Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Gospel Passage – Knowing who the Messiah is and following him

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29 – 34)

Have you ever seen someone when out and about, and said to yourself, “I think I know that person but I cannot place them right now!” That happened to me the other day – say someone I knew I knew, but could not place where I knew them from because I saw them in a different/unexpected spot – if that makes sense. I could have asked, but did not want to embarrass myself.

John probably knew or knew of Jesus, since John’s mother and Jesus’ mother were cousins. And this being the gospel of John that has a strong theme of Jesus’ mysticism, the writer of the gospel of John is not going to “muddy the waters” with family relationships. We are told in the gospel of Matthew that John knew Jesus and tried to persuade Jesus that he should baptize John, but Jesus demurred and had John baptize him. But the dove, and the voice?! That was completely unexpected.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” (Verses 35 – 39)

So, you recognize someone in the crowd and you realize this is an important moment. In that moment you have two choices; to let the moment pass, or to seize upon the opportunity and find out where it leads. Follow Jesus and/or the path of Jesus can be like that. You can step forward or you can step back. There have been times in my life when I have seen or felt the Divine call me forward. It is been a rare time when I have not “stepped forward” and the times I did, I have regretted it.

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” (Verses 39 – 42)

It has not always been the Divine that I have seen; sometimes it is a path that is laid in front of me, and I have been beckoned to follow it. It is sometimes hard, very hard, to know what the good thing is to do and the correct path to follow. And I am pretty sure there is not just one correct path or option. That is, if there are two paths or two ways to go and each seems as good as the other – then if you chose one over the other, that does not mean that all is lost. In fact you may find, in looking back, that one path or the other path were equally good and valid.

When however the decision is critical, then you should take time to discern what is best. And even if you make a poor choice, the Divine will work with you and that choice. You are NEVER outside of the Lord God’s plan if your aim is to follow the Godly path. I could say more, but . . . . I digress.

Supposing for instance that Andrew did not bring his brother to Jesus. Peter was destined to be part of Jesus’ ministry, and I am confident that somehow or another that meeting would have happened. Consider Saul who became Paul; you would have thought from the beginning of his story he was never going to meet the Divine. But actually he was on a direct collision course with the Divine!

When you turn over your life to the Lord, you may find your life is opened to learning and opportunities. Opportunities to follow the Lord God and become in an ever deepening relationship. And, beloved reader, if your destiny is tied in with the Divine’s, you will not escape it easily! Praise the Lord, and Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A final story that talks about the end . . . before we start at the beginning again

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33)

My mind thinks back to some of Jesus’ disciples who said they wanted the places of honor on his right hand and left hand. Jesus said, to paraphrase, you don’t know what you are asking for and you could not bear it. I have read what people who are knowledgeable about such things have said what the experience of crucifixion would be like, and I am pretty sure I could not bear it physically either. But Jesus did bear it, and in a way that shows the grace and endurance that he had – imbued to him through the Lord God.

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” (Verses 34)

It was not just the physically suffering; it was the emotional and psychological torture as well.

“And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Verses 35 – 38)

Each of us, beloved reader, have our weak points. Aspects or traits that are vulnerable to scorn, ridicule or suffering. Being human Jesus might have had his own vulnerable points. But being Divine, maybe he did not. I would like to believe that he did. Not because I believe or want Jesus to be weak; it would comfort me, however, to know that Jesus understands when I feel weak and vulnerable. This might be something I come back to in the coming Lectionary Year. For now let us bookmark this pondering and move on in the story.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Verses 39 – 43)

Today, Jesus said; that very day this thief and criminal would be in heaven. Does that mean that Jesus went there before his resurrection? Possibly. But I think the point and understanding of this is that the criminal would be forgiven of his sins simply on the confession of belief in Jesus. Death, at least human death, was coming to all three of them within hours. Jesus had faith as to what would happen to him. He said as much to the criminal who asked to be remembered. And the criminal also had hope for his future beyond this life.

When you, beloved reader, are pressed beyond what you feel you can endure (and remember the professing criminal was suffering physically as much as Jesus), do you have hope for what the outcome will be?

We are coming soon to the season of Advent. A season that is typified by waiting in anticipation. There is “good” waiting, like waiting for Christmas. And “bad” waiting, like waiting for death. A lot depends on what is on the other side of the waiting. Think about that as you think about the men hanging on the left and right side of Jesus. Think too about where your hopes lie. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A remind of what we already have

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.” (Colossians 1:11 – 12)

Normally I might question what is “the inheritance of the saints in the light” to discern whether that is applicable to me or to the times I find myself in. But I am too weary and worn to ask such questions. And too needful of what ever blessing and assurance that can be provided to ease my way. Of course I am curious; but what would it profit me to find out that Paul means salvation/forgiveness/redemption when that is not exactly where my weary and worn out feeling comes from. Better to assume that it is endurance and stamina to help me through. And the grace of the Divine to ease my way.

“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 13 – 14)

Then I read verses thirteen and fourteen, and I see that my first but undesired assumption is correct. Why oh why does Paul assume that is the greatest gift that can come from the Divine? I know it has a lot to do with Paul’s life when he was Saul. And weighed down by who/what he was before his Damascus road experience, I can understand that and sympathize. But that is not my situation nor my life. And it is a sadness to me that Paul cannot be the apostle I need. Maybe that is why I carried so much frustration during my young adult years, because Paul who was supposed to be the forefront and fore most of apostles . . . . was not for me.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Verses 15 – 20)

So setting aside my own needs and the lack of exhortation & support for my life, Paul is trying very hard to present Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the sum total of what the Lord God is. And that the Lord God through Jesus Christ sent to the world the ability to be reconciled to the Divine and remade to be acceptable to the Holy Lord. What Paul is offering and explaining is pretty awesome. Especially for those new in the faith. It is reassurance that while one may be pulled down by the weight of new faith and taking up a new way of life, that the Divine has provided the grace and opportunity to enter in this life without the weight of the past pulling us down. And that Jesus Christ is all that the Lord God us, presented to believers in a new and accessible way.

Furthermore, while Paul does not allude or expound on this much, it opens up the possibility of having a close relationship with the Divine through Jesus Christ. And since Jesus Christ is the Divine (I mean just re-read what Paul said if you have any doubts) if we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are automatically in relationship with the Divine. Now, if Jesus Christ and the Divine has done so much for us, is it too much to that that the Divine will support us in all aspects of our lives? Paul may put special emphasis on the redemption part, but that is not all that there is to the Lord God the Divine. So, resting in the assurance of the Lord God and Jesus Christ’s love for humanity – let us not hold back in setting forth all of our requests and petitions. Boldly tell the Divine what your deepest needs are, and be confident that the Lord God will undertake for you in all aspects of your daily life! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Bloom with diligent believe and authenticity where you are planted

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.( 2 Timothy 2:8 – 10)

So here I am again, trying to wend my way through an epistle passage while still recovering from my cold or whatever it is (or was by the time you read this, beloved reader). It is comforting to know that by the time you read this, I will be feeling much better. Remember though when I write it, I was struggling.

According to Paul, he was struggling too. And I concede to him that his was the greater battle, and for a more worthy cause! I am also reminded that spreading the Word of God, in his time, was a risky and revolutionary thing to do. The same could be said for our time, but in our modern world there are more safe havens to spread the Word of God in. For Paul it was all risk all the time. I think though Paul saw the potential for greater reward in this risk however.

“The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.” (Verses 11 – 13)

Did you note the seemingly non-matched parallels? If we give our all to Jesus and the Lord God the Divine, then we will receive all that the Divine has to give. But if we turn our backs on the Divine, the Divine will not receive us. But if we are faithless . . . . the Divine will be what? So I went to consult my favorite commentator, Albert Barnes and he put it very clearly (thank you Barnes!) “The meaning must be, that if we are unbelieving and unfaithful, Christ will remain true to his word, and we cannot hope to be saved. “

“Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (Verses 14 – 15)

I remind you, beloved reader, Paul was in chains when he wrote this to Timothy. And come to think of it, Jeremiah was probably also kept captive when he wrote to the captive Israelites. (Just a nice reminder of what some had to endure for the sake of faith.) Even when Paul was in chains, it did not stop or stifle him from reaching out through letters. Jeremiah reached out to the captives in Babylon and encouraged them, despite his own problems. The Israelites were reminded to rise above their sense of grief and loss to make a life for themselves. And we, beloved reader, are reminded to be the best Christian believers that we can be, despite whatever our circumstances are. That deserves repeating – despite what is going on around us, we are to reflect the care and compassion, the unwavering belief, truth and example that Jesus Christ was for us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Jesus speak about the joy in heaven concerning salvation

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)

When I have misplaced something, I am obsessive until I find it. It use to be that I would not rest, physically rest, until it was found. Now, in my comparative maturity, I “just” keeping turning over in my mind where the missing item might be. I have not found everything that I have ever lost, and I have realized that some things lost are not find-able. But overall, what I have lost I have found again. That goes for issues of faith as much as items of possession. But the losing and finding of a soul, that is different. And is really what these parables are about. The Divine having lost a soul created, and diligently working to have it return.

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The reason then that Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners is because you cannot regain a lost soul by being at a distance from it. You need to be there, close, nurturing when nurture is not really asked for. And caring is not really required from the recipient. But still, you keep the lines of communication open. That is one of the things I have always strived to do when I am in relationship with others – keeping the lines of communication open. Being human and fallible, I am not perfect at that. But I try with all the might and ability that the Divine has given me.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Verses 8 – 10)

And rejoicing . . . rejoicing when the lost is found – be it spiritual issues or items of possession. And, just as importantly . . . at least for issues of spirituality and faith, when a strained or broken relationship is restored. This too is what these parables are about. Rejoicing when the lost is found and the broken is made whole.

Beloved reader, may you hold tenderly and dearly the people and faith/spirituality issues that are within your circle. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Hope and Faith Life That Demands Much

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25 – 27)

At some points in the New Testament it seems that Jesus is kind of disparaging toward family relationships. The word “hate” does not casting of family and leaving the circle of relationship. Nor does it mean abandoning your family of blood and marriage in favor of the family of God. The news of Jesus Christ was so revolutionary that in some families members were in opposition to each other in believing in Jesus as the Son of God, or at least at this point in his ministry that he was sent by God. Belief in the Lord God Jesus Christ can come at a high cost, and stalwart authentic believers have to be prepared to pay that cost. And . . . . before pledging one’s self to follow Jesus, the obligations and cost must be calculated on all levels and terms, and be accepted.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.” (Verses 28 – 32)

I have set a bit of a challenge in front of my self. I plan to take some vacation time away from home Sept 13 – 15. And because of where I am going, I will not be able to write or post any entries on the Revised Common Lectionary. So I am working ahead so I can take those days away and not interrupt the flow of posts. It is not a hardship, or not much. It meant carving out time on the weekend to write extra. And that was actually a treat! I tend to write more when I have the luxury of time to think and ponder. So I am not complaining about that. But, when I read these verses it did make me think about calculating the “cost” of taking the time off without skimping on the four weekly postings. (Five actually, because there is in that week religious celebration day – watch for it. )

Another thought that came to mind is working extra to make up for taking time off from work. Unfortunately week day appointments can not neatly scheduled before or after work, so I need to take off during the day and then make up for that time by starting earlier or ending my work day later. It does make for long days. Again, this is calculating the cost, and choosing to not use sick leave. After my health scare earlier this year I prefer to reserve those hours for when I truly cannot work or make up the time.

But do you hear the things I refuse to give up? Appearing/posting on the days I have scheduled for myself and not giving my self a rest break. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to “strut” my theological stuff. Not depending on the Divine to provide for me if I become ill. Not trusting in the Lord to keep me well, but making my own arrangements. And so it goes. It may seem like minor stuff, my “little” obsessions. But is it following the spirit of Jesus Christ’s words when he says . . . .

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”(Verse 33)

Before any venture, beloved reader, may you calculate the cost, not only to your own worldly life, but to your faith life as well! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The New Testament Passage – To staving off complaints, remember to be humble

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:1, 7 – 11)

This is a passage and concept I encountered when I was quite young in the faith. It was not difficult for me to understand this and incorporate it into my life. Coming from a Mennonite/Anabaptist background being quiet, humble, and unassuming was part of the air and atmosphere I was raised in. I think this was one of the reasons I was a “late bloomer.” I simply did not “force” myself into a situation, and so never tested myself in the world until I was into adulthood. There are some pros and cons about that but I really do not want to get into them in the context of this discussion.

“He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Verses 12 – 14)

This portion of the passage was a little harder for me to wrap my thinking around. First, I so rarely “give” a luncheon or dinner, nor a banquet. And if I did, it would only be for close friends and family BECAUSE I would never assume that anyone other than those close to me would be interested in hobnobbing with me! But I understand the larger concept. And again, I am not one to try to impress others with my styling hospitality. I remember one time I had a gathering for family at our house on the occasion of my daughter’s being blessed and recognized at our home church at the time. I was so nervous about it, and just wanted everything to be perfect. I fretted over the little buffet I set up, and thought that either no one would come or we would be flooded with people and there would not be enough food. In the years since than I have gained more confidence in my hosting and hospitality abilities.

One final thought, beloved reader. I have found those who have NOT been seated close to or at the place of honor to be much more pleasant company. And I have always found the best repayment for inviting people is the pleasure of their company – status notwithstanding!

May you, beloved reader, not play the “high society” game but reserve for your self the honor of merely accepted any where at the Lord’s table! Selah!