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!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – You never need to “wrestle” alone

Preacher: “I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?” Where does your help come from? Do you relay on just the Divine? You may say you do, but in reality your help comes from all sorts of places. I am not saying you are looking in the wrong places or dangerous unholy places. I am simply saying help, good help, can come from all sorts of places.
Seeker: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
But you are correct Preacher. I know my help also comes from the people around me. As you said, good people who believe in the Lord God and help because the Divine moves them to do so. My help comes from inspirational readings and devotional books, hymns and song that speak of the Lord God Jesus Christ. My help comes from spiritual forebearers and from their story. My help comes from the Lord God but also the people who have been influenced by the Lord God.
Preacher: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”
If you ask, through prayer and petition, the Lord God will always be there for you. If you have experienced help through family and friends who have pledged to be there for you, you know what I mean. Yes, the Lord God will be there when ever you call on the Divine. But it is also through fellow believers that the Lord God is able to be with you at every step.
Seeker: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Jesus Christ speaks of that when he talks about the neighbor that is awaken and gives help and sustenance to those who knock on his or her door in need.
Preacher: “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.”
And if the Lord is at your right hand, you can be sure that human help will be at your left – if you ask for that help and you ask for those who are truly sent by the Divine.
Seeker: “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
Preacher, does that mean the Lord God will protect you from unsavory people and things? We all know there are people out there who do not have one’s good and best interest as their intentions?
Preacher: “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.”
Yes, in a sense. Bad things help to good people; and yes, sometimes bad people who hurt and wound you, and worse. But the Lord God will protect the essence of you. That does not rule out calamity or even death. Seeker, you can only push and expand the words of the psalmist so far. There are harsh realities in our world. And faith in God does not make you invulnerable. Gather around you those you can trust and who trust in the Lord God the Divine. Offer up prayers for one another. Look out for one another. And when trouble and turmoil come, and it will, those who are faithful to the Lord will do all they can – as you will do all you can for them. In this way, and through those times of Divine intervention . . . . . “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Bloom where you are transplanted(?)

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1)

I am mindful, when I write my ponderings and comments on the prophets and their prophecies, that there is often a distinct break between the narration of what the prophets say & do and the actual prophecies. Here for instance there is the lead in that these are “the words of the letter” that Jeremiah sent, and then come the actual words. I imagine notations such as this lead commentators to consider who wrote the prophecies and what the circumstances were. It is easily understood that Jeremiah was not there in Babylon but else where. Further questions could asked such as did Jeremiah actually send the letter or did someone else carry it to Babylon? Was there an actual direction connection between what Jeremiah heard whispered in to his spiritual ear and what he says the “Lord of hosts, the God of Israel” said? The reason I ask/ponder is that the letter seems to have some surprising contents.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Back when the Hebrews were first coming in to the land that would be Israel and Judah they were told to keep themselves separate and apart from those who already dwelt in the land. The fine print was that they would become the majority in the land and would supplant those who had dwelt there before them. But this time is different. This time they were to abide peacefully amongst the Babylonians and seek their welfare so that there own welfare would be assured. They are in a very different position than previous times.

And it occurs to me that advice would, could, and should transmit down to us. But the question becomes for us (and most probably for those taken from Jerusalem) how much should we “fade” into society and how much should we hold to our distinctiveness?

I wish I could carry forth my reflections and pondering further – but this evening I am suffering the miseries of a cold that I caught, no doubt, from one of my co-workers. And yes, there is irony in sharing their germs but striving to remain my own person who rarely becomes ill. Again there is fodder for pondering but my brain cells are crying congestion and fogginess.

May you beloved reader be inspired to ponder where your musings take you, and to journey in good health! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Listening when Paul is preaching from afar

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” ( 2 Timothy 1:1 – 2)

On days that I ponder, write/comment on the epistle passages are usually hectic and long work hours days. I can be an uphill battle to set that aside and consider what Paul has to say to his readers/listeners. But today I am just going to relax and lean in to it – let Paul speak to me as he speaks to Timothy.

“I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did–when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Do you have someone, beloved reader, that would write to you so tenderly and longingly. Maybe a family member or a friend? I would hope that everyone would have a person (at least one person if not more) who would hold another in such high regard.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (Verses 5 – 7)

I wish I could say that I hold these feelings for you, but our connection does not support such affections and feelings. Through our Lord God it does actually – being part of the family of God. But I cannot name specifics of your life. However, the Lord God the Divine can, and does. You may not hear it as Timothy heard from Paul, or as you may hear from one who is near and dear to you on this earth. But the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Divine, knows you in such an intimate way. And if you could and would open your spiritual ears, I am sure the Divine would speak to you.

“Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (Verses 8 – 10)

I know, beloved reader, just as you are leaning back and leaning into the tender sentiments, Paul starts preaching.

“For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (Verses 11 – 14)

But really, the tender message that Paul started out with and the exhortation he moved into are from the same font of emotion. When Paul preaches & teaches, exhorts & instructs he is doing it because the love and passion that the Lord God has placed in him compels him to share the good news that he knows is vital to every member of humanity. Paul is just as moved in weeping because of being apart from friends (such as Timothy) as he is in preaching the good news. Neither should you think that Paul only had this “tender” regard Timothy. If he was propelled and compelled by love of/from/for the Divine, then he held many people dear. His blustery pedagogical manner hid, I am sure, a well of emotion. At least that is the perspective I want to take today, because I could use some “warm fuzzy.”

May you, beloved reader, take comfort in the love, care, and concern that family and friends have for you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Living according to good news

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” (I Timothy 6:6 – 8)

It is as if the writer of I Timothy was reading over my shoulder when composing these verses; or that I knew what was coming in the epistle passage – so closely that his theme and my theme of yesterday come together. But neither happened. Maybe it is the RCL itself that matches themes so well. In any case, here we are considering the possession of this world versus what is treasured in the world to come.

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (Verse 9)

I was going to make comment yesterday concerning King Zedekiah’s possible ire when told in prophecy that he would lose all of the perks and possessions of kingship. Do you suppose that is why he was so angry with Jeremiah?

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (Verses 10 – 12)

I talked (briefly) yesterday of balance – having possession and wherewithal in this life but living for the world to come. (And I emphasize again I had not idea that this passage of Paul’s was coming after my pondering on Jeremiah and his field.) I try hard to maintain a balance. But often I feel out of balance – swaying to far on each side actually. My only solace is that I cannot think of anyone who has achieved that balance over the long run; well, maybe there are a few I can think of. And it is those few I try to emulate. Not, I hasten to say, that I have achieved the success they did. And yes, beloved reader, I would consider those few as guides and spiritual forebearers.

“In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (Verses 13 – 16)

One would think, I am guessing, that you might think beloved reader that Paul is one who I look to as a balance guide. But you would be incorrect. The apostle Paul, bless his heart, was all about the evangelizing and did little or had little that tied him to this world. Most saints plunged themselves into living in this world according to the world to come paradigms. However as a wife & mother, and as an employee I am plunged and plugged deep into this world, and so have to find my balance. The reason it is hard for me is because I have chosen to live life as a contemplative as well as a member of society. The Oxford dictionary defines a contemplative as “a person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, especially in a monastery or convent.”

“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (Verses 17 – 19)

From Paul’s description finding that balance should not be hard, and actually if my life was as streamlined as Paul’s it would not be hard at all to find balance. However Paul was not married, did not have children, and worked wherever he was traveled to and was at any given time. Paul did advocate to believers not to marry if they were not already married. So for him the contemplative life (if that is what he would call it) was very easy. Admittedly I am not hampered by riches. So Paul’s exhortation for that reality is easy for me.

Isn’t interesting though, that for many Christians living in this world often times means straddling two realities. It is good then that we do not journey alone – that there are fellow believers around us and that the Holy Spirit is with us. With such companions we can take up the challenge daily to live according to the good news. Selah!

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!

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!!