Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope springs . . . through new locations and theologies from the Divine

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)” (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)

In the Old Testament Mount Sinai was the literal and theological gathering point for Israel and Judah. From here the Ten Commandments were sent out. From this place the Lord God spoke to Moses and Moses relayed the message to the people gathered below. The Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt could not endure the Voice of the Almighty and were frightened in hearing even the echoes from the mountain. I imagine it felt not unlike a severe scolding from someone in a higher authority. And maybe the memory of the overlords in Egypt was still too vivid to hear other voices of authority. They did not know this Lord God personally – at least not like Moses did. Everything was raw and new.

But . . . . Paul says coming now to the Divine is not like that. Not like hearing the stern reverberations of the Divine? Not hearing the absolutes that the called and chosen people needed to live by? So, what is it like now?

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)

And this is different how? And remember, beloved reader, this is Paul speaking. Do not be fooled into thinking this is the easier road!! That tranquility and consistency will be experienced now. Nor that nothing more will be said and revealed from Mount Zion.

“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven. This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (25 – 27)

In a reversal of what is the norm, the biblical commentators (yes, I have been tracking what they say about this passage) water down Paul’s exhortations – sort of. The one who warned them on earth was Moses – a “mere” man. And in only one location, Mount Sinai. The One who warns from heaven is the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. You might think that would consist of a great deal of “rumbling”; however, the Divine “speaks by every message of mercy; by every invitation; by every tender appeal. [The Divine] spake by [the Divine’s] Son; . . by the Holy Spirit, and . . . by calls and warnings in the gospel. “ (Albert Barnes, slightly paraphrased for inclusive language. ) As to the “ yet once more” shaking, that is taken to mean a new style of worship and understanding of the Divine that was introduced and initiated by Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul sets in terms that make the reader shudder at the newness. But was new then to them is established to us. Even more precisely, it was new to Paul.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Verse 28)

So, where to we come out in our modern times? Oh beloved reader! That is a loaded question! For those who are authentic, firm, devoted readers – it confirms what we knew. For new believers it leads and invites them to a new way of living that is full of blessing and compassion. But . . . . for those who undoubtedly Paul would exhort most vehemently . . . it probably would shake up their world. And maybe, beloved reader, that is why they do not want to hear it!

May you, beloved reader, gather on the gently slopes of Mount Zion and hear the gentle words of the Divine usher you into an more devote way of living. Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope springs . . . through Sabbath observances?

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b – 10)

The other Old Testament passage, beloved reader, is where Jeremiah is called out by the Lord and sanctified to speak the Lord God’s words – Jeremiah 1:4-10. I think I have written about Jeremiah’s calling before – considering this is the second time through Year C. And I am sure the passage has come up other times in other writings. But I digress.

The last few weeks have seen a theme of Israel and Judah being critiqued, scolded, and disciplined by the prophets. It is interesting to see, in the privacy of our own thoughts and reflects, if the exhortations of then apply to us now. Do they beloved reader? There is hope though in this passage, that if the exhortation is heeded and applied that darkness will give way to light. We could apply that to ourselves as well.

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Not only will darkness give way to light but, theses verses promise, light will come to others. Considering the dire situation that some of the Old Testament prophets describe, it seems pretty wondrous that this could happen. It also seems rather contrary and paradoxical in light of some New Testament understandings, that each person needs to make their own petition to the Divine and follow the example of Jesus Christ.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Verses 13 – 14)

The Sabbath is very important, so it seems, in this passage and to the writer of Isaiah. He starts out by speaking generally about being in good relationship with others – speaking well and offering compassion. But as he continues of instruction, he narrows down to the keeping of the Sabbath. It is interesting to think about this, contrasting what should be done on the Sabbath versus what is allowed on other days. And I have to wonder if this emphasis on the Sabbath made way for ever larger inconsistency between Sabbath living and the other days of the week.

I will have to think about this as the week moves forward; what the Epistles might say and what Jesus Christ himself might say – according to the verses and passages that comprise the RCL this week. You think too, beloved reader, and ponder. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker tell us what is the Divine’s portion when terrible and sad things happen to fervent and devoted believers, and those who do not believe

Seeker: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!”
Preacher: Why do you call on the Divine, Seeker? What do you hope to gain or get from the Lord God?
Seeker: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
Preacher:
Yes, the Lord God has been given credit for calling out and establishing many nations and civilizations. And if we include out circles and traditions of faith, most nations, cultures, and civilizations can claim this.
Seeker: “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.”

Preacher: Oh Seeker! Are pleading the case for the Israelites as the psalmist set the framework; or are you thinking of other people in other places and times? All people who have felt they were called and chosen, only to have ruin and oppression come upon them feel this way. It is not always the case that the Divine has turned away.
Seeker: “They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.”

Preacher: Who are really angry at? The Divine, or the nature of humanity when it turns on its own? Who or what are you pleading to?
Seeker: “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.”

Preacher: So if the Lord God favors you and yours over another, then you will be loyal and worship the Lord God with fervor? But if fate and circumstances are against you, you will be against the Divine? That it is an agreement you will never see come to pass. The time is long gone that nations and cultures plea as one voice. Jesus Christ came to show us and exemplify for us that each person must come before the Divine and plead his or her case. Jesus Christ also shows us and intervenes for us with the Divine. It is no longer the nation that must plea, but each individual soul and spirit.
Seeker & Preacher: “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1-2, 8 – 19)

Preacher: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Seeker: You are correct, Preacher. I have let my sorrow cloud my thinking. The Lord God has shown time after time what is expected of us. We cannot and should not blame a nation because it seems that the favor of the Lord has been withdrawn from us. What ever this world and humanity has done to us, we cannot place the blame for that pain and distress at the feet of the Divine. It is not in this world that we receive the truest favor of the Lord God.
Preacher: “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
Seeker: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Psalm 82)

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – When faithful and devoted believers do terribly sad and unwise things

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:49 – 50)

I was all ready, beloved reader, to write a critique of the urgency of these first two verses. But I paused a moment and thought of my own “dear” self, and realized I am the same way. When something urgently needs to be done, I want to get it done! When a task needs to be accomplished, whether large or small, I want to get moving and do it. For the small ones I say, “This won’t take long so I want to do it now, and then move on to the next thing.” For the large ones I say, “This is going to take some time and effort so I want to map out my plan and at least start the first step/stage.” In other words, I just can’t wait!!

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Verses 51 – 53)

I used to be shy and hesitant about speaking my mind, deferring rather than opening up. But that has changed. More often than not I speak my mind, and if it ruffles some feathers, then maybe they need to be ruffled. I used try to be controversial – never really pulled it off. But I realized maybe it was not that I was so mundane but so persuasive that no only really took issue with it. Anyway, while I am a person of peace, I am far from being retiring and reticent.

“He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.” (Verses 54 – 55)

Over the years I have refined my counseling techniques. Many times when I see someone heading towards a “not good place in life” I try to warn them. If they do not heed my warnings, I don’t intercede but just wait for the inevitable mess up, and then help them recover from their missteps. But if in my honest and considered opinion the person should have known better, I don’t give a warning but wait for the mess up. Because, well, sometimes people have to learn the tough lessons of life . . . . several times over.

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Verse 56)

Overall, in the past, I thought this passage was rather harsh and unyielding. But I have come to see that sometimes you have to be blunt and direct to get your point across. I know the Divine has a time or two (or three or four) had to use blunt and direct tactics with me.

It is my hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you will learn quickly, well, and completely the things the Divine has to teach you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – When terribly sad things happen to faithful and devoted believers

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:29 – 34)

There are, beloved reader, more modern stories (ie. Stories of believers in Jesus Christ) of what the faithful had suffered. One of the books given to me during my teen years was a book about Christians who suffered for their faith. Some faith traditions are littered (in a good way) with stories of saints of the past who held firm to their faith. My own faith, Anabaptism is one such faith tradition that is so littered. All those stories are tragically sad, and a little disturbing. Not that Paul would have hesitated to disturb his readers. I don’t think the person who gave me the book of believers who suffered for their faith meant to disturb me either. But nonetheless, it gives one pain and pause.

“Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” (Verses 35 – 38)

Paul was very much like these believers – cast about, forsaking simple comforts, and allowing him/themselves to oppressed and disregarded. Not all of these stories that Paul refers to in passing can be found in the current canonical bible. But they are recorded for those who seek out their stories. And why did they endure this? What outcome might they have hoped for or expected?

“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” (verses 39 – 40)

Here we have the last clue to what Paul is getting at; what was started by them in their time (the faithful devotion and adherence to belief) was/is completed in our time – or more precisely in the time period that Paul is writing in. Question – are we in our modern time included in this? Or we as believers in the 21st Century a part of different era?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1 – 2)

There are few things sadder than running a race that you were never destined to win. These early believers, ie those before Jesus Christ, knew what it was like to adhere to faith and be devoted. Their stories are testament to that. But the faith that was/is most perfect was not yet revealed, and would not be revealed until Jesus Christ came. The advantage is to us, who live in the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, however, blessed are those who have not seen but still believe. He was referring to at the time those who would believe in him and the Divine who sent him without having known him personally and first hand. I believe that can apply equally to those who lived and died in faith before Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul is probably sputtering at that!

Beloved reader, it is not enough to know . . . . about who Jesus Christ and the Divine is. It really is not enough either to believe in their existence. What is called for . . . . is to reconstruct with the help of the Holy Spirit one’s entire life and align it would the Divine who sent Jesus Christ. And once aligned, to never ever sway from it. Sad, terribly sad tragic things may happen to us – but not nearly as tragic as to miss living out a life of faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When sad things happen to a Good Loving Divine

I am at a decision point again concerning which Old Testament passage to use. Both passage are critical of the people of Israel and Judah. Isaiah compares them to a vineyard that was carefully and tenderly planted but something went wrong – terribly wrong.

“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1 – 4)

Jeremiah is speaking for the Lord God against the prophets of that time. The prophets, unlike Jeremiah, are not faithfully speaking the word of God but are created prophesy out of thin air and their own imaging. The Lord God (through Jeremiah) says that things are as bad as when Baal was worshiped instead of the Lord God. The implication is that the Israelites, before and while they were being formed as a called and chosen people, were seduced in the past and are being seduced now my false worship and the prophets are doing nothing to stem this inclination.

Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.” (Jeremiah 23:23 – 27)

In both passages the Lord God is determined to put an end to what has happened. Isaiah says,

“And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the Lord God through Jeremiah warns,

“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Verses 28 – 29)

What we have to remember, beloved reader, is two things. First – The Lord God seeks to be in relationship with humanity and creation. “In the beginning” the Divine wanted to do something with the lifeless chaos we now call earth. Starting with bringing order and a system to the vastness, to coaxing life where there was not life, to creating humanity – the Divine wanted to create relationships. So it is vastly wounding (if you can wound the Divine) that humanity turns away and craves other things. Second – this is according to two humans who may or may not be point perfect in understanding the Divine and the motivations and sentiments of the Divine. We can and do know that the Divine seeks relationship because Jesus Christ was sent. But knowing the sentiments of the Divine during the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah – that is a little more challenging. Test it out for yourself, beloved reader. Take the invitation to be in relationship with the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Discern for yourself what the Trinity wants. I can guarantee you, you will bring joy to the Divine by reaching out! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker talk about hearing in scripture what the Divine is saying

Seeker: “The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
Preacher: “Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”

Seeker: Preacher, this passage in the RCL is coupled with the passage from Isaiah chapter 1 verses 10 to 20. It seems like the same frustration and high emotion that the writer of Isaiah says the Lord God has is also in this passage from psalms. There must have been a strong and lasting sentiment within the people, or at least these representative speakers, that the Divine was very upset with the called and chose people.
Preacher: “He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah”
Yes, Seeker, the image of the Lord God in the people’s minds got very angry when those who professed to follow the Divine blatantly showed they were not. Their attitudes towards the standards of worship and relating to others showed they did not care about either thing.
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
“Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.”
Seeker: “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.” ( Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23)
Preacher:
Exactly, Seeker; they had not learned yet that more important that what they placed before or on the altar were who they were and what they did away from the altar. That is as true now as it was then. Abraham in the Genesis passage that the RCL also cites for this week, and the corresponding psalm passage for this week speak to us about this. “Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth– he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.”
Seeker:
It seems as if when the called and chosen people of the Divine swayed from following the Divine as their King at a distance to follow an earthly king as their leader – that the lines of communication were garbled and the people lost sight of what they should do and be.
Preacher: The Judges, you know them from that book in the bible, tried to explain and emulate what the Divine was saying. But their fallibility and the politics of the time made if very hard. They wanted some above and over them rather than someone living with/amongst them to give them direction. And to have a mighty hand. But they perceived in a way the value of military might. “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.” Consider that it was only for one or two generations that King David was able hold together the kingdom and run it as the Lord God would see fit; and even then David made some mistakes. But he tried to maintain being a “man after God’s own heart.” “Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.”
Seeker:
Then theologically it was no happenstance that Jesus the Christ came to live amongst the disciples. That Jesus was like a “judge” who instructed them right from wrong, and was subject to humanness as they were. But he was also Divine and kept the lines of communication between himself and the Divine who sent him – of course he was the Divine. But he emulated the type of intimate relationship that one needs to have with the Lord God.
Preacher: “Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Psalm 33:12-22)
Yes, Seeker. This the way it was intended. The Lord God called out Abraham, and he “grew up” in the Lord God as we are too. The psalmist exhorts us to be in close relationship to the Divine. And Paul exhorts us to enfold and lose our lives in the Lord God. Between scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you’d think we’d get it right. But we don’t. The important things – the investing in the eternal thing – is to keep trying, and keep listening to and for the voice of the Divine. Selah!