Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Palm & the Passion: The Gospel Passage – Good things have “arrived”!

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (Luke 19:28)

As I quietly but firmly told the RCL, this week/Sunday is Palm Sunday and NOT the eve of Good Friday as the gospel passages for the liturgy of the Passion leads us to. Moreover (and probably more importantly to me) this portion of Luke fits into my theme for the week.

“When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” (Verses 29 – 31)

I have other years commented on the fact that Jesus “somehow” knew where the colt was and what would transpire. But it should be no surprise that the Divine knew all these things in advance, and it had been arranged for Jesus in advance. It does lead me to ask, however beloved reader, if you have made your arrangements for Lent? And just as importantly for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. In the realm of worship planning and leading services during Lent and Easter are planned out months in advance. Because the services are special and tied so intimately to a theme, care is taken and people are asked to prepare. There is value in last minute planning and trusting to the inspiration of the Spirit; but such “winging it” tends to run counter to some faith traditions. The RCL is proof of such meticulous planning and adhering to patterns laid down centuries ago. But I digress . . . . on to my theme

“So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” (Verses 32 – 35)

Palm Sunday can be seen as the culmination of Jesus popularity amongst some sections and people of Jerusalem. It is also the phenomenon of group-think and impulsive behavior. The disciples were celebrating Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, maybe thinking he was going to finally face down the Pharisees and such ilk who have been hounding Jesus throughout his ministry. Or maybe it is just that many people in era like a good parade!

“As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Verses 36 – 38)

Or maybe it was, as I spoke of earlier, the movement of the Spirit that swept through the populace – the “winging it” impulse that cause things great and momentous to spring forth and happen. I have some of my own “winging it” experiences in my history. But the truth is beloved reader, when we think we are acting in the moment and without any foundations laid out, the Spirit has already gone ahead and made holy preparations. We are just following in the footsteps that were destined for us.

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Verses 39 – 40)

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. And the end of things is coming. We know in another week things will look pretty grim. But today is a day of celebrating! Jesus has come into His Holy city and is welcomed with palms and praise. The Pharisees who tried to shut it down were silenced. Good things, in the form of Jesus Christ, have arrived. It is all celebration for now.

But we also know, beloved reader, that this arrival heralds even deeper and greater things are destined for the weeks ahead. Maybe not what all were expecting – but what all needed! Selah!

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Third Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – And even more teachings during Lent

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:1 – 5)

I have spoken of the season of Lent as a time when we consider hardships and doing with out sometime – at least that is a certain way to use the season of Lent. We consider, in a liturgical way, what Jesus had to put up with during the weeks that came before his trial, crucifixion, and then the joyful resurrection. But . . . we put our “blinders” on and do not consider the resurrection until it is upon us. Instead we, liturgically, stay with the suffering.

But because we stay with the suffering, or embark on spiritual exercises to test us, does that mean we are more “sinful” because we are going through it? No. The outcome of Lent is to be our realizing our sins, and what Jesus went through to redeem us and expunge our sins. Just as we do not sin extra because we know we will be forgiven, we are not more sinful because we have tasked ourselves. And, as Jesus points out, we are not more sinful because tough things have come into our lives.

The implication that is being suggested to Jesus (and I have to consult with biblical commentators on this) is that the Galileans were “no-goodniks” who placed themselves in danger when their blood was mingled with the sacrifices they were making. Jesus goes on to see that in the same way those who were killed in an architectural calamity were not sinners either. Stuff happens! And to extend the lesson, when Jesus was crucified it did not mean he was a “no-goodnik” either! Yes, he placed himself in Jerusalem and did not tiptoe around Herod, Pilate, nor the High Priest et al. He was living out his life, just as the eighteen in Siloam were and as the Galileans were. Then Jesus turns this into an even more teachable moment.

“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'” (Verses 6 – 9)

Lent is our opportunity to turn ourselves and our lives around. Yes, maybe we did missteps, and did not live as we should. But the Divine gives up opportunities to see the error of our ways. In this parable, I believe, the Divine plays both parts; the owner of the fig tree and the gardener. Through Jesus Christ we are given the opportunity to show what we can do and who we can be. Misfortune may come our way, but we can use misfortune to learn about ourselves and our strengths, and grow closer to the Divine. Sin may become too tempting and we succumb. But we can be redeemed and restored, forming a tighter bond to the One that restores us.

Beloved reader, I pray you may use this season of Lent to learn the love, grace, care, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that the Divine has for us. Selah!

 

Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Warnings during Lent

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ “ (Luke 13:31 – 33)

I do not know if the Pharisees here were “friendly” and genuinely concerned about Jesus in warning him. Or whether they were goading him by telling him Herod had it out for him. And in fact the bible commentators agree with me(!) that it could have been one way or the other. But the warning to Jesus was not the only warning in this passage.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Verses 34 – 35)

The city of Jerusalem and its people have made poor and faulty decisions in the past. Yet Jesus has compassion on them, and is concerned that their decisions will cause them anguish and distress. When the sun is shining and all is well with her chicks, a mother hen will watch them as they peck and scratch. But when dangers looms she gathers them under her wings and protects them at the peril of her own life.

Jesus will not abandon us when we are in need and in harms way. But if we run from the protection – in a sense, disregard what Jesus has to teach us, guide us, and warn us against – we place ourselves in peril. Now, beloved reader, where would you seek shelter when the storms of Lent assail you? Shalom and selah!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Firm resolve during Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1 – 2)

I looked it up, beloved reader, and if you have water you could go forty days without food. So it was not a Divine attribute that allowed Jesus to do this, but a natural function of the human body. However, the Devil did tempt Jesus in ways that are unique to the Divine.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Verses 3 – 12)

It is “tempting” to think that we might be able to withstand temptation such as these if the Devil were to offer it to us. But what you need to understand, beloved reader, is that these temptations were specific to Jesus. Because only Jesus as the Son of God could do what the Devil asked. We cannot turn stones to bread, much less any other food. The Devil is not really interested in us worshiping him/it, although the Devil may tempts us in that way so we do not follow the Lord God. And it was not command that the angels will protect us from harm if we foolishly endanger ourselves. No, it was only for Jesus that these temptations were worth the Devil’s time and effort.

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Verse 13)

We never do hear if there was a more “opportune time.” The book and movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” hinges itself on these phrase, suggesting that the Devil did indeed return and was more successful – for a time. But we know according to Holy Scripture that the gospel writers do not record a return, nor do they give any evidence that Jesus’ resolve failed. (Thanks be to God!)

So what is our portion for this scripture? Or do we have any part of it? Well . . . we have our own temptations; specific to our personality and to the human spirit. One of the things about Lent is that it is forty days of our proving our resolve to following Christ and the Lord God. Are we willing to give up our human agenda and commit ourselves to the way of Jesus? Do we belief that Jesus is the Son of God and empowered to forgive and absolve our sin? (Of course that is not the only thing Jesus did, but it is at the forefront of Lent and Easter.) Do we accept Jesus’ teaching as the way we should live our lives? At each week and stage of Lent there are questions that we need to answer.

Each of the three years of the lectionary cycle Lent has its own distinctive theme. This year is Year C and it is the year of penance, of confessing our sins and being forgiven. The story of the prodigal son has a prominent place in the readings this year. It comes later in the weeks of Lent. Watch for it. Until then, consider the questions that I have posed. Think too what temptations there might be in your life that takes your focus off the Divine and the life you are called to by the Lord God. May you remain firm, and give the Devil no “opportune time”! Selah!

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Gospel Passage – Questioning the New Testament text

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:28 – 31)

This is the story that is the central piece for Transfiguration Sunday. I know, that is pretty obvious. It (meaning the celebration of the day) is placed near the beginning of Lent which makes then time until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I know, again obvious. But my point is this – if Moses and Elijah were NOT talking about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that unfolded from that, Transfiguration Sunday would NOT mark the beginning of Lent. What’s my point you might ask? My point is this – was it because Jesus needed to consult with Moses and Elijah before he went to Jerusalem? Or, did the Divine want to specially mark this time/day as the liturgical beginning of the remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or, did the gospel writers “arrange” that this conversation should happen just before Jesus went to Jerusalem?

We can see the connection between Moses’ glowing face from the Old Testament and his appearance now when he, Jesus, and Elijah glowed. We know the significance that was Elijah’s being taken up by a chariot of fire and not seeing death; Moses’ death is not firmly recorded either. So of all the bible figures that might have joined Jesus on this mountain top, they would be the most logical. But I can’t help but feel there is some sort of guiding editorial hand at work.

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.” (Verses 32 – 33)

And if were not for Peter putting his foot in his mouth once again, I would really wonder about the whole event. But Peter, good old stumbling along to greater knowledge Peter, gives this whole account the authenticity that is needed. So yes, there is a Guiding Editorial Hand. And it is comforting at the edge of entering the season of Lent to know that the Divine has prepared the way.

“While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Now that is interesting. They kept silent. Another mark for authenticity. It was only in considering the back story and the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection that the transfiguring of Jesus and the appearance of Moses & Elijah became significant. And I hope it was Peter who was brave enough to tell the story.

“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Verses 37 – 40)

These verses and the ones following are not part of the featured text for Transfiguration Sunday. It would seem after the “mountain top” experience, we are back to the day in and day out life of Jesus’ ministry. How often might we have found this true in our lives, beloved reader? We have such inspiring experiences when we feel the Divine’s presence so keenly. Then we are back to the some life we had before.

“Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (Verses 41 – 43a)

It is, beloved reader, that nature of the Christian life that mountain top experiences do not last; they give way to the need to persevere in our every day lives. Maybe for us, just as it was for the disciples, the mountain top experiences can only be properly understood and used when we see where we have come and where we are going. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – The unfathomable ways of Christian living – love, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27 – 28)

There are several people I have known in my life who I have found it very hard to forgive them and wish them well. I suspect a lot of people have had that experience. It would be nice to study Jesus’ words very carefully and find a loophole that allows you to seethe inside while being outwardly cordial and calm. But I have to tell you, beloved reader, Jesus is pretty careful to close up the loopholes. And what it appears that Jesus may not covered because of translation gaps, commentators have taken into account. Or when you take into account the shift of context and perspective because of cultural difference, you will find yourself up against stiff prohibitions against withholding Christian concern.

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Verses 29 – 31)

And do not think, beloved reader, that it is only the “saints” who conduct interpersonal relationships in this way. Yes, saints are “saintly” but Jesus is speaking to all of his followers. And if his words here are not sufficient, think how he lived them out in his life and death.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” (Verses 32 – 34)

What one has to see is that this is not a burden added on to your life, but freeing because it rids you of all the hate, violence, grievance, pettiness etc that humanity can carry around that is actually a heavy burden to bear.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Verses 35 – 38)

I will be quite honest, beloved reader, when I first started reading this people came to my mind that had intentionally or unintentionally wounded or hurt me; and the old feeling came springing up again – “I have to forgive them?!” And yet I knew it was true – I had to let those negative feelings go (again) to make room for positive feelings. To be open to what Christ has in store for me. If I keep hold of those negative emotions and sentiments, I will not be ready to receive all the good things that the Lord God the Divine has for me. And quite honestly, there have been too many tough times in my life lately to shut off the possibility of good coming. If it means letting go of my grievances etc to get to better times, I am ready to “turn the other cheek.” I hope and pray you are too beloved reader! Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Kudos to Jesus for teaching hard lessons concerning the Christian life

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Luke 6:17 – 19)

Everyone loves a good performance and performer. And Jesus delivered. But . . . . . Jesus was more than a miracle. More than a “flash in the pan” of power. He came just to do miracles, but to change people and the life they lived.

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Additionally, Jesus was more than “good news”, more than kudos for enduring tough times. Jesus was out to turn upside expectations and assumptions.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Verses 24 – 26)

I am not sure if all of this was directed to his disciples or to those who were gathered – those who had benefited from the power and healing. Living a Christian life is more than an “easy ride” through this world. I have learned that many times over, and learned it at a very young age.

That is not to say there is no blessing and comfort in living a correct authentic Christian life. But those blessings and comforts are not necessarily what the “earthly” world would call benefits.

At this writing I have completed the last of my radiation treatments. Now I turn my thoughts and attentions to healing and regaining what was lost to me because of the treatments. But, beloved reader, I have gained more during this time than I have lost. Once again I learned my strength and endurance does not come through human flesh and sinew. My strength and endurance comes from the Lord. And whatever my future health may hold, because of the Lord God strengthening me and guiding me, I am blessed beyond measure! Selah!