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!

Advertisements

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Being called forth to be what sort of Christian?

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” ( Colossians 1:1 – 8)

I imagine in my mind the conversation between Epaphras and Paul about the Colossians; stories of the care and faithfulness, giving ways and patience, compassion and unconditional acceptance. I do not know if that is how Paul would describe what a “model” Christian would be. I know that is, in part, how I would describe one. I am not sure if Paul would put more emphasis on the “living in hope of salvation” or the treating of others as fellow “saints”. Sometimes I suspect there might have been a “them” and “us” mentality then; I know it is not a good image of how an authentic Christian should be now. At least, again, from my perspective. But you, beloved reader, are welcome to imagine the Colossians how ever you want to.

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Verses 9 – 14)

So much of how we picture Christians of the early church is based on Paul’s description. And that is okay, if we all agree on how to interpret and understand what Paul said. The things is, we don’t. So we are left to fashion for ourselves, individually and in our faith circles, how a good model authentic Christian should act. How I would love to sit with you, beloved reader, and hear from you as to how you act out your Christian faith. But I am here, at my keyboard, and hear little if anything as to what your thoughts are. You, on the other hand, get to hear from me quite often as to my perspective and opinion. I guess that is another thing Paul and I have in common – not much feedback from our readers! Or at least not much recorded feedback . . . which in the long run is pretty much the same.

So I must, as Paul does, pray “for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and commend you the Divine. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistles Passage – Knowing what you should believe in and why

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” (Galatians 6:1-6)

The Revised Common Lectionary sets verses 1 to 6 in parenthesis, which means that it is acknowledge as accompanying the passage that the RCL is actually focused on. Often the RCL will do this when the periphery passage in some way pertains, proceed/follows, or explain/sets the context for the focus passage. Often times this “extra” passage has interesting things in it as well. For example “For all must carry their own loads”; everyone should be responsible only for themselves. Not correcting another or judging another (although Paul sometimes seems to hold that privilege for himself) or getting into another’s business (ditto). This must refer back to the “spirit of gentleness” that one must use in restoring the one detected in a transgression. (Is Paul gentle?)

The other verse I take note of is “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” I could (but did not) look up what the biblical commentators say about this. That is, which way the sharing goes; the taught to the teacher, or the teacher to the taught. Think about it, beloved reader, because there is a difference. I believe the desired direction is that the teacher shares with those who are taught the good things – the benefits and blessings of the teachings. I am not sure if the verses that follow (that is the ones the RCL wishes to highlight for this day) are indicative or illuminating of that verse.

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Paul would say one good thing is “eternal life”, and one’s teacher teaches accountably (that is, “sow to the Spirit”) then both the teacher and the taught attain that. But Paul is not talking just of teachers but (perhaps) exemplars too.

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Verses 9 – 10)

The “family of faith” – who is your family of faith beloved reader? We talk of faith circles, fellowship of believers, churches, etc. Are these all names for the “family of faith”? I believe so. Where then does the family start and end? If we have a “large” family, then we have plenty of work to do. And “good work.” Notice though Paul includes “the good of all” , not just the family of faith.

“See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” (Verse 11)

Let me see if I can explain this. It is thought that Paul used a secretary to write some of the letters, or gave broad outlines of what was to be written. The secretary would then write the letter as if it came straight from the hand of Paul. The readers might have been aware of this. But when the letters are large, it was indicative that Paul was writing it himself, his thoughts and theology alone.

“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised–only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Evidently it was preaching that the Christ’s death was what saved (and the only thing that saved) someone resulted in persecution. By pressing the issue of being circumcised they satisfy the rules of Judaism and the law. They (those who teach and pressure the Gentiles on the issue of circumcision) do not obey the law themselves, but they make every appearance that they force the law on others. This statement may be why Paul wanted it clear that he was saying this, and that the Galatians can trust that circumcision was not necessary for Christian faith and salvation.

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule–peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (Verses 14 – 16)

I could have added to the title of this “and how to live it out”, but I did not. First, Paul is talking about faith issues and where one’s hope of salvation and eternal life is. Yes, he talks about work and good work, and teaching well and sowing in the Spirit. But these come from faith, and are not actions. Let us first get our faith beliefs aligned, then we can see what we should do with them. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – The need to change one’s life

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

There is a phrase bandied about – “Freedom is never free” – which is taken to mean that our freedoms in society (our western/American society) are won at a cost; and that cost is the lives of men and women who have struggled against an enemy that seeks to limit or take away our freedom. And I have always been puzzled by that ideology – being a non-resistant Anabaptist from little on up. And I am lead to ask, what the definition of “freedom” is in that phrase?

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Paul would tell us that of course our “freedom” is not free; the cost, he would say, was the death of Jesus the Christ. But praise be to the Lord God (he would continue) Jesus rose from the dead and freed us from the dominion of sin! And he does say (above) that our response should be loving one another as Jesus Christ modeled love, and loving others as we would want to be treated. And he warns too against “false” freedom, that is actually the way to sin.

“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” (Verses 15 – 17)

Now, as this same God-fearing non-resistant Anabaptist I have to be puzzled at what is meant by the “desires of the flesh”. Growing up with the theme of being moderate and modest in all things, and not being part of the world, I lived in fear that I would sin inadvertently and be condemned utterly. In fact I can remember some where in the middle of grade school living in fear of sinning. But one day I realized that I may not be as sinful as I feared (after hearing much greater sins than I had EVER heard of); and maybe, just maybe I was redeemable after all!

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” (Verse 18)

So I knew if I put my mind to it, and stayed humble and modest, I would not be lead too badly to sin – I hoped!

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Verses 19 – 21)

Oh beloved reader! You cannot imagine (maybe you can) the scrutiny I made of my life making sure I did not do those things – half of which I was not even sure what is was or how one would accomplish such travesties!

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Verses 22 – 23)

What no one told me (but I figured out for myself) was that once the Holy Spirit is in your life, the desire for such things and the fear of such things fades away. It was the fear of sinning that caused me the most consternation. Such a blessing it was to realize that I was free! That fear could not and should not rule my life. And I discovered once I felt that freedom it was very easy to live out the fruits of the Spirit!

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Verses 24 – 25)

In the days of Ordinary Time we may forget the gifts and blessing that the Divine has bestowed on us. We may forget the lessons and teaching that came during the commemorative days of the church year. There is as much danger of living in fear of sin and recriminations during Ordinary Times as there is of going astray. Remember, beloved reader, the Holy Spirit of the Divine is as much with us during Ordinary Time as with the Holy Days of the church year.

May the time between now and the beginning of the new church year be filled with blessings and love from the Lord God! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – How to live in response to the Divine: One lesson for Ordinary Time

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:23 – 24)

The Jewish faith, as practiced in Paul’s times and among his peers, seems like an unusual faith indeed. Ruled by laws that dictated one’s habits from rising in the morning to going to bed at night. Many of the rules outlined relationships between fellow believers and relationships with non-believers. Compassion and charity were highly praised attributes. There were also laws dictating what to eat, wear, how to spend one’s time. And if looked at objectively, seemed to be designed more for surviving one’s environment. There was a challenge to the two sets of laws. The first set, relationship guidelines, were hard to do because at times it seemed to run contrary to human will and impulse – being nice, kind, and generous. Not everyone was able to do that. The second set, dietary and daily tasks of living, were also difficult to do – but in a different way. Tedious and exacting at times. It took time and resources to follow them. Dietary laws keep the people safe from harmful foods. Daily tasks of living were probably to keep the people safe from germs etc. Disregarding them had consequences. So did, actually, the relationship laws – different consequences though. The prophets were more likely to chastise the people ofr violating the relationship laws.

Now as I said (and some of this is my own theory) some sects of Jewish believers did not strictly practice the dietary and daily tasks of living. And they lived unhealthy lives, or died, because of those consequences. Interestingly in our modern times some of these dietary laws are no longer needed but practiced to show faithfulness and adherence to the Jewish faith. But what I am intrigued with is this; the Pharisees and Sadducees adhered to the dietary laws with exacting precision, and based their faithfulness and piety on following them. But as for the relationship laws, they were too hard – too much personal cost – and so they chucked them out the window. And Jesus chastised them for that! When Paul was writing to the new area churches, the dietary laws were the ones that were left in the past and the law of love and compassion was put to the forefront – as Jesus exemplified. It was a result of faith in Jesus and the Divine, and the gift/blessing that Jesus was that prompted the response.

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Verses 25 – 29)

The dietary laws (and tasks for daily living laws) might have kept the called and chosen people of God safe for this life, but it was the relationship laws that made that life pleasant to live and carried lasting consequences. (As modern practices evolved some to the dietary and tasks fro daily living laws become outmoded or irrelevant, but as I said before adhered to for tradition’s sake.) And if was the relationship laws that formed the basis of the faith life that Paul speaks of. No longer “clean” or “unclean” but everyone united in love – love for the Divine and love from the Divine – for a common faith. The apex of relationship laws. And in relationship to the Divine and governed by those expectations now. Because of that intimate family relationship with the Divine, we who believe and have faith are heirs to all that the Divine has in mind for us. How then, beloved reader, will we live in response to that? Selah!

Day of Pentecost, 2019 Year C : Epistle Passage – All of us coming together under the Divine

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Who or what is the Spirit of God? What or who came down at Pentecost? If we believe absolutely that it was the Holy Presence that came from the Lord God the Divine, then we have to live in harmony with those who profess authentic belief in the Lord God the Divine. Now, can we judge who is an authentic Christian? That is, whose belief in authentic? We may claim we are able to according to what Paul would call fruits of the Spirit. But who quantifies those qualities? Seems to me if we claim the right to judge, we are on awfully shaky ground.

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” (Verse 15a)

The fear that verse 15a talks about is not fear of anyone but being subject to the strict Jewish laws that threatened to condemn at every turn. Instead the believer is a beloved child of the Lord God, and will be welcomed back each time he/she goes astray.

When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Verses 15b – 17)

I wish, I dearly wish that I could say this adoption covers all of humanity; the Lord God would like it to cover all of humanity, for that is who Jesus Christ was sent for. If we could discern the soul of each person precisely, and know whether or not they profess to be a child of God – or whether at some point in their life they will come to be a child of God – would could say “aye” or “nay” whether they should be accepted and treated by us as a member in good standing in the family of the Lord God. As for me? I would rather treat them, all of humanity, as a part of the family of the Lord God then to dismiss them and incur the rather of the Divine Parent who desires all to be gathered under the Protection and Benevolence of the Divine. Selah!

Day of Pentecost, 2019 Year C : Substituted Acts Passage – Trying to come together

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1 – 4)

We forget, beloved reader, that one of the aspects of Pentecost was gifting of languages that connected people. While the Holy Spirit come to rest upon them, it was to the discerning and divining of theologies and philosophies but a bringing together of languages. And it caught the attention of people who were gathered there.

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (Verses 5 – 11)

The Genesis passage that is cited for this day talks about the possible dividing and diversifying of languages. While the reason that this was done by the Divine may be difficult to understand, here and now with the coming of the Holy Spirit the rift in languages is temporarily erased.

And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:6 – 9)

If I was to champion the cause of the Divine in this event, I would say (and do say) that while the feat of building a tower that reached the skies would have been tremendous, it was only one building for one purpose and did not advance the lives and livelihoods of the people gathered there. But when the large group was divided and set off on various paths, they ultimately accomplished more and greater things than they would have as on group. And it set the stage for a more momentous event than those early builders could have ever imagined.

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Acts chapter 2, Verses 12 – 21)

That it was momentous does not mean it was clear and understandable. In fact, based on Peter’s oration to the crowd, there emerges some continuing confusion. That is, confusion to our modern understanding. We know from our own existence and hind sight that the days following Pentecost were not the last days. Yes, the Spirit was poured out over all people. Do not let statement be given a shred less importance, beloved reader – ALL PEOPLE! It is the timing and the portents that come under questioning. As I have said on other occasions, whatever has happened over the years that seems like signs . . . “in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” . . . was not the sign of “the Lord’s great and glorious day.” We are still waiting for that. In fact (again), we may be at the “Babel” of our modern times. The factions and divisions we see in humanity, while breaking down compassion and caring as exemplified by Jesus Christ, are scattering us one from another and causing great confusion. Why? I do not know that beloved reader. What I do know is when we hear the common speech of authentic Christianity from people and places that we do not expect it from, we sit up and take notice.

After Pentecost we enter into “Ordinary Time” – a time where we live out ordinary days and hone our Christian living skills until the next Holy Days of the Church come along. May we in that time discern what the Lord God the Divine is doing in our lives, and may we listening with sensitive ears for the messages that come to us. Selah!