Ascension of the Lord, Year A, 2020: Gospel, Epistle, and Psalm Passages – The Blessing of the Ascension (and all that followed it)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44 – 49)

The Day of Ascension of the Lord marks the day when Jesus returned to heaven. Unlike other passages that we have read, the reason for Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection are revealed to the disciples gathered there. But this was not the same as the coming of the Holy Presence.

I must tell you, beloved reader, the faith and Christian journey is not as sequential and linear as it was for the disciples. Understanding and the presence of the Holy Spirit come in spurts and starts – neither are complete or completed in one divine action. In fact, sometimes part of one needs to come before or after the other in order that the whole thing makes sense. Maybe this was true for the disciples, but on the writer of the gospel of Luke’s reflection the revelation may have seemed in chronological order.

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Verses 50 – 53)

It seems that the impact of Jesus on them was a personal one; what I mean is that it impacted their worship practices. They knew now who Jesus was, and what he represented in terms of who the Lord God was that they had worshiped before. But as we are aware, there was more to come. And it would bring a different sort of change, and an even newer perspective that they would eventually share with others.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, by praising and blessing them, he lists for us some of the attributes that Christian followers should have. You may say “this is Paul not one of the original twelve”, and I will remind you that the example of the original disciples was present to Paul when he was still Saul. And he was instructed by a convert who had been taught by the disciples. Paul points to the same faith and attributes (well, the same large category) that Jesus taught his disciples, and since Jesus was in God and God was in Jesus . . . . you know it was from the Divine.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Paul says, and I believe, we are the body of Christ. Not only in a corporate group we call church, but individually as well. The Holy Presence came to each individual disciple, and it was not a Presence that was felt only when they were together in their original group. But each of them carried it with them as they went out preaching the gospel of Christ and the Lord God. That is how it could also be in Paul since he was not part of the original. It is also why, beloved reader, we too can have the Holy Presence in us. But . . . I am getting ahead of myself. We are still at the site of the Ascension. So let us end by praising the Lord God who watches over us and blesses us without end! Selah!

“ Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” ( Psalm 47)

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Gospel Passage: We all have the opportunity to learn

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Luke 24:13 – 24)

I would like to think that the Holy Spirit comes along side of a lot of people, and they are not aware of who it is that is guiding them. I think what is most accurate is that the Holy Spirit uses willing Christians to guide and preach to others. What I would like to think is that the Holy Spirit uses me – yes, I would like that very much. What I would like to believe is that other Christians have placed themselves in the service of the Lord and go where they are directed to help and instruct others.

“Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.” (Verses 25 – 29)

One of the things that my seminary education taught me was the anyone can place themselves in the service of the Divine, and be used to help others. I do not say that because I thought/think so little of my seminary professions, but because they all believed in me and encouraged me to use the gifts the Divine had given me. Moreover, they gave me space and opportunity to do just that. And because of their encouragement, when the time seemed right, I have offered my services in direction and guidance to others.

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Verses 30 – 32)

I grow misty-eyed thinking of the times when my heart “burned” in me, and I saw the same “burning” in the others that I was speaking to. It is not that I caused the “burn” – oh no, beloved reader – far from it. It is that the Lord God is amongst the faithful who seek the Divine. And move them.

“That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Verses 33 – 35)

Why was it, I wonder, such a surprising piece of news that the Lord appeared to Peter? Had Jesus the Messiah not yet appeared to any of the other disciples at this point in the gospel of Luke? Or had Peter just told them of his encounter with the Risen Lord and it was fresh in their minds? Or . . . did they (the disciples now apostles) figure out that Jesus appearing to Simon Peter after Peter denied knowing Jesus was a special invoking of blessing on Peter? Peter taught me too that the Divine believes anyone and everyone is worthy of being called and chosen by the Lord God. This Lenten season it was a special blessing to me to incorporate the realization that the Lord God Jesus the Christ sought out Peter specially and individually. May we all be found worthy of a special audience – frequently – with the Divine! 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!

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!

Annunciation of the Lord, Yr. A 2020: Gospel, Old Testament, & Psalm Passages – Being ready for what will come

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26 – 33)

How did Mary find favor with God? What would a young woman, it is thought barely out of adolescence, do to find favor with the Divine? Of course, part of it was Mary’s personality and temperament. Maybe she kept the Ten Commandments faithfully, and kept the dietary and other laws diligently. Maybe. But I am reminded of what the Lord God said to Samuel when the older sons of Jesse were passed over; that the Lord looks at the heart rather than the outward appearances.

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Verse 34)

Mary did not question Gabriel on the coming of “the Son of the Most High” and that he would be given the throne of David. She did not even question why her! I like a woman who knows her own worth! She asked how should could conceive a child since she has not nor has plans to be intimate with a man.

“The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Verses 35 – 37)

Once the hows and wherefores were explained to her, she was agreeable to the plan.

“Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” (Verse 38)

Do you, beloved reader, accept what comes to you in your life? Even now, in the midst of all the problems and situations in the world? I do not mean to list them all; and depending on your location and life philosophy you may not even agree that the happenings of the last half decade or more are problems. That upset and grieve you, do you accept them and determine for yourself that you will trust in the Divine? Think on that question as I move to the next passage.

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14)

King Ahaz was up against tough times. The enemy nations surrounding Jerusalem were threatening to attack. And as the saying goes, King Ahaz and all Jerusalem with him were afraid. The Lord God was trying to assuage his fears, but Ahaz said he would not think to ask questions and test the Lord God. And the Lord got peeved with Ahaz and gave him a sign anyway. Was it Mary? I doubt it because the sign was to be fulfilled in the short run and not decades down the way. But interesting that a young woman showed more faith and dared to question how things would work out for herself, when a mighty king when invited would not seek assurances for his nation. Male pride?

You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Psalm 40:5-10)

Now I ask you, beloved reader, who spoke with more faith in the Lord God? A young woman or a mighty king? I know what my answer would be.

And, beloved reader, do you accept with faith and assurance what happens in your life? Do you seek out the plans of the Divine, and commit yourself to carry out what the Lord God has ordained for you? Questions worthy of answer as we draw close to the end of Lent. And as we continue to live in a world where panic and upset supplants faith and trust.

May you find a calm place in the safe keeping of the Divine. Selah!

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – The healing of the flesh through following the Spirit

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6 – 8)

We are so conscious of our bodies these days, beloved reader. We take its temperature, monitor its coughing and sneezing, and tend to its physical needs with household items and food. Our bodies, and the bodies of others are upper most on our minds. But that is not a far representation of who humanity is. We are are more than sinew and bone, cells and immune systems. Paul differentiates (as was the understanding of human life back then) between our bodies and our minds. The needs of the body were to be set aside so as to better focus on the needs of the spirit. We understand now though that the body and the mind are so linked together that one cannot be considered about from the other. We have been “healed” of that erroneous notions.

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Verse 9)

Barnes says it very well when he says that Christians are “Not under the full influence of corrupt desires and passions” but “are spiritually minded . . . . under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.” This effectively puts to rest the division of body concerns being bad and intellect being good. It depends on where you put your time and energies to. Right now, beloved reader, the whole world is putting its mind and energy towards stopping the spread of the corona virus. No continent has been spared – no, beloved reader, not one.

Now, I have to admit that Paul’s supposedly uplifting news is not readily applicable to the current medical and health situation that all of humanity is dealing with. And I think Paul would be one of the first to admit that. But I think what Paul would say is that this gives us some hope and direction. Hope because we, meaning humanity, is greater than the sum of our functioning and non-functioning body parts. It is the human spirit in each member of humanity that we are working to heal and save. And that spirit survives death, if that is the course of the illness. And it gives up direction. Since each member of humanity does have an eternal spirit, we should honor and work towards everyone’s health and well-being which brings up to the need of making sacrifices in our daily lives. And lifting up in prayer those who are our neighbors both next to us and around the globe. As I said, beloved reader, in every nation and on every continent! All are vulnerable!

“But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (verses 10 – 11)

Each day as the magnitude of this virus becomes more apparent, we have to dig deeper to find hope. And the endurance to keep moving forward. The will to work towards the good of others, and the good will to work together. May the Spirit who unites us all through the Divine be with each of you in the days to come. Selah!