Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Mothers and Sons – the gift they are to each other

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1 – 5)

It is my belief that in order to understand these first few verses of this passage, you have to have a visual, or at least a picture in your mind of what is going on. In short, Jesus’ mother is giving him “the look.” That “look” that mothers have when they are silently telling their children to shape up and fly right. Don’t think that because Jesus was/is divine he was immune to the look, or that his mother never used that persuasive device technique on him. Jesus may have protested that it was not the correct time, but when Jesus’ mother instructs the servants to do as Jesus tells them, and the next verse talks about what things Jesus used that were already there, you know “the look” worked.

“Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.” (Verses 6 – 8)

I don’t know what Jesus reason was that he did not want to show his “divine hand’ just yet. Maybe it was too public a place or he was concerned that the “miracle” that was needed in this situation was appropriate. But it is a mote point in any case; his mother convinced him that the time was here and now.

“When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I like it that at first it was unknown where the good wine came from. Consider, beloved reader, Jesus could have created inferior wine or mediocre wine, and no one would have thought twice. But he created superior wine, most excellent wine. Why I wonder? Was it because he could do no less? Or was it because he knew his mother expected the best out of him?

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (Verse 11)

Jesus “revealed his glory” not because the Lord God instructed him to, or that the need was life threatening, or because it revealed an aspect of the Divine. No, Jesus did it because his mother asked him to. Mary I am sure was well aware (by this time) that Jesus was the Son of the Divine. And that he had his own heaven-given agenda. But he was also her son. She had nurtured him and guided, and had a strong hand in creating who he was as a man. How do I know this? The Lord God would not have picked her out if she was not suited to this role.

Each family member in families has a special type of relationship within the family group; fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, parents/spouses, and siblings one to another. In choosing my title I did not mean to suggest that mothers and sons have a unique relationship set apart from the rest of the family. Each family member is a gift to the other family members. That is also true in the family of God, so please remember that. However this story gives us a unique view of Jesus and his mother. It functions on more than one level. And it is just a nice heartwarming story.

Beloved reader, may you find your home in the family of God. 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!

Holy Name of Jesus Day & New Year’s Day 2019: The Psalm Passage, the Epistle Passage, & the Old Testament Passage

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

I know that in light of some of my posts where I give voice to my discomfort at times with the psalms, it may seem odd that I am using the psalm passage designated for Holy Name of Jesus day. But I think is equally odd is that psalm that is written in praise of Jesus/the Lord God/the Divine’s name seems to make frequent mention of humanity. Does the psalmist mean that the Lord’s name is majestic because of what the Divine has done in creating humanity & nature? If that is so, maybe my latest posted position on the psalms is not so left/right field. (See The template for praising the Lord God for a discussion on the two main categories of praise psalms) The other reason this psalm does not grate on me is because there is not command or exhortation to praise – I can appreciate the psalmist sentiments without feeling like I am being pushed to my knees for a praise that I may not necessarily feel in my heart/soul/spirit.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

In the same way Paul is (gently) drawing our attention to an important piece of theology concerning the name of Jesus the Christ. It gives good evidence why Jesus the Christ’s name should be honored, but it gives the reader/listener room to respond in a way that is real and authentic for them. As I am pondering on this, I am coming to see where some psalms passages can be for me a little too much at times. It is good to praise the Lord God the Divine; and I am coming to believe that each person should do praise to the Lord God the Divine in a way that is genuine and true to them as a believer. A good resolution to have. Which reminds me, this day, January 1st has another name and other attributes. Ironically though, they share Psalm 8 as the psalms passage. Let us see what other passages the RCL has chosen for New Year’s Day.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 8)

What will you do in this new year beloved reader? What will you use your time for? In the past year, I am guessing, there have been times of doing, being, seeing, hearing and experiencing all that the writer of Ecclesiastes mentions. I would hope that some of the negative things you have not seen or heard of; but you probably have. I would fervently hoped that you have not done some of the negative things. May God’s mercy and forgiveness be with you if you have. And so in light of that, I ask again, what will you be doing this year?

“What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.( 9 – 13)

In light of this past year, I think a few more qualifications need to be set along side the writer of Ecclesiastes’ words. I could list them out . . . . but maybe it would be a good exercise and starting point for New Year’s resolutions if you did that yourself beloved reader. If you need a little guidance and parameters, I would refer you back to the passage of Philippians above. Consider obedience as Jesus the Christ exhibited it. And Jesus’ adherence to the spirit (Spirit) and intent of God’s commandments.

In summary beloved reader, may you have a blessed New Year; and as the year unfolds may you bring honor to the name of Jesus and your faith traditions. Selah!

Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – The Infant Jesus has visitors . . . of both actual and metaphorical meanings

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

I seem to forget each year what Epiphany is in the church year. So I look it up, and each year say, “Oh yes, I remember now!” And suddenly the designated passages make total sense! It is the Magi – the wise men – coming to find baby Jesus that represents the coming of Jesus to the Gentiles. In the ordinary world it means the realization or revelation or experience of a tremendous thing. (I will come back to that definition a little later.)

I want to note briefly in passing that this passage from Isaiah does not refer in its content to the birth of Jesus. In fact it is a message of hope and rescue for the people of Jerusalem. The Revised Common Lectionary puts it into service for the season of Epiphany. As you move through the verses, it seems to be applicable more and more to the baby Jesus, and the coming of the Magi.

I remember one year – don’t know if it was when I was a child or as an adult – I placed the wise men and the camels a good distance away from the nativity scene of Joseph, Mary, the sheep, and baby Jesus. Each day during Christmas I moved them a little closer until they arrived at the stable and the manger. I felt quite tickled with my plan. I think about that often. I think that is the reason also I take a long time to put away Christmas decorations, and leave until last the putting away of the nativity scene; the Magi were late to the Christmas “party” and I feel that the traditions of Christmas should reflect that. The twelve days of Christmas, actually, take into account the period of time between Jesus’ birth and the coming of the Magi.

Most of the time the Magi are ushered into the Christmas story relatively soon after Jesus was born. Some biblical literature reflects the idea that it was some days after the birth of Jesus that they arrived. And . . . some more modern literature poses the idea that it might not just been male Magi royalty.

I was introduced, some years ago, to a Epiphany poem entitled “The Queens Came Late”. It gives a different perspective, a feminist one, to the coming of Gentile royalty to the infant child. And through its inventive prose opens even wider the idea that Jesus came for all of humanity.

The Queens Came Late

The Queens came late, but the Queens were there
With gifts in their hands and crowns in their hair.
They’d come, these three, like the Kings, from far,
Following, yes, that guiding star.
They’d left their ladles, linens, looms,
Their children playing in nursery rooms,
And told their sitters:
“Take charge! For this
Is a marvelous sight we must not miss!”
The Queens came late, but not too late
To see the animals small and great,
Feathered and furred, domestic and wild,
Gathered to gaze at a mother and child.
And rather than frankincense and myrrh
And gold for the babe, they brought for her
Who held him, a homespun gown of blue,
And chicken soup–with noodles, too-
And a lingering, lasting, cradle-song.
The Queens came late and stayed not long,
For their thoughts already were straining far-
Past manger and mother and guiding star
And a child aglow as a morning sun-
Toward home and children and chores undone.

[-Norma Farber in When It Snowed That Night ]

Epiphany . . . an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation. [quoted from Wikipedia]

May you, beloved reader, discover new things and be open to new learning in this life . . . wherever you may find them. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: The Gospel Passage – The template for being a member of God’s family

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.” (Luke 2:41 – 43)

Bring yourself before the Lord often and regularly. Observe the important days in your faith journey but do not confine yourself to only festival and high holy days. Everyday is special when walking with the Lord.

“Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Verses 44 – 46)

Your place of learning faith & belief, worship, and meditation is your home – not your “home away from home” nor your second home, but your primary home. It is the place you journey out from and come back to.

“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.” (Verses 47 – 50)

Your faith journey is your own. There may be people who are also on a faith journey, and for a time you may travel with them, learn with them and learn from them – but your faith journey is your own and your Lord God the Divine will guide you.

“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Verses 51 – 52)

I was very pleased to see that this passage came soon after Christmas. We last saw Jesus as a new born baby in a manager, and glory and honor being according to him. But after the shepherds and the wise men, the escape to and return from Egypt Jesus, Mary, and Joseph settled down to build a live together. You can tell from the passage that large groups of people made regular journeys to Jerusalem; it was not just Jesus and his family. I imagine the events of Jesus’ birth faded into the background and Jesus was just a boy going up. It was events like this (apocryphal scripture has other stories of Jesus’ growing up years; but those are not as verifiable) that probably reminded Mary and Joseph that Jesus was not your “run of the mill” boy. Mary being a ponderer remembered these things and turned them over in her mind. I know how that goes. Day to day activities take up time and thought but in idle moments you think back over things and wonder what their place has in one’s life, and what place they should have in one’s life.

As to my comments interspersed amongst the verses, I wrote them with straight-forth intent. We talk about Jesus as our model and exemplar. The choices Jesus made in his life are choices we can make also. We may not be able to perform miracles as he did, but we can have an active faith life; attending worship services, studying scripture, praying, learning with and teaching others, caring for others, and seeking the Lord God are things we can do with the same devotion that Jesus had. It does not take special skill or abilities. It does, however,k take dedication to a faith-filled life. And a desire to be a child of God. As we move into this new lectionary year, may we chose well. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Keeping faith in the most authentic way

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” (Hebrews 10:5 – 6)

During the second week of Advent the scriptures for that week seemed (at least to me) to point to a group salvation and redemption. According to some of the prophets redemption would be because of Israel/Judah as a nation following Yahweh closely. Additionally redemption would come because of proper worship and sacrifice. When Jesus came he broke that mold and expectation – amongst others. In a sense though, Jesus did fill that very expectation – just not the way it was expected. Jesus called not a nation as a whole, but each individual person who would – with their fellow believers – form a new nation. And proper worship was not burnt offerings and sin offerings but a contrite and confessional spirit that desired to follow the Divine. And Jesus was the exemplar of this.

“Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Remember, beloved reader, that in Hebrews Paul was setting establishing the case for Jesus being the High Priest that endures for eternity and puts to rest the need for any other high priest. This is even more true if sacrifices and offerings placed on a physical altar are no longer necessary, or even desired. The only sacrifice now needed is for our to sacrifice our human will and follow God’s will. Which, when you think about it was probably the intent all along.

“And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verse 10)

We take a great deal on faith that Paul knew what he was talking about. I am not saying he was wrong. I may take issue with some of the ideas Paul had for proper worship in fellowship settings (think the place of women in worship services) but when it comes to knowing the heart of the Divine, Paul is on the right course. May we be as steadfast and devoted in our faith. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Gospel Passage – The Corporate Turns Personal

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” ( Luke 3:1-6)

Beloved reader, the faith that the Lord God Abraham to was never meant to be a group experience. If it was, the Lord God would have called to the town where Abraham lived, or where some other group lived. But the Lord God called Abraham, singular. Yes, Abraham brought his wife and some family members, but the Lord God talked to Abraham. Promised Abraham he would be the start of God’s nation. Not Abraham’s neighborhood, but Abraham singular. Isaac had an individual relationship with the Lord God. Jacob had an individual relationship with the Lord God. Joseph had an individual relationship with Lord God. Then the Lord God called out the chosen people from Egypt, but through an individual, Moses. And it was from that group of people that the group experience of having the Lord God started. Originally, however, it was the Divine connecting to individuals.

And when the Lord God determined to start again, the Divine chose an individual, John the Baptist. John the Baptist did not preach that the Jewish faith must repent, but each person must repent of their own sins. That is probably one of the reasons that John might not have been popular with the Jewish leaders. Take note that “the words of the prophet Isaiah” says “every” – every valley and every mountain and hill, that every [implied] crooked will be made straight and every [implied] rough way made smooth. And that all individual [implied] flesh shall see salvation. Salvation through an individual.

Paul, as you may remember from Hebrews went to great lengths to promote Jesus as the High Priest, superior to the group of high priests that the Jews/Israelites had. The Anabaptists (which is my professed faith belief) established the priesthood of all believers, meaning that each individual believer acts as their own intermediary, or more precisely every individual believer relates directly to/with the Divine and not through anyone else. I am not saying that the Anabaptist had everything right in their beliefs but on the topic of group faith versus individual faith, they rightly saw that the individual needs to establish their own relationship with the Lord God the Divine.

So, here we are coming to the end of the second week of Advent. It may seem like we have taken a circuitous route through corporate faith – maybe a journey that you might feel was not needed. But I felt it important to show you, beloved reader, that the coming of Advent is the coming of a “new” way of relating to the Divine, in comparison to how the Jewish people had previously seen faith. It may explain why for the Jews the birth of a Jesus was seen as a seemingly unimportant birth of an infant/individual. And because it was so new that it had to be heralded by, well, heralds from on high. But we will get to that in later weeks.

I started this week by focusing on the Old Testament where it talks about nations changing, the Israelite/Judahites nation, to be precise. I said it would not be accomplished by the nation itself but by the Lord God. Baruch said it would be the whole nation that were descendants of the called and chosen people. It could have been, if the entire Jewish nation recognized it as such. I believe part of the reason that the Jews as a corporate group did not recognize Jesus was because his ministry was a one-to-one relationship. Maybe if they had remembered their history better, ie individualized, they would have recognized Jesus as the individually oriented Messiah.

We celebrate Advent as a group, beloved reader, and earlier this week I exhorted to revel in that group experience. But is at its center Advent can and should be an individual experience. Because the baby Jesus was born for each one of us. And that was and is how nations are changed! Selah!