Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How to regain an ordinary life

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”– for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” (Luke 8:26 – 29)

Imagine, if you will, Jesus coming to a hospital for the unstable/mentally unwell back in the day when patients were strapped down to beds and kept in locked rooms. Where no care was done and being “institutionalized” meant being warehoused with as little concern as is given boxes of merchandise that is not needed and has not been needed for several decades. Suddenly roaming free sounds like a slightly better alternative to that. Our understanding of mental illness and the way those who are survivors of mental illness has changed drastically. That does not mean they do not suffer; it means steps are taken to mitigate the suffering as much as possible. The one stark difference from this account and what the horrors were of decades ago is that we no longer believe such people are possessed by demons. But sadly we hold those who have mental illness accountable and responsible for their condition. Again, being thought to be possessed may be a kinder thing.

Jesus has compassion for the man, and wanted to release him from this bondage – both psychologically and culturally made. And maybe Jesus actions show that he has an understanding of the “possessed” man that the onlookers did not have.

“Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” (Verses 30 – 33)

As a student of psychology, I do not quite understand or buy into what happened to the demons. I have been told by those who would know that people can, still, be possessed by demons. So maybe this man did not have paranoia or schizophrenia or any of the other possible psychological conditions. I also don’t know where the advantage was for the demons to possess a bunch of pigs. The results, however, caused quite an uproar. And maybe in some round about way that was the Divine purpose.

“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Back in the day of insane asylums being “cured” was very unlikely. If the condition itself did not preclude a cure, the conditions they lived under would pretty much assure that a normal life was not possible. And maybe that is the point of the drowned swine. SOME sort of explanation needed to be given as to why the man was “in his right mind.” That the demons were vanquished and so visibly destroyed gave credence to the cure. And the man may well have been accepted back in to society more easily than if his “cure” would have been quiet and without drama.

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Verses 37 – 39)

It was not an unkindness that Jesus did not let the cured man come along with him. First, we know where Jesus’ ministry would eventually take him. This man had already had a hard road; he did not need to venture down another one. Second, by recounting the story with the drowned pigs gave the cured man’s story a tangible conclusion – that of course he no longer had demons. They were drowned! Third, since Jesus was not welcomed to preach and heal there, the cured man and his dramatic story would have promoted fervor and interest, and those who were NOT afraid of such power would seek him out, or at least seek out new about Jesus.

I had asked before, beloved reader – how to you plan to live out Ordinary Time? How do you plan to live out your ordinary life? And if beloved reader your life is not ordinary, I hope and pray that the Divine is with you in a powerful way; and that you share that story! Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Kudos to Jesus for teaching hard lessons concerning the Christian life

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Luke 6:17 – 19)

Everyone loves a good performance and performer. And Jesus delivered. But . . . . . Jesus was more than a miracle. More than a “flash in the pan” of power. He came just to do miracles, but to change people and the life they lived.

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Additionally, Jesus was more than “good news”, more than kudos for enduring tough times. Jesus was out to turn upside expectations and assumptions.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Verses 24 – 26)

I am not sure if all of this was directed to his disciples or to those who were gathered – those who had benefited from the power and healing. Living a Christian life is more than an “easy ride” through this world. I have learned that many times over, and learned it at a very young age.

That is not to say there is no blessing and comfort in living a correct authentic Christian life. But those blessings and comforts are not necessarily what the “earthly” world would call benefits.

At this writing I have completed the last of my radiation treatments. Now I turn my thoughts and attentions to healing and regaining what was lost to me because of the treatments. But, beloved reader, I have gained more during this time than I have lost. Once again I learned my strength and endurance does not come through human flesh and sinew. My strength and endurance comes from the Lord. And whatever my future health may hold, because of the Lord God strengthening me and guiding me, I am blessed beyond measure! Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Saying thank you to the Lord God

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.” (Psalm 138:1 – 2)

On the day you read this, beloved reader, I will have completed all of my radiation therapy, and will be focusing on healing and waiting to find out if the radiation therapy worked. Through this time I have depended on the Lord for a great deal, and I give thanks to the Divine for seeing me throughout. Much of my strength has come from writing these commentaries, wrestling with the themes and messages, and yes, wrestling with praising the Lord God when I have been under great strain, stress, and illness.

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” (Verses 3 – 6)

It occurred to me some time back (maybe I have said this before) that I did not use imaging that many cancer patients do, imaging and imaging that the treatment is targeting the cancer cells and destroying them. But what I did do was focusing on doing self care – using creams that would heal my skin and prescriptions that would heal my mouth. I was gentle with myself, as gentle as I imaged and imagined the Lord God would be with me. And I prayed – oh how I prayed! And the Divine heard me! At each step one I did not feel I could go on, the Lord provided encouragement through the people around me, through encounters with music and scripture, and through medications that eased my pain and helped to heal my body. I will be forever grateful that the Lord blessed me in these ways.

After treatment is completed will come a time of waiting to see if the treatment was successful. And during that time I will continue praying and placing my faith in the Lord God the Divine.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.” (Verse 7)

On of the ironies of this disease, this cancer, is that it is my own body that has grown these cancerous cells that have endangered my life. They must be killed off, at the risk of also killing off healthy cells which has caused radiation burns both on my outer skin and in my mouth. Such a paradox to kill off part of myself in order to save myself. And yet isn’t that what we do when we embark on the Christian life? Kill off our misguided and sinful human impulses to save our life?

“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Verse 8)

We, humanity, were made in the image of the Lord God. But we are flawed and imperfect. That flaw and imperfection must be taken out, irradiated if you will, so that I better selves under the Divine can grow and flourish. The teaching and guidance of the Lord have been spoken of as a refinery’s fire. Radiation, then, is not such an unusual metaphor.

Whether or not this treatment works, I do know that through the course of this past month and a half I have learned a great deal about myself; and I have come to see even more clearly that the Lord has not ever forsaken me. Praise the Lord! Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Being dependent on the Divine

If you were surprised by my “appearing” yesterday, do not be. You did not miss a day, and I did not slip a cog (although I was dealing with some mighty pain issues). This Saturday is the Day of the Presentation of the Lord, and I wanted to write a commentary on those passages, so I decided to add an extra day on Thursday and shuffle things around. So here it is Friday, and I am settling down to “praise” the Lord!

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.” (Psalm 74:1)

One of the prayers and pleas that I raised up to the Lord early in my seminary training was that I would not be “put to shame” in my classes. It was for me a bold step to say that I wanted to go to seminary and train for ministry. I honestly did not know if I had the intellect to be successful at a graduate level, and was not sure which direction I should go. Hence my prayer.

“In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.” (Verse 2)

Since that time I have received affirmation from many places, and have not once been “put to shame.” The Lord has been faithful in the promises that were given to me. And when I had dark times, as any and many people do, I was rescued. Once again during the “season” of my treatment of cancer (it is still hard for me to believe this is happening) I am reaching out and depending on the Lord to see me through this.

“Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (Verse 3)

It only recently occurred to me that during treatment I could use an established meditation technique to envision/image the radiation treatment shrinking the tumor. So dependent on the Divine, I did not think of using anything other than gathering up and applying the faith I have in the Lord to this situation. With the psalmist I also said . . . . .

“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The importance of the body and caring for the body

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Corinthians 12:12 – 17)

I am truly trying to work with this passage. This has been a very tough day (the day I sat down to write this), and my fear is that it is just the beginning of some very tough days – by current count (that is, again, as of the day I am writing this) at least 22 more. I am not sure if I have said, precisely, what my most current health issue is. I have skin cancer in the form of a tumor, and am currently undergoing radiation therapy. When you read this, there will be 15 more days until the end of my treatment. I have treatment each week day, so other than Saturdays each day I write, I have had a treatment. I started treatment the later part of December but it was not until the New Year that the side effects started to catch up to me. The last two weeks have been heck!

When I read the passage for this date, I quaked a bit as to how I was going to talk about the metaphor of the body. I mean my body and its members have been failing me left and right! How was I going to say something helpful and inspiring?! But I dug deep. And realized that in this instance it is not my entire body that has failed me – in fact it is a foreign and unnatural growth that has caused this problem. It took healthy tissue and corrupted it, and now the corruption has to be eradicated. And my entire body and all its members – my entire physiology – is suffering.

To dig deeper, if my entire body consisted only of my, say, right face cheek then I would be in deep trouble. But my right face cheek is only a portion of my body, and only a portion of the member of my body that is my face. Paul is talking about all of the parts of the body working together in unity. And it is actually the unity of the members of my body that have helped me cope thus far.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,. . . “ (Verses 17 – 22)

While the tumor needs to be eradicated, that does not mean that part of my face is going to disappear; only the comparatively small portion that is diseased will be made to leave. Or more precisely, shrink and melt away. The hope is that the major portion will stay, and in time heal from the radiation. I could not, and do not hate that portion of my cheek. In fact, I am doing all I can to protect it and nurture it so that the damage is at a minimum, and that in time healing will take place.

. . . and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. “ (Verses 23 – 25)

Radiation therapy may be directed at only one small portion of the body, but the effects are felt throughout the body. I learned this in only a matter of hours. I went from feeling quite well after treatment to feeling very weak and ill. I have learned how important self-care is – even more so than I ever realized.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.” (Verses 26 – 31a)

It is starting with verse 26, however, where my experience and use of the metaphor of the body parts ways with Paul’s. Not to say either of us is right or wrong. But Paul’s purpose is to use the body and its members as a metaphor for the church and all the roles that members of the church provide to each other. My purpose is to help you see, beloved reader, that care for the body is a holy act. That just because one part of the body may not be doing well does not mean the entire body becomes useless. Paul touches on this in verses 22 to 26. He moves on to talk about the church as the body and the members, well, members. Each with their own calling and role. Perhaps my purpose is also to exhort you to be gentle and caring for members of you faith circle who are struggling. To do good “self-care” in your faith circle as you would for your own body.

It has always, always been my hope that whatever experience I go through in my life might be used in helping others. It is the way I hope and pray that as a member of the body of Christ I might be supportive of the wider church and faith community. Selah!

Season After Pentecost Thanksgiving Day 2018: The Old Testament, Gospel & Psalm Passages – Raising up thanksgiving to the Divine

Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!” (Joel 2:21)

I am very late in writing this commentary posting. And writing it very late at night/early morning. My second round of pies are in the oven and I am waiting for them to be done. So while I wait, I thought I would sit down and collect my thoughts. They are very scattered. I might mention, as I hinted above, I writing in “real time” which means whenever I get this written, it will be posted. No neat and tidy timing of 30 minutes past a certain hour. I might also add, I am exhausted.

As I thought about writing this, one thought came back to my mind over and over – all the things I have to be thankful for. And the things I am not thankful for. Actually, the two are quite similar.

“Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. “ (Verses 22 – 24)

Last year around this time I had gotten word I had been hired for a job. It was a long nine months of job searching. While I did not start until after Thanksgiving, the days was breathed in relief that soon I would start working ago and be able to afford to buy the necessities of life. This year I was not dependent on the benevolence of anyone (except the Divine) for buying the essentials of the Thanksgiving meal, and a few extras!

“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.” (Verse 25)

But it also means I am working again, and wearing myself out. Last year the Thanksgiving preparations were made with plenty of time and I got to bed early. This year I am up late and was already worn out by the time I started. I guess you have to “suffer” for some blessings!

“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”

But I really cannot complain much, or more precisely should not. I really do like my job and the people I work with. In the midst of the struggle of daily work and long work weeks, it is good to have a job!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” ( Matthew 6:25 – 27)

The other good/bad element of my life is my health. Yes, I was healthy enough to make the delicious pies for Thanksgiving. And will be healthy enough to join my family around the table. But my health has also become a worry. I had let a few hints drop in the past weeks that my health has had another set back but I have not been forthright about what is going on. Now that plans are set in motion, I am ready to say more. Beloved reader, I have a rare form of skin cancer.

I had written a week of posts well in advance so I would have the time to travel to learn the treatment options. It turns out the best treatment option is here in the city I live in. I will be starting radiation treatment in the next few weeks. I have learned quite a bit about the process and therapy, but still there are some unknowns. Chief among them (at least for me) is whether the radiation treatment will work. In a very short time my list of worries shifted dramatically. And while I am thankful that my health has been relatively stable up to this point, I am becoming aware of a whole other level of worry about my health. And as is so often the case, other worries same to find when placed side by side with this new development.

“And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Verses 28 -33)

I am not ruling out that this may just be a brief chapter in my health history. I am very ready to believe that the therapy will completely cure me and that there will be no recurrence or lasting ill effects. My faith is not shaken, nor do I doubt the goodness of the Divine.

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
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.”
The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

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.” (Psalm 126)

I have always believed that what comes my way prepares me for what tasks, purpose, and mission the Divine has for me. Great blessings may come from this time. And I am prepared to see the good, embrace the struggles, and keep my faith firm. While I come to this Thanksgiving season of 2018 with a whole different set of circumstances than last year, I still give thanks for what I have received, and I give thanks the endurance and strength to see my way through the challenges before me.

May this Thanksgiving season find you, beloved reader, in the most favorable of circumstances. And if not, may the Divine be with you day by day as your journey through what is before you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 29[34]) – The Old Testament Passage: King David reflects

I had an interesting conversation with my daughter the evening I sat down to write this; I am actually writing it several weeks ahead. This week is the week of Thanksgiving and we were talking about how we were going to handle Thanksgiving this year in light of the possibility that I would not be “up to” making much. You see, last week I had two surgeries – on Nov 13th & 15th. And I had not idea how much recovery time I would need, and if I was capable of “pulling off” a Thanksgiving meal. In the same vein I thought, during the week of surgery how capable am I going to be in writing my commentaries? Just as I am planning ahead for Thanksgiving, so should I plan ahead in writing. So, with that in mind I looked at the Old Testament passage, since that is a by tradition the passage I start with each week.

“Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:
The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”(2 Samuel 23:1 – 4)

We are told by the writer of II Samuel that these are the final thoughts of David as he looks back over his reign. Not so much the end of his reign when sadness and tragedy had marked his life but more as a summary of what he hoped to and did accomplish. These are not so much words from King David as a personal reflection but rather inspired what David has seen happen as a result of his efforts under/with God’s support. It is, in short, a shiny reflection on the good stuff.

“Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” (Verse 5)

Above, beloved reader, you read that correctly. Some time back (and even further back from you are reading this) I talked about my new diagnosis. It is because of that I am having two surgeries just one day apart. And I am admittedly (at this writing) quite concerned. Of course, by the time you read this I will have already had the surgery and will be (very hopefully) recovering. So . . . . well . . . . I would like to claim David’s words for my self. The assurance and confidence that David, I would like that. The security and knowledge that God will keep me and under take for me – I would like that. The final two verses, however, I will leave to King David.

“But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.” (Verses 6 – 7)

In David’s time those who did not follow Yahweh were outside of any grace and blessing. Consequently what happened to them, they deserved. Interestingly, the same perspective was held for those who did at one time follow Yahweh but apparently “fell” away. I am reminded of the kings that came after David, and the endless periods of slavery and captivity that the Israelites and Judahites suffered. It is good, in a sense, that King David did not know what befell his line between his death and the coming of the Messiah.

May you, beloved reader, now the same sort of contentment and prosperity that David had for most of his life. Selah!