaiah is speaking to exiles fearing their homecoming.

When is it appropriate for us to remember the need for good soil? When is it appropriate for us to remember Isaiah's words of joy and welcome and inevitable love?

This letter is written to the church--a church that apparently has some scared people in it. The advice, "When you think demons are after you, depend on God for your protection."

Ephesians 6:1-24
As the faith community considers how best all can receive whatever help they need, can we not use the metaphors in this passage?
belt of truth
breastplate of righteousness (note, not self-righteousness)
shoes so you'll be ready to step out
shield and helmet (there's a lot of folks that will be shooting arrows at you)
And not metaphorical at all, prayer.

Psalm 70:1-5
Do I want the Lord to come, or would a delay be better for me?

Proverbs 24:8
Whoever plans to do evil will be called a mischief-maker.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, strengthen us to include others into our congregation, in all things to maintain justice, to hold fast to your commands, to trust you in all things, and to be worthy of that trust. Amen.

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Sep 27 2014

Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 27

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Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
(Psalm 69:32)

Isaiah 51:1-53:12
Isaiah announces to Jerusalem that they are saved. Paul will use this passage to encourage missionaries (See Romans 10:15). As did Handel, in a passage in his Messiah, How beautiful are the feet.

Notice the tension underlying the passage, a tension that exists on into our time. God is king; yet, we don't always live like it.

Their ancestors had seen God act in their lives at the Red Sea. Was God absent during their captivity?

What holds us captive? What hides the presence of God from us?

Isaiah calls to the Judean people in exile,  "Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem" (51:9).

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament point out that this instruction by Isaiah to celebrate their release from captivity and their return to Jerusalem comes at a time when they are still under the control of Babylon and Jerusalem is a devastated city.

Ephesians 5:1-39
Advice to new Christians: When you lived in the dark, you couldn't see, but, now that the light is on, you can. Consider what people do when they think no one can see them. Well, you can see now, and you can be seen.

Tangent: Light does help us see more and better. In addition, it enables growth. I'm thinking about the flowerpots I have on the windowsill. I see more blooms there than if I had put them somewhere else. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

This advice can be useful to us old Christians, as well. We should be aware of what the Lord wants us to do and not to do. We should, but do we live as if we did? The advice in this letter sounds rather relevant to our own era--don't waste your time, don't get drunk. Rather, the letter tells us, be filled with the spirit. Sing praises and give thanks. Give thanks at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course, not every bad thing that happens to us is our fault, but we really do bring some of it on ourselves. Of course, not every good thing that happens to us is due to our own efforts, but how we live really does affect what happens next.

If we are filled with the Spirit, we're not leaving room for non-Spirit things.

Then we get to the part about the Christian household. Remember that this description fits the social order of their time. We need to try to understand how to fit the underlying message to our own times and ways.

Psalm 69:19-36

Proverbs 24:7
Wisdom is too high for fools;
in the gate they do not open their mouths.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, fill us with your presence. Open our eyes to your light. Guide us into right behavior. Remind us always of the gifts you have provided for us and remind us how you wish for us to use them. Amen.

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Sep 26 2014

Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 26

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Save me, O God, 
for the waters have come up to my neck.
Answer me, O Lord, 
for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, 
turn to me.
(Psalm 69:1, 16)

Isaiah 48:12-50:11
How is your evangelism project doing? How has the world changed for the better because you are living your life according to principles that you have learned from God's Word?

Isaiah had been a prophet long enough to have learned disappointment. God did not let him give up. Instead, God expanded his job description: "You've been trying to do too little to too few."

They have known defeat, have been sent into exile, and now are being promised restoration.

They have been helped, and now they have a job to do.

Isaiah describes the role that Israel is to play: to say to the prisoners, "Come out," and to those in darkness, "Show yourselves."

As I read these verses, I am assuming that the original interpretation centered on those exiles being the prisoners and those in darkness could have also meant the exiles or it could mean the people who were left in Judah and were forced into collaboration and cooperation.

But, whoever was the first to hear Isaiah's words, many of us who have come after them need to heed them as well:
Come out of whatever it is that is keeping you from freely following God.
Quit keeping your loyalty to God a secret.
And, let us read those ancient promises as still holding for us. As we emerge from our fears and insecurities, we will travel a path toward much blessing. We will be sustained along the way. The Lord has sent us a guide and a leader.

And, as we are asked to cast off our timidity about being God's people, we are to demonstrate and practice that life of care for others who just never have had a chance to hear about it before.

Doesn't this passage sound like a familiar pattern we religious people follow? First, a call to everyone to worship God including a very good reason to do so. Then, we recognize and admit that we have had disappointments, that we have had experiences that have given us doubt. And into our doubt comes the assurance that yes, God will remember to take care of us.

Doubting God's presence doesn't keep God from caring about us.

Ephesians 4:17-32
Being a Christian may mean a life-change. Christians aren't supposed to be licentious, greedy, or corrupt. Another rule: don't tell lies but speak the truth. Yes, even Christians get angry, but we are advised not to stay angry. Thieves are to give up stealing and get jobs. Rather than criticizing others, we are supposed to build them up. Rather than bitterness and anger and slander, we are to be kind and forgiving.

Psalm 69:1-18

Proverbs 24:5-6
Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones,
and those who have knowledge than those who have strength;
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Prayer for Today: At those times of despair when Psalm 69:2-13 describe your situation, pray verses 16-18.

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Sep 25 2014

Sunday's Child: Reflection on readings for September 25

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Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God,
as you have done for us before.
(Psalm 68:28)

Isaiah 45:11-48:11
They had needed rescue. God can send help through unexpected sources.

God had many, many reasons to punish the unfaithful people; yet, God promises a new start.

Ephesians 4:1-16
Insights from Ralph P. Martin in his commentary on Ephesians (part of the Interpretation series).

The first three chapters is a rather idealistic picture of the church--one that can help us see what we should be working towards.

The last three chapters are in Martin's terms "ecclesiology brought to earth"; that is, some harsh realities--harsh, yet not insurmountable.

My heavily reworded summary of his summary of 4:1-16:
1. Be true to your destiny while remembering that unity is essential.
2. Unity does not mean that we are all alike.
3. Church members have different gifts.
4. Christ intends for grownups to be grownups.
5. Christ intends for the church to be grownup.

Psalm 68:19-35

Proverbs 24:3-4
By wisdom a house is built;
and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled 
with all precious and pleasant riches.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into the life that is worthy of you. Guide us with your Spirit into humility, gentleness, patience, and love so that we may join with one another in building and maintaining your church. Help us into the maturity we need to keep us working together, to keep growing that church. Amen.

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