Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – The blessings of a life changed

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:1 – 3)

I am weary, beloved reader, but it is a good weary. I have been doing a lot of “kitchening” which what I call being in the kitchen preparing food and cleaning up after my food preparations and others who have been in the kitchen. I did some preparatory work for supper tomorrow night and made a large bowl of pasta salad which will feed both of my daughters for several days.

What, you may ask, does that have to do with this passage from Psalm? It occurred to me (as I gratefully sat down) it is easy to praise the Lord when you have done good work for yourself and your family with the provisions that you have been able to get. I do not want to say that the Lord God has “blessed” me/us in that way . . . . because it makes it sound as if we have deserved special privilege that others have not. It is more accurate to say happenstance has conformed itself in a way “pleasing” to our existence. All people are deserving and worthy of what we have been able to afford. But not everyone is able to. I feel it is wrong to assume that it is me/my family’s due. And that is not the basis that I bless the Lord God. It is that I have been able to make the preparations and make plans for my family. I praise the Lord God because my strength, endurance, and skill in the kitchen has made it possible. Yes I am tired, but it is a good tired that was gained on behalf of my family.

And I like to think that the “holy ones in the land” work on behalf of others, be it family or strangers. In fact the greater work is to work on behalf of strangers, those who you owe not apparent due or allegiance to.

“Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.” (Verse 4)

I do not what sort of people the psalmist had in mind when he talks of “Those who choose another god.” Typically in biblical times the “heathen” were not seen a generous or working on behalf of others who were less fortunate and/or without resources. On the other hand, many of the prophets lambaste the called and chosen people of God for not providing for the poor, orphans, widows, and strangers in the land. I would hope the psalmist includes/excludes on that basis also.

“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” (Verse 5)

Simple statement – anything and everything I am able and willing to do that is good and noble in my life . . . I owe to the influence and calling of the Lord God the Divine.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.” (Verses 6 – 9)

Ordinary Time. It was an ordinary day today; granted, I accomplished more than I thought it would. In several weeks from now I probably won’t remember the day as anything more than any other day. But today – in this moment – I stop and praise the Lord God for what I was able to do.

“For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Verses 10 – 11)

And, I praise the Lord God that there will other ordinary but worthwhile days to come! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – What a life change might mean

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51 – 53)

In both biblical times, and modern times, there exist rivalries and animosities. You have to look no further than sports team to so them. Although the tension between the Jews and the Samaritans came from religious positions and not recreational – then again for some sports are a religion!

“When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”But he turned and rebuked them.” (Verses 54 – 55)

And Jesus’ disciples were just as vulnerable to prejudices as the Samaritans. Let me be, beloved reader, Jesus cared as much for the Samaritans as he did the Jews, the people from which his earthly mother and father sprang from. The story of the Good Samaritan is proof that Jesus had, and has, a tender spot in the Divine heart for everyone.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Verses 56 – 58)

I consulted a couple of biblical commentators about this passage and they have little or nothing to say about the metaphor that Jesus uses. It is plain enough on its surface, I imagine, to not need comment. Animals and birds have a place to call their own, to seek shelter, to rest and recuperate – but “the Son of Man” has no such place. The implication that the biblical commentators give is the way of life the Son of Man has is not one that others can emulate. But that flies in the face of the expectation that we take Jesus as our exemplar. Does that mean we should not get to comfortable in this life? That theology is also a strong presence in the gospels and in the epistles. Why not then tie it to this point in the story of Jesus’ journey and ministry?

“To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Verses 59 – 62)

Do you remember beloved reader back at the passage from the Old Testament where Elisha wanted to bid farewell to his father and family? Well, this is the passage that I had in mind when I contrasted Elijah allowing Elisha to make his good-byes and Jesus being adamant about following the call to himself. (Not believing deeply in coincidences, I am not surprised the RCL matched these two passages.) Interesting, is it not, that Elisha looked back in a way but also received the same portion of Godly authority that Elijah did.

It also makes a strong case that Jesus saw into the depths of these people’s hearts, and knew they were not really ready to commit to following Jesus and what it would entail. One has to trust that Jesus knows the best way to journey in life and what the destination should be. That along the way you will meet people who don’t see things your way, but that is no reason to write them off. The journey will be arduous, with little chance to take one’s leisure. And sacrifices must be made.

Now interestingly, Elisha burned the plow! And gave away the oxen meat! Perhaps that is what the Divine and Elijah saw; a young man who would be ready to commit to being a made of God and that set his affairs in good order so as to be ready to take up that call. May you, beloved reader, be as ready to follow our Lord God Jesus Christ! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – The need to change one’s life

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

There is a phrase bandied about – “Freedom is never free” – which is taken to mean that our freedoms in society (our western/American society) are won at a cost; and that cost is the lives of men and women who have struggled against an enemy that seeks to limit or take away our freedom. And I have always been puzzled by that ideology – being a non-resistant Anabaptist from little on up. And I am lead to ask, what the definition of “freedom” is in that phrase?

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Paul would tell us that of course our “freedom” is not free; the cost, he would say, was the death of Jesus the Christ. But praise be to the Lord God (he would continue) Jesus rose from the dead and freed us from the dominion of sin! And he does say (above) that our response should be loving one another as Jesus Christ modeled love, and loving others as we would want to be treated. And he warns too against “false” freedom, that is actually the way to sin.

“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” (Verses 15 – 17)

Now, as this same God-fearing non-resistant Anabaptist I have to be puzzled at what is meant by the “desires of the flesh”. Growing up with the theme of being moderate and modest in all things, and not being part of the world, I lived in fear that I would sin inadvertently and be condemned utterly. In fact I can remember some where in the middle of grade school living in fear of sinning. But one day I realized that I may not be as sinful as I feared (after hearing much greater sins than I had EVER heard of); and maybe, just maybe I was redeemable after all!

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” (Verse 18)

So I knew if I put my mind to it, and stayed humble and modest, I would not be lead too badly to sin – I hoped!

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Verses 19 – 21)

Oh beloved reader! You cannot imagine (maybe you can) the scrutiny I made of my life making sure I did not do those things – half of which I was not even sure what is was or how one would accomplish such travesties!

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Verses 22 – 23)

What no one told me (but I figured out for myself) was that once the Holy Spirit is in your life, the desire for such things and the fear of such things fades away. It was the fear of sinning that caused me the most consternation. Such a blessing it was to realize that I was free! That fear could not and should not rule my life. And I discovered once I felt that freedom it was very easy to live out the fruits of the Spirit!

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Verses 24 – 25)

In the days of Ordinary Time we may forget the gifts and blessing that the Divine has bestowed on us. We may forget the lessons and teaching that came during the commemorative days of the church year. There is as much danger of living in fear of sin and recriminations during Ordinary Times as there is of going astray. Remember, beloved reader, the Holy Spirit of the Divine is as much with us during Ordinary Time as with the Holy Days of the church year.

May the time between now and the beginning of the new church year be filled with blessings and love from the Lord God! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Changes are coming

Then the LORD said to him [Elijah], “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.” (I Kings 19:15 – 16)

I still remember the preparations I had to make when I was getting ready to leave my job in Indiana; our family was moving west to Oregon. There was only a few weeks to hire someone and train them to take over for me. In may job there was really no “down” or “fallow” season. I tried to do as much advance work as I could, and I tried to write as much stuff down as I could in a training manual. My fear was that I would forget to train the new person on some aspect of my job. Of course eventually I just had to leave the job and hope that things worked out for the new person and the staff I left behind.

“So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him.” (Verse 19)

The job I had before the one I left for moving to Eugene was a different experience in training the person. The person who was my assistant was moving into my spot. That was a much more comfortable and easy transition. As my “second in command” she knew the job as well as I did. And I was glad she would have the experience of making the job her own.

“He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” (Verse 20)

If you remember, there was a story from Jesus’ ministry where a young man was called to follow Jesus but wanted to wait until his parent had passed on before he left them. Jesus was pretty direct in what he thought of that. “Let the dead bury their own” he said. You are not to take this as meaning that Jesus was forbidding him to attend to urgent family business. Jesus knew the young man’s heart and knew that I did not want to leave the comfort and familiarity of his home to go wandering about. But here Elisha is asking to take proper leave of his family so they would know what happened and where he was going. After all, the Lord was telling Elijah to make preparations for his leave taking. Why would he not allow Elisha to say his farewell. Plus Elijah asks the leading question “what do you think my action meant for you?”

“He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.” (Verse 21)

Elisha answered that question by making his own final arrangements, and then going with Elijah. When I found out that my husband had a job offer on the west coast, it took me aback. I realized instantly that it would drastically change the plans I thought I should set in motion. I knew I could look upon this as a call to something new and exciting in my life. Or, I could see it as tearing up my present life (at the time) and mourning that loss. I chose to look forward. That move had so many unforeseen consequences. And the reasons that it was the correct thing has become more and more clear as time has gone on. The Divine was “calling me out” and calling me away from the life I had there . . . . . to something more real and abundant. Yes, there have been losses and change. As our life out here unrolled I could see where Eugene, OR was the place we needed to be.

The funny thing is, beloved reader, I really don’t like change much! I am, in many ways, a “creature of habit”. But at the same time, I like change and growth. So times you need to make changes in order to move forward in life. The other Old Testament passage tells the story of Elijah being taken up, and Elisha fully inheriting his “mantle”; actually, he gains a double share of what Elijah had. How is that for a change!

What I needed to remember and what I pass on to you, beloved reader, is that no matter what change comes about – the Lord God the Divine is still with us, and we with the Divine. And that will never change! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – When an ordinary life is anything but!

But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!” (Psalm 22:19)

We jump into the middle of the psalm, after the psalmist talks about the people and things that have come against him. The psalmist is fearful because he is not sure, or does not feel, the presence of the Divine around him. He asks for that.

“Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” (Verses 20 – 21)

We are taking this week about moving into Ordinary Time. This is the time of the church year where calm Sunday follows calm Sunday – except when it does not! The part of the church year may not have pomp or drama, but that does not mean that we will not encounter the unusual or the strange, or even the scary! And as I said yesterday, we should tell the people we meet and worship with what the Lord has done for us.

“I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” (Verses 22 – 24)

Often it is in the Ordinary Times that the Divine’s Mighty Hand becomes evident in our lives. Apart from what the Lord God has done in history and how the church has celebrated those events and blessings, in our ordinary day when we are hard pressed the Lord God makes those special and memorable days because of what is done for us. They may not be days that stand our in the calendar in our lives, but we remember when we felt most pressed up and oppressed that the Lord God was there.

“From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (Verses 25 – 28)

I remember periods in my life when I needed and called upon the Lord. I do not remember the exact days but I do remember calling out to the Divine and being answered. Those times and days are signposts in my life that give me comfort and courage; and I know I can call upon the Divine again. Do you, beloved reader, have memory of days and times when you called out to the Lord? Did you tell anyone about it? The psalmist seems to have no reluctance in talking about his dark times and how his God came through for him.

It is a spiritual discipline, beloved reader, to talk about one’s down times, when one was needful and the Divine came through. We like to talk about our triumphs and successes rather than our failings and shortcomings. Revealing when we have been weak shows when the Divine’s strength has come through. I would encourage you to be honest with yourself and with others when you have needed the Lord God. It is a wonderful testimony and a growing experience during Ordinary Times. Selah!

 

{I have not idea! how the posting of this got so messed up! But I am sure it was some error that I made! So sorry! Here is what I meant! Selah!!}

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How to regain an ordinary life

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”– for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” (Luke 8:26 – 29)

Imagine, if you will, Jesus coming to a hospital for the unstable/mentally unwell back in the day when patients were strapped down to beds and kept in locked rooms. Where no care was done and being “institutionalized” meant being warehoused with as little concern as is given boxes of merchandise that is not needed and has not been needed for several decades. Suddenly roaming free sounds like a slightly better alternative to that. Our understanding of mental illness and the way those who are survivors of mental illness has changed drastically. That does not mean they do not suffer; it means steps are taken to mitigate the suffering as much as possible. The one stark difference from this account and what the horrors were of decades ago is that we no longer believe such people are possessed by demons. But sadly we hold those who have mental illness accountable and responsible for their condition. Again, being thought to be possessed may be a kinder thing.

Jesus has compassion for the man, and wanted to release him from this bondage – both psychologically and culturally made. And maybe Jesus actions show that he has an understanding of the “possessed” man that the onlookers did not have.

“Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” (Verses 30 – 33)

As a student of psychology, I do not quite understand or buy into what happened to the demons. I have been told by those who would know that people can, still, be possessed by demons. So maybe this man did not have paranoia or schizophrenia or any of the other possible psychological conditions. I also don’t know where the advantage was for the demons to possess a bunch of pigs. The results, however, caused quite an uproar. And maybe in some round about way that was the Divine purpose.

“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Back in the day of insane asylums being “cured” was very unlikely. If the condition itself did not preclude a cure, the conditions they lived under would pretty much assure that a normal life was not possible. And maybe that is the point of the drowned swine. SOME sort of explanation needed to be given as to why the man was “in his right mind.” That the demons were vanquished and so visibly destroyed gave credence to the cure. And the man may well have been accepted back in to society more easily than if his “cure” would have been quiet and without drama.

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Verses 37 – 39)

It was not an unkindness that Jesus did not let the cured man come along with him. First, we know where Jesus’ ministry would eventually take him. This man had already had a hard road; he did not need to venture down another one. Second, by recounting the story with the drowned pigs gave the cured man’s story a tangible conclusion – that of course he no longer had demons. They were drowned! Third, since Jesus was not welcomed to preach and heal there, the cured man and his dramatic story would have promoted fervor and interest, and those who were NOT afraid of such power would seek him out, or at least seek out new about Jesus.

I had asked before, beloved reader – how to you plan to live out Ordinary Time? How do you plan to live out your ordinary life? And if beloved reader your life is not ordinary, I hope and pray that the Divine is with you in a powerful way; and that you share that story! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – How to live in response to the Divine: One lesson for Ordinary Time

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:23 – 24)

The Jewish faith, as practiced in Paul’s times and among his peers, seems like an unusual faith indeed. Ruled by laws that dictated one’s habits from rising in the morning to going to bed at night. Many of the rules outlined relationships between fellow believers and relationships with non-believers. Compassion and charity were highly praised attributes. There were also laws dictating what to eat, wear, how to spend one’s time. And if looked at objectively, seemed to be designed more for surviving one’s environment. There was a challenge to the two sets of laws. The first set, relationship guidelines, were hard to do because at times it seemed to run contrary to human will and impulse – being nice, kind, and generous. Not everyone was able to do that. The second set, dietary and daily tasks of living, were also difficult to do – but in a different way. Tedious and exacting at times. It took time and resources to follow them. Dietary laws keep the people safe from harmful foods. Daily tasks of living were probably to keep the people safe from germs etc. Disregarding them had consequences. So did, actually, the relationship laws – different consequences though. The prophets were more likely to chastise the people ofr violating the relationship laws.

Now as I said (and some of this is my own theory) some sects of Jewish believers did not strictly practice the dietary and daily tasks of living. And they lived unhealthy lives, or died, because of those consequences. Interestingly in our modern times some of these dietary laws are no longer needed but practiced to show faithfulness and adherence to the Jewish faith. But what I am intrigued with is this; the Pharisees and Sadducees adhered to the dietary laws with exacting precision, and based their faithfulness and piety on following them. But as for the relationship laws, they were too hard – too much personal cost – and so they chucked them out the window. And Jesus chastised them for that! When Paul was writing to the new area churches, the dietary laws were the ones that were left in the past and the law of love and compassion was put to the forefront – as Jesus exemplified. It was a result of faith in Jesus and the Divine, and the gift/blessing that Jesus was that prompted the response.

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Verses 25 – 29)

The dietary laws (and tasks for daily living laws) might have kept the called and chosen people of God safe for this life, but it was the relationship laws that made that life pleasant to live and carried lasting consequences. (As modern practices evolved some to the dietary and tasks fro daily living laws become outmoded or irrelevant, but as I said before adhered to for tradition’s sake.) And if was the relationship laws that formed the basis of the faith life that Paul speaks of. No longer “clean” or “unclean” but everyone united in love – love for the Divine and love from the Divine – for a common faith. The apex of relationship laws. And in relationship to the Divine and governed by those expectations now. Because of that intimate family relationship with the Divine, we who believe and have faith are heirs to all that the Divine has in mind for us. How then, beloved reader, will we live in response to that? Selah!