Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A remind of what we already have

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.” (Colossians 1:11 – 12)

Normally I might question what is “the inheritance of the saints in the light” to discern whether that is applicable to me or to the times I find myself in. But I am too weary and worn to ask such questions. And too needful of what ever blessing and assurance that can be provided to ease my way. Of course I am curious; but what would it profit me to find out that Paul means salvation/forgiveness/redemption when that is not exactly where my weary and worn out feeling comes from. Better to assume that it is endurance and stamina to help me through. And the grace of the Divine to ease my way.

“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 13 – 14)

Then I read verses thirteen and fourteen, and I see that my first but undesired assumption is correct. Why oh why does Paul assume that is the greatest gift that can come from the Divine? I know it has a lot to do with Paul’s life when he was Saul. And weighed down by who/what he was before his Damascus road experience, I can understand that and sympathize. But that is not my situation nor my life. And it is a sadness to me that Paul cannot be the apostle I need. Maybe that is why I carried so much frustration during my young adult years, because Paul who was supposed to be the forefront and fore most of apostles . . . . was not for me.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Verses 15 – 20)

So setting aside my own needs and the lack of exhortation & support for my life, Paul is trying very hard to present Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the sum total of what the Lord God is. And that the Lord God through Jesus Christ sent to the world the ability to be reconciled to the Divine and remade to be acceptable to the Holy Lord. What Paul is offering and explaining is pretty awesome. Especially for those new in the faith. It is reassurance that while one may be pulled down by the weight of new faith and taking up a new way of life, that the Divine has provided the grace and opportunity to enter in this life without the weight of the past pulling us down. And that Jesus Christ is all that the Lord God us, presented to believers in a new and accessible way.

Furthermore, while Paul does not allude or expound on this much, it opens up the possibility of having a close relationship with the Divine through Jesus Christ. And since Jesus Christ is the Divine (I mean just re-read what Paul said if you have any doubts) if we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are automatically in relationship with the Divine. Now, if Jesus Christ and the Divine has done so much for us, is it too much to that that the Divine will support us in all aspects of our lives? Paul may put special emphasis on the redemption part, but that is not all that there is to the Lord God the Divine. So, resting in the assurance of the Lord God and Jesus Christ’s love for humanity – let us not hold back in setting forth all of our requests and petitions. Boldly tell the Divine what your deepest needs are, and be confident that the Lord God will undertake for you in all aspects of your daily life! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – A narrative of suffering and despair

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” (Jeremiah 8:18)

One of the traits of the prophets is that they are willing to take on tasks that most other people would consider unattainable. But that does not mean they do not become heart sick when their purpose and mission seems to be for naught. That is the point that the prophet Jeremiah is at. The Divine knew and knows that it was a mission and task that would not have a joyful resolution. But the the warning had to be spoken and the people warned. It is no different today.

“Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (Verse 19a)

The great irony is that now when the terribleness of their (that is the Hebrews/Israel) is upon them, they ask why Yahweh is not there to help them.

(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)” (Verse 19b)

And the Lord God answers, why did they stray from proper religion in the first place? Why did they not listen and heed the prophets I sent them?

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (Verse 20)

The Hebrews, the people of Israel have waited and waited for relief from their woes and troubles. They ask where the Lord God has gone, and why they are so forsaken. But, beloved reader, this a narrative played out by the writer of the book of Jeremiah. While telling the truth of what happened to the Israelites when the surrounding nations took them over, it is not an accurate representation of the sentiments of the people who lived then. Yes, they suffered. And yes, they were warned and given messages of hope for the future. But the words we read here are most accurately the suffering and despair that the writer of the book of Jeremiah felt and wrote about. It does not make it less true, but neither is in a message from the Israelites to us.

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Verses 21 – 22, & chapter 9, verse 1)

It seems like every day in our modern newspapers and other forms of mass media we hear stories of suffering and despair. Things happen in our world, the news is sad, and we feel in our sinew and bones the pain and suffering. Anyone of us could tell the story of sorrow and lament, and ask why the Divine has allowed this to happen. Some wonder if it is our fault. Did we bring this upon ourselves? Would things been better if we had been more faithful? But then right on the heels of that lament is the question, faithful to what and who? Which faith tradition? Which group of faith tenets? I do not know of anyone who has the correct answer to it. Furthermore I suspect there is no truly correct answer. The best solution I feel is to just lament. And to pray. Not for speedy deliverance, but endurance and stamina. When the news and the world around us becomes saturated with loss, mourning, and despair . . . the best thing to do is cling to the Divine for the strength to endure. The Divine hears our laments, and while times may be grim, we have not been abandoned.

May you, beloved reader, find the balm that is our Lord God and in the Lord’s time may you be healed. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Preacher and Seeker speak of Judah’s desolation, and hope

Seeker: “At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.” (Jeremiah 4:11-12)
Preacher: We feel the heat in the summer, and it drains us. The sweat pours off of our brow but there is no relief in sight. The heat takes all of our energy, and our ambition. All that is left is suffering. Yes, Seeker, that is the sentence that the Lord God spoken against Judah. Upon hearing this the called and chosen people must have felt like wilting away. Of course, some did not believe that Jeremiah knew what he was saying, or that he was creating woe and bad news for his own purposes.
Seeker:
How, Preacher, could not they hear and understand that the Lord God had lost patience with them; maybe again, and maybe they thought it would not come to pass on them. But it is hard to ignore, “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” (Verse 22)
Preacher: Such warnings have been made by many who preach and prophesy. We do not know if there were others who feigned to speak the word of God, and said much of the same thing. The book of Jeremiah was written at the time when the kingdom of Judah was heading for decline, although they did not know it. King Josiah was in power when Jeremiah was called to prophecy. Although the people of Judah did not know it, their best, ie most religious, years were coming to an end, and ahead of them was exile. Maybe they were not aware of the transition, or more aptly, what this transition would mean.
Seeker:
So when Jeremiah says the Lord said, “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.” (Verse 23) the Divine (through and according to Jeremiah) was seeing the end of religious faithful and the decline into non-righteous worship.
Preacher:
When Judah (meaning not so much each individual person but the complexion of the nation) abandoned worship of the Lord God, the consequences were dire. “I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.” (Verse 24)
Seeker: “I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.” (Verses 25 – 26)
It is prophetic in the sense that it was seeing a future that the people of Judah may not have been aware of, and individually – as you said – may not have been culpable for.
Preacher: We cannot be sure of the chronology of Jeremiah’s prophesies. Yes, it might have been predictive of a future that was not realized. It might have been a warning based on how the nation had drifted from proper worship under previous kings. Maybe the prophecy was to make them sit up and take notice; to preserve what had been established.
Seeker:
Interesting that it was because of the actions of other nations that Judah, that is many her citizens, we taken into exile. I have to wonder if some asked, “How can we avoid this?”
Preacher: Ah, that would be based on an assumption that they listened to Jeremiah.
Seeker: And that they truly heard the Lord God speak through Jeremiah. “For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.” (Verses 27 – 28)
Preacher: There is an interesting mix of hope and hopelessness in this passage, as Jeremiah speaks it. Not a full end, but an inevitability in its coming. You can almost imagine the same thing being said of our modern times. Jesus said of the people while he walked the earth – that they can tell when the weather is changing but now when the political and social climate is changing. Global climate change exempted however! I think if we had prophets now, they would be listened and heeded as much as back in Jeremiah’s time. Although, there are individuals, many individuals in fact, who have seen the changes come. Their words have not been set down and preserved as the prophets of the Old Testament have been. But maybe they are more numerous than the prophets in the Old Testament. I think that is because the Spirit of the Divine speak more readily now to the hearts of believers. Maybe we have to just cling to the promises of the Lord God, that hard times will come but it will not make a full end.
Seeker: Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalms Passage – Hope when you are known by the Divine

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

Because I am writing ahead, I am sitting down to write on the psalm passage on an evening when I am usually writing on an epistle passage. Hmmm . . . . Facing the enthusiastic psalmist or the exhorting apostle . . . . which sounds more appealing on a hot summer evening? But then I realized that the psalmist actually has me pegged – the Divine knows what my struggles are. Knows where I find joy and when I have to seek joy out. The Divine knows what brings me hope, and what can dash my hopes.

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is actually comforting to be known so well. Now, that may not be the case with everyone . . . being known so well by the Lord God. If their “fear of the Lord” is actually fear, it may be intimidating to be so well known by the Almighty Ultimately Holy Lord. What is needed is to know not only the Awesomeness of the Divine but to also know the compassion of the Divine, and the Unconditional Acceptance of the Divine. I do believe the psalmist knew the Lord God in that way.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Maybe the psalmist is putting a little bit of hyperbole prose in this passage; if the psalmist speaks of the Lord God having this depth and breadth of knowledge, then he must be able to attain the knowledge. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that the Divine knows me that well. Maybe it is not knowledge that stays at the forefront of the human mind.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Verses 13 – 16)

Imagine, beloved reader, the Divine knew us before we had any concept of the Divine. When I was but an infant (you too) the Lord knew me, and knew who and what I would become. All the missteps I took to get to where I am, the Lord knew of. The long roads and emotional journeys. The things I had to learn over and over and over and over and over . . . . again.

Imagine too that the Divine knows (and knew) how I struggle with certain passages. Consider all that was put into place so that you and I would be where we are now. Even more so, that others who were part of our journey were also nurtured by the Divine; an intricate maze of people interacting with each other, all on their own journey but also interconnecting with each other so that the solo journeys were linked and dependent on each other.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.” (Verses 17 – 18)

If for no other reason than that, we should never lose hope. Whatever journey you are on, beloved reader, you are not alone. It may seem that your path winds hither and yon, through slogging mud and delightful meadows; and the Divine is aware of all of it. How can it be that our missteps have the potential to lead us to exactly where we should be? NO, beloved reader, never lose hope! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope from the Potter’s Hand

We have been hearing a good deal of grief on the part of the called and chosen people. And a good deal of exhortation from the prophets. When we lift those words from the Old Testament and apply them to our world and lives, we seem to take that grief and exhortation into our world as well. It was with a joyful heart, then, that I read this passage of hope.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” (Jeremiah 18:1 – 4)

In high school I took a class in pottery. I really loved it! In one image of myself I could see myself throwing pottery and sculpting. But I was so dependent on the affirmation of others and not confident enough in myself, that I was discouraged on my first and second attempt, I abandoned that dream. There are so many things I wish I had persevered on. Thanks be to God though, that I refused to wavering from writing! But, I digress.

“Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” (Verses 5 – 8)

I think, beloved reader, that is one of the best reasons that the Jewish nation endured to modern day. Enough good was seen by the Divine, and done by the people, that the Divine kept remaking it over and over. The same may be true for us. In the midst of all that is going on in our world, if we would show forth good and believe in the Divine . . . . perhaps the Divine would pick up the ruined “pot” that we (meaning wider society) are and re-make us into something salvageable and worthwhile. I think of all the political news and rhetoric; the good and the bad seemingly existing side by side, and hope that enough good remains long enough for the Lord God to remodel us and not toss aside unconditionally. As if, however, the Divine would do that.

“And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” (Verses 9 – 10)

That is the fear. That is the warning that the writer of Jeremiah spoke to his audience. And that, beloved reader, is the warning I give also. Do not let the evil that exists around you pull you down and mar you in the sight of the Divine. And, remember, the sight of the Divine is everywhere!

“Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.” (Verse 11)

Is the Divine Potter sitting in heaven, sighing as the world spins round and round on the Divine’s potter’s wheel? One could fear, I suppose. But I have seen skilled potters steady a vessel, and where disaster might loom at every turn of the wheel, a true artisan can steady the wheel and rescue the creation. Praise to the Lord that the Divine is so talented! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When the Lord complains . . . about the called and chosen people

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 2:4)

Sometimes I have to be very loud and insistent with my family. I suppose that is a common experience with parents/spouses – that you have repeat yourself in no-uncertain terms and volume. Important messages and understandings can be lost if you cannot get and hold their attention.

“Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” (Verses 5 – 6)

It may be worthy of noting, beloved reader, that the biblical commentators are no help in discerning these beginning verses. Maybe the meaning of these verses is so self-evident that they did not feel much explanation was needed. Different paraphrases and translations make it clear that the Lord God the Divine is complaining about these stubborn people!

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

The bad times and the rough journey had come to an end. The people were back in the land that had been promised to them so long ago. But did they give thanks? No! Did they seek out the Lord who had brought them there? NO! Did they worship the Lord and follow in the worship practices that were taught to them? NO!! What is a Parent and Lord God to do with such children!!

“Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 9 – 13)

To the Divine it is an unimaginable thing that they would trade in the Living God who has given them so much for false gods that have given them nothing. And we could and would stand in equal surprise and shock . . . . if we had not done the same thing.

I tell my family time and time again the same thing, teach the same lessons, and model the same actions and attitudes – but they do not listen and learn. Now, I do not mean I am so perfect. And I am not talking about life lessons; I am trying to teach them how to clean up after themselves and take care of their own needs. But it is like talking to a pile of stones. Which, coincidentally, is just what the “house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” were accused of worshiping! (Not the same rocks though.)

My point is, it can take a lot to get through to a person or group of people. The things that should be obvious – wash the plate and pot, put away leftover food, pick up after yourselves – and – worship the Lord who brought you into abundance, remember the lessons learned in the desert, show gratitude and awe that you have been brought into a good life – are missed, glossed over, or forgotten.

People like Jeremiah were called to give testimony and prophesy to the people who had gone astray. Now granted, this is a straying that took place over many generations. It did not happen as soon as the people passed over into the promised land. Does that make it more acceptable and understandable that they drifted from the Lord God? Should it? Part of the cycle of the lectionary year is calling people back to faithfulness. In years past I have made note of the themes of the three lectionary years – A, B, and C. These themes are especially emphasized during the high seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Divine can and does call us back to faithfulness at any and all times of the year. Is perhaps the Divine calling to you? Maybe complaining about you? Oh beloved reader! Do not let it be so! Shalom!

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)