Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – A narrative of pain and suffering that exposes the fears and anxiety of a called and chosen people

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.” (Psalm 79:1)

I don’t mean to minimize the suffering of the Israelites, the Divine’s called and chose people, but what they suffered is common to many nations that have been invaded. These verses of the psalmist’s could be the lament of many, and I am sure in a paraphrased way have been. Now, granted, not all of them (other people and nations) may have been lamenting about their buildings of faith and worship. Other institutions that are important to a given society have suffered also. So even their hurt over the temple being desecrated and defiled is not a unique situation.

“They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.” (Verse 2 – 3)

As is so common in war, there is little thought and pity given to the casualties in a conflict. Living in this so called modern times, I have the advantage of hindsight in knowing that casualties on battle field are often left with no care, burial, or remembrance given. And it is not just on formal established battlefields either. Savagery in any armed conflict runs rampant.

“We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.” (Verse 4)

I can’t help and remember, beloved reader, of the years that the state of Israel was struggling to establish itself. I was fairly young during those years, but I do remember vague reports of suffering, and the anguish that accompanied that struggle. It seems that Israel has, over and over, struggled to establish itself, and found itself the target and focus of hatred and violence. But, to be fair, Israel then and now had committed its far share of hatred and violence.

“How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?” (Verse 5)

It is this verse that is the common cry for many people of faith and circles of faith. How long will they be subject to the seeming animosity and worse that is committed against them. How long will their God (however they define that deity) stand apart from them and not intervene on their behalf because of perceived (accurately or assumed) wrath.

“Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.” (Verses 6 – 7)

Here too is a common cry – get the ones who are making us suffer!

“Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Petition and intercession. And just one step away from confession. Can it be said that any nation deserves such treatment? That is the question, beloved reader. Does any faith group deserve to be treated in such a way by its deity? When one is deep in a pit and destruction is rained down upon you, it is hard to know who is really at the top pelting you with suffering. And it is challenging at the time to consider that it might just be that your deity is not at the top causing the turmoil, but beside you trying to shelter you and console you. Something to think about. Shalom!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A narrative of truth that exposes the best way to handle wealth and resources

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ “ (Luke 16:1 – 4)

This is another one of those parables by Jesus that it took me some time to understand; not just, mind you, studying it once but delving into to understand the hidden meaning and the concepts that Jesus is pointing out. What I did not realize was that the rich man firing his manager is an allusion to the end of this life and the coming of the life/world to come. In this sense it, well, makes sense.

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ “ (Verses 5 – 7)

Understood in this way, I can see a parallel to my work life. For, beloved reader, I do not have wealth to give to others that will provide for me a home. Nor do I have command to power to make the changes that this manager does. What I did have in my last job, however, was the power and authority to establish a certain way of handling my employees and the clients who have services from us. My approach was compassion, understanding, acceptance of people’s weakness & needs, and patience that could be stretch pretty thin. While I had to set some boundaries, I always did it with compassion and care. And I made myself available to both employees and clients 24/7 – to the frustration of my family who become tired of me constantly on call. My new job does not quite give me the same latitude, but I approach each work day with that mind set. I was not dishonest – I could never be that. But I freely admit I took advantage of my position as a supervisor to be exactly the type of boss I would want to have.

“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Verses 8 – 12)

I have been at my new job for almost two full years. And in that time I have been given much more responsibility than I thought I would. At times more responsibility than I really wanted. I guess if I was very honest, putting aside humbleness, I would have to say I have been faithful with the “little” I was given. And as I showed my faithfulness “more” was given.

“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Verse 13)

Now to make sure that the people who were listening to Jesus did not get the wrong idea, Jesus establishes the boundary that wealth is not to be used to commit sin. But it is to be used to accomplish the goals of caring and compassion. The manager did not steal from the rich man as he showed compassion to those in debt to his master. He used his position to make their lives easier and better. And that has always been the overriding purpose in each job I have had – to support, improve, and add to the lives of others. May you do likewise beloved reader! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A narrative of truth that inspires quiet, peace, Godliness and dignity . ., . but still is the truth

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1 – 2)

We are back with Paul and his first letter to Timothy. Please notice, and I have put them together so you can, the reason and purpose for praying for kings and those in high places. So that there is quiet and peace. And that the lives of the believers are Godly and dignified. Where there is not quiet and peace, there is no Godliness and dignity, and vice versa.

I grew up in an era when Anabaptism prompted us to be “the quiet in the land”, going about one’s faith life without drawing attention to one’s self, and not entering into the “secular” world. But I grew into a world where quiet, peace, dignity, and Godliness was had to maintain because the world intruded and made noise, and committed acts that not only challenged living in peace but ruined that option for others. So, we started to speak up. We reminded ourselves and each other that our Anabaptist forebearers also spoke up when wrong and ungodly things were happening. Jesus Christ spoke up also when he say wrong being done.

“This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Truth has been modified and categorized in many ways; the way I like the best is an “inconvenient” truth. Truth is truth no matter how you try to dress it up, disguise or camouflage it. It gets to be “inconvenient” when it refuses to hid and be discrete.

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Paul may have urged prayers for those in control of the worldly government: but he still spoke the truth about the gospel as he knew it, and preached it as it was revealed to him. Paul in his time and teaching (at least in some of his letters) counseled living quiet and unobtrusive lives. That was for the benefit of the new believers who might face persecution and oppression. But Paul, for himself, was loud and brash, speaking truth and not concerning himself as to who it might offend. I will say that there needs to be a balance between being the “quiet in the land” and speaking/teaching/preaching truth. That is one of the things that comes through his letters to Timothy, and why I enjoy them so much!

May you, beloved reader, speak truth when it needs to be said – but also live a life that is peaceful, Godly, and dignified. And even if you can do it quietly, make a little noise once in a while! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – A narrative of suffering and despair

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” (Jeremiah 8:18)

One of the traits of the prophets is that they are willing to take on tasks that most other people would consider unattainable. But that does not mean they do not become heart sick when their purpose and mission seems to be for naught. That is the point that the prophet Jeremiah is at. The Divine knew and knows that it was a mission and task that would not have a joyful resolution. But the the warning had to be spoken and the people warned. It is no different today.

“Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (Verse 19a)

The great irony is that now when the terribleness of their (that is the Hebrews/Israel) is upon them, they ask why Yahweh is not there to help them.

(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)” (Verse 19b)

And the Lord God answers, why did they stray from proper religion in the first place? Why did they not listen and heed the prophets I sent them?

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (Verse 20)

The Hebrews, the people of Israel have waited and waited for relief from their woes and troubles. They ask where the Lord God has gone, and why they are so forsaken. But, beloved reader, this a narrative played out by the writer of the book of Jeremiah. While telling the truth of what happened to the Israelites when the surrounding nations took them over, it is not an accurate representation of the sentiments of the people who lived then. Yes, they suffered. And yes, they were warned and given messages of hope for the future. But the words we read here are most accurately the suffering and despair that the writer of the book of Jeremiah felt and wrote about. It does not make it less true, but neither is in a message from the Israelites to us.

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Verses 21 – 22, & chapter 9, verse 1)

It seems like every day in our modern newspapers and other forms of mass media we hear stories of suffering and despair. Things happen in our world, the news is sad, and we feel in our sinew and bones the pain and suffering. Anyone of us could tell the story of sorrow and lament, and ask why the Divine has allowed this to happen. Some wonder if it is our fault. Did we bring this upon ourselves? Would things been better if we had been more faithful? But then right on the heels of that lament is the question, faithful to what and who? Which faith tradition? Which group of faith tenets? I do not know of anyone who has the correct answer to it. Furthermore I suspect there is no truly correct answer. The best solution I feel is to just lament. And to pray. Not for speedy deliverance, but endurance and stamina. When the news and the world around us becomes saturated with loss, mourning, and despair . . . the best thing to do is cling to the Divine for the strength to endure. The Divine hears our laments, and while times may be grim, we have not been abandoned.

May you, beloved reader, find the balm that is our Lord God and in the Lord’s time may you be healed. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Holy Cross Day, 2019 Year C : Old Testament, Epistles, Gospel & Psalm Passages

The called and chosen people (or at least those whose descendants would come to be known as such) were complaining again. They did that lot. And frustrated with the complaints, the Divine allowed nature to invade the camp in the form of poisonous serpents. Fitting that the Hebrews (as they were known then) were spewing verbal poison. Creation tends to have that symmetry. Anyway, they complained and pleaded with their Lord God and the Divine relented. (Reminds me of what Jeremiah wrote about concerning the potter who reused what might have been a ruined pot.)

“And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” (Numbers 21:8 – 9)

It is Holy Cross Day today; a day when we consider what the cross has meant as an instrument of salvation. But what I am noticing about this passage this time around is that an image of their suffering was placed up on a pole. The bronze serpent was not causing the suffering but was an image and reminder of their suffering. In the same way Jesus on the Cross is an image and reminder suffering. Christ took on the sin – in some understandings of atonement theology. Jesus Christ did not cause the suffering but was a symbol and image for the relief from the suffering of sin. The pole was not empty, and the cross was not empty as a symbol of Christ’s and the Divine’s love and compassion for us.

I have always found the connection between the serpent on the pole and Jesus Christ on the cross to be an intriguing one. Holy Cross Day is a good time to explore what meanings and images the cross has meant.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-24)

It is interesting too that sometime the cross is imaged as being empty – meaning that Christ overcame death and obliterated the consequences of sin. Other times the cross has Jesus affixed on it, to continually remind us of what Jesus when through on our behalf. Of course, this is all atonement theology. I remember vividly some months back that I read an article in “The Mennonite” by a former college professor who questioned the Divine using a human sacrifice as an atonement. Did not think that would come up again in my thinking; but it did. Sort of collides with Holy Cross Day.

Paul says “he message about the cross is foolishness” so maybe I should set it aside. Yet, it is there in the story of Jesus Christ. The cross was many things in those times. Death by the cross was one of the most horrifying ways to die. And strictly speaking, Jesus did not chose it for himself. He accepted it as the consequence of being so outspoken against he officials (both civic and religious) of his day. And if the Divine is as all knowing and award, as the God-self is, then it was as it was meant to be. Mystifying, confusing, foolishness, wisdom that saved, well as the song goes, “even a wretch like me”.

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him
.” (John 3:13-17)

It was not Paul who made the connection between the snake on a stick and Jesus on the Christ. And it was, actually, a gospel writer who wrote specifically to establish the mysticism of Jesus Christ; the spiritual power and presence of the Divine made incarnate in flesh. So added to all the other aspects of the cross, now it is spiritual as well.

Maybe the best thing to do is simply accept into our own lives and faith what the cross brings. And praise the Divine for what it has meant to use and Christianity. May you, beloved reader, be enriched in your life by the symbols of faith that the Divine has given. Selah!

“O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.” ( Psalm 98:1-5)

 

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker reflect on Psalm 14

Seeker: “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” I once was a fool – I admit. I did not think God existed. And if there was a God, what that to me? I was not corrup. I did not do “abominable deeds”. I least I did not think they were. And I did try to do good. But it was shallow good, passing good. If it was convenient and easy for me “good.” Yes, that is how I was a fool. I did not think beyond my own self.
Preacher: There are good people. People who do good things, are compassionate and caring. The Lord God does look favorably on such people. Do not be so hard on yourself, Seeker. The psalmist is on the look out for people who are more “corrupt” and “abominable” than you. People who hoping, in vain, that there is no God so that there is no consequence to their evil. Because you realized your folly and repented of it, it is unlikely that anything you might have done would have been to the scale that the psalmist is describing.
Seeker: “The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.”
You are correct, Preacher. I did search my heart and I did see that at my core there was something missing. There was an emptiness inside me that nothing that was in my life at the time could fill. It was only when I acknowledged the Divine that the emptiness inside was filled. And when the emptiness went away, I knew there were other things inside of me – a careless attitude and disregard for others – that needed to be gone also. When love of God and love of humanity filled me, there was no room for anything else.
Preacher:
There is a very good stanza from a hymn, “I sought the Lord, and afterword I knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.” The Divine searched for you, and you did not ignore that call. Jesus himself said that the Good Shepherd will seek the lost sheep.
Seeker: “They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.”
But Preacher, how can this be true? How can the psalmist be so pessimistic?
Preacher: “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?”
Ah Seeker, you have not discerned the hidden intent of the psalmist; or more precisely, the wile of the psalmist. The psalmist is looking outward to the nations around and sees that those nations are not following God, as the Hebrews/Israelites were trying to. It is, sadly, an “us” versus “them” situation where the Hebrews of the psalmist’s generation are trying to live as their God lead them but they failed. And the fools, the evil ones, took it to mean that there was no God. That the failure of the Hebrews was believing in something that did not exist.
Seeker: “There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.”
You are correct that the psalmist is staging his remarks. It is interesting that while the Hebrews/Israelites are failing to live up to that the prophets expect of them, the nations around them take this as proof that there is no God.
Preacher: “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.”
Here is the proof then, Seeker. Having come to faith in the Lord God you are now part of the company of the deluded and afflicted who have supposedly weakened themselves because of their belief in the Divine. Your care and compassion, according to non-believers, has weakened you. And your apparent failure to live up to what your deity demands has caused your stature in the eyes of the wicked to suffer. But do you not see what this failed judgment on the part of the unbeliever reveals? He or she try to claim wisdom by not believing in a deity as you do. But they are the fools because, according to the psalmist, the Lord God exists and will judge them not only on their unbelief but on their treatment of those who do believe. “O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” (Psalm 14)
Seeker: It seems to be a two-pronged situation. The prophets chide the people for failing away from the Lord God, and the people of other nations fault them for their lack of devotion to Yahweh. Yet the people of those nations disavow any belief in the Hebrew God, and therefore are free to sin and do evil as they want.
Preacher: If the Hebrews have it tough, non-believers have it even tougher. This same idea and theme comes all the way down to Paul and his preaching. Now that Jesus Christ made professing belief in the Divine available to all, and the way to salvation and redemption a simple matter of belief, he could not see why anyone would deny or disavow it.
Seeker: Then I was a fool; that is, a fool to avoid believing. In my fallibility I may look weak and foolish to others, but if I keep my faith alive despite my missteps I may look like a fool to others, but I will be very wise!
Preacher: Careful there Seeker, you are starting to sound like Paul! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Jesus speak about the joy in heaven concerning salvation

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . . “ ( Luke 15:1 – 3)

When I have misplaced something, I am obsessive until I find it. It use to be that I would not rest, physically rest, until it was found. Now, in my comparative maturity, I “just” keeping turning over in my mind where the missing item might be. I have not found everything that I have ever lost, and I have realized that some things lost are not find-able. But overall, what I have lost I have found again. That goes for issues of faith as much as items of possession. But the losing and finding of a soul, that is different. And is really what these parables are about. The Divine having lost a soul created, and diligently working to have it return.

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The reason then that Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners is because you cannot regain a lost soul by being at a distance from it. You need to be there, close, nurturing when nurture is not really asked for. And caring is not really required from the recipient. But still, you keep the lines of communication open. That is one of the things I have always strived to do when I am in relationship with others – keeping the lines of communication open. Being human and fallible, I am not perfect at that. But I try with all the might and ability that the Divine has given me.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Verses 8 – 10)

And rejoicing . . . rejoicing when the lost is found – be it spiritual issues or items of possession. And, just as importantly . . . at least for issues of spirituality and faith, when a strained or broken relationship is restored. This too is what these parables are about. Rejoicing when the lost is found and the broken is made whole.

Beloved reader, may you hold tenderly and dearly the people and faith/spirituality issues that are within your circle. Selah!