Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Being called forth to be what sort of Christian?

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” ( Colossians 1:1 – 8)

I imagine in my mind the conversation between Epaphras and Paul about the Colossians; stories of the care and faithfulness, giving ways and patience, compassion and unconditional acceptance. I do not know if that is how Paul would describe what a “model” Christian would be. I know that is, in part, how I would describe one. I am not sure if Paul would put more emphasis on the “living in hope of salvation” or the treating of others as fellow “saints”. Sometimes I suspect there might have been a “them” and “us” mentality then; I know it is not a good image of how an authentic Christian should be now. At least, again, from my perspective. But you, beloved reader, are welcome to imagine the Colossians how ever you want to.

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Verses 9 – 14)

So much of how we picture Christians of the early church is based on Paul’s description. And that is okay, if we all agree on how to interpret and understand what Paul said. The things is, we don’t. So we are left to fashion for ourselves, individually and in our faith circles, how a good model authentic Christian should act. How I would love to sit with you, beloved reader, and hear from you as to how you act out your Christian faith. But I am here, at my keyboard, and hear little if anything as to what your thoughts are. You, on the other hand, get to hear from me quite often as to my perspective and opinion. I guess that is another thing Paul and I have in common – not much feedback from our readers! Or at least not much recorded feedback . . . which in the long run is pretty much the same.

So I must, as Paul does, pray “for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and commend you the Divine. Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Kudos to Paul for setting out a good teaching and argument

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:12 – 14)

I am not sure it is Paul, or whether it is the argument style that was popular at the time that Paul wrote – but it at times sounds like Paul is setting out a belief that is contrary to what we know about him. I suspect it is the latter. And it is an argument style that was very Greek in its origins. So it makes sense that Paul would use it in writing to the Greeks in Corinth.

“We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (Verses 15 – 17)

The way Paul sets the case, the Greeks in Corinth would be compelled to accept that truth that Paul is teaching, else they are lost.

“Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.” (Verse 18)

And Paul delivers the final piece of his compelling argument. Now I do not have the information at my fingertips, but it seems to me that the Greeks put a great deal of thought and faith into the afterlife. For those not converted to Christianity, they would have the beliefs that we typically think of when thinking about Greek culture. And we know that whatever one’s faith may be, cultural beliefs nudge us and color our faith beliefs. And that is not wrong, nor a sin. We know from missionary trips and experiences that we have heard of that Christians around the world access faith through the lens of their culture, translating basic beliefs into an understanding that resonates with them. And I have to admit, Paul is quite adept at accessing and putting into good use the culture lens of the people he speaks/writes to.

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (Verses 19 – 20)

The term “first fruits” sort of puzzled me – did it puzzle you beloved reader? What Paul meant was the Christ was the first to die, and then be raised to new life. I am not sure what that says about the called and chosen people of God who had already died. But then, this is addressed to the Greeks. Paul winds up his argument by saying the first fruits – the best and most perfect – had gone before the believers to show them the way to the life after this, eternal life. Which to the Greek lens of understanding is something highly valued. Yes, I really have to admire Paul for using his understanding of Greek thinking to further his preaching and teaching.

Now, beloved reader, how can you use your unique cultural understanding for the preaching and teaching of the Lord God! Shalom!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Preacher and Seeker consider their skills and talents

Preacher: “Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD.”
Seeker: When I was young, I looked up to people who had physical strength, who played sports, who had glamorous careers, who held the spotlight of media attention. But I learned when I came to faith that these things are fleeting and not worthy of pursuit. The famous, the wealthy, the glamorous rise and fall – here today and gone tomorrow.
Preacher: “They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”

Seeker: What is fame and fortune that I might seek it? Each person is gifted with talents and abilities. They can be used to build and create a legacy worth remembering; or they can be turned into futile efforts to garner attention. Blessed are they who find satisfaction in the doing and not in the praise of others.
Then I asked myself, with my skills and talents do I seek the accolades of others, or do I hone my skills for giving glory to God?
Preacher: “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
When I seek to honor the Lord with my talents and skills, I am like a tree that stretches out its roots, find nurture and sustenance in grounded faith in the Lord. The winds of change that rise up one person, and bring another – I will never have to fear them.
Preacher: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?”

Seeker: It is tempting to measure my self worth in the eyes of the public and the media. To judge my efforts by the approval of others. It is only when I measure myself against the example and the teachings of the Lord God Jesus Christ that I can know how well I have succeeded or failed.
Preacher: “I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” ( Jeremiah 17:5-10)

Seeker: May the Lord search me, and discern what good I have done and what evil I have committed. Then I will seek forgiveness and mercy from the Lord for my wrongdoings, and praise the Lord for the blessings the Divine has given. Then I will use my talents and skills to further the mission of the Lord! Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – When the hand of the Lord God rests on you

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

Right now I am taking satisfaction in small accomplishments; navigating on my computer and iPhone, making meals, being able to eat, working a full day. If I was in Jeremiah’s shoes, right now, I would quake and bewail . . . . not that “I am only a boy” but that I am weak and shaky! I can’t do what is expected of me! In fact, I have felt that way quite often over the last few weeks. But somewhere, somehow, I have found the strength and reserves to do what needed to be done.

“But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Just this evening, when I was having radiation treatment (I confess, beloved reader, now that I have told you what I am going through it seems more tempting to use my current experiences as analogies/allegories/metaphors) I felt like I just could not do it. I could not face another treatment that I knew would advance the awful side effects I am having. Even if it meant curing the cancer.

“Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Verses 9 – 10)

And in those moments I just ready to breakdown and cry out that I just can’t do this anymore! But something steadied me. And assured me. Made me feel that I could get through this moment, and the moments to come. I am comforting my the fact, and given hope, that when you read this I will only have only seven more treatments left! Then I can start healing and recovering!

Now I know I have not been appointed “over nations and over kingdoms.” Neither will I be able “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow”. My area of influence is actually pretty small and limited in terms of time, space, and geography. Even if items and posting on the internet are supposed to be around forever, if they are not seen and read over space and time – well, their influence is pretty small. And that is okay. Some time back I decided I did not want to reach a large audience. I actually walked away (more like moved my blog away) from a large readership base. The reason is that I made the move was because I did not feel I was building and planting. Out of verse 9 to 10 that is the only thing I feel I can do, and want to do. And if I can plant hope and faith in just one life, and be a part of the building up of one person’s faith life, then I have accomplished all that I have set out to do. I do this because long ago – oh so long ago – I felt the Lord’s hand come to rest on me. And it has been there ever since! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Gospel Passage: What will you provide to the Lord?

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” ( Mark 12:38 – 40)

Jesus often accused the scribes, Jewish leaders, Pharisees, and Sadducees of hypocrisy. But such people were not, and are not now, just in the time of Jesus. The mismatch of professed faith and lived action is something that has been around since humanity first succumbed to taking advantage of others. Those who demand honor for themselves should be sure they are worthy of the honor. Such a paradox that those who demand respect treat others with little or no respect. Their appearance does not match what they are truly like. Long prayers that reflect no true devotion to the Divine, combined with taking advantage of others who are in position to defend themselves, is a sure way to be condemned. I have little patient for people who live like that. I think the same could be said of Jesus.

“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Verses 41 – 44)

Jesus was an avid observer of people. I like that in a Messiah! The widow, who may well have been a victim of the so called religious leaders, balanced her livelihood against the giving to the treasury. And in her wisdom she gave all that she had so that the mission of the synagogue could continue. She did not give because she sought stature but because it was the right thing to do. The rich on the other hand, gave much because it made them look good. The reality was the amount they gave was just a pittance compared to what they had in reserve.

Set this against the early Christian church whose members contributed all they had to those in need so that no one person had more than another, and everyone had what they needed. I suspect much of that attitude and giving started in the lessons such as this that Jesus taught.

The deeper point is that Jesus knew exactly what the widow gave up in giving her little bit. And he also knew exactly how much the rich scribes did not give up. Each person should give according to their means, and how their heart and spirit moves them. Just as important is to make sure the faith you like to make others believe you have matches how you conduct your life. Remember beloved reader, the eyes of the Divine are upon you! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 20[25]) – The Old Testament & Psalm Passages: The Lord God saves the Speakers of God’s Word

I am trying something a little bit different this time. In the past few weeks the Old Testament passage and the Psalm passage have been pretty much in-line with each other. So it occurred to me maybe I/we can consider them together rather than several days apart. When it is time for the Psalm passage (usually on a Saturday) I will look at the other Old Testament/Psalm set and see what the possibilities are there.

It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!” But you, O LORD of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.” (Jeremiah 11:18-20)

From what I read in the Easy-to-Read version, Jeremiah’s enemies were the people in his own home town, his relatives. We can assume “the tree with its fruit” was Jeremiah, the fruit being the blessing of the Lord in prophesying. Not all prophets are popular, and even less popular in their home town. If the first few verses of the book of Jeremiah we learn that Jeremiah considered himself young, maybe too young to be a prophet for God. But he was called. And trusted himself to the Divine.

One description I read about the book of Jeremiah and the personage of the prophet was that he was a “performance artist” acting out in a literal way the figurative message that the Lord God was giving him. If one would read the book of Jeremiah, it does seem he finds visual ways to make his point. But that type of prophesy could be taken as very “in your face” rather than just the speaking, writing and ranting of words. Like many of the prophets of God who preached salvation and repentance, he needed rescuing from those around him.

“Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah
But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.” ( Psalm 54)

Is such rescue reserved only for the prophets and preachers of the Lord God? It might appear so at times, because there is so much suffering in our modern world. The time of the biblical prophets is past (so we think) and now the modern Christian is subject to all sorts of trials and tribulations without respite. But if you would talk to the modern Christian, I am thinking that he/she would tell you that the Lord is there, and there is comfort and solace in the Lord’s presence that outweighs that the world presses and oppresses onto the believer.

The prayer found in the psalms passage does seem to echo the faith that Jeremiah put into the Lord God who called him. Jeremiah says he was like “a gentle lamb lead to slaughter” because he did not know what it would be like to be a prophet for the Lord God. Do not think, beloved reader, the Divine lets the called and chosen prophets “hang out to dry”. The writer of Psalms would not write about something that had NOT happened. And I would not encourage you with false hopes. So if you are called and chosen, answer that call with confidence and courage that nothing will be too great for the Lord God to see you through. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 18[23]) – The Gospel Passage: Use Godly wisdom when spreading the good news

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter. So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:24 – 30)

Did you notice, beloved reader, that the gospel writer of the book of Mark said that Jesus did not want anyone to know he was there? It was an area where Gentiles lived, so therefore “unclean” to Jews. But the Jews (meaning the leaders and officials of the temple/synagogue) did not much care for Jesus, his disciples, and their “unclean ways”, so Jesus and the disciples journeyed elsewhere. It was not something they specifically wanted spread around but still it seemed to be the plan that Jesus wanted to follow.

The woman who begged for healing for her daughter, therefore, would not typically have benefited from a Jewish missional trip. Hence Jesus’ referring to “the children” who should receive the benefits first – “the children” being “good Jews” (but who again were not particularly welcoming of Jesus.) Jesus was not meanly refusing to heal this woman’s child; but by separating out the Gentiles from the Jews and yet healing the child proved that it was not the chosen and called people of God who would benefit from the Christ. Sort of a message for those back in the “clean” Jewish areas.

“Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” (Verse 31)

Again, Jesus journeyed off the beaten “Jewish path” visiting a Greece-Roman area that bordered Judea.

“They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” (Verses 32 – 35)

It is not surprising the deaf man had an impediment to his speech. I do not know, but I suspect the deafness came as he was growing up or he had some sense of spoken speech but not enough to know how letters and words should sound. That “his tongue was released and he spoke plainly” tells me he slurred his words and could not hear to correct his speech. Many times people who are deaf can learn to speak but their voice is flat and monotone.

It speaks well of the people who brought this man to Jesus and asked for healing for him. Because of his inability to hear and speak well, in the Jewish areas he would have been considered “defective” and ostracized. In the Greek world he was befriended and helped to interact with others. In fact it might have been because of the diligence of his friends that he learned to speak but not speak well. Again, a message to the “clean Jewish” areas.

“Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Verses 36 – 37)

I want to tell you quite plainly, beloved reader, the title of the reflection/post does not mean to hold back nor pick only certain places and people to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. It means spread the word to whoever wants to hear and to wherever you travel. If Jesus truly was trying to be discriminating about who he healed and where he healed, he would not have journeyed far from home. And the “not telling anyone” about the healing was a subtle way (or maybe not so subtle) of making sure the news spread. Because of one things you can be sure of, Jesus used “Godly wisdom”! May you do so also! Selah!