The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Understanding the power of the Kingdom of Heaven & the Divine; how it moves one forward

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31 – 32)

I very much enjoy metaphors, similes, and analogies – especially analogies. And to me, that is what parables are, analogies that help us understand a concept or issue etc. And with understanding we can use that concept or work through an issue. Coming out the better for it.

The Kingdom of Heaven may seem to start out small; maybe the way Jesus started out “small” as a baby. But with time and nurture from the Divine, Jesus grew to encompass the whole world and to embrace all of humanity and creation.

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Verse 33)

Again, something small and seemingly insignificant has the power and ability to make a large change, a change that results in a “new” thing. When I was younger, I tried using yeast to bake things. I did not have the cooking skill to make bread or rolls. But I can take seemingly diverse ingredients and make a wonderful food item – anything from baked goods to rich savory stews. My finest creation is my cheesecakes that transport the eater to a “happy place”. Not the Kingdom of Heaven, but a very tasty experience nonetheless.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.” (Verses 44 – 48)

A treasure worthy of any sacrifice, and that must acquired at any cost. That, beloved reader, underlies the need to change our lives in order to conform ourselves to the example that Jesus set, and to sacrifice our own human will in order to follow the Divine’s will. Because, if we do not, we may just find ourselves outside of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” (Verses 49 – 51)

Do you understand this, beloved reader? Do you understand what these parables have to teach you and I? We like to think that no one is really outside of the Divine’s redemption and mercy. That last minute decision for the Lord God versus life long commitment makes us “as clean and white as snow” (to use a really unhelpful and archaic analogy). What it means it that our sins are wiped away, gone and forgotten. The reality might be, however, that there is a time limit on our decision. The clock is winding down, but we have no idea when the final second may come.

“And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

I look back on the years that I have been writing comments and commentaries, stretching back to the years when I was just starting seminary. I think about all that I have written, and I do consider it treasure – both old and new. I do not keep the “treasure” locked up, but have always been moved to share it. Not, however, that it has always been grabbed up by others or clamored for by millions. It is offered humbly and sincerely. Through the offering of it, I have been moved forward in my faith and spiritual life. I would like to think, or at least hope, it has moved others forward as well. Shalom & Selah!

The Weeks & Sundays After Pentecost, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – The Divine reaping the harvest from the “ground”

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.
And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” (Matthew 13:24 – 30, 36)

Beloved reader, how tender and fragile we are in the world. We grow in the midst of priorities and agendas that seek to stifle our faith and make us wither in the ground. Isn’t that what this parable is saying, that evil is against us and all around us? That if we can but grow and thrive in the world, that our reward will come when this age ends?

“He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Verses 37 – 43)

Aren’t we save in assuming we know whom amongst us are the children of the evil one? And that once all of the evil ones are “plucked out” from amongst us, we will be taken “home” to abide with the Divine?

But you are not naïve, beloved reader. You understand that our role as good wheat from good seed is only known at the harvesting. Until them we can, may, and will assume that we are from good stock. But only the Divine knows for sure. And how can we, who have only the mentality of wheat know what a “weed” might look like, or if our roots have been composed by the “weeds” next to us. Ah, beloved reader, we cannot know for sure.

It occurs to me that this parable underlays Jesus’ assertion that his yoke is light and his burden is easy. If we but grow in the light of the Lord God and are nurtured by the Holy Presence we will grow into usable wheat. As I consider this, I am comforted that by doing what the Holy Presence guides and encourages me towards, I am fulfilling the purpose that the Divine intended for me. Shalom & Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – When times are no longer tough . . . . that is, when we are in heaven

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.” (Psalm 84:1 – 2)

I was trying to find the perfect mood music to write on this psalms passage; I kept going from album to album in my playlists, but nothing seemed to be write. I had to wonder of the psalmist tried also to find the perfect tune and words to praise the Divine. Maybe for both him and I, only the choirs of heaven would provide the correct background. I do not know what tune the psalmist imagined for his words. I just know I had trouble finding background music for my writing.

As you might imagine, I have a pretty extensive music library of Christian worship music. I have spent close 25 years collecting it. And I am still adding to it. It may not be as extensive as the book of psalms – but from reading the words in the bible it appears that the psalmist might have re-used a tune or two.

“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.” (Verse 3)

It is through music that many people bring themselves before the Divine. Whether it be repeated praise choruses or multiply versed hymns, lifting one’s singing voice is a well established way to worship. There was a time that I thought I might collaborate with someone to write Christian songs. There was also a time I myself I used singing as a worship tool. But as the years have gone by, writing prose seemed to be a medium that was better suited to me.

“Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah” (Verse 4)

When I arrive in heaven – whenever and whatever that experience might be for me – I imagine that praise will just flow out of me, without my having to think or consciously compose it. I am also hoping that praise is not the only experience in heaven; oh yes, there are many spiritual forebearers that I hope to seek out. But as the psalmist says, there will be overwhelming happiness.

“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 5 – 7)

I have to admit I do not often think of what it will be like in heaven. Or at least not as often as I used to. The reason is that as my relationship with the Divine has grown stronger and more intimate, I feel the Lord God’s presence in my life more and more. I do not feel the pull to heaven to be with the Divine because I feel that the Divine is here on earth with me.

I had a friend in seminary who used to say of me, she longs to be in the house of the Lord. And that was very true. I do long to be in the house of the Lord, but I have also felt, heard, and heeded the call to minister to people here on earth – wherever I am. And to shepherd them in their relationship with the Lord God.

There are many tough times in this life; times when the burden seems so overwhelming that one can hardly bear it. And heaven seems like a blissful place of sweet release. But we can feel relief here on earth, amongst fellow believers and in the spiritual presence of the Divine. Heaven will be there, waiting for us. While we are here, beloved reader, let us do whatever we can to bring even just a small peace of heaven to earth. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going on a journey & touring heaven and the kingdom of the Divine

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. . . . I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 27)

The book of Revelations . . . . you know already, beloved reader, it is not a book I am comfortable with. But as I read through the above verses it occurred to me that the reader must have a somewhat sophisticated understanding of metaphors and allusions to be able to understand what the writer of Revelations is implying. And that might be part of my struggle, to understand what is supposed to be metaphor and what is supposed to be literal. If it were a place I knew of, I could discern what it metaphor and what is reality. However, if one is looking for clues about heaven and the kingdom of God it is rather frustrating to try to figure out what is literal and what is poetic license.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Chapter 22, verses 1 – 5)

I think I was much happier with the book of Revelation when I assumed it was all of poetic fanciful tour of heaven by an imaginative dreamer. That is not to say that it is all make-believe or untruths. The truth is found in the intent of what the writer of Revelation sees – a utopia where the will of the Divine finds its completion. Imagine, if you will, the outline of a city or town where everything is drawn to scale and all the streets are labeled and each building has an assigned street number. It is a literal map of where everything is. With such map one could navigate from one end of the city or town to the other the first time they step foot in it. Then imagine the same city or town on a tourist map where spots of interest are depicted in fanciful caricature and buildings float free form on the map. Could you expect to successfully navigate through with such a map?

Some view the book of Revelation as an actual map, and others view it as a introduction to the type of place the Divine would rule over. I think with that understanding in mind I am much more amenable to read the book of Revelation. May you beloved reader allow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform your faith and your understanding of Heaven. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 23 [28]): The Gospel Passage – It is party time

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:” (Matthew 22:1)

If I had not said it previously, I will say it now – the gospel of Matthew is filled with parables. Just brimming over with them! And many of them seem to look forward to what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. I say look forward because at this point Jesus is with his disciples and in the world. In the gospels it is said that the Kingdom of Heaven was there because Jesus was there. But sometimes to our modern world it does not seem like the Kingdom of Heaven is here because some many things in our world do not fit the image and idea of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. At least so far.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’
But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.” (Verses 2 – 6)

It appears, as I foreshadowed, this parable is not so much about the Kingdom of Heaven that is to come but the invitation to belief. We can know this because the slaves of the king are analogous to the prophets in the Old Testament. Those invited to the wedding are those who have been invited to believe but refuse to. Seeing it this time (as opposed to other times in my youth) I can see the meaning much more clearly. It is not so much to believers in the future as it is to those people listening to Jesus at that time.

“The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’
Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.” (Verses 7 – 12)

Now here is where one must sit back and think on this. The king wanted wedding guest to come to the wedding so as to fulfill the purpose of celebrating his son’s wedding and to a joyous time. By the way beloved reader, here is another example of some details in the story not being germane to the point of the parable. The fact that it is the king’s son’s wedding is not indicative of it being a wedding for Jesus. But, back to my former point.

The king wanted people, joyous celebrating bodies, and whether they were good people or bad people was not the point. The point was, the people who came must be ready and prepared to celebrate and join in the partying for the king’s son. But this man was not ready, had not come prepared, so . . .

“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Verses 13 – 14)

I do not feel I need to over stress the point here. This man was not tossed out because he was not good enough, that is was a sinful bad man. He was tossed out because he did not appreciate the honor and ceremonious nature of this gathering. It was an auspicious gathering, and as such care must be taken in getting ready. It is serious business being invited to the table of the Lord, not to be taken lightly. But, I am not a commentator wanting to press the point. I am simply one who is considering this parable. I have learned something further about this parable, and it reinforces the due reference that is expected at and in the Kingdom of Heaven. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – A Vision of Heaven

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5)

I can picture this in my mind – I often have. Picture, beloved reader, a street with old but sound buildings made of chiseled stone – more intricately carved than any human hand could do. The buildings rise up to the sky rivaling the clouds that harmlessly drift by. Down on street level there is a wide broad roadway that is both street and path. People are walking along the roadway or bicycling. Down the middle of the street is a canal and clear water runs through the canal; people along the way are stopping to take a drink, dip their feet, or splash about in the water. Along the canal are trees whose branches dip and sway in the water also. All about is light, laughter and love; there is no darkness but sunlight all the time. The water literally bubbles along in the canal like chimes swaying in the breeze, and from the tree branches come chiming notes also. Far down the canal is the center of all things and there the Throne is and the water flows out from under the Throne without ceasing. All around are white birds and butterflies that also make chiming notes. The breeze is slightly scented with flowers and flowering trees and bushes, all of which are nourished with the flow of water. The light flickers on the flowing water in accompaniment to the musical notes in the air. It is indeed Heaven!

I hope and pray you have your own vision of Heaven that sustains and nourishes you until you too are beside the water of Heaven1 Selah!

Season After Pentecost – That which has passed away, and that which will come (The Epistles Passage)

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. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; 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.”
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.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:1-6a)

I had to remind myself, beloved reader, that this passage is used for the purpose of All Saint’s Day. Coming from Revelation it is easy to assume it is talking about the passing away of this world and the coming of God’s Kingdom after the judgment day. The theme that is being focused on, I think, is that “death will be no more” and that there will be no more crying or pain. Those that have gone before us are no longer in pain or suffering. Their time of worldly woes is past, and are in heaven for all time. We do not know what heaven will be like; there are some who have claimed to have been there and come back with reports of the glimpses they have had.

God is in our beginning and in our end. It is this “in the middle time” that we muddle through. It is here that there is death, mourning, crying, and pain. And it is that “middle time” that consumes our thoughts and energies. I am not saying it is wrong that it is so. But it is good, from time to time, to think about what is beyond this world. Not how it will end, at the end of all times. But what will come after each of us departs this world. I have known enough people who have passed to think about such things. And in the next ten years I am sure there will be more people who I that have passed from this world to the next. I am at that age where it must be expected. I think that is why I decided to use the scripture passages that the RCL provides for All Saint’s Day. All the people that I have known who have passed away certainly qualify as being worthy of entry into heaven. And I fully expect one day that if I too am granted entry into heaven, they will be there to greet me. It is the only vision of heaven that I cleave to.

May you, beloved reader, think upon those you know who have passed into heaven. And may the memories of them warm your soul and spirit. Selah!