Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Living on the edges of sinfulness

It was either this or Hosea, beloved reader, and both passages seem to be dealing with sinfulness that has a purpose. I do not know which passage had the lessor of two evils – this or Hosea 1:2-10 . The question of which is the greater or the lessor, I will leave to you beloved reader.

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18: 20 – 21)

Interesting things about this passage. First, it comes soon after the Lord God appearing in conjunction with the three men who are offered hospitality by Abraham, and when Abraham and Sarah are told to expect the birth of a son very soon. Second, there is a wonderful discussion as to whether Abraham should be told about what the Lord God expects to find in Sodom & Gomorrah. The Divine decides to let Abraham know because, “I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Verse 19b) This explains why Abraham is right there with the Divine and takes part of the discussion as to that twin city’s fate. And third, the three men are the eyes and ears of the Divine.

“So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Verses 22 – 25)

You have to wonder though, how Abraham had the bravery to barter with the Divine. We know that Abraham had family in Sodom/Gomorrah, and that they alone (at least most of them) are spared. And only at Abraham’s request. And if Sodom/Gomorrah was a large city or set of cities, why did Abraham start at such a comparatively low number?

And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” (Verses 26 – 28)

I did a little research, and the most probable size of the two cities were 2,400 people. That is quite small, actually. Think, beloved reader, of the small towns you know or maybe even the small town you live in or were born. If “disaster” was imminent, would there be enough righteous people in it for it to be saved?

“Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” (Verses 29 – 31)

Abraham must have known something about the cities. At this point I am wondering why Abraham’s extended family were living there. I had wondered about that off and on when encountering the story. And if you read ahead (as I did) you will read that Lot and his family are really not a part of the city; that is, the evil and sinfulness had not really touched them.

“Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Verse 32)

The question I had posed at the beginning of my comments was which Old Testament passage deals with the greater sinfulness. And to be honest, I am not sure. Hosea was told to pick a wife that had a reputation and history of being unfaithful. It was so that the Divine could give object lessons to house of Israel. Here, in this passage from Genesis, we can see that sinfulness was rampant many generations before the Israelites established their kingdom. Sinfulness lays in wait for anyone who ventures out in the world. A sobering thought. Be careful, beloved reader, and shalom!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Moving forward in one’s faith and spiritual life . . . . but not always an easy path

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” (Psalm 52:1 – 4)

Sometimes the psalms praise and celebrate not only the Divine, but those who follow the way of the Divine. Psalm 52, as the RCL uses it, a warning and caution perhaps to those who were warned in Amos chapter eight of what will happen to them if they defy the Lord God.

“But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah. The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the psalmist contrasts those who have failed to trust in the Lord God to himself, the psalmist and what has he has gained by his devotion to the Divine.

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And for those like Abraham, who have never veered away from the Divine, the reward is also great.

“O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)

From this you would imagine that following the Divine is simply a matter of devotion and observances that results in wonderful rewards and a blessed life. Well, beloved reader, the psalmist paints a wonderful picture; but the reality is a little more tense and strained than what is “advertised”.

This world is not an easy one; I could point out all the troubles and turmoil that the biblical figures we know well went through. I could talk about some of the modern saints and what they endured. I could even talk about what I have endured!

It would be easy to throw up one’s hands in despair and say “What is the use in the struggle?” Many have. The things that come in this life, come regardless of what our faith and spiritual life is. Yes, some are blessed by the Lord God. For some life is easy. But the faithful and the unfaithful alike suffer in this world. The point is, the Divine never meant for us (humanity) to suffer alone. We may not be able to find the good in suffering – maybe there is none. But there is refuge in the Lord God. And a faithful community around us that upholds us. Remember too some of the psalms the psalmist wrote; he was no stranger to suffering and hard times. Yet the Lord God upheld him through all things. It is promise we can count on that the Lord God will do the same for us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Finding the correct way to move forward in one’s faith and spiritual life

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” ( Luke 10:38-42)

I have trouble with this passage, beloved reader. Trouble that started in my childhood and followed me in adulthood and into seminary. It was one of the conundrums that seminary did not relieve. In fact, because of a seminary professor who did not have an understanding of how women might feel entering ministry, it only got worse. I had suggested in a commentary I wrote that perhaps Martha and Mary could find a have way point; offering care and hospitality while also paying attention to the teaching and instruction that was given. “No”, my seminary professor said, “that is not the proper way to interpret this passage.” And because he so “shut me down” I don’t remember what his “correction” was.

One might say “of course it is more important to listen to preaching/teaching than fix a meal or wash clothes.” But I would warrant, beloved reader, that is because someone else is offering hospitality! And this type of attitude shuts out many women (and perhaps some men) whose gift, strength, and calling is hospitality. I know of legions and generations of good Christian women who felt their place was in the kitchen and in the laundry room. It is where they served. Furthermore the biblical commentators make it very clear that Martha was in the wrong and Mary was in the right. Finally, at the time I was just wrapping my brain around the concept that not only could I be a “Mary” but that I could pass on the instruction and guidance I had been given – that I could learn well enough to teach others. (It felt good to get that all out! Been waiting about 20 years to be able to articulate that!!)

As I so often ask, however, where do we go from here? What does it mean for us? First, remember what Paul said about different roles in the church and ministry. Second, understand that maybe Jesus had an insight into Martha’s thinking that explains this incident. Third, remember that Jesus said his “burden” is light and his “yoke” is easy – that we should not worry some much about earthly daily things. And fourth, be aware of what Jesus is calling you to. Jesus may have called upon Martha as much as he did Mary – that is, inviting them to sit and listen to what he had to say.

May you, beloved reader, sit to listen, ponder, meditate and learn more than you run around “worried and distracted by many things.” Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Paul raises the alarm to not back track to a sinful previous time

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15 – 20)

Paul is on a roll, beloved reader. The “He” of verse fifteen is Jesus; in verse fourteen Paul moved from taking about the Lord God to talking about the Son of God “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Verse 14b) In most of Paul’s letters if you haven’t read what his discourse was several verses back, it is hard to know what/who the pronouns mean. When Paul gets “hot” on a topic, he tends to forge ahead in his setting down of theology. I often wonder if his readers needed to trace back to previous paragraphs/passages (or even letters) to follow what he is saying. And to be quite honest beloved reader, it was only when I read ahead that I felt secure in writing on the same theme of yesterday. So, let us follow where Paul in going in his discourse.

“And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him– provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.” (Verses 21 – 23)

I posed the question yesterday as to how the called and chosen people of the Divine changed from the faithfulness that Abraham exemplified to the people of Israel (and Judah) that Amos was railing against. I expanded that question to recent generations and how as humanity we have fallen away from the compassion and care that had been instructed to us by Christian faith. (I did get a little soapbox-y yesterday, but my heart breaks when I hear news and reports of the unkindness we find in the world. Certainly there are still people who care and carry on Jesus’ example of compassion and love. I think, beloved reader, I am digressing.)

Paul raises the warning and concern that his readers should stay firm in their beliefs and not “digress” to the “evil deeds” that they committed before. They have, he says, been made “holy and blameless”. I would like to believe that extends to kindness, care, and compassion. Paul, you must understand, is intent on preaching a gospel of salvation that saves one from a life of sin and the consequences of that.

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Verses 24 – 28)

I would apply Paul’s to my theme of yesterday by wondering if being aware of and living out “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints” would result in living a life of caring, compassion, love, and shalom. Beloved reader, what do you think Paul would say? Yes, me too!

May you beloved reader live in the light of the wisdom of Jesus Christ who was sent from the Divine. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Raising the alarm for a return to a different age

Two things I want to say and then I will step back and let you read this passage in its entirety. First, I am using it as preface to the comments I want to make about the other Old Testament passage. Second, notice that the Lord appeared to Moses as three men – a Trinity!

“The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.
He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:1-10a)

When I read the Old Testament passages for this week, I had the same dilemma as before – which one to choose?! But as I sat thinking about the both, the time that they happened in the history of the called and chosen people, and the people involved . . . . I thought about how God’s people had come from first being called. And it was not in a good way. Listen to the prophet Amos.

This is what the Lord GOD showed me–a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” (Amos 8:1 – 2)

The Divine came to Abraham, sought him out I am guessing; and Abraham recognized the Lord God in the manifestation that approached him. Abraham offered hospitality, and it was readily accepted. Abraham did well.

By the time of Amos the people of Israel had so gone astray that the Divine was no longer going to come near them. The Divine’s Holy Presence would be removed from them . . . according to Amos.

“The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Abraham offered the best that he had, and offered it gladly. Now to be far, Abraham recognized that these three men were not as they appeared. He knew he was in the presence of something beyond his own human experience. It was not the first time. So he had the advantage there.

The people of Israel in Amos’ time did not pay honor and respect to the traditions of their forebearers. The stories of Abraham and other that came down to them were not heeded or internalized. May be if the Divine had come to them as the Lord God came to Abraham their response would have been different. I am reminded of Jesus’ statement that if one has compassion on the least of these . . . . But compassion seems to be unknown by the people Amos is speaking of.

“The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” (Verses 7 – 12)

To Abraham the Divine brought the promise of new life, and the beginning of a nation that would be called the people of God. To the people that Amos addresses, the news is of mourning and death, being parted from the Lord God and left to wander in emptiness.

What happened in those intervening years? Well, we can read the bible and learn the stories. But does that answer the question as to how the people of Israel so changed from who they used to be? The reason this is an important question is because I have seen humanity change. How did that change come about? How wide spread is the change? And, can humanity change back to the compassionate and caring members of society that they once were? Or . . . . am I remembering a time that never was? If it never was, does that mean it will never be?

We are on the cusp, beloved reader, of being the very fulfillment of the story of the people of Israel and Judah. And that scares me! Let us all seek within ourselves shalom, and offer it to others! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine for the clear instructions of the Lord God and then benefit of heeding them

As I shared early in the week, when I use both Old Testament passages there is a plethora of psalm passage verses; one passage from Psalm 82 and one from Psalm 25:1-10. It will take some thought as to how to proceed.

Psalm 82 connect to the passage from Amos where is was sent to tell the king of Israel Jeroboam how he had failed at ruling the people and what the consequences would be of that failure. The passage from the Old Testament in that section is not precisely clear who would suffer the most – the king or the men who advised him poorly. It was a surety that none of them would fare well.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Psalm 82:1 – 5)

As you can read, beloved reader, the psalmist does pretty good also at lambasting those how have falter in leadership in the Divine’s sight.

“I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Verses 6 – 8)

Psalm 25:1-10 connects to the portion from Deuteronomy; all things considered, that passage was gentle and encouraging in its content. And this passage from Psalm 25 is also heartening, and a praise response to instructions found in Deuteronomy.

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” (Psalm 25: 1 – 5)

As you may remember, Deuteronomy 30 verses 9 – 14 outlined the benefits of following the Divine’s commandments and a reminder that at its heart the commandments of the Lord God are not hard to follow and the Lord God is close by. The psalmist seems to be reminding the Divine of the promises that were made to the called and chosen people.

“Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (Verses 6 – 10)

I think all that is needed here it is a SELAH!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The question was, “Being called forth to be what sort of Christian? “ The answer is, “This sort”

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25 – 28)

There are times, beloved reader, that I feel the title of these reflections is enough to convey my opinion and/or perspective on the passage. The lawyer told the answer to his question (and actually my question) was/is to love the Divine with every particle of our body and to give our neighbor the same care and compassion etc that we hope for and expect for ourselves. It should be simple enough.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Verses 29)

However, the human spirit (in its sin and fallibility) does not do “simple”, and demands that particulars and specifics are spelled out. It would be easy to say that it is because this man was a “lawyer” that he tried to place loose with the law; but the truth is that many people of all sorts of education and background try to get away with the least amount of care and compassion given to others, yet expect the most given to them.

“Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Verses 30 – 32)

These are people who know the law, and would be expected to exhibit the care and compassion that Jesus confirmed was in the law. And you can easily (and should) substitute in any man/woman of God for the priest and Levite.

“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Verse 33)

Likewise you should substitute in the most unlikely person to be moved to compassion by the unfortunate condition of another. Maybe even the person who you, beloved reader, feel is the antithesis of your own faith beliefs!

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’” (Verses 34 – 35)

Now understand beloved reader – the Samaritan would have been the antithesis to this Jewish lawyer; a person who the Jewish lawyer would scorn and dismiss as incapable of following the law. And Samaritans generally speaking (unfortunately) would have been expected to act more like the priest or Levite. And then Jesus asks the question (which I also asked in my way) . . . .

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Verses 36 – 37)

In the Old Testament passage the Lord God set up a plumb line to measure the people of Israel, Jesus also set up a plumb line (most likely a very similar one) and a good many people failed that one as well. Do not, beloved reader, be such a person! Selah!