First Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Gaining a new lease on the life to come, and being grateful

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned – sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.” (Romans 5:12 – 13)

There are some writings by Paul that cannot be easily explained, nor explained verse by verse. Sometimes you just have to take the whole entire of it (meaning the passage) and sort out the meaning by the broad strokes.

According to Paul, sin came into the world through the actions of Adam and Eve – see the Old Testament passage yesterday. The Lord God said that by of the tree of good and evil Adam and Eve would die. Well, Paul takes that idea and runs with it. I have a different perspective but . . . well, we are not hear to discuss my theological beliefs . . . . today at least.

“Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.” (Verses 14 – 16)

The “free gift” is the gift of grace/mercy/forgiveness/salvation/redemption – to lump it all together. And really, to borrow some of Paul’s reasoning, if the sin of Adam had not been committed, the gift of grace would not need to have come to us. If one keeps their wits about them, and remembers the touchstones of Paul’s theology – it is possible to wend your way through the passage. It helps to remember that Paul is sort of repeating himself . . . for emphasis.

“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (Verses 17 – 18)

And to remember that while Paul may call Jesus Christ a “man”, Paul is well away that it is the Divine nature of Jesus Christ who made him the Messiah that we need.

“For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Verse 19)

And finally, that Paul’s theology was one of the nudges that lead the church to set up the concept and practice of Lent. That believers must prepare themselves and take time to reflect and consider the suffering and “passion” of Jesus Christ that leads up to and unfolds during Holy Week culminating in Easter Sunday.

Now that you have “run the gauntlet” of the Old Testament and Epistle passage, take time to reflect. We move next to Ash Wednesday, the gateway to Lent and all that will be considered and pondered this Lenten Season. Shalom!

Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Palm & the Passion: The Epistle Passage – Good things to come as the season of Lent draws to a close

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5 – 8)

I am trying to navigate my way, beloved reader, through the scripture passages for the Liturgy of the Palm and the Passion which combines highlights from both Palm Sunday and foreshadowing of the Holy Week. When planning a worship service with these passages one picks and choices the passages used depending on the emphasis and theme desired. When uses the lectionary for personal study and reflection the themes and emphasizes of the passages come forth individually as each person perceives them. I am doing neither.

I trying to present a theme the draws together all four types of passage (Old Testament, Epistles, Gospel, and Psalm) and that remains true to the season of the church year. It at times can be a heady experience – and other times a bit of a headache! What I am finding is that some of the passages (or more precisely the story they tell) used this week are used again during Holy Week. And having written blogs for multiple lectionary cycles I am mindful of not getting to far ahead in the story of Lent and Easter. It is a story we know quite well, and I try to find fresh approaches.

“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Paul, the writer of Philippians (and most of the other epistles) was probably mindful too that the story was a powerful one and needed to be told well. But for him that was an advantage. Paul raced headlong into the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection because for him that was the whole point – getting to the end and the promise of salvation. The church year, however, as it is constructs carefully makes its way through the story of Jesus’ annunciation to his birth through his (it seems brief) growing up years through his travels and ministry that lead to Lent and THEN slows down even MORE through Holy Week.

If we were approaching this story as “new” news, we would not yet know WHY “ at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord . . . “ And you, beloved reader, being patient move through the story all with me marveling at each step and revelation. (Don’t disillusion me by telling me you are just cooling your heels until the crescendo and denouement.)

You know this is going to be my 60th year of experiencing Lent – although to be far the first 20 or 25 years I probably did not realize the significance. But still, that is a good many “been aware” years of seasons of Lent to journey through and still retain a fresh perspective. And what is more, there are still many years to come of the seasons of Lent (not to mention the other seasons of the church year) to retain and reignite a fresh perspective. Maybe, beloved reader, that is a challenge for you too. If so, let us continue to journey together for whatever years there remain – appreciating the awe and splendor of each story and scripture passage. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Palm & the Passion: The Old Testament & Psalm Passage – Good Things Now & In the Future

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

The ironic thing is, beloved reader, I am at times the teacher and the weary – I sustain myself. I will not lay out for you all the details. At night I write on these passages using my background, experience, and training. And in the morning when a new day faces me that appears to have the same challenges as the day before, I am fortified and prepared by the experience of the night before.

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Verses 5 – 6)

There is no striking, pulling, insulting or spitting – praise be to the Lord God the Divine! But some days are long and laborious. And I struggle. Each day I enter into the fray again. Mostly willingly!

“The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verses 7 – 9a)

Each and every day that I have felt buffeted by fate and misfortune is a day I have survived. Not by my own strength and might. The Lord God has pulled me through and the Divine has kept me upright. I give praise that I have made it through each day, and I pray that I might make it through the day to come.

“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-2)

And let Carole say it also!

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Verses 19 – 21)

It is not just the salvation, beloved reader, that comes as we exit this world and enter the world to come. Neither is it just the forgiveness of sin that is salvation. Salvation also comes as relief and rest when one is weary. Salvation is a temporary respite from the trials and challenges in this life. Salvation is being picked up and dusted off by the Divine. Fortified and nurtured for the things to come by the Lord God who knew what it was like to battle in this world.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!” (Verses 22 – 25)

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey it was a “soft entry”. Being saved does not mean escaping reality. Success does not mean victory as this world understands it. Salvation and success really translate to endurance and stamina. Not letting this world convert and corrupt us, leading us from authentic Christian life.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Verses 26 – 29)

Consider, beloved reader, that this psalm passage was written far before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. (No, I am not going to take issue with its re-appropriation.) The writer of this psalm passage already saw the Divine as Presence that was worthy of praise and adulation. Already known as a loving Presence – even before Jesus Christ came as an example/exemplar of the Divine’s love. Already known as a Divine who will not end. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that It is already a Presence in your life! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Looking forward to the “new shiny” life

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1)

The week in which I wrote on the fifth Sunday of Lent was a tough week; tough at work and busy at home with new challenges and issues arising each day. I am not afraid to admit most nights I went to bed exhausted and tearful. But I got through it. The roughest day was Friday, which is supposed to be a “thank goodness it is Friday” day. Not so much for me. But I take hope that next week will be better. And that the struggles of this week are resolved. I had to make some decisions that I am hoping I will not regret.

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (Verse 2)

What helped me greatly in getting through the week was writing on the scripture passages. It usually does. Not only do I submerge myself in scripture, but it reminds me that I am not going through this alone. That what ever else may happen, my soul and spirit are safe in the Lord’s keeping.

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.” (Verses 3 – 4)

I was very glad to get to Friday night, and to have the weekend to decompress and relax. To restore myself and spend down time with family. To remind myself why I “battle” the outside world day. And to spend time in prayer and reflection.

“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 5 – 6)

I know that I am fortunate that the problems I have, although great to me, are actually small and manageable in comparison to others. I do not claim that I am ill used and oppressed. I have food and shelter – the basics of life. And I have friends and family that surround me and support me. But most importantly, I have hope for the world to come. It seems that “world to come” seems so far off. Back in the days when “End Times” were topics talked about and written about in popular and social media – it was easy to believe they were just around the corner. But with bad times evolving into worst times in our global community it seems like global relief is so far away. The “new shiny” life twinkles like a distant star, and the cloud of our “now” obscures its light so that we forget it is there waiting for us in the hand of the Divine. It is where my ultimate hope lies, and I pray it is the same for you beloved reader. Until that day, hold on to hope in the Divine and the strength of others. Selah!


Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Looking backward and forward for your faith life – does it shine?

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” ( Philippians 3:4b – 9)

Back in my youth, when gathering with others, people would ask who your parents and grandparents are/were. It was called “The Mennonite Game” and the purpose was to find out if you are related through cousins or marriage etc. Or whether the other person was related to someone you knew. It usually did not take going back too many generations to find a commonality. But to those new to the Mennonite/Anabaptist faith it was rather off-putting – as if your faith was not genuine unless you could trace it back to a common and/or well-known ancestor or spiritual fore-bearer.

Paul is saying quite clearly that such faith background and lineage counts as nothing. It is not who you are related to, who you know, or even what faith tradition you spring from. It is what you believe and how you live out that belief.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Verses 10 – 12)

If you think about it, the early Christians – who exemplified tremendous faith – did not have lineage or faith traditions to recommend them. They simply lived out their faith.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 13 – 14)

From an early age I recognized that it did not matter who my family was – that is, whether they were from a “strong” branch of Anabaptist faith or grafted on by conversion. I knew my faith and the strength of it was totally up to me. Indeed, discovering that my fore-bearers and spiritual fore-bearer were worthy of note came as a surprise to me. And upon learning that I considered that it only confirmed why it sought a relationship to the Divine – because those around me modeled it.

Now maybe that does gain me some “brownie” points by having such good examples of Christian living in the manner that Paul lists his “attributes” – but I do not claim those just as Paul does not. Generation after generation of people have been raised in “good” Christian homes (or other faith traditions) and that has never meant that faith beliefs (true authentic faith beliefs) were bestowed upon them like the family silverware. To play out that analogy, many, many people have the allowed the “faith life family silverware” to become tarnished and break. If you have ever seen old tarnished sterling silverware that has been neglected you will know what I mean.

Maybe the season of Lent could be seen as taking out that “tarnished” faith and cleaning it and polishing it so that it gleams and glows as it did when it was new. I like that analogy very much! So I will close with that! Shalom and selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Psalm Passage – The psalmist is added to the story of the Prodigal Son

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32: 1 – 2)

This psalm is not going the direction that you think it might be going – unless you are familiar with Psalm 32.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah” (Verses 3 – 4)

In a way I am glad it turned that corner. I am not in a place where a “praise, praise, praise” would be well received right now. But this I can dig into!

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.” (Verses 5 – 6)

These verses remind me of what I said yesterday – that for me coming to the Divine as the prodigal son returned to his father confessing his failings and sin is like a sigh of relief that I am “home.” Well, considering that this psalm was picked out to accompany the story of the prodigal son, it is no wonder if fits in well!

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah” (Verse 7)

I do not think the prodigal son realized & understood what he father had done for him, sheltering him from the harsh realities of life and watching over him, guarding him, and guiding him. It is only when the prodigal son comes face to face with the larger world that he realizes that he was in a better place at home, and that he should return there.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” (Verses 8 – 9)

It is natural to wonder, beloved reader, who the “I” is here. It would be easy to assume it is the Divine speaking through the psalmist. But here I agree with the commentators that it is the psalmist asserting his experience and ability to teach, having been taught by the Divine. And keeping within the theme of the prodigal son, it could be said by extension that it could be the father in the story who is again given the opportunity to instruct his younger son, and to continue to teach his older son.

Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart. “ (Verses 11- 12)

Was the younger son “wicked”? Was the older son “wicked”? Was the father a poor example of parentage by not reining in his younger son? Or for not showing his older son sooner how much he meant to him, his father? Beloved reader, I do not think any of them are. The father rejoiced that his lost son was found. The prodigal son rejoiced that he was welcomed back into his home. And I would hope, beloved reader, that the older son/brother did rejoice that his younger brother was safely home, and that his father did love him.

I said yesterday that the Pharisees and scribes had no corresponding role in this story. I am still not convinced that they do – but maybe they should. To return to their loving Father the Divine after “squandering” their learning and intellect on wayward and close-minded thinking. To continue to hold out hope that those who seem lost will find their way back home. And to realize that those who have been lost need to be welcomed by the “older” believers/siblings. But being who they are, I doubt they learned the lessons. But you, beloved reader and righteous ones, you can learn and mend your ways, and rejoice and shout for joy! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Playing your part in the Prodigal Son parable

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . . “ (Luke 15:1 – 3)

Actually Jesus told two other parables, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, before this one. In a way those two parables the stage for this longer parable.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.” (Verses 11b – 13)

I remember as a young child (at least I think this actually happened) seeing this parable acted out during a worship service. It was part of those times, the 1960’s and 70’s, when churches really made an effort to reach out to the very young and engage adults in worship services and evening services that appealed to all age groups and understandings. This type of presentation made the bible come alive and really set the stage for my later interest in ministry and making scripture accessible and understandable.

“When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.” (Verses 14 – 15)

As I read further in this story I do remember seeing this parable performed – maybe not as a child but certainly at an age in my life that it had impact.

“He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ (Verses 16 – 19)

It is at this point in the story that the value of seeing the parable performed becomes apparent – especially if the roles are well cast. If you can, beloved reader, image it in your mind an older man slightly bent from age seeing his young son come towards him – not arrogant as he was when he left, but thinner, and perhaps limping himself, with head bowed & tears in his eyes.

“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “ (Verses 20 – 21)

The young man is not deterred or mollified by his father’s affection. He wants to make clear to his father that he was in the wrong and does not expect the special attention and affection that he once had. This is important in this story. The young man knows his sin and confesses it freely to his father.

Henry Nouwen, a great writer and an even greater man, wrote about this parable and a picture that he saw that depicts this moment, Nouwen said he could see himself in all the roles that this parable has – the father who has lost someone dear to him, the young son who has made so many mistakes, and the older son who comes later in the story.

“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Verses 22 – 24)

Do you see, beloved reader, the importance of the proceeding parables? The emphasis on celebrating the finding of what was thought to be lost? But this parable takes another turn.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ “ (Verses 25 – 27)

I will confess, beloved reader, that sometimes I come before the Lord with the confess of my sinning because I want to feel the welcome that this prodigal son had. I do not sin because I wish to experience the forgiveness and welcome; I confess with out fear, however, because I know I will be welcomed back by the Lord God the Divine.

“Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ “ (Verses 27 – 30)

In the presentation of the parable that I watched as a mini play this part of the story was acted also. And again, if the roles were cast well you could well understand the anger of the older son. And his feeling that he never had is father’s affection as his younger brother did. As I think about it this section, it reminds me of that the other side of the story of Joseph might have been like, and where the anger that Joseph’s eleven older brothers might have had. One more thing – I always felt like my role would have been more of that of the older son/brother. Having never strayed as far as the younger did, I was more likely to have been the one who stayed around and acted the part of the loyal son.

“Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'” (Verses 31 – 32)

Which part do you identify with the most beloved reader? The younger prodigal son who ventured out having cashed in on his father’s good will? The older son who was faithful but never felt appreciated or rewarded? Or the father who worried and wept over his sons, never sure if they understood his love and care for them?

It is interesting to note that none of these roles seemed to fit the Pharisees and scribes. Not the young son, for they would never have confessed doing any wrong. Not the older son because he never availed himself special treatment. And certainly not the loving father who welcomed the sinning son back as a favored son. No, the Pharisees and scribes were only bystanders and probably learned nothing from the story. But we, beloved reader, we can see ourselves in any of these roles; and each role has a lesson for us. May you, in the time that remains in the season of Lent, think upon this story and the lessons it has. Selah!