Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Hope also comes from straight talk and a correction in living

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:1 – 4)

John the Baptist was, in some ways, a throwback to the older prophets who went their own path. Unique and controversial. But speaking truth without hesitation. I can imagine in a society that was strictly ruled by civil and religious authorities, it was refreshing to see someone through conventionality aside.

“Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Verses 5 – 9)

More straight talk; remember that Abraham and Sarah had a child well beyond the years that children are expected, and only through the blessing of the Lord God. It was God’s Divine ability and will that Isaac was conceived and born. But that does not mean that the descendants of Abraham are sheltered and protected, and more worthy of special treatment. “Mere” existence does not warrant salvation; it is entering into a relationship with the Divine and confessing one’s faults and failing that leads to repentance.

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 10 – 13)

I reminded of the prophets major and minor again, who railed against the disobedience of the people and their wandering away from faithful worship. That John the Baptist was fiery is an understatement. John burned with a blaze that burst upon the season; then Jesus came to show what that better way of living was like. You know, it is kind of like treatment for some types of injuries – first use heat (John) when the injury is fresh, and that use cool to heal the wound.

May you, beloved reader, be convicted by the “heat” of the consequences of sin; then be soothed by the cooling refreshing new way of living. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Time to be ready to be raised up!

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36 – 39)

It is tempting to ignore the part where the Son of God does not know when the Lord God will return. But there is no use ignoring it; the Jesus who was speaking at this juncture did not have the information as to when the Divine would return. In other portions of the gospels Jesus seems to have that knowledge, but not here. Mayhap the rationale for Jesus’ lack of knowledge is so that his listeners would not assume there is time to prepare, or a safety net that if some sign or portent appears then it would be time to get their faith and spiritual affairs in order.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” (Verses 40 – 41)

Back in my youth much was made of “one taken and one left behind”. It was chilling to an adolescent to think that suddenly the important people in their lives who were strong in their faith might suddenly disappear. Made for one or two nightmares I am sure – at least one or two scary movies! It also made for a rush to the front of the church to “get right with God” and make sure that you were not one of those left behind. And then some years later that concept became the title of a series of books. I tell you beloved reader, I had some flashbacks to some scary times in my youth! Even now if I think about it too long or too strongly, I start to worry about the people around me – not family and close friends but those I work with and have looser connections with such that I do not know the status of their faith life.

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Verses 42 – 44)

What I have found though, is that you cannot leave on the edge of that fear for long. At some point you just have to say that those near and dear to me have already become part of God’s family, and for others who are in my life . . . . I just have to trust they have made their own arrangements in their faith lives.

When times were simpler and communities were more close knit, you would know who had committed their lives to the Lord God. Now with global communities and the reach of social media, you have no idea where some people’s faith lives are. Moreover, with so many divisions in the Christian faith there is no conformity that one can take comfort from. I am not saying that some Christians are more likely to be “raptured” (there’s a term that is not used much anymore!) than other Christians – but Christianity is not the equal and “painted with the same brush” that it used to be.

Actually keeping this all in mind, it is even more important that each person is sure that they are ready for the unexpected return of the Lord God! It is no use saying I can do that tomorrow, or next year. I don’t mean for this to be a pulpit call. But in your own heart, soul, and mind check to make sure you are in alignment with the Divine! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A final story that talks about the end . . . before we start at the beginning again

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33)

My mind thinks back to some of Jesus’ disciples who said they wanted the places of honor on his right hand and left hand. Jesus said, to paraphrase, you don’t know what you are asking for and you could not bear it. I have read what people who are knowledgeable about such things have said what the experience of crucifixion would be like, and I am pretty sure I could not bear it physically either. But Jesus did bear it, and in a way that shows the grace and endurance that he had – imbued to him through the Lord God.

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” (Verses 34)

It was not just the physically suffering; it was the emotional and psychological torture as well.

“And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Verses 35 – 38)

Each of us, beloved reader, have our weak points. Aspects or traits that are vulnerable to scorn, ridicule or suffering. Being human Jesus might have had his own vulnerable points. But being Divine, maybe he did not. I would like to believe that he did. Not because I believe or want Jesus to be weak; it would comfort me, however, to know that Jesus understands when I feel weak and vulnerable. This might be something I come back to in the coming Lectionary Year. For now let us bookmark this pondering and move on in the story.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Verses 39 – 43)

Today, Jesus said; that very day this thief and criminal would be in heaven. Does that mean that Jesus went there before his resurrection? Possibly. But I think the point and understanding of this is that the criminal would be forgiven of his sins simply on the confession of belief in Jesus. Death, at least human death, was coming to all three of them within hours. Jesus had faith as to what would happen to him. He said as much to the criminal who asked to be remembered. And the criminal also had hope for his future beyond this life.

When you, beloved reader, are pressed beyond what you feel you can endure (and remember the professing criminal was suffering physically as much as Jesus), do you have hope for what the outcome will be?

We are coming soon to the season of Advent. A season that is typified by waiting in anticipation. There is “good” waiting, like waiting for Christmas. And “bad” waiting, like waiting for death. A lot depends on what is on the other side of the waiting. Think about that as you think about the men hanging on the left and right side of Jesus. Think too about where your hopes lie. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Still a Different Type of News for Good Believers

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:5 – 9)

End times – we have talked about them a great deal, beloved reader. But we have not come to any firm conclusions. Which actually, Jesus is telling the crowd not to. When they think the end is near, or if someone proclaims that he or some event foretells the end, do not believe it. All the terrible things, and all the terrible people, that have come about have not signaled the end.

“Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is true that all of this, and more has happened. But actually these words and warnings were not the future that was in store for the disciples and apostles. It actually makes me wonder what the writer of the gospel of Luke was thinking this meant. What the writer of Luke said next was a much more appropriate prediction for the people Jesus was talking to.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Verses 12 – 19)

It seems to me that much is made of the first section of this passage – the portents of gloom and doom – and not much is made of the second portion. We who live in this modern society know that many of the disciples were persecuted for their faith, and some put to death. When the walls of the temple came down, many of the believers had left Jerusalem because of the persecution. And since we who live now (for the most part) are not persecuted in the way the disciples, apostles, and believers were – we tend to focus in on the signs and portents. But what if, across the ages, the prediction still holds true? That before the end of this age we who believer are arrested and persecuted. And that we will have opportunity (if it can be called that) to testify to our faith. Consider for a moment, beloved reader, how the perception of Christianity has changed over the past few decades. That actually makes me quake and shiver more than “wars and insurrections.” Let me hasten to say that does not mean wars and violence against others does not bother me – it does! In the same way the “wars” against Christians and Christianity also bothers me; I am jostled and unnerved by both equally. The only comfort I feel is in Jesus’ promise that nothing that is essential in/of me and my faith will be harmed. And that I may well have opportunities to prove myself.

Is this “good news”? Well, may be not so much on the face of it. I encourage you though to dwell with. Consider also that if the temple in the time of Jesus was beautiful yet was destroyed maybe to the “shining institution” of Christianity may be knocked around also. Put not your faith in the beauty that comes from “beautiful stones and gifts”, but in the unshakable foundation of believe and faith that Jesus Christ established. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Declaring unshakable truths – but really, one should know better!

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.
Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died.
In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” (Luke 20:27 – 33)

I am not sure why this was a compelling question. These men did not believe in the resurrection, so it was not germane to their teachings or faith who the woman belonged to. I suspect, as was often the case, they were testing Jesus and trying to trip him up. And trying to find out how closely Jesus aligned his faith and teachings to that of Moses. Let us see how Jesus responded.

“Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Verses 34 – 36)

The resurrection, I guess to them (that is what Jesus and the Sadducees are referring to [although the Sadducees did not believe in it]) was sort of like heaven, where life continued on but in a different place. Jesus is explaining that life there is different, and that those who are resurrected and live in that “other place” are different, not concerning themselves with the type of life that is lived on earth. Jesus goes on to explain . . .

“And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Verses 37 – 38)

The thing to make note of is that Moses – in referring to the Divine – talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as if they still had existence; that is, had allegiance to the Divine. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were no more, why would they have/need a God? So the Sadducees were wrong, very wrong. There was/is a resurrection. And it happened/is happening up to and including today. But it is not a life to come that is founded on the life we have here and now.

There probably is, beloved reader, as much varying opinions on resurrection and heaven as there are opinion on the end times. I cannot and will not say for sure what the details and circumstances are. It is enough for me to know that Jesus Christ will be there, and that the Divine has it all set up.

Do you dream in color, beloved reader? Imagine if you will, an existence that has more brilliant colors than we know now. Where colors are not just seen but felt. That colors have a glow, warmth, and maybe even a flavor. That is what I imagine heaven is like; something beyond and so different that our frame of reference has no place. And that the terms we use for this world are not sufficient in any way for what heaven will be like. Just trust in that beloved reader, and I think you will do just fine!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : All Saints Day: The Gospel & Epistle Passages

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.” (Luke 6:20 – 23)

Why is it that saints need to suffer before they become “saints”? Think about it, beloved reader; have you ever heard of a saint who had not undergone some trial and/or tribulation? Now, I can’t keep up with all the people that have been declared saints – beatified is the term. But I am pretty sure that most all of them has some sort of situation that they had to persevere through. Of course, to officially be a saint your name/aspect has to have been responsible for a miracle when prayed to. This day, November 1st is the day that is set aside to remember the saints, both those known and unknown. So really, if there is someone in your own life that for you was an inspiration and helped you in your life, this is the day to remember and give thanks for that person. The blessing the received from the Divine is the reason you have received a blessing from them.

“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)

It would seem, according to the writer of Luke, that Jesus Christ considers it an attribute to suffer; and the governing body who discerns and proclaims saints requires it. But . . . . Paul quite often writes “To the Saints at such and such” which we could take to mean that beatification may not the sole providence of religious authorities.

“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.
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 27 – 31)

Yes, suffering may lead to a path of sainthood. But each of the saints started out as “simple” believers of the Divine. We may not catch the attention of a governing church body that declares saints, but we will catch the attention of believers and non-believers alike with the way we live and live out the message of the Lord God and Jesus Christ.

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11 – 14)

True saints, however, do not live saintly lives so they may be declared saints when their life is over. In fact, true saints do not think they are living in any sort of extraordinary way at all. They are simply living as they feel they ought, how the Divine has lead and directed them to. It is those who watch, observe, and monitor their lives that declare the degree of their goodness and sainthood.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Verses 15 – 18)

What’s more, some saints don’t even assume their lives and demeanor will automatically make them eligible for admission to heaven; in that they are right. Because it is not our own human power that gives us admission to heaven, but Christ’s intercession for us. Now, we as authentic Christians (and saints if we deserve that beatification) live in response to Christ’s intercession and the Lord God’s love for us.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 19 -23)

So I have to ask you, beloved reader, do you think you could be declared a saint? Would you want to be? Think and consider all of the people who have lived all over the world since Jesus Christ came to humanity and set for us an example that is beyond our reach. Think about how many people out of those potential millions that have been declared saints. Now, odds are you and I will NOT be declared saints by the religious institution(s) that make such declarations. And that is okay with me. Ironically Paul’s criteria for saints is not as stringent as established religious traditions. And the Divine’s criteria for sainthood is even less stringent – belief in the Lord God and Jesus Christ, living as good a Christian life as possible with all of our heart, mind, and strength, and a humble contrite spirit.

May you, beloved reader, as you remember and celebrate the “saints” that have passed from this life, remember that as well. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Following the Divine no matter your age

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1 – 4)

This bible story is one I remember from young childhood up. Even now I think of it as a “children’s story.” And that does not mean I think it is an inconsequential story. There is no heavy lesson or moral to it. There is no complex theology in it. The idea of a grown man climbing a tree is amusing, and children understand completely about being too short to see things.

“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Children love to have company come over – if it is company they know and trust. It is like having a play date.

“All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” (Verse 7)

And children are very aware that jealousy and bad feelings exist among people who do not get along. It is a children’s story for all of the best reasons. And serves as a wonderful introductory story about becoming friends with Jesus. Plus the light lesson within the story is a good cautionary tale to children – be nice, share, and play fair.

“Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Zacchaeus had a generous heart, when it came right down to it; and when the transforming presence of Jesus Christ was presented to him, in responded in a good way.

Listen, beloved reader – Jesus Christ said that believers must accept the Divine as a child would. While the story of Zacchaeus may seem like an innocent little anecdote, believers of all ages should pay heed to it. First, do all you can to prepare yourself to bring the Divine into your life. Get out of your comfort zone if you have to. Second, welcome the Divine without hesitation or reservation. Toss out those habits and agendas that clash or conflict with the will of the Divine. Third, don’t be bothered by what other people may say about your acceptance of faith and living as an authentic Christian. May you, beloved reader, become a child of God! Selah!