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!

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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!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 11[16]) – The Gospel Passage: Daring to work as Jesus did on earth

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.” (Mark 6:30 – 32)

During his ministry, Jesus always made time to get away, to refresh himself, to pray, and renew his spirit (Spirit?) so that he could be an effective minister (among other things) to the people that came to him. He was teaching is disciples the same thing. Unfortunately it was sometimes very hard to get time away.

It occurs to me, beloved reader, that Jesus needed that time away because his Divine Spirit (now the capital letter!) was housed in a human body. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he no longer used/needed a human body which may be why the aspect of the Triune God named the Holy Spirit could come to earth. I do not mean that the Holy Spirit is just Jesus in a celestial/spectral form. But that the Holy Spirit was a more accessible way and an non-exhaustible way for the Presence of the Lord to be among us. But, back to the story.

Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (Verses 33 – 34)

I am a working-parent, which means when I get done with my 8 hours (or more) of work day I come home to start another five to six hours of working at home. I often wish at the end of the day I could just come home and not do much more for anyone else except maybe my self. But that is not my life right now. I recognize the need to get away and do all the self-care that I listed that Jesus did. But just like Jesus saw with the “great crowd” I see with my family that they need me. And I have compassion for them, and work on their behalf.

I am not, beloved reader, equating myself with what Jesus did the crowd that were sheep without a sheep. My point is when you are in service to someone else, their needs come first. That is often the case with ministers, preachers etc – and actually in my line of work too, working in the social services field. You see a need and you are drawn to fill it.

Now Jesus knew that his disciples needed rest, a time away from the demands of ministry because he knew he needed it too. Rather than pulling back and being with his disciples, he must have decided to exemplar another aspect of ministry (as I mentioned above) and stepped forward to meet the need.

“When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” (Verses 53 – 56)

You know, I am going to go out on a limb here and talk a little bit more about myself and my work. This evening (that is the evening that I wrote this) was a Friday and it had been a long day and an even longer week. Something unexpected came up mid-afternoon, something that needed to be taken care of after the end of my usual work hours. Rather than putting it off on someone else, I volunteered to work extra long to complete the task. And ended up putting in an extra hour of work. I don’t heal people, that is heal as Jesus did. But the work I do does heal in a way, in that the person I work with is at a better place than they were before. I say this not to boast on myself, but to show you that being an authentic Christian and working in the field of ministering to people can cause you to work beyond what is normally expected. Jesus did not hold anything back. He gave all that he had and was, up to and including forfeiting his life. We are called to do the same thing. Just something to think about as you end your work week! Selah!

Trinity Sunday – The Old Testament Passage: Being called by all aspects of the Divine

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1 – 4)

At first glance this is a pretty strange vision. When I have visions like that (though mine come in dreams) my first suspicion is low blood sugar! I do not mean to be disrespectful. My point is that every time and culture has an archetype of what a holy vision would be like. And if helps you continue in your Christian pilgrimage, then all one can hope is that the vision means something to you, and that you are believed. I suppose the six wings on the seraphs, each set having their own purpose was an important factor. As was the chorus that they repeated to one another. And if the person having the vision, correctly recognizes that it is a holy vision and not from some other cause, then an instant self assessment does not seem out of line.

“And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Verse 5)

Now what I find interesting is that the writer of of the book of Isaiah not only feels he is unclean but he feels the people he is with/from are also unclean. And because of this corporate uncleanliness, he is not worthy to see the Divine.

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Verses 6 – 8)

Many times I have read this passage, and have taken from it the experience of being called to ministry and to continue the work of the Lord. But I am also keenly aware that this passage is cited for Trinity Sunday which is the Sunday that the triune nature of the Divine is celebrated. So my thinking pauses on reading verses 8 “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” [Emphasis mine]. “I” meaning the Divine, but “Us” that which will become the Creator/Redeemer/Holy Spirit? For surely the “us” could not be the seraphs who are flying around with 6 wings.

It is interesting to think that we who are called by the Divine may hear the calling from one of the triune natures of the Lord God. Are we called to carry out the work of the Creator? Or are we to carry out the work of the Redeemer? Or is our calling from the Holy Spirit? What is the nature of your calling, beloved reader? If I were to ask myself that question like that, I know what my answer would be. I am called by the Holy Spirit, because the union of spirituality and everyday living is where I write from. Yet, because of the triune nature of the Lord God, I am called also by the Creator and the Redeemer. Praise be to God that there is room for all in the wide field of ministry. Selah!

Season of Advent – Fourth Sunday: The Psalm Passage – How will the promise of the Lord be fulfilled in you?

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'” Selah”   (Psalm 89:1-4)

I have chosen to presume that the psalmist (who others assume is King David) is responding to the Lord’s declination of King David building a house for the Lord. The verses in this passage seem to point directly to the message that Nathan had from God for King David. I further assume (and biblical commentaries back me up) that these writings apply only to King David and the Israelites and are not being prophetic about Jesus’ birth or ministry.

“Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ “ (19-26 )

If Jesus is not only the Son of God but God incarnate, it would not make sense for the God-self to say this about the God-self. But . . . . if it is about the human King David and applicable to the Israelites, than it can be just as applicable to us. What would if feel like to substitute our name in the place of David? “I have found my servant Carole”; when I think about that it is exciting but also daunting. King David had a lot of pressure put on him, and had to overcome many trials. And because of the large role he playing in the history of God’s people, this missteps and mistakes he made took on major importance. It might be safer and easier just to play a very small role in the life of God’s people.

But also notice, beloved reader, what the servant of God needed to do; that is, the only thing he/I/you need to do – cry out to the Lord “You are my Creator, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.” In actually, all we need to do is let God work through us. Yes, it could be a scary bumpy ride. But that is life.

We are coming up close to Christmas day. And our thoughts turn towards the birth of Jesus and his comparatively small entry into the world. What I have been emphasizing is the Jesus’ entry into the world, other than the virgin birth part, is no different than our entry into the world. The Old Testament writers made prophecies and projections that could just as easily apply to a human as to the Divine. Yes, we will never reach the perfection of Jesus. But we can live a life filled with compassion and caring just as Jesus did. We can seek the follow the Lord God as Jesus did. And we can dedicate our lives to the Lord God as Jesus did. Promises can be fulfilled in us.

May you in this season, beloved reader, come to worship the baby Jesus as the sign of the Lord God being among us. And to see yourself as a vessel of hope for the world and humanity. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ (Proper 29 [34]): The Gospel Passage – Looking out for the “least”

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” (Matthew 25:31 – 33)

This should be a clue – being on the right hand side of a ruler means you are within his favor. Being placed on the left hand side, however, means that you might be in for some hard times. So also the categorizing of sheep versus goats. Goats sound too much like that the strong sheep in the Old Testament passage that butted flank and shoulder.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “ (Verses 34 – 40)

While this might be a metaphor, beloved reader, the needs in our world are real. When I was young, there were two types of mission work that were done. There was mission work done for “those people” who are in an other place and whose lives were lived out under conditions that I had no knowledge of. And there was mission work done to home people whose situation was more dire than mine, but who were close at hand. But there is a third type of mission work, and it is perhaps work that is less obvious. It is the task of being caring, giving and supportive to those who do not seem to be in need. Simple compassion and care for people who are already in your life. Needs are not always obvious, and suffering is not necessarily one that is a lack of resources. Having worked in the mental health field and social services field, I know that some needs are simply the need that one has for companionship and compassion. Jesus’ parable talks about the hungry and thirsty, the stranger from far away, those who have material needs, who are sick or in prison. But those needs are easy to see. But hunger and thirst in spirit, being alone in life and circumstances, being bereft of shelter from life’s harshness, being sick in mind and emotions, and being imprisoned in one’s downward spiraling thoughts are just as dire; and just as in need of mission and ministry.

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” “ (Verses 41 – 46)

We do not know, we cannot know, who the “least of these” are. We know, WE KNOW, what it is to be in need. Not the dire needs that are in this parable, but the small needs of life. And do not think for one minute that it is any less a blessing to minister to the small needs. Because sometimes it is the small needs of life that are overlooked. I have spent many years of my life working with people who have relatively “small” needs. And I know how important it is to meet those small needs. I used to be afraid that I would be the “goat” on the left hand side of the Lord. But I do not have that fear anymore.

You do not really need to go out of your way to minister, beloved reader. Need might literally be in your own backyard, or even in your own home. You know what you need in life, beloved reader, to be cared for and taken care of. Extend that care and concern to others. The “least of these” might already be someone you know! Shalom!