Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Raising the alarm for a return to a different age

Two things I want to say and then I will step back and let you read this passage in its entirety. First, I am using it as preface to the comments I want to make about the other Old Testament passage. Second, notice that the Lord appeared to Moses as three men – a Trinity!

“The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.
He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:1-10a)

When I read the Old Testament passages for this week, I had the same dilemma as before – which one to choose?! But as I sat thinking about the both, the time that they happened in the history of the called and chosen people, and the people involved . . . . I thought about how God’s people had come from first being called. And it was not in a good way. Listen to the prophet Amos.

This is what the Lord GOD showed me–a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” (Amos 8:1 – 2)

The Divine came to Abraham, sought him out I am guessing; and Abraham recognized the Lord God in the manifestation that approached him. Abraham offered hospitality, and it was readily accepted. Abraham did well.

By the time of Amos the people of Israel had so gone astray that the Divine was no longer going to come near them. The Divine’s Holy Presence would be removed from them . . . according to Amos.

“The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Abraham offered the best that he had, and offered it gladly. Now to be far, Abraham recognized that these three men were not as they appeared. He knew he was in the presence of something beyond his own human experience. It was not the first time. So he had the advantage there.

The people of Israel in Amos’ time did not pay honor and respect to the traditions of their forebearers. The stories of Abraham and other that came down to them were not heeded or internalized. May be if the Divine had come to them as the Lord God came to Abraham their response would have been different. I am reminded of Jesus’ statement that if one has compassion on the least of these . . . . But compassion seems to be unknown by the people Amos is speaking of.

“The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” (Verses 7 – 12)

To Abraham the Divine brought the promise of new life, and the beginning of a nation that would be called the people of God. To the people that Amos addresses, the news is of mourning and death, being parted from the Lord God and left to wander in emptiness.

What happened in those intervening years? Well, we can read the bible and learn the stories. But does that answer the question as to how the people of Israel so changed from who they used to be? The reason this is an important question is because I have seen humanity change. How did that change come about? How wide spread is the change? And, can humanity change back to the compassionate and caring members of society that they once were? Or . . . . am I remembering a time that never was? If it never was, does that mean it will never be?

We are on the cusp, beloved reader, of being the very fulfillment of the story of the people of Israel and Judah. And that scares me! Let us all seek within ourselves shalom, and offer it to others! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The question was, “Being called forth to be what sort of Christian? “ The answer is, “This sort”

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25 – 28)

There are times, beloved reader, that I feel the title of these reflections is enough to convey my opinion and/or perspective on the passage. The lawyer told the answer to his question (and actually my question) was/is to love the Divine with every particle of our body and to give our neighbor the same care and compassion etc that we hope for and expect for ourselves. It should be simple enough.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Verses 29)

However, the human spirit (in its sin and fallibility) does not do “simple”, and demands that particulars and specifics are spelled out. It would be easy to say that it is because this man was a “lawyer” that he tried to place loose with the law; but the truth is that many people of all sorts of education and background try to get away with the least amount of care and compassion given to others, yet expect the most given to them.

“Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Verses 30 – 32)

These are people who know the law, and would be expected to exhibit the care and compassion that Jesus confirmed was in the law. And you can easily (and should) substitute in any man/woman of God for the priest and Levite.

“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Verse 33)

Likewise you should substitute in the most unlikely person to be moved to compassion by the unfortunate condition of another. Maybe even the person who you, beloved reader, feel is the antithesis of your own faith beliefs!

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’” (Verses 34 – 35)

Now understand beloved reader – the Samaritan would have been the antithesis to this Jewish lawyer; a person who the Jewish lawyer would scorn and dismiss as incapable of following the law. And Samaritans generally speaking (unfortunately) would have been expected to act more like the priest or Levite. And then Jesus asks the question (which I also asked in my way) . . . .

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Verses 36 – 37)

In the Old Testament passage the Lord God set up a plumb line to measure the people of Israel, Jesus also set up a plumb line (most likely a very similar one) and a good many people failed that one as well. Do not, beloved reader, be such a person! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Knowing where and with whom you should be

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her– that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.” (Isaiah 66:10 – 11)

The more I looked and studied this passage, the more it seemed like a praise passage. Sometimes the writer of Isaiah has dark and disturbing words and warnings. Other times the writer of Isaiah lifts the spirit and soul – those are the types of writings I like! Jerusalem suffers a good deal in the bible. Being raided and taken over; being razed and dismantled. The called and chosen people considered it their spiritual, if not literal, home. Many Jews still say, “Next year I will be in Jerusalem.” The middle east is now hotly contested land, with several races and cultures trying to claim dominance. To be honest, beloved reader, I am not sure who has rightful claim. What I do know is that both in the Old and New Testament there is the admonition for gentleness and welcome. And it is that gentleness and welcome that nurtures and lift the soul and spirit.

“For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Jerusalem is often used as the symbolic name of a spiritual home. In the New Testament there is much mention of the “new Jerusalem” It would seem that the more Jerusalem was oppressed and abused, the greater the hope for a “new Jerusalem.” The New Testament images it as the place where the disciples/apostles might rule with Jesus and the Lord God. Others say New Jerusalem will geographically be elsewhere. I prefer to believe that New Jerusalem will be a new way of living and relating to one another – a new mindset. But, beloved reader, what ever one’s image is . . . it seems we much wait for it.

“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.” (Verse 14)

I always have to wonder, who are the enemies that the Lord God the Divine is against? And I have to worry about the “us” and “them” mentality. Because just as I am not sure who is most deserving of the geographical place we call Jerusalem now, I am also loathe to declare who is with the “us” and who is the “them” that we are supposed to be in opposition with? Because, if there is only one “New Jerusalem” and all that belief in the Divine assume they are going to be there . . . we might be very surprised who we see, and who sees us! Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following closely and connecting the dots between the Divine, Jesus Christ, and us

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20 – 21)

There is, I am discovering, an inherent bias in biblical commentary. I should not be surprised, however, that it is present. The bias is that compassion and kindness will be seen as coming from a heavenly divine source, and such a source will be/can be/can only be from the Lord God who sent Jesus Christ. The following is but one commentary on verse 21 as it is understood from the proceeding verse. To quote Elliot’s Commentary for English Readers: “The result of the union of believers with God, and therefore with each other, will be that the world will see in it a proof of the divine origin of Christianity, and will believe that the Father sent the Son into the world.” My point of contention is NOT that unity and fellowship of believers does not come through a common belief in Jesus Christ the Lord God and the Divine. But that others, not knowing of/about the Lord God will say, “Oh, they must be believers in an ultimately Divine God.” No, what is says is that the compassion and care believers have can be traced back to a common source. The “leap” – if you will – is that the common source is the Lord God. And that Jesus was sent from the Lord God.

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Verses 22 – 23)

It is my believe that this prayer by Jesus is for the benefit of his disciples. To encourage them, to mold them, to solidify them in purpose and intent. If, beloved reader, the intent was that evangelism and conversion to Christianity was to happen because of the close alignment between Jesus and believers AND the unity and oneness amongst believers – then in our modern society that is not happening. There is so much dissension and division amongst Christian believers that it is hard to fathom all of the coming from the same source and Source.

Would that it was true that unity amongst believers would point to the Lord God, and that such unity would result in conversion to Christianity. It used to be that way, or at least it was that way in my childhood. But my childhood is a long distance away. It is almost as if, beloved reader, we (that is the Christian faith) is starting again in identifying what is true and authentic faith. Each person or group has their own definition. But there is no unity of faith or theology. Viewing it from the inside out, I see the cracks and disunity that has come about in the face of difficult issues. I cannot even imagine what it looks like from the outside. But I shudder at the possible images.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Verses 24 – 26)

There is supposed to be unity!! There is supposed to be a cohesion of thought and action. That is why I say this prayer was for the benefit of Jesus’ disciples. This prayer is a teaching as much as a petition; perhaps even more of a teaching than a petition. I want to end with another quote from another biblical commentator – one whose thinking so often parallels mine. Albert Barnes said, “It is worthy of remark here how entirely the union of his people occupied the mind of Jesus as he drew near to death. He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide his followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and he saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.” Shalom!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Looking at praising in a new way (for me at least)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1)

I am trying imagine and image the psalmist, and what the occasion might have been for which he penned this psalm. Or maybe it was not a special occasion but an outburst of joy and satisfaction in life. It does not seem to be the writings of someone who is busy in life nor tied up with complications and details. In fact, if I were honest, it sounds like the writings of someone who has set aside worry and concern about the nitty-gritty worries and details of life and is taking it easy. A place in life I would like to be, but am not. And there is about an honest an answer you can get about why praise passages like this rub me the wrong way.

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Verses 2 – 6)

This easy-going psalmist first considers the sky above him, and all that is there and praise worthy. Then he turns his attention to the land where he and all of humanity live. There are many who take for granted the earth and the resources we find there. When it come down to it, no matter where we live, and how above and beyond nature the infrastructure that surrounds us, we need earth and land to live.

“Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 7 – 10)

And we need nature, intact and thriving, so that we might live, thrive, and grow.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Verses 11 – 13)

And we do not live in isolation, but in community. We need relationships and connections. We need organizations and systems, the input and cooperation of others, to make our way through life. And others need us; we are at our strongest with we are intertwined with others. We are at our weakest when the connections to humanity are frayed and broken; and at our most vulnerable when we are destroying the people and the world around us.

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)

It is at this last verse, however, that we must pause and stop. The Divine knows what our wants and needs are, when and under what conditions we are at our best – as well as when and under what conditions we are at our worst. The “Horn” that has been raised up is Jesus Christ who the Divine sent to us so that we might know how to live. As well as knowing how, when, and what to praise.

We, as the people of the Divine, need to set time aside to consider ourselves and our world. The mess we may be in, and how to redeem ourselves and our world. Praise God that there have been those we came before us that can teach us. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistles Passage – Revelation as a possible template for the world to come

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1 – 2)

The perspective of the writer of Revelation is that Jerusalem will play an important part in the world to come. That is because in his current world Jerusalem was (is) very important. Other faith traditions in the same way hold certain places as highly important and critical (no doubt) to the way their faith tradition views what is in the future. For example, Roman Catholics might (they don’t, but they might) believe that the world to come will have the Vatican as the central location. Do you see what I mean, beloved reader? Do you understand what I am saying? In Revelation there is a “new Jerusalem” because the faith of the writer of Revelation would mean very little if Jerusalem was not reborn. So if (and I suspect I am accurate) biblical commentators say that the “new Jerusalem” is but a simple of the world to come, they do an injustice to the faith beliefs of the writer of Revelation. Not that they intend to, but by appropriating what the writer of Revelation has said, and translating/transposing it to the biblical commentator’s faith perspective, the original sense of the passage is lost. New Jerusalem is the re-imaged and renewed city that Jesus entered and wept over. It is where Jesus taught and confronted those who did not see or refused to see his true identity. The Jerusalem that “condemned” Jesus is no more. The Jerusalem that pines for Jesus and awaits Jesus has descended.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Verses 3 – 4)

In our modern times, beloved reader, where do you think the city that will be central to the world to come will be? Will it be the current Jerusalem? With the conflict in that part of the world, I am not sure. Where then? What place is so central to faith that it will be the mecca for believers in the world to come? Rome and the Vatican? That leaves out to many faith traditions.

“And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Verse 5)

It may be a sad realization that there is no place on this earth that could be/would be reborn as a holy city. Further more, according to my own personal perspective I could not imagine a “world to come” that would not have a sea. You see, each of us have our own idea of paradise; what the perfect place, a heaven on earth would be like. It is NOT the location, nor the accommodations that make, or will make, a heaven on earth. It is this!

“Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Looking forward to the “new shiny” life

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1)

The week in which I wrote on the fifth Sunday of Lent was a tough week; tough at work and busy at home with new challenges and issues arising each day. I am not afraid to admit most nights I went to bed exhausted and tearful. But I got through it. The roughest day was Friday, which is supposed to be a “thank goodness it is Friday” day. Not so much for me. But I take hope that next week will be better. And that the struggles of this week are resolved. I had to make some decisions that I am hoping I will not regret.

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (Verse 2)

What helped me greatly in getting through the week was writing on the scripture passages. It usually does. Not only do I submerge myself in scripture, but it reminds me that I am not going through this alone. That what ever else may happen, my soul and spirit are safe in the Lord’s keeping.

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.” (Verses 3 – 4)

I was very glad to get to Friday night, and to have the weekend to decompress and relax. To restore myself and spend down time with family. To remind myself why I “battle” the outside world day. And to spend time in prayer and reflection.

“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 5 – 6)

I know that I am fortunate that the problems I have, although great to me, are actually small and manageable in comparison to others. I do not claim that I am ill used and oppressed. I have food and shelter – the basics of life. And I have friends and family that surround me and support me. But most importantly, I have hope for the world to come. It seems that “world to come” seems so far off. Back in the days when “End Times” were topics talked about and written about in popular and social media – it was easy to believe they were just around the corner. But with bad times evolving into worst times in our global community it seems like global relief is so far away. The “new shiny” life twinkles like a distant star, and the cloud of our “now” obscures its light so that we forget it is there waiting for us in the hand of the Divine. It is where my ultimate hope lies, and I pray it is the same for you beloved reader. Until that day, hold on to hope in the Divine and the strength of others. Selah!