Season after Pentecost (Proper 20 [25]): The Psalm Passage – When praise of the Lord God does NOT alter behavior

O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” (Psalm 105:1 – 6)

Not exactly a good match to the Old Testament passage for this week. As you remember the Israelites were complaining about being out in the desert, the lack of food and water, and remembering how much better the living conditions were in Egypt. But in the collective memory of the Israelites, when the psalms were being written, the Lord God was praised because NOW the Israelites were well established and living in comfort . . . according to those times.

“Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it.
He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.” (Verses 37 – 41)

Forgotten also were the days of uncertainty, and the fears they had beside the Red Sea. Gone also the fear of snakes and other tough lessons that the early Israelites had to learn. How is it (many times) that after tough times are past, and we collectively look back, we gloss over the hardships and suffering and remember only the good things? I suspect it is a survival instinct thing. And also, we were not the ones who actually went through the suffering but only hear the stories that came out of it.

“For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.
So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD! “ (Verses 42 – 45)

I also think that psalms like this assure, inspire, and remind us that others were in peril and had problems, and God was faithful to them. So the logical conclusion is that the Lord God will be faithful to us. But . . . if that is so, why did the later Israelites go so astray from the Lord God that had delivered and kept their forebearers safe while journeying through the desert? Why did not the collective memory of that hold the later Israelites in faithful worship to God? Furthermore, why does it not work in our current generation (that is, humanity collectively), this looking back to praise what God had done?

It seems, just as I have said previously about the early Israelites, each generation for themselves has to learn the lessons of following the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. While we have scripture and the stories of our spiritual forebearers, the lessons there do not always translate to our current situation. And if I can be bold enough to say, I think it is writers like myself and others who serve to remind us of past lessons from the lives of others and encourage us to incorporate those lessons into our own lives. And if that is true, I am humbled that my writings might be used in that way. I often times write as much for my own edification as for others.

May you, beloved reader, heed the lessons from generations ago. May the praise that is offered up to the Lord remind you of the blessings that come from living according to Jesus Christ’s example to us. Selah!


Season after Pentecost (Proper 20 [25]): The Gospel Passage – Discerning who deserves what

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1 – 2)

In reading this parable one has to keep in mind what Jesus was trying to teach about the kingdom of heaven. And it is important not to cast anyone person in any role of that in heaven, but to see the situation as a whole as a description of heaven.

Barnes sees this parable as applying to the church on earth, and as such the application and morale of the parable differ slightly. Barnes sets it as who is given more or the most of gifted-ness, ability, and blessing. Other commentators see the parable speaking to the issue of who has known of the gospel and been saved the longest. Those who have been saved for a longer period of time should have the greater reward than those who came later to faith.

This parable is very apropos to the consideration of new believers (as has been the passages from the Old Testament). Those newer to faith and having lived out a long life according to Christian faith should have more privilege and prestige than those who only recently accepted Christ and professed belief.

It is interesting that Jesus is having this conversation with his disciples, supposedly before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Almost as if the telling of the story is recasting it according to what the disciples came to understand about the parable. Or . . . it is the commentators who have applied a meaning to the parable as seen in hindsight. Let us try to read this parable with fresh eyes, and not place any weight of meaning according to the context of understanding of what Christianity is about.

“When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ “ (Verses 4 – 8)

The normal expectation is that there will be a difference of reckoning between those who were hired first and worked the day, and those who have only been working for an hour or two.

“When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.
And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Verses 9 – 16)

We know that Jesus has told his disciple that they will suffer because of their faith, as Jesus criticized and talked against because of his teachings. He is warning them, I think, that those who have withstood oppression and persecution the longest shall receive the same reward as those who were only oppressed and persecuted for a relatively shorter amount of time. That following Jesus is not a matter of reward based on human accounting but is rewarded according to the Lord God’s accounting.

The clue, I think, to this passage came in chapter 19 where Jesus said about the rich young man, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Verses 23 – 25) The disciples were concerned about who would and would not be saved – that is, who merits being saved and who does not. If a rich person can not count on being saved because of his/her position in the world, that how is one to judge. Jesus, I think is trying to tell then that anyone who believes, that is anyone who has worked and labored for the Lord God is worthy of being saved. Sometimes it will seem like the person who should come first will actually be in a less prominent position; and someone who is not seem to be accorded and accounted much in the world will receive great honor in the kingdom of heaven. But all who believe will be saved, based on the judgment of the Lord God.

While I greatly appreciated the work that commentators have done, and will most assuredly do in the future, sometimes it is good to discern for one’s self what the scriptures are saying. May the Spirit of God quicken your understanding, beloved reader, as you labor in the Lord God’s vineyard. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 20 [25]): The Epistle Passage – Being There

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

I am at the end of a harried day, fraught with concerns and cares. Tomorrow does not look any better. So when I read the opening verse of this passage, I felt a mounting irritation that Paul was so single-focused. But as I let that feeling pass over me, I felt that next emotion that came behind it that was jealousy. Jealousy that Paul could be so single-minded and not have any other concerns. Of course that is not quite true. Paul did have other concerns and cares, most notably his being persecuted for his faith. But he did not let anything get in the way of his living for Christ.

He was just as ready to die for Christ also. And that death would not be a loss, but a gain. Safe in his belief in Christ and the Lord God, he knew his place in heaven would be assured. And the suffering and cares of this world would be behind him. And, if Christ was coming in what Paul felt was the not too distant future (I have read varying opinions on how imminent Christ’s return was expected), then there was not much life that he would miss out on living.

“If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.” (Verse 22)

Barnes has done a very good and accurate paraphrase of this verse, and I defer to him; “The meaning of this passage, which has given much perplexity to commentators, it seems to me is, “If I live in the flesh, it will cost me labor; it will be attended, as it has been, with much effort and anxious care, and I know not which to prefer – whether to remain on the earth with these cares and the hope of doing good, or to go at once to a world of rest.” It is my understanding of the verse as well. But again, I feel my irritation growing.

How can Paul have lived so lightly in the world that leaving the world behind is the brighter of the two options? Where are the connections Paul has in the world? Well, actually, I know the answer to that too. All the people that Paul was connected to, he fully expected to see in the world to come. And he believed it would be a better experience for all than the world they lived in now.

I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (Verse 23 – 24)

However, it would seem that Paul does still feel a stake in remaining in contact through the flesh. Despite what some at times seem to feel, Paul is a flesh and blood person.

“Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” (Verses 25 – 26)

A song writer [Phil Joel] I heard many years ago wrote a song called “Fragile”. And while not Paul, his song does talk about staying and abiding. When I heard the lyrics, especially the portion I have quoted below, it reminded me of Paul’s decision to stay in this world and continue to minister. Phil Joel, however, says it more the way I would.

And I’ll stay here with you
Knowing that Jesus is here
To carry us through
And all through the night
I’ll stay by your side
Until the morning appears
And sun and moon collide
He’ll carry us through”

“Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.” (Verses 27 – 28)

I don’t know if what Phil Joel wrote is in any way parallel to what Paul wrote. It seems to me a kinder, gentler exhortation from one who knows what it is like to be harried and pressed. And someone who is there long term, no matter what may come.

“For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Verses 29 – 30)

I am not faulting Paul. He has given comfort and inspiration to millions more people than he (probably) ever thought he would. His words have stood the test of time, and that is a way of being there. But it is only one way of being with another. In the midst of changes, including my changing from one WordPress blog site to another, I am here. As are people in your circle of faith. We are here for one another, whatever may come, and until we are called “home” by our Lord God. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 20 [25]): The Old Testament Passage – On a learning curve

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2 – 3)

Man and woman . . . people . . . humanity . . . does not live by bread alone. Nor by meat. But we do need food to eat. And the Israelites out there in the desert were worried about their stomachs, and the stomachs of their families. But to go to the extreme of rather dying in captivity and being feed, rather than being free and having to forage to find food! I have said before that living in Egypt for generations did no good things for the fortitude and stamina of God’s called and chosen people. They had forgotten what it meant for their forebearers to fend for themselves and follow the Lord God’s leading. And it must have seemed to Moses they would never learn. And as we will see later, it took a lot – a lot of experiences and time for them to be re-forged into a people of God.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Now Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons grew and raised their own food. It is what they did, and they did not expect to live any other kind of life. But these Israelites, who were so used to the “fleshpots” of Egypt (and by the way, it is not accident that “fleshpots” are now considered unsavory), are having a hard time managing in the deserts. I do not know whether they grew their own food in Egypt, or were feed by their overlords. But they seem like an awfully unprepared people.

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him–what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Yes, they are rightly called the “children” of God because they complain like children and whine like children. And we could rightly exhort against them for their complaints . . . until we remember the times we have complained and whined to the Lord. Acting like “children” ourselves; not children that have trust and faith in their Protector and Caregiver, but whining, mewling children who refuse to do anything for themselves and insist on everything being provided to them, just the way they want it.

“Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said,
“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” (Verses 9 – 15)

The other thing we need to remember, beloved reader, is hindsight. If we do not live by bread (and meat) alone, we do not understand when we have been taken care of until we see it in hindsight. I am sure as I look back on this part of my life, I will see where the Lord has taken care of me. But now, in midst of it, I am fearful about what will come next. However, I also am hopeful that when I write this a week in advance, when you read it things will be better and changed for me. It is a hope, a wish, and a prayer that is ever in front of me.

And truth to tell, the lessons that these Israelites will have to learn is a lesson that generations ahead in their future their offspring will have to learn. To trust in the Lord, and be faithful to the Lord. It is a lesson that all of us have to learn, and learn it over and over. Would that we would learn, and heed the lesson forever! Selah!

Foolhardy Acts of Desperation

I may not have mentioned it often, and more often than not only in passing, but I am trying to find a job. No gentle and beloved reader, I am not asking you for a job. In an effort to secure employment I have tried different job search engine sites, and have found some that are good .  .  .  and some that are not so good. What I have found is sites that come up with new and genuine jobs, and sites that simply re-hash and re-posts jobs that the other more current and reputable sites have promoted anywhere from a week to one month ago. You have to discern carefully which sites to pin your hopes too, and which sites to run away from.

One of the sites that turned out to be a disappointment touted the idea that a person could complete surveys and earn a bit of spending money in the process. Since spending money is in short supply right now, and I have time on my hands, I thought it might be worthwhile checking out. Did I mention (and did you notice) it was of the disappointing sites? Well, this survey site was even more disappointing than the job site. It only took me 24 hours to decide to unsubscribe from the website. Fortunately I had decided in advance to create a new email address specifically for doing surveys so that my primary email address inbox would not be saturated with “junky” emails.

All of this got me to thinking about what we humans do when we are desperate, and thinking as clearly as we might. At first, when I started down the path of making unwise subscriptions to websites, I felt ashamed and embarrassed of falling prey to such things. But then I thought, if other people had not done the same thing these sites would not be flourishing.  So I decided I would not be ashamed of being counted amongst the “lemmings” that have rushed to such sites. We all look for luck and good fortune where we can. And some time or another everyone has been lured in by false promises. It should not be counted against us if some slick trickster has “pulled one over on us”. Neither, I decided, should I be reticent about talking about availing myself of possibilities for finding jobs and trying to find ways to bring in extra money. It is a tough world out there, and navigating a course to sustainability sometimes means thinking outside of the box and outside one’s comfort zone.  We all do what we need to do.

However, all of this does make me a little embarrassed on another level. And this is why.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles [meaning those who do not know/believe in God] who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25 – 34)

You see, I do not fault myself for getting caught up in the machinery of websites that do not promise what they deliver or search engines that have more to do with making profit for those who run them than advantage for those who use them. No, what I reprimand myself for is worrying, and not trusting that things will turn out well. I am not a bird that can fly in the sky and eat seeds and berries. And I am not a flower that has ready-made clothes for myself. I am, however, a child of God. So it would seem that I should not worry about such things but trust that the Divine will clothe and feed me, and will provide for my needs. And yet, I do worry, and fret, and wring my hands, and make foolish choices. You see, gentle and beloved reader, I am not perfect – not nearly. So fallible and gullible.

We, as Christians, are to be as gentle as doves and as wise a serpents. Well, about know I am feeling as about as wise as a pigeon that has fallen victim to the “serpents.” I am learning though, and using more care. And trying to trust the Lord God more. May you seek assurance from good places, and think carefully before you act. And may the Divine watch over you, clothing and feeding you in your need. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 19 [24]): The Psalm Passage – A psalm of celebration, remembering the exodus from Egypt

When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” (Psalm 114: 1 – 2)

When the Hebrews left Egypt, the Lord God claimed the called and chosen people as the Divine’s own again. No longer under the rule of Pharaoh, the people of God had to learn how to live as God’s people again. As I said, very tough lessons to learn. But this psalm does not dwell and focus on the people of God, but on the Lord God and might it took to reclaim the Divine’s called and chosen people.

“The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?” (Verses 3 – 6)

There is a strong impulse, at times, to try to answer rhetorical questions. But there are no answers that would do just to the Divinity of the Lord God.

“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.” (Verses 7 – 8)

If I had a mind too, I could have tried to find pictures of seas, mountains, and hills. Or lambs and rams. But sometimes it is better to let poetical images come from our imagination rather than pinning them down by literal pixels and dots. I mean, really, aside from visual effects how are you going to show a sea being pulled back and walls of water on each side. How do you post a static picture of an earthquake.

The Lord God, in the full image of the Divine, is undefinable. Better than to try to post pictures would be to encourage to find your own way, beloved reader, to bring yourself to the Divine. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 19 [24]): The Gospel Passage – Forgiveness for our fellow believers

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21 – 22)

As I came to write on this passage, I needed to remind myself that Jesus is speaking about forgiving fellow believers, and not the forgiveness that believers receive from the Lord God. Remembering has been a little more of a challenge lately; my life has been pretty hectic. And to my chagrin, I realized I had forgotten to save this post the first time I wrote it. So I am having to reconstruct what I think I wrote!

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” (Verses 23 – 26)

This is the sort of action we would expect from the Divine. Complete forgiveness and absolution of a debt we could never repay. Of course, Jesus Christ went one step further and took on our debt of sin upon himself, and paid the price. But as I said above, this is not so much about sin as it is about forgiveness, and holding others in debt to us for the offenses they may have done. And neither is it an instance of having a fellow believer sin against us, as Jesus spoke about earlier in chapter 18; where one church member seeks to be reconciled to another because of the sin of the other. Obviously, if the sinned against church member seeks out the as-yet unrepentant fellow believer, forgiveness is offered. Peter is asking how often that forgiveness must be offered. And the penalty for not forgiving. Let us continue to hear this story. It gets better.

“But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’” (Verses 27 – 29)

Sound familiar? The lord of those two slaves had forgiven a large amount of debt, and now the forgiven slave has the opportunity to pass it along to his fellow slave.

“But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.” (Verse 30)

Forgiveness for large offenses is given because of compassion and care by the overlord. But that care does not “trickle down” from one slave to the next. However, keep in mind once again, Jesus has crafted this parable with a human overlord and not the Divine.

“When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.” (Verse 31)

I would imagine this would be comparable to a sinned against church member taking a fellow members refusal to be reconciled to the large church body. Obviously the first step Jesus outlined, trying to settle amongst the two believers was not going to work if the first slave had thrown his fellow slave into prison. Now remember, human overlord.

“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” (Verses 32 – 34)

What can one say? As I said above, we believers were forgiven the much larger offense. In turn we are to forgive the comparatively small offenses that are done against us. But . . . this presupposes and incorporate a theological understanding that was not made evident to Peter and the other disciples. That Jesus’ sacrifice and crucifixion would forgive our sins. It is hard to enter into understanding this parable, and leave that fact outside of our consideration.

This however should not lessen the impact of the parable, but emphasis it. The grace that the Lord God and Jesus Christ show comes from their Divinity, so of course we should expect it. The onus on us is to dig deep into our own well of compassion, and show grace and mercy to others. And furthermore, this instruction is given before the coming of the Holy Spirit that would prompt our forgiveness and soften our temper. Therefore, Jesus’ warning would be easier to heed once we are not left to our own human will and resolve.

“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Verse 35)

Knowing that the Spirit of God will move our hearts, if we let it, let us resolve beloved reader to forgive in great measure. Remembering that if we want to be forgiven what ever large offenses we commit, we should be willing to forgive any offenses against ourselves.

Whoo! I think I did a pretty close reconstruction of my first writing. The first time I wrote to this passage, I struggled with keeping within the confines of the understanding that the disciples had of Jesus and our Lord God. With our knowledge in light of Jesus gift of salvation, let us keep the truest meaning of this parable before us. Selah!