The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Old Testament Passage – Wrestling and Grasping with Fate

I like hearing about a “good” struggle, when someone is up against it and prevails over staggering odds. In many ways that has been my story over the years, struggling and trying to prevail. It has been close at times, not sure whether I would prevail but hoping and praying like crazy that I would.

Jacob struggle in his parent’s household; not what his father expected from a son, and finding more solace in domestic activities which won his mother’s heart. When he tried to attain the status that his slightly old brother had, it backfired and he found himself far from home. But he also found God, and then found a wife; and then he found his soulmate, and that calmed his heart. So he turned towards home and to face all those memories of growing up, and his slightly older brother.

“The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.” (Genesis 32:22 – 23)

Now, this is the part where it gets interesting. All that he had and acquired he sent to safely, and it was just him alone struggling with the past and grasping to see what the future would be. I have been in that place myself, away from all comfortable and known settings and waiting to see what the future would bring. And I have struggled. My struggles, however, were figurative and internal. But nonetheless draining and exhausting.

Jacob was alone on the banks of waterway, and was alone with his thoughts . . . . and his fears.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” (Verses 24 – 26)

Struggling, wrestling, grasping with feelings, conflicts, and situations . . . . in the dark. And then sucker punched. After all that, surviving & enduring, you are not going to stop and let go until something positive comes out of it.

“So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.” (Verses 27 – 29)

I do not think, beloved reader, that it was just this conflict that earned Jacob now Israel the blessing. I think it was the ongoing conflict and struggle that Israel has all of his life. He went searching for what he needed, found it, and then earned the right to claim it as his own. And now, coming back to the area that was “home” and facing the past he left behind he found the depth of blessing he has been searching for. Not the birthright that came from being the head of a family, and not the blessing that came from one’s earthly parents; but the peace of mind knowing that you have done the right thing.

Sometimes those are the mightiest struggles of all: knowing and identifying what is right, and seeing what the cost will be & what it will take to accomplish it, and then forging ahead to complete what has to be done.

“So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” (Verses 30 – 31)

Mark it well, beloved reader, many times after such a struggle you will feel wounded and wonder how you will carry on. Your wounds though, may very will be the signs that you have overcome. Wear them bravely, for they are badges of honor. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – Getting the power & intercession to move forward

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26 – 27)

In times past this passage would remind me that I only have to pray – or even thinking about praying – or, even tell the Divine that I have things, issues, and concerns that I need to pray about. And that simple thought would lead to my prayers and intercession by the Holy Presence.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Verse 28)

And I knew also that what may at first seem to be a set back or an obstacle, or even a challenge – would end up working out in the end, and better than I could have imagined or hoped. So I had faith.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Verses 29 – 30)

And so, thus comforted, I would set aside the further teaching/verses that Paul spoke. But you know, commenting on a scripture passage means reading through the whole section. And quite honestly, I was on shaky ground trying to place the opening five verses under the topic I had chosen (or the one that chose me). Intercession of the Spirit is good for comforting us in the now, and a assurance for the future. But moving us along? Not sure it does that.

Paul’s theology of humanity being predestined to be conformed to the Son of God (and don’t even start me on explaining why ALL of humanity is predestined); and that all humanity is/will be a part of the family of God (again, don’t start!). Furthermore we are (or can be) called & chosen, and justified & glorified. That, beloved reader, moves us along!

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Verses 31 – 37)

There is nothing in this world that will stop us, if we are conformed to the image and example of Jesus Christ. Yes, we may not accomplish the goals and dreams that we had set up for ourselves. Yes, we may not succeed in the eyes of the world. But the Christian life is not made up of such things. Woe to you if you consider such things more important that living an authentic Christian life. Jesus did not set out to conquer the world. That was not his Divine style. The Jewish world that he was born into expected a conquering avenging Messiah. They got Jesus Christ who died on the cross. But . . . that was not the end of Jesus. It was the beginning! The greatest intercession of the Spirit was the resurrection of Jesus. And the love and compassion that motivated and set that intercession into motion is available to us.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verses 38 – 39)

There is no question that our world, our lives, have had set backs. We are reeling from what has happened in the past five to six months. And that years before that were not so easy either. Some may question whether the Divine is still involved in our world. As for me, I stake my faith on Paul’s assurance above. For I have experienced it myself.

I am still moving forward, albeit more slowly and with more difficulty. Some days grind on and on. And I grow weary. But my faith, beloved reader, my faith soars! Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Old Testament Passage – Getting the go-ahead to move forward

In the other Old Testament passage, Jacob is starting his seven years of labor for the hand in marriage of Laban’s younger daughter Rachel. What Jacob does not realize is that Laban is as wily as Jacob himself, and intends to marry of BOTH daughters to Jacob. But we turn away from Jacob to consider another Old Testament figure, Solomon. Solomon is also looking towards a life change by becoming king in his father David’s place.

“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:5 – 9)

I skimmed over the portion of I Kings that came before this section, and it seems that Solomon was not the “little child” that his petition to the Lord God indicates. He took actions that a grown man would take. The biblical commentators say that he [meaning Solomon] meant that he was inexperienced in governing men. But again, Solomon in chapters one and two showed a firm hand in dealing with the people in his father’s court. I wonder if he [meaning Solomon] felt he had made a misstep in how he dealt with those who tried to take advantage of the transition of power.

It seems to me that Jacob and Solomon are different men; Solomon is unsure and wary in his circumstances. But Jacob seems confident that he will succeed in his enterprise to win Rachel as his bride. If you read Genesis 29:15 – 28 you will read that Jacob actually had to wait twice as long as he thought to wed Rachel. The comfort is that he felt the time of waiting was worth it.

“It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.” (Verses 10 – 12)

I also contrast in my pondering Jacob’s dream at Bethel with Solomon’s dream at Gibeon. There also Jacob was sure that his dream was a portent of his good future. Solomon was hesitant that he was ready for kingship.

How do you come to know, beloved reader, what you should do? Where & when you should surge forward, and when & where you should hold back and bide your time? The easy answer is to seek out the Holy Presence. But even then, how do you understand and discern that divine message? It is a puzzlement. I hope and pray, beloved reader, in the days ahead your path is clear and easy to see & travel. And may the Divine travel with you! Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – Living under the Auspice of the Divine

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12 – 14)

What the apostle Paul means (as it was explained to me by Barnes) it that Christians no longer appeal to the law for justification but seek refuge in the Divine’s grace. The law that was established by the commandments is no longer their guide but the law as modeled by Jesus. Now remember beloved reader that Jesus example went beyond what was expected by the law, so that does not mean the Christians are to try to “get away with things. Paul says,

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Verse 15)

Neither does it mean that we will not be tempted by sin. Paul expects, however, that knowledge of the Lord God’s grace will take away the temptation – in that Paul is not seeing humanity as clearly as he ought. Temptation is not taken away – that is, taken out of the human being, spirit, soul, and psyche. Would that it were.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Verses 16 – 18)

I find it interesting, beloved reader & especially in regards to the protests in our current society, that Paul makes clear he is using the analogy of slavery not because that is the format of human relationship to the Divine but because it is an analogy that is easily understood. We too understand that inherent lack of control a slave has when under servitude to a master. Paul is saying just as a slave has no control of input in how he/she is treated by the master, humanity through Christ is bound to the state of righteousness.

“ I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.” (Verse 19)

Again, Paul is being optimistic as to how the gift of salvation would negate the impulse. It is still a choice, beloved reader, as to whether we will commit sin or follow the guidance and direction of the Divine. The history of humankind from the time of Paul to present day is ample proof that humanity will sin when sinfulness is an option.

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” (Verse 20)

Another explanation is needed here. To quote Barnes – “That is, in your former state, you were not at all under the influence of righteousness. You were entirely devoted to sin; a strong expression of total depravity. It settles the question; and proves that they had no native goodness. The argument which is implied here rather than expressed is, that now they ought to be equally free from sin, since they had become released from their former bondage, and had become the servants of another master.” Again, beloved reader, were that is was this way.

“So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verses 21 – 23)

Can we, that is humanity, keep our eye on the end result and leave behind the temptation of sin without looking back to see what we have missed? Paul would say, yes we can. Optimistic apostle that he is. The reality is, if this were true, human will would have been “redempted” and “salvationed” out of us. And that was not the Divine’s plan. That is evident enough even from the creation story. No, the actual situation is that we (meaning humanity) are just as tempted and just as fallible as before Christ’s death on the cross. And I think Paul really does know that. What has changed is the option for another way of living, and the opportunity to “hit” refresh when we acknowledge our sins and mistakes. The “auspice” of the Divine means that we don’t have to be dragged down a path to death because we have made mistakes. A clear example of Christian living is set before us, and a Helpmate to guide us along the way. The difference, beloved reader, between pre-Jesus and the coming of Christ and the Auspice of the Divine . . . . is the difference between death and life eternal. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – Continuing the journey and living our lives out with the best of intentions

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1 – 2)

Paul has hopes; hopes for himself and hopes for the people that he is writing to – the Christian believers in Rome. He hopes that their faith has justified them – that is, has granted them the forgiveness and redemption of the Divine. And have this justification through their faith, he hopes they have peace; peace within and peace in their community of faith. And he hopes that when the Lord God Jesus Christ returns, that the glory that belongs to the Divine will be shared with all of them, the faithful. But the road to that place of hope is not easy.

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Verses 3 – 5)

I am glad, beloved reader, that these verses are simple to understand and therefore simple to write on. My heart is heavy, at this writing, because we (those who live within the United States) are living in tremulous times. The latest round of protests and violence has touched even the “well tucked away on the western coast” city of Eugene, OR that has been home since the last 15 years. To the north of us we have Portland which can be a hotbed of unrest and demonstrations. To the south we have California that has its own political and sociological struggles. But the Willamette Valley where Eugene and other such cities are nestled, it is mostly quiet. But not several nights before this writing. And maybe not for several nights afterwards either. The basis of the protests are for justice for all, and the holding and protecting black lives that have come to be so threatened and endangered.

You know, Paul’s next verses present an interesting contrast to these events.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.” (Verses 6 – 7)

Who are the “ungodly” in this political landscape? Those who have committed heinous crimes against innocent people causing their death? Well, Paul says Christ died for them. Those who have protested and caused damage to others and property and have flouted then law? Well, Paul says Christ died for them. Those who for good or ill have enforced laws that persecute and oppress others? Well, Paul says Christ died for them.

You see the problem, beloved reader. Whoever we cast as the “villain” in this, Paul says Christ died for those people. Now, we know that Christ died for humanity, so we all get the blessing of redemption and atonement. But no one in this scenario is outside of Christ’s grace.

The other piece of this is . . . . . we don’t get to decide or judge who is righteous. That’s the Lord God’s territory and purview. And because Christ died for them, they have access to that grace. Now, as Paul pointed out, you need to believe in the Lord God, and Jesus Christ, and for that matter the Holy Spirit. And confess your sins, and make right with the Divine. The potential is there for everyone, but not everyone will accept it and live it out. But Paul says,

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Verse 8)

What I am trying to point out and say, beloved reader, is that social justice loses its higher nature when one’s (or a group’s) actions negatively impact another (or another group). And that is why my heart is heavy. And while these verses are still “simple” their implication is very complex.

May you, beloved reader, navigate this landscape we live in with care and compassion. And may the Holy Presence of the Divine lead you! Shalom & Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Being prepared to accomplish all sorts of things

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:15 – 16)

“Another Advocate” – I have to wonder if this “Other” one is a substitute for the presence of Jesus, or for Yahweh who had been with the Abraham through to the judges, kings, and prophets of the Old Testament. So I went to the New Testament commentators, who waxed poetically about this Advocate being a upgrade from Jesus the Christ who could only be physically in one place as opposed to everywhere like the Holy Spirit. As to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, it seems (to biblical commentators & theologians) the presence of the Holy Spirit was less common and only happened to only certain individuals, and sometimes an in-dwelling for only a short length or specific time. And I have to shake my head in wonderment of this. Until I remember that the concept of care and compassion, and placing value in individual people was a human phenomenon that developed slowly. And in recent years seems to be less a part of some people’s thinking. So, yes, Jesus did need to ask for this specifically for his followers and future believers.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Verse 17)

It was important then, to have Jesus be with the disciples and teach them so that the “Spirit of Truth” could come to them and abide with them. Does this mean than that preachers, ministers, spiritual directors and others who have the Spirit abiding within them can prepare young believers (of all ages) to be ready for the Holy Counselor & Comforter to dwell within them? It is, beloved reader, a rhetorical question.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verses 18 – 21)

I have off and on, through this blog and in my own personal reflections, been thinking about my faith journey. That it seems as if my journey has taken a different course than others. I had an interesting conversation with one of my seminary professors as a part of a seminary class – I wish I could remember which one. We talked about the process of coming to faith, and that most people were “twice born”, meaning that there came a point in their life when they realized they needed to change or renew themselves. In Christianity this most typically means conversion or re-birth. The “once born” grow into increasing faith and do not necessarily turn a corner or change. They steadily grow into faith. Now, some explanations of this cast the “once born” as the more fortunate. Others it is the “twice born” and a conversion or new awakening that are the more blessed. It would be interesting to study the gospel stories and try to discern who were the once born and who were the twice born. Maybe someday I will look into that.

For now, beloved reader, may you be prepared and continually prepared to receive the Holy Spirit into you life, and may great things that glorify the Divine be the result. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Epistle Passage: Applying what Peter has learned

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” (I Peter 1:17)

Peter gives fair warning to his readers (sounding a little like Paul) that if you do (and Peter says you should) worship the Lord God you should be aware that the Divine judges everyone by the same measure, so be sure that you are living good and accountable lives. The part of about “exile” is not that he is writing to people who have been forced from their homes but that are living temporary lives on this earth – meaning that their truest destiny lies elsewhere.

“You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” (Verses 18 – 19)

However, in the very next sentence that warning is considerably softened by the reminder that their (and his & my) sins have been forgiven already. Peter really cannot maintain a severe tone for very long. More and more, beloved reader, I am realizing that the gentle nature of Peter came from his encounters with Jesus, and the patience & compassion that Jesus had for him. Not only is it an exemplar to me to live as faithfully as Peter does, but also with a compassionate and caring nature – which reminds me of my decision some time earlier this year to have a “gentle compassionate merciful belief” system and to apply those attributes to others.

“He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” (Verses 20)

Now here Peter gets caught up in his own rhetoric – but do not hold it against him beloved reader. The understanding of the early church (or at least an understanding that is commonly attributed to them) was that Jesus the Messiah and the Lord God would return in a relatively short amount of time. This is why (I believe) Peter says “at the end of the ages”, because for them Jesus appearance, and certainly His reappearance, would signal the end.

I am reminded of a phenomenon that is occurring all of the world, in our current time; nature is coming back and surging forth in the vacuum that humanity has created by sheltering-in-place. I read just the evening that I sat down to write this that hordes of endangered sea turtles are laying eggs on abandon beaches! Now granted that many will not hatch nor reach the safety of the water; however 70,000 are laying eggs! On the empty beaches!! Out of that many, there are sure to be a good many little turtle survivors. In other parts of the world that lack of human activity is allowing nature to catch her breath and clean herself off! But I am digressing in a big way, and not even sure what brought this amazing event to my mind. I will let you know if I remember.

“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (Verses 21 – 23)

I remember now why I thought of nature filling the places humanity has stepped away from. So often we have heard that nature – the flora & fauna – of our world are suffering from lack of living space. Ecologists and others have warned that as more animals become extinct, the human animal also edges closer to the brink of its own destruction. But this evidence of nature so quickly taking advantage gives me, as a person who roots and cheers for creation, hope that revive itself if just given the chance to purify itself. Yes, I did mean to phrase it that way, echoing what Peter said.

The early church thought of itself, that is humanity, coming close to end of its existence. But since the time of Jesus we have hung on and around for over 2000 years. Yes, right now humanity may be more closely staring death in the face of death than ever before, but we are holding more tightly to life and supporting each other in more tangible and creative ways. We are living in scary times, no doubt, and I get a chill up and down my spine each time I see the reminders of what we are facing. But we are also clinging to hope and clinging to each other. I want you, beloved reader, to re-read verses 21 to 23.

Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Claim the promise that Peter has laid out to his readers. And then live out genuine mutual love deeply from your heart, spirit and soul. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Psalm Passage: Good words that Preacher & Seeker instruct us to remember

Seeker: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.”
Preacher: The Lord has been our refuge for many generations. When Abram was advancing in years he was called out to a new way of living. The Lord God watched over him, and guided him into a new life. From Abraham the Lord God created a new called and chosen people, much the way the Lord God created the earth. And from those first called and chosen people the Lord God set down an example for us to follow, and a way for us to be in perfect communion with our Creator. Within the Divine’s love and care is our refuge.
Seeker: “I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

Seeker: “As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.”
Preacher: Our spiritual forebearers sought to follow the Lord God. Sometimes they did well, and sometimes they committed errors, due to their own folly and misunderstanding of what the Lord God wanted from them. The Old Testament is filled with those stories. We read those stories, and glean from them what we can. We return to them time and time again, to learn and take counsel from the Holy Presence. The New Testament is the stories and teachings of those who were more perfectly instructed by Jesus the Messiah. And with the Holy Presence we can learn how to live in response to the love and gifts of the Divine.

Seeker: “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.”
Preacher: We learn both from our spiritual forebearers and those whose choices have learned them to sinful living. While the example of Jesus the Messiah shows us what is good, those who have chosen “other gods” living out the folly of those choices.

Seeker: “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.”
Preacher: When the Lord God and the Holy Presence are an intimate part of our lives, instructions and guidance can come in all sorts of ways, and seemingly in all sorts of places. But I tell you, Seeker, instruction and guidance comes from the Lord God. The Divine uses all manner of ways to reach us, and we can even function as connection points for other to the Divine. That is part of the gift of faith circles.
Seeker: “I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.”

Seeker: “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.”
Preacher: The Divine never gives up on those who pledged their faith and their life to the Lord God. Yes, sadness, trial, and adversity comes into our lives, as it has these past few months, but that does not mean that the Lord God the Divine has gone from us. What we experience in this world may rend our hearts & spirits, and try our faith & endurance, but it does not separate us from the Divine.

Seeker: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16)
Preacher: Shalom, Selah, Amen!

Liturgy of the Passion Sunday, Year A in 2020: Old Testament Passage – Being brave enough in the face of our fears to speak healing and wise words

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

In these days we need many different types of people. We need workers who can complete the tasks that are called for and do this under very stressing conditions. We also need teachers and instructors of every kind to uplift and sustain those who are pressed upon, isolated, and ill. While I do some supportive work, my greater calling is that of a teacher. This verse has meant a great deal to me in the past – encouraging and supporting me in my role as a writer and teacher. I am not the only teacher, however; and teaching and instructing comes in many forms. What is also important is that the teacher must also be as attentive to the Great Teacher as the students she/he teaches. That is, I must listen closely to the Divine to be instructed as to what, when, and how I teach. I think I had said some time back that I feel the Lord God guides me often in what I should write.

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.” (Verse 5)

In my younger years, I was reluctant to speak up, not knowing whether what I had to say would be worthy and worthwhile. I don’t know if the intervening years has made me wiser so I feel confident to speak up; or if I have become braver and less daunted by the opinion of others. One of my peers once said of me, I listen very carefully to what is said before I speak up. But when I do speak, it is wise to pay heed to me.

“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.” Verses 6 – 8)

That is not to say I don’t still feel some reluctance at times to speak up. I used to “stifle” myself and hold back my opinion and thoughts. However, there have been one too many times that I regretted not speaking; and that has been enough for me to throw caution to the wind and just say what I feel I should say. The same holds true of writing.

“It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (50:9a )

I have spoken a great deal this Lenten season about many things. With the onset of Covid-19 it feels like even more so that teachings and instructions need to be given. Not as corrective but as comforts. Encouraging and exhorting my beloved readers to seek out the Divine, and rely on the blessing that can be found. And to be there for others, so that each person can and will be a blessing to one another. The whole world is united in this gripe of illness. Whether it be our neighbors that we now have to be at a distance from, or people around the globe that we are even more separated from – we need to find new ways to pull together. Our existence may depend on it! Shalom!

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker: Forgiveness and reassurance of the flesh through the Lord God and Jesus Christ the Messiah

Seeker: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.”

Preacher: What do you cry out, Seeker?

Seeker: “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!”

Preacher: You sound in distress, Seeker.

Seeker: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?”

Preacher: Ah, that is the source of your distress. It is not unusual Seeker, when perilous times come, to think over your past life and see where you have gone wrong and astray. Then become fearful and worried. This is equally true when death or disaster comes close and when there is serious talk of end times. Many fall to their knees and pray fervently. While the Lord God the Divine does not create disaster nor plan out our deaths, when such things come along the Lord God is there and welcomes us into Divine communion and relationship. Read the next verse, Seeker.

Seeker: “But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” It is true, Preacher, I have become worried and afraid. I fear death not because of what suffering I might go through as this life ends, but what will await me. Will I be ushered into the world to come with the Divine or has my errors and sin doomed me completely.

Preacher: That, Seeker, is actually a question you should ask the Lord God in prayer. That is where the truest answer is. I could give you reassurances, Seeker, and make assumptions about your faith life. But I would encourage you to ask the Divine. If you ask, as a way of asking for forgiveness and redemption, the answer will always be “yes” no matter how many times you have asked in the past and however many times you ask in the future. Salvation and redemption is always there for those who authentically and truly seek it with a humble and confessing heart. Then you can say, in any situation, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”

Seeker: When I am fearful, fearing for my safety and my life, I forget – to may shame – that I had promised the Lord my devotion. My fears chase away the assurances I had in the past. Then I remember myself, and the Lord God. That the Lord God has already promised to be with me through anything. I know the Divine does not sent such things to test us, nor as a calculating way to bring us back. The Lord simply says, “Be at peace. You are not alone. The One who is “I Am” is always with you.”

Preacher: “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

Seeker: “It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” (Psalm 130)

Preacher: Selah!