Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker talk about the actions of the Divine who sent the Messiah

Seeker: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”

Preacher: The Lord God hears us where ever we are, and whatever our circumstances are. Whether it is a cry, or a yell, or a cheer – we are heard by the Divine. When we cry out, the response may not what we though it would be, or even when we thought it would be – but the Divine will respond.

Seeker: “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Preacher: I am never surprised that, or when, the Lord God picks us up from the most horrendous places. The Divine is faithful. The world and earthly circumstances may put us in places we may never go of our own volition; or that we would not intentionally put ourselves. On the other hand, humanity has been known to get itself in the most terrible places and circumstances. But my point is, the Lord God will find us. And restore us.

Seeker: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”

Preacher: Fear? If the psalmist means revere the Lord God and be awed by the Divine, yes fear is the correct word. But humanity rarely puts their authentic trust in someone or something they fear. Desperation, though, leads us to desperate actions. To our remorse and shame.

Seeker: “Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.”

Preacher: Ah! There we are. Trusting in the Lord God is the best decision a person can make. And to keep making that decision. Oh yes, we have to keep that decision ongoing.

Seeker: “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.

Preacher: How, humanity, can you decide against the Lord God after having decided for the Lord God. How can humanity go astray? I know we do; from the earliest story of the called and chosen people up to this day, we have turned from the Lord God. But as you say, we can turn back to the Lord God . . . . time and time and time and time and time again.

Seeker: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”

Preacher: It is those of us . . . . who have opened our ear to the Lord God . . . . who should know better than to go astray. And it is to our remorse that we do. How sad and bitter it is to find we have lost ourselves, and then find ourselves apart from the Lord God the Divine. As I reminder to myself, I have a piercing in my ear that I had put in at my graduation from seminary. It does remind me, especially when I need reminding!

Seeker: What does it remind you of, Preacher?

Preacher: “Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

Seeker: What have you been called to do, Preacher?

Preacher: “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”

Seeker: And when you realize you have gone astray, how do you come back to the Lord God? What do you say to the Divine that might wash away the remorse and bitterness you feel?

Preacher: “Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” (Psalm 40:1-11)

Seeker: I think, preacher, the greatest lesson you could teach is that you have gone astray, but have been welcomed back by the Lord.

Preacher: Selah, Seeker, Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Gospel Passage – Knowing who the Messiah is and following him

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29 – 34)

Have you ever seen someone when out and about, and said to yourself, “I think I know that person but I cannot place them right now!” That happened to me the other day – say someone I knew I knew, but could not place where I knew them from because I saw them in a different/unexpected spot – if that makes sense. I could have asked, but did not want to embarrass myself.

John probably knew or knew of Jesus, since John’s mother and Jesus’ mother were cousins. And this being the gospel of John that has a strong theme of Jesus’ mysticism, the writer of the gospel of John is not going to “muddy the waters” with family relationships. We are told in the gospel of Matthew that John knew Jesus and tried to persuade Jesus that he should baptize John, but Jesus demurred and had John baptize him. But the dove, and the voice?! That was completely unexpected.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” (Verses 35 – 39)

So, you recognize someone in the crowd and you realize this is an important moment. In that moment you have two choices; to let the moment pass, or to seize upon the opportunity and find out where it leads. Follow Jesus and/or the path of Jesus can be like that. You can step forward or you can step back. There have been times in my life when I have seen or felt the Divine call me forward. It is been a rare time when I have not “stepped forward” and the times I did, I have regretted it.

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” (Verses 39 – 42)

It has not always been the Divine that I have seen; sometimes it is a path that is laid in front of me, and I have been beckoned to follow it. It is sometimes hard, very hard, to know what the good thing is to do and the correct path to follow. And I am pretty sure there is not just one correct path or option. That is, if there are two paths or two ways to go and each seems as good as the other – then if you chose one over the other, that does not mean that all is lost. In fact you may find, in looking back, that one path or the other path were equally good and valid.

When however the decision is critical, then you should take time to discern what is best. And even if you make a poor choice, the Divine will work with you and that choice. You are NEVER outside of the Lord God’s plan if your aim is to follow the Godly path. I could say more, but . . . . I digress.

Supposing for instance that Andrew did not bring his brother to Jesus. Peter was destined to be part of Jesus’ ministry, and I am confident that somehow or another that meeting would have happened. Consider Saul who became Paul; you would have thought from the beginning of his story he was never going to meet the Divine. But actually he was on a direct collision course with the Divine!

When you turn over your life to the Lord, you may find your life is opened to learning and opportunities. Opportunities to follow the Lord God and become in an ever deepening relationship. And, beloved reader, if your destiny is tied in with the Divine’s, you will not escape it easily! Praise the Lord, and Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Knowing who the Messiah and being a faithful servant

[From] “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,                                                                         and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:1 – 3)

I could wish to address you, beloved reader, in the same way. Well, not the same way as Paul did, and only from me. But nonetheless, I greet those who read what I post – from what ever the source that you read it or that it comes to you.

Yesterday I ‘gave forth’ on my periodic and mild but ongoing diatribe against commentators as pertaining to some passages. If, beloved reader, my writings yesterday jostled your exegetical world, I am sorry.

Often in the midst of such written back-and-forths I will research the topic and allow it to modify my stance. And think back on it, reviewing in my mind my position and the commentators. After doing that, where I came out at is . . . . recognizing Jesus Christ, the Lord God, the Divine, and the Holy Presence can be a challenging thing. Prophecy, by its very definition, looks ahead to where things may not be clear and attempts to put clarity to it while filling in the details. Sometimes prophecy is accurate; but more often it is incorrect. At times it and depending on the need & purpose of the prophecy, the incorrect portions are overlooked or smoothed over so that the prophecy can stand as a connection between the ‘then’ and ‘now’. That seems to happen a lot in the bible. Humanity loves connections and a feeling that what was said in time past is pertinent and informative to our ‘now’. And that we are not alone in our beliefs.


“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Do you remember back to King Herod and the three Wise Men? That Herod had the scribes and religious leaders scour religious writings and prophecies to try to discern where the infant Jesus might be have been born? Jesus was there, but his human father Joseph hurried his family away to Egypt and thereby fulfilling another prophecy that God would call the God-self’s Son out of Egypt.

If one had access to all of the religious writings and prophecies that abounded, would it have been possible to recognize Jesus as the Messiah? Here is another thought – do you think Saul who become Paul has access to those writings and prophecies? He is said to have been an Old Testament scholar who made his living as a tent maker. And yet it took a Divine encounter on the road to Damascus for his mind to be opened.

Some come to faith by slow dawning awareness of the Divine. Others need a push, a prphecy, or a revelation to realize the Deity who is the Author of the universe. In the end it does not matter how we have come to faith, but that we have come. Because our future depends on it!

“He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Old Testament Passage – Knowing who the Messiah is and what the Sent Servant is all about

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isaiah 49:1 – 3)

I have real problems with some portions of Isaiah; or more accurately how commentators interpret and explain portions of Isaiah. Every where I turn, seeking illumination of these passages, what I find are theories and redirection that applies what the writer of the book of Isaiah wrote to what the Messiah might say, and then try to explain why it sounds so strange – that is, why it does not sound like the Messiah that is talked about in the New Testament.

“But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”(Verse 4)

Such as this verse, where it seems that Jesus is bemoaning the fact that he had so little luck persuading the Jews that he was the chosen Messiah. The commentators on mass seem to have contrived to create a rationale for why the writer of the book of Isaiah is accurate in the words he puts into the Sent Servant of the Divine:

“This is to be regarded as the language of the Messiah when his ministry would be attended with comparatively little success; and when in view of that fact, he would commit himself to God, and resolve to extend his gospel to other nations. The expression used here is not to be taken absolutely, as if he had no success in his work, but it means that he had comparatively no success; he was not received and welcomed by the united people; he was rejected and despised by them as a whole.”

It just grates on me, beloved reader. It just grates on me! I think what grates the most is that so many of the prophecies of the Messiah come with a perceptive and bias that is part of the writer’s/prophet’s own life and experience. When the Divine says the Godself will do a new thing, you cannot base that on anything that anyone has experienced thus far.

“And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Verses 5 – 6)

And yet there seems to be a logic to it; either it is concerning the Messiah as he was revealed to the Jews in and about Galilee/Nazareth, or the writer of the book of Isaiah is speaking of someone whose life and career will be likened to a savior and redeemer. It is said that the book of Isaiah had great importance amongst the Jews (who started out as Israelites) and that they pointed to it as informative of their faith. If that is so, why did they (who the writer of the book of Isaiah said who would ignore the Messiah) end up ignoring the Messiah after all? Surely if in the time of Jesus they had heeded what the collection of Isaiah’s writings said they would would have said to one another, “this fellow Jesus reminds me of what good old Isaiah wrote about!”

“Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Verse 7)

I dearly wish I could talk to the prophets both major and minor, and find out what it was like writing the books that we find in the Holy Bible. I am talking about everyone from the writer of Genesis up to and including the writer of the book of Revelation. I know though that time is far off. And until that time/day I struggle with unraveling the mysterious of scripture; not only what is in the book we call the Bible but all that was written about the monotheistic faith that centers on the Deity we call the Lord God. I wonder too about other Deities of other faith traditions, but it occurs to me that in my life I will only have the time, energy, and ability to study One. Shalom & Selah!

Baptism of the Lord, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – The Divine above and beyond the “nut shell”

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”

Seeker: The angels on high praise the Lord and know of the Divine’s actions on behalf of the called and chosen people. Humanity does not always remember, however, what the Lord God has done. The actions of the Lord God are hard to discern when humanity is at a distance.

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.”

Seeker: It takes faith to worship the Lord. Not only faith that is belief in the Lord God, but assurance that the Lord God is working on humanity’s behalf. The early called and chosen people forgot that over time, and then ascribed their misfortune to the errors, mistakes, and sin in their lives. Who can say if they were right or wrong? But in our modern days we can look to the Messiah, and reorient our lives such that the Lord God is with us, and we can worship the Lord who has called us into relationship.

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.”

Seeker: When looking or traveling great distances, the early called and chosen people saw that “mighty waters” hemmed them in. And imagined that only the might of the Lord God could circumvent with ease the distances. In our modern times humanity flies over the waters easily, and is able to fly over many waters or all waters on the earth through the power and knowledge that humanity has taught itself. Little wonder there is “little wonder” left.

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.”

Seeker: But that does not mean the Lord God is without power or majesty. It is just that humanity finds it easier to ignore. But if society would think back on how it is come so far, and realize that the Lord God has created in humanity the ability to learn and understand, society might see that our greatness is actually a reflection, and a mere reflection at that, of what the Lord God is like and capable of.

Preacher: The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

Seeker: Simply put, the voices of humanity can do nothing like that. If humanity raises its voice in anger, people and things are destroyed. But that is no skill and talent; if taken to extremes, it is sin. The Lord God molded the earth and called creation into being with the Might of the Divine’s voice and will. We need tools fashioned from the elements of the earth and our sinful desire to destroy. That is not a worthy ability. If we create, it is only because the human mind has been designed to learn over time and come to greater understanding. We have, if you will excuse the term, evolved over time. The Lord God is the same as in the past, and remains constant throughout all time. It is humanity that has needed improvement.

Preacher: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29)

Seeker: The Lord God sits above all other things, and dwells above creation: that is, all that humanity has become aware of – the clouds, the sky, the atmosphere surrounding earth, the vacuum of space, the systems and galaxies – everything that human ingenuity and technology has allowed us to see. The Lord God is above all that!

Preacher: Seeker, you have praised the Lord God as ably as the psalmist has. When the psalmist wrote, from his perspective humanity had achieved great things. But Yahweh was above and ruler all of that. With all the advancement that humanity has made, we still have not reached the realm of the Divine. And in many ways, we are much further away from it than society was a generation ago. How, one might wonder, can we be so far away from the Lord God when creation has gained so much? It is not technology nor book learning that will get us closer to the Lord God. And if humanity cannot learn how to enter into a committed and genuine relationship with the Divine, we are destined to drift further and further from the spark that created humans in the first place. May the Lord God watch over and nurture us all!

Seeker: Selah & Amen!

Baptism of the Lord, Year A in 2020: Gospel Passage – A Divine Blessing in a nut shell

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” (Matthew 3:13 – 15)

Imagine if Albert Einstein came to a kindergarten teacher and asked him/her to teach him the numbers and letter. Or if Picasso asked the same to teach him to finger paint. Or if Jessie Owens asked a high school track coach to teach him how to run faster. John the Baptist knew what his role was, and he relished doing it. It was in preparation for Jesus’ coming that John preached and admonished his listeners/followers to be ready for the coming of he who John was not fit tie a sandal for. Or untie. Which ever. Yet Jesus came to John, asking for the outward sign of inner transformation. Jesus told his disciples down the road – he (or she) who would be first must be content to be last, and he (or she) who wished mastery must be a servant. So it makes sense, in the upside down kingdom sort way that Jesus would ask John to baptize him. And John, knowing who Jesus was, followed his Master’s instructions.

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Verses 16 – 17)

Being the upstart that I am, I have to wonder and ponder why the Spirit of God was pleased with him. Because Jesus followed protocol by having John baptize him? Because Jesus made the outer pledge and symbol to follow the Lord God? Because he honored John by recognizing John’s authority to confer forgiveness? Because Jesus humbled himself? Because of what Jesus would go on to do? And it opens up even more questions – how distinct and how human was Jesus that the Divine acknowledge Jesus as offspring rather than just a temporarily separated aspect of the Divine? How much free will did the person of Jesus have to act as he saw fit?

The other question (or set of questions) that it raises in my mind is can we, as humans, ever be so blessed by the Lord God? Are we the Divine’s Beloved? And is the Divine pleased with us? Lofty aspirations, beloved reader.

I wish I could convey to you the depth of my desire that committed authentic believers would become worthy of being blessed by the Divine. If Jesus Christ the Messiah (actually duplicated set of descriptive adjectives in that name) would and did humble himself, how can we do any less? To say to the Divine “I am so unworthy of your regard and love, but at the same time I am so assured of Your love and regard for me that I know you sent Jesus the Christ to redeem me in Your Sight and bring me into relationship with You.” To prostrate yourself in front of the Divine, and yet have the conviction that you will be lifted up. To life your life such that Divine would call you “beloved” – that is the goal of the Christian life. To do or be anything less is to disregard the good news. There just isn’t anything else to say after that expect . . . . Shalom & Selah!

Baptism of the Lord, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – The message in a nut shell

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:34 – 38)

Peter is preaching and evangelizing Cornelius the Centurion who, after being visited by “a dazzling man in white” sent for him. The teaching of Jesus’ ministry included the fact that he had been baptized by John the Baptism, and makes a sort of beginning of his ministry. I think it safe to assume, beloved readers, that the baptism was a much a outer sign of Jesus commitment to the Lord God as it was an opportunity for the Lord God to recognize Jesus and denote his special status.

Baptism is carried out in different traditions and in different ways. In my faith tradition it is done by young adults or older adolescents when they reach the age and realization that the Divine is calling them into relationship and calling them to a new way of living. In your faith tradition it might be different. But most of the time it is an outer symbolism of inner change – no matter what the age.

Peter’s preaching is a very brief synopsis of Jesus’ life and death.

“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Verses 39 – 43)

The question is, and if I may – has always been – is it baptism that prompts a changed life, or does a changed life manifest itself outwardly in baptism? I am, actually, not a good person to answer that question. Since I have been very young, not even having reached pre-adolescence (think about 7 years old) I have been taught about Jesus, the Lord God, and “making a decision for the Lord God”. Long before baptism would have been appropriate in my faith tradition, I committed myself to the Lord God. I cannot remember those younger years clearly/completely as to how it actually changed my life, but I remember struggling with trying to find an outer way to show the inner commitment. And I remember that Peter’s teaching here (as it was taught to me by my elders) was pretty much what convinced to commit my life to the Divine.

We read further in this account that Cornelius and his household professed faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized. They also received the Spirit of God, holy baptism, this is separate from water baptism. This passage reflects that the holy baptism came first, then water baptism. It may be different in your faith tradition, beloved reader. Here, when Peter was done preaching, Cornelius and his household spoke in tongues and extolled God. And the water baptism seems to have been as dramatic a step as the speaking in tongues. Often, beloved reader, in our modern times water baptism does not have the same changing effect. Maybe it should.

I invite you, beloved reader, to think back to when you realized that you were called to faith. And to think about the steps that lead you to that, the steps that lead to baptism, and what your journey has been like since then. Just as re-reading scripture is good, so is thinking about your first steps in faith. Share it with others; perhaps even evangelize to others. Who knows what that “message in a nutshell” may result in! Shalom & Selah!