Ascension of the Lord, Year A, 2020: Gospel, Epistle, and Psalm Passages – The Blessing of the Ascension (and all that followed it)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44 – 49)

The Day of Ascension of the Lord marks the day when Jesus returned to heaven. Unlike other passages that we have read, the reason for Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection are revealed to the disciples gathered there. But this was not the same as the coming of the Holy Presence.

I must tell you, beloved reader, the faith and Christian journey is not as sequential and linear as it was for the disciples. Understanding and the presence of the Holy Spirit come in spurts and starts – neither are complete or completed in one divine action. In fact, sometimes part of one needs to come before or after the other in order that the whole thing makes sense. Maybe this was true for the disciples, but on the writer of the gospel of Luke’s reflection the revelation may have seemed in chronological order.

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Verses 50 – 53)

It seems that the impact of Jesus on them was a personal one; what I mean is that it impacted their worship practices. They knew now who Jesus was, and what he represented in terms of who the Lord God was that they had worshiped before. But as we are aware, there was more to come. And it would bring a different sort of change, and an even newer perspective that they would eventually share with others.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, by praising and blessing them, he lists for us some of the attributes that Christian followers should have. You may say “this is Paul not one of the original twelve”, and I will remind you that the example of the original disciples was present to Paul when he was still Saul. And he was instructed by a convert who had been taught by the disciples. Paul points to the same faith and attributes (well, the same large category) that Jesus taught his disciples, and since Jesus was in God and God was in Jesus . . . . you know it was from the Divine.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Paul says, and I believe, we are the body of Christ. Not only in a corporate group we call church, but individually as well. The Holy Presence came to each individual disciple, and it was not a Presence that was felt only when they were together in their original group. But each of them carried it with them as they went out preaching the gospel of Christ and the Lord God. That is how it could also be in Paul since he was not part of the original. It is also why, beloved reader, we too can have the Holy Presence in us. But . . . I am getting ahead of myself. We are still at the site of the Ascension. So let us end by praising the Lord God who watches over us and blesses us without end! Selah!

“ Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” ( Psalm 47)

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – Enduring with patience, and holding firm to the blessing of Jesus Christ and the Lord God

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

The Corona virus is NOT a testing. I repeat, it is not. You can know this, beloved reader, because it did not come because of a lack of faith, nor as a result of any faith group or non-faith group. In addition, it did not come because of the actions of any cultural, national, or ethnic group. Yes, it is an ordeal! But not a parallel to the sufferings of Christ.

However, it can show the strength depth of faith and hope that we have in Christ. Not that faith will cure or prevent the virus. When you see and hear of those who have acted with compassion towards others, THAT is a living out of the compassion that Jesus the Messiah (and the Divine) had, and has, for humanity. Now, do not discount the acts of compassion because those who manifest them do not profess a Christian or religious faith. The Spirit of God can rest & reside in anyone!

In other words – and all apologies to Peter – this passage does not really relate to our current health issues. As much as the global community is suffering, it is not the “fiery ordeal” that Peter is talking about. I just wanted to set the record straight.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (Chapter 5:6-10)

But Peter’s words are good advice for the days that we are in now. It is good advice for anytime you have struggles and turmoil. While the “adversary the devil” is not the author of this pandemic, you can be sure that it is taking every advantage of the situation. This is true throughout the global community and to our “brothers and sisters” everywhere. Let me say further – if we/you are doing a very careful and literal read of this passage – the “little while” that we are suffering may be longer than might be expected. Do though seek and savor the restoration, support, and strength that comes from the Divine.

Admittedly I could have approached this passage in a different way. But . . . . this pandemic we are embroiled in can overwhelm one’s thinking and sap one’s endurance. It is a fine line between finding scriptural solace for our current situation, and assuming the current situation has theological underpinnings. I pray with Peter during these days the Spirit of God rests upon you!

“To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 11)

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Being prepared to accomplish all sorts of things

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:15 – 16)

“Another Advocate” – I have to wonder if this “Other” one is a substitute for the presence of Jesus, or for Yahweh who had been with the Abraham through to the judges, kings, and prophets of the Old Testament. So I went to the New Testament commentators, who waxed poetically about this Advocate being a upgrade from Jesus the Christ who could only be physically in one place as opposed to everywhere like the Holy Spirit. As to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, it seems (to biblical commentators & theologians) the presence of the Holy Spirit was less common and only happened to only certain individuals, and sometimes an in-dwelling for only a short length or specific time. And I have to shake my head in wonderment of this. Until I remember that the concept of care and compassion, and placing value in individual people was a human phenomenon that developed slowly. And in recent years seems to be less a part of some people’s thinking. So, yes, Jesus did need to ask for this specifically for his followers and future believers.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Verse 17)

It was important then, to have Jesus be with the disciples and teach them so that the “Spirit of Truth” could come to them and abide with them. Does this mean than that preachers, ministers, spiritual directors and others who have the Spirit abiding within them can prepare young believers (of all ages) to be ready for the Holy Counselor & Comforter to dwell within them? It is, beloved reader, a rhetorical question.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verses 18 – 21)

I have off and on, through this blog and in my own personal reflections, been thinking about my faith journey. That it seems as if my journey has taken a different course than others. I had an interesting conversation with one of my seminary professors as a part of a seminary class – I wish I could remember which one. We talked about the process of coming to faith, and that most people were “twice born”, meaning that there came a point in their life when they realized they needed to change or renew themselves. In Christianity this most typically means conversion or re-birth. The “once born” grow into increasing faith and do not necessarily turn a corner or change. They steadily grow into faith. Now, some explanations of this cast the “once born” as the more fortunate. Others it is the “twice born” and a conversion or new awakening that are the more blessed. It would be interesting to study the gospel stories and try to discern who were the once born and who were the twice born. Maybe someday I will look into that.

For now, beloved reader, may you be prepared and continually prepared to receive the Holy Spirit into you life, and may great things that glorify the Divine be the result. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Substituted Acts Passage – The Early Christian Church & Us

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

Confession time – I am finding lately that I have passing “bad moods.” Now, if you know me, you will know that my “bad moods” come in two forms. One is like the impact a warms spring breeze has on the leaves of a mighty tree – barely stirring them and quickly dissipating. My other “bad mood” is like a mighty fault line opening up and consuming everything in a 1000 mile radius. Fortunately for those near and dear to me, it has been the spring breeze bad moods. But even so, it is unusual for me to be in a string of bad moods. I attribute to the trials and stress we, as a society, are having. And my own health issues.

Why do I mention this? Right now for me, I am feeling the stress and it bubbles up in me. But feeling of stress also comes with a feeling sadness for the death and suffering that our global community is experiencing. Times of stress can bring unusual changes to people. Along with the suffering, we are seeing amazing acts of human care and kindness. And for me, the stress I am feeling also comes with profound concern for everyone around me. How can the two co-exist, you may wonder. Well, one of the reasons the early church members gathered around each other was because the larger society around them were seeking to persecute them. It was, actually, quite a brave thing to be a believer in a society where non-believers out numbered them. And remember too, this was the society where Saul who would become care out of.

“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Verse 43)

Now, I have talked to the Divine a good deal about my passing bad moods. And I have asked the Lord to work within me to bring quiet and peace to my soul. I imagine the early Christians felt stress and turmoil, and that may be why they supported each other so completely.

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Verses 44 – 45)

You hear stories these days, beloved reader, of people being creative in how they connect and support each other. Keeping six feet away, and yet drawing close to each other. Making masks, offering services to those who are in need, and cheering the spirits of those around them.

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 46 – 47)

Society these days may not be in each others’ homes, but through technology we are inviting family and friends into our lives, and reaching other to them. It is not a new thing, actually, to make close friends with those you have never met in person. But it is part of the human spirit to want to be in contact with others, and to share our joys and our fears – and our stresses and bad moods!

Consider, beloved reader, that the early Christian church did not last much beyond the life time of those who started it. Discord actually beset the early church, and what friction amongst believers did not erode, persecution did. That is why I want to be honest with you, beloved reader. To share with you what I am going through, and to encourage you to share with those around you. Not just possession and resources – but your feelings, sadness and all ranges of emotions. Just as the early church found a way to support each other, I hope you and your faith circle are finding ways to stay in contact. May the Lord God who keeps us under the Shelter of the Divine Holy Wing, keep you as you shelter in place. Selah & Shalom!

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Gospel Passage: We all have the opportunity to learn

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Luke 24:13 – 24)

I would like to think that the Holy Spirit comes along side of a lot of people, and they are not aware of who it is that is guiding them. I think what is most accurate is that the Holy Spirit uses willing Christians to guide and preach to others. What I would like to think is that the Holy Spirit uses me – yes, I would like that very much. What I would like to believe is that other Christians have placed themselves in the service of the Lord and go where they are directed to help and instruct others.

“Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.” (Verses 25 – 29)

One of the things that my seminary education taught me was the anyone can place themselves in the service of the Divine, and be used to help others. I do not say that because I thought/think so little of my seminary professions, but because they all believed in me and encouraged me to use the gifts the Divine had given me. Moreover, they gave me space and opportunity to do just that. And because of their encouragement, when the time seemed right, I have offered my services in direction and guidance to others.

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Verses 30 – 32)

I grow misty-eyed thinking of the times when my heart “burned” in me, and I saw the same “burning” in the others that I was speaking to. It is not that I caused the “burn” – oh no, beloved reader – far from it. It is that the Lord God is amongst the faithful who seek the Divine. And move them.

“That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Verses 33 – 35)

Why was it, I wonder, such a surprising piece of news that the Lord appeared to Peter? Had Jesus the Messiah not yet appeared to any of the other disciples at this point in the gospel of Luke? Or had Peter just told them of his encounter with the Risen Lord and it was fresh in their minds? Or . . . did they (the disciples now apostles) figure out that Jesus appearing to Simon Peter after Peter denied knowing Jesus was a special invoking of blessing on Peter? Peter taught me too that the Divine believes anyone and everyone is worthy of being called and chosen by the Lord God. This Lenten season it was a special blessing to me to incorporate the realization that the Lord God Jesus the Christ sought out Peter specially and individually. May we all be found worthy of a special audience – frequently – with the Divine! Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Epistle Passage: Applying what Peter has learned

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” (I Peter 1:17)

Peter gives fair warning to his readers (sounding a little like Paul) that if you do (and Peter says you should) worship the Lord God you should be aware that the Divine judges everyone by the same measure, so be sure that you are living good and accountable lives. The part of about “exile” is not that he is writing to people who have been forced from their homes but that are living temporary lives on this earth – meaning that their truest destiny lies elsewhere.

“You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” (Verses 18 – 19)

However, in the very next sentence that warning is considerably softened by the reminder that their (and his & my) sins have been forgiven already. Peter really cannot maintain a severe tone for very long. More and more, beloved reader, I am realizing that the gentle nature of Peter came from his encounters with Jesus, and the patience & compassion that Jesus had for him. Not only is it an exemplar to me to live as faithfully as Peter does, but also with a compassionate and caring nature – which reminds me of my decision some time earlier this year to have a “gentle compassionate merciful belief” system and to apply those attributes to others.

“He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” (Verses 20)

Now here Peter gets caught up in his own rhetoric – but do not hold it against him beloved reader. The understanding of the early church (or at least an understanding that is commonly attributed to them) was that Jesus the Messiah and the Lord God would return in a relatively short amount of time. This is why (I believe) Peter says “at the end of the ages”, because for them Jesus appearance, and certainly His reappearance, would signal the end.

I am reminded of a phenomenon that is occurring all of the world, in our current time; nature is coming back and surging forth in the vacuum that humanity has created by sheltering-in-place. I read just the evening that I sat down to write this that hordes of endangered sea turtles are laying eggs on abandon beaches! Now granted that many will not hatch nor reach the safety of the water; however 70,000 are laying eggs! On the empty beaches!! Out of that many, there are sure to be a good many little turtle survivors. In other parts of the world that lack of human activity is allowing nature to catch her breath and clean herself off! But I am digressing in a big way, and not even sure what brought this amazing event to my mind. I will let you know if I remember.

“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (Verses 21 – 23)

I remember now why I thought of nature filling the places humanity has stepped away from. So often we have heard that nature – the flora & fauna – of our world are suffering from lack of living space. Ecologists and others have warned that as more animals become extinct, the human animal also edges closer to the brink of its own destruction. But this evidence of nature so quickly taking advantage gives me, as a person who roots and cheers for creation, hope that revive itself if just given the chance to purify itself. Yes, I did mean to phrase it that way, echoing what Peter said.

The early church thought of itself, that is humanity, coming close to end of its existence. But since the time of Jesus we have hung on and around for over 2000 years. Yes, right now humanity may be more closely staring death in the face of death than ever before, but we are holding more tightly to life and supporting each other in more tangible and creative ways. We are living in scary times, no doubt, and I get a chill up and down my spine each time I see the reminders of what we are facing. But we are also clinging to hope and clinging to each other. I want you, beloved reader, to re-read verses 21 to 23.

Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Claim the promise that Peter has laid out to his readers. And then live out genuine mutual love deeply from your heart, spirit and soul. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Substituted Acts Passage: Peter applies what he has learned

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, . . . .” (Acts 2:14a)

I really do wonder, after noting that Jesus probably talk to Peter very privately after his resurrection, how this un-narrated encounter affected Peter. It was the gospel of John where Jesus tells Peter three times to feed his sheep. Other than that exchange it never occurred to me that Jesus talked to Peter privately apart when he addressed the disciples as a group. Always knew that something happened that changed Peter.

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Verse 36)

Thinking further along this line, this is the same Peter who denied knowing or being involved with Jesus. It is a wide distinction between denying the knowledge of Jesus and being complicit in his death – I am not laying that at Peter’s feet. But I do like the juxtaposition of Peter fervently advancing the identity of Jesus in comparison to Peter distancing himself. (And I do have a point to make with this line of thinking.)

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Verses 37 – 39)

If, as I came to see, Peter found forgiveness and acceptance from his Risen Lord, then he is offering this forgiveness and acceptance to others. Peter outlines the way to this, and I dare to think it follows the timeline of Peter’s experience. Repent – confess that you have made a mistake, or many mistakes. Accept what Jesus Christ is offering. Ask for forgiveness. And receive the Holy Spirit.

“And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (Verses 40 – 41)

The only thing that Peter does not offer, which I believe was given to him, was the quiet and private moment to offer a humble and contrite heart to Jesus. I think that is what Jesus did for him – offered him a meeting with Jesus apart from all other witnesses. I do not know if Peter did that in his preaching and ministry. Maybe he did. I know Saul who became Paul did not!

When I talk about pondering, beloved reader, that quiet meeting with the Divine is part of that experience – it just now occurs to me. In the privacy of your own thoughts, think about what has been your experience up until now of the Lord God the Divine. Have there been private moments when the Divine spoke to your heart? Provided a moment or three away from all other things for you to come to the Divine and repent? Extended an invitation for a new or renewed relationship? Upon your confession, offered forgiveness for sins that you never had to speak of in front of others? Blessed you with the Holy Spirit in a private and personal way? Do not think, beloved reader, when you take the time to privately communion with the Divine that it has been solely your own decision. The Lord God calls to us in ways that are beyond human understanding. Building upon past events and experiences the Lord God furthers your relationship with the God-self if you would only be open to it. Maybe now is the time for you to call to the Lord God in response to the Call made to you. Shalom & Selah!