First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle Passage – Naming gifts and blessings that are bestowed by the Lord God the Divine

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

It seems like a straightforward passage. The people who were preached to in Samaria believed and professed faith in Jesus the Messiah. In order to assure them of full faith that would not be shaken, Peter and John when down (Samaria being south of Jerusalem) to pray with them and lay hands on them. But what does it mean to “receive the Holy Spirit” as opposed to being baptized in “the name of Lord Jesus.” All Christian believers at some point are baptized as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (as opposed to the apostle/disciple John). My favorite biblical commentator Albert Barnes says it was not conversion because this happened upon profession of belief. It was not sanctification because (he says) this is progressive work. It was not then salvation, redemption, or forgiveness of sin. Or a changing in the way one lives their life. Barnes says it was “those “extraordinary” influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel – the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc.” In other words, it was something outside of what most of us experience in our Christian faith. Or is it?

In the New Testament people saw evidence of the Holy Spirit by “signs and wonders” that were tangible – speaking in a language that was not known by others, someone getting better/healthier/healed when traditional understanding said they should still be sick, or other anomalies to ordinary life. As Christian faith progressed (or became the experience of a larger part of the population) this understanding changed. It came to be more inner signs than outer manifestations. Think Desert Fathers/Mothers who lived different lives apart from settled areas; people who exhibited extraordinary faith and compassion; people who gave up comfort and wealth for service to others. We all can probably think of believers in our faith circle who just seem to live an authentic Christian life, and whose faith seems to never be shaken. This too is the baptism of the Holy Spirit – biblical commentator Barnes notwithstanding.

You, beloved reader, may have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It is an inner realization. And if you do not think you have, pray that you might be. And then see what new blessings arise in your life! Selah!

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Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Paul, messenger to “others”

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)

Jesus preached not only to his fellow Jews but to others who lived in the area of Galilee. Several times his disciples were astonished that he cared and preached to non-Jews. There acceptance of “others” who were not them/like them is mirrored very much in our current society. The fact that Jesus was for not only the Jews, but Gentiles (read non-believers) is a fact that our current society needs to be reminded of. The stranger and foreigner is to be as welcomed as those who are more familiar to us. In fact, the Jews historically the Jews were to welcome foreigners also, as they themselves were once foreigners in a strange land. Paul puts in gently . . . .

“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.” (Verses 5 – 6)

What had been the “called and chosen people” (as I have named them) are now called from all nations and all ethnicities. It is “jostling” to me that this mystery was only now made known. The Hebrews/Israelites were to be a light to the nations. However, thinking and looking back over the history of the Israelites and Judahites I can see where the light might have dimmed a little.

“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 7 – 12)

It is one of the ironies of the Divine that a man so determined to uphold Jewish standards that he would plan and carry out the killing of those who grated against and defied his belief system – would now be given the calling and mission to carry and preach the news of Jesus to those completely outside his historical faith circle. If the Magi were the first hint that Jesus the Christ was for all people, then Paul is the crowning confirmation of that fact.

Yesterday I asked the question and set forth the challenge as to what you will be doing this year, beloved reader, and whether they will be positive things. One positive thing would be to spread the new of Jesus, and spread it to all who express interest. Of an even more positive nature would be to accept other people, no matter they faith beliefs and ethnicity. You know, the way Jesus did. Selah!

Holy Name of Jesus Day & New Year’s Day 2019: The Psalm Passage, the Epistle Passage, & the Old Testament Passage

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

I know that in light of some of my posts where I give voice to my discomfort at times with the psalms, it may seem odd that I am using the psalm passage designated for Holy Name of Jesus day. But I think is equally odd is that psalm that is written in praise of Jesus/the Lord God/the Divine’s name seems to make frequent mention of humanity. Does the psalmist mean that the Lord’s name is majestic because of what the Divine has done in creating humanity & nature? If that is so, maybe my latest posted position on the psalms is not so left/right field. (See The template for praising the Lord God for a discussion on the two main categories of praise psalms) The other reason this psalm does not grate on me is because there is not command or exhortation to praise – I can appreciate the psalmist sentiments without feeling like I am being pushed to my knees for a praise that I may not necessarily feel in my heart/soul/spirit.

“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)

In the same way Paul is (gently) drawing our attention to an important piece of theology concerning the name of Jesus the Christ. It gives good evidence why Jesus the Christ’s name should be honored, but it gives the reader/listener room to respond in a way that is real and authentic for them. As I am pondering on this, I am coming to see where some psalms passages can be for me a little too much at times. It is good to praise the Lord God the Divine; and I am coming to believe that each person should do praise to the Lord God the Divine in a way that is genuine and true to them as a believer. A good resolution to have. Which reminds me, this day, January 1st has another name and other attributes. Ironically though, they share Psalm 8 as the psalms passage. Let us see what other passages the RCL has chosen for New Year’s Day.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 8)

What will you do in this new year beloved reader? What will you use your time for? In the past year, I am guessing, there have been times of doing, being, seeing, hearing and experiencing all that the writer of Ecclesiastes mentions. I would hope that some of the negative things you have not seen or heard of; but you probably have. I would fervently hoped that you have not done some of the negative things. May God’s mercy and forgiveness be with you if you have. And so in light of that, I ask again, what will you be doing this year?

“What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.( 9 – 13)

In light of this past year, I think a few more qualifications need to be set along side the writer of Ecclesiastes’ words. I could list them out . . . . but maybe it would be a good exercise and starting point for New Year’s resolutions if you did that yourself beloved reader. If you need a little guidance and parameters, I would refer you back to the passage of Philippians above. Consider obedience as Jesus the Christ exhibited it. And Jesus’ adherence to the spirit (Spirit) and intent of God’s commandments.

In summary beloved reader, may you have a blessed New Year; and as the year unfolds may you bring honor to the name of Jesus and your faith traditions. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: Epistle Passage – Acting like members of God’s family

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12 – 14)

Everyone has good days and bad days. Yesterday (that is, the day before I am writing this) was a bad day for me. Just in a grumpy mood. The strange thing is, no one can tell when I am in a “bad” mood. I am told by others, my “bad mood” days look like other people’s regular days. My philosophy is, just because for some reason I am not in good spirits doesn’t mean I can, should, or will dampen other people’s good spirits. Now when asked, I will admit I am in a bad mood. And I can’t remember anyone saying, “I can tell.” I am not bragging; what I am doing is explaining that as Christians our exterior should reflect (as close as possible) the image and example of Jesus Christ.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Verses 15 – 17)

You think we can be less than what Paul is extolling and exhorting his audience (which, beloved reader is us now) to be just because we are having a “bad day”! No, uh-uh, ain’t happening! You don’t have to be cheerful each day; but your woes and problems don’t need to be anyone else’s, and certainly do not need to be piled on someone else.

I was going to see that we need to act like loving, caring family members. But I have seen some families, and the care isn’t there! I have an agreement with each of my children; we do not do the “screaming me-mes.” That means we never say or act like our own personal agenda is more important than the other person’s. If there are problems, we work through it together, each person stating with care and honesty what the situation looks like for them and what they are feeling. Through listening and working together we resolve the problems that face us. We are not perfect – no, not perfect at all. We are a family with tight bonds though, and a deep sense of being there for one another.

I hope and pray, beloved reader, you are part of such a family; a family of origin, a family through marriage, or in a circle of faith family. And may you hold each other with care, compassion, and mutual respect. Selah!

Season of Christmas 2018 Year C – Christmas Eve & Christmas Day; Endings, New Beginning & Celebrations

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

This Advent season we have been hearing how the people of Israel and Judah, who were the Divine’s first called and chosen people, desired to be saved and redeemed by Yahweh. They felt lost and forsaken, swept up by the power and politics of the countries and nations surrounding them. They searched for the Divine’s direction and guidance, catching hold of it for a time and then losing it again. They expected the Lord God to swoop down and rescue them, vindicate them for all they had suffered, and punish those who were set against them. But it did not happen that way.

Yes, there were small victories and times of peace that stretched out a generation or two, but never the eternity nor complete shalom they pined for. They felt and believed that there would come a person – no, more than a person, a Messiah – who would straighten things out. Who would smooth out all the rough spots in their faith and make plain how they were to live and worship. And with the Messiah would come the light of understanding and wisdom.

“He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (Verses 2 – 5)

But when it came, some did not recognize it. It was not what they thought it would be, or should be. Even when it was presented and explained to them, they did not realize that a new beginning was dawning.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (Verses 6 – 9)

The Advent season has been leading up to the birth of the Messiah; a man, but not just a man. Something more. Something that would not come into fruition immediately but would exist along side, until the right time. Advent is about waiting, and waiting for that right time. Not on humanity’s time, but on God’s time. The time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah had ended. Just like the end of Advent has come.

But like so many things, the ending of one thing and the beginning of another is not necessarily back to back. Not necessarily immediate. We know and understand that the birth of Jesus was the beginning; but it was a quiet beginning. Or at least a relatively quite beginning. Just like the birth of any child has its fanfare and celebration, Jesus’ birth burst across the firmament, blazoned across the heavens. And then there was quiet.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Have you taken note, beloved reader, that the hopes of the Jewish people dwindled down and there were fewer and fewer writings and prophets leading up to the time the Jews were placed under the rule of Roman? By the time of Jesus’ birth the writings of generations before had passed from being “new” to being the long ago history of the people of God.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” ( Isaiah 9:2-7)

We celebrate now what was unknown then. We use scripture, recasting it to reflect the understanding that the Jews hoped for, wished for, and waited for. It is my hope we honor their steadfastness and learned from their mistakes and missteps.

O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” (Psalm 96)

May we continue the tradition of keeping hope alive, writing about our faith and our faith journey, and celebrating the joyous times in our Christian journey!

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Keeping faith in the most authentic way

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” (Hebrews 10:5 – 6)

During the second week of Advent the scriptures for that week seemed (at least to me) to point to a group salvation and redemption. According to some of the prophets redemption would be because of Israel/Judah as a nation following Yahweh closely. Additionally redemption would come because of proper worship and sacrifice. When Jesus came he broke that mold and expectation – amongst others. In a sense though, Jesus did fill that very expectation – just not the way it was expected. Jesus called not a nation as a whole, but each individual person who would – with their fellow believers – form a new nation. And proper worship was not burnt offerings and sin offerings but a contrite and confessional spirit that desired to follow the Divine. And Jesus was the exemplar of this.

“Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Remember, beloved reader, that in Hebrews Paul was setting establishing the case for Jesus being the High Priest that endures for eternity and puts to rest the need for any other high priest. This is even more true if sacrifices and offerings placed on a physical altar are no longer necessary, or even desired. The only sacrifice now needed is for our to sacrifice our human will and follow God’s will. Which, when you think about it was probably the intent all along.

“And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verse 10)

We take a great deal on faith that Paul knew what he was talking about. I am not saying he was wrong. I may take issue with some of the ideas Paul had for proper worship in fellowship settings (think the place of women in worship services) but when it comes to knowing the heart of the Divine, Paul is on the right course. May we be as steadfast and devoted in our faith. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Third Sunday: The Epistle Passage – What should we do in return?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Thinking about this, beloved reader, it occurs to me that another thing has changed from the concept of “group” rescue and redemption to individual rescue and salvation. Now we are assured of grace and mercy, and are being asked to respond to the Lord God’s grace and mercy. In the past, that is in the “group” motif, proper behavior and worship was expected FIRST, then salvation would come. Now isn’t that interesting. Of course my supposition is not a hard and fast rule; and some level, understanding, acceptance, and belief was expected. But in the early Christian church new believers learned what it meant to live this new life. The Hebrews/Israelites/Judahites/Jews were expected to know, accept, and practice right living before Yahweh’s blessing would be bestowed.

Could it be that the disciples were gentler task masters of correct Christian living and belief than the Old Testament prophets, preachers, and scribes? You know what the difference was – the disciples learned directly from Jesus Christ the Lord God. The Old Testament leaders went on their own assumptions of what the Almighty Lord would want. I am not saying they distorted God’s message. Maybe the Lord God, the Mighty Divine of the Old Testament was a tough task master. Scholars have puzzled for generations about the change, and I have yet to hear an explanation that allows the two Divine Differing Dynamics to be united. Maybe that is just me.

But it seems to me, beloved reader, if we put aside that perplexing question and just focus on what we learn from the New Testament by way of Paul and the other apostles, there is very good reason to rejoice. And especially during Advent, that is very good thing to do! Selah!