Third Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Provisions and teachings during Lent

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

In our household we use a lot of milk. Not very much wine – hardly any! But we use a lot of milk. We try to keep at least one full gallon of milk in the refrigerator because an open gallon of milk is usually an empty gallon of milk. We go through a lot of bread too. It seems like each member of the family likes a different type of bread; not just brown or white. But country white and 100% grain brown, and the more mundane as well. That does not count the rolls and buns we also use. Yes, milk and bread are frequent purchases; a purchase means someone has to have “labored” for it. We are no different, in that respect, than the writer of Isaiah’s audience.

The writer of Isaiah (using the voice of the Lord) goes on to talk about food items more rich and tasty than just bread and milk. And at no price! Well, sign us up! Of course, bread and milk, and other delicious food are just metaphors for living a contented and well-provided life. Still the question remains – what do we need to do (if not labor) to acquire this life?

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” (Verses 3 – 4)

If we just listen to the Lord, we will be the recipients of the same sort of covenant that the Divine made with King David?! We that sounds pretty good! However . . . . if one stops to think about all that King David went through, maybe it is not as simple and straightforward as it first appears.

Listening to the Lord and living for the Lord comes with its own set of priorities and statutes. It is not a life that is lived out quietly and unobtrusively as it first sounds.

“See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” (Verses 5)

King David lived a life that was constantly on public display. When he did things correctly, his people demanded more of him. And when he did not live correctly all of his mistakes were on display. The writer of Isaiah does not disclose the “price” of the Divine’s bread, milk, and wine. The price is not dollars and cents but living a life that confirms to the Divine, and not to our human frail will. The writer of Isaiah is correct though – our human frail will does not “satisfy”. We labor and pine after things that are not good for us, or more precisely not good for our human spirit and soul.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Verses 6 – 7)

And it is these last two verses the outline the difference between our thinking and the Divine’s thinking.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Verses 8 – 9)

As I remembered and anticipated these last two verses I could not help but think they explain so much about the difference I see in the Almighty that strides through the story of the Israelites and Judahites. Did the writers (the ones that wrote the history of the Israelites and Judahites) assume they knew the “ways of the Lord”? Did Isaiah, then, have a more accurate and attuned perception of the Divine?

Wondering about this, I went back to check in on the biblical commentators. And discovered I differ from them entirely on the meaning of these last two verses. The biblical commentators (actually I only looked up Albert Barnes, but I am sure the others come from the same perspective) take these last two verses as referring to forgiveness and pardon, and that the Divine forgives, pardons, and is merciful in ways that humanity is not. But that does not really connect with how this passage starts – seeking the wrong types of things, listening to the Lord and entering into a covenant like the one David had with God, and having attention brought to you because of the way you live.

What do you think beloved reader? I am not sure that anyone can, or should, say that one interpretation is more correct than another. The ways of the Divine encompass more than just forgiveness and pardon. If that were the case, the only case, we would be free to do whatever we want and still be assured of a pardon. No, it is more complex than that.

Lent is a complex season; recognition of sin and the way we have erred. The example set down by Jesus Christ. The expectations that the Lord God the Divine has. The gnarled and tangled road of the called and chosen people of the Old Testament. The new revelations and teachings in the New Testament. All of it seems to come together during Lent. And we are had pressed to discern it all.

I guess for me, I have to go back to the beginning of the passage. Listen carefully to the Divine. Chose the best way to live according to the example of Jesus Christ. And delight one’s self in living a Godly life. Selah!

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Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Warnings during Lent

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ “ (Luke 13:31 – 33)

I do not know if the Pharisees here were “friendly” and genuinely concerned about Jesus in warning him. Or whether they were goading him by telling him Herod had it out for him. And in fact the bible commentators agree with me(!) that it could have been one way or the other. But the warning to Jesus was not the only warning in this passage.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Verses 34 – 35)

The city of Jerusalem and its people have made poor and faulty decisions in the past. Yet Jesus has compassion on them, and is concerned that their decisions will cause them anguish and distress. When the sun is shining and all is well with her chicks, a mother hen will watch them as they peck and scratch. But when dangers looms she gathers them under her wings and protects them at the peril of her own life.

Jesus will not abandon us when we are in need and in harms way. But if we run from the protection – in a sense, disregard what Jesus has to teach us, guide us, and warn us against – we place ourselves in peril. Now, beloved reader, where would you seek shelter when the storms of Lent assail you? Shalom and 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 of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Doubts during Lent

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” (Genesis 15:1 – 4)

The season of Lent is rife with tests, trials, and challenges. Some minor consisting of abstaining from small things. Other challenges are major tests of our faith and beliefs. We have talked about such challenges in days past. Abram was challenged to believe that the Divine would be able to fulfill the promises made that Abram was the start of a long lineage. Especially since his family line, at that point, ended with him.

It reminds me somewhat of the assurances I was given during my radiation treatment. Now there were challenges – challenges to my body and my faith! But all those promises have come to pass – Praise the Lord!

“He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”
But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” (Verses 5 – 12)

Abram sort of has a pattern going here – hearing the promise of the Divine and taking it into his heart. But then starting to doubt it. I found myself having the same pattern when I was going through the last days of treatment and the week or so after. So many people told me it would get better; but all I could see was how bad it was at the moment. I have an idea of how that “deep and terrifying darkness” might have felt.

“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates….” (Verses 17 – 18)

Imagine, if you will beloved reader, the dark of a desert night; the sounds of “birds of prey” that have been denied food; other noises beyond sight but within hearing. A man alone with only dead carcasses to keep him company. And in the darkness light coming and consuming the offerings. Suddenly the smell of burnt meat fills the air, and the sizzle of the meat consumes the senses. It is not the sweet incense of worship that we are accustomed to. But burnt acrid smells that remind us of how pale and frail life is that it can be so consumed.

It is those earthy scents reminding us of the precarious balance between life and death. We can cling to our doubts, and consign ourselves to a life that ends with our own demise. Or we can take a leap of faith that there is more beyond this life and that extends into the life to come. Shalom!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Firm resolve during Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1 – 2)

I looked it up, beloved reader, and if you have water you could go forty days without food. So it was not a Divine attribute that allowed Jesus to do this, but a natural function of the human body. However, the Devil did tempt Jesus in ways that are unique to the Divine.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Verses 3 – 12)

It is “tempting” to think that we might be able to withstand temptation such as these if the Devil were to offer it to us. But what you need to understand, beloved reader, is that these temptations were specific to Jesus. Because only Jesus as the Son of God could do what the Devil asked. We cannot turn stones to bread, much less any other food. The Devil is not really interested in us worshiping him/it, although the Devil may tempts us in that way so we do not follow the Lord God. And it was not command that the angels will protect us from harm if we foolishly endanger ourselves. No, it was only for Jesus that these temptations were worth the Devil’s time and effort.

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Verse 13)

We never do hear if there was a more “opportune time.” The book and movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” hinges itself on these phrase, suggesting that the Devil did indeed return and was more successful – for a time. But we know according to Holy Scripture that the gospel writers do not record a return, nor do they give any evidence that Jesus’ resolve failed. (Thanks be to God!)

So what is our portion for this scripture? Or do we have any part of it? Well . . . we have our own temptations; specific to our personality and to the human spirit. One of the things about Lent is that it is forty days of our proving our resolve to following Christ and the Lord God. Are we willing to give up our human agenda and commit ourselves to the way of Jesus? Do we belief that Jesus is the Son of God and empowered to forgive and absolve our sin? (Of course that is not the only thing Jesus did, but it is at the forefront of Lent and Easter.) Do we accept Jesus’ teaching as the way we should live our lives? At each week and stage of Lent there are questions that we need to answer.

Each of the three years of the lectionary cycle Lent has its own distinctive theme. This year is Year C and it is the year of penance, of confessing our sins and being forgiven. The story of the prodigal son has a prominent place in the readings this year. It comes later in the weeks of Lent. Watch for it. Until then, consider the questions that I have posed. Think too what temptations there might be in your life that takes your focus off the Divine and the life you are called to by the Lord God. May you remain firm, and give the Devil no “opportune time”! Selah!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the “land” of peace and hope during Lent

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8b – 9)

It seems that when ever there is a real world reality confronting me, there is also a epistle passage that is at the forefront of my day. Maybe something (or Someone) is trying to tell me something – that I should not obsess about the real world reality, and instead focus on the needs of the spiritual world and my spiritual life.

Many years ago, when I felt that fate and fortune were against me, I felt overwhelmed and could not manage what was at the forefront of my real world reality. So I decided not to obsess over it and instead wait three days before I felt I needed to take action. I got the idea of waiting three days because Jesus lay in the grave for three days, and the disciples and his followers mourned thinking all was lost. But on the third day grace and rescue dawned and all their problems faded away. Joy took the place of sadness and celebration took the place of mourning. It seemed like a good plan when I first decided on it, and it seems like a good plan to this day. The discipline is to let things rest for the three days.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Now, beloved reader, what is at the real world forefront for me has nothing to do with spirituality or salvation. It is actually the sort of thing that a well disciplined person with deep faith would commend to the Lord and trust in the Divine. I do, beloved reader, at times fall short of what I expect of myself. And I do, after stressing about things, finally hand it over to the Lord God. While things may not work out the way I think they would, or the way I hoped they would – things do work out. And how ever they work out, I feel the Lord is with me.

But I have to wonder . . . . . . can I/should I apply scripture that talks of faith and salvation to my real world problems? I know the answer is most probably “yes”. And I know the Lord God is concerned about my concerns and cares for all aspects of my life. And I also know the best approach is to “let go and let God.” That is not always easy to do, however.

In this instance I think I need to learn the lesson once again, to hand over the worries and concerns I have to the Divine and have faith. To stand on the promise that “No one who believes in him (the Divine) will be put to shame.”

It is an irony, beloved reader, that we are entering into Lent. A time of self-examination. A learning and growing experience. If that is the case for me, then I will be a willing student of the Divine! Selah!

 

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Coming to the “land” of Lent

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 2)

In the midst of the current political climate, these verses bother me. It has always bothered me when/if one person does well it means that another person has lost what they had. While the Hebrews might have been the inheritors of the land that the Lord God “gave” them, it meant the people native to that land lost something – either the land, their lives, or both!

“You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Verse 3)

I understand that these verses are meant to be reminders to the Hebrews/Israelites to respond to God’s promise and generosity. The Old Testament was written from the perspective that the only people who benefited from the monotheistic Divine were those who were called and chosen through the line of Abraham. But it still feels unsettling.

“When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.” (Verses 4 – 5)

At some point in the bible (probably the New Testament) believers are prompted to be kind to the strangers in the land because they too were strangers in the land at one point. I guess that exhortation did not extend to taking over Canaan.

“When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Verses 6 – 9)

It is very possible that those who came to the shores of North America might have said the same thing. And yet, and yet . . . . . we also hear the voices of those who were native to those shores, and the violence that was done to them. In fact from many, many shores around the world those native to those lands have stories of great harm done to them.

“So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The Israelites had become the prime residents of the land. Those who resided there but were not descendants of the twelve tribes were considered to be “outsiders.” Why, you might ask, does this bother me so much? One of the reasons, among several, is that we are entering the season of Lent where all of us are found to be lacking in some aspect of correct Christian living. Who are we, regardless of birthright and heritage, to call another not part of the “correct” group or people? Shalom!