Season After Pentecost (Proper 10[15]) – The Psalm Passage: The psalmist’s preaching style

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” (Psalms 24:1)

It’s one of those times, beloved reader, that I am having a hard time settling my soul and spirit to comment on the Psalm passage. How I wish I had the psalmist calm spirit right. But my soul and spirit are roiled and riled by the cares and concerns of the day. And yet . . . . and yet, the notion that the earth & world, and all that is in it is founded and established on water calms me. The sea and the ocean calm me; flowing rivers, whether fast or slow, calms me. And I am calmed and readied to hear the psalmist’s words.

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah” (Verses 2 – 6)

I am glad the psalmist did not say “those who are calm and at peace”! That would sometimes disqualify me. But even in my riled and roiled state my hands are clean (if not dear Lord, cleanse my hands) and my heart is pure (if not dear Lord, purify my heart). And my soul does not cling to that which is false (if that is so dear Lord fasten my soul more closely to you), and my spirit does not swear (that I am sure I do not do!). So maybe I will receive a blessing from the Lord as I seek the face of the “God of Jacob”. Amen!

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.” (Verses 7 – 8)

This where I might part from the psalmist, where he praises the Lord who is mighty in battle, for I am not one who lauds battle might. However . . . . it is also occurred to me that this Lord God who is “mighty in battle”vies against the evil that too often threatens to overcome the world. And that is the stories of compassion and caring that are the victories in that battle. The thought comforts and appeals to me.

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah” (Verses 9 – 10)

May you, beloved reader, find the comfort and care you need in the Lord God who defends us from all that may assail and over come us. Selah!

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 10[15]) – The Gospel Passage: John the Baptist’s preaching style

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” (Mark 6:14 – 16)

It is interesting that when King Herod had heard about what Jesus was doing it reminded him of John the Baptist. I could have titled this “Jesus’ preaching style”, but . . . . truth to tell, Jesus’ preaching style is not consistent across the four gospels. It is more likely Jesus’ preaching style varies according to the gospel writer in question. But John the Baptist’s preaching style is consistent and unique.

“For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Verses 17 – 18)

John the Baptist told it like it was according to him. Jesus told it like it was, but sometimes his message was softer or louder. John’s messages yelled “repentance” and I am sure he was pretty insistent. That is not to say that John did not have followers and converts, even in some surprising places.

“And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” (Verses 19 – 20)

Yes, you read that right, beloved reader. Herod did not hold a grudge against John. But Herodias did; may she felt she traded up from her first husband Philip. I am not sure what the backstory was on that. Maybe she hated John because of her guilt; or because she did not feel guilty at all. It might have been the same way for Herod; he knew truth when heard it, but did not particularly want to hear it.

John’s unrelenting message of repentance in order to be forgiven was heard in Herod’s court as well as across the countryside. That was John’s style of preaching; no holds barred. Sounds sort of like Paul, when you think about it. Although John’s mode of dress (think rough camel’s hair and a belt of rope) probably was not the same as Paul’s. And Paul used more of a dialectic style preaching. But back to our story; the situation was set, and set against John.

“But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” (Verses 21 – 23)

If you get the sense that Herod was somewhat of a cad, you may be right. And that might have been a high point in John’s preaching to Herod. Probably did not endear him to Herodias either.

“She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.” (Verses 24 – 28)

You start to get a sense of this household. Herod arrests John on the say-so of his current wife, his brother’s former wife. (When wants to ask and search scripture to find out what happened to Philip.) Herod regards his wife enough to bow to her fury, and thinks highly enough of his wife’s daughter (his daughter or his brother Philip’s daughter?) to recklessly promise her anything she wants. And his own morals and values are shaky enough that can be talked into the most lamentable of actions.

“When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.” (Verse 29)

As I said, John had his own devote followers. It must have taken that devotion and dedication for John to have asked for his body when obviously John was held in disgrace by Herod’s court, and so hated by Herodias. Actually, we see that same devotion to Jesus by his followers, especially Nicodemus who took Jesus’ body for burial even thought he was part of the group of Jewish religious leaders.

I hope, beloved reader, this gives you a sense of John the Baptist’s preaching style. There are many good preachers out there, both from amongst our spiritual forebearers and in our current society. I hope also you have been blessed by hearing speak or reading their sermons. I also want to let you know that some of the best preaching styles are not necessarily spoken but are lived out by authentic Christians. Something to consider. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 10[15]) – The Epistle Passage: Paul’s preaching style

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:3 – 4)

One of the things I learned early on with Paul is that sometimes it takes breath power to read his epistles out loud. Paul tends to pack a lot into one verse/sentence. I assume that it is enthusiasm for spreading the word of the Lord and not wanting to leave out a detail or aspect. But just as it takes breath power to read Paul, it takes thinking power to unpack all that he says. Because he packs a lot of theology into his writings as well.

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Verses 5 – 6)

I have tried at times – when writing, commenting, and pondering – to explain the different theological, religious, spiritual teaching and thinking that goes into these epistles. Usually I end up running out of steam. And/or, starting to ramble on in long sentences myself!

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Paul also uses a great many punctuation marks to tie together his thoughts and reflections. Or probably more precisely (and actually more fair & even handed to Paul) it is the translators who marshal together the words and phrases in tight ranks and rows, trying to capture and herd together everything that Paul has to say. And it is they who have translated and transcribed the sentences that embrace a world of meaning.

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Unless some occasion or need arose, Paul only wrote one letter to the congregations that he started and nurtured. So it makes sense that he would try as much as he could to pack in one letter everything that he could. And maybe the congregations that received the letter (and passed them on to other churches) studied the letter slowly and carefully. As we do, actually, in our modern times.

“In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Verses 13 – 14)

When one sits back and contemplates that Paul wrote all of these letters filled to overflowing with theology, Christian philosophy, spirituality, redemption, and salvationyet all of the letters centered on the topic of following Jesus Christ and our Lord God – one can appreciate how massive an undertaking it is to follow the Divine. There is so much to consider and keep in mind. It seems like a daunting task. And Paul lays it all out so eloquently and so well.

But that’s thing, beloved reader, and that is Paul’s exact preaching style. Making each movement and action in the Christian life so profound and deep. And Christianity is not always like that. As much as I admire Paul (and I do, really) it takes a lot of breath power and energy to live out a Christian life according to Paul.

There are other ways though. And we may yet explore those this week. Shalom for your day, beloved reader.

Season After Pentecost (Proper 10[15]) – The Old Testament Passage: One worship style amongst several

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” (II Samuel 6:1 – 5)

Everybody, or nearly everybody, loves a parade. It used to be that praising the Lord was a time of joy and celebration. Or at least King David made it seem so. I can understand the joy of bringing the Ark of the Lord into the city that David had built for his kingship. It seems though that worship services are not the same sort of celebratory parade that they used to be. When I was young the church service seemed to be sort of dull and long. I remember taking naps on my mother’s lap because it seemed as if church lasted so long. I think I would have enjoyed King David’s style of worship service more.

As I grew older my mother would not let me nap but made me stay awake and sit still. I was allowed to draw and play with small inconspicuous toys. But the time still dragged on. This was before the coming of children’s church, beloved reader, or at least children’s story that provided an interval and reprieve to the long church services of my childhood. In one church that I attended I helped plan and conduct children’s church. And I must tell you that the expectation was that even in the scaled down version presented for children, there was not much “entertained” planned. When I led the children’s church, remembering my own experience, I tried to interject more “play” and informality. Not quite King David-style but less formalized than what I grew up with.

However, this scripture excerpt only tells part of the story of the Ark’s journey. The missing verses from this passage – verses 6 to 12a tell the tale a less joyous and celebratory interval. Uzzah, one of the men helping to transport the Ark reached out to steady it and was zapped & killed because he deigned to touch the Ark. So David temporarily stored the Ark elsewhere. It is in verse 12b that he has been assured that the Ark was not a danger and that it was safe to bring it into the city.

“So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.” (Verses 12b – 14)

I imagine this second journey was doubly joyous; the Ark was finally coming to the city of David, and this time no one got hurt! Or at least not physical hurt. It did set the stage for a coming drama however.

“So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.” (Verses 15 – 16)

Michal was not only Saul’s daughter but David’s wife as well. And apparently it made her sick to see her husband cavorting around. Biblical commentators tell me that Saul was not religious (as David was) and conducted himself in a dignified and austere manner when out in public. David dancing around was contemptible to Michal; there were sure to be repercussions.

“They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.” (Verses 17 – 19)

One of the things the church of my childhood did do well was pot-lucks. What we may have missed out in jubilant worship services we made up for in joyous fellowship afterwards. No dancing, but lots of good food and joyous fellowship. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that the church of my childhood stayed very close to the more conservative Anabaptist worship style. It was in the Roman Catholic church where much movement and chanting could be found. There would have been pomp and ceremony – not a parade, but much pizzazz. That was not our style. But neither would there have been fellowship afterwards. And the Anabaptist tradition was to emphasis fellowship and the coming together of mutual support. Food was an important factor in the early Christian church were the sharing of resources was emphasized. In the church of my childhood any visitor was welcomed to stay and share in the potluck. Church members always brought enough to share, and if one had little to contribute nothing was said. In fact those who had little to bring often were sent home with leftovers. Support of one another was paramount.

It is my hope, beloved reader, that your worship experience is the best of both styles – a worship service that is filled with joy and celebration. And fellowship afterwards that feeds both your spirit and your body. And last but not least, that you find full acceptance in your circle of faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 9[14]) – The Psalm Passage: The much longer story of the Divine

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within its citadels God has shown himself a sure defense.” (Psalm 48:1- 3)

This week we have been taking up the theme of “brief stories” – small vignettes from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels. Now here we find ourselves in Psalms. And the story has gotten bigger – as big as the Divine!

Then the kings assembled, they came on together. As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic, they took to flight; trembling took hold of them there, pains as of a woman in labor, as when an east wind shatters the ships of Tarshish.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The story of the Divine extends back to the beginning of all things, and beyond even that. Our human minds cannot comprehend such a thing!

“As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes forever. Selah We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple. Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with victory.” (Verses 8 – 10)

At times I have used pictures when presenting the Psalms, because sometimes words are not enough. What the intellect cannot always take in, the part of our brain that processes pictures is sometime more able to grasp a large scope and understanding. When the psalmist says, “reaches to the ends of the earth” he most probably has in mind the distance to a far horizon and beyond – beyond what his brain understands and what his eyes tell him is an eternal distance.

“Let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice because of your judgments. Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever.” (Verses 11 – 14)

Great men, even great kings, know that there is a limit to what one can build; what a group of men can construct and raise up. The psalmist is saying that the Lord God and the City of the Lord God is, according to human standards, larger than anything they have seen. Now, take that image and metaphor, and expand it to what modern man (and woman) is able to build – and still our Lord God and the city of the Lord God would be greater than that!

The story of the Divine is unending, and will go on after any life on the earth has passed away! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 9[14]) – The Gospel Passage: A small section of the story of Jesus Christ’s life

He left that place [where he healed the young girl and the elderly woman who touched his cloak] and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.” (Mark 6:1)

“. . . and his disciples followed him.” Not that they traveled with him but followed him. There was something about Jesus that compelled the disciples to stay with him. And it was something that drew the notice and attention of others.

“On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” (Verses 2 – 3)

Or in other words, “just who does he think he is?!?!”

For seven years I was employed at the head of a local in-home care agency, part of a larger agency organization. When I started I was sort of unsure of myself, and hesitated to assert my authority over the caregivers under my employ and direct the care of our clients. By the end of the seven years I had no problem running the agency with a firm but gentle hand. Along the way I asked my self who do I think I am that I can “boss” around other. Over time, however, I learned who I was and why/how I was qualified to give the orders and expect them to be followed. I am sure the family and friends that I grew up with might have wondered at first where the meek & mild Carole went to, and who this administer that wielded authority came from. It was the same experience when I first started writing this blog (and the previous one on another site). And looking back, the same thing happened to me at other jobs and responsibilities. One grows into authority, and if one does the job well the result is pretty amazing.

Now Jesus, being the Divine, already had the authority and power (of which mine is very minor in comparison) to teach and do deeds of power. It always was a part of his nature; but not necessarily one that he showed during his growing up years. So it might have been a surprise to his former neighbors and friends. Another thing to consider is that the Jews of this time were under several levels of authority. There were the local priests and rabbis who exerted control. There were the Jewish leaders of the temple/synagogue in Jerusalem. And there were the Romans who were in place in the government. The local Jew probably had little authority over anything. So to see a fellow countryman exert control and power that they could never realize themselves and never dream of having must have seemed audacious.

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. “And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Verses 4 – 6)

The commentators I read concerning verse 5 were very clear in their explanation that it was not Christ’s power that was wanting, but that he would not force on them deeds that would upset them further. Jesus Christ had nothing to prove by forcing them to be confronted by his power, but merely helped those that need help, then moved on.

“Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Verses 7 – 13)

One of the things I found pleasantly surprising during my seven years as an administrator is the the employees I supervised also grew in authority and ability. I had the privilege of nurturing and mentoring women (and some men) to become outside caregivers and more confident in their abilities. None of us performed miracles, in the biblical sense of the word, but we made a difference in the lives of our clients. There were some clients (very few actually) who declined to continue services with us, and I always told my employees that it was nothing against them but simply some needs that were beyond our scope of care for one reason or another.

If Jesus had to withhold his power because people would not accept who he was, then none of us should feel badly if another person does not “take to us” as we would like. As long as we are true to who we know ourselves to be, and we have followed the Divine as we know we have been called, then we have nothing to apologize for or feel badly about. Sometimes people push themselves to be what they are not, and that is not right. We need to be true to ourselves.

Jesus was always truthful, even when the truth hurt as it did his former friends and neighbors. And as it hurt Jesus when he spoke truthfully to the Jewish leaders in the towns her traveled to. As well as the truth he told to Annas & Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod – even though it resulted in his death. But . . . I digress. I have wandered from a brief story of Jesus’ life to our Lord God Jesus Christ’s fuller story. One seems to lead to another.

Briefly then – Jesus knew who he was, and what he was about. He told his disciples to be true to their calling, and not add or do more than what their calling to ministry drew them to. We should do likewise, no matter the cost! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 9[14]) – The Epistles Passage: The Story of his life – Paul has his turn

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows– was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.” (II Corinthians 12: 2 – 5)

You need to watch the bouncing third-person pronoun here beloved reader, because Paul is speaking of himself. Or at least that is what the commentators and my seminary professor has told me. I not hold it against Paul nor think his hubris is showing. There are three reasons for this. First, it was not through Paul’s own ability or devotion that he was “caught up” – it was the power of the Divine. Second, Paul does try to distance himself from what ever positive attributes would result from this experience.

“But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.” (Verses 6 – 7)

And third, Paul does a very good job of revealing his weakness; not the very specific weakness, but reveals enough so that we might know there is nothing in his human make up to boast about.

“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Over the years I have talked about my ill health (in fact it was very recently that I made it a theme of one of my blogs) and the issue of asking the Divine for healing. Or more precisely, not asking for healing. I think on a subconscious level I have always accepted the position that Paul took some time to get to. That my own personal strength is of a lessor consideration than the Divine’s presence in my life. And if the Lord God can be content to dwell in a body such as mine that falls to pieces regularly, than who am I to ask for an update or reboot? So I say with Paul . . . .

“Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (Verse 10)

So this is Paul, in brief. Called and blessed by the Lord; but very aware of his weaknesses and shortfalls. And I have to contrast this with Saul, King Saul that is, who was proclaimed as being a very handsome man, and mighty in battle. But was not able to sustain his commitment to following and honoring the Lord God. And King David who was ruddy and fair to look upon. And who was closer to God’s heart and will; but also made some serious missteps. As I concluded yesterday, beloved reader, I do not think power and might, good looks and having something to boast about necessarily makes one a loyal follower of the Lord God. Remember Paul as Saul thought it had it figured out and that the followers of Jesus were in the wrong. Saul as Paul say his error, confessed it and accepted God’s calling not minding if there was “insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities”.

May you, beloved reader, seek the heart and will of the Divine. Selah!