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!

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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 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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Diversity of the Divine [in scripture, comments & pictures]

The LORD is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!

Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.


Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.”

[The psalms contain paradoxes that are best understood when seeing visuals. These three pictures, I think, perfectly suit each verse. But as you can see, the images show different aspects of nature. Is this because nature and the attributes of nature are so diverse? Or because the Divine is so diverse? Perhaps, beloved reader it is both. ]

His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.”

[I could find visuals for each of these verses; I am sure in your mind’s eye you can envision images too. The diversity of the Lord is found in nature. But, beloved reader, it is also within humanity. Not, however, the dark and wicked part of humanity. That comes from the evil one, and whose influence threatens our relationship with the Divine and each other. ]

“All worshipers of images are put to shame,
those who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.”

 

 

Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God.
For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.
The LORD loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful;

he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.”

 

 

Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! (Psalm 97)

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!

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!!