First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – The Might and Power that the Lord God the Divine is . . . . and other things

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” (Psalm 29: 1-5)

[Yes, it is a psalm passage; and I still at times struggle with them.]

I am not into “power”, “authority”, and “might” much these days. Maybe the psalmist felt invigorated by thinking of the power of the Lord God. Me, I just feel drained. I know the Lord is all of these things . . . . . and more. But that is not what I am looking for and needing these days.

“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!” (Verses 6 – 9)

If that is an aspect of the Lord God that stirs your blood and causes you to break forth into worship and praise . . . . do so! Some find it, as I said, invigorating that the Lord God is mighty and active in the world. Some find it comforting that the Lord God is in control of nature and that nature accedes to the Lord’s commands.

“The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” (Verse 10)

The people of Israel and Judah back in the time of Samuel wanted a king that ruled with power, authority, and might. Saul was that sort of king. David was that sort of king. David’s son Solomon was a little different but was mighty and powerful in his own way. So it makes sense that the psalmist would image a Yahweh that was such a Ruler.

As for me these days, it is only in the last verse that the psalmist paints an image of the Divine that resonates with me.

“May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Verse 11)

What I need is strength to endure what is in my life now. Not divine/Divine almighty strength – just human strength, endurance and fortitude. And peace. Most definitely peace. The Lord God is that too! Selah!

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First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Gospel Passage – The Naming of Jesus by John the Baptist and the Lord God the Divine

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15-17)

As I sit here and ponder this passage (I am moving slowly this evening) I have to wonder how John the Baptist knew these things? As the one who prepared the way, he would have realized that Jesus the Messiah was greater and that he, John, was lessor – so we can set that aside. But how would he have known that Jesus would at some point baptize with the Holy Spirit, and with fire? How would he know that at some point the Lord God would gather up the believers, but dispense the unbelievers? There are two ways (well, maybe three ways) this could be explained. One, the Lord God the Divine could have told John as a part of the total message he was to preach. Two, John and Jesus could have had conversation together as each was preparing for their ministry. Or three, the writer of the gospel of Luke placed this preaching in John’s mouth.

Any one of the three does not diminish the message. If God the sender of Jesus told him, it gives strength to John’s message. If Jesus told him, it means that John was indeed a very vital part of Jesus’ ministry. And if the gospel writer “imbued” John with this message, it is because it became very apparent through the course of Jesus’ ministry. Of course, we could chalk that up to the gospel writer’s perspective of what Jesus was about. But that is true of any of the gospels, and it has been considered before that each gospel gives a slightly different perspective of the Messiah.

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Verses 21 – 22)

I thought some more about this passage, or more precisely these last two verses. And I am struck by the fact that this occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In the other gospels where Jesus’ baptism is told of, this blessing happens at the time of the baptism; sometimes with a dove and sometimes with a loud voice – here we have both. We could take this to mean that Jesus requesting baptism is the act that the Lord God is proud of. But after pondering I am more inclined to think it is a blessing on Jesus’ entire ministry. Some of the broad stroke details of Jesus’ ministry have been given by John the Baptist; might not those details be accurate and it is also that which the Lord God is proud of?

And what of us? Are we making the Lord God proud? Consider that, beloved reader. Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle Passage – Naming gifts and blessings that are bestowed by the Lord God the Divine

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

It seems like a straightforward passage. The people who were preached to in Samaria believed and professed faith in Jesus the Messiah. In order to assure them of full faith that would not be shaken, Peter and John when down (Samaria being south of Jerusalem) to pray with them and lay hands on them. But what does it mean to “receive the Holy Spirit” as opposed to being baptized in “the name of Lord Jesus.” All Christian believers at some point are baptized as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (as opposed to the apostle/disciple John). My favorite biblical commentator Albert Barnes says it was not conversion because this happened upon profession of belief. It was not sanctification because (he says) this is progressive work. It was not then salvation, redemption, or forgiveness of sin. Or a changing in the way one lives their life. Barnes says it was “those “extraordinary” influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel – the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc.” In other words, it was something outside of what most of us experience in our Christian faith. Or is it?

In the New Testament people saw evidence of the Holy Spirit by “signs and wonders” that were tangible – speaking in a language that was not known by others, someone getting better/healthier/healed when traditional understanding said they should still be sick, or other anomalies to ordinary life. As Christian faith progressed (or became the experience of a larger part of the population) this understanding changed. It came to be more inner signs than outer manifestations. Think Desert Fathers/Mothers who lived different lives apart from settled areas; people who exhibited extraordinary faith and compassion; people who gave up comfort and wealth for service to others. We all can probably think of believers in our faith circle who just seem to live an authentic Christian life, and whose faith seems to never be shaken. This too is the baptism of the Holy Spirit – biblical commentator Barnes notwithstanding.

You, beloved reader, may have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It is an inner realization. And if you do not think you have, pray that you might be. And then see what new blessings arise in your life! Selah!

Baptism of the Lord: Old Testament Passage – When the Light has been created, step into it

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”(Genesis 1:1-5)

When I looked over the scripture activity for this lectionary week, I saw that it was going to be a busy week. Holy Name of Jesus day, New Year’s Day, the regular 4 scripture readings supporting the baptism of the Lord, and then the Epiphany of the Lord – all distinct times of the church year and all with their scripture passages, although some overlap. What ended up happening was that I would be writing nearly every day. A rather ambitious schedule compared to the four days I usually write. The other thing I noticed is that they all seem to point to the divinity of Jesus, and God’s recognition of that divinity of whom the Divine calls “my son.” I will speak about that later yet in the week.

Today we are presented with God as Creator, and the scripture passage takes us to near the beginning of creation, the creation of light and dark. It seems rather symbolic to me that in Christ we have the movement from darkness to light. I will speak more to that passage too, later on in the week. What I want to say here is simply – when Light is created, step into it. Jesus’ presence among humanity was significant and meant something important. From his birth (Holy Name of Jesus day and Epiphany) through to his baptism (sometimes Epiphany and this week where we consider the baptism of Jesus ) the Messiah separated out from the rest of humanity as being distinct. And we who recognize that distinction should move toward the Light that is given to us. I think that is all I have to say for today. Blessings to you beloved reader! Selah!

Baptism of the Lord: Gospel Passage – A small glimpse of the Spirit that is to come

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 1:4 – 6)

John the Baptist was not what we would normally think an evangelist would look like, at least not a modern day one. But even the people of his own time were surprised at his appearance. He did not have the polished looks of an orator. He was “rough-hewn” and did not pay much attention to his looks. His mind and attention were on something else entirely.

“He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

John the Baptist makes a stark contrast between himself and Jesus. It would probably be a pretty accurate guess that Jesus did not look like John the Baptist. Some scriptures (and especially those in the gospels) remark on the fact that Jesus looked like other men. But there was a distinct and definite difference.

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Verses 9 – 11)

The listeners of John the Baptist should not have been surprised at this, if they were paying heed to what John was saying. To bless with the Holy Spirit you need to in tune with the Holy Spirit. Now, modern believers can bless with the Spirit because the Spirit was made available to us through Jesus AFTER the resurrection. But in these “before” days the movement and presence of the Spirit was less common and not very accessible. We know, however, that would change. But during that time the Spirit was restricted to just a certain few. And the baptism of the Spirit was still quite a time away!

Baptism of the Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany – The Gospel Passage: A Pat on the Head, so to speak

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)

This is part of the “after Epiphany” part, where Jesus’ ministry is starting but has already been alluded to as being for both Jew and Gentile. Jesus’ ministry would turn many things topsy-turvey, but at least for right now it is being done “properly” where the “evangelist” baptizes all comers. At some point further down the road of ministry Jesus will baptizes his followers with the more powerful baptism that John the Baptist points to in one telling of this story.

“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)

We all want that. Being told that we are the Lord’s beloved and that God is well pleased with us. It has motivated many a Christian. Another one is, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Not the same fanfare as a dove, but not bad. I like to believe that God whispers the same thing to us, again without the dove – although I have nothing against doves. What I mean is that God shows us in many ways we are the Lord’s beloved and that the Lord is well pleased with us. After my yesterday, that’s a good thing to keep in mind as I end my day. Shalom!

Baptism of the Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany – The Old Testament Passage – Moving Forward

I don’t know if I can do this – move on. The day I wrote this I suffered a pretty traumatic loss – loss of property and things. But a loss that has shaken me a great deal. I don’t know if I can move on, take in this loss and move forward.

According to the calendar, the Epiphany of the Lord – when the Wise Men came which is the revelation of God’s son in the human Jesus Christ, and  signals Jesus’ salvation to the Gentiles – happens later this week (January 6th). And the first Sunday after Epiphany (January 8th) the focus is on Jesus’ baptism. So in a sense, we are getting a little met ahead of ourselves. Here I am commenting on scriptures (Jesus’ baptism) that are to be considered after the Epiphany but I am doing so before the Epiphany. It is making me feel more than a little muddled. But what is true for posting things is true for my self of loss – I have to move on. Not sure how though.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)

Isaiah is always a good book to go to when one is feeling lost and bereft. The writer of Isaiah seems to know about loss, suffering, but also how to look to God in times of trouble and grieving. So when I saw an Isaiah passage for the Baptism of the Lord, I felt like it was something I would have something to say about. There is also one for the Epiphany of the Lord, but it did not resonate as well. I may come back to it, or I may choose others passages for the Epiphany.

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 5 – 9)

Maybe not the comfort that speaks to this situation, exactly. And it does seem to speak more about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in his ministry than it does then me. But when you feel lost and bereft you take what you can get, and when you can get it. Certainly there would be other passages that speak about what I am feeling inside. But you know, part of moving on is knowing what is the NOW will not be what is the future. Days will pass, and I will start to rebuild and reclaim what was lost.

But don’t ask me how; I don’t have that figured out yet. What I do know is that by the time you read this, beloved reader, I will have moved on somehow. And I know I am not alone. Even now I have gathered friends and family around me to help. I have used the contacts and tools I used last time this happened. (Yes, this has happened before on a smaller scale. It is a consequence of living in a fallen and broken world.)

I think that is all I have to say. It has taken all I have to comment today, and to say this much. I covet your prayers, beloved reader, even if it is after the fact. I pray that when the times comes that you read this, I will be starting to heal from this. May you, beloved reader, heal from that hurts that have carried over into the New Year. Selah!