Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Psalm Passage: Reflecting on the psalm and the protection of the Divine

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1)

This a good start for the companion piece to the predictions in the book of Daniel. Having read the predictions in the book of Daniel, I think I would ask for protection too!

“I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.” (Verses 2 – 3)

As this passage continues, the clarity of the passage and the message that the psalmist wants to give becomes garbled and confusing – not because I say so, beloved reader, but because the big name commentators identify it as so. It seems like a simple little passage. The psalmist declares that the Divine is his refuge and has stated it publicly. Apart from the Divine the psalmist has little to commend or recommend of himself. The holy, however, he looks up to and assumes that the Divine, the Lord God has lead and guided them to a good life.

“Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. “ (Verses 4 – 6)

The passage becomes clearer as it goes on. Those who do not follow the Divine, the Lord God are going to have a tough time. I (meaning the psalmist) am not going to follow their example nor value what they do. I (meaning again the psalmist) chose the Lord God, and it has resulted in good things. This reflects back on the psalmist declaring that apart from the Lord God nothing is worthwhile.

“I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Verses 7 – 11)

The protection that the psalmist has found is not so much because the Lord God has shielded him from misfortune etc, but because he (the psalmist) has made good choices based on the laws and tenets of the faith the psalmist espouses and follows. If we think of King David as the psalmist we can see that when David followed the Lord God, good and pleasant things happened. When he strayed (as he did) that is when things became not so well with him. The same could be said of Daniel in Babylon. He stayed the course of faith in the Lord despite temptation and persecution for his faith.

What about us beloved reader? Where have the lines fallen for us – for you and for me?

Do we feel protected and close to the Lord God, enclosed in the Divine’s Right Hand? The psalmist is telling us it is by making good, wise, and holy/Godly decisions that we feel this protection.

There are several things this philosophy and belief does not take into account, not the least of which is the acts of the unholy against us. I am sure you can think of other things, beloved reader, that mar the feeling of protection. Quite honestly, I think the psalmist is being a little optimistic. What is true, however, is that the things – traits and issues – that supersede this life on earth are protected for us and within us by the Divine Lord God. And maybe that is what the psalmist is meaning.

I do hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you are safe and protected in the Lord God; and that those near and dear to you are protected also. And may you find a firm and immovable refuge in the Divine Lord God. Selah!

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Gospel Passage: Reflecting on the prediction Jesus Christ makes

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings! Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”(Mark 13:1 – 2)

When I was in my early teens my parents and I went to visit a old large Catholic church. My mother, having been raised in a strong Anabaptist tradition, was not over impressed. I, however, was entranced. I just could not get enough of it. If someone had said to me that great church will be rumble with not one building stone left on top of another, I probably would not have believed it. Large sturdy buildings seem to be resistant to time and calamity. But we know that powerful forces can level a building. In Jesus’ time, however, that may not have been something that could imagined. And if it did, than it must be because a great disaster had befallen the city and the people in it.

“When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Verses 3 – 4)

I am not sure why the disciples thought there would signs of the coming event. Our minds are more likely to assume that it is a natural disaster that many not have any warnings. Jesus’ disciples, it seems, were more likely to see it as an apocalypse with signs and portents. Jesus’ answer is along those lines also.

“Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” (Verses 5 – 8)

Jesus called them birth pangs – or more precisely the writer/speaker of the gospel of Mark called them such. In fact the transcriber of the gospel of Mark puts a spin on this that makes it sound like the end times. And that Jesus’ disciples would see it coming. But we are at 2000 years beyond this prediction. And rumors of war, kingdom fighting kingdom/ nation fighting nation, earthquakes, and famines have come and gone 100 times over at least. And here we are, still churning along.

Now, there are two choices we can make. We can either adopt the attitude that this prediction has not strength or plausibility to it. Or we can be concerned that as bad as things have been over the last 2000, it is going to get much worse. And the 2000 years of all sorts of mayhem, disaster, and suffering is only a warm up! Kind of sobering when you take it seriously. I for one am going to hold on tight to my faith, and NOT pin my hopes to any earthly structure or formation! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Epistle Passage: Reflecting further on Jesus Christ as the Perfect High Priest

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10: 11 – 14)

I think you know already, beloved reader, that I am feeling that Paul is reiterating on a theme that I feel has already been well examined and described. It could be that Paul is being/just being over thorough. Or it could be that his audience really was a “tough sell”. I want to give that allowance because I know there are people who have heard the gospel many times but still do not embrace it as a model for their lives. So maybe Paul does need to speak at great expanse on this topic.

“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Verses 15 – 16)

As I think about Paul’s efforts to distill and present the gospel (as he understands it) to his readers, I am reminded of a modern-day occupation that is much like this – a technical writer. That is someone who writes at great length and detail as to how an object works or operates. I have at times in my life included technical writing or instruction book/manual writing in my job. And it is a long tedious process. You have to understand each step and sub-step, test out for yourself that it does/will work that way, and describe each step and movement in a clear and precise way. It can be maddening.

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 (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Verses 19 – 25)

I can imagine Paul looking at each step and increment of faith in Jesus Christ, examining it from the perspective of his listening/reading audience, and striving to be sure he has covered every aspect and possible question. I imagine it was quite maddening for him too, going over and over each step and aspect of faith to make sure he had in correct and had placed in within the context of his reader so it would be understandable. And then sending it off with every hope and prayerful confidence that it would be received well. It seems to me, beloved reader, that if Paul took such time and effort to write this, I (and you) should take the time to read it and study it. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Old Testament Passage: Reflecting on predictions from the past and what they may say about the present

Again for this week I had some tough choices to make. I could have looked again at passages from Samuel, where Hannah is considering the disappoint of not having a child. That seems to be somewhat of a theme amongst women of the bible, not being able to bear children or losing children. Sarah (who gave birth when very old), Hannah, Naomi (through the death of her two sons), Elizabeth (who also only gave birth in her old age), Rachel (whose sister Leah seemed to out do her in children); you see the pattern. These women had to depend on the Lord’s timing while those about them gave birth easily and often. But, I digress.

The choice was between treading old ground, or exploring something new. I chose the new. Actually, it is old . . . and confusing.

“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.“ (Daniel 12:1-3)

The book of Daniel is of two parts – simply put. The first part is the story of Daniel and his friends who were taken captive and brought to the Babylonian court of King Nebuchadnezzar. This is where Daniel and his friends chose the simple diet of their youth and homeland, and become stand out servants in the court, and rise to important ranks. But they would also have their convictions tested and their devotion to Yahweh challenged. They would win, of course. But it was a dangerous time for Daniel and his friends.

However the section for today is from the second part of the book of Daniel (starting in chapter seven) where Daniel starts to have visions that are interpreted for him by heavenly emissaries, and secrets are revealed to him that must remain secret. (How they came to be found in the book of Daniel if they were to be secret is not exactly explained.) These visions and secrets are said to be predictions of the kingdoms that would come after the kingdom/time that Daniel was currently living in. There is some conjectures as to whether these were predictions that would come to pass soon after the time of Daniel or whether they were predictions for much later ages. What does come through is that the Lord God the Divine will protect those who are mindful and remember the Lord God and worship faithfully. Those who do not will be severely punished.

While this explanation sounds plausible and in line with Judea-Christian traditions, the descriptions of the visions themselves seem to formed from fearsome and unnatural figures and events. They are quite outside of normal experience. Perhaps that is what makes them so compelling. And as I reflect though on the events and persons of our modern times, it seems to me they are outside of what has been normal experience and behaviors as well. Who would have predicted some twenty years ago what is happening in the current time. I remember back when I was a small child what was predicted that life would be like in the 21st century. Very little of it has come true, or at least not in the way it was thought it would. That’s the thing about predictions from the past – it is hard to realign them into the context of our present. And by extension of that, unfortunately, it is hard to place the concepts of the Divine from the past into our present. What were Christian principles in the past seemed to have be redefined or re-written for our present times.

Oh my . . . . I really have strayed far from where I started just one page up. Old Testament predictions have a tendency to make me do that. I am not sure I can back track myself out either. Maybe I should have stuck with Hannah in I Samuel. But since I did not, let us see where the week will take us. For now, beloved reader, may you reflect and ponder on the past, present, and future. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Gospel Passage: What will you provide to the Lord?

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” ( Mark 12:38 – 40)

Jesus often accused the scribes, Jewish leaders, Pharisees, and Sadducees of hypocrisy. But such people were not, and are not now, just in the time of Jesus. The mismatch of professed faith and lived action is something that has been around since humanity first succumbed to taking advantage of others. Those who demand honor for themselves should be sure they are worthy of the honor. Such a paradox that those who demand respect treat others with little or no respect. Their appearance does not match what they are truly like. Long prayers that reflect no true devotion to the Divine, combined with taking advantage of others who are in position to defend themselves, is a sure way to be condemned. I have little patient for people who live like that. I think the same could be said of Jesus.

“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Verses 41 – 44)

Jesus was an avid observer of people. I like that in a Messiah! The widow, who may well have been a victim of the so called religious leaders, balanced her livelihood against the giving to the treasury. And in her wisdom she gave all that she had so that the mission of the synagogue could continue. She did not give because she sought stature but because it was the right thing to do. The rich on the other hand, gave much because it made them look good. The reality was the amount they gave was just a pittance compared to what they had in reserve.

Set this against the early Christian church whose members contributed all they had to those in need so that no one person had more than another, and everyone had what they needed. I suspect much of that attitude and giving started in the lessons such as this that Jesus taught.

The deeper point is that Jesus knew exactly what the widow gave up in giving her little bit. And he also knew exactly how much the rich scribes did not give up. Each person should give according to their means, and how their heart and spirit moves them. Just as important is to make sure the faith you like to make others believe you have matches how you conduct your life. Remember beloved reader, the eyes of the Divine are upon you! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Epistle Passage: The Lord provides!

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:24-28)

Paul was working very hard, and was really “working it”, in writing to the Hebrews about Jesus position and attributes as the Christ/ the Messiah. Until reading this long series of excerpts from the book of Hebrews I did not realize how long/much Paul wrote on this theme. Of course it may be that because the excerpts from Hebrews in the lectionary are spaced out over several weeks it seems like a long time. Sometimes it seems like Paul gets so few kudos from me, I will account it to his diligence in conveying his message.

The question pops into my mind – what does this mean for us?

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands . . . “ This means that the redemption, forgiveness, grace, mercy etc that comes from the Lord God Jesus Christ is not confined to any one religion or faith tradition, but is available to all who believe in it and the Divine.

“. . . but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf . . .” This means that Jesus did not just do this as a “mere” mortal but as a gesture undertaken and completed by the Divine.

Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own . . . “ In many faith traditions it is customary to confess and ask for forgiveness over and over; sometimes because the tenets of faith dictate it and sometimes because we need forgiveness anew and again. But Christ completed it for us for all times because of the purity of his sacrifice. WE may need to “confess, repent, repeat” but Christ accomplished it first time out – so actually, now that I think of it, we can “confess, repent, repeat”!

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Now here Paul gets theological (if he has not already that is!) and rules out some possible faith beliefs. No reincarnation. Each of us will face our judgment day after our earthly life is over. The return of the Lord God Jesus Christ will signal the end of the age – not, make note, to judge. But together up those who still live and believe. In this passage Paul is silent about those who still live but do not believe. Personally I find that lack of comment ominous! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Old Testament Passage: The Lord provides(?)

Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (I King 17:8 – 9)

Editorial decision – I decided to go with the other Old Testament passage rather than continuing on with the story of Naomi and Ruth. I sort of gave away the ending of the story. I suppose, beloved reader, you already knew how the story ended. The Lord God looked down on Naomi and provided for her as well as for her daughter in law Ruth. That same theme is also found in this passage. But in this instance it is/was Elijah who was provided for, and the widow in Zarephath who found herself and her son under the protection of Elijah’s God.

“So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.” (Verses 10 – 13)

It might be very much outside of our experience, beloved reader, (at least I know it is outside mine) to have such a shortage of food that a last morsel might be all that is left and starvation is imminent. I have known lean times, both as a child and as an adult, but never lean enough that I would starve to death. On the face of it, Elijah’s instructions to the woman seem rather harsh – take care of me before yourself and your son! I thought so, until I went back and read that the Lord God had already designated this woman and her son to survive the famine. Which, incidentally, Elijah started as a lesson to King Ahab. This widow and her son were not the only ones whose very life was endanger. But they were designed to be saved.

“For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.” (Verses 14 – 16)

I said above that I have known lean times. There was a time our family was on the WIC program, where nursing mothers and young children are provided with the means to buy healthy food – fruits, meat, grains, dairy products. It is not the same thing as food stamps which provide a broad range of grocery items. But because I had young children they and I were eligible. It helped during a very rough time in our children’s growing up years. Thankfully better times came along, and now we know no want or need.

It is also humbling to be in such a position. And thinking about that, maybe Elijah’s gruffness in his demands covered and offset the woman’s despair. For the benefit of this prophet of God, she and her household were saved. She did not have to feel that charity was done to her, but expedient need was given for the benefit of the Divine’s prophet. I disliked receiving charity on the state’s dime, and was not treated with the dignity that I expected. I was very grateful that better times came. And actually, as I look back on it, the Lord’s hand supported and under girded us so that I need never threatened our lives.

In our day and age, starvation is a reality for many. Those who study such things say that if the distribution of resources was more fairly and equitably divided, starvation could be eliminated. I do not know if that is true. It is unnerving to think that our abundance is at the cost of another’s life. And maybe in the face of that, it is hard to belief that the Lord God the Divine provides. The truth of the matter – the bottom ground-level truth is that the Lord provides through the actions of others. And if others do not act, then there is overwhelming and life threatening need.

May you, beloved reader, wherever and whenever possible, let your umbrella of sufficiency (or if I dare say abundance) shelter and provide for others. Shalom and Selah!