Fifth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – The Message becomes clear and nourishing

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” ( I Peter 2:2- 3)

It is not a question – Is the Lord good? – but a statement of fact that the Lord God is good, and so therefore one should desire to learn of the Divine and grow into salvation.

What follows is a metaphor of Peter’s making. In seminary I studied this passage quite extensively – in Greek class I think. Because I remember chasing down all the possible paraphrases and interpretations of the Greek words in this passage. Or at least all of the pertinent ones; the articles and conjunctive words I spent less study time on, It was actually quite fascinating. I still remember standing in front of the class and presenting what my partner and I had discovered about the passage; its construction and the meanings of the words apart from the metaphor/analogy that Peter created. And how the meanings of the individual words came together to form the theological metaphor & analogy. It is, I think, during this time of study that I became enamored of the apostle Peter.

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Verses 4 – 6)

The challenge of the class (and maybe it was not a Greek class, but biblical exegesis) was that the verse contained a verse from the Old Testament, so of course we had to study the Hebrew contained in Peter’s discourse. I remember having laid out my presentation (if you have heard this story before, beloved reader I apologize) on a series of passages, and planned to use each page to remind myself of what I wanted to say. But the pages got out of order, and instead I just . . . . spoke forth on what I had learned!

“To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I honestly do not remember what it was that I learned during this study; what I mean is that now the passage lies so open to me and I understand it so fully, that I do not know anymore where my learning curve started and ended.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (Verses 9 – 10)

Remember I said above that Peter makes the statement that the Lord God is good. He has taken a group of people who had little in common, and through a common faith (considering how diverse Christianity is now, this was quite a miracle) drew them together to be a cohesive believing group. Moreover, according to Peter, this faith has blessed them and gifted with with the Divine’s mercy. They have, according to Peter, grown into salvation. And as their faith continues and matures, more will be given to them.

That is, actually, quite a journey; from newborns in the faith to being a chosen race, royal and holy. Common ordinary people admitted to the priesthood. No longer anonymous souls, but God’s own. I have talked many times about the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews as a “called and chosen” people. Then it was an exclusive group. But now, NOW those who profess a true faith are God’s chosen. Jesus, through his ministry, called all people. Some, like Peter’s audience, answered that call and . . . . you read the results.

As we journey from the Easter event into Ordinary Time, may we remember that despite any outward appearance, we are the Lord God’s own. Selah!

Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Gospel, Epistle & Old Testament Passage – Via Another Road

This day, January 6th, is the Day of Epiphany and when we recognize and celebrate that Jesus was revealed as Divine and revealed to the Gentile/non-believers, as well as having prophesied to the Jews. The Gentiles are symbolized by the Magi who were outside of the Jewish tradition. It is also the day I have to, reluctantly, start thinking about taking down Christmas decorations. When you hear/sing the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that is actually the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany. It is not just a way to keep the Christmas season going. But I also like it for that reason. And as I have said before, I like the part that the Magi play in the Christmas story. So for me it is a good to let the Christmas season extend, and a day to look forward to – even though after that day Christmas themed things grow thin and weary to some.

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” (Matthew 2:1 – 4)

It is not fair to say “and all Jerusalem with him”; it fact it is very political to say that! It is like saying that the fears and agenda of a ruler should be felt and shared by the people he purports to rule; and we know that should not be try! (And here I am being political! Ah well, let’s move on.)

“They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (Verses 5 – 9)

I had said above that Jesus was revealed to the Jewish people and to Israel through prophecy. It seems clear that the writer of Matthew, and also the chief priests and scribes, that this prophecy (and most likely others) pointed to a very supreme leader. Also likely was that Herod was worried about a political leader, and maybe the chief priests & scribes; that might be why they did not recognize Jesus & Jesus as Incarnate, and maybe why they started to fear or revile Jesus as a religious/faith leader. It is also why, beloved reader, the revelation of Jesus was such an epiphany.

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Verses 10 – 11)

I have to wonder and ponder what the Magi saw the baby Jesus as – political leader, religious leader, young god? I could look up (and maybe you beloved reader might) the significance of their gifts. I once or twice did that, but cannot remember clearly enough to tell you here. The point is that Jesus was revealed; and the challenge is for each of us to determine what image or aspect of Jesus was revealed.

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Verse 12)

What we do know for sure is that the path to belief can come by many roads. And we cannot know or predict by which road it might come.

“This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:1 – 4)

Paul came from Jewish background and tradition. He was one of a group of people who felt belief and worship of Jesus Christ was wrong. And in his vehemence he undertook to eradicate those who believed. In a twist of fate Paul was called by the Divine to bring the word of the Lord God to non-believers – most particularly to Gentiles, although Jews were written to and most assuredly by Paul to be part of the children of God. In fact, according to Paul, Jews were first invited to belief in Jesus the Messiah but that Gentiles were second did not mean they were accorded second place but we equal as all have equal welcome and call to faith.

“In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” (Verses 5 – 12)

Paul is counted as one of the apostles, although he came to faith after the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry and life on earth. Paul came to faith, if you will, via another road. And called down other roads to some comparatively far-flung places. Paul also felt compelled to write to the places and churches that he had visited, and strove to unite the circle of believers through benevolent giving between the groups. This tells us and shows us that ministry can be done in a variety ways, and the good news delivered to a variety of people who early initial believers may not have a lot in comment with – at first. But our faith under the Divine unites us where others may see differences that splinter and divide one group of people from another. But for all, the message is the same.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” (Isaiah 60:1 – 5)

The writer of Isaiah may emphasis more of the tangible results of the faith spread, but that does not take away from the fact that people coming to faith bring a presence and wealth of belief. Remember too that I am emphasizing this year a belief tradition that is gentle, compassionate, and merciful. That too is sort of a “different road” from what many expect Christian faith to be like. And, we may find that sort of faith comes from unexpected places and people who have come to faith in a favorite of ways. The writer of Isaiah says,

“A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (Verse 6)

This harks to the coming of the Magi who represent faith via a different road, and faith spreading out via diverse roads. We may find out way to a common Lord and God, but the paths to that faith are numerous; and the means, ways, and destinations are numerous as well. May you, beloved reader, find your way to the Divine; and as you journey forth may the Presence of the Lord God travel with you. Selah!

Holy Name of Jesus Day 2020, Year A: Old Testament, Gospel & Epistle Passages – Naming Names

Today, January 1st, does double duty. Not only as New Year’s Day, but as the Holy Name of Jesus Day.

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:22 – 26)

Also today, just a short while ago, I talked about the world going awry because of technology and science leading us from our spiritual roots and learning, and the need to be more attentive to to the needs of others. I said that there are many who are caring and compassionate but who do not necessarily espouse a faith tradition grounded in Christianity. I referenced the passage in Matthew about the sheep who helped and the goats who offered no assistance. The sheep are not necessarily Christians and the goats are not necessarily non-believers. However, today we are also specifically referencing the importance of knowing and honoring the name of Jesus.

“So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Verse 27)

Notice though that it is Aaron and his sons that place the name on them. I talk about the called and chosen people often. That means that Yahweh put the Divine’s name on them and instructed them how to live. They did not always do well at it – at times not well at all! The Divine still calls and chooses people; I firmly believe that. But it may also mean that they have not realized they have been called out.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:15 – 19)

There is a Christmas song that I am hearing more and more this season; it is called “Mary, did you know?” The lyrics ask Jesus’ mother if she knew the full story and impact that her infant son would have on the world. And as the lyrics between entwined in my thinking, I have come to the conclusion that Mary did not know. But, do not fault her for that. Many people still do not know the impact that Jesus had during his ministry, life, death, and resurrection.

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Verses 20 – 21)

I feel that I have given you a great deal to ponder, beloved reader, in my two postings for this day. I did a lot of pondering myself as I wrote this. Let me close with what Paul said in the letter to the Philippians. And I wished for you that you would see the hope you believe in, I would also wish that you would see clearly Christ Jesus who was sent by the Divine, making sure that your actions (how ever you name yourself) will bring honor and glory to the Name of the Divine. Selah!

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Bestowing reassurance; or more aptly, a promise of compassion from the Divine

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6)

One of the “cloaked” mysteries of the New Testament is why the Lord God sent Jesus the Messiah. The gospel of John states it quite clearly – “for God so loved the world.” If you know the gospel of John, you know that clear speech is rare – cloaked in mysticism as it is. And Paul, the supposed writer of Romans, is brisk and abrupt – hardly ever shy about speaking his mind. Much of his letters emphasis the responsibility of believers to live transformed lives in response to salvation and redemption. I had hoped to hear, through the scriptures this week, more “tender” words. According to the pattern of meaning of the Advent candles that I have been using this season, the fourth candle is to have the theme love.

Maybe I need to remind myself, and in the process beloved reader remind you, that love is not always “warm” and “fuzzy” but stalwart and enduring. It was the love or compassion that the Divine had for humanity that prompt Jesus Christ to be sent. A reassurance that humanity and creation is still and will always be forefront in the plans and consideration of the Divine. And a promise that anyone who believes with sincerity and authenticity is a child of God. This why – because of Divine love – Yahweh desired to assure King Ahaz, that while things looked grim he could set aside his worries for the present and focus on working towards a better future. That is a good message for us too, beloved reader.

“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I has said over the past few weeks of Advent that first we must have hope – a hope that is found on unshakable faith. Then next we have peace – because we know our deepest hopes will be fulfilled. With peace, we can feel joy – and spread the joy to others. And with joy in one’s heart love can take root. As you go through this week, beloved reader and into the time of Christmas, I hope, pray, and encourage you to show love – both tender love and resilient love to those around you. Selah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selah and Shalom!

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

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The 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!