Week 23: Samson

Samson’s story says that, in his youth, “the spirit of the Lord began to stir him . . .”

Astute Living in The Story readers likely will notice numerous biblical themes coming together in the story of Samson.

  • An angel visits a barren couple and promises a son (like Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth and Zechariah).
  • The father asks the angel’s name (like Jacob wrestling, like Zechariah’s encounter).
  • The father “sees” God in the angel and fears he will die (like Jacob, like Moses).
  • The son is consecrated from birth and marked by acts of ritual purity (like John the Baptist).
  • The son is destined to deliver God’s people but in the end he is betrayed by someone he trusted. With his last breath and his arms outstretched, he defeats the enemy with a surprising reversal (like Jesus).

Again and again the Samson story testifies to God’s unexpected and undeserved mercy and faithfulness.

The portrayal of Samson’s dubious moral character, foolish hot-headedness, and stubborn independence underscore God’s mysterious way of choosing and using unlikely people for ministry . . . (like me!)

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 272-282). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Living in The Story readings for Week 23

Judges 14-21

Psalm 6

Psalm 31

Psalm 85

Psalm 143

Acts 8-9

Luke 22-23

Week 22: War and Violence

As my husband and I watched the powerful movie Lincoln, we were particularly moved by one scene in which President Abraham Lincoln rides slowly through a still smoldering battlefield. Everywhere he looks, the bodies of soldiers are tumbled together, a horrific grey and blue sculpture of death and destruction.

I wept.

On the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, in the days before he carried his old rugged cross up the hillside, Jesus wept—not for himself but for all those who turned their backs on the peace he offered. Instead of peace, people turned to violence. Jesus saw clearly how this sin against shalom destroys the soul of a person. And so, Jesus took up his cross and walked right into the violence, bearing its burden and thus breaking its power by his own self-giving.

Even though the texts of Joshua and Judges represent an understanding of God-ordained, God-ordered violence, there is and always has been an alternative biblical vision of who God is and, therefore, who the people of God should be. Countercultural witness woven throughout Scripture tells another story of the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34, Neh 9, Ps 86, 103, 145).

A countercultural witness embedded in Scripture calls upon the people of God to turn away from violence and to live in harmony. It is only when we read Scripture through this kind of alternative lens that we can reread, reframe, reconsider what is truly true for our believing and for our living today . . .

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Week 21: Cornerstone

The thread of “cornerstone” is woven throughout the Scriptures.

The thread of “cornerstone” is woven throughout the Psalms, the Prophets, through Luke and Peter. This image challenges us to ask what it means to us that the Christ is the cornerstone . . .

God-through-Christ is doing a bigger work that is larger than the people of Israel. Now, in the spirit of Pentecost, all humanity is being called into relationship with the Christ of God—the one whom God has sent into the world; the one who embodies the image, presence, essence, and being of the invisible God. This understanding sees all creation as interrelated to the Christ who is foundation and cornerstone . . .

But there is another thread: the psalmist and the prophets, Luke and Peter all speak of those who “stumble” over this stone, and they grieve the disturbing rejection of this foundation of creation, this foundation for living.

I grieve as well.

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Week 20: Joshua

This week and next, we are forced to deal with troubling aspects of narrated violence

When Joshua and the army of Israel marched around the city of Jericho, when the priests blew the trumpets, when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, the text says Joshua said:

Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction . . . Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword everything in the city—men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys . . .

Josh 6:15–21

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble saying “The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God” whenever I read something like this. It’s hard for me to stomach that this proactive violence is part of our Holy Scripture.

When we read these stories in the church’s Scriptures, we are forced to deal with troubling aspects of this narrated violence; especially troublesome is that violence is said to be sanctioned by, even commanded by, God . . .

We may well ask what do these violent, ancient stories . . . have to do with us?

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Week 19: Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy’s stage is set with the people standing on the edge of their Promised Land and Moses as the patriarch saying farewell to his children, reminding them who they are and reiterating core truths that bind them together. The generation of people who had been enslaved in Egypt was buried in the wilderness, and now a new generation of nomads is poised to enter into the land, to accept the challenges of growing into the life God has called them to.

Moses’ warnings/curses caution against doing anything that damages covenant—the covenant God made with Israel that claimed them as God’s own people, but also the covenant of relationship that connected them together as a community.

The sanctions and catalog of consequences we read here can sound severe, but it’s not so much God dishing out a list of arbitrary rules and expecting people to obey unquestioningly “just because I said so.” It’s more like the cosmic wisdom that says “actions have consequences.”

Here in Deuteronomy, Israel is called to remember that—in pure grace—God called them into relationship, God was calling them to God’s own purposes. Deuteronomy gives witness to the faithfulness of the Lord their God and the people stand amazed that they have been incorporated into such mercy.

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Week 18: Love

What would happen if Christians actually fell head over heels in love with all the people whom God loves?

Love is a verb. You can write that down.

This statement may sound familiar to you because just a few weeks ago, I said faith is a verb. So now here I am claiming that love is a verb. Sometimes we think we can love in the abstract—warm, fuzzy feelings for people in general. But no, love is not so much a feeling as it is a verb, active, face-to-face, hand-to-hand—and messy . . .

This week, we hear again Luke’s famous story about a lawyer who came to Jesus seeking eternal life. I’m not sure what “eternal life” meant to him exactly, how a first century Jew might have thought about it, but Jesus’ answer is pretty clear: Love. The way to life is love. Love God. Love one another. Love the neighbor. Love the stranger. Love the enemy, the unlovely, and the unlovable. “But who is my neighbor?” the lawyer negotiates for specific rules and clear guidelines . . .

The startling reversal in Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan is that there—right there in the messy life of that uncomfortable person—God’s own presence exists. There—right there in the lives of “those people”—God’s own purposes are at work. There—right there in one whom we might distrust, disrespect, and maybe even hate—love can be embodied.

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Week 17: Numbers

Israel told the old, old stories with a stubborn hope that the God of Covenant would keep the covenant and rescue them once again.

Numbers does what it says: it names and numbers Israel. Numbers is another origins document naming the original members of this newly called out tribal people, a people who eventually will become the nation and kingdom of Israel . .

Like many ancient peoples, the story of Israel was preserved first by their storytellers. Genealogies and oral histories of events and were handed down from generation to generation until they finally were written down.

This founding story of the Exodus from slavery and the covenant with Yahweh became Israel’s Scripture during another painful time centuries later, a time of exile in Babylon and alienation from their God. The exiled people knew full well they had broken covenant and had brought this tragedy upon themselves. As they recounted and retold the stories of their ancestors, surely they recognized Israel’s faithlessness in light of the covenant faithfulness of the one who had called them. Israel told the old, old stories with a stubborn hope that the God of Covenant would keep the covenant and rescue them once again . . .

The testimony and witness of God’s own people is that—from the very beginning of time to the end of history—God is ever acting on behalf of the promises, redeeming all kinds of people, and creating a cosmic community grounded in hope and grace. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:10; see also Hos 1:8–10).

As I write this in 2021, Christian Nationalism has infected some streams of American Christianity and the church’s witness has suffered even more as some misguided people conflate “American” with “Christian.” The church of Jesus Christ is not national. Authentic church transcends every boundary and border; reaches across every difference and divide.

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Week 16: Faith

In the midst of all our unknowing, we still are able to live with focus, direction, and confidence.

We finish Hebrews this week with the famous “hall of fame” chapter in Hebrews 11. How many of these OT characters do you recognize from your Bible reading so far this year?

When we read this chapter in Hebrews, we can’t miss how active real human faith really is. This chapter is chock full of verbs, the faith of our fathers and mothers that “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, put enemies to flight.” The faith of the martyrs who “suffered mocking and flogging and imprisonment, who went about persecuted and tormented.”

The Hebrews writer teaches us that faith is a verb . . .

Used to, I thought faith was believing right things in correct ways. Even though I’ve mostly been a part of a non-creedal Christianity, I still thought one had to assent to certain belief statements about church, God, Christ, Spirit, the Bible. I thought faith was about ideas.

Now I believe faith is a verb.

For me, it’s more about my doing faithful things, acting in faithful ways, and behaving with faithful intentions.

Faith is about change and transformation, about personal commitment and the reorientation of a life.

Faith is about my counting on the faithfulness of a God who creates and informs and sustains the faithfulness of my own faith.

It’s about entrusting myself to the faithfulness of the God who covers for me even when I believe incorrectly and behave unfaithfully.

It’s about letting the whole of my life flow from the life of the God who is the ultimate Verb, the one who is ever the I Am, always present tense, always acting on behalf of all humanity for the sake of the promise . . .

Hebrews describes how pilgrims of faith managed to see what was invisible. He describes how they greeted God’s promises from a distance, how they could imagine a city whose builder, whose architect was God. Even when they did not know where they were going, they knew they were going somewhere.

If not in their own lifetime, they entrusted themselves and their children and their great-great-grandchildren to God’s faithfulness. They trusted enough to continue to live faithfully even if they didn’t see the promise come true for themselves; they were content to live toward the promises.

Consequently in the midst of all their unknowing, they still were able to live with focus, direction, and confidence . . .

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (p. 212). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Living in The Story readings Week 16

Numbers 1-16

Psalm 54

Psalm 98

Hebrews 11-13

Luke 3-4

Week 15: Leviticus

Israel’s own tradition saw the rules of Leviticus as one part of the whole.

Recall again the hermeneutical principle we considered last week that it is not possible to make sense of Leviticus without also listening to the Wisdom literature and to the prophetic writings. We should remember this important principle as we interpret any Scripture but especially these ancient texts in Leviticus. We must hear alternative voices and see the counter vision that developed within Israel’s own tradition, glimpses of a future time when all people would be welcomed and included in the reconciling, redeeming work of God . . .

Israel’s own tradition saw the rules of Leviticus as one part of the whole. Israel’s own tradition saw the visions of the prophets as an equally valid voice, rereading and reframing Israel’s social and ceremonial laws . . .

Whenever we try to make sense of texts like these, we must insist on faithful, sensible, and mature interpretive methods in order to unpack the historical situation and understand the cultural practices that shaped the writings of the original community . . .

When we read Leviticus, we should be very careful about bringing any of those cultural assumptions from another world and a different time forward into our own day. Faulty and unfaithful interpretations of the Bible and misapplications of some of these very obscure verses in Leviticus have been used again and again in the church to exclude and condemn people whom God is calling into relationship . . .

“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (through his flesh. . .)

Heb 10:19–22

In this theological reflection by the Hebrews author, in this image of Christ opening the curtain to the Holy of Holies, the work of the Christ has sanctified everything. Whatever was considered to be imperfect, unholy, inadequate, impure, unacceptable, all has been made perfect and holy and acceptable by the perfect work of God in Jesus Christ . . .

There are still too many Christians, too many denominations, too many local congregations that have not yet figured out how to be this kind of inclusive community. All around us, all kinds of people who have been shunned and excluded and made to feel unholy and unacceptable are yearning for a place of welcome, where the curtain truly is opened wide. So here and now, in our time, in our place, let us live boldly, let us go forward with confidence in this new and living way the Christ has opened up for all of us.

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (p. 203). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Living in The Story readings Week 15

Leviticus 17-27

Psalm 40

Psalm 99

Psalm 123

Hebrews 6-10

Luke 2

Week 14: Re-Reading the Law

I have a friend from seminary who once tried to write a paper for a class that explored how Leviticus is the Word of God. He couldn’t write it. He worked on it for weeks and never could figure out how to understand this odd, ancient book as “the word of the Lord.”

My friend is not the only one. Many of us struggle to understand these kinds of strange passages from the Church’s sacred texts. Just how could it be “the word of the Lord” that people with various disabilities should be excluded from worship? How could it be that people who are born a certain way should be excluded from the ministry of the priesthood?

I believe it is not possible for Christian readers of the OT to make sense of Leviticus without reading it through the lens of Jesus Christ. And that’s exactly what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews did two millennia ago; he reread and reinterpreted Leviticus through his understanding of the Christ event. This is why Living in The Story juxtaposes Leviticus and Hebrews as we read during weeks 14 and 15. Reading the Bible in this way allows us to learn from this ancient Hebrew Christian theologian. We are introduced to one more faithful interpretive approach to the OT as he helps us reread our Christian Scriptures in our own day.

As I do the important work of biblical interpretation, I try to stay faithful to the tradition and open to the Spirit while I’m doing it. One principle that’s really important is to value the unity of Scripture. There are lots of ways parts of the Bible don’t make much sense if they are taken piecemeal. It is Scripture as a whole that gives appropriate witness to the mighty acts of God throughout history. We can’t separate Leviticus from the Psalms or the Prophets or the Wisdom literature. We need all of it together in order for our faith to have any real understanding.

The Bible is like a symphony with a variety of melodies, some very different from the other, played in movements within the complex score that is our Holy Scripture. Awareness, comprehension, and appreciation emerge only as the various strains and themes and rhythms of this fascinating masterpiece are brought together into a polyphonic unity.

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle, Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 182-183). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Living in The Story readings Week 14

Leviticus 1-16

Psalm 2

Psalm 48

Psalm 95

Psalm 100

Psalm 110

Hebrews 1-5

Luke 1

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