Third Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Provisions and teachings during Lent

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

In our household we use a lot of milk. Not very much wine – hardly any! But we use a lot of milk. We try to keep at least one full gallon of milk in the refrigerator because an open gallon of milk is usually an empty gallon of milk. We go through a lot of bread too. It seems like each member of the family likes a different type of bread; not just brown or white. But country white and 100% grain brown, and the more mundane as well. That does not count the rolls and buns we also use. Yes, milk and bread are frequent purchases; a purchase means someone has to have “labored” for it. We are no different, in that respect, than the writer of Isaiah’s audience.

The writer of Isaiah (using the voice of the Lord) goes on to talk about food items more rich and tasty than just bread and milk. And at no price! Well, sign us up! Of course, bread and milk, and other delicious food are just metaphors for living a contented and well-provided life. Still the question remains – what do we need to do (if not labor) to acquire this life?

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” (Verses 3 – 4)

If we just listen to the Lord, we will be the recipients of the same sort of covenant that the Divine made with King David?! We that sounds pretty good! However . . . . if one stops to think about all that King David went through, maybe it is not as simple and straightforward as it first appears.

Listening to the Lord and living for the Lord comes with its own set of priorities and statutes. It is not a life that is lived out quietly and unobtrusively as it first sounds.

“See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” (Verses 5)

King David lived a life that was constantly on public display. When he did things correctly, his people demanded more of him. And when he did not live correctly all of his mistakes were on display. The writer of Isaiah does not disclose the “price” of the Divine’s bread, milk, and wine. The price is not dollars and cents but living a life that confirms to the Divine, and not to our human frail will. The writer of Isaiah is correct though – our human frail will does not “satisfy”. We labor and pine after things that are not good for us, or more precisely not good for our human spirit and soul.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Verses 6 – 7)

And it is these last two verses the outline the difference between our thinking and the Divine’s thinking.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Verses 8 – 9)

As I remembered and anticipated these last two verses I could not help but think they explain so much about the difference I see in the Almighty that strides through the story of the Israelites and Judahites. Did the writers (the ones that wrote the history of the Israelites and Judahites) assume they knew the “ways of the Lord”? Did Isaiah, then, have a more accurate and attuned perception of the Divine?

Wondering about this, I went back to check in on the biblical commentators. And discovered I differ from them entirely on the meaning of these last two verses. The biblical commentators (actually I only looked up Albert Barnes, but I am sure the others come from the same perspective) take these last two verses as referring to forgiveness and pardon, and that the Divine forgives, pardons, and is merciful in ways that humanity is not. But that does not really connect with how this passage starts – seeking the wrong types of things, listening to the Lord and entering into a covenant like the one David had with God, and having attention brought to you because of the way you live.

What do you think beloved reader? I am not sure that anyone can, or should, say that one interpretation is more correct than another. The ways of the Divine encompass more than just forgiveness and pardon. If that were the case, the only case, we would be free to do whatever we want and still be assured of a pardon. No, it is more complex than that.

Lent is a complex season; recognition of sin and the way we have erred. The example set down by Jesus Christ. The expectations that the Lord God the Divine has. The gnarled and tangled road of the called and chosen people of the Old Testament. The new revelations and teachings in the New Testament. All of it seems to come together during Lent. And we are had pressed to discern it all.

I guess for me, I have to go back to the beginning of the passage. Listen carefully to the Divine. Chose the best way to live according to the example of Jesus Christ. And delight one’s self in living a Godly life. Selah!

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Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – The unfathomable ways of the Divine

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.” (Genesis 45:3)

We jump into the last part of the story of Joseph. From a boy with a multi-colored coat to the Pharaoh’s chief steward – it was quite a leap. No wonder his brothers are stunned beyond speech.

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Verses 4 – 8)

I can’t help but see the irony that the Hebrews – what little cluster of them that there were – grew to such a large group that the Egyptians generations after Joseph became fearful of them and enslaved them. Is this how the Lord God planned on preserving this “remnant”? Did Joseph see down the generations to this outcome? And yet under the protections of the Egyptians the Hebrews did grow and multiply. But at what cost?

“Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there–since there are five more years of famine to come–so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ “(Verses 9 – 11)

And yet who are we to question the ways of the Divine. A small group of Hebrews, properly not much more than Israel’s sons and what wives they have taken, eking out an existence in the middle of a famine. Maybe Joseph was right to over protection to them. Maybe he knew they would not survive where they were. Many things are done under the eyes and with the approval of the Divine that we do not understand. That is true of many things in the Old Testament; why should the story of Joseph be any different?

“And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” (Verse 15)

What we do need to remember that all things that the Divine does are done out of love. Now, discerning between what are the intentional acts of the Divine, and what things have been attributed to the will of the Divine by humanity is a complete different story, and one far too large to be discussed in just one posting! Shalom!!

 

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The gift that the Lord God the Divine is to us

Preacher: “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”
Seeker: Your love, O Lord, is like a soothing balm to my spirit and my soul. My worries melt away and I rest in your grace, mercy, and love.
Preacher: “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.”

Seeker: Many times I feel hurt and oppressed, looked down on and pushed aside. But within Your Sight, O Lord God, I am worthy. You take my side against the hurt and pain in the world. You champion my cause when fate and circumstances have robbed me of my voice and my strength. You lift me up from the depths, dust me off, and then journey with me when I must walk steep, dangerous, and narrow paths!
Preacher: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Seeker: I would not last a day, not even an hour, minute, or second without the Lord God. Your love for me, O Lord, washes over me when I am at my driest point. My soul and spirit are protected when in your care.
Preacher: “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.”

Seeker: When my soul needs nourishment, you feed me. When my spirit thirsts, you quench my needs. I grow strong feeding on your holy word.
Preacher: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Seeker: I know my earthly days will come to an end. But I do not fear this. When the lights of this world dim for me, I see most clearly the light of heaven. I place my trust in you, O Lord, that the darkness will not consume me.
Preacher & Seeker: “O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!” ( Psalm 36:5-10)

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Being the beloved of the Divine Lord God

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, . . . “ (Isaiah 62:1a)

Another day that was a struggle. There will probably be lots of them in the next few weeks. (Yes, beloved reader, you are probably correct that my struggle with psalm passages is related to my difficulties in life.) Old Testament passages, however, are much more helpful. And the book of Isaiah usually has passages and excerpts meet my needs quite well. I would like to be Jerusalem for whom the Divine will not rest until she feels better.

. . . . until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” (Verses 1b – 3)

It is said the the relationship between the Divine and the followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ is like that between committed spouses. That might be one reason the traditional marriage relationship is held as the only acceptable option for marriage – in or outside of the church. Often we read about the “bride” of Christ as what the church is. At a young age I took that very literally; and wondered how that left a place for males in the church. How, I wondered, could a man be a “bride”? Yes, I decided, church is much more a place for women. But then why, I wondered, are so many men in charge of churches if the church is the “bride” of Christ? Men are not the same as the Messiah. It left me very puzzled. Not as puzzled as some of the actions and behaviors of people who say they profess Christianity. I guess in my adult years I have exchanged one confusion for another.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I have never asked any male in my acquaintance how he bridges or understands that analogy. In my younger years I wouldn’t have had the nerve. In my older years I understand that each man must take the analogy, understand the premise and underlining meaning, and allow himself to subject and place himself in submission to the Divine. And that, beloved reader, is such a sacred thing that I would never ask any male of my acquaintance to reveal to how that works.

May you, beloved reader, experience a Divine Lord God who does not rest until all things are done on your behalf. And may you be loved by the Lord God in that most intimate way. Selah!

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – The Might and Power that the Lord God the Divine is . . . . and other things

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” (Psalm 29: 1-5)

[Yes, it is a psalm passage; and I still at times struggle with them.]

I am not into “power”, “authority”, and “might” much these days. Maybe the psalmist felt invigorated by thinking of the power of the Lord God. Me, I just feel drained. I know the Lord is all of these things . . . . . and more. But that is not what I am looking for and needing these days.

“He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” (Verses 6 – 9)

If that is an aspect of the Lord God that stirs your blood and causes you to break forth into worship and praise . . . . do so! Some find it, as I said, invigorating that the Lord God is mighty and active in the world. Some find it comforting that the Lord God is in control of nature and that nature accedes to the Lord’s commands.

“The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” (Verse 10)

The people of Israel and Judah back in the time of Samuel wanted a king that ruled with power, authority, and might. Saul was that sort of king. David was that sort of king. David’s son Solomon was a little different but was mighty and powerful in his own way. So it makes sense that the psalmist would image a Yahweh that was such a Ruler.

As for me these days, it is only in the last verse that the psalmist paints an image of the Divine that resonates with me.

“May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Verse 11)

What I need is strength to endure what is in my life now. Not divine/Divine almighty strength – just human strength, endurance and fortitude. And peace. Most definitely peace. The Lord God is that too! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Psalm Passage: Reflecting on the psalm and the protection of the Divine

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1)

This a good start for the companion piece to the predictions in the book of Daniel. Having read the predictions in the book of Daniel, I think I would ask for protection too!

“I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.” (Verses 2 – 3)

As this passage continues, the clarity of the passage and the message that the psalmist wants to give becomes garbled and confusing – not because I say so, beloved reader, but because the big name commentators identify it as so. It seems like a simple little passage. The psalmist declares that the Divine is his refuge and has stated it publicly. Apart from the Divine the psalmist has little to commend or recommend of himself. The holy, however, he looks up to and assumes that the Divine, the Lord God has lead and guided them to a good life.

“Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. “ (Verses 4 – 6)

The passage becomes clearer as it goes on. Those who do not follow the Divine, the Lord God are going to have a tough time. I (meaning the psalmist) am not going to follow their example nor value what they do. I (meaning again the psalmist) chose the Lord God, and it has resulted in good things. This reflects back on the psalmist declaring that apart from the Lord God nothing is worthwhile.

“I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Verses 7 – 11)

The protection that the psalmist has found is not so much because the Lord God has shielded him from misfortune etc, but because he (the psalmist) has made good choices based on the laws and tenets of the faith the psalmist espouses and follows. If we think of King David as the psalmist we can see that when David followed the Lord God, good and pleasant things happened. When he strayed (as he did) that is when things became not so well with him. The same could be said of Daniel in Babylon. He stayed the course of faith in the Lord despite temptation and persecution for his faith.

What about us beloved reader? Where have the lines fallen for us – for you and for me?

Do we feel protected and close to the Lord God, enclosed in the Divine’s Right Hand? The psalmist is telling us it is by making good, wise, and holy/Godly decisions that we feel this protection.

There are several things this philosophy and belief does not take into account, not the least of which is the acts of the unholy against us. I am sure you can think of other things, beloved reader, that mar the feeling of protection. Quite honestly, I think the psalmist is being a little optimistic. What is true, however, is that the things – traits and issues – that supersede this life on earth are protected for us and within us by the Divine Lord God. And maybe that is what the psalmist is meaning.

I do hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you are safe and protected in the Lord God; and that those near and dear to you are protected also. And may you find a firm and immovable refuge in the Divine Lord God. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 25[30]) – The Old Testament Passage: The Lord God does not abandon the called and chosen people

In case you were wondering, the Lord God and Job made up:

Then Job answered the LORD: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . . I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42: 1-2, 5-6, 10)

There was a time in my life when the book of Job meant a great deal to me; I think I have talked about that period of time in my life. Now I am not as clear what message the book of Job has for me. If anything in the story of Job resonates with me still, it is that youth can see more clearly the tenets of faith that age and experience can.

So, I am turning to the other Old Testament passage – a short section from Jeremiah.

For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31:7-9)

But as I consider this passage, it seems to me that this promise from the Lord finds its fulfillment in Job’s story. Job suffered much, and in the end what was lost to him was restored. That may be why the story of Job was told actually. To give the people of God hope that even if they were suffering and it felt like all the world and powers & principalities were against them, the Lord God would not leave them but would restore them. And where I am in my life right now, that is a message I can cling to! Selah!