Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Pleas during Lent

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.” (Philippians 3:17 – 18)

Paul is very sincere in this – shedding tears because some “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Part of the reason is that he becomes profoundly disturbed in thinking that some may be lost to death and destruction because they are outside of the will of our Lord God Jesus Christ. Part of the reason is that Paul remembers when he was “Saul” and lived apart of the Lord God. And part of the reason, I think, is that Paul becomes perturbed that any one would live contrary to the rules of the Lord God Jesus Christ. And finally, I think part of the reason is that they are such a bad example to new and vulnerable Christians.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Verse 19)

As fervent as Paul was in persecuting new Christian believers, he is as fervent or more so in protecting them, and nurturing them. And encouraging them to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ and the new life that is to come for them.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Paul’s plea is also the plea of Lent. To resist temptation and stand firm in one’s beliefs no matter what you may see others do and hear of them doing.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Chapter 4, verse 1)

Selah!

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First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the “land” of peace and hope during Lent

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8b – 9)

It seems that when ever there is a real world reality confronting me, there is also a epistle passage that is at the forefront of my day. Maybe something (or Someone) is trying to tell me something – that I should not obsess about the real world reality, and instead focus on the needs of the spiritual world and my spiritual life.

Many years ago, when I felt that fate and fortune were against me, I felt overwhelmed and could not manage what was at the forefront of my real world reality. So I decided not to obsess over it and instead wait three days before I felt I needed to take action. I got the idea of waiting three days because Jesus lay in the grave for three days, and the disciples and his followers mourned thinking all was lost. But on the third day grace and rescue dawned and all their problems faded away. Joy took the place of sadness and celebration took the place of mourning. It seemed like a good plan when I first decided on it, and it seems like a good plan to this day. The discipline is to let things rest for the three days.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Now, beloved reader, what is at the real world forefront for me has nothing to do with spirituality or salvation. It is actually the sort of thing that a well disciplined person with deep faith would commend to the Lord and trust in the Divine. I do, beloved reader, at times fall short of what I expect of myself. And I do, after stressing about things, finally hand it over to the Lord God. While things may not work out the way I think they would, or the way I hoped they would – things do work out. And how ever they work out, I feel the Lord is with me.

But I have to wonder . . . . . . can I/should I apply scripture that talks of faith and salvation to my real world problems? I know the answer is most probably “yes”. And I know the Lord God is concerned about my concerns and cares for all aspects of my life. And I also know the best approach is to “let go and let God.” That is not always easy to do, however.

In this instance I think I need to learn the lesson once again, to hand over the worries and concerns I have to the Divine and have faith. To stand on the promise that “No one who believes in him (the Divine) will be put to shame.”

It is an irony, beloved reader, that we are entering into Lent. A time of self-examination. A learning and growing experience. If that is the case for me, then I will be a willing student of the Divine! Selah!

 

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Epistle Passage – Questioning the Old Testament text

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” ( II Corinthians 3:12 – 16)

I had promised myself if the Epistle passage did not appeal to me today, I would put off writing on it and comment on one of the other two. However (glad to say) Paul did not disappoint! Paul is pretty scathing in his remarks about the “people of Israel” by which I assume he means Jews who have not opened themselves to the Good News of Jesus. Considering that he used to be numbered among such Jews, you would think he would be more gentle. I guess since he is writing to the Corinthians, Gentiles, he felt he could “froth” at the mouth a little.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (Verses 17 – 18)

This brings to my mind (sooner than I had expected) the questions I had about the Old Testament passage. Why Moses did what he did, and why the Israelites reacted the way they did. And my unasked question as to whether we, not having the type of direct contact that Moses had with the Divine, can have “glowing” faces ourselves. Pondering this – Moses, except for when he wanted to impart the unvarnished word from the Divine, kept his face covered. Was it because the Israelites were accepting enough of the Divine? Were they too new in faith and untested that it was not for them to be exposed to such reflected glory of God? And if that is so, how does Paul know that these new Christians, these Corinthians, are ready? Or did the acceptance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection prepare them more than the Israelites were prepared fresh out of Egypt?

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (Chapter 4, verses 1 – 2)

Hint beloved reader – Paul is not using the royal “we” meaning himself and his audience. He is referring to himself and those who minister with him. Now, if the Corinthians hold as tightly to the gospel and the word that is preached as Paul does, they too will not lose heart. And will receive all the other blessings that Paul refers to. Paul may be generous in accounting faith and devotion to his audience BUT he expects to see the fruits of that faith.

One last thought, beloved reader, and then I will close. Paul says by “open statement of the truth” and it reminds me again of Moses covering the glory that was on his face from communing with the Lord. I have to wonder if Moses had made more of an effort to draw the Israelites into commune with the Divine if the outcome of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah would have been different. Something to ponder. And to keep in mind when our visage glows from the knowledge of the Lord. As Paul did, beloved reader, spread the word! Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The fathomable ways of the physical and spiritual bodies

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” (I Corinthians 15:35 – 38, 42)

Before I start in with my commentary, beloved reader, I HAVE TO share with you the way the New Living Translation phrases verse 42: “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever.” I knew that the writer of I Corinthians was drawing on plain-faced metaphors, but that is sort of jarring!

To trace back in Paul’s metaphor/analogy. When one plants a crop, the seed is not considered to be “alive” until it sprouts and grows. What is planted (that is, our human lives) bears little responsible to the plant that grows from the ground (that is, the spirit that is raised to heaven). So the question is not what sort of the body the raised dead will have, but will those who have died be raised up to heaven. However, that is not the direction that Paul discourse travels. Continuing on with the his description of the human body . . . .

“It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” (Verses 43 – 44)

You get the sense, beloved reader, that Paul does not think much of the physical body. And he seems to be directing his readers to dismiss the physical body and embrace the destine of the spiritual body.

“Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.” (Verses 45 – 46)

Is it just me, or does Paul seem to be saying we need to endure having a physical body before we are awarded a spiritual one?

“The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (Verses 47 – 50)

Or maybe I am just sensitive right now about the shortcomings of the physical body. I am still in the processing of healing. Do not fear though, beloved reader (& my mother,) by the time you read this I will have had another week at least of healing and will probably feel better. Right now however, I have pains and aches that I thought I would be over and done with. Paul does not talk about pains of the body, but he is pretty clear about what he feels are the shortcomings of the physical, perishable, dishonorable, weak, dusty, flesh and blood body.

The other issue I have with Paul’s dismissal of the body is that the soul and spirit that are said to be imperishable is firmly entwined in the body. We are not distinct body/psyche spirits, but a melding together of the two. Maybe, perhaps, I am being too judgmental of what the imperishable body will be; maybe Paul does believe and understand that the imperishable will retain a physical form that is an “improved” version of our mind/body self. I guess that is yet another question I will have of Paul in the world to come.

May you, beloved reader, honor that which is honorable and distance yourself from that which will bar you from eternal life. Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Kudos to Paul for setting out a good teaching and argument

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:12 – 14)

I am not sure it is Paul, or whether it is the argument style that was popular at the time that Paul wrote – but it at times sounds like Paul is setting out a belief that is contrary to what we know about him. I suspect it is the latter. And it is an argument style that was very Greek in its origins. So it makes sense that Paul would use it in writing to the Greeks in Corinth.

“We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (Verses 15 – 17)

The way Paul sets the case, the Greeks in Corinth would be compelled to accept that truth that Paul is teaching, else they are lost.

“Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.” (Verse 18)

And Paul delivers the final piece of his compelling argument. Now I do not have the information at my fingertips, but it seems to me that the Greeks put a great deal of thought and faith into the afterlife. For those not converted to Christianity, they would have the beliefs that we typically think of when thinking about Greek culture. And we know that whatever one’s faith may be, cultural beliefs nudge us and color our faith beliefs. And that is not wrong, nor a sin. We know from missionary trips and experiences that we have heard of that Christians around the world access faith through the lens of their culture, translating basic beliefs into an understanding that resonates with them. And I have to admit, Paul is quite adept at accessing and putting into good use the culture lens of the people he speaks/writes to.

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (Verses 19 – 20)

The term “first fruits” sort of puzzled me – did it puzzle you beloved reader? What Paul meant was the Christ was the first to die, and then be raised to new life. I am not sure what that says about the called and chosen people of God who had already died. But then, this is addressed to the Greeks. Paul winds up his argument by saying the first fruits – the best and most perfect – had gone before the believers to show them the way to the life after this, eternal life. Which to the Greek lens of understanding is something highly valued. Yes, I really have to admire Paul for using his understanding of Greek thinking to further his preaching and teaching.

Now, beloved reader, how can you use your unique cultural understanding for the preaching and teaching of the Lord God! Shalom!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – “Growing up” to be a Christian

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (I Corinthians 15:1 – 7)

One has to wonder about the Corinthians. They remind me of newly converted Christians who want to espouse a new faith but keep getting muddled and caught up in previous beliefs and ways of life. In other chapters of Corinthians Paul sets down rules of living and living with each other. In this chapter he seems to be reminding of the basic tenets of faith and what he had preached to them previously.

“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Paul would seem almost a little too “preachy” if it were not for his self-disclaimer that he is the “least of the apostles” and that it is only because of the grace of God that he is who he is. Perhaps that is why he has so much patience with the Corinthians, because he knows what it is like to come to new faith and try to learn how to conform his life to it. We forget (maybe) that what we are reading is a Paul who has been steeped in faith. Maybe at his early beginnings he too had to figure out what is correct and good to do. That gives the rest of us a measure Divine grace and forbearance that we often may need. Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Being a “lover” for the Lord God

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1 – 3)

It is, quite honestly beloved reader, hard to think about Paul as a “lover.” But that only means the type of love he is talking about is not the soft, mushy romantic love that we usually think of.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Verses 4 – 7)

It is said that sustaining romantic love, or love that marriages/romantic intimate relations are commonly associated with, is hard. Harder still, I think, is the type of love that Paul is talking about.

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Now this in an interesting portion. Paul is saying the gifts of the Lord that are given on earth will not be needed in the world to come: we will not need prophecies because all things will be known; we will not need to speak in tongues or understand tongues because communication will be instantaneous; and all will have all knowledge. What we know and know of now is incomplete and therefore imperfect. In the world to come, when all things are complete and finished, then we will know in full and perfectly. And still there will be love. It will not end.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (Verses 11 – 12)

To me verses eleven to twelve are both comforting and disconcerting. It seems that as each year passes I learn more and understand more about myself, others, and the world. There are many meme and adages about adulthood, “adulting” and maturity. Some amusing and sone that contain great truths about our relative understanding even as adults versus what is actual and of the highest truth. We do not attain adulthood and complete understanding (in this world) as much as we keeping getting better at it. It heartens me to think and believe that I don’t have to have figured everything. But neither do I think we should completely set aside “child-like” ways. Maybe the self-centered impetuousness of a child, but not the innocence and naivete of a child. Jesus said that all must have faith like a child’s. That may be another thing I would like to talk to Paul about – how he understood that.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (Verse 13)

Paul’s argument has come full circle. If I were to be of a mind to write a great deal more, I would say many things about faith and hope. And probably repeat things I have said in the past. We each have our own faith, faith beliefs & tenets, and faith circles. We all have hope – whether it is dim hope that has been tested and assaulted by circumstances in life, or bright hope that cannot be quenched. When all – that is at the end of this world – is said and done, love will remain. And it is that love, our love of the Divine and the love the Divine has for us, which will see us “Home”! Selah!