Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker tell us what is the Divine’s portion when terrible and sad things happen to fervent and devoted believers, and those who do not believe

Seeker: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!”
Preacher: Why do you call on the Divine, Seeker? What do you hope to gain or get from the Lord God?
Seeker: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
Preacher:
Yes, the Lord God has been given credit for calling out and establishing many nations and civilizations. And if we include out circles and traditions of faith, most nations, cultures, and civilizations can claim this.
Seeker: “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.”

Preacher: Oh Seeker! Are pleading the case for the Israelites as the psalmist set the framework; or are you thinking of other people in other places and times? All people who have felt they were called and chosen, only to have ruin and oppression come upon them feel this way. It is not always the case that the Divine has turned away.
Seeker: “They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.”

Preacher: Who are really angry at? The Divine, or the nature of humanity when it turns on its own? Who or what are you pleading to?
Seeker: “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.”

Preacher: So if the Lord God favors you and yours over another, then you will be loyal and worship the Lord God with fervor? But if fate and circumstances are against you, you will be against the Divine? That it is an agreement you will never see come to pass. The time is long gone that nations and cultures plea as one voice. Jesus Christ came to show us and exemplify for us that each person must come before the Divine and plead his or her case. Jesus Christ also shows us and intervenes for us with the Divine. It is no longer the nation that must plea, but each individual soul and spirit.
Seeker & Preacher: “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1-2, 8 – 19)

Preacher: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Seeker: You are correct, Preacher. I have let my sorrow cloud my thinking. The Lord God has shown time after time what is expected of us. We cannot and should not blame a nation because it seems that the favor of the Lord has been withdrawn from us. What ever this world and humanity has done to us, we cannot place the blame for that pain and distress at the feet of the Divine. It is not in this world that we receive the truest favor of the Lord God.
Preacher: “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
Seeker: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Psalm 82)

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When sad things happen to a Good Loving Divine

I am at a decision point again concerning which Old Testament passage to use. Both passage are critical of the people of Israel and Judah. Isaiah compares them to a vineyard that was carefully and tenderly planted but something went wrong – terribly wrong.

“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1 – 4)

Jeremiah is speaking for the Lord God against the prophets of that time. The prophets, unlike Jeremiah, are not faithfully speaking the word of God but are created prophesy out of thin air and their own imaging. The Lord God (through Jeremiah) says that things are as bad as when Baal was worshiped instead of the Lord God. The implication is that the Israelites, before and while they were being formed as a called and chosen people, were seduced in the past and are being seduced now my false worship and the prophets are doing nothing to stem this inclination.

Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.” (Jeremiah 23:23 – 27)

In both passages the Lord God is determined to put an end to what has happened. Isaiah says,

“And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the Lord God through Jeremiah warns,

“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Verses 28 – 29)

What we have to remember, beloved reader, is two things. First – The Lord God seeks to be in relationship with humanity and creation. “In the beginning” the Divine wanted to do something with the lifeless chaos we now call earth. Starting with bringing order and a system to the vastness, to coaxing life where there was not life, to creating humanity – the Divine wanted to create relationships. So it is vastly wounding (if you can wound the Divine) that humanity turns away and craves other things. Second – this is according to two humans who may or may not be point perfect in understanding the Divine and the motivations and sentiments of the Divine. We can and do know that the Divine seeks relationship because Jesus Christ was sent. But knowing the sentiments of the Divine during the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah – that is a little more challenging. Test it out for yourself, beloved reader. Take the invitation to be in relationship with the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Discern for yourself what the Trinity wants. I can guarantee you, you will bring joy to the Divine by reaching out! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – The Lord God sets the standards

I turn to Hosea – not the Hosea who is scorned and abandoned by his wife, but the Hosea who is pondering and interpreting what he feels the Divine is saying. And perhaps Hosea can understand and interpret so well what the Divine is saying because he feels the pang of missing someone who has become close to his heart. We mourn and rage the most when the tender parts of our hearts are trampled on. Why would it be hard to believe that the Divine also feels deeply the lose of the called and chosen people.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:1 – 8)

I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Have you known someone like that, beloved reader? Who seems to genuinely and affectionately love child? Who values and protects the innocence of children who that person has not connection to? You can see them in your mind’s eye, can’t you? Gushing and adoring young children and taking delight in their freshness and innocence. I am like that; I smile at babies and young children. Knowing or assuming the protectiveness of parents, I do not break that circle of protection. But in my heart I am encircling them with love.

That is the essence of the Divine. Bending down to us, the Divine’s called and chosen people – yes, all of us! Encircling us in love, and seeking every possible way to nourish us. That is why I cannot embrace this concept of an “Angry God.” There must be some other way to understand that aspect of the Divine.

I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.” (Verses 9 – 11)

“ . . . for I am God and no mortal” How telling is that? We don’t expect our fellow human to be kind and compassionate 24/7 365 days out of the year (366 every fourth year). But the Lord God is telling us, through Hosea, that no matter how much we may hurt the heart of the Divine, only love is there. Love that seeks to entreat and discipline, yes, but love nonetheless. And we, beloved reader, are expected as followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ who embodied the Divine to follow that example. Oh, what a task we have ahead of us! Selah!

 

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Moving forward in one’s faith and spiritual life . . . . but not always an easy path

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” (Psalm 52:1 – 4)

Sometimes the psalms praise and celebrate not only the Divine, but those who follow the way of the Divine. Psalm 52, as the RCL uses it, a warning and caution perhaps to those who were warned in Amos chapter eight of what will happen to them if they defy the Lord God.

“But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah. The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the psalmist contrasts those who have failed to trust in the Lord God to himself, the psalmist and what has he has gained by his devotion to the Divine.

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And for those like Abraham, who have never veered away from the Divine, the reward is also great.

“O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)

From this you would imagine that following the Divine is simply a matter of devotion and observances that results in wonderful rewards and a blessed life. Well, beloved reader, the psalmist paints a wonderful picture; but the reality is a little more tense and strained than what is “advertised”.

This world is not an easy one; I could point out all the troubles and turmoil that the biblical figures we know well went through. I could talk about some of the modern saints and what they endured. I could even talk about what I have endured!

It would be easy to throw up one’s hands in despair and say “What is the use in the struggle?” Many have. The things that come in this life, come regardless of what our faith and spiritual life is. Yes, some are blessed by the Lord God. For some life is easy. But the faithful and the unfaithful alike suffer in this world. The point is, the Divine never meant for us (humanity) to suffer alone. We may not be able to find the good in suffering – maybe there is none. But there is refuge in the Lord God. And a faithful community around us that upholds us. Remember too some of the psalms the psalmist wrote; he was no stranger to suffering and hard times. Yet the Lord God upheld him through all things. It is promise we can count on that the Lord God will do the same for us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine for the clear instructions of the Lord God and then benefit of heeding them

As I shared early in the week, when I use both Old Testament passages there is a plethora of psalm passage verses; one passage from Psalm 82 and one from Psalm 25:1-10. It will take some thought as to how to proceed.

Psalm 82 connect to the passage from Amos where is was sent to tell the king of Israel Jeroboam how he had failed at ruling the people and what the consequences would be of that failure. The passage from the Old Testament in that section is not precisely clear who would suffer the most – the king or the men who advised him poorly. It was a surety that none of them would fare well.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Psalm 82:1 – 5)

As you can read, beloved reader, the psalmist does pretty good also at lambasting those how have falter in leadership in the Divine’s sight.

“I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Verses 6 – 8)

Psalm 25:1-10 connects to the portion from Deuteronomy; all things considered, that passage was gentle and encouraging in its content. And this passage from Psalm 25 is also heartening, and a praise response to instructions found in Deuteronomy.

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” (Psalm 25: 1 – 5)

As you may remember, Deuteronomy 30 verses 9 – 14 outlined the benefits of following the Divine’s commandments and a reminder that at its heart the commandments of the Lord God are not hard to follow and the Lord God is close by. The psalmist seems to be reminding the Divine of the promises that were made to the called and chosen people.

“Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (Verses 6 – 10)

I think all that is needed here it is a SELAH!

Trinity Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – The Diversity of the Divine was thinking about us and loving of us

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1 – 2)

Paul, in the previous passage, had made a strong argument that we are justified by faith by virtue of the fact that we believe in the Divine who sent Jesus and raised him from the dead. This argument/conclusion coupled with the fact that the Divine had forethought this grace would be made available to us proves to me that we (humanity) have been foremost in the Divine’s thoughts. Actually, that does sound a little bit anti-climatic. Mayhap the audience that Paul was writing to found it more stirring. Although “sharing the glory of God” would be pretty awesome. It is the next section that has the relevant part to Trinity Sunday.

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Verses 3 – 5 [emphasis mine] )

Jesus told his disciple the Holy Spirit would guide them, teach them, inspire them, and direct them. But I do not think he talked about the Holy Spirit loving us. That is not to say that Paul is wrong or is over stepping in his thinking. What I take it to mean is that it was obvious that the Holy Spirit would love us as Jesus loved his disciples and as the Divine loves us. It is an idea/concept that under girds the theology of a Triune Divine. Each aspect of the Triune Divine has compassion for humanity. And that is also pretty awesome! Selah!

Trinity Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Thinking about the diversity of the Divine

Trinity Sunday – the Sunday in the church calendar where we pay special heed to the Triune nature of the Divine. Appreciating the diversity of the Divine means that one is open to not just three aspects of the Divine but that one is aware that the Divine can have many facets. The personification of Wisdom is only one of them.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” (Proverbs 8:1 – 4)

What one needs to remember when reading this passage, beloved reader, this is wisdom from one who is not necessarily speaking on behalf of the Lord God – but is most definitely inspired by the Lord God.

“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth– when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Verses 22 – 31)

It reminds me somewhat of what the Holy Spirit might say. Jesus Christ said he was with the Creator at the time of creation. And that he and the Lord God are One. It is not to far to say the Spirit of Wisdom might also be known as the Spirit of Truth/the Advocate who would come? Or, the Presence of Yahweh that was said to dwell amongst the Lord’s called and chosen people?

Genesis 1: says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” [NIV; emphasis mine] Who is to say what the Divine was like then, and what multiplicities there might have been in the Divine.

Trinity Sunday – I really like the day! May you, beloved reader, find communion with the Divine – delighting in the way the Divine makes its God-self known to you! Selah!