Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Enduring with patience and being lifted up

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1 – 3)

When I was young, the “proper” prayer posture was to bow your head and close your eyes. Kneeling was even better. So it was a “revolutionary” idea to lift your head in prayer. But I like it! It seemed strange to my young mind to look down to pray, because that was not where God was. God was “up” in heaven! And I was taught to look at a person when you spoke to them. How much more should you look to the Lord when you pray!

“I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Here is a new thought – the disciples were the Lord’s before they became followers of Christ! We may think that the disciples were just a random group of men culled from the population of Galilee/Nazareth. But apparently before Jesus called them, the Lord God had seen them and identified them as the Divine’s. I wonder, beloved reader, if this explains some of us who seem to grow into faith in the Lord rather than having a decisive conversion experience. That’s not to say that believers who had a “turn around” moment have not also been picked out by the Divine. Each of us who believe have the “Belonging to the Divine” stamp. It’s just that some knew about the stamp from the very beginning. So, I have to wonder if that was the case with the disciples.

“Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I want to remind you, beloved reader, that this passage comes before the blessing of the Holy Presence. It even comes before Jesus’ death, so it is relatively early on in the disciple’s learning curve. What they have learned up until now is comparatively small to what will come. And yet, Jesus counts it as major learning. And for this “early” reason the disciples are being lifted up by Jesus.

“I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The writer of the gospel of John has Jesus already withdrawing, in a sense, from the world. Jesus is also commending the disciples to the Lord God. The bewilderment of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection is still to come. May be the disciples were able to “hold it together” so relatively well because the Divine was looking over them. So just maybe the Divine is watching over us in the same way as we journey through these days. How are you doing beloved reader? Are you looking up in prayer, and looking towards the Source of strength, faith, comfort, and endurance? I encourage you to look up now; and may you be lifted up! Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Substituted Acts Passage – The Blessing and Patience of Jesus Christ and the Lord God

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

You gotta love these disciples! Jesus teaches them and lead then around Galilee and Capernaum. They watch and listen to him preach and try to educate the Pharisees and Sadducees. He tells them if you have seen and know him, you have seen and known the Divine, and vis versa. He is arrested, questioned and tortured, all the while proclaiming that he is a different type of king. He dies, rises from the dead and continues to teach them that it is now a new and different way of believing . . . . . and they ask, is this NOW when the Jews will be restored to the way it was?!

He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Verse 7)

Rather than rebuking them, however, he simply says that the timing of things is not theirs to know. Soon enough the Holy Presence would be settled upon them, and they would understand much better what Jesus purpose was in coming to the earth, and why the Divine had sent him.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And that . . . . was that!

“While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Now, does this mean that Jesus will descend on a cloud? No, beloved reader. I think what it means is that the coming/return of Jesus will be just as unfathomable as when he left. No one will know the timing – it will simply just happen.

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 12 – 14)

I can well imagine some of their prayers were “help us to understand what happened!” The way the writer of Acts puts it, the disciples did not seem to have a firm handle yet of what Jesus’ ministry meant for them.

And that may be a question for us, beloved reader. As I have mentioned recently, I am currently reading reflections and meditation on the season of Lent and Easter. It is interesting to read (and some what reassuring) that the different writers have differing perspectives on Jesus, his suffering, his death and resurrection, and the hope of what is to come. Reassuring, because was somewhat fearful that there would be a large and overwhelming consensus, which would jostle my faith and spiritual ideas. Not that it would further my thinking and understanding but would make me feel like a “ninny” for having such “obvious” misguided faith! Yes, beloved reader, the Divine has patience with me too! I am finding the writings a blessing, and once in a while feel confident to “say” to the writers, I do not agree with you.

Beloved reader, may you find that the Divine has patience with you wherever you are in your faith. And may you feel the blessing of the Lord God. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – The Message says follow me to where I am going, and be nurtured along the way

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1 – 4)

I was thinking about these verses, and Jesus apparent assumption that the disciples knew where Jesus was going. I think Jesus as Divine knew that they were not sure, but . . . . it was a teachable moment. And that got me to thinking about teaching in general, and I peeked at the next verse, and my wondered & digressed to . . .

“Sunny days
Sweeping the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?

Come and play
Everything’s a-okay
Family, neighbors, friends
That’s where we meet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?”

“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Beloved reader, listen closely to those lyrics from a show that at the outset has been devoted to helping children (of all ages) learn about letters, numbers, and life. There were a lot of life lessons taught there, starting in 1969. (Yes, 1969!) Now, Sesame Street was not heaven. And while the creators and actors were full of good intentions, not everything worked the way it was envisioned. However, there was care for the young and innocent. Gentleness and nurture throughout the show. The opening credits of the show featured children coming from all over to Sesame Street knowing it was a safe place. They just knew it was a place for them! But, I am digressing again.

My point is, and perhaps Jesus’ point as well, if you fix your sight on Jesus the Christ & the Lord God, and follow the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Presence – you will find your way to heaven. Sunny days sweeping all of our cares away? Yes, that is heaven. Sweet air? Yes, that is heaven. Eternal rest from earthly life’s labors? Yes, that is heaven. Reunion with loved family and friends? Yes, that is heaven.

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Jesus said, “Allow the little children to come to me.” And they did! They knew a safe person when they saw him! It is as we age and think we have attended wisdom and maturity that we are most often setting ourselves apart from the Divine. We are children of God, beloved reader, no matter our age. If we would just allow ourselves and open ourselves to the Divine we would know where to go, and how to get there!

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (Verses 12 – 14)

Now . . . . . before you assume (but I am sure you are not/will not) you can truly ask for anything and it will be granted, remember that the Divine is pure and holy and is NOT like a magic genie. Of course you do not think and believe that! The disciples understood, if not at that time but eventually, that Jesus was talking “miracles” that nurtured and restored people, and that spread the gospel and brought glory to the Divine. These are the type of “works” that Jesus did, and the “greater works” that his followers would do.

Do you do these type of “works” beloved reader? Do you understand and believe that Jesus was in the “Father” and that the “Father” was in Jesus? That is, the Divine that sent Jesus was also the Divine that was in Jesus, and Jesus in the Divine? Do you know how to get to heaven, and believe that heaven has been prepared for humanity? Finally, is your heart and soul calm and at peace, resting securely in belief & knowledge of the Divine?

May your faith, beloved reader, be like that of a child who knows the way to blessings untold! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Yr A, 2020: Gospel Passage – Serving under the Great Shepherd

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” (John 10:1)

This is not, beloved reader, a tranquil and pastoral (if you will) image. Jesus is talking about leaders (in some paraphrases the Pharisees are directly addressed) who enter ministry not as called and chosen people but as for their own perverted reasons and do not have the good of the people they lead at heart.

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (Verses 2 – 5)

In this metaphor the “shepherd” is the rightly appointed church leader. You may ask “sheep” may know the voice of their “shepherd” when he or she come to the congregation for the first few years. It is a legitimate question, but the answer is quite simple. The voice of the shepherd is an echo and a conduit for the Divine. If the “sheep” of the congregation (which actually is not a very flattering image) have been following the Divine, when they hear the voice of their pastor, they will knew she/he is true because it reverberates in their souls which are hosts to the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” (Verses 6 – 7)

The writer of the gospel of John has Jesus being very critical and direct with the church leaders that are in front of him. And actually, is kind of stirring around theology and the history of the called and chosen people to make a point about the Divine Personage of Jesus the Christ.

“All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (Verses 8 – 9)

One is supposed to assume that Jesus is talking about the church leaders of his time, and NOT the prophets that had come before in the Israelites history. It is interesting to speculate, however, that those who did not follow the guidance and direction of the prophets were not truly “sheep” of Yahweh but quasi-believers who only appeared to put on the mantel of obedience.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Verses 10)

I knew of a pastor, several decades ago, who did great damage in a church. Maybe at one time he had been called and chosen, but by the time I came know about him he had lead many people astray. He did destroy, and stole in ways that it was impossible for the loss to be recovered. And he did kill some spirits. That such a pastor went undetected for so long is a blemish on the church of Christ. There have been other stories of other church leaders that have also abused that position.

One of the first classes I took in seminary was a class designed to discern if one’s calling was from the Divine. Rest assured beloved reader, I passed the class with flying colors and kudos! Shalom!

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A in 2020 – Substituted Acts Passage: Peter applies what he has learned

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, . . . .” (Acts 2:14a)

I really do wonder, after noting that Jesus probably talk to Peter very privately after his resurrection, how this un-narrated encounter affected Peter. It was the gospel of John where Jesus tells Peter three times to feed his sheep. Other than that exchange it never occurred to me that Jesus talked to Peter privately apart when he addressed the disciples as a group. Always knew that something happened that changed Peter.

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Verse 36)

Thinking further along this line, this is the same Peter who denied knowing or being involved with Jesus. It is a wide distinction between denying the knowledge of Jesus and being complicit in his death – I am not laying that at Peter’s feet. But I do like the juxtaposition of Peter fervently advancing the identity of Jesus in comparison to Peter distancing himself. (And I do have a point to make with this line of thinking.)

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Verses 37 – 39)

If, as I came to see, Peter found forgiveness and acceptance from his Risen Lord, then he is offering this forgiveness and acceptance to others. Peter outlines the way to this, and I dare to think it follows the timeline of Peter’s experience. Repent – confess that you have made a mistake, or many mistakes. Accept what Jesus Christ is offering. Ask for forgiveness. And receive the Holy Spirit.

“And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (Verses 40 – 41)

The only thing that Peter does not offer, which I believe was given to him, was the quiet and private moment to offer a humble and contrite heart to Jesus. I think that is what Jesus did for him – offered him a meeting with Jesus apart from all other witnesses. I do not know if Peter did that in his preaching and ministry. Maybe he did. I know Saul who became Paul did not!

When I talk about pondering, beloved reader, that quiet meeting with the Divine is part of that experience – it just now occurs to me. In the privacy of your own thoughts, think about what has been your experience up until now of the Lord God the Divine. Have there been private moments when the Divine spoke to your heart? Provided a moment or three away from all other things for you to come to the Divine and repent? Extended an invitation for a new or renewed relationship? Upon your confession, offered forgiveness for sins that you never had to speak of in front of others? Blessed you with the Holy Spirit in a private and personal way? Do not think, beloved reader, when you take the time to privately communion with the Divine that it has been solely your own decision. The Lord God calls to us in ways that are beyond human understanding. Building upon past events and experiences the Lord God furthers your relationship with the God-self if you would only be open to it. Maybe now is the time for you to call to the Lord God in response to the Call made to you. Shalom & Selah!

Liturgy of the Passion Sunday, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Being as brave as Jesus Christ

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)

It is not usual to consider Jesus Christ brave – at least that is not an adjective that is normally associated with the Divine. I mean, the Divine is brave – of that there is no doubt – but then what would the Lord God be scared of? Think over the story and ministry of Jesus the Messiah. Either the Lord God or Jesus Christ was in control of . . . . well . . . everything. All the things that happened were ordained to happen, for reasons that are still shrouded in some mystery. Note though that Paul is saying be of the same mind; if Jesus suffered because of what was supposed to happen, we too should be willing to suffer for our beliefs. Comparatively speaking, Jesus lost a lot more (according to Paul) than we ever will.

Now Paul does use the word “obedient” in talking about Jesus and his submitting to the cross. One definition of obedient might be doing what have to do even though you are terrified to do it. I remember a presentation (actually two presentations) I had to make in seminary. For both I was very prepared; had done a great deal of research and had a small stack of paper to present from. However, on the one occasion I became sick the day before and fumbled through the presentation. I could have begged off being sick; or simply handed out to the class I was presenting to my preparatory work to make it easier on myself. I did neither – to my regret.

One the other occasion I had prepared diligently; had all the information I wanted to present; but got the pages mixed up in my hands. What to do? Earlier that morning I had seen a flock of birds flying over head and it impressed me the way their wings just carried them aloft. At the present second I knew I had lost my place, I just decided to “wing” it. I knew the material, and just started “teaching” (see yesterday’s post about how that ability evolved). In the first instance I was scared and did not want to let go off the control I thought I should have. In the second instances I summed up heretofore unknown courage and let fly. But, I digress.

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)

Which of the two instances do you think, beloved reader, were more God-lead? The answer is pretty obvious. And in which instance do you think I stepped into the role of a “teacher”? Again, pretty clear. Lastly, which instance gave more glory to the Divine? Ah yes, beloved reader, that where & why I still feel shame and regret.

The Lord God exalted Jesus Christ – which is like saying the Lord God exalted the God-self. But when we follow the lead and example of Jesus Christ – part of which is finding the courage to do as we have been led to do – we also glorify and exalt the Divine. NOT because of our human efforts but because we allow the Divine to use us. The Lord God used the aspect of the Divine called Jesus to do some amazing work . . . . miraculous work. The Lord God uses us too, calling us to the same sort of redeeming and teaching work that Jesus did. If you doubt me, remember that Jesus said his disciples would do more amazing things than he did. NOT because they surpass Jesus, but because from their relatively lower abilities they teach and bless others as Jesus did. Pretty brave of them, yes?!

It is in these days and times, beloved reader, that we are called upon to do hard things for our fellow beings. The global community needs saving. And each one of us has within us the ability to help others. In this virus crisis we are called upon to be brave. May the Divine through the example of Jesus Christ’s sacrificing nature show us the way. Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Gospel Passage – The “Rules” when you are a “Grown-Up”

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21 – 24)

Last week we heard Jesus say that he came to fulfill the law, and not set it aside. We also heard him say that “until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5: 18b) Jesus now expands on that, outlining exactly what the fullness of the law means. It may have not been conveyed in this way by Moses or the prophets that followed him. But the Author of these laws now speaks to his disciples, to us, and to the world – mediated by the gospel writer.

It is tempting to comment on what Jesus said about being in correct relationship with your brother or sister; but I am not going to go down that path. I will say, however, don’t assume narrow boundaries, borders, or parameters of who your brother and sister are!

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Verses 25 – 26)

According to the commentators, this is actually an extension of the exhortation to be in good relationship with others. It is not, therefore, just our fellow believers that we are to be in good relationship with, but everyone in one’s community. It seems to me, beloved reader, that this is a very, very, VERY good exhortation for those in leadership to remember. We have seen this on the national and global stage. Enough said!

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Verses 27 – 30)

I think, beloved reader, if (perchance) you are reading this for the first time, or considering it with thorough thought for the first time, you are getting the sense that the Ten Commandments were only the briefest of outlines to what is expected from an authentic Christian believer. Hence the title I used. If one has not reflected previously on what sin may have crept into one’s life, this passage where Jesus drives home the full expectations of the commandments (again, mediated by the writer of the gospel of Matthew), it would certainly behoove one to do it now! I remember as a fairly young child (4th or 5th grade) thinking that I am not a terribly bad sinner. Oh for those blissful days of youthful innocence!

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Verses 31 – 32)

This one was a hard one for me; not because of my marriage but because my parent’s marriage broke up. It is, I think, not so much a comment on the issue of fidelity – but a comment on what the consequences are for not tending carefully to one’s marriage, and one’s spouse. The issues and reasons for a marriage to break apart are complex, and rooted deep in the human heart. And chastity, or the lack of it, is only one reason. If marriage partners would treat each other the way the truest letter and spirit of the Ten Commandments outlines relationships, I do not think divorce would be common at all. Let’s move on.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Verses 33 – 37)

Swearing – language or fulfillment of a promise? In my Anabaptist background the two issues swirl into one. That has resulted in my predisposition to not make a promise I cannot or would not keep. To speak the truth in all things. And to avoid curse words as much as I can. Again, the world we live in could take a lesson here. Maybe you too beloved reader! I know I have to watch my tongue and thoughts.

May we all, beloved reader, heed the words of the Lord God Jesus Christ. Our words, thoughts, and actions say a great deal about us. Let us make sure they are saying the best about us! Selah!