Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Healing Mode

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 5:1)

A good portion of Jesus’ ministry was healing people. Jesus had healed the royal official’s son before going up to Jerusalem (that was the “after this” proceeding this passage). As someone who has all manner of illnesses, I pay special attention to the healings in the New Testament.

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” (Verses 2 – 5)

If you, beloved reader, say “I cannot begin to imagine being ill for 38 years!” then you are not well acquainted with chronic illness. I must tell you, however, if it were me I would not be sitting/laying in a portico hoping to get well. I would be out living life as best I could. Even if it meant doing only a little bit every day, I would be doing as much as I could as long as I could. It could be that Jesus asked this the man the following question because there is the appearance that he had spent 38 years of his life focusing on the negative, what he cannot do.

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (Verses 6 – 7)

What you may not realize, beloved reader, is that verse 4 is missing and it would tell you more about vignette at this pool; legend said that the waters of the pool are stirred up by an angel at intervals and the first person in the water gets miraculously healed. Now the source for this detail is unreliable enough that most translations have omitted this detail. It seems to me that if something like that was going on during the time of Jesus’ ministry – that is, an angel stirring the water – Jesus might have been more aware of it and done some stirring himself. Perhaps that is why verse 4 was omitted, and why Jesus makes no comment on the legend but instead intercedes with a more direct miracle.

“Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Setting aside the tale of the angel stirring the water, I do have several questions about this passage. Was the man’s answer enough? That he wanted to be healed and was putting for the effort with all his energy and ability? Was Jesus’ heart moved because obviously the man had no friends or family to help or support him. And while there is a presumption that the man might have been by the pool for 38 years, maybe his illness only recently became chronic enough that it lead him to “reach for a miracle”.

I am reminded too of the blind man who comes later in the gospel of John (ironically) and who Jesus said was blind “so that God’s works can be revealed in him.” Now, I don’t know if that is the same situation here. But it certainly seems that Jesus was on a mission to heal those who were in need. And then I think of myself – my illnesses – and I think how I could use some healing too. As I said previously (here and other places) that I am not waiting on healing but moving forward as best I can. Not exactly taking up my mat and “walking”; but neither am I waiting for the waters to be stirred so that I can regain the health I lost. Jesus may have not healed my body, but my spirit – beloved reader – soars!

I hope and prayer beloved reader that what ever illness may be in your life, the Divine lifts you and leads you to wholeness. Selah!

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Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going on a journey & touring heaven and the kingdom of the Divine

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. . . . I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 27)

The book of Revelations . . . . you know already, beloved reader, it is not a book I am comfortable with. But as I read through the above verses it occurred to me that the reader must have a somewhat sophisticated understanding of metaphors and allusions to be able to understand what the writer of Revelations is implying. And that might be part of my struggle, to understand what is supposed to be metaphor and what is supposed to be literal. If it were a place I knew of, I could discern what it metaphor and what is reality. However, if one is looking for clues about heaven and the kingdom of God it is rather frustrating to try to figure out what is literal and what is poetic license.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Chapter 22, verses 1 – 5)

I think I was much happier with the book of Revelation when I assumed it was all of poetic fanciful tour of heaven by an imaginative dreamer. That is not to say that it is all make-believe or untruths. The truth is found in the intent of what the writer of Revelation sees – a utopia where the will of the Divine finds its completion. Imagine, if you will, the outline of a city or town where everything is drawn to scale and all the streets are labeled and each building has an assigned street number. It is a literal map of where everything is. With such map one could navigate from one end of the city or town to the other the first time they step foot in it. Then imagine the same city or town on a tourist map where spots of interest are depicted in fanciful caricature and buildings float free form on the map. Could you expect to successfully navigate through with such a map?

Some view the book of Revelation as an actual map, and others view it as a introduction to the type of place the Divine would rule over. I think with that understanding in mind I am much more amenable to read the book of Revelation. May you beloved reader allow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform your faith and your understanding of Heaven. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Going on a journey & being lead by the Divine

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.” (Acts 16:9 – 12)

A couple of questions occurred to me as I prepared to write about this passage; actually two main questions and ones that I have wondered about since I was reading the bible for the first time on my own – how did Paul know the man was from Macedonia? The answer must be, I thought then as now, there was something distinct about the man that convinced Paul it was someone from Macedonia. In our modern times we sometimes suppose (and to our shame) and prejudge that someone has a certain “look” about them. We think – that person must be from such and such a place because of the way they look and dress. In our modern times, we should not judge like that. But in the times that Paul lived so few people traveled and intermingled in marriage/children that people of specific geographic areas shared many common attributes.

The second question is, why did Paul believe it was a message from the Divine that he was to go to Macedonia? Could it have not been just a random dream? That question rests greatly, I imagine, on how certain Paul was that the man was from Macedonia and what Paul’s past experience was in discerning what Macedonians look like. If the dream gave clear signs of the man’s background and identity – things that Paul would not have known from his own experience, it probably was a message from the Divine.

“On the [S]abbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Verses 13 – 15)

Decades ago when I first encountered this passage (and quite honestly up to this point) it never occurred to me to wonder why they were gathered outside the city by a river (apparently there were not enough male Jews/male worshipers of God to constitute enough for a synagogue/temple) nor why a man of Macedonia called them there, and yet it was to a woman they first ministered to and converted. Nope, have no explanation for that. And you can bet the biblical commentators of this passage had nary a word of explanation for that. That of course may be to their credit, that they let pass the fact that a man called Paul and his colleagues to convert women. Apparently, in addition, the journey into Macedonia signifies the movement of conversion from the central area where Jews were in predominance to what the biblical scholars called the more “European” parts, ie. Gentile. And indeed that is where Paul seemed to be called to, outside of the traditionally more Jewish areas.

But actually I do not want to belabor the point – sorry if it seems that I already have. My point really is that when the Lord God calls us, we need to travel to where the Divine has directed us. Even if it is somewhere we have never been before. Even if it goes against the norms we have known previously. Even if it takes us outside of our comfort zone. Paul, the Paul who exhorted women to be silent in worship services, was lead to a powerful woman who ran her own household and who was very successful. He did not question the appropriateness of her conversion but went where his Lord God lead.

May we do the same! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Looking at praising in a new way (for me at least)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1)

I am trying imagine and image the psalmist, and what the occasion might have been for which he penned this psalm. Or maybe it was not a special occasion but an outburst of joy and satisfaction in life. It does not seem to be the writings of someone who is busy in life nor tied up with complications and details. In fact, if I were honest, it sounds like the writings of someone who has set aside worry and concern about the nitty-gritty worries and details of life and is taking it easy. A place in life I would like to be, but am not. And there is about an honest an answer you can get about why praise passages like this rub me the wrong way.

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Verses 2 – 6)

This easy-going psalmist first considers the sky above him, and all that is there and praise worthy. Then he turns his attention to the land where he and all of humanity live. There are many who take for granted the earth and the resources we find there. When it come down to it, no matter where we live, and how above and beyond nature the infrastructure that surrounds us, we need earth and land to live.

“Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 7 – 10)

And we need nature, intact and thriving, so that we might live, thrive, and grow.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Verses 11 – 13)

And we do not live in isolation, but in community. We need relationships and connections. We need organizations and systems, the input and cooperation of others, to make our way through life. And others need us; we are at our strongest with we are intertwined with others. We are at our weakest when the connections to humanity are frayed and broken; and at our most vulnerable when we are destroying the people and the world around us.

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)

It is at this last verse, however, that we must pause and stop. The Divine knows what our wants and needs are, when and under what conditions we are at our best – as well as when and under what conditions we are at our worst. The “Horn” that has been raised up is Jesus Christ who the Divine sent to us so that we might know how to live. As well as knowing how, when, and what to praise.

We, as the people of the Divine, need to set time aside to consider ourselves and our world. The mess we may be in, and how to redeem ourselves and our world. Praise God that there have been those we came before us that can teach us. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Beyond the Cross

When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (John 13:31 – 32)

The events of Holy Week have been set in motion . . . . we have heard it again. But I have to ask, “Why are we hearing it again?” Maybe you are asking the Revised Common Lectionary that too? After so many years, five and counting, of commenting on the RCL I have become accustomed to it being the source and authority of what to write and comment on. Others use the RCL to make their way through the Christian year, plan worship services, and guide their meditations & reflections. There are other sources of scripture readings that list what to read when. The RCL is the one that comes most readily to my mind.

Of course according to the RCL we are still in Easter “mode”, so harking back to Judas, Jesus, and the Last Supper is not to much of a stretch. And if we put the emphasis on the “glorifying and being glorified” portion we can set aside the circumstances – mostly. In essence, the events that have been set in motion will glorify Jesus and the Divine. Jesus is glorified because of his association with the Divine, and the Divine is glorified because of Jesus’ willingness to be obedient unto death. And as Jesus speaks further, we can see/hear/read that his thoughts and reflections are beyond just the events of the next few days.

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Verses 33 – 35)

As I was writing this I remembered the article I had come across as I was preparing to write about Holy Week and Easter – the article by my former college bible professor. The image of an angry and vengeful God that Christ’s sacrifice was supposed to appease does not seem to be in line with a God that is glorified because of Jesus Christ. But as I think that idea through, it collides with other understandings of Jesus’ death and the need for his death.

Maybe it is just as well to move on to the “new commandment” of love, loving others as Jesus and the Lord God the Divine loved us. And that through that love we are known as disciples of the Divine. Yes, I think that is the better emphasis! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistles Passage – Revelation as a possible template for the world to come

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1 – 2)

The perspective of the writer of Revelation is that Jerusalem will play an important part in the world to come. That is because in his current world Jerusalem was (is) very important. Other faith traditions in the same way hold certain places as highly important and critical (no doubt) to the way their faith tradition views what is in the future. For example, Roman Catholics might (they don’t, but they might) believe that the world to come will have the Vatican as the central location. Do you see what I mean, beloved reader? Do you understand what I am saying? In Revelation there is a “new Jerusalem” because the faith of the writer of Revelation would mean very little if Jerusalem was not reborn. So if (and I suspect I am accurate) biblical commentators say that the “new Jerusalem” is but a simple of the world to come, they do an injustice to the faith beliefs of the writer of Revelation. Not that they intend to, but by appropriating what the writer of Revelation has said, and translating/transposing it to the biblical commentator’s faith perspective, the original sense of the passage is lost. New Jerusalem is the re-imaged and renewed city that Jesus entered and wept over. It is where Jesus taught and confronted those who did not see or refused to see his true identity. The Jerusalem that “condemned” Jesus is no more. The Jerusalem that pines for Jesus and awaits Jesus has descended.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Verses 3 – 4)

In our modern times, beloved reader, where do you think the city that will be central to the world to come will be? Will it be the current Jerusalem? With the conflict in that part of the world, I am not sure. Where then? What place is so central to faith that it will be the mecca for believers in the world to come? Rome and the Vatican? That leaves out to many faith traditions.

“And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Verse 5)

It may be a sad realization that there is no place on this earth that could be/would be reborn as a holy city. Further more, according to my own personal perspective I could not imagine a “world to come” that would not have a sea. You see, each of us have our own idea of paradise; what the perfect place, a heaven on earth would be like. It is NOT the location, nor the accommodations that make, or will make, a heaven on earth. It is this!

“Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – When to refrain from judgment calls

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:1 – 3)

While some things may be very different today than from the early Christian church, here is a constant. Often, too often, when you reach out to someone who is not part of the mainline belief group, someone is bound to criticize you. It happened to Jesus, and it happened to his disciples. And it happens up to and including today – in fact, it is very much an issue in our modern times. The “them” and “us” division is strong and very critical in the church, and in all the denominations.

“Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.” (Verses 4 – 10)

For those of us grounded in a grocery store/prepared/pre-packaged mentality, this must have seem very strange. But I believe if one just sets substitutes the idea of endless rows of foreign food, the point of the vision will become clear. The other thing to remember is the immediacy of this vision ending and the household where Peter was having the visitors come to it.

“At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Verses 11 – 17)

What does a Christian believer look like, beloved reader? What is the psychological make up of a authentic Christian believer? What mode of dress should they be wearing? What should their customs be? What language should they speak? What job skills should they have?

Some of the judgment calls we make about people are based on what Jesus the Christ exemplified to us – caring, compassion and the whole list of the fruits of the Spirit. But some judgment calls come from our own human background and personal experience. We see uncleanliness where the Divine sees inspired diversity.

“When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Verse 18)

In my work life I have worked with many diverse populations. I have tried not to make judgment calls, but . . . . you know, like is drawn to like. In my faith life I make no judgment calls; everyone I meet is a child of God and worthy of the relationship that the Divine has extended to me. The task, beloved reader, is to make the way we relate to the rest of humanity confirm to the way the Divine relates to us. And if, beloved reader, you truly believe you can judge people by outer appearances and your own standards, then I gently suggest you re-think the way you perceive the Divine relating to you! Selah!