Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Being “loved” by Jesus the Christ

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:21-22)

This is a continuation of last week’s gospel passage – I did wonder if the RCL was going to complete the story. I also wonder if the people of Jesus’ hometown were favorably impressed with Jesus’ gracious words, or surprised. Furthermore it occurred to me, were they surprised that Joseph had a son who had such “gracious words”?

“He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (Verses 23 – 24)

But then I read these verses, and I have to wonder if maybe the hometown folk were critical of him; they apparently (Jesus implies) were aware of the miracles, signs, and wonders he had done in other places. And Jesus again implies that they expected him to do such things in his hometown for them.

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Verses 25 – 27)

It does not seem, beloved reader, that Jesus’ words to the hometown people continued to be “gracious”, at least in their estimation.

“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” (Verses 28 – 30)

Consider this carefully, beloved reader, we are presented with varying views and aspects of Jesus Christ through the words and images of the gospel writers. Just as in the case of the Old Testament and the way it portrays the Lord God the Divine, the gospels and the epistles may present a view of Jesus that does not line up with our personal experience. Jesus seemed to be quite angry that the hometown folk did not believe he was the Son of the Divine, and seemed to demand proof of his Divinity. Surely this episode did not happen in a vacuum but was the culmination of Jesus visiting his hometown. Is the Jesus you know this peevish about lack of belief in himself?

The gospel writer portray Jesus, at times, with a vehemence that seems out of character with the Jesus Christ I have experienced personally. I am not sure I have any definitive answers concerning this passage. And I am pretty sure I won’t find the answers in any commentators notes. So I continue to try to discern and understand such passages – some days and times I have more success than others. But that I am sure is that Jesus has vast amounts of patience with authentic and earnest seekers of him. Selah!

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Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Being a “lover” for the Lord God

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1 – 3)

It is, quite honestly beloved reader, hard to think about Paul as a “lover.” But that only means the type of love he is talking about is not the soft, mushy romantic love that we usually think of.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Verses 4 – 7)

It is said that sustaining romantic love, or love that marriages/romantic intimate relations are commonly associated with, is hard. Harder still, I think, is the type of love that Paul is talking about.

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Now this in an interesting portion. Paul is saying the gifts of the Lord that are given on earth will not be needed in the world to come: we will not need prophecies because all things will be known; we will not need to speak in tongues or understand tongues because communication will be instantaneous; and all will have all knowledge. What we know and know of now is incomplete and therefore imperfect. In the world to come, when all things are complete and finished, then we will know in full and perfectly. And still there will be love. It will not end.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (Verses 11 – 12)

To me verses eleven to twelve are both comforting and disconcerting. It seems that as each year passes I learn more and understand more about myself, others, and the world. There are many meme and adages about adulthood, “adulting” and maturity. Some amusing and sone that contain great truths about our relative understanding even as adults versus what is actual and of the highest truth. We do not attain adulthood and complete understanding (in this world) as much as we keeping getting better at it. It heartens me to think and believe that I don’t have to have figured everything. But neither do I think we should completely set aside “child-like” ways. Maybe the self-centered impetuousness of a child, but not the innocence and naivete of a child. Jesus said that all must have faith like a child’s. That may be another thing I would like to talk to Paul about – how he understood that.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (Verse 13)

Paul’s argument has come full circle. If I were to be of a mind to write a great deal more, I would say many things about faith and hope. And probably repeat things I have said in the past. We each have our own faith, faith beliefs & tenets, and faith circles. We all have hope – whether it is dim hope that has been tested and assaulted by circumstances in life, or bright hope that cannot be quenched. When all – that is at the end of this world – is said and done, love will remain. And it is that love, our love of the Divine and the love the Divine has for us, which will see us “Home”! Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – When the hand of the Lord God rests on you

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

Right now I am taking satisfaction in small accomplishments; navigating on my computer and iPhone, making meals, being able to eat, working a full day. If I was in Jeremiah’s shoes, right now, I would quake and bewail . . . . not that “I am only a boy” but that I am weak and shaky! I can’t do what is expected of me! In fact, I have felt that way quite often over the last few weeks. But somewhere, somehow, I have found the strength and reserves to do what needed to be done.

“But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Just this evening, when I was having radiation treatment (I confess, beloved reader, now that I have told you what I am going through it seems more tempting to use my current experiences as analogies/allegories/metaphors) I felt like I just could not do it. I could not face another treatment that I knew would advance the awful side effects I am having. Even if it meant curing the cancer.

“Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Verses 9 – 10)


And in those moments I just ready to breakdown and cry out that I just can’t do this anymore! But something steadied me. And assured me. Made me feel that I could get through this moment, and the moments to come. I am comforting my the fact, and given hope, that when you read this I will only have only seven more treatments left! Then I can start healing and recovering!

Now I know I have not been appointed “over nations and over kingdoms.” Neither will I be able “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow”. My area of influence is actually pretty small and limited in terms of time, space, and geography. Even if items and posting on the internet are supposed to be around forever, if they are not seen and read over space and time – well, their influence is pretty small. And that is okay. Some time back I decided I did not want to reach a large audience. I actually walked away (more like moved my blog away) from a large readership base. The reason is that I made the move was because I did not feel I was building and planting. Out of verse 9 to 10 that is the only thing I feel I can do, and want to do. And if I can plant hope and faith in just one life, and be a part of the building up of one person’s faith life, then I have accomplished all that I have set out to do. I do this because long ago – oh so long ago – I felt the Lord’s hand come to rest on me. And it has been there ever since! Selah!

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The importance of praising the Lord in an authentic way

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.” (Psalms 19:1-7)

One of the reasons I like this psalm is . . . . . there is no exhortation to praise. It is praise of the Lord, but we are the reader can use it to praise God instead of being told to praise God. I have been thinking off and on about the commentary I wrote where I confessed that it would not be my idea of paradise to be continually offering up praise of the Lord. I should have emphasized that I do not think praise should be squeezed like toothpaste from a tube but should come from the heart, spirit, and soul as a response to God’s grace, mercy, and blessing when we are in need. In heaven there will be no need.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Verses 8 – 9)

When presented with evidence of the Lord God’s grace, mercy, and blessing you can and will hear my praising with the best of them. But when I am told to praise the Lord in a way that I do not feel from within, it is hard. Maybe it is the writer in me that balks at having someone else’s praise words put in my mouth.

“More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Or if I feel the same thing as the psalmist/praise speaker, I will willingly echo those words, taking them into my heart and spirit making them my own. And then I will say . . .

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Verse 14)

Selah!

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – The importance of knowing who you are

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” (Luke 4:14-15)

Tested – when Jesus returned to Galilee he had been in the desert for the 40 days and nights where he had been tempted and tested. It is no wonder he was filled with the power of the Spirit, for it was that same Spirit that sustained him. Did you know that, beloved reader, that after being tested you are actually stronger? The refiner’s fire burns away the excess and what is left is leanness and dedication.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Verses 15 – 21)

And you have been tempted and tested, having come through that time stronger, you can see more clearly your path and role in life. Now, Jesus’ divinity gave him leave to gather unto himself declaration and proclamation that we cannot and should profess and ascribe to. But we can declare that we are called by God to a certain path, and have gained awareness and wisdom.

This is actually a theme that is very relevant for me on the day I sat down to write this post. I had my job review today at the agency I started working at a bit more than a year ago. It is a different type of job role for me. I was used to heading up an agency. Now I am one of the office workers. And I am still trying to figure out what my role should be. I am unsure. I don’t know, maybe I have not been “tempted” and “tested” enough to know what the best approach is. And maybe that is why I am still unsure of my job role.

I contrast that with being a spiritual director and counselor. There I have been tested; and yes, there have been temptations of a sort. But thanks be to God, I feel that I have come through stronger and more certain of my role. I could not be going into my 13th year of writing posts on scripture passages, not to mention 15 years of being a spiritual director, without being sure of myself. (Has it really been that long? And yet it seems longer somehow.) I hope and pray that you, beloved reader, are sure and certain in your life. And that the Lord God has been using you in mighty ways! Selah!

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The importance of the body and caring for the body

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Corinthians 12:12 – 17)

I am truly trying to work with this passage. This has been a very tough day (the day I sat down to write this), and my fear is that it is just the beginning of some very tough days – by current count (that is, again, as of the day I am writing this) at least 22 more. I am not sure if I have said, precisely, what my most current health issue is. I have skin cancer in the form of a tumor, and am currently undergoing radiation therapy. When you read this, there will be 15 more days until the end of my treatment. I have treatment each week day, so other than Saturdays each day I write, I have had a treatment. I started treatment the later part of December but it was not until the New Year that the side effects started to catch up to me. The last two weeks have been heck!

When I read the passage for this date, I quaked a bit as to how I was going to talk about the metaphor of the body. I mean my body and its members have been failing me left and right! How was I going to say something helpful and inspiring?! But I dug deep. And realized that in this instance it is not my entire body that has failed me – in fact it is a foreign and unnatural growth that has caused this problem. It took healthy tissue and corrupted it, and now the corruption has to be eradicated. And my entire body and all its members – my entire physiology – is suffering.

To dig deeper, if my entire body consisted only of my, say, right face cheek then I would be in deep trouble. But my right face cheek is only a portion of my body, and only a portion of the member of my body that is my face. Paul is talking about all of the parts of the body working together in unity. And it is actually the unity of the members of my body that have helped me cope thus far.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,. . . “ (Verses 17 – 22)

While the tumor needs to be eradicated, that does not mean that part of my face is going to disappear; only the comparatively small portion that is diseased will be made to leave. Or more precisely, shrink and melt away. The hope is that the major portion will stay, and in time heal from the radiation. I could not, and do not hate that portion of my cheek. In fact, I am doing all I can to protect it and nurture it so that the damage is at a minimum, and that in time healing will take place.

. . . and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. “ (Verses 23 – 25)

Radiation therapy may be directed at only one small portion of the body, but the effects are felt throughout the body. I learned this in only a matter of hours. I went from feeling quite well after treatment to feeling very weak and ill. I have learned how important self-care is – even more so than I ever realized.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.” (Verses 26 – 31a)

It is starting with verse 26, however, where my experience and use of the metaphor of the body parts ways with Paul’s. Not to say either of us is right or wrong. But Paul’s purpose is to use the body and its members as a metaphor for the church and all the roles that members of the church provide to each other. My purpose is to help you see, beloved reader, that care for the body is a holy act. That just because one part of the body may not be doing well does not mean the entire body becomes useless. Paul touches on this in verses 22 to 26. He moves on to talk about the church as the body and the members, well, members. Each with their own calling and role. Perhaps my purpose is also to exhort you to be gentle and caring for members of you faith circle who are struggling. To do good “self-care” in your faith circle as you would for your own body.

It has always, always been my hope that whatever experience I go through in my life might be used in helping others. It is the way I hope and pray that as a member of the body of Christ I might be supportive of the wider church and faith community. Selah!

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Coming upon new knowledge

. . . all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. . . . . He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. . . . Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. . . . So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8)

I have from time to time been harsh on commentators . . . especially on those who bring modern interpretations and foreknowledge that the writers of the time may or may not have known. I find that more often when reading commentaries on Old Testament passages than New Testament; and heaped on that interpretations that come from a very obvious subset of Christian beliefs. So my first thought and response was that the interpretation given to the people gathered before the Water Gate MUST have been free from bias because it would have been just the Torah or the laws that the Lord God gave to the Hebrews after the exodus from Egypt. But then I thought, maybe I cannot and should not assume that! And I was sad.

Where and how might bias slip in? How do we prevent it from happening? Is it fair to scripture to read it with the lens of bias of the times? Anyone who reads anything brings their own experience to the reading. One hopes that the discernment of the Spirit inspires the reading, the understanding, and the interpretation. But that is not a given.

The sense in the book of Nehemiah was that the people who were gathered had not background or understanding of the text that was being read to them because they were so far removed from the faith life of their ancestors and forebearers. This was in essence new to them. So of course they needed guidance and interpretation. That is why I first assumed there would be no bias.

“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I got to thinking though, and asked myself why were they weeping? So, I decided to consult some commentators. And as I thought, the weeping and sorrow was because they were made aware of the sins they had committed – unknowing sins because they had not heard the law. But sins nonetheless. So I had to wonder, did Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Levites, present the law in such a way that the people were “convicted” and “condemned” for their sins? Ie, bias? Or was it because (as one commentator said) they were tenderhearted to having erred?

And then I thought further, could it be universal that all new believers (whatever their faith traditions) weep and are tenderhearted seeing how they past steps have been missteps? I remember myself at a young age feeling sorrow and remorse that I had not lived a more accountable life. New faith does not always know grace . . . yet. That comes with time.

May you, beloved reader, come to new and renewed knowledge with joy and thankful – acknowledging your missteps but celebrating new understanding. Selah!