Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A narrative of truth that exposes the best way to handle wealth and resources

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ “ (Luke 16:1 – 4)

This is another one of those parables by Jesus that it took me some time to understand; not just, mind you, studying it once but delving into to understand the hidden meaning and the concepts that Jesus is pointing out. What I did not realize was that the rich man firing his manager is an allusion to the end of this life and the coming of the life/world to come. In this sense it, well, makes sense.

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ “ (Verses 5 – 7)

Understood in this way, I can see a parallel to my work life. For, beloved reader, I do not have wealth to give to others that will provide for me a home. Nor do I have command to power to make the changes that this manager does. What I did have in my last job, however, was the power and authority to establish a certain way of handling my employees and the clients who have services from us. My approach was compassion, understanding, acceptance of people’s weakness & needs, and patience that could be stretch pretty thin. While I had to set some boundaries, I always did it with compassion and care. And I made myself available to both employees and clients 24/7 – to the frustration of my family who become tired of me constantly on call. My new job does not quite give me the same latitude, but I approach each work day with that mind set. I was not dishonest – I could never be that. But I freely admit I took advantage of my position as a supervisor to be exactly the type of boss I would want to have.

“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Verses 8 – 12)

I have been at my new job for almost two full years. And in that time I have been given much more responsibility than I thought I would. At times more responsibility than I really wanted. I guess if I was very honest, putting aside humbleness, I would have to say I have been faithful with the “little” I was given. And as I showed my faithfulness “more” was given.

“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Verse 13)

Now to make sure that the people who were listening to Jesus did not get the wrong idea, Jesus establishes the boundary that wealth is not to be used to commit sin. But it is to be used to accomplish the goals of caring and compassion. The manager did not steal from the rich man as he showed compassion to those in debt to his master. He used his position to make their lives easier and better. And that has always been the overriding purpose in each job I have had – to support, improve, and add to the lives of others. May you do likewise beloved reader! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Praying from the edges

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:1- 4)

I have to think, beloved reader, of all the places I have prayed. And all the things I have prayed about. I am not sure how old I was when I first started praying to the Divine on my own. I am pretty sure it was before I got to high school. I know during high school I prayed a lot – teenage things. But it established a pattern of coming to the Lord God in prayer. So many times when I pray, I think to myself “Why didn’t I pray about this sooner?” It puzzles me how I can just let myself get fearful and panicky when I should have just turned it over to the Divine in prayer! Of course, sometimes I turn issue over to the Divine in prayer, and then “snatch them back” later on so I can worry and fret over them again.

I have thought about and commented on the Lord’s Prayer many many times over the years. I am not sure I have much new to say about it. But praying in general? I can’t stop talking about it!

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” (Verses 5 – 8)

When I first started praying to the Divine, I would pray mostly to Jesus and I would pray as if I was conversing with a Friend. So this analogy makes sense. And I like it because it helps believers feel comfortable coming to the Divine, and feeling a reassurance that help and support is always available.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Verses 9 – 10)

In these last years, when my health has been impacted, I find myself praying a lot more. Not petition prayers so much, but coming to the Divine when I feel broken and just plain worn out. I guess I pray as I would talk to a physician, which is also a good model as one of the Divine’s aspect is the Great Physician or Healer. Now, it is not medical healing I am seeking; I have talked about this in other places and times. It is a healing for my broken spirit.

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Verses 11 – 13)

The turning point came, beloved reader, when I stopped asking the Lord God for specific things from my list of needs, and started telling the Lord God what my concerns, worries, and fears were and what issues were concerning me, causing me worry and fear. And then just simply asking the Divine for help. Not according to my own understanding but trusting that the Lord God understood better than me what was needed. Then what came I prayed to the Lord God to use well and wisely. I wish, beloved reader, we could talk in person about pray and praying when times are tense. And I hope and pray you have someone who you can talk to about prayer. Praying about prayer is good; but it is also good to share with others about your prayer life. May you do so! Selah!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Looking at praising in a new way (for me at least)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1)

I am trying imagine and image the psalmist, and what the occasion might have been for which he penned this psalm. Or maybe it was not a special occasion but an outburst of joy and satisfaction in life. It does not seem to be the writings of someone who is busy in life nor tied up with complications and details. In fact, if I were honest, it sounds like the writings of someone who has set aside worry and concern about the nitty-gritty worries and details of life and is taking it easy. A place in life I would like to be, but am not. And there is about an honest an answer you can get about why praise passages like this rub me the wrong way.

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Verses 2 – 6)

This easy-going psalmist first considers the sky above him, and all that is there and praise worthy. Then he turns his attention to the land where he and all of humanity live. There are many who take for granted the earth and the resources we find there. When it come down to it, no matter where we live, and how above and beyond nature the infrastructure that surrounds us, we need earth and land to live.

“Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 7 – 10)

And we need nature, intact and thriving, so that we might live, thrive, and grow.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Verses 11 – 13)

And we do not live in isolation, but in community. We need relationships and connections. We need organizations and systems, the input and cooperation of others, to make our way through life. And others need us; we are at our strongest with we are intertwined with others. We are at our weakest when the connections to humanity are frayed and broken; and at our most vulnerable when we are destroying the people and the world around us.

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)

It is at this last verse, however, that we must pause and stop. The Divine knows what our wants and needs are, when and under what conditions we are at our best – as well as when and under what conditions we are at our worst. The “Horn” that has been raised up is Jesus Christ who the Divine sent to us so that we might know how to live. As well as knowing how, when, and what to praise.

We, as the people of the Divine, need to set time aside to consider ourselves and our world. The mess we may be in, and how to redeem ourselves and our world. Praise God that there have been those we came before us that can teach us. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Looking backward and forward for your faith life – does it shine?

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” ( Philippians 3:4b – 9)

Back in my youth, when gathering with others, people would ask who your parents and grandparents are/were. It was called “The Mennonite Game” and the purpose was to find out if you are related through cousins or marriage etc. Or whether the other person was related to someone you knew. It usually did not take going back too many generations to find a commonality. But to those new to the Mennonite/Anabaptist faith it was rather off-putting – as if your faith was not genuine unless you could trace it back to a common and/or well-known ancestor or spiritual fore-bearer.

Paul is saying quite clearly that such faith background and lineage counts as nothing. It is not who you are related to, who you know, or even what faith tradition you spring from. It is what you believe and how you live out that belief.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Verses 10 – 12)

If you think about it, the early Christians – who exemplified tremendous faith – did not have lineage or faith traditions to recommend them. They simply lived out their faith.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 13 – 14)

From an early age I recognized that it did not matter who my family was – that is, whether they were from a “strong” branch of Anabaptist faith or grafted on by conversion. I knew my faith and the strength of it was totally up to me. Indeed, discovering that my fore-bearers and spiritual fore-bearer were worthy of note came as a surprise to me. And upon learning that I considered that it only confirmed why it sought a relationship to the Divine – because those around me modeled it.

Now maybe that does gain me some “brownie” points by having such good examples of Christian living in the manner that Paul lists his “attributes” – but I do not claim those just as Paul does not. Generation after generation of people have been raised in “good” Christian homes (or other faith traditions) and that has never meant that faith beliefs (true authentic faith beliefs) were bestowed upon them like the family silverware. To play out that analogy, many, many people have the allowed the “faith life family silverware” to become tarnished and break. If you have ever seen old tarnished sterling silverware that has been neglected you will know what I mean.

Maybe the season of Lent could be seen as taking out that “tarnished” faith and cleaning it and polishing it so that it gleams and glows as it did when it was new. I like that analogy very much! So I will close with that! Shalom and selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – In a new land and living a new life

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.” (Joshua 5:9)

Yesterday I was peeved because the scripture citations did not match what I felt should have been the emphasis for the day – Day of Annunciation of the Jesus. Today, however, I am very pleased. This theme, having disgrace taken away, is very much a theme of Lent. Our self-examination and determination to live more accountable lives is a part of the process of Lent. And the Hebrews have done well.

“While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Imagine beloved readers, the joy of being able to provide for yourself. Granted, the Divine gave them the land as a gift (and no, I am not going to go into what cost that was to the natives of the land) but they worked the land and harvested what they needed. I remember well some of the first signs in my life that I could fend for myself. Happy days of accomplishing what needed to be done, and taking care of my family. There are still days when I feel the satisfaction of providing for my loved ones. And I feel like the mistakes I made in the past have faded away. Through God’s grace and mercy, they have. Think for yourself, beloved reader, where you have succeeded and good that made you feel. And then thank the Lord God the Divine for giving you the opportunity to prove yourself! Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Mothers and Sons – the gift they are to each other

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1 – 5)

It is my belief that in order to understand these first few verses of this passage, you have to have a visual, or at least a picture in your mind of what is going on. In short, Jesus’ mother is giving him “the look.” That “look” that mothers have when they are silently telling their children to shape up and fly right. Don’t think that because Jesus was/is divine he was immune to the look, or that his mother never used that persuasive device technique on him. Jesus may have protested that it was not the correct time, but when Jesus’ mother instructs the servants to do as Jesus tells them, and the next verse talks about what things Jesus used that were already there, you know “the look” worked.

“Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.” (Verses 6 – 8)

I don’t know what Jesus reason was that he did not want to show his “divine hand’ just yet. Maybe it was too public a place or he was concerned that the “miracle” that was needed in this situation was appropriate. But it is a mote point in any case; his mother convinced him that the time was here and now.

“When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I like it that at first it was unknown where the good wine came from. Consider, beloved reader, Jesus could have created inferior wine or mediocre wine, and no one would have thought twice. But he created superior wine, most excellent wine. Why I wonder? Was it because he could do no less? Or was it because he knew his mother expected the best out of him?

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (Verse 11)

Jesus “revealed his glory” not because the Lord God instructed him to, or that the need was life threatening, or because it revealed an aspect of the Divine. No, Jesus did it because his mother asked him to. Mary I am sure was well aware (by this time) that Jesus was the Son of the Divine. And that he had his own heaven-given agenda. But he was also her son. She had nurtured him and guided, and had a strong hand in creating who he was as a man. How do I know this? The Lord God would not have picked her out if she was not suited to this role.

Each family member in families has a special type of relationship within the family group; fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, parents/spouses, and siblings one to another. In choosing my title I did not mean to suggest that mothers and sons have a unique relationship set apart from the rest of the family. Each family member is a gift to the other family members. That is also true in the family of God, so please remember that. However this story gives us a unique view of Jesus and his mother. It functions on more than one level. And it is just a nice heartwarming story.

Beloved reader, may you find your home in the family of God. Selah!