Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – The healing of the flesh through following the Spirit

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6 – 8)

We are so conscious of our bodies these days, beloved reader. We take its temperature, monitor its coughing and sneezing, and tend to its physical needs with household items and food. Our bodies, and the bodies of others are upper most on our minds. But that is not a far representation of who humanity is. We are are more than sinew and bone, cells and immune systems. Paul differentiates (as was the understanding of human life back then) between our bodies and our minds. The needs of the body were to be set aside so as to better focus on the needs of the spirit. We understand now though that the body and the mind are so linked together that one cannot be considered about from the other. We have been “healed” of that erroneous notions.

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Verse 9)

Barnes says it very well when he says that Christians are “Not under the full influence of corrupt desires and passions” but “are spiritually minded . . . . under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.” This effectively puts to rest the division of body concerns being bad and intellect being good. It depends on where you put your time and energies to. Right now, beloved reader, the whole world is putting its mind and energy towards stopping the spread of the corona virus. No continent has been spared – no, beloved reader, not one.

Now, I have to admit that Paul’s supposedly uplifting news is not readily applicable to the current medical and health situation that all of humanity is dealing with. And I think Paul would be one of the first to admit that. But I think what Paul would say is that this gives us some hope and direction. Hope because we, meaning humanity, is greater than the sum of our functioning and non-functioning body parts. It is the human spirit in each member of humanity that we are working to heal and save. And that spirit survives death, if that is the course of the illness. And it gives up direction. Since each member of humanity does have an eternal spirit, we should honor and work towards everyone’s health and well-being which brings up to the need of making sacrifices in our daily lives. And lifting up in prayer those who are our neighbors both next to us and around the globe. As I said, beloved reader, in every nation and on every continent! All are vulnerable!

“But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (verses 10 – 11)

Each day as the magnitude of this virus becomes more apparent, we have to dig deeper to find hope. And the endurance to keep moving forward. The will to work towards the good of others, and the good will to work together. May the Spirit who unites us all through the Divine be with each of you in the days to come. Selah!

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Looking! Conscious looking and seeing the Divine

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8 – 9)

This evening as I was driving home from doing an errand, I happened to spot the moon low and large in the sky. The last rays of sunset had dispersed and the night sky was coming to fullness. And there, in the dark fullness was the bright light of the moon. It was beautiful! And I wanted a picture of it so much, to share with you beloved reader and as a memento for myself. So I drove to a safe spot and tried to take a picture with my phone. Supposedly my phone makes a good camera, but with the dark sky my camera phone could not correctly focus on the brightness of the moon. Through the view finder I could make out the moon, but it was blurry and fuzzy. I did think I could not get a good picture of the tranquil but glowing moon. I was sad.

I tried to puzzle it out. Why could my camera phone not picture the wonderful moon against the dark sky? Technological reasoning aside, I concluded that my phone was so “captured” by the darkness it could not focus adequately on the light.

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.” (Verses 10 – 14a)

My phone attempted to take the picture of the bright moon against the dark sky. But because it was overwhelmed by the darkness it kept using the flash setting to make everything light, and so could not pick up the stark contrast of dark and light. I guess, beloved reader, my phone was trying to be a “good” follower of Paul and expose everything it saw to “light.” A good analogy or metaphor but not a good picture taking experience.

Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Verse 14b)

As I was trying to find the best vantage point for taking the picture, I passed other cars and pedestrians. And I had to wonder if they had taken note of the moon and its glorious glow. I concluded not so much. How, I wondered, could they be so blinded to the beautiful display of nature? Were they “sleep walking” through their journey? Oh yes, beloved reader, another analogy or metaphor.

I hope and pray beloved reader that you are not sleep walking through Lent. That you are paying attention to the words and inspiration of the Divine. Look up, beloved reader! Lift up your eyes, your heart and your spirit! See the Divine! Selah!

Third Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – It’s not easy suffering for the sake of the Divine, but the perks are awesome!

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . .” (Romans 5:1)

I want to stop reading right there, beloved reader. I do not want or need at this moment anything more than knowing I have peace with the Divine. Right now all the heavy loads that I have been carrying for, well, for too long are resting heavy on me. To be able to know I have peace with the Divine because my faith – that is, the faith I have and the faith I profess – invites me to lay down my burdens, rest, and be at peace. I don’t NEED anything else. But Paul insists on continuing his exhortation.

“. . . through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Verses 2 – 5)

Actually, I needed all of that too! Granted, Paul maybe talking about himself. However, if you remember some time back I discovered that I was “righteous”; that realization took place over several days of my writing, and I did not make a big deal of it. But yes, I am righteous. Maybe even in the same stream of thinking that Paul used in describing his sufferings. Now, you may ask, have I suffered like Paul? No, not like Paul. But over the years answering the call of the Divine has meant that my journey has tested me in many ways. And I have endured, which has made me quite a “character”! (I tease, beloved reader. I am actually known for my caring and compassion.) And I have hope – which some days is all that gets me through. And I know the Divine’s love through the Holy Presence.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Verses 6 – 8)

I feel I should say something in response to Paul’s assertion of salvation and redemption of us before we proved ourselves worthy (because that is essentially what he is saying). But because of my personal faith journey, it is hard for me to put into words how I receive this. My grandfather was a preacher and evangelist, so I grew up from little on up knowing that I needed salvation. It was as much a part of my growing up as loosing my baby teeth was. It has just always been there! And my personal theology says that the Divine’s love so covered us that the gap between being sinners and being saved was so infinitesimal that not even the most advanced of scientific technology could measure it.

“Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Verses 9 – 11)

How it must have affected Paul to have persecuted the followers of Jesus before his Damascus road experience. When I read his letters, I am struck by both his humbleness at having made that error and his determination to let his readers know how much he has suffered for it. He calls himself the least likely to be worthy of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet he is insistent that he has it, and that it is both available and necessary. I sincerely hope that Paul did enjoy peace with the Divine. I hope too, beloved reader, that have that same peace during the season of Lent and beyond. Selah!

Second Sunday in Lent, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Belief in the Lord God that is reckoned as righteousness

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1 – 3)

I was thinking about the Old Testament passage from yesterday this morning during my morning meditation and prayer. As usual, it was difficult getting started in my day. As I was pondering, it occurred to me that we are called out daily like Abram; called out to the unknown, or at least not knowing for sure what will happen in our day – or any given day for that matter. We follow that call by faith. As Abram did.

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Verse 5)

Hmmm. That gives me something to think about. All the times I have struggled in the morning, unsure of what my day would involve or unsure of how I would the things in my day. I never considered it to be “righteousness” that I step out in faith. Of course I ask the Lord God the Divine to be with me, and with the people I will encounter. But that is just Christian prudence, to ask the Divine to prepare the way. It sounds like that is righteousness, if I am reading Paul correctly.

“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Do you follow this logic, beloved reader? If one attends to and obeys the law, then faith is not needed, and there is no covenant – as Abram had with the Lord God – needed. For example, the laws of driving. If one obeys traffic rules, one is seen as a good driver. To be judged a good driver does not require faith in driving but obey the rules of the road.

“For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Verse 15)

It is a great irony that if there were no rules of the road, no traffic laws, then there would no traffic violations. Many accidents, but not breaking the traffic laws. This analogy helps me understand what Paul is saying; I hope it helped you, beloved reader.

“For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Verses 16 – 17)

Be aware, beloved reader, that in these two verses “adherents of the law” means Jews who follow the Jewish traditions but believe in Jesus Christ, and those who come from a non-Jewish background and have come to believe in both Jesus Christ and the Lord God who sent him. As Paul says, the great and many nations that came through Abraham extends to all believers who profess faith in the Lord God. Paul clarifies for his reader some important aspects of that Lord God.

And in a way, it narrows the field of what nations spawned from Abraham and are therefore seen as “proper” faiths. This is one of the sticking points in recognizing and naming what are “proper” faiths. And as so often happens, those who are seen in control and the mainstream majority get to deem who is and is not part of that proper faith. But this probably not the time and place to digress into that conversation. Let us just leave it at saying that righteousness is not an attribute that is hard to obtain. It is as simple as heeding the call of the Divine. Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Being taught about the Divine by the Divine

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:1 – 5)

We have talked before, beloved reader, about human wisdom that comes from books and the education system. About God’s wisdom that comes from and is inspired by the Holy Spirit; wisdom that begets faith and a relationship with the Divine. You remember too, I am sure, my speaking come to a sort of faith as a young child; hearing only about Jesus Christ, his crucifixion, and the Lord God who sent Jesus to the world. It was the same “simple” message that was preached to the Corinthian church.

“Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” (Verses 6 – 7)

As I grew, in age and understanding, I learned more about God’s wisdom. And I suspect as I learned and understood more, I felt lead to commit that more “mature” me to faith in the Divine. This continued on until seminary; I thought after seminary there would be little or no more learning. I was wrong. And the re-commitments to the Divine have just continued.

“None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (Verses 8 – 10)

It makes sense, now, to realize that no one really comes to the end of the knowledge of the Divine. I realized that upon my graduation from seminary, that the Lord God would continue to lead me and that the Holy Spirit would continue to instruct me. But what surprised me was that there was more I needed to learn! There is a large difference between living out a life of faith in a faith community such as seminary, and living a life of faith out in the wide world. And THAT is why I started writing columns, and then blogs, because the intersection point of faith and the broader world’s reality is ongoing. Each day there is the potential for faith life and “worldly” life to butt heads, and if a Christian is not prepared to deal with juxtaposition and potential paradox, faith beliefs can get run over and smooched into the ground. But, if one keeps outer life separate & apart from faith life – to keep faith life “safe” so to speak – both the believer and the outer world are missing out on the opportunity to inform each other. There HAS TO BE intersection points! And they have to be dealt with successfully.

“For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.” (Verse 11)

This verse puzzled me a little, so I did some research. No one knows one’s self better than one’s self, so says Paul. Now I would contest that point, but Paul is not making a statement about the human psyche but setting up a parallel. In the same way, no one (and I mean NO ONE) knows the Divine better than the Divine/Divine’s Spirit. So it makes sense that the Holy Spirit needs to teach and lead the human spirit in its relationship and learning of the Divine. Paul continues.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.” (Verses 12 – 15)

Seminary. When I first started at seminary, I thought I knew why. Half way through seminary I started to wonder why I was going. But, I could not stop. When I graduated, I was pretty sure, again, I knew why I went. But then we moved, and I started to wonder why again I had gone to seminary. Now, I don’t try to figure out why – I am just so glad I went!!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (Verse 16)

With all the things that have happened to me and in my life, I needed the solid foundation of an undying relationship with the Divine. As much as the eight or nine year old me needed the Lord God in my life, the sixty year old me needs it just as much. Or maybe more! One of the joys, beloved reader, is sharing what I have learned and am still learning with you. Even if only one person read these blogs (and I am fairly certain at least one person does) I would keep writing them. And actually the very bottom line truth is, even if no one did . . . . I would still write them. It is as essential to me as breathing. Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Epistle Passage – Hear and Understand!

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Corinthians 1:18 – 20)

At the time that Paul wrote, humanity had not advanced very far at all in technology and science. Wisdom was measured by the amount of books one had read and the knowledge, albeit limited, history of humanity that one knew. Paul when he was Saul was probably considered “wise” because he could read and write, and knew much about Jewish law and the laws of other nations and places. Knowledge of science was fairly limited, so what we now consider “knowledge” was not knowable then because it had not been realized.

However, along with all our science, technology, and understandings about the intricacies of our planet and society – we (meaning professed Christians) also understand that knowledge will not get us to salvation, redemption or mercy from the Divine. We “get” precisely what Paul means.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (Verses 21 – 24)

In Paul’s and his peer’s defense however, what we call wisdom would not be considered important in living out one’s life. Consider that – all the book learning and education that one receives by the end of high school (which is so far and beyond what Paul and his peers knew) would not be considered at all important or necessary. But then many high scholars would not consider the wisdom that Paul says comes from the Divine as important.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (Verses 25 – 29)

What I often asked myself as a youth and young adult was . . . . can’t you have both? Wisdom that comes from books, science and technology, AND wisdom that comes from the Divine? In the early years of my faith tradition, “book learning” was not seen as necessary, required, or helpful for church leaders, pastors, and ministers. Slowly that changed; now the churches and worship circles of my faith tradition expect a seminary degree that rests upon a college degree that rests on a high school degree. As I said above, and I restate it here, education does not supplant Christian knowledge but supplements it. Christians who know what Paul is trying to say know also . . . .

“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (Verses 30 – 31)

Selah!

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!