Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The gift that the Lord God the Divine is to us

Preacher: “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”
Seeker: Your love, O Lord, is like a soothing balm to my spirit and my soul. My worries melt away and I rest in your grace, mercy, and love.
Preacher: “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.”

Seeker: Many times I feel hurt and oppressed, looked down on and pushed aside. But within Your Sight, O Lord God, I am worthy. You take my side against the hurt and pain in the world. You champion my cause when fate and circumstances have robbed me of my voice and my strength. You lift me up from the depths, dust me off, and then journey with me when I must walk steep, dangerous, and narrow paths!
Preacher: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Seeker: I would not last a day, not even an hour, minute, or second without the Lord God. Your love for me, O Lord, washes over me when I am at my driest point. My soul and spirit are protected when in your care.
Preacher: “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.”

Seeker: When my soul needs nourishment, you feed me. When my spirit thirsts, you quench my needs. I grow strong feeding on your holy word.
Preacher: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Seeker: I know my earthly days will come to an end. But I do not fear this. When the lights of this world dim for me, I see most clearly the light of heaven. I place my trust in you, O Lord, that the darkness will not consume me.
Preacher & Seeker: “O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!” ( Psalm 36:5-10)

Advertisements

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Being the beloved of the Divine Lord God

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, . . . “ (Isaiah 62:1a)

Another day that was a struggle. There will probably be lots of them in the next few weeks. (Yes, beloved reader, you are probably correct that my struggle with psalm passages is related to my difficulties in life.) Old Testament passages, however, are much more helpful. And the book of Isaiah usually has passages and excerpts meet my needs quite well. I would like to be Jerusalem for whom the Divine will not rest until she feels better.

. . . . until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” (Verses 1b – 3)

It is said the the relationship between the Divine and the followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ is like that between committed spouses. That might be one reason the traditional marriage relationship is held as the only acceptable option for marriage – in or outside of the church. Often we read about the “bride” of Christ as what the church is. At a young age I took that very literally; and wondered how that left a place for males in the church. How, I wondered, could a man be a “bride”? Yes, I decided, church is much more a place for women. But then why, I wondered, are so many men in charge of churches if the church is the “bride” of Christ? Men are not the same as the Messiah. It left me very puzzled. Not as puzzled as some of the actions and behaviors of people who say they profess Christianity. I guess in my adult years I have exchanged one confusion for another.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I have never asked any male in my acquaintance how he bridges or understands that analogy. In my younger years I wouldn’t have had the nerve. In my older years I understand that each man must take the analogy, understand the premise and underlining meaning, and allow himself to subject and place himself in submission to the Divine. And that, beloved reader, is such a sacred thing that I would never ask any male of my acquaintance to reveal to how that works.

May you, beloved reader, experience a Divine Lord God who does not rest until all things are done on your behalf. And may you be loved by the Lord God in that most intimate way. Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – The Might and Power that the Lord God the Divine is . . . . and other things

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” (Psalm 29: 1-5)

[Yes, it is a psalm passage; and I still at times struggle with them.]

I am not into “power”, “authority”, and “might” much these days. Maybe the psalmist felt invigorated by thinking of the power of the Lord God. Me, I just feel drained. I know the Lord is all of these things . . . . . and more. But that is not what I am looking for and needing these days.

“He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” (Verses 6 – 9)

If that is an aspect of the Lord God that stirs your blood and causes you to break forth into worship and praise . . . . do so! Some find it, as I said, invigorating that the Lord God is mighty and active in the world. Some find it comforting that the Lord God is in control of nature and that nature accedes to the Lord’s commands.

“The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” (Verse 10)

The people of Israel and Judah back in the time of Samuel wanted a king that ruled with power, authority, and might. Saul was that sort of king. David was that sort of king. David’s son Solomon was a little different but was mighty and powerful in his own way. So it makes sense that the psalmist would image a Yahweh that was such a Ruler.

As for me these days, it is only in the last verse that the psalmist paints an image of the Divine that resonates with me.

“May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Verse 11)

What I need is strength to endure what is in my life now. Not divine/Divine almighty strength – just human strength, endurance and fortitude. And peace. Most definitely peace. The Lord God is that too! Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Gospel Passage – The Naming of Jesus by John the Baptist and the Lord God the Divine

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15-17)

As I sit here and ponder this passage (I am moving slowly this evening) I have to wonder how John the Baptist knew these things? As the one who prepared the way, he would have realized that Jesus the Messiah was greater and that he, John, was lessor – so we can set that aside. But how would he have known that Jesus would at some point baptize with the Holy Spirit, and with fire? How would he know that at some point the Lord God would gather up the believers, but dispense the unbelievers? There are two ways (well, maybe three ways) this could be explained. One, the Lord God the Divine could have told John as a part of the total message he was to preach. Two, John and Jesus could have had conversation together as each was preparing for their ministry. Or three, the writer of the gospel of Luke placed this preaching in John’s mouth.

Any one of the three does not diminish the message. If God the sender of Jesus told him, it gives strength to John’s message. If Jesus told him, it means that John was indeed a very vital part of Jesus’ ministry. And if the gospel writer “imbued” John with this message, it is because it became very apparent through the course of Jesus’ ministry. Of course, we could chalk that up to the gospel writer’s perspective of what Jesus was about. But that is true of any of the gospels, and it has been considered before that each gospel gives a slightly different perspective of the Messiah.

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Verses 21 – 22)

I thought some more about this passage, or more precisely these last two verses. And I am struck by the fact that this occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In the other gospels where Jesus’ baptism is told of, this blessing happens at the time of the baptism; sometimes with a dove and sometimes with a loud voice – here we have both. We could take this to mean that Jesus requesting baptism is the act that the Lord God is proud of. But after pondering I am more inclined to think it is a blessing on Jesus’ entire ministry. Some of the broad stroke details of Jesus’ ministry have been given by John the Baptist; might not those details be accurate and it is also that which the Lord God is proud of?

And what of us? Are we making the Lord God proud? Consider that, beloved reader. Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle Passage – Naming gifts and blessings that are bestowed by the Lord God the Divine

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

It seems like a straightforward passage. The people who were preached to in Samaria believed and professed faith in Jesus the Messiah. In order to assure them of full faith that would not be shaken, Peter and John when down (Samaria being south of Jerusalem) to pray with them and lay hands on them. But what does it mean to “receive the Holy Spirit” as opposed to being baptized in “the name of Lord Jesus.” All Christian believers at some point are baptized as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (as opposed to the apostle/disciple John). My favorite biblical commentator Albert Barnes says it was not conversion because this happened upon profession of belief. It was not sanctification because (he says) this is progressive work. It was not then salvation, redemption, or forgiveness of sin. Or a changing in the way one lives their life. Barnes says it was “those “extraordinary” influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel – the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc.” In other words, it was something outside of what most of us experience in our Christian faith. Or is it?

In the New Testament people saw evidence of the Holy Spirit by “signs and wonders” that were tangible – speaking in a language that was not known by others, someone getting better/healthier/healed when traditional understanding said they should still be sick, or other anomalies to ordinary life. As Christian faith progressed (or became the experience of a larger part of the population) this understanding changed. It came to be more inner signs than outer manifestations. Think Desert Fathers/Mothers who lived different lives apart from settled areas; people who exhibited extraordinary faith and compassion; people who gave up comfort and wealth for service to others. We all can probably think of believers in our faith circle who just seem to live an authentic Christian life, and whose faith seems to never be shaken. This too is the baptism of the Holy Spirit – biblical commentator Barnes notwithstanding.

You, beloved reader, may have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It is an inner realization. And if you do not think you have, pray that you might be. And then see what new blessings arise in your life! Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Old Testament Passage – Naming who is called, protected and favored by the Lord God the Divine

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1 – 2)

Mid December things got a little more complicated for me. Since October I have been dealing with a growing health concern, and started treatment a few weeks ago. My doctor, an oncologist, is optimistic about the treatment outcome. But the treatments themselves have a great potential to become more difficult and tasking as they continue. The portion of verse two, “when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” is quite appropriate for radiation treatment. Although the tumor does need to be “burned” and consumed. And yes, I am a little depressed about the whole thing.

“For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth– everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Verses 3 – 7)

During this time I am grateful for the expression of God’s love for me. And for the support I receive from family and friends. But I have to tell you, beloved reader, the writer of Isaiah is going a little over the top (in my opinion) in describing Yahweh’s rescue attempts for the called and chosen people. I understand the reason for this; those who had been taken captive and taken to foreign lands were in desperate need of reassurance that the Lord God had not forsaken them, nor planned to leave them away from the promised lands. And that they meant more to the Lord God than their captors and oppressors.

The Divine does not pit one group of people against another; to the Divine all are called and worthy of high regard. I rail and protest against Old Testament scripture being bent and morphed to fit the event of Jesus’ coming and ministry. I also rail and protest that the Divine would sacrifice one nation for the sake of another. The politics that humanity creates and then set to rule over itself consumes itself – especially the helpless, marginalized, and innocent. Against many of the competing nations Israel and Judah were helpless and taken over. But that does not make the other nations enemies of the Divine. Jesus’ example and life argues against that notion, and Epiphany which we just got done celebrating argues against it too.

The over arching theme for this week is the Baptism of the Lord, so the scripture passage for today more likely highlights the water and river aspect; although the baptism of the Holy Spirit is also included in this which we will see as the week unfurls. And, note also that when it came right down to it, it was not any of the human earthly nations that paid the price of redemption. It was the Lord Jesus Christ, which ought to put to rest any disharmony within all humanity. We all have in one way or another missed the benchmark that Christ established; and we all have been forgiven. What Christ extend to us, should be extended to our brothers and sisters. Selah!

Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The Coming of the King and the Messiah; One & the Same?

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.” (Psalm 72:1-7)

The question that underlines the exegetical understanding of this psalm . . . . what did King David know about the coming Messiah and the tenure of Jesus’ reign, and when did he know it? According to biblical scholars this psalm is written for and about King Solomon as he was coming to reign in his father’s, King David, stead while David was still alive. It is David’s hope and prayer for his son; but it is also (supposedly) looking toward the reign of the Messiah.

“May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” (Verses 10 – 14)

It is an ambitions for a king, doing all of these things that David lists; being revered amongst (other) earthly kings, looking out for the poor and needy, and undoing the foul outcomes of violence. This sounds like the Messiah that Jesus was. But take note that verses eight and nine are missing – “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust.” Not quite as peaceful Jesus like; but wishes that one earthly king might have for another, especially his successor and child.

Now you know, beloved reader, I am sort of a purist when it comes to apply Old Testament prophecy etc to New Testament and Gospel events. I think there should be controlled and well examined cross-over. In the commentary I read there is caution to be aware that David wrote it primarily for his son; but there is also optimism that David might have been looking down the generations to the promised Messiah that came from his line. If he was aware of that. What did King David know, and when did he know it?

But . . . . . there is no harm in saying that everyone should live their life according to the Messiah example and guidance ONCE that example and guidance is made known to them. Not all that King David writes about will be a reality for us – the kings of Sheba and Seba are not going to bring us gifts. But if we can extend compassion and care to others, lighten their load, and ease their pain – we will be fulfilling as much as earthly king could, and in doing so will be glorifying our Lord God. King David would be proud of us! Selah!