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!

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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!

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Looking forward to the “new” thing

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.“ (Isaiah 43:16 – 18)

In a recent shipment from a large brand-name department store I received a gift card for a food delivery service. It is one of those services that delivers the recipe and all the ingredients needed to make a meal. I have avoided them because it is much more economical to shop for the ingredients myself and our family’s tastes are diverse enough that one meal/menu would not satisfy all. But I thought there was no harm in checking out the site and finding out just how much the gift card would take off the total price – it was not enough. But because I was required to give some contact information in order to get to the point where I could see the price, I am now getting emails “encouraging” me to continue my order. At this point the gift card is not NEAR enough for the hassle I am going to have. This is NOT a good “new” thing!

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Verse 19)

We so often think the “new” thing is going to be better. That is not always the case. Sometimes the “new” is just the “old” wrapped up in disguise. You may wonder beloved reader, as I sometimes do, how one can know when the new thing is a good thing. In our modern world sometimes you cannot. I honestly thought (okay, maybe hoped) this gift card would be a way to make my life easier. No luck there!

I am forced to conclude, once again, that the most trustworthy source for “new” is the Divine. It is ironic however that the “new” thing is first talked about in the Old Testament. And only takes on the identity of “new” when it is seen in the light of Jesus Christ. One can debate (but I will not) that the writer of Isaiah might not have intended the “new” to be Jesus Christ but a new understanding of the Divine in Old Testament times.

“The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Consider the names. Old and New Testament. We call it the “Old” Testament because it is based on understandings and stories that we told and recalled before Jesus the Christ was sent. The “New” Testament is the four gospels and the letters that came out of people coming to a “new” understanding of the Divine as presented by Jesus Christ. We use and refer back to the Old Testament but we use the understandings of the New Testament to re-interpret what the Old Testament was saying. And it is that crux point that sometimes agitates my sensibilities. How can we remain faithful to the Old Testament if we infuse it with understandings brought to bear by the New Testament without know if the writers of the Old Testament were cognizant of what the New Testament was going to say?! (Okay, stepping down from the soap box.)

What I prefer is to have the Spirit discern and reveal “new” understandings and yet remain true to the intentions of the Old Testament writers. Maybe that is not possible. If as Isaiah says, we allow the “old” to remain in the past, then it is only the “new” as found in the New Testament that should be a determinant for our lives . (Feeling myself climb aboard the soap box again!)

The Holy Spirit that comes from the Divine is active in the world. And that Holy Spirit continually reveals new things. Do you perceive it beloved reader? What was the norm one hundred years ago is no longer so. What was the norm ten years ago is also past history. Each day we are presented with a new day, and a new opportunity to live accountable lives. Each day is our fresh chance to do better than before. And each season of the church year is a chance to learn new spiritual disciplines. Take advantage of the season of Lent – an old concept that can be made new . . . . if you allow the Spirit to guide you! Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Pleas during Lent

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.” (Philippians 3:17 – 18)

Paul is very sincere in this – shedding tears because some “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Part of the reason is that he becomes profoundly disturbed in thinking that some may be lost to death and destruction because they are outside of the will of our Lord God Jesus Christ. Part of the reason is that Paul remembers when he was “Saul” and lived apart of the Lord God. And part of the reason, I think, is that Paul becomes perturbed that any one would live contrary to the rules of the Lord God Jesus Christ. And finally, I think part of the reason is that they are such a bad example to new and vulnerable Christians.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Verse 19)

As fervent as Paul was in persecuting new Christian believers, he is as fervent or more so in protecting them, and nurturing them. And encouraging them to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ and the new life that is to come for them.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Paul’s plea is also the plea of Lent. To resist temptation and stand firm in one’s beliefs no matter what you may see others do and hear of them doing.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Chapter 4, verse 1)

Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistles Passage – Being inspired and gifted by the Divine Lord God

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:1 – 3)

Words can have power – when spoken from the heart. It is easy to speak any number of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs etc when you are not speaking with meaning or intent but are merely “flapping your gums”! The writer of I Corinthians wants his readers to understand that. I hope you do too, beloved reader. Think of all the people you know, beloved reader, who speak only to hear the sound of their own voice. Do you sincerely believe that they say? On the important matters of life then, only listen to those who speak sincerely and from their heart and soul.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (Verses 4 – 11 [Emphasis mine])

I really need not say more. Just as in the first section the writer of I Corinthians cautioned his readers to discern who was able to say what in praise or curse of Jesus the Christ, so too the gifts of the Spirit are for everyone’s good; and not for the adoration and adulation of the spiritual “performer”. Those who are authentic in the Spirit use their gifts for the uplifting and aid of others. Those who do it for the “wow” factor may not be sincere in the practice.

In the youth group I was a part of we had several natural leaders, those of our age group that we looked up to and wished to emulate. Their commit to their faith and to those they lead was inspiring. The most inspirational though was when two of them made a mistake and confessed their mistake publicly to our group. Their honesty and transparency actually set a better example then the “saintliness” that they tried to portray to the younger members of the group. I wish I could tell them how their courage in the face of “sin” meant to me. I believe that even in their supposedly “sinful state” they had a great lesson to teach.

May you beloved reader have people within your faith circle that show forth the best gifts and attributes of authentic believers, and may they teach you a great deal. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Epistle Passage – A Corporate Christian Identity

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3 – 6)

Paul did not usually write to individuals – well, he wrote to Timothy. But that letter was much more of a “behind the scenes” Paul writing to a fellow minister and contemporary as opposed to writing to a circle of believers. So the “you” in this passage is the plural “you” – which is denoted by the “all of you” comment, as well as the “among you” comment. Now, in some letters Paul will take an individual to task, but still the letter is to a group and not an individual. Paul will also sent greetings to an individual but asks the group as a whole to pass on his greeting.

“It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Verses 7 – 11)

Paul also brags about some faith circles that have shown care and compassion – as a group – to other faith circles. In fact Paul at one point motivates one faith circle by bragging about another, exhorting each gathering of believers to emulate the other. Paul did not set out to convert individuals one by one, but sought to set up churches that would support and encourage each other. Then he sent group letters to those churches, continuing to give guidance and discipline to the corporate group. In reality, when Paul talks about living an authentic Christian life, he is talking about living it out in a group context. Remember too that the early churches supported each other, each member contributing to the group as a whole so no one had want or need. The early church did not have any individual (that is, single person) consciousness. The early Christian churches were very much interdependent. And if that reminds you of the Jewish faith, there might be good reason!

I promise you however, beloved reader, we will look at individual faith. But again here, we seem to be looking at scripture with an eye towards a group mentality. Revel in the fellowship of others, and support each other in the journey through this world. Selah!