Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Living on the edges of sinfulness

It was either this or Hosea, beloved reader, and both passages seem to be dealing with sinfulness that has a purpose. I do not know which passage had the lessor of two evils – this or Hosea 1:2-10 . The question of which is the greater or the lessor, I will leave to you beloved reader.

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18: 20 – 21)

Interesting things about this passage. First, it comes soon after the Lord God appearing in conjunction with the three men who are offered hospitality by Abraham, and when Abraham and Sarah are told to expect the birth of a son very soon. Second, there is a wonderful discussion as to whether Abraham should be told about what the Lord God expects to find in Sodom & Gomorrah. The Divine decides to let Abraham know because, “I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Verse 19b) This explains why Abraham is right there with the Divine and takes part of the discussion as to that twin city’s fate. And third, the three men are the eyes and ears of the Divine.

“So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Verses 22 – 25)

You have to wonder though, how Abraham had the bravery to barter with the Divine. We know that Abraham had family in Sodom/Gomorrah, and that they alone (at least most of them) are spared. And only at Abraham’s request. And if Sodom/Gomorrah was a large city or set of cities, why did Abraham start at such a comparatively low number?

And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” (Verses 26 – 28)

I did a little research, and the most probable size of the two cities were 2,400 people. That is quite small, actually. Think, beloved reader, of the small towns you know or maybe even the small town you live in or were born. If “disaster” was imminent, would there be enough righteous people in it for it to be saved?

“Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” (Verses 29 – 31)

Abraham must have known something about the cities. At this point I am wondering why Abraham’s extended family were living there. I had wondered about that off and on when encountering the story. And if you read ahead (as I did) you will read that Lot and his family are really not a part of the city; that is, the evil and sinfulness had not really touched them.

“Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Verse 32)

The question I had posed at the beginning of my comments was which Old Testament passage deals with the greater sinfulness. And to be honest, I am not sure. Hosea was told to pick a wife that had a reputation and history of being unfaithful. It was so that the Divine could give object lessons to house of Israel. Here, in this passage from Genesis, we can see that sinfulness was rampant many generations before the Israelites established their kingdom. Sinfulness lays in wait for anyone who ventures out in the world. A sobering thought. Be careful, beloved reader, and shalom!


Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Raising the alarm for a return to a different age

Two things I want to say and then I will step back and let you read this passage in its entirety. First, I am using it as preface to the comments I want to make about the other Old Testament passage. Second, notice that the Lord appeared to Moses as three men – a Trinity!

“The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.
He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:1-10a)

When I read the Old Testament passages for this week, I had the same dilemma as before – which one to choose?! But as I sat thinking about the both, the time that they happened in the history of the called and chosen people, and the people involved . . . . I thought about how God’s people had come from first being called. And it was not in a good way. Listen to the prophet Amos.

This is what the Lord GOD showed me–a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” (Amos 8:1 – 2)

The Divine came to Abraham, sought him out I am guessing; and Abraham recognized the Lord God in the manifestation that approached him. Abraham offered hospitality, and it was readily accepted. Abraham did well.

By the time of Amos the people of Israel had so gone astray that the Divine was no longer going to come near them. The Divine’s Holy Presence would be removed from them . . . according to Amos.

“The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Abraham offered the best that he had, and offered it gladly. Now to be far, Abraham recognized that these three men were not as they appeared. He knew he was in the presence of something beyond his own human experience. It was not the first time. So he had the advantage there.

The people of Israel in Amos’ time did not pay honor and respect to the traditions of their forebearers. The stories of Abraham and other that came down to them were not heeded or internalized. May be if the Divine had come to them as the Lord God came to Abraham their response would have been different. I am reminded of Jesus’ statement that if one has compassion on the least of these . . . . But compassion seems to be unknown by the people Amos is speaking of.

“The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” (Verses 7 – 12)

To Abraham the Divine brought the promise of new life, and the beginning of a nation that would be called the people of God. To the people that Amos addresses, the news is of mourning and death, being parted from the Lord God and left to wander in emptiness.

What happened in those intervening years? Well, we can read the bible and learn the stories. But does that answer the question as to how the people of Israel so changed from who they used to be? The reason this is an important question is because I have seen humanity change. How did that change come about? How wide spread is the change? And, can humanity change back to the compassionate and caring members of society that they once were? Or . . . . am I remembering a time that never was? If it never was, does that mean it will never be?

We are on the cusp, beloved reader, of being the very fulfillment of the story of the people of Israel and Judah. And that scares me! Let us all seek within ourselves shalom, and offer it to others! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passages – Being called forth, but disinclined to be

I have had this dilemma before, beloved reader. Neither of the Old Testament passages appeal to me. One from Amos, a prophet not very popular in his life time; but then when was a prophet of the Divine popular in that prophet’s life time! The other passage from Deuteronomy – a book that I am hard pressed to find appeal in. The shorter passage is in Deuteronomy, so that would be a plus! But . . . . Deuteronomy!

Oh, beloved reader, you are surprised to hear that I do not have affinity for the entire bible! And you are surprised that I do not bring myself with great joy and abandon to commenting on scripture?! I am human, and as much subject to the frailties as anyone else.

Amos said of himself, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (Amos 7:14b – 15) Beloved reader, I am not Amos either! Despite his feeling at a disadvantage because he was called out of the blue, he let forth with the loud and mighty words that his Lord God told him to say. “Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'” (Verses 16 – 17)

I remember when I first felt the call to enter into service to the Divine. I was literally backed into a corner. I had retreated from the Voice of the Divine in a hallway and was up against a gate that could not be opened. There was no where to hide, and turning back from whence I came meant (in my mind) acceding to the Will of Divine. Now some twenty-seven years hence I am still sometimes dragged kicking and screaming to where the Lord God calls me.

The Deuteronomy passage says, “and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” (Deuteronomy 30:9-13) You didn’t really think (and I knew so) I could avoid Deuteronomy. (Nor it seems turn completely away from the Amos passage.)

What the writer of Deuteronomy says is very true – in a spiritual sort of way. I do not have wealth or accumulation of resources. But in the undertakings of ministry I have prospered in my faith life. And I have heard enough from others that I ministered to that they have been blessed by my work. And while I may put up protests and fervently wish to defer in some instances of being called, I do answer the call. And I feel the Spirit lift me up and carry me along. Because, since the moment I willing walked toward the Divine’s calling I have found it to be very true . . . . “No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” (Verse 14) Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Knowing where and with whom you should be

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her– that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.” (Isaiah 66:10 – 11)

The more I looked and studied this passage, the more it seemed like a praise passage. Sometimes the writer of Isaiah has dark and disturbing words and warnings. Other times the writer of Isaiah lifts the spirit and soul – those are the types of writings I like! Jerusalem suffers a good deal in the bible. Being raided and taken over; being razed and dismantled. The called and chosen people considered it their spiritual, if not literal, home. Many Jews still say, “Next year I will be in Jerusalem.” The middle east is now hotly contested land, with several races and cultures trying to claim dominance. To be honest, beloved reader, I am not sure who has rightful claim. What I do know is that both in the Old and New Testament there is the admonition for gentleness and welcome. And it is that gentleness and welcome that nurtures and lift the soul and spirit.

“For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Jerusalem is often used as the symbolic name of a spiritual home. In the New Testament there is much mention of the “new Jerusalem” It would seem that the more Jerusalem was oppressed and abused, the greater the hope for a “new Jerusalem.” The New Testament images it as the place where the disciples/apostles might rule with Jesus and the Lord God. Others say New Jerusalem will geographically be elsewhere. I prefer to believe that New Jerusalem will be a new way of living and relating to one another – a new mindset. But, beloved reader, what ever one’s image is . . . it seems we much wait for it.

“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.” (Verse 14)

I always have to wonder, who are the enemies that the Lord God the Divine is against? And I have to worry about the “us” and “them” mentality. Because just as I am not sure who is most deserving of the geographical place we call Jerusalem now, I am also loathe to declare who is with the “us” and who is the “them” that we are supposed to be in opposition with? Because, if there is only one “New Jerusalem” and all that belief in the Divine assume they are going to be there . . . we might be very surprised who we see, and who sees us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Changes are coming

Then the LORD said to him [Elijah], “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.” (I Kings 19:15 – 16)

I still remember the preparations I had to make when I was getting ready to leave my job in Indiana; our family was moving west to Oregon. There was only a few weeks to hire someone and train them to take over for me. In may job there was really no “down” or “fallow” season. I tried to do as much advance work as I could, and I tried to write as much stuff down as I could in a training manual. My fear was that I would forget to train the new person on some aspect of my job. Of course eventually I just had to leave the job and hope that things worked out for the new person and the staff I left behind.

“So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him.” (Verse 19)

The job I had before the one I left for moving to Eugene was a different experience in training the person. The person who was my assistant was moving into my spot. That was a much more comfortable and easy transition. As my “second in command” she knew the job as well as I did. And I was glad she would have the experience of making the job her own.

“He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” (Verse 20)

If you remember, there was a story from Jesus’ ministry where a young man was called to follow Jesus but wanted to wait until his parent had passed on before he left them. Jesus was pretty direct in what he thought of that. “Let the dead bury their own” he said. You are not to take this as meaning that Jesus was forbidding him to attend to urgent family business. Jesus knew the young man’s heart and knew that I did not want to leave the comfort and familiarity of his home to go wandering about. But here Elisha is asking to take proper leave of his family so they would know what happened and where he was going. After all, the Lord was telling Elijah to make preparations for his leave taking. Why would he not allow Elisha to say his farewell. Plus Elijah asks the leading question “what do you think my action meant for you?”

“He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.” (Verse 21)

Elisha answered that question by making his own final arrangements, and then going with Elijah. When I found out that my husband had a job offer on the west coast, it took me aback. I realized instantly that it would drastically change the plans I thought I should set in motion. I knew I could look upon this as a call to something new and exciting in my life. Or, I could see it as tearing up my present life (at the time) and mourning that loss. I chose to look forward. That move had so many unforeseen consequences. And the reasons that it was the correct thing has become more and more clear as time has gone on. The Divine was “calling me out” and calling me away from the life I had there . . . . . to something more real and abundant. Yes, there have been losses and change. As our life out here unrolled I could see where Eugene, OR was the place we needed to be.

The funny thing is, beloved reader, I really don’t like change much! I am, in many ways, a “creature of habit”. But at the same time, I like change and growth. So times you need to make changes in order to move forward in life. The other Old Testament passage tells the story of Elijah being taken up, and Elisha fully inheriting his “mantle”; actually, he gains a double share of what Elijah had. How is that for a change!

What I needed to remember and what I pass on to you, beloved reader, is that no matter what change comes about – the Lord God the Divine is still with us, and we with the Divine. And that will never change! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Starting the journey of Ordinary Time

The Sundays after Pentecost have numbers, and each successive Sunday brings us closer to Thanksgiving and the end of this lectionary year. That they span over summer and well into fall will tell you there are many of them. The number of the Sunday indicates only which passages are for that week. If I told you this was Proper 7(12) it would tell you a great deal. So I will not enumerate the Sundays. I could also tell you that now there are two sets of Old Testament and Psalm passages each week, and each matching of Old Testament and Psalm passage have a connection point – that may or may not make sense. I will try to illuminate that connection. So here we are, at the first Sunday of the long Ordinary Time.

“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels; who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long.” (Isaiah 65:1 – 5)

As to why I may choose one Old Testament passage over another, I cannot tell you. If it is one that I have not spoken to before I am more likely to choose it. Or if one is more “unfathomable” I may (or may not actually) pass on it. If I feel a flame of intrigue and passion, I will most definitely choose it! (That is how I have gotten myself sucked into some Psalm passages that vex me!)

As to this passage, the Lord God the Divine is chastising the called and chosen people for being so much less than the Divine expects of them. Not, mind you, all of them but enough that they leave a foul stench in the Nose of the Divine. Some of the commentators say of this passage . . . it is sometimes people who have gone so far astray from the Lord God who perceive themselves to be the more holy and religious. Meaning, I guess, that they have fallen into such false worship that it is so unworldly as to be mysterious and mystical. The “holy” part is not the authentic belief in the Divine, but worldly/earthly spiritually imbued that could send shivers down one’s spine. Think deep and dark evil!

“See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.” (Verses 6 – 7)

Now it is more than just a matter of worshiping in the wrong place, beloved reader. The Lord God the Divine is worshiped on flat open plains where one’s actions and attitudes are seen, and where one is amongst like minded believers. Up in the hills and mountains are the evil things, hidden dark things, idols that are not the true Yahweh. So abundant were they that it was more than just caution that would keep the true worshipper in the correct place. Giving heed to unholy (or perverted) deities was tantamount to damning one’s soul and spirit.

“Thus says the LORD: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.” (Verses 8 – 9)

But, says the Divine, wandering off to wild places does not necessarily mean one’s spirit and soul is condemned. And there may be good and true worshipers who see their peril before it is too late, or succeeding generations who do not follow their ancestors. For their sake, says the Divine, I will not destroy all of them called and chosen people.

That is important to remember, beloved reader, at those times we have gone astray. As I said previously, Ordinary Time is a long time – many miles to travel. We could get temporarily lost, wander off the good path, or slip up somewhere. If there is still good in us – as verse 8 says, blessing in some of harvests of the fruits – the Divine give us opportunities to mend our ways. Perhaps, beloved reader, something you read here in the coming weeks and months will help. Selah!

Trinity Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Thinking about the diversity of the Divine

Trinity Sunday – the Sunday in the church calendar where we pay special heed to the Triune nature of the Divine. Appreciating the diversity of the Divine means that one is open to not just three aspects of the Divine but that one is aware that the Divine can have many facets. The personification of Wisdom is only one of them.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” (Proverbs 8:1 – 4)

What one needs to remember when reading this passage, beloved reader, this is wisdom from one who is not necessarily speaking on behalf of the Lord God – but is most definitely inspired by the Lord God.

“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth– when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Verses 22 – 31)

It reminds me somewhat of what the Holy Spirit might say. Jesus Christ said he was with the Creator at the time of creation. And that he and the Lord God are One. It is not to far to say the Spirit of Wisdom might also be known as the Spirit of Truth/the Advocate who would come? Or, the Presence of Yahweh that was said to dwell amongst the Lord’s called and chosen people?

Genesis 1: says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” [NIV; emphasis mine] Who is to say what the Divine was like then, and what multiplicities there might have been in the Divine.

Trinity Sunday – I really like the day! May you, beloved reader, find communion with the Divine – delighting in the way the Divine makes its God-self known to you! Selah!