Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – A narrative of pain and suffering that exposes the fears and anxiety of a called and chosen people

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.” (Psalm 79:1)

I don’t mean to minimize the suffering of the Israelites, the Divine’s called and chose people, but what they suffered is common to many nations that have been invaded. These verses of the psalmist’s could be the lament of many, and I am sure in a paraphrased way have been. Now, granted, not all of them (other people and nations) may have been lamenting about their buildings of faith and worship. Other institutions that are important to a given society have suffered also. So even their hurt over the temple being desecrated and defiled is not a unique situation.

“They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.” (Verse 2 – 3)

As is so common in war, there is little thought and pity given to the casualties in a conflict. Living in this so called modern times, I have the advantage of hindsight in knowing that casualties on battle field are often left with no care, burial, or remembrance given. And it is not just on formal established battlefields either. Savagery in any armed conflict runs rampant.

“We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.” (Verse 4)

I can’t help and remember, beloved reader, of the years that the state of Israel was struggling to establish itself. I was fairly young during those years, but I do remember vague reports of suffering, and the anguish that accompanied that struggle. It seems that Israel has, over and over, struggled to establish itself, and found itself the target and focus of hatred and violence. But, to be fair, Israel then and now had committed its far share of hatred and violence.

“How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?” (Verse 5)

It is this verse that is the common cry for many people of faith and circles of faith. How long will they be subject to the seeming animosity and worse that is committed against them. How long will their God (however they define that deity) stand apart from them and not intervene on their behalf because of perceived (accurately or assumed) wrath.

“Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.” (Verses 6 – 7)

Here too is a common cry – get the ones who are making us suffer!

“Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Petition and intercession. And just one step away from confession. Can it be said that any nation deserves such treatment? That is the question, beloved reader. Does any faith group deserve to be treated in such a way by its deity? When one is deep in a pit and destruction is rained down upon you, it is hard to know who is really at the top pelting you with suffering. And it is challenging at the time to consider that it might just be that your deity is not at the top causing the turmoil, but beside you trying to shelter you and console you. Something to think about. Shalom!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A narrative of truth that inspires quiet, peace, Godliness and dignity . ., . but still is the truth

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1 – 2)

We are back with Paul and his first letter to Timothy. Please notice, and I have put them together so you can, the reason and purpose for praying for kings and those in high places. So that there is quiet and peace. And that the lives of the believers are Godly and dignified. Where there is not quiet and peace, there is no Godliness and dignity, and vice versa.

I grew up in an era when Anabaptism prompted us to be “the quiet in the land”, going about one’s faith life without drawing attention to one’s self, and not entering into the “secular” world. But I grew into a world where quiet, peace, dignity, and Godliness was had to maintain because the world intruded and made noise, and committed acts that not only challenged living in peace but ruined that option for others. So, we started to speak up. We reminded ourselves and each other that our Anabaptist forebearers also spoke up when wrong and ungodly things were happening. Jesus Christ spoke up also when he say wrong being done.

“This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Truth has been modified and categorized in many ways; the way I like the best is an “inconvenient” truth. Truth is truth no matter how you try to dress it up, disguise or camouflage it. It gets to be “inconvenient” when it refuses to hid and be discrete.

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Paul may have urged prayers for those in control of the worldly government: but he still spoke the truth about the gospel as he knew it, and preached it as it was revealed to him. Paul in his time and teaching (at least in some of his letters) counseled living quiet and unobtrusive lives. That was for the benefit of the new believers who might face persecution and oppression. But Paul, for himself, was loud and brash, speaking truth and not concerning himself as to who it might offend. I will say that there needs to be a balance between being the “quiet in the land” and speaking/teaching/preaching truth. That is one of the things that comes through his letters to Timothy, and why I enjoy them so much!

May you, beloved reader, speak truth when it needs to be said – but also live a life that is peaceful, Godly, and dignified. And even if you can do it quietly, make a little noise once in a while! Selah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Staving off complaints

Let mutual love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

I do not want to give you a false impression, beloved reader, concerning my comments yesterday about my family. I love each one of them very much. And if I nag and complain to them about their being self-sufficient, it is because I know I cannot care for them indefinitely and I want to assure myself that their needs will be taken care of. It is a gift to teach someone independence, and how to make their way in the world.

In the Old Testament Yahweh sought to create a people who stood strong and firm in their beliefs. Much of the Divine’s complaints were that the people of Judah and Israel were influenced by the nations around them. That was the Divine’s fear when they sought a king as other nations had. Good man that he was, King David brought them into close contact with other nations and in each generation they became a people less set apart from other nations. And that growing closeness to other belief traditions pulled them away from the Divine.

In the New Testament Jesus taught his disciples how to be distinct and strong within themselves and their faith so that they could teach others. Much of Paul’s letters teaches that faith and distinctiveness.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Verses 2 – 7)

In other letters Paul gives guidance as to how to live in the large community and society in peace, while maintaining a Christian lifestyle. We may think that at time Paul extolled the virtue of “going along to get along”. But he did not want the new fragile faith to be crushed before it had time to take hold. In other of his letters he advocates boldness and confrontation with the outside society, encouraging believers to stand on their own and not be swayed by unbelievers.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Verses 8, 15 – 16)

The same Lord God and Jesus Christ is in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Desiring to create a called and chosen people, and to lead them in to the world to come. The hope for humanity has always been the same. And while humanity may have understood and lived it out differently in the Old and New Testament, the wisdom and guidance of the Divine has always been the same.

May we, beloved reader, stave off the complaints of the Lord God; and instead enter into a blessed relationship. And may we also stave off the complaints of wider society. You know I read recently that Christianity is now one of the most persecuted faith traditions. I do not like to think how that came about, but let us set our hearts, minds, will, and strength to win over others. And if that is not possible, may we stay true and firm to the word of God as discerned by the Holy Spirit. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker praise the “standard” steadfast love of the Divine’s

Seeker: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Preacher:
We read in the Old Testament portion that the Lord God was hurt in the Divine’s heart that the Israel people had wandered and strayed from their beginnings. That they had turned their backs on their Lord God who had called them out and sought to bless them and guide their lives. But they did not want guidance, and in their arrogance chose those things that were opposed to the will and direction of their God. Now whether their troubles and burdens came because they abandoned God, or because they were victimized by the larger nations around them – I do not know. But in their time of trouble they called on the Lord God to give them hope and deliverance.
Seeker: “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”

Preacher: Now the land of Israel and Judah was good land, and for the people of Israel and Judah there were generations where they proposed and grew. Maybe because the Lord God did bless them, or maybe because their practicality and determined ways paid off – I do not know. They were not the only nations, however that grew large, fat, and rich. You know success attracts attention, develops jealousy, avarice, and envy. The kings of the nations around them suffered from that, as did the kings of Israel and Judah. Many stories in the Old Testament are about the tug of how has control and power over who, and who is left to forage for simple existence.
Seeker: “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.”

Preacher: We think our modern times are so different. That we are above grasping and grappling for what we see other have. We read about that too, having over abundance and being determined to keep what we feel is rightfully ours and to clasp to ourselves that which we really do not need. And to ignore the needs of others. I tell you, we Christians should share what we have, and what the Lord God has given to us. Both our blessings and the grace that the Divine has shown us.
Seeker: “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.”
Preacher:
There is in our world thirst and hunger. And I will be the first to admit that many go hungry and thirsty. But I tell you, that is not what the Lord God intends. Economist and sociologists tell us there would be enough for all, if those who have much would share with those who have nothing. I don’t if that is true – maybe if we reconfigured what our “standard of living” is, everyone would have an equal amount. But you and I know that is probably not going to happen. There is, however, enough love and compassion within the Divine for everyone to have more than they need. That may not feed the belly, but it would feed the soul. And if enough souls are feed to move hearts to compassion and open coffers and bulging barns, everyone belly could be satisfied. As I said, it may not happen in this world. But be assured!!! It will happen in the world to come! Selah!
Seeker: “Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.” (Psalm 107:1-9, 43)

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The standards of living that we have & that the Divine has

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:13 – 15)

I was at the airport the day I sat down to write on this; I was waiting for someone’s flight to come in. And as I was waiting I was watching people come and go in the airport. With new regulations, air travel is getting more complicate – in all sorts of ways. This time I was pondering on luggage, and the need to pack as lightly as one can to avoid paying baggage fees. And I was thinking, how can people get all of the things they must need for a trip in such a small bag! Now I did not know how far they were traveling or how long they would be away; I saw luggage that would barely hold a change of clothes and overnight wear, much less the needed items for cleansing and bathing in the morning!

I know I am “baggage” challenged; I just cannot pack very light. I shudder to think how I would manage packing for an airplane flight! When I was young, I carried a huge purse because I felt I needed to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies if/when I was away from home. It has taken me years to downsize my purse! So, I am thinking if/how these verses apply to my people watching and my own need ensure I am prepared for just about any emergency. And I am not convinced that these verses are germane to the situation. But it is a good thought exercise. And as we see, Jesus’ parable does narrow the focus.

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ “ (Verses 16 – 19)

First, beloved reader, my purse size is NOT parallel to the rich man tearing down old barns and building new ones – so let’s just get that out of the way! Second, the implication is that the man’s lands produced far more than he needed for his own sustenance and for the length of one growing season. And let me add one of the reasons I carry such a well supplied purse is so that I can not only meet my own needs but can meet the needs of others – whatever they might need in an emergency. The rich man clearly had not intentions of sharing his abundance with others. Anyone who knows me knows that I will lend out just about anything to someone in need!

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Verses 20 – 21)

One of the things that life and living has taught me is to hold my possessions lightly. But to also secure my possession from those with harmful intent. It is a very delicate balancing act, and something that I continue to work at. I could digress and talk at great length about this issue. But Jesus points to the important points. We need to secure that which is important to our continued existence, so that we can provide for ourselves and those who are dependent on us. It does us and the circle of humanity no good if we do not have what is needed in good times and bad. BUT that means we need to SHARE what we have, in good times and bad. Our abundance should be good news for others, that we are willing to meet their needs as well as our own.

May you, beloved reader, share with others and not reserve the greater part for yourselves and ignore the needs of others. Selah!