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!

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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!

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistles Passage – Being inspired and gifted by the Divine Lord God

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:1 – 3)

Words can have power – when spoken from the heart. It is easy to speak any number of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs etc when you are not speaking with meaning or intent but are merely “flapping your gums”! The writer of I Corinthians wants his readers to understand that. I hope you do too, beloved reader. Think of all the people you know, beloved reader, who speak only to hear the sound of their own voice. Do you sincerely believe that they say? On the important matters of life then, only listen to those who speak sincerely and from their heart and soul.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (Verses 4 – 11 [Emphasis mine])

I really need not say more. Just as in the first section the writer of I Corinthians cautioned his readers to discern who was able to say what in praise or curse of Jesus the Christ, so too the gifts of the Spirit are for everyone’s good; and not for the adoration and adulation of the spiritual “performer”. Those who are authentic in the Spirit use their gifts for the uplifting and aid of others. Those who do it for the “wow” factor may not be sincere in the practice.

In the youth group I was a part of we had several natural leaders, those of our age group that we looked up to and wished to emulate. Their commit to their faith and to those they lead was inspiring. The most inspirational though was when two of them made a mistake and confessed their mistake publicly to our group. Their honesty and transparency actually set a better example then the “saintliness” that they tried to portray to the younger members of the group. I wish I could tell them how their courage in the face of “sin” meant to me. I believe that even in their supposedly “sinful state” they had a great lesson to teach.

May you beloved reader have people within your faith circle that show forth the best gifts and attributes of authentic believers, and may they teach you a great deal. 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!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: Old Testament Passage – Moms and Dads

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the LORD”; and then they would return to their home. . . . . Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people.” (1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26)

Every year a feel a little bit sad that the Christmas season, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, quickly moves into the lectionary year – with nary a look back . . . mostly. Okay, that was a weird sentence, but I think you (mostly) know what I mean. Here we are just a few days past Christmas and we are transported from the Christmas event to other considerations. That will become more clear as this week of scripture passages unfolds.

There is a slight backward glance however in this passage from Samuel, if one looks at it in a certain way. Jesus’ mother Mary was a caring and devoted mother – if she wasn’t/was not destined to be, she would not have been chosen by the Divine. Samuel’s mother was also devoted to her son, Samuel. Do not think, beloved reader, that her heart did not ache being apart from him most of the year. She stands in good stead with other mothers in the bible; John’s mother most easily and most recently comes to mind. Each of the biblical figures that we look up to had strong and devoted mothers.

They had good fathers too. As I made mention and note of, Jesus’ earthly father was of royal lineage. John’s father was a priest in the temple. And I am pretty sure (although it is not mentioned) that Samuel’s father also missed his son who was born to his favored wife.

So even if the nativity is behind us, there is still evidence of strong families. That is good to keep in mind. Also to keep in mind is that with the birth of Jesus the family of God is set in motion. That is very good to keep in mind. Christmas is one of the seasons that has strong emphasis and a firm setting in families. May you, beloved reader, relish your family connects; and include in that the family of God! Selah!