Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker talk about the actions of the Divine who sent the Messiah

Seeker: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”

Preacher: The Lord God hears us where ever we are, and whatever our circumstances are. Whether it is a cry, or a yell, or a cheer – we are heard by the Divine. When we cry out, the response may not what we though it would be, or even when we thought it would be – but the Divine will respond.

Seeker: “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Preacher: I am never surprised that, or when, the Lord God picks us up from the most horrendous places. The Divine is faithful. The world and earthly circumstances may put us in places we may never go of our own volition; or that we would not intentionally put ourselves. On the other hand, humanity has been known to get itself in the most terrible places and circumstances. But my point is, the Lord God will find us. And restore us.

Seeker: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”

Preacher: Fear? If the psalmist means revere the Lord God and be awed by the Divine, yes fear is the correct word. But humanity rarely puts their authentic trust in someone or something they fear. Desperation, though, leads us to desperate actions. To our remorse and shame.

Seeker: “Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.”

Preacher: Ah! There we are. Trusting in the Lord God is the best decision a person can make. And to keep making that decision. Oh yes, we have to keep that decision ongoing.

Seeker: “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.

Preacher: How, humanity, can you decide against the Lord God after having decided for the Lord God. How can humanity go astray? I know we do; from the earliest story of the called and chosen people up to this day, we have turned from the Lord God. But as you say, we can turn back to the Lord God . . . . time and time and time and time and time again.

Seeker: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”

Preacher: It is those of us . . . . who have opened our ear to the Lord God . . . . who should know better than to go astray. And it is to our remorse that we do. How sad and bitter it is to find we have lost ourselves, and then find ourselves apart from the Lord God the Divine. As I reminder to myself, I have a piercing in my ear that I had put in at my graduation from seminary. It does remind me, especially when I need reminding!

Seeker: What does it remind you of, Preacher?

Preacher: “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.”

Seeker: What have you been called to do, Preacher?

Preacher: “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.”

Seeker: And when you realize you have gone astray, how do you come back to the Lord God? What do you say to the Divine that might wash away the remorse and bitterness you feel?

Preacher: “Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” (Psalm 40:1-11)

Seeker: I think, preacher, the greatest lesson you could teach is that you have gone astray, but have been welcomed back by the Lord.

Preacher: Selah, Seeker, Selah!

Christmas Season 2019, Year A: The Gospel Passage – Reassurance comes!

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” (Luke 2:1 – 5)

There is an interesting story in our family. It happened like this.

I had just found out I was pregnant, with a boy. We were on our way to family in Pennsylvania when we had car problems – major car problems. The car won’t run problems. A nice state police officer saw us on the side of the road and made a special phone call to get us towed somewhere safe. It took some time because it was (wait for it) Christmas Eve. We and our car were towed to an inn in (wait again) Bethlehem, PA! But our family gathering was a couple of hours away, so we were stuck at the inn . . . . waiting. Christmas eve, pregnant with a boy, stuck at an inn in Bethlehem!

The Lord God protected us that day – that everything went smoothly and there were people there to take care of us and insure our safety. Our car was repaired so we can travel back home. It makes a wonderful story.

“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Not as dramatic as the Christmas story. No herald of angels! But reassurance came to us. A sense of peace was around us, looking out the window of the motel that was not charging us to stay in the room – warm, dry, and safe. We did not know what to expect after being stuck out on a busy highway. But there was room for us in the Divine’s care. That care and reassurance is something I have felt over and over in the past years, and still feel now.

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Verses 6 – 14)

Fast forward some four years; I am sitting in a worship service and the Divine taps me on my shoulder and says, “I am inviting you to step forward into a deeper relationship with me.” Shades of Mary and the annunciation. I wish I could say I was like Mary and was willing from the first. But I was scared, unsure what this meant, and not sure I was ready. But the Divine did not wait, but gave me a very fast initiation into a deeper spiritual life. And it was, and is wonderful! Reassurance comes quickly when you (finally) say to the Divine, “Yes, I am willing.”
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Verses 15 – 18)

And when you have been reassured, it is easy to share that sense of peace and hope to others.

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Verse 19)

Some things, though, are too deep and wonderful to be spoken out loud. However the heart and spirit praise the Lord God the Divine in silence and wonder.

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Verse 20)

This Christmas season, beloved reader, I hope and pray you have your own reassurances from the Divine – whatever the circumstances may be. And may you give voice and tell others, in our own way, what the Lord God has done for you. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Old Testament Passage – Looking for reassurance; or more aptly learning to rely on the Divine

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.” (Isaiah 7:10 – 11)

King Ahaz had plenty of troubles. As descendant of King David, he was the ruler as the nations surrounding Judah were eyeing Judah and Jerusalem with covetousness. The Lord God had not yet totally “abandoned” the called and chosen people, so there was some hope that the nation would emerge intact and whole from this latest battle. The Lord sent Isaiah to reassure the king. But while King Ahaz may have been a king of faith, he did not rely heavily on Yahweh.

“But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” (Verse 12)

Quite honestly, beloved reader, I do not understand this. At this writing I am still thinking back to the trying and challenging week that I had, and looking toward a new week that has unknown challenges. I would love to ask for a sign that the coming week is survivable!

“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. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” (Verses 13 – 16)

It is a strange trait of human behavior that while we may fear the coming disaster, we are often slow to ask for help and assistance from the Divine. It took me more years than I am comfortable confessing to for me to ask for help when difficulties come. I used to think it was a sign of weakness to ask for help; and that one should trust that the Divine has already equipped you with all that you need. What I had to learn over and over again is that the Divine never intended us to live through our lives on our own.

We forget that the Creator loved to walk with Adam and Eve each evening in the Garden, listening to how their day was. Remember that part of their sin was hiding from the Creator, and fearing their imperfections would be exposed. And if the Divine were to be wearied, I have no doubt it would be weariness from our trying to hide our fears and concerns. And why would the Divine be so concerned about us? That, beloved reader is a topic we will discuss later in the week. Shalom & Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Third Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Joy comes in fulfilling the role the Divine has set for you

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2 – 6)

I have read this passage many times, each time I come away with a different thought and perspective. In thinking also about the passage from Isaiah where it talks about things will come to pass, John the Baptist must have been familiar with such passages. In answering John’s question the way he did, Jesus must have also assumed that John was familiar with such passages. In a way, Jesus is saying “yes, I am the one all of creation has been waiting for.”

I remember also that Jesus and John were kin to each other, and as children growing up they may have played together. Mayhap that childhood relationship might have formed a bond between the two men. Or maybe John wanted to be very sure that his childhood friend was also the Son of the Lord God that John had dedicated his life to. I like to think that John, being so answered, was ready to accept what his chosen way of life would result in.

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ “ (Verses 7 – 10)

I like to think too that Jesus believed strongly in John – not just as the messenger who “prepared his way” but as the kin who believed in him long before either one of them had taken up their adult roles. Jesus’ further comments, in my mind, reveals an admiration and compassion of John that speaks of “family ties.” And yet, and yet . . . . this familial relationship might have made John unsure, at first, of whether Jesus truly was more than “human.” If John had known Jesus as family, could he make that leap to believing in Jesus as the Messiah? He preached about the one who was coming that was greater than he (John). But could and did John reconcile the person he knew as Jesus and the Messiah who he was preparing the way for and prophesying about? Maybe it was this uncertainty that lead Jesus to say what he did.

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Verse 11)

When we, beloved reader, believe in and take on the role that the Lord God has given us, we are inheritors of great joy. We also can be inheritors of great burden and responsibility. John talked himself into the prison cell of Herod, and death. Jesus, in a way, did the same thing. As did many of the disciples. You may ask, this is joy? Yes, actually it is.

It is often during high seasons of the church year that people may be called into greater roles in the life of the church and in their faith life. Such seasons turn our thinking to faith and spirituality. The traditions of the church year and our faith circle can potentially do the same. I would not think to “warn” you of this beloved reader. Instead I would like to prepare you, and even encourage you!

Also, when tough times come our way, and we question our faith, that is the time we can step forward and reassert our beliefs. And delve further into relationship with the Divine. May you, beloved reader, be lead even deeper in your faith life. May you answer the call. And may the greatness in you be revealed! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Third Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Waiting for joy to come – early & late, and how it comes & when

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” (James 5:7)

In the area where James’ readers lived there were two seasons of rain; early in the spring that softened the ground and the second season of rain later in the year that caused the crops to grow and flourish. What if we thought of the coming of joy that way too, beloved reader. Our first coming to faith that tenderized our heart and spirit so that we were receptive to the message of salvation and redemption, accepting the in-dwelling of the Spirit. And then later in our faith lives when we realize the fuller blessings of the Lord.

I misplaced something a day ago and was looking for it this morning (or at least when I wrote this). By retracing my steps I found what I thought was lost; that is the second time in the past few days when I found something important to me that had been temporarily misplaced. That was, in a sense, my “early rain”. (Bear with me – this gets better.) Because I was so joyful, I decided to dedicate this day to the Lord and allow the Lord to lead me trusting in the Divine. Well, the day took an unexpected disastrous turn, and it took all I had and total reliance on the Divine to get me through the day. At every turn of the day the unexpected and unforeseen happened, but through the Divine’s grace and power I made it through the day. That was my “second rain.”

“You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (Verse 8)

But the writer of the epistle of James is talking about the coming again of the Lord God (the first being Jesus and/or the coming of the Holy Spirit). That is what he is telling his reader to be patient for. And while they are being patient, he speaks to how they should conduct their lives.

“Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I have said the same sort thing recently, that the major and minor prophets waited beyond their lifetimes for the fulfillment of their prophecies. Moreover, (as I have said previously) the called and chosen people waited through Abraham begetting Isaac, then through to Joseph and Egypt, back to Canaan, through the kings and all of the occupations of Israel and Judah, and down to the occupation by Roman. What if all that waiting, being patient, hoping, and learning to a peace was their “first rain”, and then Jesus was the “second rain”? It does not fall in line with that the writer of the epistle of James said; but then we are STILL waiting for the “second rain” as he describes it. Remember that the called and chosen people of God went astray in a variety of ways while waiting. And when Jesus came, they did not see the Messiah as the coming of their “joy.”

We could hold to what the writer of the epistle of James says, and assume that “the coming of the Lord is near”. But if we put our lives on hold, what blessings and joys might we miss out on that the Divine has already placed on our path? What if I had ‘just’ congratulated myself on finding the lost items, and not given over the day to the Divine? I, beloved reader, shudder to think about it!

This third week of Advent has the theme of joy. We are coming closer to the nativity event, when the joy of Advent and Christmas is fulfilled. First rain maybe? But we also need to think about the time beyond that. And to continue to live in joy.

May the Lord God, beloved reader, send you “second rain” so that all of the days to come are lived in joy! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Hope comes from peace and harmony

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:4 – 6)

I am assuming that Paul is talking about the Torah (Pentateuch in Greek) and the other writings that would have been used in the Jewish community. It was Paul’s belief (and a good many commentators that I have read) that Jesus the Messiah was predicted by the writings of the major and minor prophets, and the nature of the Messiah as revealed in the stories of the called and chosen people. In that I am not talking about the presumptions that were made about the nature and intentions of the Divine, but what actually transpired between the Lord God and humanity. Read carefully where Paul says “live in harmony with one another”. Many of the actions that were undertaken by the Israelites did not seem to promote harmony. I concede the consideration of that is a larger topic that I am not looking at taking up here. The point I want to emphasis is one voice glorifying the God and [Parent] of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Verse 7)

A refrain that is often heard is “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people” to slightly paraphrase for gender inclusivity. But that is the whole point, beloved reader, to make all people feel welcome! Listen to Paul!

“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (Verses 8 – 12)

One may ask, who are the “circumcised” and who are the “Gentiles”. Paul still has a shade of “them” and “us”. Strictly speaking to Paul, WE are the Gentiles. Because we are not the first people that Yahweh called out. But as believers in Jesus Christ and beneficiaries of the Lord God’s outreach through the Messiah, we are the “circumcised.” And if we are both, beloved reader, how can we deny relationship with others. Either they are already within the family of God, or the Divine is attempting to reach out to them through us! So I say to you, beloved reader, which ever group you may be a part of . . . .

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 13)

Selah and Shalom!

[P.S. This might be a good time to announce that as of November 26th I have taken up the invitation to post on Theology Corner. In the coming weeks I will say more about the transition to posting exclusively (not that I mean to leave anyone beyond or left out) on Theology Corner. Look for cues and clues to switch over to that new site.)

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Time to be ready to be raised up!

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36 – 39)

It is tempting to ignore the part where the Son of God does not know when the Lord God will return. But there is no use ignoring it; the Jesus who was speaking at this juncture did not have the information as to when the Divine would return. In other portions of the gospels Jesus seems to have that knowledge, but not here. Mayhap the rationale for Jesus’ lack of knowledge is so that his listeners would not assume there is time to prepare, or a safety net that if some sign or portent appears then it would be time to get their faith and spiritual affairs in order.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” (Verses 40 – 41)

Back in my youth much was made of “one taken and one left behind”. It was chilling to an adolescent to think that suddenly the important people in their lives who were strong in their faith might suddenly disappear. Made for one or two nightmares I am sure – at least one or two scary movies! It also made for a rush to the front of the church to “get right with God” and make sure that you were not one of those left behind. And then some years later that concept became the title of a series of books. I tell you beloved reader, I had some flashbacks to some scary times in my youth! Even now if I think about it too long or too strongly, I start to worry about the people around me – not family and close friends but those I work with and have looser connections with such that I do not know the status of their faith life.

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Verses 42 – 44)

What I have found though, is that you cannot leave on the edge of that fear for long. At some point you just have to say that those near and dear to me have already become part of God’s family, and for others who are in my life . . . . I just have to trust they have made their own arrangements in their faith lives.

When times were simpler and communities were more close knit, you would know who had committed their lives to the Lord God. Now with global communities and the reach of social media, you have no idea where some people’s faith lives are. Moreover, with so many divisions in the Christian faith there is no conformity that one can take comfort from. I am not saying that some Christians are more likely to be “raptured” (there’s a term that is not used much anymore!) than other Christians – but Christianity is not the equal and “painted with the same brush” that it used to be.

Actually keeping this all in mind, it is even more important that each person is sure that they are ready for the unexpected return of the Lord God! It is no use saying I can do that tomorrow, or next year. I don’t mean for this to be a pulpit call. But in your own heart, soul, and mind check to make sure you are in alignment with the Divine! Selah!