Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Gospel Passage – The Coming of the Light of the Divine, and how we respond

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:12 – 16)

There are so many things I want to “unpack” from this verses, I do not know where to start but I am eager to begin! John the Baptist we know had a completely different agenda from those around him. He dressed differently and acted differently, confronting both acquaintances and strangers with their sin and need to repent. He spoke of One greater than him, who he was preparing the way for, and of Whom he was not worthy to untie the sandal of. When he met the Person, he was humbled and astonished by the Magnitude of His Power. And that he, John, must decrease so this Other Person can increase. Who John spoke about was of course Jesus.

Jesus then fulfilled prophecy by moving to a place that formerly had a poor reputation, but by Jesus’ very presence became will known again and filled with Glory. And Jesus himself picked up the message that John the Baptist has started. But . . . . with one slight difference.

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Verse 17)

It was again, of course, Jesus’ presence that was bringing the Kingdom of Heaven.

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Verses 18 – 20)

This is a slightly different telling of the calling of Simon Peter. And his brother. But there is the same immediacy of following and the same recognition that Jesus is something (or Someone) completely different that cannot and should not be ignored. I want to remind you, beloved reader, that when Simon Peter felt lost at Jesus’ death and news of resurrection – he picked up his net and went fishing. Again Peter was called away – that time to a whole new life, more different than he ever imagined. I am getting ahead of the present story. But I wanted to let you know that this was the beginning of that new life.

As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” (Verses 21 – 22)

I cannot imagine, in just an instant, leaving family behind. No leave taking, just here and then gone! But we are told that is how the Rapture that signals the return of the Divine will be. People will be going along in their normal lives, and suddenly some will be taken while others will be left behind.

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Verse 23)

There is difference of opinion amongst people as to whether love “at first sight” really happens. Some believe that infatuation can happen when past experiences and emotions exert great influence on a present moment. Those people say that is not true love. Others disagree and say it is possible that you can fall instantly, genuinely, and permanently in love at first sight. If I were consider the question on just human terms, I would have to agree with those who say it is not possible. But . . . when I consider the question keeping in mind the instant devotion that people have had to the Divine, I might very well say it is possible.

I have heard it said that within every member of humanity there is a longing for the Divine. Some people when feeling it, deny it – to their loss. Other people grasp on to it – maybe not instantly but eventually. There is no doubt that the Light of the Divine puts our lives and the world in a whole new perspective. The question is, what does a person do about it?

John the Baptist ordered his life around it. The disciples rushed to it without much hesitation. I would invite and encourage to think about stories you have heard from believers in your faith circle. Or ask them! And think about your own story. And then consider . . . . are you staying faithful to that Light? Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Hope comes from peace and harmony

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:4 – 6)

I am assuming that Paul is talking about the Torah (Pentateuch in Greek) and the other writings that would have been used in the Jewish community. It was Paul’s belief (and a good many commentators that I have read) that Jesus the Messiah was predicted by the writings of the major and minor prophets, and the nature of the Messiah as revealed in the stories of the called and chosen people. In that I am not talking about the presumptions that were made about the nature and intentions of the Divine, but what actually transpired between the Lord God and humanity. Read carefully where Paul says “live in harmony with one another”. Many of the actions that were undertaken by the Israelites did not seem to promote harmony. I concede the consideration of that is a larger topic that I am not looking at taking up here. The point I want to emphasis is one voice glorifying the God and [Parent] of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Verse 7)

A refrain that is often heard is “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people” to slightly paraphrase for gender inclusivity. But that is the whole point, beloved reader, to make all people feel welcome! Listen to Paul!

“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (Verses 8 – 12)

One may ask, who are the “circumcised” and who are the “Gentiles”. Paul still has a shade of “them” and “us”. Strictly speaking to Paul, WE are the Gentiles. Because we are not the first people that Yahweh called out. But as believers in Jesus Christ and beneficiaries of the Lord God’s outreach through the Messiah, we are the “circumcised.” And if we are both, beloved reader, how can we deny relationship with others. Either they are already within the family of God, or the Divine is attempting to reach out to them through us! So I say to you, beloved reader, which ever group you may be a part of . . . .

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 13)

Selah and Shalom!

[P.S. This might be a good time to announce that as of November 26th I have taken up the invitation to post on Theology Corner. In the coming weeks I will say more about the transition to posting exclusively (not that I mean to leave anyone beyond or left out) on Theology Corner. Look for cues and clues to switch over to that new site.)

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Moving forward in doing the work of the Divine

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:1 – 2)

I was out to our local hospital, Sacred Heart PeaceHealth, today and they had new signs up coming and going from the large medical campus – “Peace as you enter here” and “Peace as you leave here”. I had not seen these signs before, so I think they are new. And I think I have the proper phrases; but in any case, the intent is the same. To bestow peace with a blessing. It is, or did, start as a group of nuns, Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. And for a business that run along lines of profit, they are actually pretty Christian-based. And does have its pros and cons. But . . . . I digress. My purpose in telling you this, beloved reader, is that Paul does much the same thing – gives and bestows a blessing on his readers in Thessalonica.

“We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.” (Verses 3 – 4)

However . . . . as I ponder on this further, it is appropriate to consider the mission of the nuns who first started PeaceHealth along with other agencies and organizations that felt the call to do something for others. Paul commends the believers in Thessalonica for caring for one another, and boasts about their doing so. One wants to believe that their “love for everyone” manifested itself in “good works”. Further, one (yes, me) wants to believe that these “good works” were on behalf of not only other believers but others in their community. I did read that Paul commends their “steadfastness and faith” in spite of being hounded for their faith. Perhaps their faith was so evident because of their good works?

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Faith, at its best, is not done in a vacuum – that is, the result of one’s faith is seen in one’s life. And is seen in how you relate to others, organize your lives, and set your priorities. It is my opinion that is how we become worthy of the call of the Divine. Yes, we have to have faith – believe in the Lord God. But as one of the other apostles wrote, faith without works is dead. The Lord Jesus is not glorified, beloved reader, by the faith that is “burning” in our hearts. The glory comes when that passion is lived out.

May you, beloved reader, be prayed for and blessed. And may you feel that blessing such that you are moved to carry out the mission that the Divine has placed in YOUR heart! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – When times are no longer tough . . . . that is, when we are in heaven

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1 – 2)

I was trying to find the perfect mood music to write on this psalms passage; I kept going from album to album in my playlists, but nothing seemed to be write. I had to wonder of the psalmist tried also to find the perfect tune and words to praise the Divine. Maybe for both him and I, only the choirs of heaven would provide the correct background. I do not know what tune the psalmist imagined for his words. I just know I had trouble finding background music for my writing.

As you might imagine, I have a pretty extensive music library of Christian worship music. I have spent close 25 years collecting it. And I am still adding to it. It may not be as extensive as the book of psalms – but from reading the words in the bible it appears that the psalmist might have re-used a tune or two.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Verse 3)

It is through music that many people bring themselves before the Divine. Whether it be repeated praise choruses or multiply versed hymns, lifting one’s singing voice is a well established way to worship. There was a time that I thought I might collaborate with someone to write Christian songs. There was also a time I myself I used singing as a worship tool. But as the years have gone by, writing prose seemed to be a medium that was better suited to me.

“Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah” (Verse 4)

When I arrive in heaven – whenever and whatever that experience might be for me – I imagine that praise will just flow out of me, without my having to think or consciously compose it. I am also hoping that praise is not the only experience in heaven; oh yes, there are many spiritual forebearers that I hope to seek out. But as the psalmist says, there will be overwhelming happiness.

“Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” (Verses 5 – 7)

I have to admit I do not often think of what it will be like in heaven. Or at least not as often as I used to. The reason is that as my relationship with the Divine has grown stronger and more intimate, I feel the Lord God’s presence in my life more and more. I do not feel the pull to heaven to be with the Divine because I feel that the Divine is here on earth with me.

I had a friend in seminary who used to say of me, she longs to be in the house of the Lord. And that was very true. I do long to be in the house of the Lord, but I have also felt, heard, and heeded the call to minister to people here on earth – wherever I am. And to shepherd them in their relationship with the Lord God.

There are many tough times in this life; times when the burden seems so overwhelming that one can hardly bear it. And heaven seems like a blissful place of sweet release. But we can feel relief here on earth, amongst fellow believers and in the spiritual presence of the Divine. Heaven will be there, waiting for us. While we are here, beloved reader, let us do whatever we can to bring even just a small peace of heaven to earth. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Bloom forth with praise and thanksgiving . . . . that is suited to who you are and what you praise the Divine for

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah” (Psalm 66:1 – 4)

I continue to try to discern what it is about some psalm passages that, well, just leave me cold. Or maybe it has more to do with the mood that I am in than the words of the psalm. Right now I am craving quiet alone time. And this psalm just busts and bursts out with noise, loud wind instruments and many, many people being noisy. Could we just turn down the volume a little?

“Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah” (Verses 5 – 7)

Loud praise passages tend to draw on stories and lessons of long ago, and ones that do not resonant with my experiences. My times of praise and wonder have come in spaces and places of holy silence, or whispers of insight and understanding.

“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Verses 8 – 12)

There are times, I will admit, that praising the Lord for the success of triumphing over the trials and tribulations that have been part of others’ lives, when we are celebrating with them. Or when a group or a community has emerged victorious from a time of testing. But it is hard to take on the joy and celebration of another when their path has not been your path. Even more difficult to use the words of praise and celebration of one individual or group when it does not fit your own experience.

I talked yesterday of group of ten lepers who were healed but only one came back to thank and praise Jesus Christ. And he was not of the same faith circle as Jesus and the other nine. But his praise and worship of Jesus and God deemed acceptable and worthy of recognition. So I do not feel I am erring here.

The psalmist primary exhortation is to praise the Lord God the Divine. All that follows is particular and specific to the agenda and celebration that the psalmist has in mind at the time of his writing. Praise the Lord God, beloved reader, for the blessings and mercies that have been given to you. And let you praise mingle with the words of praise from generations past and the generations to come. In this way there will be an endless chorus of praise lifted up to the Divine, which is actually the way it should be! 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!