Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Being the beloved of the Divine Lord God

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, . . . “ (Isaiah 62:1a)

Another day that was a struggle. There will probably be lots of them in the next few weeks. (Yes, beloved reader, you are probably correct that my struggle with psalm passages is related to my difficulties in life.) Old Testament passages, however, are much more helpful. And the book of Isaiah usually has passages and excerpts meet my needs quite well. I would like to be Jerusalem for whom the Divine will not rest until she feels better.

. . . . until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” (Verses 1b – 3)

It is said the the relationship between the Divine and the followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ is like that between committed spouses. That might be one reason the traditional marriage relationship is held as the only acceptable option for marriage – in or outside of the church. Often we read about the “bride” of Christ as what the church is. At a young age I took that very literally; and wondered how that left a place for males in the church. How, I wondered, could a man be a “bride”? Yes, I decided, church is much more a place for women. But then why, I wondered, are so many men in charge of churches if the church is the “bride” of Christ? Men are not the same as the Messiah. It left me very puzzled. Not as puzzled as some of the actions and behaviors of people who say they profess Christianity. I guess in my adult years I have exchanged one confusion for another.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I have never asked any male in my acquaintance how he bridges or understands that analogy. In my younger years I wouldn’t have had the nerve. In my older years I understand that each man must take the analogy, understand the premise and underlining meaning, and allow himself to subject and place himself in submission to the Divine. And that, beloved reader, is such a sacred thing that I would never ask any male of my acquaintance to reveal to how that works.

May you, beloved reader, experience a Divine Lord God who does not rest until all things are done on your behalf. And may you be loved by the Lord God in that most intimate way. Selah!

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First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Old Testament Passage – Naming who is called, protected and favored by the Lord God the Divine

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1 – 2)

Mid December things got a little more complicated for me. Since October I have been dealing with a growing health concern, and started treatment a few weeks ago. My doctor, an oncologist, is optimistic about the treatment outcome. But the treatments themselves have a great potential to become more difficult and tasking as they continue. The portion of verse two, “when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” is quite appropriate for radiation treatment. Although the tumor does need to be “burned” and consumed. And yes, I am a little depressed about the whole thing.

“For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth– everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Verses 3 – 7)

During this time I am grateful for the expression of God’s love for me. And for the support I receive from family and friends. But I have to tell you, beloved reader, the writer of Isaiah is going a little over the top (in my opinion) in describing Yahweh’s rescue attempts for the called and chosen people. I understand the reason for this; those who had been taken captive and taken to foreign lands were in desperate need of reassurance that the Lord God had not forsaken them, nor planned to leave them away from the promised lands. And that they meant more to the Lord God than their captors and oppressors.

The Divine does not pit one group of people against another; to the Divine all are called and worthy of high regard. I rail and protest against Old Testament scripture being bent and morphed to fit the event of Jesus’ coming and ministry. I also rail and protest that the Divine would sacrifice one nation for the sake of another. The politics that humanity creates and then set to rule over itself consumes itself – especially the helpless, marginalized, and innocent. Against many of the competing nations Israel and Judah were helpless and taken over. But that does not make the other nations enemies of the Divine. Jesus’ example and life argues against that notion, and Epiphany which we just got done celebrating argues against it too.

The over arching theme for this week is the Baptism of the Lord, so the scripture passage for today more likely highlights the water and river aspect; although the baptism of the Holy Spirit is also included in this which we will see as the week unfurls. And, note also that when it came right down to it, it was not any of the human earthly nations that paid the price of redemption. It was the Lord Jesus Christ, which ought to put to rest any disharmony within all humanity. We all have in one way or another missed the benchmark that Christ established; and we all have been forgiven. What Christ extend to us, should be extended to our brothers and sisters. Selah!

Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – The Infant Jesus has visitors . . . of both actual and metaphorical meanings

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

I seem to forget each year what Epiphany is in the church year. So I look it up, and each year say, “Oh yes, I remember now!” And suddenly the designated passages make total sense! It is the Magi – the wise men – coming to find baby Jesus that represents the coming of Jesus to the Gentiles. In the ordinary world it means the realization or revelation or experience of a tremendous thing. (I will come back to that definition a little later.)

I want to note briefly in passing that this passage from Isaiah does not refer in its content to the birth of Jesus. In fact it is a message of hope and rescue for the people of Jerusalem. The Revised Common Lectionary puts it into service for the season of Epiphany. As you move through the verses, it seems to be applicable more and more to the baby Jesus, and the coming of the Magi.

I remember one year – don’t know if it was when I was a child or as an adult – I placed the wise men and the camels a good distance away from the nativity scene of Joseph, Mary, the sheep, and baby Jesus. Each day during Christmas I moved them a little closer until they arrived at the stable and the manger. I felt quite tickled with my plan. I think about that often. I think that is the reason also I take a long time to put away Christmas decorations, and leave until last the putting away of the nativity scene; the Magi were late to the Christmas “party” and I feel that the traditions of Christmas should reflect that. The twelve days of Christmas, actually, take into account the period of time between Jesus’ birth and the coming of the Magi.

Most of the time the Magi are ushered into the Christmas story relatively soon after Jesus was born. Some biblical literature reflects the idea that it was some days after the birth of Jesus that they arrived. And . . . some more modern literature poses the idea that it might not just been male Magi royalty.

I was introduced, some years ago, to a Epiphany poem entitled “The Queens Came Late”. It gives a different perspective, a feminist one, to the coming of Gentile royalty to the infant child. And through its inventive prose opens even wider the idea that Jesus came for all of humanity.

The Queens Came Late

The Queens came late, but the Queens were there
With gifts in their hands and crowns in their hair.
They’d come, these three, like the Kings, from far,
Following, yes, that guiding star.
They’d left their ladles, linens, looms,
Their children playing in nursery rooms,
And told their sitters:
“Take charge! For this
Is a marvelous sight we must not miss!”
The Queens came late, but not too late
To see the animals small and great,
Feathered and furred, domestic and wild,
Gathered to gaze at a mother and child.
And rather than frankincense and myrrh
And gold for the babe, they brought for her
Who held him, a homespun gown of blue,
And chicken soup–with noodles, too-
And a lingering, lasting, cradle-song.
The Queens came late and stayed not long,
For their thoughts already were straining far-
Past manger and mother and guiding star
And a child aglow as a morning sun-
Toward home and children and chores undone.

[-Norma Farber in When It Snowed That Night ]

Epiphany . . . an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation. [quoted from Wikipedia]

May you, beloved reader, discover new things and be open to new learning in this life . . . wherever you may find them. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: Old Testament Passage – Moms and Dads

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the LORD”; and then they would return to their home. . . . . Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people.” (1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26)

Every year a feel a little bit sad that the Christmas season, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, quickly moves into the lectionary year – with nary a look back . . . mostly. Okay, that was a weird sentence, but I think you (mostly) know what I mean. Here we are just a few days past Christmas and we are transported from the Christmas event to other considerations. That will become more clear as this week of scripture passages unfolds.

There is a slight backward glance however in this passage from Samuel, if one looks at it in a certain way. Jesus’ mother Mary was a caring and devoted mother – if she wasn’t/was not destined to be, she would not have been chosen by the Divine. Samuel’s mother was also devoted to her son, Samuel. Do not think, beloved reader, that her heart did not ache being apart from him most of the year. She stands in good stead with other mothers in the bible; John’s mother most easily and most recently comes to mind. Each of the biblical figures that we look up to had strong and devoted mothers.

They had good fathers too. As I made mention and note of, Jesus’ earthly father was of royal lineage. John’s father was a priest in the temple. And I am pretty sure (although it is not mentioned) that Samuel’s father also missed his son who was born to his favored wife.

So even if the nativity is behind us, there is still evidence of strong families. That is good to keep in mind. Also to keep in mind is that with the birth of Jesus the family of God is set in motion. That is very good to keep in mind. Christmas is one of the seasons that has strong emphasis and a firm setting in families. May you, beloved reader, relish your family connects; and include in that the family of God! Selah!

Season of Christmas 2018 Year C – Christmas Eve & Christmas Day; Endings, New Beginning & Celebrations

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

This Advent season we have been hearing how the people of Israel and Judah, who were the Divine’s first called and chosen people, desired to be saved and redeemed by Yahweh. They felt lost and forsaken, swept up by the power and politics of the countries and nations surrounding them. They searched for the Divine’s direction and guidance, catching hold of it for a time and then losing it again. They expected the Lord God to swoop down and rescue them, vindicate them for all they had suffered, and punish those who were set against them. But it did not happen that way.

Yes, there were small victories and times of peace that stretched out a generation or two, but never the eternity nor complete shalom they pined for. They felt and believed that there would come a person – no, more than a person, a Messiah – who would straighten things out. Who would smooth out all the rough spots in their faith and make plain how they were to live and worship. And with the Messiah would come the light of understanding and wisdom.

“He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (Verses 2 – 5)

But when it came, some did not recognize it. It was not what they thought it would be, or should be. Even when it was presented and explained to them, they did not realize that a new beginning was dawning.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (Verses 6 – 9)

The Advent season has been leading up to the birth of the Messiah; a man, but not just a man. Something more. Something that would not come into fruition immediately but would exist along side, until the right time. Advent is about waiting, and waiting for that right time. Not on humanity’s time, but on God’s time. The time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah had ended. Just like the end of Advent has come.

But like so many things, the ending of one thing and the beginning of another is not necessarily back to back. Not necessarily immediate. We know and understand that the birth of Jesus was the beginning; but it was a quiet beginning. Or at least a relatively quite beginning. Just like the birth of any child has its fanfare and celebration, Jesus’ birth burst across the firmament, blazoned across the heavens. And then there was quiet.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Have you taken note, beloved reader, that the hopes of the Jewish people dwindled down and there were fewer and fewer writings and prophets leading up to the time the Jews were placed under the rule of Roman? By the time of Jesus’ birth the writings of generations before had passed from being “new” to being the long ago history of the people of God.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” ( Isaiah 9:2-7)

We celebrate now what was unknown then. We use scripture, recasting it to reflect the understanding that the Jews hoped for, wished for, and waited for. It is my hope we honor their steadfastness and learned from their mistakes and missteps.

O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” (Psalm 96)

May we continue the tradition of keeping hope alive, writing about our faith and our faith journey, and celebrating the joyous times in our Christian journey!

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Keeping hope and faith kindled

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)

I like little towns. I did most of my formative growing up years in a little town. I like thinking that the most unlikely of things can come from the most unlikely of places. Give me the underdog, the forgotten and pushed aside. And I will champion it with all that I have.

“Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” (Verse 3)

Not only, says the writer of Micah, will the unexpected come from a small and insignificant place but it will seem like forever until the expected comes forth. This reminds me of Jesus’ prophecies that many things will come to pass before the judgment day. Often in the past two hundred years (maybe more) there have been predictions and prophecies that the end times are near at hand. The “signs” and “portents” seemed to point to it. But the writer of Micah says it will seem like the Divine has given up the called and chosen people, so long will it be until the unexpected comes forth.

Now I do not think the “she” is a specific or designated woman, but rather the analogy of the birthing of a child taking so long and being so arduous. Of course, some commentators are quite attached to the notion that their hindsight of how the Messiah was conceived and born should attributed and given to the prophets as foresight. I am really pretty persistent in my feeling that there is something not quite right in that.

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Verses 4 – 5a)

What do you tell a people who are yearning for hope and shaking with uncertainty? You tell them that things will get better. That hope may not be seen now, or the soon after now; but in the time that is to come, there will be reason for hope. That past glories may have become dust but out of the dust will come greatness again. And that in the smallest and most forgotten places may be the very place that newness will spring forth. Was the writer of Micah inspired and given foreknowledge? I do not know. I am not in the business of squashing hope nor nay saying that improbable predictions will not come true.

It is nice to think that there are still people who nurture hope and hear the whispers of the Divine telling them to spread the good news. I strongly believe, however, that good news and messages of hope do not have to hitch themselves to blazing once in a lifetime events. Hope is kindled and nurtured best in peaceful corners of the heart and soul, warming the spirit and keeping one serene and at peace. I grew up in a small town where friendship, camaraderie, and faith got one through the toughest of times. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you have such places and people. Shalom!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Third Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – What has been done for us

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.” (Zephaniah 3:14 – 18)

We know from last week that this “group” rescue was a hope that the Israelites and Judahites had and held on to during their dark hours. It gave them hope, if not for the present generation than at least in the generation to come. Most parents will tell you they wish for something better for their children than what they had. And the Lord God, as a Loving Parent (it was presumed) would bring about something better for their descendants than what was being experienced now.

“I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.” (Verses 19 – 20)

The book of Zephaniah is actually a plea to the Judahites to honor the covenant and commitment that they had made to the Lord God. It was presumed to be written after Israel fell (again, presumably) because of their disobedience to Yahweh. Chapter three is to be read as the joy that might be there if they are faithful. And it does sustain my idea from last week that there is a “group” dynamic of their salvation – a group of people being saved and restored as opposed to individuals finding rescue.

So, what about my question/title. What is being done for us today, modern times? Well, let’s tally it up. Through our Lord Jesus Christ our judgments have been taken away, and we need not bear reproach. The Lord through the Holy Spirit is in our midst, so we need not fear that we are alone in this world. But our enemies are still around. However, we can count on the Lord God gathering us up and taking us “home” to be with our Lord God. It would seem that we still need to exist and cope in this mortal material world – in that we have it no different than the Judahites and Israelites. But we know our hope is not in the future, it is not just for future generations but is here with us now. That is one of the messages of Advent – actually one that we tend to minimize. We have connected Advent to waiting that we forget what we are actually waiting for is the time to celebrate it, not the time that it will become actual. All that can be done for us in this world has been done. So let’s celebrate that as we wait for the big celebration of Christmas! As the book of Zephaniah says, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” Selah!