Second Sunday After Christmas 2019, Year A: The Epistle Passage – Starting the New Year off correctly

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:3 – 4)

On the cusp of a New Year Paul invites us to consider what a magnificent gift Christ was to the world. When my children were young I often told them that since we could not give physical presents to baby Jesus, we give presents to each to honor the love the Lord God has for us. As they grew, I taught them the traits of the Christian life, and that by showing love and compassion to others, they are showing love to the Divine. They may not profess faith in a mainstream way, but I assure you they are kind, caring, and compassionate people. People, I truly believe, would be welcomed as children of the Lord God.

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Verses 5 – 10)

Do you notice, beloved reader, how simply Paul sets this forth? By seeing, hearing, and following Jesus Christ we are doing God’s will. Over the decades and centuries we have made theology so complicated, mincing issues and ideologies down to the small detail. It sometimes feels like we are not to just follow the Lord God and Jesus Christ, but discern which version and incarnation of the Lord God and Jesus Christ; according to whose faith beliefs should we believe? That’s not right.

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Verses 11 – 14)

We, as a Christian body, have to do better. Christianity has emerged from recent decades with a black eye. Not everyone,that is, who believes in the Lord God. But the faith tradition called Christianity has bullied and bruised so many. That is not right either. So for the coming New Year, beloved reader, I am not suggesting that we believe more strongly or more correctly; we should believe more gently and with more compassion & mercy. I will try to remember to remind you of this. Remind each other! It was not, and never was, through our own ability and might that we received forgiveness and redemption. But through the love, grace, and mercy of the Divine! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Bestowing reassurance; or more aptly, a promise of compassion from the Divine

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6)

One of the “cloaked” mysteries of the New Testament is why the Lord God sent Jesus the Messiah. The gospel of John states it quite clearly – “for God so loved the world.” If you know the gospel of John, you know that clear speech is rare – cloaked in mysticism as it is. And Paul, the supposed writer of Romans, is brisk and abrupt – hardly ever shy about speaking his mind. Much of his letters emphasis the responsibility of believers to live transformed lives in response to salvation and redemption. I had hoped to hear, through the scriptures this week, more “tender” words. According to the pattern of meaning of the Advent candles that I have been using this season, the fourth candle is to have the theme love.

Maybe I need to remind myself, and in the process beloved reader remind you, that love is not always “warm” and “fuzzy” but stalwart and enduring. It was the love or compassion that the Divine had for humanity that prompt Jesus Christ to be sent. A reassurance that humanity and creation is still and will always be forefront in the plans and consideration of the Divine. And a promise that anyone who believes with sincerity and authenticity is a child of God. This why – because of Divine love – Yahweh desired to assure King Ahaz, that while things looked grim he could set aside his worries for the present and focus on working towards a better future. That is a good message for us too, beloved reader.

“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I has said over the past few weeks of Advent that first we must have hope – a hope that is found on unshakable faith. Then next we have peace – because we know our deepest hopes will be fulfilled. With peace, we can feel joy – and spread the joy to others. And with joy in one’s heart love can take root. As you go through this week, beloved reader and into the time of Christmas, I hope, pray, and encourage you to show love – both tender love and resilient love to those around you. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Hope comes from peace and harmony

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:4 – 6)

I am assuming that Paul is talking about the Torah (Pentateuch in Greek) and the other writings that would have been used in the Jewish community. It was Paul’s belief (and a good many commentators that I have read) that Jesus the Messiah was predicted by the writings of the major and minor prophets, and the nature of the Messiah as revealed in the stories of the called and chosen people. In that I am not talking about the presumptions that were made about the nature and intentions of the Divine, but what actually transpired between the Lord God and humanity. Read carefully where Paul says “live in harmony with one another”. Many of the actions that were undertaken by the Israelites did not seem to promote harmony. I concede the consideration of that is a larger topic that I am not looking at taking up here. The point I want to emphasis is one voice glorifying the God and [Parent] of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Verse 7)

A refrain that is often heard is “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people” to slightly paraphrase for gender inclusivity. But that is the whole point, beloved reader, to make all people feel welcome! Listen to Paul!

“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (Verses 8 – 12)

One may ask, who are the “circumcised” and who are the “Gentiles”. Paul still has a shade of “them” and “us”. Strictly speaking to Paul, WE are the Gentiles. Because we are not the first people that Yahweh called out. But as believers in Jesus Christ and beneficiaries of the Lord God’s outreach through the Messiah, we are the “circumcised.” And if we are both, beloved reader, how can we deny relationship with others. Either they are already within the family of God, or the Divine is attempting to reach out to them through us! So I say to you, beloved reader, which ever group you may be a part of . . . .

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 13)

Selah and Shalom!

[P.S. This might be a good time to announce that as of November 26th I have taken up the invitation to post on Theology Corner. In the coming weeks I will say more about the transition to posting exclusively (not that I mean to leave anyone beyond or left out) on Theology Corner. Look for cues and clues to switch over to that new site.)

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Time to rouse up one’s self, and be ready

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” (Romans 13:11 – 12a [Emphasis mine] )

Paul’s thoughts and theology bring to mind the 10 wise and foolish women; some were prepared for the coming of the master/bridegroom, and some were not. It would seem that Paul is saying that since time has passed since Jesus’ resurrection and being taken into heavenly, surely the time grows nearer for the Messiah’s return. And it is true, in a way; every day brings us closer to the return of the Divine. But when days span into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years. And then decades pass, and centuries. And we think, how long is the wait? It is a topic we have touched on many times, beloved reader. Salvation IS closer . . . . but we don’t know by how much.

Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Verses 12b – 13)

Here we are then, coming into another Advent season. And Paul’s advice does stand firm. In fact, for each year since our coming to faith, the exhortation stands firmer because we, beloved reader, are further from the initial exuberance of new faith. It is liken to coming to Advent AGAIN! We have been through it before – the waiting, the decorating, the worshiping, the lighting of the five candles. We strive to make it new, exciting, and different. But sometimes we are strained to do so. That is why, I think, Advent and Christmas are blessed through the eyes of a child who is not yet jaded by the mystery, lights, joy, and magic. And maybe, just maybe Advent and Christmas are blessed through the eyes of a new believer. A new believer, while new in the faith and learning what is good and right as a Christian, has the impetus and enthusiasm to find the season simply joyful.

“Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Verse 14)

Let us go back to my opening however – the women who had trimmed their candles and had oil for their lamps. One of the first tasks of Advent is to get ready. To inventory what we have for Christmas and consider what we will need for this season . . . . that seems both so secular and spiritual. It may be that the first thing we should really get ready is ourselves. Dust off our wonder of the season and remind ourselves of the gift that was given to humanity. Yes, the more I think about that, the better it sounds.

May you, beloved reader, enter into this season ready to partake of all the joy and wonders. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A remind of what we already have

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Colossians 1:11 – 12)

Normally I might question what is “the inheritance of the saints in the light” to discern whether that is applicable to me or to the times I find myself in. But I am too weary and worn to ask such questions. And too needful of what ever blessing and assurance that can be provided to ease my way. Of course I am curious; but what would it profit me to find out that Paul means salvation/forgiveness/redemption when that is not exactly where my weary and worn out feeling comes from. Better to assume that it is endurance and stamina to help me through. And the grace of the Divine to ease my way.

“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Then I read verses thirteen and fourteen, and I see that my first but undesired assumption is correct. Why oh why does Paul assume that is the greatest gift that can come from the Divine? I know it has a lot to do with Paul’s life when he was Saul. And weighed down by who/what he was before his Damascus road experience, I can understand that and sympathize. But that is not my situation nor my life. And it is a sadness to me that Paul cannot be the apostle I need. Maybe that is why I carried so much frustration during my young adult years, because Paul who was supposed to be the forefront and fore most of apostles . . . . was not for me.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Verses 15 – 20)

So setting aside my own needs and the lack of exhortation & support for my life, Paul is trying very hard to present Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the sum total of what the Lord God is. And that the Lord God through Jesus Christ sent to the world the ability to be reconciled to the Divine and remade to be acceptable to the Holy Lord. What Paul is offering and explaining is pretty awesome. Especially for those new in the faith. It is reassurance that while one may be pulled down by the weight of new faith and taking up a new way of life, that the Divine has provided the grace and opportunity to enter in this life without the weight of the past pulling us down. And that Jesus Christ is all that the Lord God us, presented to believers in a new and accessible way.

Furthermore, while Paul does not allude or expound on this much, it opens up the possibility of having a close relationship with the Divine through Jesus Christ. And since Jesus Christ is the Divine (I mean just re-read what Paul said if you have any doubts) if we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are automatically in relationship with the Divine. Now, if Jesus Christ and the Divine has done so much for us, is it too much to that that the Divine will support us in all aspects of our lives? Paul may put special emphasis on the redemption part, but that is not all that there is to the Lord God the Divine. So, resting in the assurance of the Lord God and Jesus Christ’s love for humanity – let us not hold back in setting forth all of our requests and petitions. Boldly tell the Divine what your deepest needs are, and be confident that the Lord God will undertake for you in all aspects of your daily life! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Different Type of News for Good Believers

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” (II Thessalonians 3:6)

I wonder, beloved reader, if you reaction to this verse was the same as mine. How is Paul defining “idleness” and “not according to the tradition now.” Paul had/has very set ideas of how Christians should live, and his instructions could conceivably cover any and every aspect and facet of life. And I have to admit . . . . it sometimes takes a little bit of bravery to read what type instruction and guidance he is giving.

“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I did breath a sigh of relief when I read verses 7 to 9; Paul was not talking about faith issues but practical lifestyle issues – which do touch a bit on faith. But more on the character of a good authentic Christian. This example and model of Christianity and Christian evangelizing is one that many faith traditions have adapted. Missionaries are much more effective when they live side by side the people they are sent to, and can be seen working as hard as the potential converts. Non-missionary Christians too model faith much more effectively when work as hard as people who have not yet, but may someday espouse faith.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Do you remember beloved reader, when the early Christian church was quite young, believers would sell their possessions and pool their resources giving to those who had little or none? I have to wonder if this situation is the trickle down from that initiative. It is a strong tenet of faith that Christians in committed faith circles help one another. What is not often spoken of is that some take advantage of that; and that some believers think that there should be a limit to the help that is given. It is a tricky thing, beloved reader, to draw up guidelines that govern Christian help and stewardship.

Our modern society has mixed opinions on social welfare programs; in fact I have a great deal of reluctance to start naming the different programs and social services that are available for fear of touching off debate and divisiveness. And, it strays into the realm of politics. So I am going to end my remarks here. Paul was very brave wading into the arena of life. All I will say is that I hope and pray that all your needs are met, and that you are making your way in the world without overwhelming hardship. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Declaring unshakable truths and debunking alarming rumors

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.” (II Thessalonians 2:1-2)

How many times I talked about the end times and what portent there will be of it, beloved reader? I have lost count. I have approached it from all sides it feels like; that the Divine alone knows when it will come. That there have been no reliable signs in the past, and nothing that we can see in the future that points to it. And that with all that the world and humanity has gone through, all the times when generations have said “It cannot get any worse – surely the end is near!” it has gotten worse. And then better enough in some places that life goes on. Paul says what ever the Thessalonians hear about things in other places, that does not signify the end times. Paul says further,

“Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?” (Verses 3 – 5)

Again, while it may seem in times gone by (and may be in current times?) that one such as this has arisen, it has not been the stuff of “end times.” Makes one wonder though, what sort of person or event that Paul had in mind. Really, when you think about it too much, it is scary!

But in a way it is also comforting. That what has happened in the past, all the powers and authorities that have arisen, have been human. Not some demonic force, but human greed, avarice, and insensitivity. And the Divine has said that such people are like grass – they spring up, have their time, and then die out & fade away. That is the comfort. That whatever we are going through right now will not last forever, and is not a harbinger of demonic suffering.

The Revised Common Lectionary skips some verses and pick up the citation later on in Paul’s discourse. May they (the gatherers of the scripture for the RCL) knew that it does not one any good to dwell on the end of all things too much. And that there is comfort and words of encouragement to be heard and read.

“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” (Verses 13 – 15)

If, beloved reader, one is firm in their faith and belief and can claim salvation – then the coming of the judgment day (yes, I know that Judgment Day and end times are often/can be considered as two distinct events – but I consider them together) should hold no fear. That is, if your salvation and sanctification is set. One the other hand, if it is not, you best not wait until the last minute! Your life’s end and the end of this age may not coincide! They did not for all the people that Paul wrote to.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” (Verses 16 – 17)

Twice in my lifetime (or possibly more) there has been great fervor that end times were coming. Those periods of concern were perpetuated by end time literature being published, or declarations from some religious authority that claimed knowledge. Well, I’m still here and so are you beloved. Be comforted by Paul’s words. Rest in the care of the Divine. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern what is true and false. Selah!