Thanksgiving Day: 2019 Year C – Giving Thanks . . . . Again!

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 3)

I knew, as I looked over these verses, they sounded very very familiar. And I knew I had ponder on and written about them not that long ago – relatively speaking. Factually, they are the same verses from Canadian Thanksgiving. And, as it always does, Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings evoke strong memories from my past and my childhood. Reading this verses in preparation for Nov 28th brought to mind the same thoughts and emotion that I talked about Oct 10th. I am not sure I can think any differently about them.

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Since I moved to the United States in 1980, thinking about Thanksgiving has become a prelude to thinking about and planning for Advent and Christmas. When my children were younger we would start planning and decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. When I started to write spiritual/faith blogs and commentaries Thanksgiving marked the time I started planning my Advent devotions. Furthermore, Thanksgiving became the signal to start shopping for Christmas. It is that very rush from one to the other that made me think back to the wonderful separateness that my Canadian upbringing schooled me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. How I miss the chance and ability to give separate focus to those two important holidays and celebrations that are not and should not be mirrors to one another.

The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The calendars rules though, and the Lectionary gives little help in making a large divide. Funny, I had never considered before the seeming favor that the Lectionary gives to the U.S. marking of time. When I lived in Canada it was never part of my experience to plan worship in any meaningful way. Maybe if I had, I could parse out the experience of having time between the two holidays.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Really, in the church year there are many occasions to give thanks to the Lord God the Divine. And it does not have to be a special occasion marked on the calendar; it can be an occasion marked in our hearts, spirits, and life experiences. The Divine, I believe, cares just as much about the occasions that may seem minor to others but are important to us. And I believe we should mark those occasions by special remembrances and of course thanksgiving. Whether those occasions are positive or negative, they are important because the Lord God is with us.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

After this day, Thanksgiving Day, we are poised to start Advent. We will be plunged into another season of waiting and rushing – both are part of the Advent/Christmas season. So let us pause and send up a pray of thanks for the occasions and blessing that have been given to us thus far, and what is yet to come. Selah!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A final story that talks about the end . . . before we start at the beginning again

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33)

My mind thinks back to some of Jesus’ disciples who said they wanted the places of honor on his right hand and left hand. Jesus said, to paraphrase, you don’t know what you are asking for and you could not bear it. I have read what people who are knowledgeable about such things have said what the experience of crucifixion would be like, and I am pretty sure I could not bear it physically either. But Jesus did bear it, and in a way that shows the grace and endurance that he had – imbued to him through the Lord God.

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” (Verses 34)

It was not just the physically suffering; it was the emotional and psychological torture as well.

“And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Verses 35 – 38)

Each of us, beloved reader, have our weak points. Aspects or traits that are vulnerable to scorn, ridicule or suffering. Being human Jesus might have had his own vulnerable points. But being Divine, maybe he did not. I would like to believe that he did. Not because I believe or want Jesus to be weak; it would comfort me, however, to know that Jesus understands when I feel weak and vulnerable. This might be something I come back to in the coming Lectionary Year. For now let us bookmark this pondering and move on in the story.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Verses 39 – 43)

Today, Jesus said; that very day this thief and criminal would be in heaven. Does that mean that Jesus went there before his resurrection? Possibly. But I think the point and understanding of this is that the criminal would be forgiven of his sins simply on the confession of belief in Jesus. Death, at least human death, was coming to all three of them within hours. Jesus had faith as to what would happen to him. He said as much to the criminal who asked to be remembered. And the criminal also had hope for his future beyond this life.

When you, beloved reader, are pressed beyond what you feel you can endure (and remember the professing criminal was suffering physically as much as Jesus), do you have hope for what the outcome will be?

We are coming soon to the season of Advent. A season that is typified by waiting in anticipation. There is “good” waiting, like waiting for Christmas. And “bad” waiting, like waiting for death. A lot depends on what is on the other side of the waiting. Think about that as you think about the men hanging on the left and right side of Jesus. Think too about where your hopes lie. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A remind of what we already have

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Colossians 1:11 – 12)

Normally I might question what is “the inheritance of the saints in the light” to discern whether that is applicable to me or to the times I find myself in. But I am too weary and worn to ask such questions. And too needful of what ever blessing and assurance that can be provided to ease my way. Of course I am curious; but what would it profit me to find out that Paul means salvation/forgiveness/redemption when that is not exactly where my weary and worn out feeling comes from. Better to assume that it is endurance and stamina to help me through. And the grace of the Divine to ease my way.

“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Then I read verses thirteen and fourteen, and I see that my first but undesired assumption is correct. Why oh why does Paul assume that is the greatest gift that can come from the Divine? I know it has a lot to do with Paul’s life when he was Saul. And weighed down by who/what he was before his Damascus road experience, I can understand that and sympathize. But that is not my situation nor my life. And it is a sadness to me that Paul cannot be the apostle I need. Maybe that is why I carried so much frustration during my young adult years, because Paul who was supposed to be the forefront and fore most of apostles . . . . was not for me.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Verses 15 – 20)

So setting aside my own needs and the lack of exhortation & support for my life, Paul is trying very hard to present Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the sum total of what the Lord God is. And that the Lord God through Jesus Christ sent to the world the ability to be reconciled to the Divine and remade to be acceptable to the Holy Lord. What Paul is offering and explaining is pretty awesome. Especially for those new in the faith. It is reassurance that while one may be pulled down by the weight of new faith and taking up a new way of life, that the Divine has provided the grace and opportunity to enter in this life without the weight of the past pulling us down. And that Jesus Christ is all that the Lord God us, presented to believers in a new and accessible way.

Furthermore, while Paul does not allude or expound on this much, it opens up the possibility of having a close relationship with the Divine through Jesus Christ. And since Jesus Christ is the Divine (I mean just re-read what Paul said if you have any doubts) if we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are automatically in relationship with the Divine. Now, if Jesus Christ and the Divine has done so much for us, is it too much to that that the Divine will support us in all aspects of our lives? Paul may put special emphasis on the redemption part, but that is not all that there is to the Lord God the Divine. So, resting in the assurance of the Lord God and Jesus Christ’s love for humanity – let us not hold back in setting forth all of our requests and petitions. Boldly tell the Divine what your deepest needs are, and be confident that the Lord God will undertake for you in all aspects of your daily life! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Counting down to new beginnings, and coming out of roughness in the past

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:1)

During Ordinary Time – which we are quickly running out of, this being Reign of Christ Sunday and the last Sunday before Advent – there are two sets of Old Testament and Psalm passages. But this Sunday both Old Testament passages are the same but differing Psalm (or Psalm equivalent) passages. And those two passages put two different focuses on the Old Testament passages, or single passage in this case. But, we have time before the road diverges. And I digress, so I must gather my thinking together for the situation at hand.

The unity that was once the Hebrew people has been divided. No longer Hebrews that had journeyed through the desert but Israelites, and then Israelites and Judahites. And then those in captivity and those who were left behind in the pillaged and deserted cities. Within those groups were also those who supported one ruler or another – yes beloved reader, the “shepherds” are not the prophets or religious leaders, but the civil leaders who set there own agendas and desires in being kings and rulers. Perhaps even the conquerors who took captive some of the called and chosen people of God.

Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.” (Verse 2)

Now remember, beloved reader, this is not directed at those evil and careless “shepherds” but readers/listeners of Jeremiah’s words and prophecies. They are to hear that their fate is not their fault but the fault of their leaders who were remiss. Mayhap it stirred their hearts and supported their hopes that better times were coming. Indeed, if we read on this is true.

“Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.” (Verses 3 – 4)

We too can take comfort in this. How you ask? Read on, and remember the season that is just at the next turn of the calendar page.

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Good news is it not? However, it raises a question in my mind. A question that I bring out and hang up as surely as I hang up Advent and Christmas decorations. Was Jeremiah speaking of the Messiah? And if so, the Messiah of the sort that the Israelites & Judahites/Jews were expecting? Or the sort of Messiah that actually did come? One the other hand, was this “Righteous Branch” another leader who Jeremiah hoped would reunite the called and chosen people of God? There is a shift, beloved reader, between verses four and five wherein the commentators switch from defining the shepherds raised as human men such as Ezra and Nehemiah to defining the “Righteous Branch” for David as the Messiah.

I concede the fact that the language does shift from shepherds who tend to the people’s wants and needs to the Righteous Lord. For many years I separated out what is simple pinning hopes on the future and what is true prophecy of the Divine coming to earth. I also separated out what was the expected image of the Messiah and what was the actual Lord God Jesus Christ. Those who have read me over the years may remember that little soap box. I think this year I will leave in stored away.

What I am keenly aware of is that whether or not human writers knew what was coming, the Divine did know. Whenever tough times are experienced, there is always a glimmer of hope that things will get better. That something, or someone, better will come along. And that we may not have to wait too long.

May you, beloved reader, tight to hope for the future and may you have endurance for your present. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How good believers will praise and give thanks when the good news comes to pass

The consequence of using both Old Testament passages is that you have to consider both passages are the accompanying psalm passages. The Isaiah passage actually has another Isaiah passage that it is matched to. But the passage from Malachi is matched to a passage from the book of Psalms.

Malachi, if you remember, promised retribution for those who arrogant and evildoers. But those who are true believers will bask in sunlight and righteousness. The Psalm passage echoes those happy promises, and gives instructions on how to celebrate.

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.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98)

The Isaiah passage, Isaiah 65, also held promises of the blessings and new living conditions that true believers will enjoy. And the Isaiah passage that is matched to it also has instructions for returning thanks.

You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12)

I did question as to just when these wonderful would come to pass. And while I did not pose the question then, I pose it now – how long will those good things last? A careful read (or even a casual read) of the Old Testament shows that the Israelites and Judahites did not bask in the glorious living conditions for long, if their living conditions rose to fulfill the promises that Malachi and Isaiah listed. If we followed logical reasoning, why would we/one praise God for a way of life that has not come about? The short answer is – one wouldn’t.

The longer answer is that the life and way of life the prophets Malachi and Isaiah were predicting come not in this life that we know, but in the life to come. I know – that is sort of a sobering fact. But then, if we do not expect this world to be the “heaven on earth” that was written about, it makes us (or at least me and those who think like me) grit our teeth and settle ourselves to live as best and most perfectly that we can in anticipation and hope for the world to come. Because what the Old Testament prophesies do not make clear enough is that we are not alone in the world. Or at least not in the world post Jesus Christ the Messiah.

As some of you may know and/or remember, I am a survivor skin cancer. I also have a host of other diagnoses that could give pause. Even I ask myself from time to time, how can I survive and endure all of this? If it was just me, on my own, I could not. But from a very young age I have commended my life and living over to the Divine. It is not me that is able to withstand all of it, but the Lord God with me. What I have to endure now, I will not have to endure forever. And what I have endured has brought me closer to the Lord God and has strengthened my relationship to the Divine. The good news is that I am not alone in my struggle. The better news is that some day the struggle will be over and I will be with my Lord God. I praise the Lord God now . . . . for what will come in the future.

May you, beloved reader, hold firm to the good news that the Divine has given to you. And may you praise in this world for what will surely come in the world that follows. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Still a Different Type of News for Good Believers

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:5 – 9)

End times – we have talked about them a great deal, beloved reader. But we have not come to any firm conclusions. Which actually, Jesus is telling the crowd not to. When they think the end is near, or if someone proclaims that he or some event foretells the end, do not believe it. All the terrible things, and all the terrible people, that have come about have not signaled the end.

“Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is true that all of this, and more has happened. But actually these words and warnings were not the future that was in store for the disciples and apostles. It actually makes me wonder what the writer of the gospel of Luke was thinking this meant. What the writer of Luke said next was a much more appropriate prediction for the people Jesus was talking to.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Verses 12 – 19)

It seems to me that much is made of the first section of this passage – the portents of gloom and doom – and not much is made of the second portion. We who live in this modern society know that many of the disciples were persecuted for their faith, and some put to death. When the walls of the temple came down, many of the believers had left Jerusalem because of the persecution. And since we who live now (for the most part) are not persecuted in the way the disciples, apostles, and believers were – we tend to focus in on the signs and portents. But what if, across the ages, the prediction still holds true? That before the end of this age we who believer are arrested and persecuted. And that we will have opportunity (if it can be called that) to testify to our faith. Consider for a moment, beloved reader, how the perception of Christianity has changed over the past few decades. That actually makes me quake and shiver more than “wars and insurrections.” Let me hasten to say that does not mean wars and violence against others does not bother me – it does! In the same way the “wars” against Christians and Christianity also bothers me; I am jostled and unnerved by both equally. The only comfort I feel is in Jesus’ promise that nothing that is essential in/of me and my faith will be harmed. And that I may well have opportunities to prove myself.

Is this “good news”? Well, may be not so much on the face of it. I encourage you though to dwell with. Consider also that if the temple in the time of Jesus was beautiful yet was destroyed maybe to the “shining institution” of Christianity may be knocked around also. Put not your faith in the beauty that comes from “beautiful stones and gifts”, but in the unshakable foundation of believe and faith that Jesus Christ established. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Different Type of News for Good Believers

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” (II Thessalonians 3:6)

I wonder, beloved reader, if you reaction to this verse was the same as mine. How is Paul defining “idleness” and “not according to the tradition now.” Paul had/has very set ideas of how Christians should live, and his instructions could conceivably cover any and every aspect and facet of life. And I have to admit . . . . it sometimes takes a little bit of bravery to read what type instruction and guidance he is giving.

“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I did breath a sigh of relief when I read verses 7 to 9; Paul was not talking about faith issues but practical lifestyle issues – which do touch a bit on faith. But more on the character of a good authentic Christian. This example and model of Christianity and Christian evangelizing is one that many faith traditions have adapted. Missionaries are much more effective when they live side by side the people they are sent to, and can be seen working as hard as the potential converts. Non-missionary Christians too model faith much more effectively when work as hard as people who have not yet, but may someday espouse faith.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Do you remember beloved reader, when the early Christian church was quite young, believers would sell their possessions and pool their resources giving to those who had little or none? I have to wonder if this situation is the trickle down from that initiative. It is a strong tenet of faith that Christians in committed faith circles help one another. What is not often spoken of is that some take advantage of that; and that some believers think that there should be a limit to the help that is given. It is a tricky thing, beloved reader, to draw up guidelines that govern Christian help and stewardship.

Our modern society has mixed opinions on social welfare programs; in fact I have a great deal of reluctance to start naming the different programs and social services that are available for fear of touching off debate and divisiveness. And, it strays into the realm of politics. So I am going to end my remarks here. Paul was very brave wading into the arena of life. All I will say is that I hope and pray that all your needs are met, and that you are making your way in the world without overwhelming hardship. Shalom!