Season After Pentecost (Proper 16[21]) – The Psalm Passage: Praising what the Lord has “built”

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:1 – 3)

This is sort of an unusual image, beloved reader, that birds would find a home at altars. Unusual because the altars of the Old Testament are normally places where an offering is burnt to sacrifice it. I cannot imagine birds building nests, and safe nests at that, near a burning altar. Some altars were for burning a sacrifice, and some altars were for burning incense on. Still, not a safe place to linger at. I also read that in the Old Testament altars are not to be near trees, a safety precaution I guess. But that also makes it unlikely that a bird would nest near an altar.

The altar of the Lord must be different than conventional altars. And so it is – the true altar of the Lord is in heaven. And there nothing is burnt or sacrificed. It is not a place of destruction but a place of restoration. Read on to see what else the psalmist has to say.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Here we also see that the altar of the Lord must be in the House of the Lord – not a house built by human hands but a heavenly home where there is peace and tranquility. It is the home of the Divine – no human eye has seen it that can say what it is like. Many metaphors have been used to describe; but we can only understand it dimly and from a great distance.

“O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The question arises – who or what is this shield? Turns out it is not a shield of human device but a shield that the Divine has put in place to protect us. The request of the psalmist is for the Lord to look upon him and the people he represents with kindness and favor. And the best place to receive that blessing is within the house of the Lord God.

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” (Verses 10 – 12)

It does sound like a most wonderful place, the house of the Lord. One can see and understand why it would be the preferred place to be. And all that we need will be available to us. Does the psalmist mean that outside of this place there will be struggle and hardship? The commentators I read write from a perspective that holds and uses the New Testament as a filter to understand the Old Testament. Therefore what struggle we might have in this world is a “good thing” and prepares us, or teaches us something. But I really believe that the psalmist meant that it is the heavenly house of the Lord that the light and protection of the Lord, and that favor and honor for a good life will bestowed in heaven.

The reason, though, that the New Testament as a filter and lens works is not because “suffering”and “struggle” is good for us, because when Jesus came to earth he brought the shalom of heaven to earth. And the Holy Spirit continues to be a conduit from heaven to earth.

Let us re-think then praising the Lord for what awaits us in heaven; and thank the Lord for what was brought from heaven to earth. The shalom that is felt on the earth is not from earth, generated by earth or humanity, nor is dependent on earth or humanity. The “heaven on earth” that we know is because of the Holy Spirit’s presence on earth and mediated through humanity. The altar of sacrifice has been satisfied once and for all. Now the altars on earth, as are the altars in heaven, are for worshiping the Lord and gathering around for worship. And, beloved reader, that is worthy of praise and thanksgiving!

Out of the love that is the Lord came heaven, and from heaven came Jesus. Jesus brought the peace that is heaven, and the Holy Spirit pins it to heart of humanity where and when humanity accepts it. That’s pretty praiseworthy too actually!

May you, beloved reader, find “heaven on earth” where it has been established. And may you allow the Spirit to establish “heaven on earth” in your heart and in your life! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 14[19]) – The Gospel Passage: When Christology is deep

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:35, 41 – 42)

The Jews, who ever they were in this story, thought they knew Jesus. Thought they knew his origins, his family, his birthright, his life history. How could he be anything else than who they thought he was? Furthermore, they might have thought, how dare he think more of himself than he is.

“Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ “ (Verses 43 – 45a)

The paradox is, unless a person believes there is no way for them to be taught and believe. One has to believe in “the Father” and believe that God sent Jesus in order to be taught by Jesus and fulfill the prophecy of “the prophets.” But do not ascribe this paradox to a Divine who wishes to remain obscure. The gospel of John is dense & deep, and filled with wherefores and whereas. The message of Jesus Christ and his teachings do not necessarily need to be shrouded in mystery. But the mystery is there, for those who go looking for it.

Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (Verses 45b – 46)

I am reminded at this in point in my reflections of the other Old Testament passage for this week that I chose not to use. Let me set the scene. Elijah is fleeing from Ahab and Jezebel because he had killed “all the prophets” with a sword; a good companion piece connect to NOT dealing gently with those who oppose you. Elijah has left his traveling companions and . . .

he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you. He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. ” (I Kings 19:4 – 8)

The similarities I see are these. Food has been offered that will sustain beyond normal expectations. It is given by the Divine – surely it must have been because there was no one else there to provide it. However, the difference is that Elijah does see the Divine, or something very close to Divinity. Was it an angel, a messenger of God? Did this angel perform a miracle itself by making the food appear? Did the angel physically carry it? Doubtful. Was it the Godself? Or might it have been the aspect of God that became the Son who was sent? But then what did Elijah see? The interweavings are confusing. And finally, we know that Elijah was taken up into heaven as opposed to dying to the physical life. Now, read on.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Verses 47 – 51)

I am not trying to set forth new commentary or break ground on new theology. I am simply saying that the question of who Christ was (and is) and Christ’s place in the believe in a Triune God is deep and complex. We can know Jesus as (simply) the son of God sent by the Divine for our benefit. We can also go deeper and look for connections across the scriptures, and allow ourselves to be drawn into the mystery. This search, however beloved reader, must be tested by and with the Holy Spirit. And again we meet with a paradox, because we must authentically believe first in the Holy Spirit in order to learn more.

May you, beloved reader, be drawn in by the Lord God in order to meet Jesus Christ in order to learn increasingly more. Selah!

Day of Pentecost – The Substituted Acts Passage: The Lord’s Spirit Comes to the Disciples, and to Us

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts2:1-4)

Many, many years ago when I was just a “young sprout” talking in tongues as a religious experience was a much sought after thing. To that end, our youth group would gather together for bible study and worship circles. Many of us were moved by the experience of such spirituality, and many were moved to try to find such spirituality. I went to many of the worship times our youth group had, and once went to a worship service where such mystical experiences were a common thing. I remember a phrase (or at least have memory of the experience) that came to my tongue, “amora Christo” or something like that. For the purposes of this commentary/blog posting I looked it up. I don’t think I had before. It is a slight derivation of the Spanish phrase “the love of Christ” which in English theology could mean the love Christ has for us or the love we have for Christ. At the time I did not think much of the theology of that phrase, only that FINALLY I had spoken in tongues. As you can imagine, that experience peaked and then faded. What I discovered is that it is the longevity of living out a Christian life that matters and not the peak/mountain experiences.

The coming of the Holy Spirit was a mountain top experience for the disciples that quickly trickled down to a pragmatic moment, and my favorite disciple, Peter, stepped in and took the opportunity.

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Verses 5 – 13)

I want to interject briefly here two things. First, as a YOUTH group , no alcohol would have been involved in our gatherings. Secondly, there was definitely an aura of mysticism during our gatherings that fed upon itself and probably was part of the feeling of it being an “exotic” type of worship. I have my doubts now about whether it was a true coming of the Holy Spirit or just feeling the desire to be closer to the Lord and fellow believers. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is commendable that we as young people strived in the direction as opposed to other options our more “secular” peers might have been making. But still, we were young and easily swayed by worship mood music and candlelight.

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “ (Verses 14 – 21)

In the days and weeks following my gift of tongues phrase, I would repeat it while I studied my bible. I knew it had something to do with Jesus Christ and devotion to the Divine. What I did not realized at the time was how much the “amora de Christo” would impact my life and the choices I made. I suppose the disciples did not realize that either when they first started following Jesus. Selah!


ixth Sunday After Easter – The Substituted Acts Passage: the Spirit blows in

Peter ends up in the most inexplicable of places! The home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. There is a long history of prophets, apostles, and disciples being called to unusual places. Each of them has pledge, however, where God calls and leads they will follow. That is one of the reasons they (and us, beloved reader) are called “followers of God.” Not just because they use Jesus Christ as an example for living, but because they go where God’s path takes them. It took explaining to Peter in episodes of visions for him to understand what the Lord God was trying to tell him. And then seeing the evidence as a result of his preaching.

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.” (Acts 10:44-48)

While not in the same way that Peter was called, I remember when my husband got a job here on the west coast. I had to wonder if our moving was following God, or just following a job. I prayed about it, many times. And packed up the family and moved in faith. It seemed that the move opened up something inside of me. Nothing turned out the way I thought it would; all the plans I had never materialized. The Divine had different plans in mind, and I can understand now why my plans never took hold. There were things I did not realize, realities that I could not foresee. But now I see everything that happened was for the best.

I am still at the point, however, where I do not know how the future will unfold. I am a lot more comfortable with that then I was before. I digress though. We are with Peter and the new converts, marveling that the Divine entered this home and that Holy Spirit was bestowed upon them. Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus, the Spirit blows where it wills and no one can predict it.

May the Spirit of the Lord God gently blow into your lives, beloved reader, and change it for the better. And may you be ready for that change! Selah!

Transfiguration Sunday: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seeker probe the veil of spirituality

Preacher: “The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.”
Seeker: Speak O Lord, your servants are listening.
Preacher: “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.”

Seeker: Your Perfection, O Lord God, blinds our eyes and we cannot see clearly. It is like a veil has dropped over our eyes and we can only see and understand dimly. We need your intervention, O Lord God, so brush back the veil of our human limitations so that we might see and understand. Or, might we ask Lord God, that you come to us veiled so that we might commune with you using our own human senses. We seek to understand you and see you, but our weaknesses get in the way.
Preacher: “Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”

Seeker: The fire and tempest is all around us, and we are afraid. Be with us, Lord God, and shield us with your mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Help us withstand your coming, O Lord.
Preacher: “He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”

Seeker: I have made a covenant with you Lord God. Your sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was holy and pure has been the sacrifice by which my failings have been absolved and redeemed. I have tried to be faithful in my words, actions, and thoughts. May the Lord God Jesus Christ be with my as I stand in your judgment.
Preacher: “The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah” (Psalm 50:1-6)

Preacher and Seeker: We are judged and will by judge by God. Our fate is in the Lord’s hands. May the veil that kept us from seeing our sins be striped away. May we see our sins clearly and confess them. May the veil of forgiveness be draped around and over us so that we may be redeemed. And may the veil of spiritual understanding be wrapped around us so that we may walk more closely with the Lord God and our Redeemer Jesus Christ! Amen!


Trinity Sunday: The Psalm Passage – Knowing & Naming the Divine

Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Seeker: Who is this Sovereign Lord? What shall we call this Divine Majesty? By what name shall we know and worship this Deity?
Preacher: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

Seeker: The young and innocent know the Lord’s name, but we who have maturity and wisdom falter when trying to discern the mystery of the Divine.
Preacher: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
Seeker:
Yes, does this nameless Lord care about humanity? Is there no aspect of this Deity that has regard for we who dwell in this broken world?
Preacher: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Seeker:
The Lord God knows us, then, and sees us. We are held tenderly in the Divine’s regard. But what shall we call this Majesty who undertakes for us? How shall we know this Lord in our daily lives?
Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

Yes, you are right beloved reader, if you think that Seeker’s question was not answered. And that Preacher did not give a description of the Lord God, and the full scope of the name of the Lord. How can one describe the full and complete nature of the Divine? The truth is . . . . even giving the Divine three names does not describe all there is. How can you sum up everything from creation until this present day? What words or group of words can describe the Divine movement that is behind it all? Or, even sufficiently prove that there is a Divine movement – if we are being painfully honest?

We (meaning those who believe as I do) say that the Lord is a Triune God because we believe in the three large movements of the Lord God; Creator, Redeemer, and Presence with us. Under those three very broad categories lies, literally, a whole world of meaning.

May you, beloved reader, be blessed by the Triune God and come to know the Divine in fullness. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Gospel Passage Being sent by the Three-in-One

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16 – 17)

There are two things in these two verses I have to wonder about. First, what does the writer of Matthew mean by “worship”? In our modern context when we worship God or the Lord or Jesus or the Divine, it usually without them present – except for the Presence of the Spirit and the both imminent and transcendent. What clues I can gather from commentators and the Greek-English interlinear is that they fell down at his feet. The second thing I have to wonder is what did they doubt? Again the bible commentators suggest it was like the apostle Thomas felt, to stunned to know what to think.

But the writer of the gospel of Matthew does not ponder on those things as I do. He continues on to get to his point.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Verses 18 – 20)

Sometimes these verses are referred to as the Great Commission. And trust me, beloved reader, they have been pondered and considered by many generations many times. Doing mission work and evangelizing has taken up a great many lives of believers, and a great deal of money, time and energy has gone into it. But the RCL I suspect uses these verses for this Sunday because of the sending of the disciples in done in the “name of the Father [Parent] and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is a mission on behalf of the Triune God. And the further implication is that the disciples/apostles will teach the theology of a Triune God.

I sometimes feel a little awkward and shy about strongly putting forth the theology of a Triune God. Not because I have problems believing it myself – no, I believe in it very strongly. I hesitate because I am not sure if it is a strong belief for those I am talking to. It seems so obvious and basic to me . . . . but I am not sure how it is for other people.

Since Trinity Sunday only comes once a church year, and other times of the year the concept and theology of a Triune God is not as heavily presented, this awkwardness and hesitancy is not often an issue in writing this blog. The Divine is . . . . . what the Divine is. And what we know in part now, we will know in the fullness to come. Until then, I will state my belief clearly but gently. Shalom!