Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Psalm Passage – Lifting up others while enduring with patience; Preacher and Seeker muse together

Seeker: “Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.“

Preacher: Feeling kind of fiery are we Seeker?

Seeker: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.”

Preacher: I’ll take that as a yes.

Seeker: The psalmist has got me fired up. This was the Yahweh who they believed would vindicate them and relief all of their problems. But I know, Preacher, that the Israelites had a sort of skewered perspective of the Lord God. They were to be a light to the other nations, showing them how to live. But instead they got caught up in their own national identity and came to have the opinion that, right or wrong, their God was on their side.

Preacher: I was worried about you there for a moment, Seeker. But you do have a good grasp on the Israelites unintentional perspective.

Seeker: “But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” the psalmist said. But the Israelites always assumed they were the righteous, and never checked their ego at the temple door.

Preacher: “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.” The psalmist got the worship part correct.

Seeker: “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” Problem is the Israelites assumed that it was only the marginalized Israelites who got the protection.

Preacher: Well, when they were lead out of Egypt, that was pretty amazing, and it came to be their corporate/national/social identity. “O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.” They were and are not the only nation that thought God’s protection and blessing was for them solely.

Seeker: “Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.” But doesn’t the fact that nation after nation over time and throughout the world has been saved and brought to prosperity give humanity a clue that the Divine is everyone’s God?

Preacher: The psalmist said, “Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah” And when your world view is limited by the distance you can travel, you tend to have a closed mind and a limited understanding of who else might as worthy as you.

Seeker: You are being very generous, Preacher, and understanding of current humanity. I have heard you be quite critical of modern society on other occasions.

Preacher: “O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35) I guess I want to honor and recognize the fact that the psalmist, who fired you up Seeker, was speaking with a very limited view of how far the Divine’s care extended. And yes, it is true, I believe that our current society has the same shortsighted problem. But we are also seeing acts of compassion in these days that carry a sense of the Holy Presence. And, people who are comparative strangers are beneficiaries of that care and compassion. So yes, I am giving kudos where it is merited.

Seeker: Hmmm, the Holy Presence. There is irony there. The Israelites thought blessing should be a one way street – from Yahweh to them with no obstacles or conditions. Now, we are seeing people who may or may not profess believe in the Holy Presence perform acts of compassion that is worthy the Divine’s care – albeit done within the confines of human ability.

Preacher: Not the same kind of fieriness of the psalmist, but I think this warmth of human compassion will be better and more beneficial in the long run.

Seeker: Selah, Preacher, Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Enduring with patience and being lifted up

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1 – 3)

When I was young, the “proper” prayer posture was to bow your head and close your eyes. Kneeling was even better. So it was a “revolutionary” idea to lift your head in prayer. But I like it! It seemed strange to my young mind to look down to pray, because that was not where God was. God was “up” in heaven! And I was taught to look at a person when you spoke to them. How much more should you look to the Lord when you pray!

“I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Here is a new thought – the disciples were the Lord’s before they became followers of Christ! We may think that the disciples were just a random group of men culled from the population of Galilee/Nazareth. But apparently before Jesus called them, the Lord God had seen them and identified them as the Divine’s. I wonder, beloved reader, if this explains some of us who seem to grow into faith in the Lord rather than having a decisive conversion experience. That’s not to say that believers who had a “turn around” moment have not also been picked out by the Divine. Each of us who believe have the “Belonging to the Divine” stamp. It’s just that some knew about the stamp from the very beginning. So, I have to wonder if that was the case with the disciples.

“Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I want to remind you, beloved reader, that this passage comes before the blessing of the Holy Presence. It even comes before Jesus’ death, so it is relatively early on in the disciple’s learning curve. What they have learned up until now is comparatively small to what will come. And yet, Jesus counts it as major learning. And for this “early” reason the disciples are being lifted up by Jesus.

“I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The writer of the gospel of John has Jesus already withdrawing, in a sense, from the world. Jesus is also commending the disciples to the Lord God. The bewilderment of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection is still to come. May be the disciples were able to “hold it together” so relatively well because the Divine was looking over them. So just maybe the Divine is watching over us in the same way as we journey through these days. How are you doing beloved reader? Are you looking up in prayer, and looking towards the Source of strength, faith, comfort, and endurance? I encourage you to look up now; and may you be lifted up! Selah!

Ascension of the Lord, Year A, 2020: Gospel, Epistle, and Psalm Passages – The Blessing of the Ascension (and all that followed it)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44 – 49)

The Day of Ascension of the Lord marks the day when Jesus returned to heaven. Unlike other passages that we have read, the reason for Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection are revealed to the disciples gathered there. But this was not the same as the coming of the Holy Presence.

I must tell you, beloved reader, the faith and Christian journey is not as sequential and linear as it was for the disciples. Understanding and the presence of the Holy Spirit come in spurts and starts – neither are complete or completed in one divine action. In fact, sometimes part of one needs to come before or after the other in order that the whole thing makes sense. Maybe this was true for the disciples, but on the writer of the gospel of Luke’s reflection the revelation may have seemed in chronological order.

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Verses 50 – 53)

It seems that the impact of Jesus on them was a personal one; what I mean is that it impacted their worship practices. They knew now who Jesus was, and what he represented in terms of who the Lord God was that they had worshiped before. But as we are aware, there was more to come. And it would bring a different sort of change, and an even newer perspective that they would eventually share with others.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, by praising and blessing them, he lists for us some of the attributes that Christian followers should have. You may say “this is Paul not one of the original twelve”, and I will remind you that the example of the original disciples was present to Paul when he was still Saul. And he was instructed by a convert who had been taught by the disciples. Paul points to the same faith and attributes (well, the same large category) that Jesus taught his disciples, and since Jesus was in God and God was in Jesus . . . . you know it was from the Divine.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Paul says, and I believe, we are the body of Christ. Not only in a corporate group we call church, but individually as well. The Holy Presence came to each individual disciple, and it was not a Presence that was felt only when they were together in their original group. But each of them carried it with them as they went out preaching the gospel of Christ and the Lord God. That is how it could also be in Paul since he was not part of the original. It is also why, beloved reader, we too can have the Holy Presence in us. But . . . I am getting ahead of myself. We are still at the site of the Ascension. So let us end by praising the Lord God who watches over us and blesses us without end! Selah!

“ Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” ( Psalm 47)

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – Enduring with patience, and holding firm to the blessing of Jesus Christ and the Lord God

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

The Corona virus is NOT a testing. I repeat, it is not. You can know this, beloved reader, because it did not come because of a lack of faith, nor as a result of any faith group or non-faith group. In addition, it did not come because of the actions of any cultural, national, or ethnic group. Yes, it is an ordeal! But not a parallel to the sufferings of Christ.

However, it can show the strength depth of faith and hope that we have in Christ. Not that faith will cure or prevent the virus. When you see and hear of those who have acted with compassion towards others, THAT is a living out of the compassion that Jesus the Messiah (and the Divine) had, and has, for humanity. Now, do not discount the acts of compassion because those who manifest them do not profess a Christian or religious faith. The Spirit of God can rest & reside in anyone!

In other words – and all apologies to Peter – this passage does not really relate to our current health issues. As much as the global community is suffering, it is not the “fiery ordeal” that Peter is talking about. I just wanted to set the record straight.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (Chapter 5:6-10)

But Peter’s words are good advice for the days that we are in now. It is good advice for anytime you have struggles and turmoil. While the “adversary the devil” is not the author of this pandemic, you can be sure that it is taking every advantage of the situation. This is true throughout the global community and to our “brothers and sisters” everywhere. Let me say further – if we/you are doing a very careful and literal read of this passage – the “little while” that we are suffering may be longer than might be expected. Do though seek and savor the restoration, support, and strength that comes from the Divine.

Admittedly I could have approached this passage in a different way. But . . . . this pandemic we are embroiled in can overwhelm one’s thinking and sap one’s endurance. It is a fine line between finding scriptural solace for our current situation, and assuming the current situation has theological underpinnings. I pray with Peter during these days the Spirit of God rests upon you!

“To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 11)

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Substituted Acts Passage – The Blessing and Patience of Jesus Christ and the Lord God

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

You gotta love these disciples! Jesus teaches them and lead then around Galilee and Capernaum. They watch and listen to him preach and try to educate the Pharisees and Sadducees. He tells them if you have seen and know him, you have seen and known the Divine, and vis versa. He is arrested, questioned and tortured, all the while proclaiming that he is a different type of king. He dies, rises from the dead and continues to teach them that it is now a new and different way of believing . . . . . and they ask, is this NOW when the Jews will be restored to the way it was?!

He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Verse 7)

Rather than rebuking them, however, he simply says that the timing of things is not theirs to know. Soon enough the Holy Presence would be settled upon them, and they would understand much better what Jesus purpose was in coming to the earth, and why the Divine had sent him.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And that . . . . was that!

“While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Now, does this mean that Jesus will descend on a cloud? No, beloved reader. I think what it means is that the coming/return of Jesus will be just as unfathomable as when he left. No one will know the timing – it will simply just happen.

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 12 – 14)

I can well imagine some of their prayers were “help us to understand what happened!” The way the writer of Acts puts it, the disciples did not seem to have a firm handle yet of what Jesus’ ministry meant for them.

And that may be a question for us, beloved reader. As I have mentioned recently, I am currently reading reflections and meditation on the season of Lent and Easter. It is interesting to read (and some what reassuring) that the different writers have differing perspectives on Jesus, his suffering, his death and resurrection, and the hope of what is to come. Reassuring, because was somewhat fearful that there would be a large and overwhelming consensus, which would jostle my faith and spiritual ideas. Not that it would further my thinking and understanding but would make me feel like a “ninny” for having such “obvious” misguided faith! Yes, beloved reader, the Divine has patience with me too! I am finding the writings a blessing, and once in a while feel confident to “say” to the writers, I do not agree with you.

Beloved reader, may you find that the Divine has patience with you wherever you are in your faith. And may you feel the blessing of the Lord God. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Being prepared to accomplish all sorts of things

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:15 – 16)

“Another Advocate” – I have to wonder if this “Other” one is a substitute for the presence of Jesus, or for Yahweh who had been with the Abraham through to the judges, kings, and prophets of the Old Testament. So I went to the New Testament commentators, who waxed poetically about this Advocate being a upgrade from Jesus the Christ who could only be physically in one place as opposed to everywhere like the Holy Spirit. As to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, it seems (to biblical commentators & theologians) the presence of the Holy Spirit was less common and only happened to only certain individuals, and sometimes an in-dwelling for only a short length or specific time. And I have to shake my head in wonderment of this. Until I remember that the concept of care and compassion, and placing value in individual people was a human phenomenon that developed slowly. And in recent years seems to be less a part of some people’s thinking. So, yes, Jesus did need to ask for this specifically for his followers and future believers.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Verse 17)

It was important then, to have Jesus be with the disciples and teach them so that the “Spirit of Truth” could come to them and abide with them. Does this mean than that preachers, ministers, spiritual directors and others who have the Spirit abiding within them can prepare young believers (of all ages) to be ready for the Holy Counselor & Comforter to dwell within them? It is, beloved reader, a rhetorical question.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verses 18 – 21)

I have off and on, through this blog and in my own personal reflections, been thinking about my faith journey. That it seems as if my journey has taken a different course than others. I had an interesting conversation with one of my seminary professors as a part of a seminary class – I wish I could remember which one. We talked about the process of coming to faith, and that most people were “twice born”, meaning that there came a point in their life when they realized they needed to change or renew themselves. In Christianity this most typically means conversion or re-birth. The “once born” grow into increasing faith and do not necessarily turn a corner or change. They steadily grow into faith. Now, some explanations of this cast the “once born” as the more fortunate. Others it is the “twice born” and a conversion or new awakening that are the more blessed. It would be interesting to study the gospel stories and try to discern who were the once born and who were the twice born. Maybe someday I will look into that.

For now, beloved reader, may you be prepared and continually prepared to receive the Holy Spirit into you life, and may great things that glorify the Divine be the result. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Epistles Passage – Peter preaches too! And I am listening!

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13 – 16)

Peter is preaching now. Or, to my eyes/ears/spirit, he is preaching about preaching and giving testimony. One of things I know about myself is this – I have the habit of giving advice and direction when it would be better to remain silent. I am not referring to preaching and giving testimony as much as when I am in the role of adviser and counselor. Sometimes it is better if you let the person you are working with figure out things on their own. (Thankfully I have learned how to keep my own “counsel” when counseling others.) It is the difference between being gentle handed and putting for your own notions trying to supplant the others ideas and thoughts. This is one aspect of the “gentleness and reverence” that Peter is referring to. Let us move on to read more of what Peter is saying.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (Verses 17 – 20)

In my readings of Lent and Easter meditations, Jesus’ descent into prison – or hell, as one writer put it – was done so that Jesus might make his Divine presence known wherever we might be or end up. It is the type of hyperbole that many of those writer construct their reflections from. Even those condemned to hell might yet hope to escape its sentence and clutches. . . hmm. But, I speak to the living, so again let us re-focus our attention to Peter.

“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (Verses 21 – 22)

This is a view of Jesus I had at one point in my life, appealing to God at the Lord’s feet at the Mercy Seat. Continually saying that his death redeemed and renewed us . . . individually. I mean, I envisioned Jesus not giving carte blanche to everyone but bringing us to the Divine’s attention each time we did something that would be “sin”. I told you, beloved reader, it was not easy being so aware of my sinful faults and flaws when I was young; of course it is not easy now. But my assurance is more secure. Also, I realized and incorporated a more Triune understanding of the Divine, and recognized that one aspect of the Lord God Jesus Christ would not need to appeal to another aspect. Maturity, beloved reader.

I guess all of us, all of humanity, follow in the same sort of footsteps that the disciples did. Their faith grew and matured as they listened and followed Jesus. When Jesus died, their realization of the eternal and divine nature of Jesus grew. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, their learning and understanding advanced. And as they traveled and preached, their experience and expertise directed their thoughts and actions. And so they preached, gently and reverently accepted what suffering that brought. May we, beloved reader, be resolved in continuing to follow in their path. Selah!