Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker wrestle with the called and chosen’ people’s story and promise from the Divine

Seeker: “Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.”
Preacher: Would that we did that. Would that we praised the Lord God of Jacob, and who guided the called and chosen people. Called them out of a land not their own to a place they could develop and call home. Called them out of captivity to new life. But have not always done so. We have not always done so. The Lord says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.”
The Lord was with us. Then we were alone. We made our own choices, and they were not always good. Why was the Lord suddenly absent and no longer giving counsel?
Preacher: “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Seeker: We tried to remember the words of the Lord. We tried to honor the Ten Commandments. But our ears were filled with other voices.
Preacher: “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!”

Seeker: But what would we gain? What reward would there be if we followed the Lord God?
Preacher: “Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.”

Seeker: We are not the people of Israel, nor of Judah. Those days are gone. Those stories are dust on our shelves. Our spiritual forebearers gone. Their stories echo in our souls and spirits. But we do not understand clearly the lessons that are supposed to come. We live with one foot in the world of harsh realities. And the other foot seeks to find hold in the Kingdom of God. Where would it better that we live?
Preacher: “Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.”

Seeker: We do not hate the Lord. But we do not understand the Lord God either. We do not cringe before the Lord. But neither, we know, do we stand in the Lord’s glory. We are lost. Struggling to find out way, we listen for the Lord God. We listen for the promises of the Divine. We seek hope in this world. And we are learning to place our hope in the world to come. What, O Lord God the Divine waits for us in the world to come?
The Lord says, “I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” ( Psalm 81:1, 10-16)
Seeker: While we seek sustenance in this world, it does not last. Therefore we have to place our hope in the world to come. It is for the promise and fulfillment of that life that we journey through this life. Let it be, Lord God, that we do not journey alone.
Preacher: Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The New Testament Passage – To staving off complaints, remember to be humble

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:1, 7 – 11)

This is a passage and concept I encountered when I was quite young in the faith. It was not difficult for me to understand this and incorporate it into my life. Coming from a Mennonite/Anabaptist background being quiet, humble, and unassuming was part of the air and atmosphere I was raised in. I think this was one of the reasons I was a “late bloomer.” I simply did not “force” myself into a situation, and so never tested myself in the world until I was into adulthood. There are some pros and cons about that but I really do not want to get into them in the context of this discussion.

“He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Verses 12 – 14)

This portion of the passage was a little harder for me to wrap my thinking around. First, I so rarely “give” a luncheon or dinner, nor a banquet. And if I did, it would only be for close friends and family BECAUSE I would never assume that anyone other than those close to me would be interested in hobnobbing with me! But I understand the larger concept. And again, I am not one to try to impress others with my styling hospitality. I remember one time I had a gathering for family at our house on the occasion of my daughter’s being blessed and recognized at our home church at the time. I was so nervous about it, and just wanted everything to be perfect. I fretted over the little buffet I set up, and thought that either no one would come or we would be flooded with people and there would not be enough food. In the years since than I have gained more confidence in my hosting and hospitality abilities.

One final thought, beloved reader. I have found those who have NOT been seated close to or at the place of honor to be much more pleasant company. And I have always found the best repayment for inviting people is the pleasure of their company – status notwithstanding!

May you, beloved reader, not play the “high society” game but reserve for your self the honor of merely accepted any where at the Lord’s table! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Staving off complaints

Let mutual love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

I do not want to give you a false impression, beloved reader, concerning my comments yesterday about my family. I love each one of them very much. And if I nag and complain to them about their being self-sufficient, it is because I know I cannot care for them indefinitely and I want to assure myself that their needs will be taken care of. It is a gift to teach someone independence, and how to make their way in the world.

In the Old Testament Yahweh sought to create a people who stood strong and firm in their beliefs. Much of the Divine’s complaints were that the people of Judah and Israel were influenced by the nations around them. That was the Divine’s fear when they sought a king as other nations had. Good man that he was, King David brought them into close contact with other nations and in each generation they became a people less set apart from other nations. And that growing closeness to other belief traditions pulled them away from the Divine.

In the New Testament Jesus taught his disciples how to be distinct and strong within themselves and their faith so that they could teach others. Much of Paul’s letters teaches that faith and distinctiveness.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Verses 2 – 7)

In other letters Paul gives guidance as to how to live in the large community and society in peace, while maintaining a Christian lifestyle. We may think that at time Paul extolled the virtue of “going along to get along”. But he did not want the new fragile faith to be crushed before it had time to take hold. In other of his letters he advocates boldness and confrontation with the outside society, encouraging believers to stand on their own and not be swayed by unbelievers.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Verses 8, 15 – 16)

The same Lord God and Jesus Christ is in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Desiring to create a called and chosen people, and to lead them in to the world to come. The hope for humanity has always been the same. And while humanity may have understood and lived it out differently in the Old and New Testament, the wisdom and guidance of the Divine has always been the same.

May we, beloved reader, stave off the complaints of the Lord God; and instead enter into a blessed relationship. And may we also stave off the complaints of wider society. You know I read recently that Christianity is now one of the most persecuted faith traditions. I do not like to think how that came about, but let us set our hearts, minds, will, and strength to win over others. And if that is not possible, may we stay true and firm to the word of God as discerned by the Holy Spirit. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When the Lord complains . . . about the called and chosen people

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 2:4)

Sometimes I have to be very loud and insistent with my family. I suppose that is a common experience with parents/spouses – that you have repeat yourself in no-uncertain terms and volume. Important messages and understandings can be lost if you cannot get and hold their attention.

“Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” (Verses 5 – 6)

It may be worthy of noting, beloved reader, that the biblical commentators are no help in discerning these beginning verses. Maybe the meaning of these verses is so self-evident that they did not feel much explanation was needed. Different paraphrases and translations make it clear that the Lord God the Divine is complaining about these stubborn people!

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

The bad times and the rough journey had come to an end. The people were back in the land that had been promised to them so long ago. But did they give thanks? No! Did they seek out the Lord who had brought them there? NO! Did they worship the Lord and follow in the worship practices that were taught to them? NO!! What is a Parent and Lord God to do with such children!!

“Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 9 – 13)

To the Divine it is an unimaginable thing that they would trade in the Living God who has given them so much for false gods that have given them nothing. And we could and would stand in equal surprise and shock . . . . if we had not done the same thing.

I tell my family time and time again the same thing, teach the same lessons, and model the same actions and attitudes – but they do not listen and learn. Now, I do not mean I am so perfect. And I am not talking about life lessons; I am trying to teach them how to clean up after themselves and take care of their own needs. But it is like talking to a pile of stones. Which, coincidentally, is just what the “house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” were accused of worshiping! (Not the same rocks though.)

My point is, it can take a lot to get through to a person or group of people. The things that should be obvious – wash the plate and pot, put away leftover food, pick up after yourselves – and – worship the Lord who brought you into abundance, remember the lessons learned in the desert, show gratitude and awe that you have been brought into a good life – are missed, glossed over, or forgotten.

People like Jeremiah were called to give testimony and prophesy to the people who had gone astray. Now granted, this is a straying that took place over many generations. It did not happen as soon as the people passed over into the promised land. Does that make it more acceptable and understandable that they drifted from the Lord God? Should it? Part of the cycle of the lectionary year is calling people back to faithfulness. In years past I have made note of the themes of the three lectionary years – A, B, and C. These themes are especially emphasized during the high seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Divine can and does call us back to faithfulness at any and all times of the year. Is perhaps the Divine calling to you? Maybe complaining about you? Oh beloved reader! Do not let it be so! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Hope springs . . . . Praise the Divine

Seeker: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
Preacher: The scripture passages that have been our focus this week have spoken to hope. In the Old Testament hope is held out as a possibility if we follow the Lord God and mend our ways, honoring the commandments of the Divine; not just in the letter of the law but the spirit of the law. In the Epistle passage we are invited, nay encouraged and commanded to listen, hear, and follow the Divine, and in follow the Divine we find hope. And to watch and bear witness to the redeeming acts of Jesus Christ that give us hope. And in the Gospel passage we see the compassion and care that Jesus Christ gave one who had suffered greatly, and that healing and hope would not be withhold from a second longer. That indeed the holy days of the Lord God are made precisely for hope and healing.
Seeker: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits– who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
We hear these messages, and it gives us hope. We internalize these messages, and hope springs up within us. We speak the messages of hope, and hope is passed from person to person. And we lift up voices in praise because of hope!
Seeker: “The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.”

Preacher: Without hope we could not walk the hard road of life. Hope raises us up, and we feel the strength of the Lord God surging through us. We hear the stories of hope from those around us, and in the stories of our spiritual forebearers. We know hope exists, because we see it worked out in the lives of others, and from their testimony we see hope born, and borne out in our lives.
Seeker: “He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.”
Preacher: Where and when hope is lost, we lose our way. We go to places and practices that carry us farther and farther away from hope. We tell stories to others that are devoid of hope, and then we give up. But hope remains! Our hope may vanish, but hope still resides in the Lord. If we reside in the Lord God, we reside in hope. There is hope in the Divine because of the love the Divine has for creation. Where there is love, there is hope; and where there is hope, love lives there also. It is not hope and love as the world know it, but as it is known in and through the Divine.
Seeker: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:1-8)
It is my hope that hope in the Divine is present in your life. It is my wish that hope will so grow within you that it overflows into every corner of your life, and spreads to those around you. And it is my prayer that whole world knows hope in the Lord. Lift up a song of praise and hope that drowns out hurt, pain, and sorrow. Hope in the Lord, I say to you, hope in the Lord God! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Hope springs . . . at the proper time and season – which is any time it is needed!

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:10 – 13)

I can not think of a more perfect time for a miracle to happen than on the Lord’s Day, which ever day you might celebrate it on. And what better way and time to lift up praise for a miracle then on the Lord’s Day. There is a long and strong tradition in worship services to bring both praises and petitions to the church service. Now, in our modern times miracles may not happen during a worship service . . . but one should not be surprised if it does!

“But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” (Verse 14)

Now here is the first error in thinking that is presented in this passage – that healing and curing of ailments is “work”. No, far from it! It is a joy and celebration that the Divine has moved in such a mighty way! What is the Sabbath but a time we gather with others and lift others up, encouraging and consoling our fellow believers. “Small” miracles happen here, and as I said above, small miracles can develop into large miracles!

“But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (Verses 15 – 16)

Now, I am not sure how much I appreciate the connect between healing this woman and tending to livestock. But if you are appealing to a male agrarian mentality set in the era before equality between genders, may be it is an appropriate analogy.

“When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” (Verse 17)

I like that the writer of Luke have the people in the congregation rejoicing. This story reminds me of the story where the woman with a bleeding disease touches the robe of Jesus. It also reminds me of the time I went to a worship center that had weekly opportunities for people in the larger community to come for prayer and healing. It did not, however, have a good outcome. The people who were running it were too focused on their own abilities and hubris in being able to pray for people and offering healing. I realized soon after I got there that while it might be have been touted as a Christian worship center, it was in actually a place where false faith was running rampant. I was glad to see it was shut down soon after I went. And I say none to lightly it was only by the grace of God I got out of there unscathed!

Hope comes when we need it, beloved reader, according to the movement of the Spirit and not according to any other time table. Yes, we need to be in the proper place to experience it; that place however is not so much a physical location as it is being prepared, and preparing our heart and soul. May you, beloved reader, find hope in all the usual and unusual places in your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope springs . . . through new locations and theologies from the Divine

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)” (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)

In the Old Testament Mount Sinai was the literal and theological gathering point for Israel and Judah. From here the Ten Commandments were sent out. From this place the Lord God spoke to Moses and Moses relayed the message to the people gathered below. The Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt could not endure the Voice of the Almighty and were frightened in hearing even the echoes from the mountain. I imagine it felt not unlike a severe scolding from someone in a higher authority. And maybe the memory of the overlords in Egypt was still too vivid to hear other voices of authority. They did not know this Lord God personally – at least not like Moses did. Everything was raw and new.

But . . . . Paul says coming now to the Divine is not like that. Not like hearing the stern reverberations of the Divine? Not hearing the absolutes that the called and chosen people needed to live by? So, what is it like now?

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)

And this is different how? And remember, beloved reader, this is Paul speaking. Do not be fooled into thinking this is the easier road!! That tranquility and consistency will be experienced now. Nor that nothing more will be said and revealed from Mount Zion.

“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven. This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (25 – 27)

In a reversal of what is the norm, the biblical commentators (yes, I have been tracking what they say about this passage) water down Paul’s exhortations – sort of. The one who warned them on earth was Moses – a “mere” man. And in only one location, Mount Sinai. The One who warns from heaven is the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. You might think that would consist of a great deal of “rumbling”; however, the Divine “speaks by every message of mercy; by every invitation; by every tender appeal. [The Divine] spake by [the Divine’s] Son; . . by the Holy Spirit, and . . . by calls and warnings in the gospel. “ (Albert Barnes, slightly paraphrased for inclusive language. ) As to the “ yet once more” shaking, that is taken to mean a new style of worship and understanding of the Divine that was introduced and initiated by Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul sets in terms that make the reader shudder at the newness. But was new then to them is established to us. Even more precisely, it was new to Paul.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Verse 28)

So, where to we come out in our modern times? Oh beloved reader! That is a loaded question! For those who are authentic, firm, devoted readers – it confirms what we knew. For new believers it leads and invites them to a new way of living that is full of blessing and compassion. But . . . . for those who undoubtedly Paul would exhort most vehemently . . . it probably would shake up their world. And maybe, beloved reader, that is why they do not want to hear it!

May you, beloved reader, gather on the gently slopes of Mount Zion and hear the gentle words of the Divine usher you into an more devote way of living. Selah!