Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Old Testament Passage – More questions than answers and comments

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15 – 16)

For the second day I am sitting here trying to decide what to say. On the one hand, this message to the Israelites seems pretty clear. And one would think through the generations there would be enough Hebrews/Israelites/Jews to keep God’s blessing flowing. So what happened?

“But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Verses 17 – 18)

We know that the Hebrews/Israelites were seduced and drawn away by other gods, and indulged in erroneous practices of worship. And that through the years the prophets called again and again for the people to return to proper worship.

And while I am thinking about it, how is “live long” defined? Because some remnant of people remained, enough that the land was occupied by some members of the twelve tribes. I know from doing research that the Jews lost the designation of a “homeland” in the early 700’s BCE. And that in 1948 the designation was re-established – hotly contested but re-established. Do the conditions of God’s blessing mean that the Jews “lost” the land when the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel?

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Verses 19 – 20)

And what of the coming of the Messiah? And the opening up of faith to all peoples, not just Jews? With all my questions rolling around in my thinking, maybe that is why it has been hard to discern what to write. And what of the question that so often arises in my writings – how does this apply to us today? Or, how should we apply it?

It will be interesting, very interesting, to see what theme develops as the week goes on. And I hold in my thinking the newest foreign policy that has been revealed in the United States’ relationship to that part of the world. Indeed, Shalom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” (II Thessalonians 3:6)

I wonder, beloved reader, if you reaction to this verse was the same as mine. How is Paul defining “idleness” and “not according to the tradition now.” Paul had/has very set ideas of how Christians should live, and his instructions could conceivably cover any and every aspect and facet of life. And I have to admit . . . . it sometimes takes a little bit of bravery to read what type instruction and guidance he is giving.

“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I did breath a sigh of relief when I read verses 7 to 9; Paul was not talking about faith issues but practical lifestyle issues – which do touch a bit on faith. But more on the character of a good authentic Christian. This example and model of Christianity and Christian evangelizing is one that many faith traditions have adapted. Missionaries are much more effective when they live side by side the people they are sent to, and can be seen working as hard as the potential converts. Non-missionary Christians too model faith much more effectively when work as hard as people who have not yet, but may someday espouse faith.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Do you remember beloved reader, when the early Christian church was quite young, believers would sell their possessions and pool their resources giving to those who had little or none? I have to wonder if this situation is the trickle down from that initiative. It is a strong tenet of faith that Christians in committed faith circles help one another. What is not often spoken of is that some take advantage of that; and that some believers think that there should be a limit to the help that is given. It is a tricky thing, beloved reader, to draw up guidelines that govern Christian help and stewardship.

Our modern society has mixed opinions on social welfare programs; in fact I have a great deal of reluctance to start naming the different programs and social services that are available for fear of touching off debate and divisiveness. And, it strays into the realm of politics. So I am going to end my remarks here. Paul was very brave wading into the arena of life. All I will say is that I hope and pray that all your needs are met, and that you are making your way in the world without overwhelming hardship. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Waiting on the Divine for good signs and good news

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:1 – 4)

I was Facebook-ing with an extended family relative just a little bit ago. We were comparing the Canadian government to the U.S. Gov’t. I have gotten a peek into Canadian politics and it reminds me of how much I miss living in Canada – politically it is like sinking into a calming cloud compared to the United States. (I digress slightly.) Anyway, I settle down to comment on this passage from Habakkuk, and I am reminded IMMEDIATELY of politics! And not Canadian! Forgive the outburst of political commentary – really, I don’t do it much! Moving on.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.” (Chapter 2, verse 1)

Do you prayer, beloved reader, about politics? Just sitting here thinking, and trying NOT to get political again. Paul tells us to prayer for government leaders; the reason is so that they maintain the peace and harmony, and allow professed Christians to lead accountable lives and worship as they choose. It is a wish and sentiment that each generation since the early church has had, and is most probably wished on every continent in the world.

To be far, the writer of the book of Habakkuk may not have politics in mind; it is very likely his “complaint” is personal or religious/theological in nature.

“Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” (Verses 2 – 4)

The swirl of our modern life seems to pull in all sorts of concerns, cares, and complaints. Religious, theological, social, political – all the isms and principles that make up the complex group we call humanity. We need reminders every so often that we are on this earth a relatively short time, and that the concerns of this world should not overshadow or take the place of spiritual concerns. And that the agenda that the world has to offer pales in comparison to the Divine’s agenda. And then . . . . . a newspaper article, or post on the internet, or a sound bite from our favorite social media grabs our attention – and we are off again chasing the latest “issue”.

I shared some time back that I consider myself a contemplative – meaning someone who is primarily devoted to prayer and meditation especially in an isolated setting – trying to live in the modern world. I have mixed success in that. But, it grounds me; and reminds me of what is really important. And, it makes the waiting easier! Shalom!!!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Bloom with diligent believe and authenticity where you are planted

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.( 2 Timothy 2:8 – 10)

So here I am again, trying to wend my way through an epistle passage while still recovering from my cold or whatever it is (or was by the time you read this, beloved reader). It is comforting to know that by the time you read this, I will be feeling much better. Remember though when I write it, I was struggling.

According to Paul, he was struggling too. And I concede to him that his was the greater battle, and for a more worthy cause! I am also reminded that spreading the Word of God, in his time, was a risky and revolutionary thing to do. The same could be said for our time, but in our modern world there are more safe havens to spread the Word of God in. For Paul it was all risk all the time. I think though Paul saw the potential for greater reward in this risk however.

“The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.” (Verses 11 – 13)

Did you note the seemingly non-matched parallels? If we give our all to Jesus and the Lord God the Divine, then we will receive all that the Divine has to give. But if we turn our backs on the Divine, the Divine will not receive us. But if we are faithless . . . . the Divine will be what? So I went to consult my favorite commentator, Albert Barnes and he put it very clearly (thank you Barnes!) “The meaning must be, that if we are unbelieving and unfaithful, Christ will remain true to his word, and we cannot hope to be saved. “

“Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (Verses 14 – 15)

I remind you, beloved reader, Paul was in chains when he wrote this to Timothy. And come to think of it, Jeremiah was probably also kept captive when he wrote to the captive Israelites. (Just a nice reminder of what some had to endure for the sake of faith.) Even when Paul was in chains, it did not stop or stifle him from reaching out through letters. Jeremiah reached out to the captives in Babylon and encouraged them, despite his own problems. The Israelites were reminded to rise above their sense of grief and loss to make a life for themselves. And we, beloved reader, are reminded to be the best Christian believers that we can be, despite whatever our circumstances are. That deserves repeating – despite what is going on around us, we are to reflect the care and compassion, the unwavering belief, truth and example that Jesus Christ was for us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How to live according to the good news

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.” (Luke 16:19 – 23)

We are not to assume, beloved reader, that the poor man Lazarus did anything wrong to have deserved this fate in life. Neither are we to assume that the rich man came by his riches dishonestly nor that he committed a grievous sin during his life time. Note too that his ignoring the plight of Lazarus was not a sin – a lack of compassion and care, but not a sin. Nevertheless the rich man ended up in Hades and the poor man went to heaven. I have to conclude it was faith and not works that determined their fate. We do not know of the faith life of this rich and poor man. There are clues however.

He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony”. (Verses 24 – 25)

Even Father Abraham does not have a list of offensives the rich man committed; nor does Lazarus have merits credited to him. But there must be some rationale to this (our modern thinking may tell us) for this switch of fates.

“Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ “ (Verses 26 – 28)

Aha! There is something! Something that the rich man’s kin must be warned of!

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ “ (Verses 29 – 30)

Aha again! They must repent! . . . . Of what?

The purpose, beloved reader, of this story or parable is that riches in this life does not mean that you have achieved a good and worthy life. And that being poor in this life does not mean you have done wrong, and will suffer consequences in the life to come. If a person puts their faith in the wealth and possessions of this life, they will discover that none of its benefits follow them into the life to come. And further, it is a lesson that each person must discern for themselves from the teachings that have been passed on to them.

Remember, beloved reader, all the prophesies and warnings from the prophets; exhortations to life kind accountable lives and to worship properly in proper places. To be concerned for others and their welfare. To share what you have and what you have been blessed with freely. To worship the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength. To follow the commandments faithfully. All of these things have been taught and repeated by successive generations. But the kicker is what else Father Abraham (who you must remember was voiced by Jesus) said . . .

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Verse 31)

I don’t know what I could say or add to this that would leave a greater impact. Selah!

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!