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!

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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 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!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Learning about the Lord God the Divine

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (John 10:22 – 26)

What does the Messiah look like? How does the Messiah act? By what signs will we know the Messiah? These were questions that the expectant Jewish asked themselves and each other. Whatever their answers were, Jesus was not the answer they were looking for. He had the power of the physical and natural world, as they expected the Messiah would. But his appearance, background, and temperament were not what they expected of the Messiah, the powerful Envoy of the Divine. And that was exactly the point – they expected the Messiah to radiate terrifying power that would shake loose the hold that the Roman Empire had on them.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Verses 27 – 30)

If (the Jews reasoned) Jesus had power, why did he not use it to swing things to the advantage of the Jews? The problem was, beloved reader, Jesus the Messiah did not come just for the Jews. He came for the benefit of all of humanity. Those who could not see what the Messiah was meant to be, as Barnes interpret Jesus’ comments, are “not my people, my followers. You do not possess the spirit of meek and humble disciples. Were it not for pride, and prejudice, and vainglory for your false notions of the Messiah, and from a determination not to believe, you would have learned from my declarations and works that I am the Christ.”

Think back to what the Hebrews/Israelites wanted from a king. What they craved from King Saul, and what they pressed for in King David. This was their idea of a Messiah. Not the meek and gentle Jesus that pursued peace and compassion, and extolled love and acceptance. What do you look for, beloved reader, in a Messiah? Are you looking in the correct place and for the correct Deity? Do not be fooled! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Striding forth in confidence in the Lord

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” ((Acts 9:36 – 38)

I was wondering, beloved reader, why the disciples felt that Peter was needed. Was death, I wondered, so unknown to them? Or was it the death of a truly good believer that had them stymied? I can imagine then wondering, “Is death still permanent even for believers? Is there something we must do to ensure she is taken to heaven? Could she be healed/risen from the dead as Jesus was healed/risen from the dead, and as he raised up from the dead others? And if so, who could be able to heal her? What are the parameters now?”

“So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.” (Verses 39 – 40)

I can imagine further the position that Peter felt he was placed in. Was he nervous and unsure? Or did he believe that he, through the power of prayer, could turn back death and bring those who had died back to the living? In this account Peter does not seem to be unsure or hesitant about the outcome. But also like Jesus (in at least once instance) he asked those there to leave.

“He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” (Verses 41 – 43)

What miracle have you done lately, beloved reader? Raised anyone from the dead? Healed someone who was gravely ill? Cured someone’s cold perhaps? Do not be dismayed – I have not done anything like this lately either. It is not a usual aspect of our society to be able to heal in miraculous ways as the disciples/apostles did.

It would be easy to say that miracles do not happen in our modern world. But that is not quite the truth. The miracles we see in the world around us do not look like the miracles in the bible. Yes, there are those extraordinary events where a result defies everything we know about the natural/physical world. We look on these and marvel, as I am sure the Christians did in the times of the New Testament. Somewhere between the time the New Testament was written and our age that we have firm memory of – the miraculous changed. It could very well be that what we accomplish with ease would be seen as miraculous to those who witnessed Tabitha/Dorcas walk of the room upstairs. In fact I will go further – contending with what is in our modern world and remaining ardent authentic believers is miraculous. Pause for a moment, beloved reader, and think about recent events in the world – the attack on members of humanity, the news of tragedy & suffering, and the constant onslaught of that news day after day. Standing firm in our faith and retaining hope for the future is a miracle! And striding forth to face the world day after day remaining strong in our faith is a miracle! Living confidently that Lord God will undertake for us is a miracle!

Yes, the inexplainable helps buoy up our faith. But living in faith day in and day out subsisting ONLY on internal faith is wondrous in its own way. Clasp that miracle to yourselves, beloved reader! Live confidently in the Divine! Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine in the midst of our personal stories

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30: 1 – 5)

This psalm reminds me, beloved reader, of the time I was getting radiation for my skin cancer. At the peak of its worst (end of January 2019) I was in the hospital for several days trying to recover from the affects of the radiation. From the perspective of receiving the news that my latest CT scan was clear of any tumor/skin cancer, I can say that the “foe” of skin cancer did not “rejoice” over me, and that I was brought up from “Sheol” and restored to life! I did weep for many nights, but joy eventually came!

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

Before the cancer, I had thought nothing worse could happen to me than the diagnoses I already had – I was wrong. For a time I was literally fighting for my health and life! It is tempting to believe that the worst is behind me. But I cannot say for a certainty that is true. I thought I have had hard times in years past, but the future always brought more unpleasant surprise and bad news. I know now that I can be shaken, and moved. Each experience teaches me again not to put my faith in my own ability, power or strength – but to look to and depend on the Divine.

“By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Verses 7 – 9)

Actually, to my way of thinking I don’t value myself so greatly that my demise will cease praise of the Lord or tell of the Divine’s faithfulness. And more to the point, I my life shows praise and faithfulness to the Lord, my actions in the face of demise will be a greater testimony than my successes. But still, it is good to continue and endure.

“Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Maybe if I was THE psalmist I would consider my successes in life and overcoming of obstacles and difficulties as strong praise and testimony. But what effect does my small voice have? The Lord God knows of my gratitude to the Divine for seeing me through so much. And as you have been reading my postings, you know too beloved reader. Does that small testimony into the largeness of all the world really reverberate? To be honest, I do not know. And actually and honestly I do not need to know. It is enough that I know, and that I speak/write of it.

As the days and weeks of Easter pass by, may you speak in your own way of what the Lord God the Divine has done for you. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Re-entering the story

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.” (John 21:1)

The writer of the gospel of John gives us a picture of Jesus “popping up” here and there, but not having a physical presence endures in space and time. Jesus, it would seem, has progressed beyond those human limitations. From perspective it is good and makes sense in that Jesus has left behind a physical human form; but he is less of a “Lord with us” and more of a Transcendent Divine. The disciples knew Jesus as friend and teacher who was with them and among them. This Jesus is different.

“Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” (Verses 2 – 3)

I get the sense, and maybe you too beloved reader, that the disciples were a little bit at a loss of what to do now, and what was expected of them. Simon Peter, being a practical sort, decides to occupy his time with something he knows – fishing.

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” (Verses 4 – 7)

If this is reminiscent of earlier encounters with Jesus (Peter being called to be a “fisher of men” and Peter jumping out of the boat to try to walk to Jesus on the water) it is probably no coincidence.

“But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Something has changed, beloved reader. This Jesus (yes, this may be the beginning of the many aspect of the Divine) is more pragmatic, cooking and tending a fire. And ensuring that the disciples have resources and provisions.

“Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (Verses 12 – 14)

If we were going to be mystical about this, it may go as follows. Just as there is the theology of a triune Divine, we have three aspects of Jesus that have been seen since his resurrection. I am not going to go as far as trying to discern which is which – it enough that there were two previous occasions, and this being the third and final(?) Might there have been a purpose for the previous two appearances? And if so, what needs to be accomplished yet in this third and final visit?

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (Verses 15 – 17)

It had been suggested to me that Jesus asks this question of Peter three times in order to expunge the three times that Peter denied him. And to confirm to Peter that the Divine has a specific task for him. And if this was done in the hearing of the other disciples, perhaps it redeemed Peter in their eyes also. It is my contention, however, that Peter was not the only one to have this task placed on him. Anyone who loves the Lord God the Divine is charged with tending the Divine’s sheep. Vagueness intended!

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (Verses 18 – 21)

Jesus has come once again to his disciples, to teach them a little more; and to draw them into the ongoing story of the Divine’s mission and purpose in the world. Selah!