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!

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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!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Gospel Passage: What will you provide to the Lord?

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” ( Mark 12:38 – 40)

Jesus often accused the scribes, Jewish leaders, Pharisees, and Sadducees of hypocrisy. But such people were not, and are not now, just in the time of Jesus. The mismatch of professed faith and lived action is something that has been around since humanity first succumbed to taking advantage of others. Those who demand honor for themselves should be sure they are worthy of the honor. Such a paradox that those who demand respect treat others with little or no respect. Their appearance does not match what they are truly like. Long prayers that reflect no true devotion to the Divine, combined with taking advantage of others who are in position to defend themselves, is a sure way to be condemned. I have little patient for people who live like that. I think the same could be said of Jesus.

“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Verses 41 – 44)

Jesus was an avid observer of people. I like that in a Messiah! The widow, who may well have been a victim of the so called religious leaders, balanced her livelihood against the giving to the treasury. And in her wisdom she gave all that she had so that the mission of the synagogue could continue. She did not give because she sought stature but because it was the right thing to do. The rich on the other hand, gave much because it made them look good. The reality was the amount they gave was just a pittance compared to what they had in reserve.

Set this against the early Christian church whose members contributed all they had to those in need so that no one person had more than another, and everyone had what they needed. I suspect much of that attitude and giving started in the lessons such as this that Jesus taught.

The deeper point is that Jesus knew exactly what the widow gave up in giving her little bit. And he also knew exactly how much the rich scribes did not give up. Each person should give according to their means, and how their heart and spirit moves them. Just as important is to make sure the faith you like to make others believe you have matches how you conduct your life. Remember beloved reader, the eyes of the Divine are upon you! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Canadian Thanksgiving) – All the scripture passages, and my thoughts on them

Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.” (Joel 2:21 – 23)

When I was growing up, just when I thought school days had taken over my entire life, Thanksgiving came. NOT at the end of November when Christmas exams and papers were looming but early in October when the weather was still temperate and the leaves were still a rich feast of color. The Thanksgivings of my youth were wondrous times when aunts, uncles, cousins and all manner of family relations got together to celebrate a successful season of harvest. Although most of the harvesting was done in the grocery store. One of my aunts did have a garden and there was produce from that on the groaning table. But mostly it was the harvesting of good cooking. I felt sorry for our neighbors to the south who had to wait more than a month to share good eating with family and friends. One of the hardest adjustments when I came down to the states for college and then became a permanent resident was waiting for Thanksgiving until all the way into November.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Verses 24 – 27)

For many years after my marriage we celebrated Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. Sometimes if school schedules allowed we went up to Ontario for Canadian Thanksgiving. Those were good years of double Thanksgiving!

When we moved out to Oregon that meant for the first time we were on our own for Thanksgiving. By then I had enough cooking experience under my belt to do a Thanksgiving correctly all the trimmings. The first year however the budget was tight and I stretched the dollars as far as I could, and even further. But each year that passed it was easier to make a Thanksgiving that was full and bounteous. Now we savor our intimate Thanksgivings together.

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” (Psalms 126:1 – 3)

Last year Thanksgiving it was almost reminiscent of leaner times. I had been unemployed since March of 2017 and groceries funds were at a low. My mother generously helped out and my son had gotten a job in September so he pitched in. And just before Thanksgiving I got hired, so I knew that money would be coming in again. We pinched pennies a little and modified the abundance, but a good time was had by all.

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 3 – 6)

This Thanksgiving promises to be a great one – my income it better than before and we have much to thankful and grateful for.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” ( 1 Timothy 2:1-7)

In our current political climate a quiet and peaceable life is not easy to find; this is true in all parts of the world. In the past the United States has been for many a haven of calm and sufficiency. But those days are less common lately, and I grieve for that. As when I was a child, I saw those in the United States having to wait longer than I for Thanksgiving. Now as an adult I see the need that exists and it burdens my heart. Why is it that the days and years past glow more brightly in our memory?

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” ( Matthew 6:25-32)

Yes beloved reader, the days of my worrying about food or clothing are past. Lean times may come again, but I know we will get through them. I see not only the need for material things in the world, but all things of the heart and soul. In fact I dare to see the needs of the heart and soul in this world are a greater need than the material things. What ever one’s faith tradition the need for a quiet and peaceable life are profound and unending. It is all well and good to say your material needs will be met; but the human body has needs beyond that. And we cannot be sure, beloved reader, that the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of each person are being meet. The writer of the gospel of Matthew says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Verse 33) But in many instances we, who are followers and profess-ors of the Christian life, need to seek out those in need – all types of needs. Because it is through us that “all these things will be given” to the world.

May you, beloved reader regardless of the time and the season, open your eyes to the needs of other and be open to the calling of the Spirit to fill them. Selah!