Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Gospel Passage – Knowing who the Messiah is and following him

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29 – 34)

Have you ever seen someone when out and about, and said to yourself, “I think I know that person but I cannot place them right now!” That happened to me the other day – say someone I knew I knew, but could not place where I knew them from because I saw them in a different/unexpected spot – if that makes sense. I could have asked, but did not want to embarrass myself.

John probably knew or knew of Jesus, since John’s mother and Jesus’ mother were cousins. And this being the gospel of John that has a strong theme of Jesus’ mysticism, the writer of the gospel of John is not going to “muddy the waters” with family relationships. We are told in the gospel of Matthew that John knew Jesus and tried to persuade Jesus that he should baptize John, but Jesus demurred and had John baptize him. But the dove, and the voice?! That was completely unexpected.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” (Verses 35 – 39)

So, you recognize someone in the crowd and you realize this is an important moment. In that moment you have two choices; to let the moment pass, or to seize upon the opportunity and find out where it leads. Follow Jesus and/or the path of Jesus can be like that. You can step forward or you can step back. There have been times in my life when I have seen or felt the Divine call me forward. It is been a rare time when I have not “stepped forward” and the times I did, I have regretted it.

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” (Verses 39 – 42)

It has not always been the Divine that I have seen; sometimes it is a path that is laid in front of me, and I have been beckoned to follow it. It is sometimes hard, very hard, to know what the good thing is to do and the correct path to follow. And I am pretty sure there is not just one correct path or option. That is, if there are two paths or two ways to go and each seems as good as the other – then if you chose one over the other, that does not mean that all is lost. In fact you may find, in looking back, that one path or the other path were equally good and valid.

When however the decision is critical, then you should take time to discern what is best. And even if you make a poor choice, the Divine will work with you and that choice. You are NEVER outside of the Lord God’s plan if your aim is to follow the Godly path. I could say more, but . . . . I digress.

Supposing for instance that Andrew did not bring his brother to Jesus. Peter was destined to be part of Jesus’ ministry, and I am confident that somehow or another that meeting would have happened. Consider Saul who became Paul; you would have thought from the beginning of his story he was never going to meet the Divine. But actually he was on a direct collision course with the Divine!

When you turn over your life to the Lord, you may find your life is opened to learning and opportunities. Opportunities to follow the Lord God and become in an ever deepening relationship. And, beloved reader, if your destiny is tied in with the Divine’s, you will not escape it easily! Praise the Lord, and Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Old Testament Passage – Knowing who the Messiah is and what the Sent Servant is all about

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isaiah 49:1 – 3)

I have real problems with some portions of Isaiah; or more accurately how commentators interpret and explain portions of Isaiah. Every where I turn, seeking illumination of these passages, what I find are theories and redirection that applies what the writer of the book of Isaiah wrote to what the Messiah might say, and then try to explain why it sounds so strange – that is, why it does not sound like the Messiah that is talked about in the New Testament.

“But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”(Verse 4)

Such as this verse, where it seems that Jesus is bemoaning the fact that he had so little luck persuading the Jews that he was the chosen Messiah. The commentators on mass seem to have contrived to create a rationale for why the writer of the book of Isaiah is accurate in the words he puts into the Sent Servant of the Divine:

“This is to be regarded as the language of the Messiah when his ministry would be attended with comparatively little success; and when in view of that fact, he would commit himself to God, and resolve to extend his gospel to other nations. The expression used here is not to be taken absolutely, as if he had no success in his work, but it means that he had comparatively no success; he was not received and welcomed by the united people; he was rejected and despised by them as a whole.”

It just grates on me, beloved reader. It just grates on me! I think what grates the most is that so many of the prophecies of the Messiah come with a perceptive and bias that is part of the writer’s/prophet’s own life and experience. When the Divine says the Godself will do a new thing, you cannot base that on anything that anyone has experienced thus far.

“And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Verses 5 – 6)

And yet there seems to be a logic to it; either it is concerning the Messiah as he was revealed to the Jews in and about Galilee/Nazareth, or the writer of the book of Isaiah is speaking of someone whose life and career will be likened to a savior and redeemer. It is said that the book of Isaiah had great importance amongst the Jews (who started out as Israelites) and that they pointed to it as informative of their faith. If that is so, why did they (who the writer of the book of Isaiah said who would ignore the Messiah) end up ignoring the Messiah after all? Surely if in the time of Jesus they had heeded what the collection of Isaiah’s writings said they would would have said to one another, “this fellow Jesus reminds me of what good old Isaiah wrote about!”

“Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Verse 7)

I dearly wish I could talk to the prophets both major and minor, and find out what it was like writing the books that we find in the Holy Bible. I am talking about everyone from the writer of Genesis up to and including the writer of the book of Revelation. I know though that time is far off. And until that time/day I struggle with unraveling the mysterious of scripture; not only what is in the book we call the Bible but all that was written about the monotheistic faith that centers on the Deity we call the Lord God. I wonder too about other Deities of other faith traditions, but it occurs to me that in my life I will only have the time, energy, and ability to study One. Shalom & Selah!

Holy Name of Jesus Day 2020, Year A: Old Testament, Gospel & Epistle Passages – Naming Names

Today, January 1st, does double duty. Not only as New Year’s Day, but as the Holy Name of Jesus Day.

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:22 – 26)

Also today, just a short while ago, I talked about the world going awry because of technology and science leading us from our spiritual roots and learning, and the need to be more attentive to to the needs of others. I said that there are many who are caring and compassionate but who do not necessarily espouse a faith tradition grounded in Christianity. I referenced the passage in Matthew about the sheep who helped and the goats who offered no assistance. The sheep are not necessarily Christians and the goats are not necessarily non-believers. However, today we are also specifically referencing the importance of knowing and honoring the name of Jesus.

“So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Verse 27)

Notice though that it is Aaron and his sons that place the name on them. I talk about the called and chosen people often. That means that Yahweh put the Divine’s name on them and instructed them how to live. They did not always do well at it – at times not well at all! The Divine still calls and chooses people; I firmly believe that. But it may also mean that they have not realized they have been called out.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:15 – 19)

There is a Christmas song that I am hearing more and more this season; it is called “Mary, did you know?” The lyrics ask Jesus’ mother if she knew the full story and impact that her infant son would have on the world. And as the lyrics between entwined in my thinking, I have come to the conclusion that Mary did not know. But, do not fault her for that. Many people still do not know the impact that Jesus had during his ministry, life, death, and resurrection.

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Verses 20 – 21)

I feel that I have given you a great deal to ponder, beloved reader, in my two postings for this day. I did a lot of pondering myself as I wrote this. Let me close with what Paul said in the letter to the Philippians. And I wished for you that you would see the hope you believe in, I would also wish that you would see clearly Christ Jesus who was sent by the Divine, making sure that your actions (how ever you name yourself) will bring honor and glory to the Name of the Divine. Selah!

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)

Christmas Season 2019, Year A: The Psalm Passage – Reassurance comes!

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.” (Psalm 98:1 – 3)

Reassurance comes, many times, when we recognize what the Lord God has done for us. Just today (that is the day I wrote this, and not Christmas Day) I received reassurance from the Divine that despite the problems and worries that are before me, I am cared for. It was a very good feeling. The psalmist must have seen something too that reassured him that the Lord God was ever present and involved in the lives of the called and chosen people.

“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.” (Verses 3 – 9)

At Christmas time bells and other musical instruments are used to lift up praise to the Lord God. Even in some of the more “quiet” and traditional faith/worship circles, Christmas is the time of year when joyful sounds are welcomed and encouraged. I remember from my childhood going to Christmas concerts and being overwhelmed with the music and accompaniment. The worship circle of my childhood relied mostly on the sounds of the singing voices in the congregation, and not all were accomplished singers! But praise is praise! So lift up whatever instruments and talents you have, and praise the Lord God! And spread joyful reassurance to all who will offer their ears, hearts, and spirits! Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas 2019, Year A: The Psalm Passage – Singing of joy and reassurance

As I said on an earlier day, the days of this week must do double duty. But, Christmas Day is a good day to set aside time to praise. So let us praise further!

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!” (Psalm 148:1 – 4)

I told you yesterday, beloved reader, the story of Jesus birth and the shepherds who came to worship the baby Jesus at the behest of the angelic choirs. I like to think that their song books were much like the praise psalms that the psalmist wrote. Who knows, maybe the psalmist was inspired by angelic choirs and choruses that the Divine placed in his heart.

“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 5 – 10)

I am reminded of the verses from the song “Joy to the world” where is sings “Let heaven and nature sing”. I have long thought that “Joy to the world” is a song that could be applied to other parts of the church year.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verses 11 – 14)

Strictly speaking, the Lord God only came once; and in the form of a Son Jesus Christ. But . . . in a way, the Lord God comes to the called and chosen people quite often. Every call and choosing is like the Lord God coming to each individual person, and at a time when that person may most need the Divine. It is Divine reassurance that the Lord God comes when we call upon the Holy Presence. It is no less a thing when the Lord comes through the Presence of the Holy Spirit than when Jesus came to earth as a baby.

May you, beloved reader, this day celebrate the reassurance of the Lord God coming to the world whenever, wherever, and how ever the Divine is needed! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Third Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Joy comes in fulfilling the role the Divine has set for you

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2 – 6)

I have read this passage many times, each time I come away with a different thought and perspective. In thinking also about the passage from Isaiah where it talks about things will come to pass, John the Baptist must have been familiar with such passages. In answering John’s question the way he did, Jesus must have also assumed that John was familiar with such passages. In a way, Jesus is saying “yes, I am the one all of creation has been waiting for.”

I remember also that Jesus and John were kin to each other, and as children growing up they may have played together. Mayhap that childhood relationship might have formed a bond between the two men. Or maybe John wanted to be very sure that his childhood friend was also the Son of the Lord God that John had dedicated his life to. I like to think that John, being so answered, was ready to accept what his chosen way of life would result in.

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ “ (Verses 7 – 10)

I like to think too that Jesus believed strongly in John – not just as the messenger who “prepared his way” but as the kin who believed in him long before either one of them had taken up their adult roles. Jesus’ further comments, in my mind, reveals an admiration and compassion of John that speaks of “family ties.” And yet, and yet . . . . this familial relationship might have made John unsure, at first, of whether Jesus truly was more than “human.” If John had known Jesus as family, could he make that leap to believing in Jesus as the Messiah? He preached about the one who was coming that was greater than he (John). But could and did John reconcile the person he knew as Jesus and the Messiah who he was preparing the way for and prophesying about? Maybe it was this uncertainty that lead Jesus to say what he did.

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Verse 11)

When we, beloved reader, believe in and take on the role that the Lord God has given us, we are inheritors of great joy. We also can be inheritors of great burden and responsibility. John talked himself into the prison cell of Herod, and death. Jesus, in a way, did the same thing. As did many of the disciples. You may ask, this is joy? Yes, actually it is.

It is often during high seasons of the church year that people may be called into greater roles in the life of the church and in their faith life. Such seasons turn our thinking to faith and spirituality. The traditions of the church year and our faith circle can potentially do the same. I would not think to “warn” you of this beloved reader. Instead I would like to prepare you, and even encourage you!

Also, when tough times come our way, and we question our faith, that is the time we can step forward and reassert our beliefs. And delve further into relationship with the Divine. May you, beloved reader, be lead even deeper in your faith life. May you answer the call. And may the greatness in you be revealed! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Hope also comes from straight talk and a correction in living

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:1 – 4)

John the Baptist was, in some ways, a throwback to the older prophets who went their own path. Unique and controversial. But speaking truth without hesitation. I can imagine in a society that was strictly ruled by civil and religious authorities, it was refreshing to see someone through conventionality aside.

“Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Verses 5 – 9)

More straight talk; remember that Abraham and Sarah had a child well beyond the years that children are expected, and only through the blessing of the Lord God. It was God’s Divine ability and will that Isaac was conceived and born. But that does not mean that the descendants of Abraham are sheltered and protected, and more worthy of special treatment. “Mere” existence does not warrant salvation; it is entering into a relationship with the Divine and confessing one’s faults and failing that leads to repentance.

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 10 – 13)

I reminded of the prophets major and minor again, who railed against the disobedience of the people and their wandering away from faithful worship. That John the Baptist was fiery is an understatement. John burned with a blaze that burst upon the season; then Jesus came to show what that better way of living was like. You know, it is kind of like treatment for some types of injuries – first use heat (John) when the injury is fresh, and that use cool to heal the wound.

May you, beloved reader, be convicted by the “heat” of the consequences of sin; then be soothed by the cooling refreshing new way of living. Selah!

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!