Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – The Coming of the Magi

Back on Monday Dec 31 I shared with you the poem “The Queens Came Late”. With the RCL highlighting Epiphany I wanted to give time and space to the Magi. I have the meme below posted on my Facebook page. It and the poem presents a different perspective on this day an season, being gender inclusive.

I also found a more humorous take on the coming of the magi. It amuses me, and presents a more lighthearted look Epiphany.

But my seeking and finding lightheartedness and amusement does not mean I do not take the coming of the Wise Men seriously. I join with biblical authorities who discerned that Jesus coming for all people is an important event and needs to be represented in the church and liturgical year.

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:1 -2)

When something important happens we make time and space to attend to it properly. Biblical geography and biblical scholars tell us that the Magi came from a great distance and took the time to travel to Bethlehem. The poem “The Queens Came Late” tells us the same thing. But not everyone deems important things the same way.

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” (Verses 3 – 6)

This tells us two things (if not more); no one yet – since it was written by Isaiah – had been born that would be considered a shepherd to the people of Israel. That it was these “chief priests and scribes of the people” who made the connection between this prophecy and the infant Jesus.

“Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Be suspicious of Herod, beloved reader. If he so earnestly wanted to worship the child, why did he call them in secret? Read further to have your suspicions confirmed.

“When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (Verse 9)

It is interesting, is it not, that the star seemed to wait for them to finish their business with Herod before it lead them on. Granted, I do not know much about stars and constellations, but they seem to move independently from the doing of humanity.

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Wasn’t this foretold also? Sure it was – we read it Monday. Well, not the myrrh. That was not in the verses from Isaiah. Myrrh, as I remembered and briefly researched, is associated with both healing and death. Myrrh is also mentioned in the hymn “We Three Kings”. Go ahead and look it up – I’ll wait.

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Verse 12)

While the coming of the Magi may signify the coming of Jesus the Messiah to the Gentiles, their visit also had other significance. And set about a series of events in the wake of Jesus’ birth. And like Mary, I ponder all of these things in my heart. Selah and Shalom!


Season After Pentecost (Proper 29[34]) – The Gospel Passage: Jesus invites Pilate to reflect

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:33 – 35)

I was curious about verse 35 and Pilate’s question. Some commentators say the Pilate is insulted by the question, that anyone would think he is a “slave Jew.” Other commentators believe he is asserting his independence from Jewish thinking and influence, and he will judge the matter without prejudice or influence. In either case, Jesus’ question prompts Pilate to look himself and his involvement in the proceedings.

“Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (Verses 36 – 37)

Jesus invites Pilate to further reflect on what makes a king, and what power does a king command. And how long or short a king might be in power based on the circumstances. Okay, so admittedly one can interpret and imbue at great deal into Pilate’s and Jesus’ statements, questions, and answers. Maybe Pilate is not a thinker or philosopher. Maybe he is just a politician looking to solve problems and up-rises. And if Pilate does not take up Jesus’ invitation to reflect that does not mean we should not.

What is the nature of power? How do you wield it with integrity and honor? How long should power last? Can you make it last? When should power give way to submission? More pondering – what is the nature of truth? Is there different types of truth? Is truth relative? How does power and truth connect and interact? The questions, reflections, and ponderings could go on. That is one of the reasons I like pondering – taking a question or situation and looking at it from all sides and angles. I would invite you, beloved reader, to ponder will and let truths arise from sincere pondering. Because, beloved reader, it is after pondering truths that the nature of true and lasting power can come. Selah!

Trying to break through the fourth wall

Every once in a while I just want to interact with you, beloved and gentle readers. Most times I have commenting from behind/through the scripture for the day. While I may cover a small variety to topics, mostly it is related to scripture passages and my perspective on them through the lens of my faith beliefs. However as I have said on a few occasions, there is more to my life than just scripture. There is family and friends, work and leisure, reading and watching television – you get the idea. I am more than the words on this screen. And you, beloved and gentle readers, are more than the screens that you are reading this one. It is ironic than that it is only through our comparative screens that we can relate.

And it is only a one way connection – me talking to you. The irony is further compounded by the fact that recently I had to move off my Facebook profile, which is geared to me as a person,to the more regulated Facebook page that I have set up. Yes, the page that I had thought I would close down and then abruptly canceled its deletion. I still need to fine tune the settings to get the correct balance between transparency of intent and control of content. And no, Facebook tutorials have not been helpful.

Switching from one to the other reminds of the period of time and decision making I went through when I moved my blog from “A Simple Desire” to the current one “Pondering From the Pacific”. That was a decision that I mulled over for quite some time. It meant going from a high traffic situation and blog to a much more low traffic and smaller scale blog. I still check on the blog every once in a while. Yes, it is still active. I do not post on it anymore, but there are still people who visit it every day. In fact, irony upon irony, it sees more activity than the the blog that that I post one now! Oh well.

It would be nice to get feedback. When I was actively writing the blog “A Simple Desire” it accumulated an impressive amount of comments on the blog site itself. While “Pondering From the Pacific” was on my Facebook profile I would get comments occasionally. I have not gotten any comments yet on the Facebook page. I do not know for sure if interested readers could comment on my Facebook page. That is part of why I need to check the settings. I do know readers can post comments and feedback on my blog page. That does not happen much either. Like I said, communication is pretty much one way. I could wish it would be otherwise.

Some years back there was someone who commented quite regularly on my “A Simple Desire” blog. It got to the point where we were holding extensive conversations through the blog posts. I think we finally moved it to email. But things happened, and she stopped writing. I think she was going through some difficult times and she found me to be a good outlet for experiencing her feelings and processing her situation. But then things got awkward and she stopped writing. It was one of the very few times the “fourth wall” was broken through.

The term “fourth wall” comes from theater. The three walls are the back and two sides of the stage. The fourth wall, stage front, is the fourth wall that the audience can see through to the action. Breaking the fourth wall means the actor talks directly to the audience. But in my case it would mean that you, my reader are responding back to me in give and take. The “fourth wall” is that you can see and hear me, but I cannot see nor hear you. And I would like that. I freely admit that the idea of sending out my words and thoughts into cyberspace has great appeal. But at times if feels like a vacuum where there is no response or reaction back.

That was actually one of the reasons I started the Facebook page “Enthyme Counseling”, to set up an arena where people could post and respond back to me. It seemed as if the Facebook profile was just a factoid sheet about me. I was out there commenting on other people’s profiles/pages but it was again a one way street.

At the risk of bringing in faith issues and shutting down the conversation, it seems to me that our relationship with God (and the Divine) is a lot the same way. We pray up/out to God, but we don’t often get direct communication back. I guess heaven has a fourth wall too!

Well, this has just been my attempt to open up a dialogue. I will press “publish” and it will almost instantly appear on my blog and on my Facebook page. I would welcome and encourage you to send something back to me. Break down the wall and let’s talk! Shalom!

The Final Step – At The Source

“We wanted to update you about an upcoming change Facebook is introducing to their platform, and which affects how you may share posts from your website to your Facebook account.

Starting August 1, 2018, third-party tools can no longer share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles. This includes Publicize, the WordPress.​com tool that connects your site to major social media platforms (like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook).

Will this affect your ability to share content on Facebook? It depends. If you’ve connected a Facebook Profile to your site, then yes: Publicize will no longer be able to share your posts to Facebook. On the other hand, nothing will change if you keep a Facebook Page connected to your site — all your content should still appear directly on Facebook via Publicize. (Not sure what the difference is between a Page and a Profile? Here’s Facebook’s explanation.)”

I got the above message from WordPress.com today. Set me skittering to my Facebook PAGE to stop the delete process. I had some days back announced that I would be deleting my Facebook page because I was not using it much. Look up the meaning of the word “irony”.

It has always been my desire (no, not “A Simple Desire”) to have my writing published and/or publicized. And just because Facebook was changing did mean I was going to let this blog of mine lose its profile and presence! So I figured out (at least I think and hope I did) how to switch from these blogs being posted on my Facebook PROFILE to my Facebook PAGE. Time will tell if I am successful. If you have read two other announcement like this from me, I have been very successful! (Yeah me!) If I have not been successful (here comes more irony) you will never see this blog post at all. Wish me luck!

Sixth Sunday After Easter – The Gospel Passage: Before the praise & thanksgiving of tomorrow – but after I have given praise and thanks

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9)

I was hoping to gloss over the fact, but the first verse convicted me of being truthful – I forgot to do the Gospel passage Friday and instead wrote on the Psalm passage. I hurriedly changed the date that it posts so it is in correct order. But I needed to make this “confession” in order to explain why this verse touched me. The Psalm passage that you will read tomorrow is all about surviving a stressful time and that the psalmist felt the Lord’s presence. Well, this gospel passage is all about abiding in the love of Jesus Christ (that is, feeling Christ’s love) which is the same as being loved and protected by God.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It has become the pattern that I comment on the Psalm passage on Saturdays as a prelude to Sunday which is a traditional day of worship and Sabbath. Some faith traditions use Saturday as Sabbath, so I am covered there too.

I was so enthused and imbued with joy that I could enter into the praise and thanksgiving of the Psalm passage that I completely missed the fact that it was not the correct day for the Psalm passage. But when we abide in God’s love, such “errors” become a testament to the joy that comes from belief, and form love of and from the Divine.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (Verses 12 – 15)

I have to think of all the times that the ways of the Lord God and of Jesus Christ seem so mysterious. All the times when I have had to search for understanding about some passages. And I have to ask myself, was there ever a time when the gospel passages mystified me? If there was, was it because I did not understand, or because the gospel writer had cloaked the meaning and intent in a “mystery”, as the apostle Paul often talks about. Or, was there a time that the Divine spoke to me, and I was unsure of the meaning? I wonder that too. That leads me to wonder, is the writer of the gospel of John absolutely precisely accurate that Jesus told his disciples EVERYTHING that he heard from the Divine? Is that why it gets so confusing – that we make following the Divine confusing; because it is such a wondrous thing, is it too wondrous to be simple?

“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” (Verse 16)

Or was it only the disciples that were so chosen, and therefore it is simple for them? This is not digression, beloved reader, but the confusion and tumultuous thinking that we, as humans, bring to faith. And to reading scripture. Because we get so involved in the theology and the praxis and the correct approach, faith symbols, icon, disciples, paraphrases and translations and, and . . . . and just all of that – that we forget . . . we forget it is very simple.

“I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (Verse 17)

And because it is THAT SIMPLE, we should praise and give thanksgiving! Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Easter – The Substituted Acts Passage: Seeing beyond your time

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.” (Acts 8:26 – 28)

If you consulted a biblical commentator, you would be told that Jews were spread over a large area and this court official was most likely a Jew or had converted to Judaism. And in his country he was quite important.

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.” (Verses 29 – 31)

Just because he was a Jew, however, does not mean he was learned in the Torah, the Talmud or the other holy scriptures that the Jews used. He professed Judaism but did not necessarily understand all the nuances. Even Jews in Israel and Judah had to study for decades. So it is not surprising that the Ethiopian longer for a teacher.

“Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Verses 32 – 34)

The Ethiopian asked a good question. Who is Isaiah talking about? It describes a man the writer of Isaiah says will do great things for the people. We can confidently assume that Isaiah was not talking about himself. Philip And we can guess that this prophetic passage is taken as referring to Jesus. At least that is how Philip explained it.

“Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” (Verses 35 – 38)

This is one of several testimonies that the book of Acts contains; people coming to faith through the preaching of the disciples. It is interesting to me that the interpretation of this as a prophetic allusion to Jesus comes right within the New Testament as opposed to being applied by later generations. I sometimes become quite determined to maintain the authenticity of the Old Testament writers. In my younger years I was not quite so determined. I do not know what has changed within me. I suspect, however, it is a defense against what I write being used in ways I cannot foresee, and fearful that what I write may be misinterpreted. But I have to admit that is only brings honor and glory to the Old Testament writers and prophets that they were so “far seeing” in what they wrote. I cannot and will not claim that for myself.

“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Verses 38 – 40)

That Philip was “snatched” by the Spirit of the Lord lends great credence to his interpretation and will not go against it. In fact maybe it is time I lay down my determination to keep the writings of the Old Testament writers within the boundaries of the times they wrote in. I do not know what that means for how I perceive my own writings. Maybe there will be no change in my perception. I walk a fine line when I write – what is me and what is the Spirit. And I am loathe to blur that line. Although that line may already be blurred and I just don’t see it. I will have to ponder on this. Shalom!

Third Sunday After Easter – The Psalms Passage: For my own reasons, this one is personal

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1)

This has the feeling of a very personal psalm or prayer. If in this case the psalmist was King David, one could imagine many points in his life when he might have written this. Or maybe it was a prayer he prayed often. I can imagine praying something like this first verse, and I probably have many times over the years. The second verse is one that I do not identify with quite as much; or more precisely do not want to remember how often I might have felt like this.

“How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah” (Verse 2)

As I said, it is a very heartrending personal prayer, borne from deep in the psyche. And the prayer of someone who sets great importance and derives self-esteem from the opinion of others. That is not really the way I am put together. But occasionally I like to be esteemed in the eyes of others, so I can understand how the psalmist might feel. The next verses tells me the psalmist has balance in his life too.

“But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” (Verses 3 – 5)

What I take from the above collections of verses is that Lord is attentive to those who are attentive to the Lord. Now, that does not mean that those who do not follow the Divine are outside of the Divine’s mercy and care. It simply means that you can feel the Lord God’s blessing upon. When you are in distress, don’t let it lead you to do something foolish, or worse. Think deeply and take time to consider what is best to be done. And then do what is the right and righteous thing.

“There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!” You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” (Verses 6 – 7)

I am not sure if the psalmist is meaning that it is good to ask the Lord that they may see pleasant things, and to have the favor of the Lord God on them. It depends, I guess, whether they have followed the Lord God faithfully, or simply believe that they are entitled through mere existence to have the Lord’s favor. I think, beloved reader, you can tell which is the better frame of mind to have. I am pretty sure the psalmist does. And that correct frame of brings a sense of contentment and assurance in the Lord.

“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.” (Verse 8)

I am taking a very personal stance and perspective on today’s passage. I suspect I would have regardless of what the passage was. You see, today is my birthday. And while I do not want the focus on me, I did want to consider if the passage for today might have relevance to me. I was not sure if it would, and so wanted to explore that possibility. It has been my experience for many years that when writing these posts, there is very little that is coincidental. As I sit down to write very often (not always mind) I feel like I am entering holy space. And I respect and attend to that.

May you, beloved reader, consider for yourself what the psalm means in your life. I would encourage you to have that stance with all scripture. The Divine speaks to us in many ways; it is our task and pleasure to listen. Selah!