Second Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – Paul celebrates Abraham (except when Abraham is not celebratory)

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)

I have, in my own mind, clustered together the Old Testament passages and the Epistle passages. So often the theme, context, and background of one relates to the other. I strongly suspect it is because it is Paul who is writing most of the epistles. And that his biblical and theological training leads him to connect the Old Testament to the message of Jesus Christ as he understands it. So here we have Abraham as he was presented yesterday as the focus of today’s passage.

“If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. “ (Verses 14 – 15)

That is not to imply that the Epistle passage is explained by the Old Testament; or that the Old Testament passage is expanded upon by the Epistle passage. Just that the two seem to swirl around each other.

Paul does not much like the law, except for those times that he does. Here he does not like the law, because the law is premised on sin and the describing of sin. Paul likes faith much better, and would set aside the law in favor of faith – except in those places where the law shows the need for faith. He also likes grace.

“For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Verses 16 – 17)

Sharing the faith of Abraham – not just having the same brand/blend of faith, but the unshakable faith of Abraham.

“Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Verses 18 – 21)

The unshakable faith of Abraham, except when he was Abram who thought it better to have a son through/with Hagar than to trust the Almighty’s perception of fertile biology.

“Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Verses 22 – 25)

Dear Paul, never counting the exceptions and not letting the rules/law get in the way of his preaching. But I think the exceptions should be noted and celebrated. Paul paints the picture of perfect faith, dovetailing with the finesse of following the law, and exhorting his readers to rely on grace but living such that only a small amount is needed. To be far, Paul also paints another picture where he says that he does those things he should not, and does not do the things he should. And there, actually, he has a lot in common with Abraham!

This is Lent, beloved reader, bumbling and stumbling our way to Ash Wednesday when we confront what we have done. And then spend the next five weeks examining ourselves and confessing where we have gone wrong. Proclaiming our faith, but admitting our defeats.

None of us are the rule – that is, none of us are perfect, perfectly following the rules and laws. But none of us are the extreme exception – that is, sinning constantly and continuously. We are all somewhere in between. Yes, we need grace. And yes we have faith. We are the spiritual children of Abraham, with all his faults and missteps. Praise be to the Lord God that the covenant God made with Abraham also covers us. And praise be to the Divine that we have celebratory examples to follow! Selah!

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Second Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Abram journeys to Abraham (And don’t forget Sarah!)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” (Genesis 17:1 – 2)

A legacy – everyone, or most everyone, want to be or establish a legacy. I am thinking especially of presidential libraries that are a warehouse (to be quite blunt) of everything a president wrote, sent to someone, had someone send to that president, and collected during their presidency. If their presidency was not enough, there is erected to it a monument composed of building material and paper – or maybe in this day and age discs and thumb drives. I don’t really mean to sound irreverent. It is important to preserve documents and catalog history. And as I said, everyone want to be, establish or leave a legacy. That was something that appealed to Abram just as it appeals to a lot of people.

“Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Verses 3 – 7)

You do realize, beloved reader, God is referring to the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews – the called and chosen people. It is important to remember through all of the prophets’ warnings and bemoaning, when they say “God turned away from God’s people” that God is the one who initiated the covenant in the first place and promised Abraham that from him would come many nations that were to be gathered under God’s name.

Here, at the time of Lent, it is important that we remember God knew we would stray and sin. And that the covenant that God established with Abraham extends down to us. When God says “everlasting” it is based on God’s measure of time and not ours.

“God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Verses 15 – 16)

It is equally important not to forget that Sarah is a vital part of this plan. The growing of a nation would not get very far without the women who gave birth to nations. The Lord God did not forget women: Eve was the companion to Adam; Sarah gave birth to Isaac; Rebekah gave birth to Esau and Jacob (who became Israel); Leah and Rachel gave birth to Joseph and all his brothers who became nations in Israel. And Mary gave birth to Jesus. It was an established fact years ago, and it is still an established fact – women are as much a part of the story of humanity as men. (Sorry, I digressed. But in our current times it is important to remind society of the inherent dignity and respect women deserve.)

All Christian, men and women, journey through Lent. Maybe not the days of the church year calendar, but everyone goes through times, days, and weeks when they examine their lives, themselves, and their intentions. May you, beloved reader, journey to where and who God wants you to be. Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Starting the Lenten Journey

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” (Psalm 25:1 – 3)

About a decade and a half ago, I was going through some tough time. I was not sure I could see a way out or an end. I dwelt a great deal in the psalms – using the words of the psalmist to give voice to my fears and concerns, and finding hope and comfort that if the psalmist received grace, mercy and deliverance from distress from the Lord, I would too.

“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” (Verses 4 – 6)

In fact this is one of the psalms that I relied on. Relied on heavily. About a decade and half ago I was part way through seminary, and there had been twists and turns I had not expected. At times I was just journeying on faith and not sure where the road would end up. Often times when you open up your life to the Divine you let of trying to control your life and hand over control to God. And that can be scary. Just as scary is confronting what you had done in the past, lived a life that did not as closely align to the life you know you should have lived. I often prayed . . .

“Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!” (Verse 7)

What I did not realize at the time is that every misstep brought me to where I was then. It brought me to the Lord, and that it was my desire for a closer relationship to God which the Divine desired. That is not to say that God wanted me to lose my way or sin, but that each time I turned away was an opportunity for me to turn back and be closer to God. The Lord remembered me, even when I momentarily forgot the Lord God.

“Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (Verses 8 – 10)

“All paths of the Lord” . . . . I was convinced there was one path, one true and correct path, and if I deviated from it, all was lost. What I came to learn was that there are many paths we might chose which are all pleasing to God. It is not so much where we go and how we make our way, but that we make our way with the Lord. Over a decade ago, we moved to the west coast and I left behind what I thought should be the path I should tread. So, trusting in the Lord, I explored other paths while keeping the same covenant with the Lord and following the decrees of the Divine.

During Lent (and other times), if we have strayed from the Lord and strayed to sin, we should return and repent. But Lent is also a time to review our past journey and celebrate where we have been lead by the Lord. To acknowledge that while our intent has always been to follow God, we have allowed the Divine to lead us.

May you, beloved reader, journey with our Lord Jesus Christ during Lent, being faithful in all the ways and places you will be lead. Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus starts his ministerial journey

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9 – 11)

There are several ways and services that faith traditions have for baptism. Some dunk, some pour, and some sprinkle. Some faith traditions have baptisms at different points of life; infancy, adolescence, and young adults. I am not aware, however, of any that bestow a blessing like Jesus received at this baptism. Not the dove part, but a blessing and a statement of being pleased with the one being baptized. If I was to design a baptism service, I would be sure to include that. Because the Lord is pleased when we are baptized; and while we are not named a Divine child, we are a child of the Divine. Be aware however that once we start our faith journey, as it was with Jesus, we will be tempted.

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Jesus, of course, did not succumb to temptation. I am afraid the same could not be said of us. The days of temptation may stretch out before us; we may feel we are living in a wild and deserted place; and our companions might be questionable. But fear not beloved reader; the Holy Spirit will attend to us. The overarching theme for the lectionary years is renewal and recommitment to the Lord God, and being called back to our faith by the Divine. While Jesus may have been alone for a time in the wilderness, we are never alone.

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Verses 14 – 15)

Just as John the Baptist extended the invitation for repentance and belief, so did Jesus. From John it was indicator of which direction to journey. From Jesus it was a promise of what was soon coming, and that Jesus himself would fulfill that promise. In the next 40 days (the time between now and Easter Sunday minus the Sundays) the scripture passages will examine and illuminate Christ’s ministry. Along the way it is my hope you will be called to greater commitment and devotion to our Lord God. Do not question how your commitment and devotion might deepen. Just have faith! Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – Hopeful signs move forward into Lent

With Ash Wednesday looming on the horizon, and knowing that I will be working my way through a good bit of scripture, I decided to add an extra day of writing on the normal scripture passages for the first Sunday/week of Lent. Seems unusual, I know, to have a whole set of four scripture passages plopped down in the middle of another four set. The church year is just rife with special days and scripture passages to use. A reminder that it is not necessary to use all the scripture passages; pick and chose as you see fit. In order that I might provide all of my beloved readers fodder for their reflections, I try to comment on most everything.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a passage from I Peter was part of this week’s normal readings. I have great affinity for the apostle Peter and for the writings that are attributed to him.


“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (I Peter 3:18-22)

Washing away our sins. Either by washing away the sinning that was happening in the time of Noah; or washing away sin by baptism that is backed up by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Peter the apostle was never one for couching truth is soft terms, so he pairs the hopeful sign of baptism with the gruesomeness of so many people dying by drowning. Or, that could be my own dark sense of humor seeing that potential pairing. But the writer of I Peter does give hope by saying that Jesus went to redeem those souls who did not listen and turn away from sin. And if Jesus did that for them, then most assuredly we are offered the same grace and forgiveness. Another hopeful sign as we move from Ash Wednesday to our personal reflections on the nature and condition of our soul.

You see, beloved reader, Lent is not meant to be despair and hopelessness. Yes, if Lent did not make way into Easter we could give up all hope and abandon ourselves to our gruesome fate. But our Lord and Savior await us at the end of Lent, and so we can journey forth with confidence that all will be well. That is one of the things I appreciate about Peter. He faces square on the tough things of life, but carries with him, and proclaims to all who would listen, faith and assurance. Selah!

Ash Wednesday: The Old Testament, Psalms, and Epistle Passages – On Valentines Day!

It was only when I sat down to write on this series of passages that I realized Ash Wednesday is also Valentines Day. What cosmic coincidence! And what better day to think (and yes, ponder) on our need for Christ’s redeeming love!

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1-2)

But as I said before, (haven’t I?) we do not need to be sad and sorrowful. As Paul would say, it is only sorrowful for those how have no hope and knowledge of the Lord. To those who know and follow the Lord, the Divine says . . .

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts [emphasis mine] and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Verses 12 – 13)

This is the substance of Ash Wednesday, to turn and return to the Lord. We use the ashes of last years Passion Sunday palms as a reminder that the Messiah came to us and entered into our lives. There is no reason to doubt this, even if the writer of the book of Joel does.

“Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?” (Verse 14)

We know, beloved reader, we know. We know the Lord God have ever in the Divine mind a way to bridge the gap and reunited humanity with the Divine. We know that away was made for a sacrifice that would restore all things to humanity. So we may, with all confidence . . .

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 15 – 17)

Human love and emotions may ebb and flow. And if we were honest, we would say that Valentines Day is a day of wondering if the beloved ones in our lives love us as much as we love. It is a universal fear that we love more than we are loved. Gifts of flowers, chocolate and other tangible expressions ease our fears and confirm our hopes. In the say we, we may wonder about that we when think about the Divine. The psalmist says,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalms 51:1- 9)

In other words, love me O Lord. Do not let my sin stand between You and myself. Do what is necessary to make me pure enough to be loved by you. I do not want to depend on my own human ability to cleanse myself of my sins. Do this for me, O Lord God!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Verses 10 – 13)

On Valentines Day, we send greeting to those we care for. Whether they be near to us, or far away, we send out thoughts, sentiments, and good wishes to those we care about. Or at least that is what we intend to do. How often have we let the opportunity to show that we care slip away. Sometimes it takes special days to remind us that we need to tell the ones we supposedly love and care about, that we do care about them. That is another tenet of Ash Wednesday, a reminder to us to tell God we love the Lord and are thankful for our deliverance.

“Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Would it make sense to you, beloved reader, if I said trying to give the Almighty Lord God a Valentines Day care would be worthless? That trying to send the Creator of the Heavens and Earth a floral arrangement would be down right silly? That it would not be possible to give Jesus Christ a box of chocolates? No, what the Divine wants is this . . .

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Verse 17)

It is now, when the observance of Lent starts in earnest, that we need to spend time with the Lord God. Many of us do have a daily walk with the Lord; we have our own spiritual disciplines and practices that keep us in communion with God. I am not saying we are negligent in that. But Ash Wednesday and the weeks of Lent invite us to tune up our practices and reaffirm our commitment. As Paul says, . . .

“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20b—21)

Our devotion, spiritual practices and disciplines are like Valentine gifts to the Divine. As I said above, it is not material things that the Lord wants from us. The Lord wants us!

“As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (chapter 6, verses 1 – 2)

I want to tell you, beloved reader, that I sat down to write today’s comments and reflections with great joy. I so looked forward to delving into scripture and making connections between the lectionary passages and every day living. And even more so when I realized it was Valentines Day! What an honor and a joy to write about the Lord’s love for us on a day devoted to expressing love! It is my furtive hope that you have found something in what I have written that resonates within you. As Paul wrote, I also hope . . .

“We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (Verses 3 – 10)

Admittedly I have not suffered for the gospel as Paul has. Not even close! I am not saying I do!! My purpose is to uplift, and perchance to enlighten. And hopefully to give you something to think about and ponder on. And, finally, to try to express to you, as much as humanly possible, the depth and breadth of the Divine’s love for you. Selah!

 

First Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Never Again!

Ash Wednesday is coming. I am just letting you know, beloved reader, that we are soon starting the period of time when we are to look within our selves and see where we have gone astray from the Lord. Where Year A had the theme of newly coming to the faith, Year B is the theme of recommitting ourselves and renewing our relationship with the Lord. Ash Wednesday has the potential of being a day of sorrow, and Lent often has the theme of sorrowing over our sins. But the passage for today, the Old Testament passage, actually has reassurance within it.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:8 – 11)

Many years ago I planned a chapel service that emphasized God’s promise that never again will humanity by separated from the Lord and left to fend for itself. The (slow) coming of the Messiah was to bridge the gap between the Divine and sinful humanity.

“God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Verses 12 – 15)

The Lord’s promise is a good thing to remember when times seem tough. While humanity has gone through tough times, the times seem enough tougher than before. But the Lord is with us, and when the sun shines through the gloom and dark, the light illuminates the hope and love that the Divine has for us, and the hope and love that is incarnate in humanity and creation.

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Verses 16 – 17)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are coming, but we will not be alone. The Lord will be with us, and at the end of our time of examination and introspection, God will be waiting for us. No matter how alone and bereft we may feel, the Lord God promised we will never be alone. Selah!