Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The question was, “Being called forth to be what sort of Christian? “ The answer is, “This sort”

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25 – 28)

There are times, beloved reader, that I feel the title of these reflections is enough to convey my opinion and/or perspective on the passage. The lawyer told the answer to his question (and actually my question) was/is to love the Divine with every particle of our body and to give our neighbor the same care and compassion etc that we hope for and expect for ourselves. It should be simple enough.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Verses 29)

However, the human spirit (in its sin and fallibility) does not do “simple”, and demands that particulars and specifics are spelled out. It would be easy to say that it is because this man was a “lawyer” that he tried to place loose with the law; but the truth is that many people of all sorts of education and background try to get away with the least amount of care and compassion given to others, yet expect the most given to them.

“Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Verses 30 – 32)

These are people who know the law, and would be expected to exhibit the care and compassion that Jesus confirmed was in the law. And you can easily (and should) substitute in any man/woman of God for the priest and Levite.

“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Verse 33)

Likewise you should substitute in the most unlikely person to be moved to compassion by the unfortunate condition of another. Maybe even the person who you, beloved reader, feel is the antithesis of your own faith beliefs!

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’” (Verses 34 – 35)

Now understand beloved reader – the Samaritan would have been the antithesis to this Jewish lawyer; a person who the Jewish lawyer would scorn and dismiss as incapable of following the law. And Samaritans generally speaking (unfortunately) would have been expected to act more like the priest or Levite. And then Jesus asks the question (which I also asked in my way) . . . .

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Verses 36 – 37)

In the Old Testament passage the Lord God set up a plumb line to measure the people of Israel, Jesus also set up a plumb line (most likely a very similar one) and a good many people failed that one as well. Do not, beloved reader, be such a person! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Being called forth to be what sort of Christian?

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” ( Colossians 1:1 – 8)

I imagine in my mind the conversation between Epaphras and Paul about the Colossians; stories of the care and faithfulness, giving ways and patience, compassion and unconditional acceptance. I do not know if that is how Paul would describe what a “model” Christian would be. I know that is, in part, how I would describe one. I am not sure if Paul would put more emphasis on the “living in hope of salvation” or the treating of others as fellow “saints”. Sometimes I suspect there might have been a “them” and “us” mentality then; I know it is not a good image of how an authentic Christian should be now. At least, again, from my perspective. But you, beloved reader, are welcome to imagine the Colossians how ever you want to.

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Verses 9 – 14)

So much of how we picture Christians of the early church is based on Paul’s description. And that is okay, if we all agree on how to interpret and understand what Paul said. The things is, we don’t. So we are left to fashion for ourselves, individually and in our faith circles, how a good model authentic Christian should act. How I would love to sit with you, beloved reader, and hear from you as to how you act out your Christian faith. But I am here, at my keyboard, and hear little if anything as to what your thoughts are. You, on the other hand, get to hear from me quite often as to my perspective and opinion. I guess that is another thing Paul and I have in common – not much feedback from our readers! Or at least not much recorded feedback . . . which in the long run is pretty much the same.

So I must, as Paul does, pray “for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and commend you the Divine. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Knowing where and with whom you should be

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her– that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.” (Isaiah 66:10 – 11)

The more I looked and studied this passage, the more it seemed like a praise passage. Sometimes the writer of Isaiah has dark and disturbing words and warnings. Other times the writer of Isaiah lifts the spirit and soul – those are the types of writings I like! Jerusalem suffers a good deal in the bible. Being raided and taken over; being razed and dismantled. The called and chosen people considered it their spiritual, if not literal, home. Many Jews still say, “Next year I will be in Jerusalem.” The middle east is now hotly contested land, with several races and cultures trying to claim dominance. To be honest, beloved reader, I am not sure who has rightful claim. What I do know is that both in the Old and New Testament there is the admonition for gentleness and welcome. And it is that gentleness and welcome that nurtures and lift the soul and spirit.

“For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Jerusalem is often used as the symbolic name of a spiritual home. In the New Testament there is much mention of the “new Jerusalem” It would seem that the more Jerusalem was oppressed and abused, the greater the hope for a “new Jerusalem.” The New Testament images it as the place where the disciples/apostles might rule with Jesus and the Lord God. Others say New Jerusalem will geographically be elsewhere. I prefer to believe that New Jerusalem will be a new way of living and relating to one another – a new mindset. But, beloved reader, what ever one’s image is . . . it seems we much wait for it.

“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.” (Verse 14)

I always have to wonder, who are the enemies that the Lord God the Divine is against? And I have to worry about the “us” and “them” mentality. Because just as I am not sure who is most deserving of the geographical place we call Jerusalem now, I am also loathe to declare who is with the “us” and who is the “them” that we are supposed to be in opposition with? Because, if there is only one “New Jerusalem” and all that belief in the Divine assume they are going to be there . . . we might be very surprised who we see, and who sees us! Selah!

Day of Pentecost, 2019 Year C : Substituted Acts Passage – Trying to come together

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1 – 4)

We forget, beloved reader, that one of the aspects of Pentecost was gifting of languages that connected people. While the Holy Spirit come to rest upon them, it was to the discerning and divining of theologies and philosophies but a bringing together of languages. And it caught the attention of people who were gathered there.

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (Verses 5 – 11)

The Genesis passage that is cited for this day talks about the possible dividing and diversifying of languages. While the reason that this was done by the Divine may be difficult to understand, here and now with the coming of the Holy Spirit the rift in languages is temporarily erased.

And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:6 – 9)

If I was to champion the cause of the Divine in this event, I would say (and do say) that while the feat of building a tower that reached the skies would have been tremendous, it was only one building for one purpose and did not advance the lives and livelihoods of the people gathered there. But when the large group was divided and set off on various paths, they ultimately accomplished more and greater things than they would have as on group. And it set the stage for a more momentous event than those early builders could have ever imagined.

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Acts chapter 2, Verses 12 – 21)

That it was momentous does not mean it was clear and understandable. In fact, based on Peter’s oration to the crowd, there emerges some continuing confusion. That is, confusion to our modern understanding. We know from our own existence and hind sight that the days following Pentecost were not the last days. Yes, the Spirit was poured out over all people. Do not let statement be given a shred less importance, beloved reader – ALL PEOPLE! It is the timing and the portents that come under questioning. As I have said on other occasions, whatever has happened over the years that seems like signs . . . “in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” . . . was not the sign of “the Lord’s great and glorious day.” We are still waiting for that. In fact (again), we may be at the “Babel” of our modern times. The factions and divisions we see in humanity, while breaking down compassion and caring as exemplified by Jesus Christ, are scattering us one from another and causing great confusion. Why? I do not know that beloved reader. What I do know is when we hear the common speech of authentic Christianity from people and places that we do not expect it from, we sit up and take notice.

After Pentecost we enter into “Ordinary Time” – a time where we live out ordinary days and hone our Christian living skills until the next Holy Days of the Church come along. May we in that time discern what the Lord God the Divine is doing in our lives, and may we listening with sensitive ears for the messages that come to us. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following closely and connecting the dots between the Divine, Jesus Christ, and us

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20 – 21)

There is, I am discovering, an inherent bias in biblical commentary. I should not be surprised, however, that it is present. The bias is that compassion and kindness will be seen as coming from a heavenly divine source, and such a source will be/can be/can only be from the Lord God who sent Jesus Christ. The following is but one commentary on verse 21 as it is understood from the proceeding verse. To quote Elliot’s Commentary for English Readers: “The result of the union of believers with God, and therefore with each other, will be that the world will see in it a proof of the divine origin of Christianity, and will believe that the Father sent the Son into the world.” My point of contention is NOT that unity and fellowship of believers does not come through a common belief in Jesus Christ the Lord God and the Divine. But that others, not knowing of/about the Lord God will say, “Oh, they must be believers in an ultimately Divine God.” No, what is says is that the compassion and care believers have can be traced back to a common source. The “leap” – if you will – is that the common source is the Lord God. And that Jesus was sent from the Lord God.

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Verses 22 – 23)

It is my believe that this prayer by Jesus is for the benefit of his disciples. To encourage them, to mold them, to solidify them in purpose and intent. If, beloved reader, the intent was that evangelism and conversion to Christianity was to happen because of the close alignment between Jesus and believers AND the unity and oneness amongst believers – then in our modern society that is not happening. There is so much dissension and division amongst Christian believers that it is hard to fathom all of the coming from the same source and Source.

Would that it was true that unity amongst believers would point to the Lord God, and that such unity would result in conversion to Christianity. It used to be that way, or at least it was that way in my childhood. But my childhood is a long distance away. It is almost as if, beloved reader, we (that is the Christian faith) is starting again in identifying what is true and authentic faith. Each person or group has their own definition. But there is no unity of faith or theology. Viewing it from the inside out, I see the cracks and disunity that has come about in the face of difficult issues. I cannot even imagine what it looks like from the outside. But I shudder at the possible images.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Verses 24 – 26)

There is supposed to be unity!! There is supposed to be a cohesion of thought and action. That is why I say this prayer was for the benefit of Jesus’ disciples. This prayer is a teaching as much as a petition; perhaps even more of a teaching than a petition. I want to end with another quote from another biblical commentator – one whose thinking so often parallels mine. Albert Barnes said, “It is worthy of remark here how entirely the union of his people occupied the mind of Jesus as he drew near to death. He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide his followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and he saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.” Shalom!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Striding forth in confidence in the Lord

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” ((Acts 9:36 – 38)

I was wondering, beloved reader, why the disciples felt that Peter was needed. Was death, I wondered, so unknown to them? Or was it the death of a truly good believer that had them stymied? I can imagine then wondering, “Is death still permanent even for believers? Is there something we must do to ensure she is taken to heaven? Could she be healed/risen from the dead as Jesus was healed/risen from the dead, and as he raised up from the dead others? And if so, who could be able to heal her? What are the parameters now?”

“So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.” (Verses 39 – 40)

I can imagine further the position that Peter felt he was placed in. Was he nervous and unsure? Or did he believe that he, through the power of prayer, could turn back death and bring those who had died back to the living? In this account Peter does not seem to be unsure or hesitant about the outcome. But also like Jesus (in at least once instance) he asked those there to leave.

“He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” (Verses 41 – 43)

What miracle have you done lately, beloved reader? Raised anyone from the dead? Healed someone who was gravely ill? Cured someone’s cold perhaps? Do not be dismayed – I have not done anything like this lately either. It is not a usual aspect of our society to be able to heal in miraculous ways as the disciples/apostles did.

It would be easy to say that miracles do not happen in our modern world. But that is not quite the truth. The miracles we see in the world around us do not look like the miracles in the bible. Yes, there are those extraordinary events where a result defies everything we know about the natural/physical world. We look on these and marvel, as I am sure the Christians did in the times of the New Testament. Somewhere between the time the New Testament was written and our age that we have firm memory of – the miraculous changed. It could very well be that what we accomplish with ease would be seen as miraculous to those who witnessed Tabitha/Dorcas walk of the room upstairs. In fact I will go further – contending with what is in our modern world and remaining ardent authentic believers is miraculous. Pause for a moment, beloved reader, and think about recent events in the world – the attack on members of humanity, the news of tragedy & suffering, and the constant onslaught of that news day after day. Standing firm in our faith and retaining hope for the future is a miracle! And striding forth to face the world day after day remaining strong in our faith is a miracle! Living confidently that Lord God will undertake for us is a miracle!

Yes, the inexplainable helps buoy up our faith. But living in faith day in and day out subsisting ONLY on internal faith is wondrous in its own way. Clasp that miracle to yourselves, beloved reader! Live confidently in the Divine! Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine in the midst of our personal stories

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30: 1 – 5)

This psalm reminds me, beloved reader, of the time I was getting radiation for my skin cancer. At the peak of its worst (end of January 2019) I was in the hospital for several days trying to recover from the affects of the radiation. From the perspective of receiving the news that my latest CT scan was clear of any tumor/skin cancer, I can say that the “foe” of skin cancer did not “rejoice” over me, and that I was brought up from “Sheol” and restored to life! I did weep for many nights, but joy eventually came!

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

Before the cancer, I had thought nothing worse could happen to me than the diagnoses I already had – I was wrong. For a time I was literally fighting for my health and life! It is tempting to believe that the worst is behind me. But I cannot say for a certainty that is true. I thought I have had hard times in years past, but the future always brought more unpleasant surprise and bad news. I know now that I can be shaken, and moved. Each experience teaches me again not to put my faith in my own ability, power or strength – but to look to and depend on the Divine.

“By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Verses 7 – 9)

Actually, to my way of thinking I don’t value myself so greatly that my demise will cease praise of the Lord or tell of the Divine’s faithfulness. And more to the point, I my life shows praise and faithfulness to the Lord, my actions in the face of demise will be a greater testimony than my successes. But still, it is good to continue and endure.

“Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Maybe if I was THE psalmist I would consider my successes in life and overcoming of obstacles and difficulties as strong praise and testimony. But what effect does my small voice have? The Lord God knows of my gratitude to the Divine for seeing me through so much. And as you have been reading my postings, you know too beloved reader. Does that small testimony into the largeness of all the world really reverberate? To be honest, I do not know. And actually and honestly I do not need to know. It is enough that I know, and that I speak/write of it.

As the days and weeks of Easter pass by, may you speak in your own way of what the Lord God the Divine has done for you. Selah!