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!

Thanksgiving Day: 2019 Year C – Giving Thanks . . . . Again!

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 3)

I knew, as I looked over these verses, they sounded very very familiar. And I knew I had ponder on and written about them not that long ago – relatively speaking. Factually, they are the same verses from Canadian Thanksgiving. And, as it always does, Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings evoke strong memories from my past and my childhood. Reading this verses in preparation for Nov 28th brought to mind the same thoughts and emotion that I talked about Oct 10th. I am not sure I can think any differently about them.

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Since I moved to the United States in 1980, thinking about Thanksgiving has become a prelude to thinking about and planning for Advent and Christmas. When my children were younger we would start planning and decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. When I started to write spiritual/faith blogs and commentaries Thanksgiving marked the time I started planning my Advent devotions. Furthermore, Thanksgiving became the signal to start shopping for Christmas. It is that very rush from one to the other that made me think back to the wonderful separateness that my Canadian upbringing schooled me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. How I miss the chance and ability to give separate focus to those two important holidays and celebrations that are not and should not be mirrors to one another.

The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The calendars rules though, and the Lectionary gives little help in making a large divide. Funny, I had never considered before the seeming favor that the Lectionary gives to the U.S. marking of time. When I lived in Canada it was never part of my experience to plan worship in any meaningful way. Maybe if I had, I could parse out the experience of having time between the two holidays.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Really, in the church year there are many occasions to give thanks to the Lord God the Divine. And it does not have to be a special occasion marked on the calendar; it can be an occasion marked in our hearts, spirits, and life experiences. The Divine, I believe, cares just as much about the occasions that may seem minor to others but are important to us. And I believe we should mark those occasions by special remembrances and of course thanksgiving. Whether those occasions are positive or negative, they are important because the Lord God is with us.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

After this day, Thanksgiving Day, we are poised to start Advent. We will be plunged into another season of waiting and rushing – both are part of the Advent/Christmas season. So let us pause and send up a pray of thanks for the occasions and blessing that have been given to us thus far, and what is yet to come. Selah!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Time to rouse up one’s self, and be ready

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” (Romans 13:11 – 12a [Emphasis mine] )

Paul’s thoughts and theology bring to mind the 10 wise and foolish women; some were prepared for the coming of the master/bridegroom, and some were not. It would seem that Paul is saying that since time has passed since Jesus’ resurrection and being taken into heavenly, surely the time grows nearer for the Messiah’s return. And it is true, in a way; every day brings us closer to the return of the Divine. But when days span into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years. And then decades pass, and centuries. And we think, how long is the wait? It is a topic we have touched on many times, beloved reader. Salvation IS closer . . . . but we don’t know by how much.

Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Verses 12b – 13)

Here we are then, coming into another Advent season. And Paul’s advice does stand firm. In fact, for each year since our coming to faith, the exhortation stands firmer because we, beloved reader, are further from the initial exuberance of new faith. It is liken to coming to Advent AGAIN! We have been through it before – the waiting, the decorating, the worshiping, the lighting of the five candles. We strive to make it new, exciting, and different. But sometimes we are strained to do so. That is why, I think, Advent and Christmas are blessed through the eyes of a child who is not yet jaded by the mystery, lights, joy, and magic. And maybe, just maybe Advent and Christmas are blessed through the eyes of a new believer. A new believer, while new in the faith and learning what is good and right as a Christian, has the impetus and enthusiasm to find the season simply joyful.

“Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Verse 14)

Let us go back to my opening however – the women who had trimmed their candles and had oil for their lamps. One of the first tasks of Advent is to get ready. To inventory what we have for Christmas and consider what we will need for this season . . . . that seems both so secular and spiritual. It may be that the first thing we should really get ready is ourselves. Dust off our wonder of the season and remind ourselves of the gift that was given to humanity. Yes, the more I think about that, the better it sounds.

May you, beloved reader, enter into this season ready to partake of all the joy and wonders. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Old Testament Passage – Timings & Ponderings

Titles and timings get tricky around this time of year. As I said very recently (just in the last few days maybe, or it might be something I will say/you will read in the next few days), Thanksgiving and Advent are racing in tandem. Thanksgiving usually gets here first but Advent is not far behind. Or at least, the first Sunday of Advent – which is my focus right now. You know, before Thanksgiving!

“The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” ( Isaiah 2:1-2)

What is spoken concerning the Lord God the Divine is often spoken in terms of hopes and dreams – less often in terms of actual facts and tangible signs. As I have gotten old I have learned the value of making plans based on facts and tangible signs, but basing my hopes on dreams and insights.

“Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Of late I have been thinking about juxtaposition of current events and biblical insights. And how that can both inform and deceive the other. I find myself becoming more vocal on certain issues; not so much political issues but social issues. The times though tend to mingle and swirl the social and political. Ironically, that is sort of a biblical phenomenon. In the both the social (and political) realm it is important to know what you believe and believe in. And who & Who informs that belief. And before I go off on any tangent or digress, let me sum up my thoughts by saying . . . .

O house of Jacob [and the whole Christian community], come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (Verse 5)

Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Still a Different Type of News for Good Believers

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:5 – 9)

End times – we have talked about them a great deal, beloved reader. But we have not come to any firm conclusions. Which actually, Jesus is telling the crowd not to. When they think the end is near, or if someone proclaims that he or some event foretells the end, do not believe it. All the terrible things, and all the terrible people, that have come about have not signaled the end.

“Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is true that all of this, and more has happened. But actually these words and warnings were not the future that was in store for the disciples and apostles. It actually makes me wonder what the writer of the gospel of Luke was thinking this meant. What the writer of Luke said next was a much more appropriate prediction for the people Jesus was talking to.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Verses 12 – 19)

It seems to me that much is made of the first section of this passage – the portents of gloom and doom – and not much is made of the second portion. We who live in this modern society know that many of the disciples were persecuted for their faith, and some put to death. When the walls of the temple came down, many of the believers had left Jerusalem because of the persecution. And since we who live now (for the most part) are not persecuted in the way the disciples, apostles, and believers were – we tend to focus in on the signs and portents. But what if, across the ages, the prediction still holds true? That before the end of this age we who believer are arrested and persecuted. And that we will have opportunity (if it can be called that) to testify to our faith. Consider for a moment, beloved reader, how the perception of Christianity has changed over the past few decades. That actually makes me quake and shiver more than “wars and insurrections.” Let me hasten to say that does not mean wars and violence against others does not bother me – it does! In the same way the “wars” against Christians and Christianity also bothers me; I am jostled and unnerved by both equally. The only comfort I feel is in Jesus’ promise that nothing that is essential in/of me and my faith will be harmed. And that I may well have opportunities to prove myself.

Is this “good news”? Well, may be not so much on the face of it. I encourage you though to dwell with. Consider also that if the temple in the time of Jesus was beautiful yet was destroyed maybe to the “shining institution” of Christianity may be knocked around also. Put not your faith in the beauty that comes from “beautiful stones and gifts”, but in the unshakable foundation of believe and faith that Jesus Christ established. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Different Type of News for Good Believers

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” (II Thessalonians 3:6)

I wonder, beloved reader, if you reaction to this verse was the same as mine. How is Paul defining “idleness” and “not according to the tradition now.” Paul had/has very set ideas of how Christians should live, and his instructions could conceivably cover any and every aspect and facet of life. And I have to admit . . . . it sometimes takes a little bit of bravery to read what type instruction and guidance he is giving.

“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I did breath a sigh of relief when I read verses 7 to 9; Paul was not talking about faith issues but practical lifestyle issues – which do touch a bit on faith. But more on the character of a good authentic Christian. This example and model of Christianity and Christian evangelizing is one that many faith traditions have adapted. Missionaries are much more effective when they live side by side the people they are sent to, and can be seen working as hard as the potential converts. Non-missionary Christians too model faith much more effectively when work as hard as people who have not yet, but may someday espouse faith.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Do you remember beloved reader, when the early Christian church was quite young, believers would sell their possessions and pool their resources giving to those who had little or none? I have to wonder if this situation is the trickle down from that initiative. It is a strong tenet of faith that Christians in committed faith circles help one another. What is not often spoken of is that some take advantage of that; and that some believers think that there should be a limit to the help that is given. It is a tricky thing, beloved reader, to draw up guidelines that govern Christian help and stewardship.

Our modern society has mixed opinions on social welfare programs; in fact I have a great deal of reluctance to start naming the different programs and social services that are available for fear of touching off debate and divisiveness. And, it strays into the realm of politics. So I am going to end my remarks here. Paul was very brave wading into the arena of life. All I will say is that I hope and pray that all your needs are met, and that you are making your way in the world without overwhelming hardship. Shalom!