First things

Proper 16 (August 23, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Josh. 24:1-2a, 14-18; Ps. 34:15-22; Eph. 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

The past two weeks have been filled with activity and excitement.

Some 30 young adults from Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and the United States gathered in Amman in early August for the second East-West dialogue, sponsored by the Middle East Council of Churches and MCC. In addition to conversations about culture, faith, identity and peacebuilding, the group met with local religious leaders and Jordan’s Prince Hassan.

Participants in the East-West dialogue share a laugh during a coffee break

On Aug. 11, we traveled to Sarajevo to meet with Amela and Randy Puljek-Shank, MCC Reps for Southeast Europe.

Sarajevo

We learned about the history and culture of the region and met with MCC partners who are doing peacebuilding work in a post-war environment.

Isak and Randy Puljek-Shank in Sarajevo

We welcomed two new SALT workers to Jordan, Aug. 16. They will spend the first month in Arabic language training.

Julie Lytle, recent grad from Wheaton College (Illinois)

Brent Stutzman, recent grad from Bethel College (Kansas)

Julie Lytle will then work at the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid and Brent Stutzman will serve at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in the town of Salt.

Holden Byler and Heidi Bowman

We were delighted to learn this week that our son Holden has announced his engagement to Heidi Bowman! They are planning a late December wedding.

Holden is a web programmer at Eastern Mennonite University and Heidi is an elementary teacher at Eastern Mennonite School.

In the region this week, Israel stopped issuing new permits for settlement housing, but did not freeze activity on houses already under construction.
In Baghdad, car and truck bomb explosions killed nearly 100 persons this week, as insurgents continue to test Iraqi security forces.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on matters of first importance.

In the Old Testament reading, Joshua confronts the people with a choice: Will they serve the Lord or the local gods and the gods of their ancestors? It is not possible to serve both. The people promise to serve the Lord, who delivered their ancestors from slavery, performed great signs, protected them on their journey and provided them with a place to live (Josh. 24:16-18).

The psalmist admits that the righteous have many afflictions, but offers assurances that the Lord hears their cry for help and rescues them from all their troubles (Ps. 34: 15-21).

In the Epistle reading, Paul warns against getting side-tracked by fighting human enemies – flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12a). Rather, our real struggle is against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (12b). In this struggle, we can be strong in the Lord as we put on God’s armor – truth, justice, the gospel of peace, God’s deliverance and God’s word (vv. 13-17). God’s armor stands in sharp contrast to the way political leaders offer security – by demonizing enemies, dominating others, using lethal force, and trusting in human strength and strategies.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus urges his disciples to focus on spiritual rather than temporal things. They are to feed on the bread that comes down from heaven (himself), rather than look for physical bread (John 6:56-58). “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless,” Jesus tells them (v. 63).

In MCC’s work in war-torn regions like Bosnia and the Middle East, we are reminded often that the struggle is against forces that seem larger than life. Paul aptly describes them as “cosmic powers of this present darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It is easy to feel helpless against such powerful forces.

And yet, the Lectionary readings remind us that we are not defenseless. God has given armor to protect us in the struggle and true food to nourish us for the journey. God is faithful to deliver and rescue.

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