Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Pleas during Lent

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.” (Philippians 3:17 – 18)

Paul is very sincere in this – shedding tears because some “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Part of the reason is that he becomes profoundly disturbed in thinking that some may be lost to death and destruction because they are outside of the will of our Lord God Jesus Christ. Part of the reason is that Paul remembers when he was “Saul” and lived apart of the Lord God. And part of the reason, I think, is that Paul becomes perturbed that any one would live contrary to the rules of the Lord God Jesus Christ. And finally, I think part of the reason is that they are such a bad example to new and vulnerable Christians.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Verse 19)

As fervent as Paul was in persecuting new Christian believers, he is as fervent or more so in protecting them, and nurturing them. And encouraging them to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ and the new life that is to come for them.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Paul’s plea is also the plea of Lent. To resist temptation and stand firm in one’s beliefs no matter what you may see others do and hear of them doing.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Chapter 4, verse 1)

Selah!

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Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Epistle Passage – Questioning the Old Testament text

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” ( II Corinthians 3:12 – 16)

I had promised myself if the Epistle passage did not appeal to me today, I would put off writing on it and comment on one of the other two. However (glad to say) Paul did not disappoint! Paul is pretty scathing in his remarks about the “people of Israel” by which I assume he means Jews who have not opened themselves to the Good News of Jesus. Considering that he used to be numbered among such Jews, you would think he would be more gentle. I guess since he is writing to the Corinthians, Gentiles, he felt he could “froth” at the mouth a little.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (Verses 17 – 18)

This brings to my mind (sooner than I had expected) the questions I had about the Old Testament passage. Why Moses did what he did, and why the Israelites reacted the way they did. And my unasked question as to whether we, not having the type of direct contact that Moses had with the Divine, can have “glowing” faces ourselves. Pondering this – Moses, except for when he wanted to impart the unvarnished word from the Divine, kept his face covered. Was it because the Israelites were accepting enough of the Divine? Were they too new in faith and untested that it was not for them to be exposed to such reflected glory of God? And if that is so, how does Paul know that these new Christians, these Corinthians, are ready? Or did the acceptance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection prepare them more than the Israelites were prepared fresh out of Egypt?

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (Chapter 4, verses 1 – 2)

Hint beloved reader – Paul is not using the royal “we” meaning himself and his audience. He is referring to himself and those who minister with him. Now, if the Corinthians hold as tightly to the gospel and the word that is preached as Paul does, they too will not lose heart. And will receive all the other blessings that Paul refers to. Paul may be generous in accounting faith and devotion to his audience BUT he expects to see the fruits of that faith.

One last thought, beloved reader, and then I will close. Paul says by “open statement of the truth” and it reminds me again of Moses covering the glory that was on his face from communing with the Lord. I have to wonder if Moses had made more of an effort to draw the Israelites into commune with the Divine if the outcome of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah would have been different. Something to ponder. And to keep in mind when our visage glows from the knowledge of the Lord. As Paul did, beloved reader, spread the word! Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The fathomable ways of the physical and spiritual bodies

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” (I Corinthians 15:35 – 38, 42)

Before I start in with my commentary, beloved reader, I HAVE TO share with you the way the New Living Translation phrases verse 42: “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever.” I knew that the writer of I Corinthians was drawing on plain-faced metaphors, but that is sort of jarring!

To trace back in Paul’s metaphor/analogy. When one plants a crop, the seed is not considered to be “alive” until it sprouts and grows. What is planted (that is, our human lives) bears little responsible to the plant that grows from the ground (that is, the spirit that is raised to heaven). So the question is not what sort of the body the raised dead will have, but will those who have died be raised up to heaven. However, that is not the direction that Paul discourse travels. Continuing on with the his description of the human body . . . .

“It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” (Verses 43 – 44)

You get the sense, beloved reader, that Paul does not think much of the physical body. And he seems to be directing his readers to dismiss the physical body and embrace the destine of the spiritual body.

“Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.” (Verses 45 – 46)

Is it just me, or does Paul seem to be saying we need to endure having a physical body before we are awarded a spiritual one?

“The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (Verses 47 – 50)

Or maybe I am just sensitive right now about the shortcomings of the physical body. I am still in the processing of healing. Do not fear though, beloved reader (& my mother,) by the time you read this I will have had another week at least of healing and will probably feel better. Right now however, I have pains and aches that I thought I would be over and done with. Paul does not talk about pains of the body, but he is pretty clear about what he feels are the shortcomings of the physical, perishable, dishonorable, weak, dusty, flesh and blood body.

The other issue I have with Paul’s dismissal of the body is that the soul and spirit that are said to be imperishable is firmly entwined in the body. We are not distinct body/psyche spirits, but a melding together of the two. Maybe, perhaps, I am being too judgmental of what the imperishable body will be; maybe Paul does believe and understand that the imperishable will retain a physical form that is an “improved” version of our mind/body self. I guess that is yet another question I will have of Paul in the world to come.

May you, beloved reader, honor that which is honorable and distance yourself from that which will bar you from eternal life. Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Kudos to Paul for setting out a good teaching and argument

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:12 – 14)

I am not sure it is Paul, or whether it is the argument style that was popular at the time that Paul wrote – but it at times sounds like Paul is setting out a belief that is contrary to what we know about him. I suspect it is the latter. And it is an argument style that was very Greek in its origins. So it makes sense that Paul would use it in writing to the Greeks in Corinth.

“We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (Verses 15 – 17)

The way Paul sets the case, the Greeks in Corinth would be compelled to accept that truth that Paul is teaching, else they are lost.

“Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.” (Verse 18)

And Paul delivers the final piece of his compelling argument. Now I do not have the information at my fingertips, but it seems to me that the Greeks put a great deal of thought and faith into the afterlife. For those not converted to Christianity, they would have the beliefs that we typically think of when thinking about Greek culture. And we know that whatever one’s faith may be, cultural beliefs nudge us and color our faith beliefs. And that is not wrong, nor a sin. We know from missionary trips and experiences that we have heard of that Christians around the world access faith through the lens of their culture, translating basic beliefs into an understanding that resonates with them. And I have to admit, Paul is quite adept at accessing and putting into good use the culture lens of the people he speaks/writes to.

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (Verses 19 – 20)

The term “first fruits” sort of puzzled me – did it puzzle you beloved reader? What Paul meant was the Christ was the first to die, and then be raised to new life. I am not sure what that says about the called and chosen people of God who had already died. But then, this is addressed to the Greeks. Paul winds up his argument by saying the first fruits – the best and most perfect – had gone before the believers to show them the way to the life after this, eternal life. Which to the Greek lens of understanding is something highly valued. Yes, I really have to admire Paul for using his understanding of Greek thinking to further his preaching and teaching.

Now, beloved reader, how can you use your unique cultural understanding for the preaching and teaching of the Lord God! Shalom!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – “Growing up” to be a Christian

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (I Corinthians 15:1 – 7)

One has to wonder about the Corinthians. They remind me of newly converted Christians who want to espouse a new faith but keep getting muddled and caught up in previous beliefs and ways of life. In other chapters of Corinthians Paul sets down rules of living and living with each other. In this chapter he seems to be reminding of the basic tenets of faith and what he had preached to them previously.

“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Paul would seem almost a little too “preachy” if it were not for his self-disclaimer that he is the “least of the apostles” and that it is only because of the grace of God that he is who he is. Perhaps that is why he has so much patience with the Corinthians, because he knows what it is like to come to new faith and try to learn how to conform his life to it. We forget (maybe) that what we are reading is a Paul who has been steeped in faith. Maybe at his early beginnings he too had to figure out what is correct and good to do. That gives the rest of us a measure Divine grace and forbearance that we often may need. Selah!

Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Paul, messenger to “others”

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. “ (Ephesians 3:1 – 4)

Jesus preached not only to his fellow Jews but to others who lived in the area of Galilee. Several times his disciples were astonished that he cared and preached to non-Jews. There acceptance of “others” who were not them/like them is mirrored very much in our current society. The fact that Jesus was for not only the Jews, but Gentiles (read non-believers) is a fact that our current society needs to be reminded of. The stranger and foreigner is to be as welcomed as those who are more familiar to us. In fact, the Jews historically the Jews were to welcome foreigners also, as they themselves were once foreigners in a strange land. Paul puts in gently . . . .

“In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Verses 5 – 6)

What had been the “called and chosen people” (as I have named them) are now called from all nations and all ethnicities. It is “jostling” to me that this mystery was only now made known. The Hebrews/Israelites were to be a light to the nations. However, thinking and looking back over the history of the Israelites and Judahites I can see where the light might have dimmed a little.

“Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” (Verses 7 – 12)

It is one of the ironies of the Divine that a man so determined to uphold Jewish standards that he would plan and carry out the killing of those who grated against and defied his belief system – would now be given the calling and mission to carry and preach the news of Jesus to those completely outside his historical faith circle. If the Magi were the first hint that Jesus the Christ was for all people, then Paul is the crowning confirmation of that fact.

Yesterday I asked the question and set forth the challenge as to what you will be doing this year, beloved reader, and whether they will be positive things. One positive thing would be to spread the new of Jesus, and spread it to all who express interest. Of an even more positive nature would be to accept other people, no matter they faith beliefs and ethnicity. You know, the way Jesus did. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Epistle Passage: Reflecting further on Jesus Christ as the Perfect High Priest

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10: 11 – 14)

I think you know already, beloved reader, that I am feeling that Paul is reiterating on a theme that I feel has already been well examined and described. It could be that Paul is being/just being over thorough. Or it could be that his audience really was a “tough sell”. I want to give that allowance because I know there are people who have heard the gospel many times but still do not embrace it as a model for their lives. So maybe Paul does need to speak at great expanse on this topic.

“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Verses 15 – 16)

As I think about Paul’s efforts to distill and present the gospel (as he understands it) to his readers, I am reminded of a modern-day occupation that is much like this – a technical writer. That is someone who writes at great length and detail as to how an object works or operates. I have at times in my life included technical writing or instruction book/manual writing in my job. And it is a long tedious process. You have to understand each step and sub-step, test out for yourself that it does/will work that way, and describe each step and movement in a clear and precise way. It can be maddening.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Verses 19 – 25)

I can imagine Paul looking at each step and increment of faith in Jesus Christ, examining it from the perspective of his listening/reading audience, and striving to be sure he has covered every aspect and possible question. I imagine it was quite maddening for him too, going over and over each step and aspect of faith to make sure he had in correct and had placed in within the context of his reader so it would be understandable. And then sending it off with every hope and prayerful confidence that it would be received well. It seems to me, beloved reader, that if Paul took such time and effort to write this, I (and you) should take the time to read it and study it. Selah!