Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Finding the correct way to move forward in one’s faith and spiritual life

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” ( Luke 10:38-42)

I have trouble with this passage, beloved reader. Trouble that started in my childhood and followed me in adulthood and into seminary. It was one of the conundrums that seminary did not relieve. In fact, because of a seminary professor who did not have an understanding of how women might feel entering ministry, it only got worse. I had suggested in a commentary I wrote that perhaps Martha and Mary could find a have way point; offering care and hospitality while also paying attention to the teaching and instruction that was given. “No”, my seminary professor said, “that is not the proper way to interpret this passage.” And because he so “shut me down” I don’t remember what his “correction” was.

One might say “of course it is more important to listen to preaching/teaching than fix a meal or wash clothes.” But I would warrant, beloved reader, that is because someone else is offering hospitality! And this type of attitude shuts out many women (and perhaps some men) whose gift, strength, and calling is hospitality. I know of legions and generations of good Christian women who felt their place was in the kitchen and in the laundry room. It is where they served. Furthermore the biblical commentators make it very clear that Martha was in the wrong and Mary was in the right. Finally, at the time I was just wrapping my brain around the concept that not only could I be a “Mary” but that I could pass on the instruction and guidance I had been given – that I could learn well enough to teach others. (It felt good to get that all out! Been waiting about 20 years to be able to articulate that!!)

As I so often ask, however, where do we go from here? What does it mean for us? First, remember what Paul said about different roles in the church and ministry. Second, understand that maybe Jesus had an insight into Martha’s thinking that explains this incident. Third, remember that Jesus said his “burden” is light and his “yoke” is easy – that we should not worry some much about earthly daily things. And fourth, be aware of what Jesus is calling you to. Jesus may have called upon Martha as much as he did Mary – that is, inviting them to sit and listen to what he had to say.

May you, beloved reader, sit to listen, ponder, meditate and learn more than you run around “worried and distracted by many things.” Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Paul raises the alarm to not back track to a sinful previous time

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.” (Colossians 1:15 – 20)

Paul is on a roll, beloved reader. The “He” of verse fifteen is Jesus; in verse fourteen Paul moved from taking about the Lord God to talking about the Son of God “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Verse 14b) In most of Paul’s letters if you haven’t read what his discourse was several verses back, it is hard to know what/who the pronouns mean. When Paul gets “hot” on a topic, he tends to forge ahead in his setting down of theology. I often wonder if his readers needed to trace back to previous paragraphs/passages (or even letters) to follow what he is saying. And to be quite honest beloved reader, it was only when I read ahead that I felt secure in writing on the same theme of yesterday. So, let us follow where Paul in going in his discourse.

“And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him– provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.” (Verses 21 – 23)

I posed the question yesterday as to how the called and chosen people of the Divine changed from the faithfulness that Abraham exemplified to the people of Israel (and Judah) that Amos was railing against. I expanded that question to recent generations and how as humanity we have fallen away from the compassion and care that had been instructed to us by Christian faith. (I did get a little soapbox-y yesterday, but my heart breaks when I hear news and reports of the unkindness we find in the world. Certainly there are still people who care and carry on Jesus’ example of compassion and love. I think, beloved reader, I am digressing.)

Paul raises the warning and concern that his readers should stay firm in their beliefs and not “digress” to the “evil deeds” that they committed before. They have, he says, been made “holy and blameless”. I would like to believe that extends to kindness, care, and compassion. Paul, you must understand, is intent on preaching a gospel of salvation that saves one from a life of sin and the consequences of that.

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Verses 24 – 28)

I would apply Paul’s to my theme of yesterday by wondering if being aware of and living out “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints” would result in living a life of caring, compassion, love, and shalom. Beloved reader, what do you think Paul would say? Yes, me too!

May you beloved reader live in the light of the wisdom of Jesus Christ who was sent from the Divine. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The question was, “Being called forth to be what sort of Christian? “ The answer is, “This sort”

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25 – 28)

There are times, beloved reader, that I feel the title of these reflections is enough to convey my opinion and/or perspective on the passage. The lawyer told the answer to his question (and actually my question) was/is to love the Divine with every particle of our body and to give our neighbor the same care and compassion etc that we hope for and expect for ourselves. It should be simple enough.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Verses 29)

However, the human spirit (in its sin and fallibility) does not do “simple”, and demands that particulars and specifics are spelled out. It would be easy to say that it is because this man was a “lawyer” that he tried to place loose with the law; but the truth is that many people of all sorts of education and background try to get away with the least amount of care and compassion given to others, yet expect the most given to them.

“Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Verses 30 – 32)

These are people who know the law, and would be expected to exhibit the care and compassion that Jesus confirmed was in the law. And you can easily (and should) substitute in any man/woman of God for the priest and Levite.

“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Verse 33)

Likewise you should substitute in the most unlikely person to be moved to compassion by the unfortunate condition of another. Maybe even the person who you, beloved reader, feel is the antithesis of your own faith beliefs!

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’” (Verses 34 – 35)

Now understand beloved reader – the Samaritan would have been the antithesis to this Jewish lawyer; a person who the Jewish lawyer would scorn and dismiss as incapable of following the law. And Samaritans generally speaking (unfortunately) would have been expected to act more like the priest or Levite. And then Jesus asks the question (which I also asked in my way) . . . .

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Verses 36 – 37)

In the Old Testament passage the Lord God set up a plumb line to measure the people of Israel, Jesus also set up a plumb line (most likely a very similar one) and a good many people failed that one as well. Do not, beloved reader, be such a person! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Knowing in Whose Name you are being sent out in

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” (Luke 10:1)

I was just thinking about this passage the other day. While I was pondering it, I did not remember that it followed the incident where the Samaritan town rejected Jesus because he was journeying to Jerusalem. Remember beloved reader, he chastised his disciples for their anger at the rejection. Here are better instructions as to how to evangelize. And the rationale for evangelism. As I remember, I encouraged you beloved reader to be ready to follow Jesus when called. Not IF called, but when!

“He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.“ (Verses 2 – 4)

That last part, “greet no one on the road”, is a little bit of a puzzlement to me. So I cautiously investigated with the biblical commentators, and was glad I did! Apparently meeting and greeting someone on the road was a prolonged exchange and giving proper honor to the other. It could take time, time that was needed to journey far to spread the gospel.

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Another curious thing; when one extends peace it is a thing of value and akin to a blessing. If the blessing it not properly or graciously received the giver will not be held liable for giving something of value. They have have done was right and proper, extending a gift and blessing for which they assumed the recipient was worthy.

“Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ “ (Verses 7 – 9)

This one I understand. When you find hospitality, accept it graciously, however much the hospitality is pleasing and comfortable. Don’t “shop around” for the best place to stay. And do not withhold your services from anyone who desires it and accepts it.

“But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ “ (Verses 10 – 11)

This is the portion of the passage that I was thinking on – if you (the disciple) and the message you carry is not accepted, do not stay there to convince them but leave and take nothing from the place you visited. Not bad feelings, resentment, an attitude (as the disciples showed in the Samaritan town) or anything else. Now, that is not from the biblical commentators but from me. The biblical commentators’ perspective is/was that the new of Jesus Christ was true and valuable. And disbelief was not to sully or interfere with the truth of it’s Message and Sender. And that disciples were to be very clear what the inhabitants of the town/village was rejecting.

Now, as to why I was pondering this portion of the passage – I am not sure I remember! But thinking about it in this moment – I think I was thinking about it in terms of my past employment. Or more precisely (as I seek to recollect my thought process at the time) interviewing for jobs that I did not get. At the start of my job search I felt I had a great deal to offer in experience and knowledge. By the end of my job search I just hoped someone would hire me! And I have to wonder (now) if that is what Jesus was trying to prevent the disciples from feeling – the rejection of the message of Jesus and the Lord God making the disciples feel rejected and discouraged. After all, this was probably their first foray into evangelism. And as Jesus said, he is sending them out “like lambs in the midst of wolves”!

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Verse 16)

Although Jesus’ instructions to the disciple seem a little unusual, he really was looking out for their best interests!

“The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Verses 17 – 20)

During my job search I often wondered where I would end up working. In the beginning I did not want a job just for the sake of having a job and income. Toward the end I was very worried about getting any type of job. Being helpful and in the service of others for the sake of the Divine seemed to become a more and more distant hope. When I was finally hired I had to wonder what the Divine had in mind for me in this job. In my last job it seemed to clear what my calling was.

I am still discerning the call in my present job; some days it seems so clear. Other days it seems distant and shroud covered. But what I do know is this; the places that did not hire me – I left the dust of those places behind. NOT that they rejected the message of the Divine I might have carried; but that they obviously were no the places I should be. When you journey out into the world beloved reader, whether it be for a job or for a mission journey – apply the instructions of the Divine as it seems best. And may your journeying be blessed! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – What a life change might mean

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51 – 53)

In both biblical times, and modern times, there exist rivalries and animosities. You have to look no further than sports team to so them. Although the tension between the Jews and the Samaritans came from religious positions and not recreational – then again for some sports are a religion!

“When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”But he turned and rebuked them.” (Verses 54 – 55)

And Jesus’ disciples were just as vulnerable to prejudices as the Samaritans. Let me be, beloved reader, Jesus cared as much for the Samaritans as he did the Jews, the people from which his earthly mother and father sprang from. The story of the Good Samaritan is proof that Jesus had, and has, a tender spot in the Divine heart for everyone.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Verses 56 – 58)

I consulted a couple of biblical commentators about this passage and they have little or nothing to say about the metaphor that Jesus uses. It is plain enough on its surface, I imagine, to not need comment. Animals and birds have a place to call their own, to seek shelter, to rest and recuperate – but “the Son of Man” has no such place. The implication that the biblical commentators give is the way of life the Son of Man has is not one that others can emulate. But that flies in the face of the expectation that we take Jesus as our exemplar. Does that mean we should not get to comfortable in this life? That theology is also a strong presence in the gospels and in the epistles. Why not then tie it to this point in the story of Jesus’ journey and ministry?

“To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Verses 59 – 62)

Do you remember beloved reader back at the passage from the Old Testament where Elisha wanted to bid farewell to his father and family? Well, this is the passage that I had in mind when I contrasted Elijah allowing Elisha to make his good-byes and Jesus being adamant about following the call to himself. (Not believing deeply in coincidences, I am not surprised the RCL matched these two passages.) Interesting, is it not, that Elisha looked back in a way but also received the same portion of Godly authority that Elijah did.

It also makes a strong case that Jesus saw into the depths of these people’s hearts, and knew they were not really ready to commit to following Jesus and what it would entail. One has to trust that Jesus knows the best way to journey in life and what the destination should be. That along the way you will meet people who don’t see things your way, but that is no reason to write them off. The journey will be arduous, with little chance to take one’s leisure. And sacrifices must be made.

Now interestingly, Elisha burned the plow! And gave away the oxen meat! Perhaps that is what the Divine and Elijah saw; a young man who would be ready to commit to being a made of God and that set his affairs in good order so as to be ready to take up that call. May you, beloved reader, be as ready to follow our Lord God Jesus Christ! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How to regain an ordinary life

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”– for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” (Luke 8:26 – 29)

Imagine, if you will, Jesus coming to a hospital for the unstable/mentally unwell back in the day when patients were strapped down to beds and kept in locked rooms. Where no care was done and being “institutionalized” meant being warehoused with as little concern as is given boxes of merchandise that is not needed and has not been needed for several decades. Suddenly roaming free sounds like a slightly better alternative to that. Our understanding of mental illness and the way those who are survivors of mental illness has changed drastically. That does not mean they do not suffer; it means steps are taken to mitigate the suffering as much as possible. The one stark difference from this account and what the horrors were of decades ago is that we no longer believe such people are possessed by demons. But sadly we hold those who have mental illness accountable and responsible for their condition. Again, being thought to be possessed may be a kinder thing.

Jesus has compassion for the man, and wanted to release him from this bondage – both psychologically and culturally made. And maybe Jesus actions show that he has an understanding of the “possessed” man that the onlookers did not have.

“Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” (Verses 30 – 33)

As a student of psychology, I do not quite understand or buy into what happened to the demons. I have been told by those who would know that people can, still, be possessed by demons. So maybe this man did not have paranoia or schizophrenia or any of the other possible psychological conditions. I also don’t know where the advantage was for the demons to possess a bunch of pigs. The results, however, caused quite an uproar. And maybe in some round about way that was the Divine purpose.

“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Back in the day of insane asylums being “cured” was very unlikely. If the condition itself did not preclude a cure, the conditions they lived under would pretty much assure that a normal life was not possible. And maybe that is the point of the drowned swine. SOME sort of explanation needed to be given as to why the man was “in his right mind.” That the demons were vanquished and so visibly destroyed gave credence to the cure. And the man may well have been accepted back in to society more easily than if his “cure” would have been quiet and without drama.

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Verses 37 – 39)

It was not an unkindness that Jesus did not let the cured man come along with him. First, we know where Jesus’ ministry would eventually take him. This man had already had a hard road; he did not need to venture down another one. Second, by recounting the story with the drowned pigs gave the cured man’s story a tangible conclusion – that of course he no longer had demons. They were drowned! Third, since Jesus was not welcomed to preach and heal there, the cured man and his dramatic story would have promoted fervor and interest, and those who were NOT afraid of such power would seek him out, or at least seek out new about Jesus.

I had asked before, beloved reader – how to you plan to live out Ordinary Time? How do you plan to live out your ordinary life? And if beloved reader your life is not ordinary, I hope and pray that the Divine is with you in a powerful way; and that you share that story! Selah!

Trinity Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The Divine revealed in parts and pieces

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

If one might feel “left out” and “left behind” because one did not experience the actual physical presence of Jesus (I admit at times I feel like “one”), the compensation is that all that Jesus and the Divine had to say has been said to us through the Holy Spirit, scripture, and testimony of the saints and those than have gone before us. We can, in short, bear the things that the Divine has to say to us.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Verse 13)

What must it have felt like to know that your Lord and Teacher had things to tell you, but you were not deemed ready yet. I remember experiences from when I was young, and I knew that some thing – some type of information – was being kept from me. It was like an itch I could not scratch. Do you think, beloved reader, that is how the disciples felt?

“He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Verses 14 – 15)

All that the Lord God Creator has/had Jesus also had/has. And the Spirit of Truth has that to impart to us. And it is a theological fact, beloved reader, that the Divine will discern when (and if) we are ready to hear it. Or, more precisely, understand it. To give you the best example that I can – I have some hearing loss. I hear most things, but some of it I hear only as sound and not distinguishable/discernible words. We MAY hear all the Spirit of Truth has to say, but it may be to our ears/spirit/soul just sound/noise and NOT anything that we can make sense of. Or maybe we do not hear it correctly and misinterpret it. We may beg and plead with the Spirit of Truth to quicken our understanding; but it does not happen. And worst of all, beloved reader, we may not even realize that we are only hearing/perceiving/understanding just a portion of the Divine Truth.

I can only wish, hope, and pray for you what I pray for myself – the ability to know fully and completely! Selah!