The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Epistle Passage – Leaving behind what you fear, and running towards hope and the presence of the Divine, Part III

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone . . .” (Matthew 14:22 – 23)

Last week’s gospel passage was a “big reveal” for Jesus. A large group of people – five thousand men plus women and children the gospel tells us – saw what a prayerful Jesus was capable of. Maybe the experience drained him and he needed to rejuvenate himself. Or maybe he did not want to answer a lot of questions as to what happened there with the two loaves of bread and five fish. I am not suggesting that Jesus was “running away” or was fearful. There is a difference between fleeing in fear & apprehension, and withdrawing to consider what has happened & what next steps should be. And maybe I did Elijah a disservice by assuming fear was his motivation.

Jesus withdrawal might have more similarities to what Paul was writing about. Leaving behind old ways of thinking that depended on the laws that Moses brought down from the mountain, and embracing a new idea and concept of righteousness. Is it hard for you to imagine, beloved reader, Jesus needing to ponder on what is best to do? If it were not for Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, I (and you maybe) would think that Jesus was “fearless” striding ahead without any doubt or hesitation. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was not running “away” but towards the Divine to speak with the Lord God who had sent him.

“. . . . but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.” (Verses 24 – 25)

What must have that night in prayer wrought in Jesus Christ?! The evening before needing to withdraw and process the event with the five thousand. Now, in the morning, calmly walking out on the rolling sea toward his disciples.

“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” (Verses 26 – 29)

Now it is the disciples turn to leave their fears behind and journey towards hope and the Divine. As is so typical, Peter does it in a dramatic way. Do you notice, beloved reader because I am sure you did/do, that Peter at first walks with the same ease.

“But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Verses 30 – 31)

But when he pays attention to his fears and takes his focus off of Jesus the Christ, he falters and sinks. What a metaphor for sinning – although I do not mean that Peter sinned. But when we take our eyes off the Divine, we tend to lose our way. But praise be to the Lord God, the Divine finds us and lifts us up again so that we might continue the journey towards hope in the Divine that does not fail us.

“When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Verses 32 – 33)

I have this mental picture, beloved readers, of this tiny little boat that the disciples are all crowded into. And in this small confined space Jesus the Christ steps in, and in such awe they prostrate themselves in worship. You see, when I think of corporate worship, think of large spaces with pews, altars, and such. To worship corporately in a small space seems hard to envision. In my defense, the Greek word used does mean prostrate in worship. Maybe I have to re-image it as a bigger boat.

When I started this series of scripture for the week, I did not intend for it to be a sustained theme. But it just seems to have turned out that way. It is a good motif, though, for our current times. Letting our fears drop away and focusing on the Divine, and seeking our hope there. It excites and intrigues me to see how the Psalm passage might fit into this. Be sure to find out tomorrow.

May the Lord God who bids us to cast aside all fear be with you, and may you find hope and peace under the Wing of the Divine! Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Wrestling and grasping what it means to follow the Messiah and the Lord God the Divine

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” (Matthew 14:13)

What Jesus heard – his cousin and his comrade in ministry, had been put to death by Herod. Herod’s wife, who did not like what John the Baptist was saying to and about her, connived a plan to bring about John’s death. And Jesus was grieving, and understandably wanted to grieve and mourn privately. But Jesus had become a very public figure, and would become even more so.

“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Jesus’ good humor restored, or his seeing a teachable moment, tossed out a slightly impossible suggestion.

“They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” (Verse 17)

Remember, Jesus did have his time away. And perhaps John’s death reminded him and helped him to take the next step in teaching his disciples and the crowd what it meant to trust in him and the Lord God who sent him. I am just theorizing; Jesus probably knew that John the Baptist’s time on earth was limited. And John’s death might have been a foreshadowing of the cost to following Jesus and the Lord God. But there were “perks” as well.

“And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Verses 18 – 21)

Can you, or have you ever imagined that scene beloved reader? A large tract of land, perhaps even a hill side, covered with people sitting down. The NRSV titles this section “the Feeding of the Five Thousand”. I do not what size of ground five thousand would fill, but the prospect of just using five loaves of bread & two fishes to feed them all seems more than a little optimistic and even far-fetched. Read carefully what it sees in these verses. Each disciple, however many there were was only given a PORTION of a loaf of bread and PART of a fish. And from that they started passing out the food. The pieces of bread never ran out, and there was lots of fish to go around. And leftovers?!?!? There were leftovers! Any potluck I have been to, the leftovers were taken home by those who attended. So not only did Jesus feed them there, but he supplied them with food for their journey back home!

We have talked about the hard times we are going through, and if I have not recently talked about that, it is only because you know so well and too well the current circumstances. We talk about the Divine supplying us with what we need. We doubt, because our need is so great. We wonder how the Lord God will provide, especially when there seems to be so many in need, and such varying needs. This story is in testimony to the fact that the Divine provides everything we need to survive our days; well, maybe not material things like, say, loaves & fishes. Jesus provided the five thousand with what they needed for their bodies. After the coming of the Holy Spirit what was & is provided is nourishment for our spirits.

That is part of the wrestling and grasping too; that the Divine does not always provide for bodily needs. And we do struggle to understand that. Maybe what the Divine is telling us is to offer up what little we have, and the Lord God will multiply it so that the needs of those around us are filled with abundance left over. I guess, beloved reader, then the “ball is in our court.”

May you beloved reader wrestle and be able to grasp the concepts and meanings in your faith & spiritual life. And may the Divine bless you with abundance so that you might share with others. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Understanding the power of the Kingdom of Heaven & the Divine; how it moves one forward

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31 – 32)

I very much enjoy metaphors, similes, and analogies – especially analogies. And to me, that is what parables are, analogies that help us understand a concept or issue etc. And with understanding we can use that concept or work through an issue. Coming out the better for it.

The Kingdom of Heaven may seem to start out small; maybe the way Jesus started out “small” as a baby. But with time and nurture from the Divine, Jesus grew to encompass the whole world and to embrace all of humanity and creation.

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Verse 33)

Again, something small and seemingly insignificant has the power and ability to make a large change, a change that results in a “new” thing. When I was younger, I tried using yeast to bake things. I did not have the cooking skill to make bread or rolls. But I can take seemingly diverse ingredients and make a wonderful food item – anything from baked goods to rich savory stews. My finest creation is my cheesecakes that transport the eater to a “happy place”. Not the Kingdom of Heaven, but a very tasty experience nonetheless.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.” (Verses 44 – 48)

A treasure worthy of any sacrifice, and that must acquired at any cost. That, beloved reader, underlies the need to change our lives in order to conform ourselves to the example that Jesus set, and to sacrifice our own human will in order to follow the Divine’s will. Because, if we do not, we may just find ourselves outside of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” (Verses 49 – 51)

Do you understand this, beloved reader? Do you understand what these parables have to teach you and I? We like to think that no one is really outside of the Divine’s redemption and mercy. That last minute decision for the Lord God versus life long commitment makes us “as clean and white as snow” (to use a really unhelpful and archaic analogy). What it means it that our sins are wiped away, gone and forgotten. The reality might be, however, that there is a time limit on our decision. The clock is winding down, but we have no idea when the final second may come.

“And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

I look back on the years that I have been writing comments and commentaries, stretching back to the years when I was just starting seminary. I think about all that I have written, and I do consider it treasure – both old and new. I do not keep the “treasure” locked up, but have always been moved to share it. Not, however, that it has always been grabbed up by others or clamored for by millions. It is offered humbly and sincerely. Through the offering of it, I have been moved forward in my faith and spiritual life. I would like to think, or at least hope, it has moved others forward as well. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – The Divine reaping the harvest from the “ground”

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.
And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” (Matthew 13:24 – 30, 36)

Beloved reader, how tender and fragile we are in the world. We grow in the midst of priorities and agendas that seek to stifle our faith and make us wither in the ground. Isn’t that what this parable is saying, that evil is against us and all around us? That if we can but grow and thrive in the world, that our reward will come when this age ends?

“He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Verses 37 – 43)

Aren’t we save in assuming we know whom amongst us are the children of the evil one? And that once all of the evil ones are “plucked out” from amongst us, we will be taken “home” to abide with the Divine?

But you are not naïve, beloved reader. You understand that our role as good wheat from good seed is only known at the harvesting. Until them we can, may, and will assume that we are from good stock. But only the Divine knows for sure. And how can we, who have only the mentality of wheat know what a “weed” might look like, or if our roots have been composed by the “weeds” next to us. Ah, beloved reader, we cannot know for sure.

It occurs to me that this parable underlays Jesus’ assertion that his yoke is light and his burden is easy. If we but grow in the light of the Lord God and are nurtured by the Holy Presence we will grow into usable wheat. As I consider this, I am comforted that by doing what the Holy Presence guides and encourages me towards, I am fulfilling the purpose that the Divine intended for me. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Our societal lives seeded by the words of the Divine

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.” (Matthew 13:1)

I’ve started to do something a little different when I want to verify the place of a scripture passage. Sort of going old school – I have my trusty large-pocket sized NRSV right beside my computer/keyboard! I had been availing myself of on-line editions because I thought it would be more convenient. But finding the actual book is the most convenient option. (Stay tuned because that insight will probably be applicable very soon!)

“Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Verses 2 – 4)

As I previewed this scripture citation I saw that the RCL includes the part where Jesus gives the explanation of the parable. I had thought to narrate the explanations as scripture tells them. But then by the end of the passage anything I might have said would be redundant. You are welcome to skip ahead and find the meaning as Jesus told it. Maybe inside I will give you my first impression and then you & I can compare my thoughts to what Jesus said. Hmm . . . seeds on the path quickly eaten by birds. You know how some people quickly take in the Words of the Lord but those profound words never seem to have an effect on them? That’s the interpretation that I would give (if I did not know what Jesus meant, having skipped ahead and have already known Jesus’ meaning).

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Hearers of the Word who do not have much depth to them. Unlike those who take in the Word quickly but it passes them by, these “shallow” people might or might not have good intentions. But it matters little because what they do take in may have quick effect but never lasts and they are onto the next “new” thing.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (Verse 7)

Now here, I think, the Word of the Lord is taken in by believers with good intentions but they allow other concerns to take priority of the Word. It is not that they are not affected nor that they do not have depth to them, but other issues and concerns are given more attention and priority and what little effect the Word had in their lives is overshadowed and then overgrown with other things. Now, that may be strange if we believe that the Word of the Lord has strength and power in humanity. However, we have control over how we put that Word into action in our lives. That has been one of the musings I have had over this parable. That the sower and the Divine scatters the Word of the Lord freely to all places and seemingly gives little thought to where it might land. Is that an attribute that we could and should apply to the Divine? Let us move on a little and then come back to that thought.

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verse 8)

Ah! This is the best place for the seed to land. Where it can take root and grow, and nurture others. Consider too that it is not just the harvest from this one planting in the parable, but that seed grows into plants that bring forth new seed that can be planted. So maybe because so much seed falls on to good places that the Sower can be indulgent and lavish in where the seed is scattered; and that the Sower does not judge the ground it is planted on but hopes in a good harvest.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

My now close-at-hand companion, my large-pocket NRSV, tells me that after verse nine the disciples questioned Jesus about why he spoke in parables, and he had teachings just for their ears (and ours since it was recorded). So the RCL omits this time this teaching from Jesus and goes on to present the meaning. Let us compare that to my thoughts above.

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.” (Verses 18 – 19)

I did not make room in my musing for an outside source. Does not understanding mean a deficiency in the hearer, or is it their “unfortunate” fate that the “evil one” took the “seed” or understanding from them? In the omitted dialogue between Jesus and his disciples he talks about those who do not see or hear, and thereby do not understand. Jesus does not weigh on in whether the deficiency is in those hearers/see-ers at that time and place, or whether they have been robbed of insight. But the implication is that the deficiency is in them. If I was so inclined, I could consult the commentators; I suspect though they would cast the blame on intentional deafness and blindness. Let us move on.

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.” (Verses 20 – 21 [Emphasis mine] )

I called special attention to the the reason for trouble and persecution because it speaks to a deliberate act of not growing in the Word, as opposed to my thinking that it is a person’s shallow thinking or nature. Remember Jesus warned the disciples of what would be done to them if they held on to and lived out their faith. But Jesus said that would proof their dedication the Lord God. Hmm. Let us move on.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verse 22)

This one I got spot-on. It was not hard. Jesus’ interpretation and intent is harder on the thorny ground then mine. And since it is/was Jesus’ parable, I have to set aside my interpretation for that of Christ’s. And what does that say about some commentators’ insights that seem to be at odds at times with understandings. This has always baffled me, that there is not a better sense of consensus. This bafflement maybe why I have my NRVS beside, so that I can refer quickly and easily to the scripture passages. It has been my ongoing prayer that I had the same at-hand easy access to Spirit-inspired understanding of scripture.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Verse 23)

I did not say anything at the initial telling of the parable concerning the various amounts of “fruit” that is yielded from the harvest. And that the harvest summary goes down in number and not up. I think just as the Sower with faith scatters the seed as the path winds and not according to where its best chance of growth is – so too the amount of harvest is not enforced. That, beloved reader, is grace. Consider, there are trees, bushes and plants that grow large and small sizes of crops and harvest. There are large flowers and small flowers. But all are beautiful and worthy to be tended to and nurtured. So it is with people, actually.

The important thing is that there is growth and evidence of growth. The Sower rejoices over all plants of all shapes and sizes, and is glad to see that has been sown has taken root. And, that the small delicate plants who desire to and are determined to thrive are given the chance to do so. May you carry that learning with you as you travel through life. Shalom * Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Being Humble & Simply Believing

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16 – 19)

Children at play, demanding that the games are played by their rules and not allowing others to enter into the game as they wished. Not child-like, with the sense of whimsy and gentleness; but childish and petty, never being happy but complaining about all things. Think of the whiny child in a store that demands his/her way, and has a temper tantrum if not placated. Such children, beloved reader, should not be punished but taken home and taught the polite ways to act in public.

“At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Verses 25 – 26)

Again we have the theme of children and childhood, but this time it is child-like understanding that believes simply by faith and trust. I had occasion to think and ponder on the hidden nature of faith and believe in the Divine. Faith in the Divine is not like anything else in human experience. Paul says rightly that it is a mystery. It is to those who simply believe and trust that the mystery is revealed.

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Verses 27 – 30)

Is this something that we can trust in? That Jesus’ way is easy and light? How many stories have we heard about Christians struggling and being challenged? If we would ask the Christian martyrs, our spiritual forebearers, what would they say?

The key to this, beloved reader, is that Jesus and the Divine have laid down a simple path of faith and belief that leads us to them. The struggle comes not from what they ask of us, but what the world at large does to those who live contrary to societal norms – when those societal norms are not Christian based. This understanding cycles back to the opening verses here, of pouty children who want believers to dance and weep at their agenda rather than the agenda outlined by authentic faith and belief.

May you, beloved reader, choose the easy and light path of the Divine, and may the Divine journey with you through the difficulties you face in this world. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Welcoming Those Under the Auspice of the Divine

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Is that true for today? I ask this because it seems society has turned quite unwelcoming in the past years. Society can be very judgmental, and very selective in who is welcomed where. The “us” and “them” divide has gotten wider and deeper than ever before – or least in my memory. Maybe it is partly due to where I grew up, and where I live now. I grew up in a small town in Canada that was very welcoming. Now I live in the United States.

Now this is the interesting point; there are people who, because of their faith beliefs, would be welcoming of Jesus (as long as they would recognize Him) but not be welcoming of others who also believe in Jesus. Work back the logic of the verse, beloved reader, and see where it gets you. God sent Jesus; Jesus is welcomed by many. Would all members of society welcome other members of society who welcome Jesus?

“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Verses 41 – 42)

Society at large is tied up in so many knots in terms of race and gender, and who deserves what & who is welcomed and worthy of what. The very honest and simple truth is this; if Jesus would welcome, honor and care about someone – we should too. And if you think there is any member of humanity from the past, in the present, and the future that Jesus would NOT welcome . . . . well, quite honestly . . . you don’t know Jesus!

Shalom and Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Living out the Christian life, even when it is embarrassing and shameful to do so

The gospel reading this week in the Revised Common Lectionary picks up from last week – Jesus sending out the disciples – warning them of what might happen, and assuring them that they are not alone. In this passage the warning continues of what might, and in fact did, befall the disciples/apostles.

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (Matthew 10:24 – 26)

Last week, beloved reader, did you live out your life and the ministry you are called to with the best of intentions? What happened to you because of it? Were you maligned or spat upon? Were you called names or made ashamed? Were you in any way inconvenienced? Actually, me either. That does not mean we failed or fell short of what the Divine expected us to do. And that does not mean we are too comfortable or complacent in our lives. It may very well mean that family, friends, and people around us already know and expect us to live good authentic Christian lives. And while they may or may not share our beliefs, they accept us and know what to expect from us. Our “mere” staying the course may be a testament to our faith and the Divine.

“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (Verse 27)

I think/expect/hope/assume that out lives reflect the law of love and compassion that Jesus set down as an example. One of the concepts that I am trying to be mindful of this year is “gentle, compassionate, merciful belief.”

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Verses 28 – 31)

Jesus did not tell his disciples to go out and grab people by the robe collar and pound the good news into them. In fact he said if those the disciples go to do not believe or accept the news they carry, they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on. You know, thinking about it, this “gentle, compassionate, merciful belief” might be more “embarrassing” and “shameful” then screaming and yelling, and “convicting someone of sin”. That term “convicting” is an old terminology meaning that someone is powerfully persuaded of the reality of their sins. It is pretty intense. I remember seeing and hearing “fiery” preachers doing just that. It was embarrassing and shameful on either side of the pulpit.

A gentle, compassionate, merciful belief – on the other hand – might look weak and the person espousing it a pushover. I know some people have under estimated my resolve because I seem so meek and mild. But never more than once! To paraphrase a now common saying – the Divine is strong in this one!

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Verses 32 – 33)

So I guess, in reality, the title of this post in misleading – because many times modern Christian life probably will not make one embarrassed and ashamed. If, that is, we are living a community that functions like a faith circle, and is filled with like minded people living in harmony and peace. But remember Jesus said,

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Verses 34 – 38)

And we know there is not peace in the world. Nope, not even in my little corner of it. But I want to move on in my discourse, and try to parse out who should be embarrassed and ashamed. We will come back to this idea of peace.

If you are living a good and authentic Christian life in a community that values that . . . there is no embarrassment or shame. If you are not living a good and authentic Christian life in a community that values that . . . . there may be embarrassment and shame. If you are not living a good and authentic Christian life in a community that does not value that . . . . there is no embarrassment or shame. If, however, you are living a good and authentic Christian life in a community that does not value that . . . . there may be embarrassment and shame. It is this last instance that was the reality for the disciples/apostles. What sort of situation are you living in, beloved reader? Might you feel embarrassment and shame? Consider – does anything need to be done about that. And before you answer, remember . . .

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Verse 39)

In other words, if you have exchanged living a good and authentic Christian life in to avoid embarrassment and shame, you have lost your life.

Beloved reader, there is only one type of peace that is worthwhile and will last – the Divine’s peace. And if we are maligned, spat upon, called names, made ashamed, or even just inconvenienced because we espouse it and live it out – we have shared something awe-inspiring with the Divine! Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Journeying out with best of intentions

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35 – 38)

There is some foreshadowing going on here early in this cited passage – did you catch it? I imagine if you think about it, you will. Living out the Christian life has never been about sitting back in your comfortable “easy-pew” and watching & wondering how things will all end up. The Christian life is about getting involved. It is a simple equation; Jesus went out, so his followers will go out. And Jesus, being actually “the Lord of the Harvest” sends out us a laborers. Now, you may rightly say that you have never been called to the “mission field”, and you may be right. But “mission” done where you are, and not “out there” where you are not! Furthermore, I strongly suspect, that as Jesus did for his disciples, he has also equipped you for the “mission work” you are called to.

“Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” (Chapter 10, Verses 1 – 4)

Yes, Judas was sent out too. Sit with that for a few minutes, beloved reader. Either Judas went willingly, and felt the same mission fervor that the other eleven did. Or, he went silently grumbling and gripping about have to deal with all of those blatant sinners. Jesus gave him authority just like the other eleven too. Until he decided he was “done” he was just as much a disciple as all the others. Makes me want to monitor myself carefully that I am not allowing myself to go astray! How about you?

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Verses 5 – 15)

It is interesting reading these verses and thinking about Judas hearing them. Maybe he started to get an insight into who this person was that he decided to follow and learn from. It is also interesting to think about Peter going out with these instructions. How different those two men. Peter, if you remember, was at some point called to preach to Gentiles. Finally, I am thinking about Saul who became Paul, and how he followed the broad outlines of this calling. He too was sent to Gentiles, and that became his mission field.

This next part is also something we, beloved reader, should pay heed to.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Verses 16 – 20)

“The Spirit of your Father” – another foreshadowing of what would come in preparation for their taking up the missionary journey in earnest. Although, admittedly beloved reader, this was written after Jesus was put to death, arose, and ascended into heaven. The writer of Matthew may be writing this through that lens and understanding.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Verses 21 – 23)

It was tempting to leave off the verses from chapter ten, nine to twenty-three. The RCL does not include them in the proper reading but suggests that they may be used. By not citing them, I would not have had to deal with verse 23 that is rather prophetic in the coming of the “Son of Man”. There are, of course, commentator reasons and explanations for that phrase, primary that it denoted not Christ’s return but a significant event in the history of the Jewish people after Jesus had ascended into heaven.

Other than that, the verses are very predictive of what did happen to the disciples. Worrying too, maybe. Is that the fate of modern day missionaries? Well, yes. Should it stop us from going out to the towns & cities and doing what we can to proclaim the gospel? Well, no. Because (if you needed a reason) Jesus said that the Holy Presence will give us the words to speak, and the confidence to speak them . . . . . . or write them.

Shalom & Selah!

Trinity Sunday, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Blessed and Commissioned by the Divine Trinity

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16 – 17)

Have you ever had the experience of seeing someone you have met before elsewhere or some time back, but when you see them again it is hard to place them? One instance of this stands out especially for me. Some years back, probably 3 or 4 years now, I had the opportunity to see my father. We had been leaving at other ends of the country and it was hard to arrange visits. I had last seen him when my children were quite young, so it had been some 20 years. We went to meet him at the airport, at first I was not sure it was him. It became certain when I put together an image I had of my grandparents at the age he is now. It was like seeing a melding of my paternal grandmother and grandfather, and I knew in that instant it was my dad! I imagine that is how the “doubting” disciples felt when they saw Jesus. Peering through his Glory and Divinity they saw the Jesus who had been their friend and companion, now “reborn” after having died.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Verses 18 – 20)

I had wondered why the framers of the RCL would have picked these verses for Trinity Sunday when it starts out with doubting and has traditionally been seen as the “Great Commission.” But reading my favorite commentator I see why it is a pivotal verse. By Jesus identifying that all authority is given to him, it is a statement that He/Jesus is now on par with the Lord God identified here as “the Father”. And as a part of the rite of baptism the invocation of both Jesus and the Lord God are to be used as well as the blessing of the Holy Spirit. As Barnes states, the Three Identities are to be used in equal measure confirming that is is One Source of baptism done under the Name of Three Aspects of the Divine – the Trinity.

What Barnes said was this [it is I who have capitalized the pertinent names, and excuse the non-inclusive language] – “The union of these three names in the form of baptism proves that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father. Nothing would be more absurd or blasphemous than to unite the name of a creature – a man or an angel – with the name of the ever-living God in this solemn rite. If Jesus was a mere man or an angel, as is held by many who deny His divinity, and if the Holy Spirit was a mere “attribute” of God, then it would have been the height of absurdity to use a form like this, or to direct the apostles to baptize people under them. How absurd would be the direction – nay, how blasphemous – to have said, “Baptize them unto God, and unto Paul, and unto the “wisdom or power” of God!” Can we believe that our Saviour would have given a direction so absurd as this? Yet, unless He Himself is divine, and the Holy Spirit is divine, Jesus gave a direction substantially the same as this. The form of baptism, therefore, has been always regarded as an unbreakable argument for the doctrine of the Trinity, or that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father. “

It pleases me more than I can say (or will say in this posting) that the concept of a Triune Divine is so widely recognized. It was what I was taught and grew into faith way. And I am overjoyed each year to write about it and discern the proofs of it. May you, beloved reader, celebrate that our Lord God is Diverse enough to cover all of our faith needs and wants! Shalom & Selah!