Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Warnings during Lent

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ “ (Luke 13:31 – 33)

I do not know if the Pharisees here were “friendly” and genuinely concerned about Jesus in warning him. Or whether they were goading him by telling him Herod had it out for him. And in fact the bible commentators agree with me(!) that it could have been one way or the other. But the warning to Jesus was not the only warning in this passage.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Verses 34 – 35)

The city of Jerusalem and its people have made poor and faulty decisions in the past. Yet Jesus has compassion on them, and is concerned that their decisions will cause them anguish and distress. When the sun is shining and all is well with her chicks, a mother hen will watch them as they peck and scratch. But when dangers looms she gathers them under her wings and protects them at the peril of her own life.

Jesus will not abandon us when we are in need and in harms way. But if we run from the protection – in a sense, disregard what Jesus has to teach us, guide us, and warn us against – we place ourselves in peril. Now, beloved reader, where would you seek shelter when the storms of Lent assail you? Shalom and selah!

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First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Firm resolve during Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1 – 2)

I looked it up, beloved reader, and if you have water you could go forty days without food. So it was not a Divine attribute that allowed Jesus to do this, but a natural function of the human body. However, the Devil did tempt Jesus in ways that are unique to the Divine.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Verses 3 – 12)

It is “tempting” to think that we might be able to withstand temptation such as these if the Devil were to offer it to us. But what you need to understand, beloved reader, is that these temptations were specific to Jesus. Because only Jesus as the Son of God could do what the Devil asked. We cannot turn stones to bread, much less any other food. The Devil is not really interested in us worshiping him/it, although the Devil may tempts us in that way so we do not follow the Lord God. And it was not command that the angels will protect us from harm if we foolishly endanger ourselves. No, it was only for Jesus that these temptations were worth the Devil’s time and effort.

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Verse 13)

We never do hear if there was a more “opportune time.” The book and movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” hinges itself on these phrase, suggesting that the Devil did indeed return and was more successful – for a time. But we know according to Holy Scripture that the gospel writers do not record a return, nor do they give any evidence that Jesus’ resolve failed. (Thanks be to God!)

So what is our portion for this scripture? Or do we have any part of it? Well . . . we have our own temptations; specific to our personality and to the human spirit. One of the things about Lent is that it is forty days of our proving our resolve to following Christ and the Lord God. Are we willing to give up our human agenda and commit ourselves to the way of Jesus? Do we belief that Jesus is the Son of God and empowered to forgive and absolve our sin? (Of course that is not the only thing Jesus did, but it is at the forefront of Lent and Easter.) Do we accept Jesus’ teaching as the way we should live our lives? At each week and stage of Lent there are questions that we need to answer.

Each of the three years of the lectionary cycle Lent has its own distinctive theme. This year is Year C and it is the year of penance, of confessing our sins and being forgiven. The story of the prodigal son has a prominent place in the readings this year. It comes later in the weeks of Lent. Watch for it. Until then, consider the questions that I have posed. Think too what temptations there might be in your life that takes your focus off the Divine and the life you are called to by the Lord God. May you remain firm, and give the Devil no “opportune time”! Selah!

Ash Wednesday 2019: The Old Testament, New Testament and Psalm Passages – A combined reflection

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1 – 2)

Ash Wednesday. I remember them from my days at seminary. One of the few places where it was quite natural for everyone to wear a gray smudge on their forehead on this day. I miss living in that type of community where so many things were done according to the lectionary and liturgy. At the time I did not appreciate the framework of living in a liturgical community. Somehow I had the idea that it would just continue once I got to the “outside world.” I was mistaken in that.

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?” (Verses 12 – 14)

Other things have taken the place of that liturgical framework. One large part has been doing these blog posts for . . . . over ten years now. It shapes my days and weeks. It reminds me to turn my heart inward and listen to the Divine. It shapes me!

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 15 – 17)

When I am in the “outside world” I need to be my own “priest” and “minister” as opposed to seminary where we ministered to each other. Encountering scripture on a daily basis has prepared me to both minister to myself and extend ministry to others.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1 – 6)

When I first started writing commentaries – before I started having a blog – one series I did was for a church newsletter. Actually it was more of a monthly reflection. I called “From my Prayer Closet” and it was in part inspired by this passage from Matthew.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Thinking about it, one of the drawbacks of living in a lectionary liturgical community was that was easy to know what another person’s faith life was like; or at least the broad sketches because when you worship with someone just about every day, talk to them during and outside of classes, and know their back story – you get to know them quite well. It is interesting then that Jesus exhorts his disciples, followers, and believers to partly shield their faith practices from other’s eyes.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Verses 19 – 21)

My true treasure is my faith life. It has supported me and under girded me. It has trained me to handle everything that life has thrown at me. And helped me make sense of the events in my life. The coming of the seasons of the church year – the familiar cycles both yearly and in the lectionary every three years – remind me of the tasks that need to be done for me to grow in the Lord. And finally, it leads me to prayer.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ( Psalm 51:1-17)

 

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Gospel Passage – Questioning the New Testament text

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:28 – 31)

This is the story that is the central piece for Transfiguration Sunday. I know, that is pretty obvious. It (meaning the celebration of the day) is placed near the beginning of Lent which makes then time until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I know, again obvious. But my point is this – if Moses and Elijah were NOT talking about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that unfolded from that, Transfiguration Sunday would NOT mark the beginning of Lent. What’s my point you might ask? My point is this – was it because Jesus needed to consult with Moses and Elijah before he went to Jerusalem? Or, did the Divine want to specially mark this time/day as the liturgical beginning of the remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or, did the gospel writers “arrange” that this conversation should happen just before Jesus went to Jerusalem?

We can see the connection between Moses’ glowing face from the Old Testament and his appearance now when he, Jesus, and Elijah glowed. We know the significance that was Elijah’s being taken up by a chariot of fire and not seeing death; Moses’ death is not firmly recorded either. So of all the bible figures that might have joined Jesus on this mountain top, they would be the most logical. But I can’t help but feel there is some sort of guiding editorial hand at work.

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.” (Verses 32 – 33)

And if were not for Peter putting his foot in his mouth once again, I would really wonder about the whole event. But Peter, good old stumbling along to greater knowledge Peter, gives this whole account the authenticity that is needed. So yes, there is a Guiding Editorial Hand. And it is comforting at the edge of entering the season of Lent to know that the Divine has prepared the way.

“While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Now that is interesting. They kept silent. Another mark for authenticity. It was only in considering the back story and the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection that the transfiguring of Jesus and the appearance of Moses & Elijah became significant. And I hope it was Peter who was brave enough to tell the story.

“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Verses 37 – 40)

These verses and the ones following are not part of the featured text for Transfiguration Sunday. It would seem after the “mountain top” experience, we are back to the day in and day out life of Jesus’ ministry. How often might we have found this true in our lives, beloved reader? We have such inspiring experiences when we feel the Divine’s presence so keenly. Then we are back to the some life we had before.

“Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (Verses 41 – 43a)

It is, beloved reader, that nature of the Christian life that mountain top experiences do not last; they give way to the need to persevere in our every day lives. Maybe for us, just as it was for the disciples, the mountain top experiences can only be properly understood and used when we see where we have come and where we are going. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – The unfathomable ways of Christian living – love, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27 – 28)

There are several people I have known in my life who I have found it very hard to forgive them and wish them well. I suspect a lot of people have had that experience. It would be nice to study Jesus’ words very carefully and find a loophole that allows you to seethe inside while being outwardly cordial and calm. But I have to tell you, beloved reader, Jesus is pretty careful to close up the loopholes. And what it appears that Jesus may not covered because of translation gaps, commentators have taken into account. Or when you take into account the shift of context and perspective because of cultural difference, you will find yourself up against stiff prohibitions against withholding Christian concern.

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Verses 29 – 31)

And do not think, beloved reader, that it is only the “saints” who conduct interpersonal relationships in this way. Yes, saints are “saintly” but Jesus is speaking to all of his followers. And if his words here are not sufficient, think how he lived them out in his life and death.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” (Verses 32 – 34)

What one has to see is that this is not a burden added on to your life, but freeing because it rids you of all the hate, violence, grievance, pettiness etc that humanity can carry around that is actually a heavy burden to bear.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Verses 35 – 38)

I will be quite honest, beloved reader, when I first started reading this people came to my mind that had intentionally or unintentionally wounded or hurt me; and the old feeling came springing up again – “I have to forgive them?!” And yet I knew it was true – I had to let those negative feelings go (again) to make room for positive feelings. To be open to what Christ has in store for me. If I keep hold of those negative emotions and sentiments, I will not be ready to receive all the good things that the Lord God the Divine has for me. And quite honestly, there have been too many tough times in my life lately to shut off the possibility of good coming. If it means letting go of my grievances etc to get to better times, I am ready to “turn the other cheek.” I hope and pray you are too beloved reader! Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Kudos to Jesus for teaching hard lessons concerning the Christian life

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Luke 6:17 – 19)

Everyone loves a good performance and performer. And Jesus delivered. But . . . . . Jesus was more than a miracle. More than a “flash in the pan” of power. He came just to do miracles, but to change people and the life they lived.

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Additionally, Jesus was more than “good news”, more than kudos for enduring tough times. Jesus was out to turn upside expectations and assumptions.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Verses 24 – 26)

I am not sure if all of this was directed to his disciples or to those who were gathered – those who had benefited from the power and healing. Living a Christian life is more than an “easy ride” through this world. I have learned that many times over, and learned it at a very young age.

That is not to say there is no blessing and comfort in living a correct authentic Christian life. But those blessings and comforts are not necessarily what the “earthly” world would call benefits.

At this writing I have completed the last of my radiation treatments. Now I turn my thoughts and attentions to healing and regaining what was lost to me because of the treatments. But, beloved reader, I have gained more during this time than I have lost. Once again I learned my strength and endurance does not come through human flesh and sinew. My strength and endurance comes from the Lord. And whatever my future health may hold, because of the Lord God strengthening me and guiding me, I am blessed beyond measure! Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Being called to be a Christian

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.” (Luke 5:1 – 4)

After re-reading the above verses several times, a feeling of foreshadowing came upon me. Simon, otherwise known as Peter. The first encounter between the two of them. And there is Simon Peter, a captive audience to Jesus. All of the moments and events between Jesus and the man who would be named Peter, likened to the “rocks” that Jesus will build his holy church upon. But let us move forward in the story.

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.” (Verses 5 – 7)

These are the types of verses I need to read right now. I have “worked” long and hard during my time of radiation treatment. Before that finding a new job after my old one was taken from me. And before that dealing with declining health issues. I feel like I have worked “all night” but my “net” keeps coming up empty. The Lord says to me, “Keep trying! Keeping lowering your net and I will fill it.”

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Have you, beloved reader, cast aside all other considerations to follow the Lord? Was it after the Lord God filled your “net” so completely that you were convinced that you could depend upon the Lord for all things? The interesting thing about Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen is that they left the life they knew for what they thought would be a life of abundance, I am sure. But they learned is that while the Lord God can fill anyone’s net to bursting, that is not all there is (not nearly all there is) to living a Christian life. Nets filled with fish was only the attention getter. Jesus had much more to teach and show them. One of the things that helps me persevere is that the Divine will have a get deal to show and teach me from this experience. At least that is my prayer! Selah!