Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Pleas during Lent

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.” (Philippians 3:17 – 18)

Paul is very sincere in this – shedding tears because some “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Part of the reason is that he becomes profoundly disturbed in thinking that some may be lost to death and destruction because they are outside of the will of our Lord God Jesus Christ. Part of the reason is that Paul remembers when he was “Saul” and lived apart of the Lord God. And part of the reason, I think, is that Paul becomes perturbed that any one would live contrary to the rules of the Lord God Jesus Christ. And finally, I think part of the reason is that they are such a bad example to new and vulnerable Christians.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Verse 19)

As fervent as Paul was in persecuting new Christian believers, he is as fervent or more so in protecting them, and nurturing them. And encouraging them to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ and the new life that is to come for them.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Paul’s plea is also the plea of Lent. To resist temptation and stand firm in one’s beliefs no matter what you may see others do and hear of them doing.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Chapter 4, verse 1)

Selah!

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Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The importance of the body and caring for the body

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Corinthians 12:12 – 17)

I am truly trying to work with this passage. This has been a very tough day (the day I sat down to write this), and my fear is that it is just the beginning of some very tough days – by current count (that is, again, as of the day I am writing this) at least 22 more. I am not sure if I have said, precisely, what my most current health issue is. I have skin cancer in the form of a tumor, and am currently undergoing radiation therapy. When you read this, there will be 15 more days until the end of my treatment. I have treatment each week day, so other than Saturdays each day I write, I have had a treatment. I started treatment the later part of December but it was not until the New Year that the side effects started to catch up to me. The last two weeks have been heck!

When I read the passage for this date, I quaked a bit as to how I was going to talk about the metaphor of the body. I mean my body and its members have been failing me left and right! How was I going to say something helpful and inspiring?! But I dug deep. And realized that in this instance it is not my entire body that has failed me – in fact it is a foreign and unnatural growth that has caused this problem. It took healthy tissue and corrupted it, and now the corruption has to be eradicated. And my entire body and all its members – my entire physiology – is suffering.

To dig deeper, if my entire body consisted only of my, say, right face cheek then I would be in deep trouble. But my right face cheek is only a portion of my body, and only a portion of the member of my body that is my face. Paul is talking about all of the parts of the body working together in unity. And it is actually the unity of the members of my body that have helped me cope thus far.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,. . . “ (Verses 17 – 22)

While the tumor needs to be eradicated, that does not mean that part of my face is going to disappear; only the comparatively small portion that is diseased will be made to leave. Or more precisely, shrink and melt away. The hope is that the major portion will stay, and in time heal from the radiation. I could not, and do not hate that portion of my cheek. In fact, I am doing all I can to protect it and nurture it so that the damage is at a minimum, and that in time healing will take place.

. . . and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. “ (Verses 23 – 25)

Radiation therapy may be directed at only one small portion of the body, but the effects are felt throughout the body. I learned this in only a matter of hours. I went from feeling quite well after treatment to feeling very weak and ill. I have learned how important self-care is – even more so than I ever realized.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.” (Verses 26 – 31a)

It is starting with verse 26, however, where my experience and use of the metaphor of the body parts ways with Paul’s. Not to say either of us is right or wrong. But Paul’s purpose is to use the body and its members as a metaphor for the church and all the roles that members of the church provide to each other. My purpose is to help you see, beloved reader, that care for the body is a holy act. That just because one part of the body may not be doing well does not mean the entire body becomes useless. Paul touches on this in verses 22 to 26. He moves on to talk about the church as the body and the members, well, members. Each with their own calling and role. Perhaps my purpose is also to exhort you to be gentle and caring for members of you faith circle who are struggling. To do good “self-care” in your faith circle as you would for your own body.

It has always, always been my hope that whatever experience I go through in my life might be used in helping others. It is the way I hope and pray that as a member of the body of Christ I might be supportive of the wider church and faith community. 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!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Gospel Passage – How biblical women keep faith

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39 – 45)

I have often wondered if Mary knew that Elizabeth was with child or just wanted to visit with her (maybe) favorite relative. And I wonder if Mary knew that it was a child who would become John the Baptist. From Elizabeth’s greeting you can get the sense of the sort of person she was. Steeped in faith and aware of biology. A good housekeeper and wife. A strong confident person. But gentle and yielding with those who are fragile and unsure. I really do not think this was the first time that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist may have been destined to be who he was, the herald of Jesus the Messiah. And maybe John’s father had influence over him as he grew to manhood. But it must have been his mother, Elizabeth, who prepared him to take on the mantle of evangelist. It was good, very good that Mary was with her, learning about pregnancy and child birth. Learning how to manage a household, and learning how to grow into being a woman of God.

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Verses 46 – 55)

Over the years I have seen the question posted on many Facebook pages, “If you could, who from history would you most like to meet and talk to?” I rarely have an answer. But after reading these passages, I would be equally pleased to talk to Elizabeth or Mary.

I have long looked up to and admired Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a woman who pondered things deeply. And kept many things to herself. And if Elizabeth raised up John to be a preacher, Mary raised a Savior. Now you may say it must not have been hard, since Jesus was “hard wired”, in a sense, to be the Messiah. And that is not what I am saying. The Divine looked into Mary’s heart and saw that she was prepared and equipped to be an earthly mother of Jesus. Or the Divine formed her in that way; no, it was not sheer coincidence that Mary was chosen. It was her destiny. If Jesus was foreordain to be the Messiah, then Mary was also predestined to be his mother. I admire Mary both for what she did and who she was. Nurturer and Jesus’ first disciple.

As I age, I have also developed an appreciation for Elizabeth. Mary was young, a young woman the scriptures say. Elizabeth was seasoned with age and wisdom. And in my older years I yearn for that also. So yes, I would be just as pleased to visit with Elizabeth. In fact, I think my sit-down with Paul may have to wait an eternity or two while I talk to Mary and Elizabeth. We women of God need to share our stories and praise the Lord. May you, beloved reader, find people to talk to that aid your Christian journey – especially in this season of Advent. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Keeping hope and faith kindled

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)

I like little towns. I did most of my formative growing up years in a little town. I like thinking that the most unlikely of things can come from the most unlikely of places. Give me the underdog, the forgotten and pushed aside. And I will champion it with all that I have.

“Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” (Verse 3)

Not only, says the writer of Micah, will the unexpected come from a small and insignificant place but it will seem like forever until the expected comes forth. This reminds me of Jesus’ prophecies that many things will come to pass before the judgment day. Often in the past two hundred years (maybe more) there have been predictions and prophecies that the end times are near at hand. The “signs” and “portents” seemed to point to it. But the writer of Micah says it will seem like the Divine has given up the called and chosen people, so long will it be until the unexpected comes forth.

Now I do not think the “she” is a specific or designated woman, but rather the analogy of the birthing of a child taking so long and being so arduous. Of course, some commentators are quite attached to the notion that their hindsight of how the Messiah was conceived and born should attributed and given to the prophets as foresight. I am really pretty persistent in my feeling that there is something not quite right in that.

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Verses 4 – 5a)

What do you tell a people who are yearning for hope and shaking with uncertainty? You tell them that things will get better. That hope may not be seen now, or the soon after now; but in the time that is to come, there will be reason for hope. That past glories may have become dust but out of the dust will come greatness again. And that in the smallest and most forgotten places may be the very place that newness will spring forth. Was the writer of Micah inspired and given foreknowledge? I do not know. I am not in the business of squashing hope nor nay saying that improbable predictions will not come true.

It is nice to think that there are still people who nurture hope and hear the whispers of the Divine telling them to spread the good news. I strongly believe, however, that good news and messages of hope do not have to hitch themselves to blazing once in a lifetime events. Hope is kindled and nurtured best in peaceful corners of the heart and soul, warming the spirit and keeping one serene and at peace. I grew up in a small town where friendship, camaraderie, and faith got one through the toughest of times. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you have such places and people. Shalom!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Epistle Passage – A Corporate Christian Identity

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3 – 6)

Paul did not usually write to individuals – well, he wrote to Timothy. But that letter was much more of a “behind the scenes” Paul writing to a fellow minister and contemporary as opposed to writing to a circle of believers. So the “you” in this passage is the plural “you” – which is denoted by the “all of you” comment, as well as the “among you” comment. Now, in some letters Paul will take an individual to task, but still the letter is to a group and not an individual. Paul will also sent greetings to an individual but asks the group as a whole to pass on his greeting.

“It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Verses 7 – 11)

Paul also brags about some faith circles that have shown care and compassion – as a group – to other faith circles. In fact Paul at one point motivates one faith circle by bragging about another, exhorting each gathering of believers to emulate the other. Paul did not set out to convert individuals one by one, but sought to set up churches that would support and encourage each other. Then he sent group letters to those churches, continuing to give guidance and discipline to the corporate group. In reality, when Paul talks about living an authentic Christian life, he is talking about living it out in a group context. Remember too that the early churches supported each other, each member contributing to the group as a whole so no one had want or need. The early church did not have any individual (that is, single person) consciousness. The early Christian churches were very much interdependent. And if that reminds you of the Jewish faith, there might be good reason!

I promise you however, beloved reader, we will look at individual faith. But again here, we seem to be looking at scripture with an eye towards a group mentality. Revel in the fellowship of others, and support each other in the journey through this world. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Epistle Passage: Reflecting further on Jesus Christ as the Perfect High Priest

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10: 11 – 14)

I think you know already, beloved reader, that I am feeling that Paul is reiterating on a theme that I feel has already been well examined and described. It could be that Paul is being/just being over thorough. Or it could be that his audience really was a “tough sell”. I want to give that allowance because I know there are people who have heard the gospel many times but still do not embrace it as a model for their lives. So maybe Paul does need to speak at great expanse on this topic.

“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Verses 15 – 16)

As I think about Paul’s efforts to distill and present the gospel (as he understands it) to his readers, I am reminded of a modern-day occupation that is much like this – a technical writer. That is someone who writes at great length and detail as to how an object works or operates. I have at times in my life included technical writing or instruction book/manual writing in my job. And it is a long tedious process. You have to understand each step and sub-step, test out for yourself that it does/will work that way, and describe each step and movement in a clear and precise way. It can be maddening.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Verses 19 – 25)

I can imagine Paul looking at each step and increment of faith in Jesus Christ, examining it from the perspective of his listening/reading audience, and striving to be sure he has covered every aspect and possible question. I imagine it was quite maddening for him too, going over and over each step and aspect of faith to make sure he had in correct and had placed in within the context of his reader so it would be understandable. And then sending it off with every hope and prayerful confidence that it would be received well. It seems to me, beloved reader, that if Paul took such time and effort to write this, I (and you) should take the time to read it and study it. Selah!