Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A narrative of truth that inspires quiet, peace, Godliness and dignity . ., . but still is the truth

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1 – 2)

We are back with Paul and his first letter to Timothy. Please notice, and I have put them together so you can, the reason and purpose for praying for kings and those in high places. So that there is quiet and peace. And that the lives of the believers are Godly and dignified. Where there is not quiet and peace, there is no Godliness and dignity, and vice versa.

I grew up in an era when Anabaptism prompted us to be “the quiet in the land”, going about one’s faith life without drawing attention to one’s self, and not entering into the “secular” world. But I grew into a world where quiet, peace, dignity, and Godliness was had to maintain because the world intruded and made noise, and committed acts that not only challenged living in peace but ruined that option for others. So, we started to speak up. We reminded ourselves and each other that our Anabaptist forebearers also spoke up when wrong and ungodly things were happening. Jesus Christ spoke up also when he say wrong being done.

“This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Truth has been modified and categorized in many ways; the way I like the best is an “inconvenient” truth. Truth is truth no matter how you try to dress it up, disguise or camouflage it. It gets to be “inconvenient” when it refuses to hid and be discrete.

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Paul may have urged prayers for those in control of the worldly government: but he still spoke the truth about the gospel as he knew it, and preached it as it was revealed to him. Paul in his time and teaching (at least in some of his letters) counseled living quiet and unobtrusive lives. That was for the benefit of the new believers who might face persecution and oppression. But Paul, for himself, was loud and brash, speaking truth and not concerning himself as to who it might offend. I will say that there needs to be a balance between being the “quiet in the land” and speaking/teaching/preaching truth. That is one of the things that comes through his letters to Timothy, and why I enjoy them so much!

May you, beloved reader, speak truth when it needs to be said – but also live a life that is peaceful, Godly, and dignified. And even if you can do it quietly, make a little noise once in a while! Selah!


Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Paul speaks of his need for salvation, and the hope it should inspire in others

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:12 – 14)

I like comparing the Paul of the epistles to new believers & churches to the Paul we see in the letters to Timothy. This short passage does not give you the full view of Paul as he presents himself to Timothy his ward. Paul is both more outspoken and more self-effacing when he is talking/writing to Timothy.

“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the foremost.” (Verse 15)

It is good that Paul has a time and place to let down his guard and speak more directly about himself and what he sees as his situation. I think one of the best attributes of an evangelist is his/her/their vulnerability. Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable? To reveal yourself, who you are at your core? There was a time that I felt I had to maintain a certain persona, that I had to appear as if I had it “all together” even when I felt like everything was falling apart. But I learned it is best to be “transparent” and let others see your vulnerabilities. In fact, Jesus Christ can shine through the strongest when you are at your weakest.

“But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” (Verse 16)

The implication is that if the Divine can value the most horrendous of sinners – in light of the fact that Paul as Saul persecuted the disciples and believers of the Lord God – then all others should be assured of acceptance. I have a feeling, even though Paul must have realized he was forgiven – the committing of that “sin”weighed heavily on his mind. And perhaps that is one of the things that spurred him on.

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 17)

It is fascinating to me, beloved reader, that the phrase “To the” or “Now to the” in scripture is understood as salutatory blessing or the invoking of a blessing. I love the way these innocuous parts of speech get out the way and usher the Presence of the Divine. Back when I wrote a lot of blessings, I used those words quite frequently. Over time I just got out of the habit of writing blessings, and those particular type of blessings. Maybe I should start again! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope from the Master’s Hand

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.” (Philemon 1:1 – 6)

I do not remember when I first read this epistle from Paul to Philemon; but if I am remembering correctly, my first impression was that it was like his other letters to area churches who were new in the faith. And would be shared with the group and passed from person to person. However, this is a more personal letter sent to an individual or, more likely based on the salutation, a specific household – Philemon’s. And it deals with a specific issue; not straight theology nor an issue of theological faith, but living out Christian ideals. And one ideal specifically. But Paul has ground work to lay first.

“I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Paul commends the recipient of the letter for the faith that Paul has heard of, and based on this faith, that Paul has certain expectations of how Philemon should and would act concerning this matter.

“I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Without the background of who Philemon and Onesimus were to each other, this was confusing for me to read. Even more so, because at the age I was when I read it, I had no idea that there were commentaries to explain books of the bible. (A note aside – I sometimes think that I grasped biblical concepts with greater ease WITHOUT commentaries and their sometimes confusing narratives. But having consulted with them enough, I return to them when I mistrust my own understandings ONLY to discover I had the right of it all along! But I digress. Sigh.) When I did gain an understanding of the back story, the letter made more sense.

“Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” (Verses 15 – 17)

Here Paul applies the subtle pressure. Onesimus has come to faith, and having faith is now considered an equal relative in the family of God and Jesus Christ. As Philemon would consider Paul as a relative to him under the Divine. Apparently, however, it was not always so. But now it is, and Paul wants Philemon to understand this . . . clearly.

“If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.” (Verses 18 – 19)

Again, when I read this long ago it puzzled me. What would Onesimus owe Philemon or how would he have Philemon? And what sort of triangle of obligation or debt is Paul referring to?

“Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Verses 20)

Let me reassure you, beloved reader, I am now completely and fully aware of the nuances and implications of this passage and the letter in it entirety. The good news and salvation that comes from that news is highly prized by Paul. It is worth more than any one in a lifetime could accumulate. In fact, according to Paul, if a person had nothing but a assurance of salvation in their life, they would have more than any one unsaved but with gold, silver, and possession untold. Paul, in leading Philemon to faith, gave him this most cherished of gifts and blessings. And so Paul feels that he can call upon Philemon to indulge him and grant any favor that Paul might ask. Paul says, in affect, that because Philemon has shown such devotion to Christian living and principles his faith must be deep and firm – kudos and commendations to Paul. Therefore, Philemon knows the value of this faith. And he knows that others who have this faith must be valued and given equal status as Philemon perceives himself . . . and Paul.

So, we come to Onesimus . . . who has also received faith and salvation . . . and like Philemon is dear and valuable to Paul. And, but, & however . . . . Onesimus is/was Philemon’s slave. (And when I realized that, beloved reader, I was blown away! A Christian owned/still owned a slave!)

So Paul is sending Onesimus back. Not, however, as a slave but as a dear son of Paul and in Paul’s esteem. Equal, in Paul’s estimation, to Philemon. And Paul wants Philemon to consider Onesimus in the same way; not as a slave but as a brother and fellow believer in Christ.

What a position for Philemon to be in. And what a position for Onesimus to be in. What love and faith Onesimus must have in Paul. And what faith Onesimus must have in Philemon’s conversion to Christianity. And lastly, what faith Paul must have in Philemon’s continuation of authentic Christian living.

I talked about a triangle of obligation and debt that existed amongst these three people. Each presuming on faith that the other two would live up to expectations. But there is also hope – a concept we looked at two weeks ago. There is the reality of what happens when we stray from the ways and guidance of the Divine. And the hope we have that we will be welcomed back. The called and chosen people faced this reality, and nurtured the hope that the Divine would welcome then back. Onesimus faced this reality when he ran away. Paul gave him hope; first in the Lord God, and second that Philemon would welcome him back without punishment and recriminations. Paul based his hope on the value that Philemon gave to his salvation and his relationship to Paul.

Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Verse 21)

I do not know what happened between Philemon and Onesimus. One would “hope” that the slave was welcomed back with open arms, and became a brother and worker in in the labor of the household, and in the mission and evangelism that Philemon was a part of. That the position of master (hence the title) and slave might be redefined.

The story might conclude right there. However, Paul was never one to let things rest without a final nudge. And the following is not part of the lectionary, but I thought beloved reader you might find it interesting.

One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you. . . . The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Verses 22 & 25)

Make of that what you will, beloved reader. I know I did! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Staving off complaints

Let mutual love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

I do not want to give you a false impression, beloved reader, concerning my comments yesterday about my family. I love each one of them very much. And if I nag and complain to them about their being self-sufficient, it is because I know I cannot care for them indefinitely and I want to assure myself that their needs will be taken care of. It is a gift to teach someone independence, and how to make their way in the world.

In the Old Testament Yahweh sought to create a people who stood strong and firm in their beliefs. Much of the Divine’s complaints were that the people of Judah and Israel were influenced by the nations around them. That was the Divine’s fear when they sought a king as other nations had. Good man that he was, King David brought them into close contact with other nations and in each generation they became a people less set apart from other nations. And that growing closeness to other belief traditions pulled them away from the Divine.

In the New Testament Jesus taught his disciples how to be distinct and strong within themselves and their faith so that they could teach others. Much of Paul’s letters teaches that faith and distinctiveness.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Verses 2 – 7)

In other letters Paul gives guidance as to how to live in the large community and society in peace, while maintaining a Christian lifestyle. We may think that at time Paul extolled the virtue of “going along to get along”. But he did not want the new fragile faith to be crushed before it had time to take hold. In other of his letters he advocates boldness and confrontation with the outside society, encouraging believers to stand on their own and not be swayed by unbelievers.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Verses 8, 15 – 16)

The same Lord God and Jesus Christ is in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Desiring to create a called and chosen people, and to lead them in to the world to come. The hope for humanity has always been the same. And while humanity may have understood and lived it out differently in the Old and New Testament, the wisdom and guidance of the Divine has always been the same.

May we, beloved reader, stave off the complaints of the Lord God; and instead enter into a blessed relationship. And may we also stave off the complaints of wider society. You know I read recently that Christianity is now one of the most persecuted faith traditions. I do not like to think how that came about, but let us set our hearts, minds, will, and strength to win over others. And if that is not possible, may we stay true and firm to the word of God as discerned by the Holy Spirit. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope springs . . . through new locations and theologies from the Divine

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)” (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)

In the Old Testament Mount Sinai was the literal and theological gathering point for Israel and Judah. From here the Ten Commandments were sent out. From this place the Lord God spoke to Moses and Moses relayed the message to the people gathered below. The Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt could not endure the Voice of the Almighty and were frightened in hearing even the echoes from the mountain. I imagine it felt not unlike a severe scolding from someone in a higher authority. And maybe the memory of the overlords in Egypt was still too vivid to hear other voices of authority. They did not know this Lord God personally – at least not like Moses did. Everything was raw and new.

But . . . . Paul says coming now to the Divine is not like that. Not like hearing the stern reverberations of the Divine? Not hearing the absolutes that the called and chosen people needed to live by? So, what is it like now?

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)

And this is different how? And remember, beloved reader, this is Paul speaking. Do not be fooled into thinking this is the easier road!! That tranquility and consistency will be experienced now. Nor that nothing more will be said and revealed from Mount Zion.

“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven. This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (25 – 27)

In a reversal of what is the norm, the biblical commentators (yes, I have been tracking what they say about this passage) water down Paul’s exhortations – sort of. The one who warned them on earth was Moses – a “mere” man. And in only one location, Mount Sinai. The One who warns from heaven is the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. You might think that would consist of a great deal of “rumbling”; however, the Divine “speaks by every message of mercy; by every invitation; by every tender appeal. [The Divine] spake by [the Divine’s] Son; . . by the Holy Spirit, and . . . by calls and warnings in the gospel. “ (Albert Barnes, slightly paraphrased for inclusive language. ) As to the “ yet once more” shaking, that is taken to mean a new style of worship and understanding of the Divine that was introduced and initiated by Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul sets in terms that make the reader shudder at the newness. But was new then to them is established to us. Even more precisely, it was new to Paul.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Verse 28)

So, where to we come out in our modern times? Oh beloved reader! That is a loaded question! For those who are authentic, firm, devoted readers – it confirms what we knew. For new believers it leads and invites them to a new way of living that is full of blessing and compassion. But . . . . for those who undoubtedly Paul would exhort most vehemently . . . it probably would shake up their world. And maybe, beloved reader, that is why they do not want to hear it!

May you, beloved reader, gather on the gently slopes of Mount Zion and hear the gentle words of the Divine usher you into an more devote way of living. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – When terribly sad things happen to faithful and devoted believers

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:29 – 34)

There are, beloved reader, more modern stories (ie. Stories of believers in Jesus Christ) of what the faithful had suffered. One of the books given to me during my teen years was a book about Christians who suffered for their faith. Some faith traditions are littered (in a good way) with stories of saints of the past who held firm to their faith. My own faith, Anabaptism is one such faith tradition that is so littered. All those stories are tragically sad, and a little disturbing. Not that Paul would have hesitated to disturb his readers. I don’t think the person who gave me the book of believers who suffered for their faith meant to disturb me either. But nonetheless, it gives one pain and pause.

“Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” (Verses 35 – 38)

Paul was very much like these believers – cast about, forsaking simple comforts, and allowing him/themselves to oppressed and disregarded. Not all of these stories that Paul refers to in passing can be found in the current canonical bible. But they are recorded for those who seek out their stories. And why did they endure this? What outcome might they have hoped for or expected?

“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” (verses 39 – 40)

Here we have the last clue to what Paul is getting at; what was started by them in their time (the faithful devotion and adherence to belief) was/is completed in our time – or more precisely in the time period that Paul is writing in. Question – are we in our modern time included in this? Or we as believers in the 21st Century a part of different era?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1 – 2)

There are few things sadder than running a race that you were never destined to win. These early believers, ie those before Jesus Christ, knew what it was like to adhere to faith and be devoted. Their stories are testament to that. But the faith that was/is most perfect was not yet revealed, and would not be revealed until Jesus Christ came. The advantage is to us, who live in the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, however, blessed are those who have not seen but still believe. He was referring to at the time those who would believe in him and the Divine who sent him without having known him personally and first hand. I believe that can apply equally to those who lived and died in faith before Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul is probably sputtering at that!

Beloved reader, it is not enough to know . . . . about who Jesus Christ and the Divine is. It really is not enough either to believe in their existence. What is called for . . . . is to reconstruct with the help of the Holy Spirit one’s entire life and align it would the Divine who sent Jesus Christ. And once aligned, to never ever sway from it. Sad, terribly sad tragic things may happen to us – but not nearly as tragic as to miss living out a life of faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Believing in faith, or believing faithfully?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

What is faith? Is it a belief system that one lives their life by? Or is it the assurance that things are as we understand them to be? We can have faith in the Divine. And we can have a belief system where the Divine is the center and motivation of our believes. Paul says Abraham had faith.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old–and Sarah herself was barren–because he considered him faithful who had promised.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Was it his belief in God that garnered these things? Or the strength and depth of his convictions? If it was his belief in the Lord God that called him out from his hometown, then those who believe in the same Divine are as worthy of the promise and fulfillment as Abraham.

If it was the strength, depth and resiliency – that is how firmly he believed and not the content of his beliefs, then those who believe with the same conviction are worthy of the promise and fulfillment as Abraham. And no, beloved reader, you did not misread that, and neither did I write it incorrectly.

Abraham is worthy either way. The salient point is . . . . is it what we believe . . . . or how we believe?

“Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.” (Verses 12 – 15)

So I am pondering, beloved reader, trying to figure where my comments and remarks should go from here. I am considering each verse that comes after verse 11, and what I conclude is that for these people (Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham – review verses 4 – 7 that are left out at this point in the RCL) faith had no home. No where to lay its head, no where to attach itself; it simply was.

Now, how hard would it be to hold on to a faith, or remain stalwart in a faith, that had no place to rest itself? Yup, that hard. So “faith [that] is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” has to be faith that cannot falter or be moved. You can faith in a whole lot of things, but having faith (that is the content of one’s faith) that is attached to nothing tangible or solid in the context of our physical world has to be faith in something pretty mighty for it not be jostled. Furthermore, it would have to be faith that does not depend on the physical context of our world that because once that context is gone, the faith would be gone. Finally, it goes without saying (but I am saying it anyway) the depth and conviction would have to be beyond anything that this world knows.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (Verse 16)

Beloved reader, may you faith surpass all other things in your life. Selah!