Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How to live according to the good news

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.” (Luke 16:19 – 23)

We are not to assume, beloved reader, that the poor man Lazarus did anything wrong to have deserved this fate in life. Neither are we to assume that the rich man came by his riches dishonestly nor that he committed a grievous sin during his life time. Note too that his ignoring the plight of Lazarus was not a sin – a lack of compassion and care, but not a sin. Nevertheless the rich man ended up in Hades and the poor man went to heaven. I have to conclude it was faith and not works that determined their fate. We do not know of the faith life of this rich and poor man. There are clues however.

He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony”. (Verses 24 – 25)

Even Father Abraham does not have a list of offensives the rich man committed; nor does Lazarus have merits credited to him. But there must be some rationale to this (our modern thinking may tell us) for this switch of fates.

“Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ “ (Verses 26 – 28)

Aha! There is something! Something that the rich man’s kin must be warned of!

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ “ (Verses 29 – 30)

Aha again! They must repent! . . . . Of what?

The purpose, beloved reader, of this story or parable is that riches in this life does not mean that you have achieved a good and worthy life. And that being poor in this life does not mean you have done wrong, and will suffer consequences in the life to come. If a person puts their faith in the wealth and possessions of this life, they will discover that none of its benefits follow them into the life to come. And further, it is a lesson that each person must discern for themselves from the teachings that have been passed on to them.

Remember, beloved reader, all the prophesies and warnings from the prophets; exhortations to life kind accountable lives and to worship properly in proper places. To be concerned for others and their welfare. To share what you have and what you have been blessed with freely. To worship the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength. To follow the commandments faithfully. All of these things have been taught and repeated by successive generations. But the kicker is what else Father Abraham (who you must remember was voiced by Jesus) said . . .

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Verse 31)

I don’t know what I could say or add to this that would leave a greater impact. Selah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A narrative of truth that exposes the best way to handle wealth and resources

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ “ (Luke 16:1 – 4)

This is another one of those parables by Jesus that it took me some time to understand; not just, mind you, studying it once but delving into to understand the hidden meaning and the concepts that Jesus is pointing out. What I did not realize was that the rich man firing his manager is an allusion to the end of this life and the coming of the life/world to come. In this sense it, well, makes sense.

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ “ (Verses 5 – 7)

Understood in this way, I can see a parallel to my work life. For, beloved reader, I do not have wealth to give to others that will provide for me a home. Nor do I have command to power to make the changes that this manager does. What I did have in my last job, however, was the power and authority to establish a certain way of handling my employees and the clients who have services from us. My approach was compassion, understanding, acceptance of people’s weakness & needs, and patience that could be stretch pretty thin. While I had to set some boundaries, I always did it with compassion and care. And I made myself available to both employees and clients 24/7 – to the frustration of my family who become tired of me constantly on call. My new job does not quite give me the same latitude, but I approach each work day with that mind set. I was not dishonest – I could never be that. But I freely admit I took advantage of my position as a supervisor to be exactly the type of boss I would want to have.

“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Verses 8 – 12)

I have been at my new job for almost two full years. And in that time I have been given much more responsibility than I thought I would. At times more responsibility than I really wanted. I guess if I was very honest, putting aside humbleness, I would have to say I have been faithful with the “little” I was given. And as I showed my faithfulness “more” was given.

“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Verse 13)

Now to make sure that the people who were listening to Jesus did not get the wrong idea, Jesus establishes the boundary that wealth is not to be used to commit sin. But it is to be used to accomplish the goals of caring and compassion. The manager did not steal from the rich man as he showed compassion to those in debt to his master. He used his position to make their lives easier and better. And that has always been the overriding purpose in each job I have had – to support, improve, and add to the lives of others. May you do likewise beloved reader! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope from the Master’s Hand

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.” (Philemon 1:1 – 6)

I do not remember when I first read this epistle from Paul to Philemon; but if I am remembering correctly, my first impression was that it was like his other letters to area churches who were new in the faith. And would be shared with the group and passed from person to person. However, this is a more personal letter sent to an individual or, more likely based on the salutation, a specific household – Philemon’s. And it deals with a specific issue; not straight theology nor an issue of theological faith, but living out Christian ideals. And one ideal specifically. But Paul has ground work to lay first.

“I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Paul commends the recipient of the letter for the faith that Paul has heard of, and based on this faith, that Paul has certain expectations of how Philemon should and would act concerning this matter.

“I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Without the background of who Philemon and Onesimus were to each other, this was confusing for me to read. Even more so, because at the age I was when I read it, I had no idea that there were commentaries to explain books of the bible. (A note aside – I sometimes think that I grasped biblical concepts with greater ease WITHOUT commentaries and their sometimes confusing narratives. But having consulted with them enough, I return to them when I mistrust my own understandings ONLY to discover I had the right of it all along! But I digress. Sigh.) When I did gain an understanding of the back story, the letter made more sense.

“Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” (Verses 15 – 17)

Here Paul applies the subtle pressure. Onesimus has come to faith, and having faith is now considered an equal relative in the family of God and Jesus Christ. As Philemon would consider Paul as a relative to him under the Divine. Apparently, however, it was not always so. But now it is, and Paul wants Philemon to understand this . . . clearly.

“If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.” (Verses 18 – 19)

Again, when I read this long ago it puzzled me. What would Onesimus owe Philemon or how would he have Philemon? And what sort of triangle of obligation or debt is Paul referring to?

“Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Verses 20)

Let me reassure you, beloved reader, I am now completely and fully aware of the nuances and implications of this passage and the letter in it entirety. The good news and salvation that comes from that news is highly prized by Paul. It is worth more than any one in a lifetime could accumulate. In fact, according to Paul, if a person had nothing but a assurance of salvation in their life, they would have more than any one unsaved but with gold, silver, and possession untold. Paul, in leading Philemon to faith, gave him this most cherished of gifts and blessings. And so Paul feels that he can call upon Philemon to indulge him and grant any favor that Paul might ask. Paul says, in affect, that because Philemon has shown such devotion to Christian living and principles his faith must be deep and firm – kudos and commendations to Paul. Therefore, Philemon knows the value of this faith. And he knows that others who have this faith must be valued and given equal status as Philemon perceives himself . . . and Paul.

So, we come to Onesimus . . . who has also received faith and salvation . . . and like Philemon is dear and valuable to Paul. And, but, & however . . . . Onesimus is/was Philemon’s slave. (And when I realized that, beloved reader, I was blown away! A Christian owned/still owned a slave!)

So Paul is sending Onesimus back. Not, however, as a slave but as a dear son of Paul and in Paul’s esteem. Equal, in Paul’s estimation, to Philemon. And Paul wants Philemon to consider Onesimus in the same way; not as a slave but as a brother and fellow believer in Christ.

What a position for Philemon to be in. And what a position for Onesimus to be in. What love and faith Onesimus must have in Paul. And what faith Onesimus must have in Philemon’s conversion to Christianity. And lastly, what faith Paul must have in Philemon’s continuation of authentic Christian living.

I talked about a triangle of obligation and debt that existed amongst these three people. Each presuming on faith that the other two would live up to expectations. But there is also hope – a concept we looked at two weeks ago. There is the reality of what happens when we stray from the ways and guidance of the Divine. And the hope we have that we will be welcomed back. The called and chosen people faced this reality, and nurtured the hope that the Divine would welcome then back. Onesimus faced this reality when he ran away. Paul gave him hope; first in the Lord God, and second that Philemon would welcome him back without punishment and recriminations. Paul based his hope on the value that Philemon gave to his salvation and his relationship to Paul.

Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Verse 21)

I do not know what happened between Philemon and Onesimus. One would “hope” that the slave was welcomed back with open arms, and became a brother and worker in in the labor of the household, and in the mission and evangelism that Philemon was a part of. That the position of master (hence the title) and slave might be redefined.

The story might conclude right there. However, Paul was never one to let things rest without a final nudge. And the following is not part of the lectionary, but I thought beloved reader you might find it interesting.

One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you. . . . The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Verses 22 & 25)

Make of that what you will, beloved reader. I know I did! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The New Testament Passage – To staving off complaints, remember to be humble

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:1, 7 – 11)

This is a passage and concept I encountered when I was quite young in the faith. It was not difficult for me to understand this and incorporate it into my life. Coming from a Mennonite/Anabaptist background being quiet, humble, and unassuming was part of the air and atmosphere I was raised in. I think this was one of the reasons I was a “late bloomer.” I simply did not “force” myself into a situation, and so never tested myself in the world until I was into adulthood. There are some pros and cons about that but I really do not want to get into them in the context of this discussion.

“He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Verses 12 – 14)

This portion of the passage was a little harder for me to wrap my thinking around. First, I so rarely “give” a luncheon or dinner, nor a banquet. And if I did, it would only be for close friends and family BECAUSE I would never assume that anyone other than those close to me would be interested in hobnobbing with me! But I understand the larger concept. And again, I am not one to try to impress others with my styling hospitality. I remember one time I had a gathering for family at our house on the occasion of my daughter’s being blessed and recognized at our home church at the time. I was so nervous about it, and just wanted everything to be perfect. I fretted over the little buffet I set up, and thought that either no one would come or we would be flooded with people and there would not be enough food. In the years since than I have gained more confidence in my hosting and hospitality abilities.

One final thought, beloved reader. I have found those who have NOT been seated close to or at the place of honor to be much more pleasant company. And I have always found the best repayment for inviting people is the pleasure of their company – status notwithstanding!

May you, beloved reader, not play the “high society” game but reserve for your self the honor of merely accepted any where at the Lord’s table! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Hope springs . . . at the proper time and season – which is any time it is needed!

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:10 – 13)

I can not think of a more perfect time for a miracle to happen than on the Lord’s Day, which ever day you might celebrate it on. And what better way and time to lift up praise for a miracle then on the Lord’s Day. There is a long and strong tradition in worship services to bring both praises and petitions to the church service. Now, in our modern times miracles may not happen during a worship service . . . but one should not be surprised if it does!

“But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” (Verse 14)

Now here is the first error in thinking that is presented in this passage – that healing and curing of ailments is “work”. No, far from it! It is a joy and celebration that the Divine has moved in such a mighty way! What is the Sabbath but a time we gather with others and lift others up, encouraging and consoling our fellow believers. “Small” miracles happen here, and as I said above, small miracles can develop into large miracles!

“But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (Verses 15 – 16)

Now, I am not sure how much I appreciate the connect between healing this woman and tending to livestock. But if you are appealing to a male agrarian mentality set in the era before equality between genders, may be it is an appropriate analogy.

“When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” (Verse 17)

I like that the writer of Luke have the people in the congregation rejoicing. This story reminds me of the story where the woman with a bleeding disease touches the robe of Jesus. It also reminds me of the time I went to a worship center that had weekly opportunities for people in the larger community to come for prayer and healing. It did not, however, have a good outcome. The people who were running it were too focused on their own abilities and hubris in being able to pray for people and offering healing. I realized soon after I got there that while it might be have been touted as a Christian worship center, it was in actually a place where false faith was running rampant. I was glad to see it was shut down soon after I went. And I say none to lightly it was only by the grace of God I got out of there unscathed!

Hope comes when we need it, beloved reader, according to the movement of the Spirit and not according to any other time table. Yes, we need to be in the proper place to experience it; that place however is not so much a physical location as it is being prepared, and preparing our heart and soul. May you, beloved reader, find hope in all the usual and unusual places in your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope springs . . . through Sabbath observances?

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b – 10)

The other Old Testament passage, beloved reader, is where Jeremiah is called out by the Lord and sanctified to speak the Lord God’s words – Jeremiah 1:4-10. I think I have written about Jeremiah’s calling before – considering this is the second time through Year C. And I am sure the passage has come up other times in other writings. But I digress.

The last few weeks have seen a theme of Israel and Judah being critiqued, scolded, and disciplined by the prophets. It is interesting to see, in the privacy of our own thoughts and reflects, if the exhortations of then apply to us now. Do they beloved reader? There is hope though in this passage, that if the exhortation is heeded and applied that darkness will give way to light. We could apply that to ourselves as well.

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Not only will darkness give way to light but, theses verses promise, light will come to others. Considering the dire situation that some of the Old Testament prophets describe, it seems pretty wondrous that this could happen. It also seems rather contrary and paradoxical in light of some New Testament understandings, that each person needs to make their own petition to the Divine and follow the example of Jesus Christ.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Verses 13 – 14)

The Sabbath is very important, so it seems, in this passage and to the writer of Isaiah. He starts out by speaking generally about being in good relationship with others – speaking well and offering compassion. But as he continues of instruction, he narrows down to the keeping of the Sabbath. It is interesting to think about this, contrasting what should be done on the Sabbath versus what is allowed on other days. And I have to wonder if this emphasis on the Sabbath made way for ever larger inconsistency between Sabbath living and the other days of the week.

I will have to think about this as the week moves forward; what the Epistles might say and what Jesus Christ himself might say – according to the verses and passages that comprise the RCL this week. You think too, beloved reader, and ponder. Shalom!