Transfiguration Sunday, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passages – Looking upon the Unveiled Image of the Divine; A Preacher and Seeker Discussion

Seeker: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?”

Preacher: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying,

Preacher & Seeker: “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”

Preacher: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.”

Seeker: Preacher, do you think the Lord God “Who sits in the heavens” really does laugh? And mocks the leaders of the earth?

Preacher: Well, first off, I do not think the Lord God mocks all of the leaders of earth, at least not all of the leaders in all of history. I think the leaders who Christians of good conscious and genuine intent mock, are also mocked by the Lord God. More broadly, I would say that the Lord God laughs when humanity thinks they have everything figured out when in reality they have nothing figured out. But I do not think that is a mocking laugh, but like an indulgent Parent laughs at an innocent and naïve child. And remember, if the psalmist was King David, then he is probably saying that at least one time the Lord God laughed at him. In loose summary, I think the Lord God laughs in amusement at times and in mockery and ridicule at other times. Seeker, read what the psalmist says next.

Seeker: “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

Preacher: The warning is given to all pretenders who think that they and they alone have the right of it, the correct attitude and style of government that will last for all time. Leaders may come and go, but only the Lord God the Messiah is truly King and Ruler for all times. Read on, Seeker.

Seeker: “I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Preacher: This passage is auspicious for this day, Transfiguration Sunday.

Seeker: But Preacher! Jesus was not this type of King!

Preacher: Yes, isn’t it interesting that the psalmist holds this type of image of the Anointed One, the Messiah. Truly a vengeful and conquering king. But you are right, this was not the King that Jesus was. Yes, it was on a Holy Hill that Jesus was revealed, and with mighty consults and counselors. And declared as the Son of God. But not the type of King that breaks “with a rod of iron” and dashes them “like a potter’s vessel”. Read on.

Seeker: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.”

Preacher: While the psalmist might have meant or have realized the intent of his warning – it is a warning to those who seek to rule, how true Ruler-ship is accomplished.

Seeker: But the psalmist says further, “Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2)

Preacher: What of it?

Seeker: Well, fear, and uh, trembling, with subservience. Perishing and wrath quickly kindled. And to be happy . . . . oh!!!! Fear, as in reverence and awe! Jesus was meek and gentle, accessible to all who came to him, and forgiving. But anyone who set themselves against Jesus the Christ was, is, and will be in a world and world-to-come load of trouble. But if we seek solace in the Lord God will be welcomed and happy!

Preacher: “The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!”

Seeker: You are moving into the next psalm. Okay, let’s see. The psalmist is still at it, imaging an old style fearful ruler. But not quite as scary.

Preacher: “Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Seeker: This King is more approachable, I think. With this King you would have a chance to stand before the Divine and not be reduced to a trembling mass and mess.

Preacher: “Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!”

Seeker: Or maybe not!

Preacher: You are right, Seeker. This time the psalmist is not warning the people of the earth but inviting them to worship a Divine worthy of worship. But, worship with “fear.”

Seeker: “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.”

Preacher: It is very much an Old Testament Lord God. The palmist is reminding me of the duty and obligation that was due to the Divine.

Seeker: “O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.”

Preacher: You can see, Seeker, how the disciples expected one type of Messiah but were presented with a completely different type in the personage of Jesus. And then the transfiguration on the mountain began the process of integrating the man Jesus with the Divine Jesus. That Jesus told them not to say anything until after his death might have been a way of continuing the low key and gentle approach of his ministry. But at that point the Divinity of Jesus would be undeniable. Thus being in relationship with the Divinity would both worship and friendship. Come to think of it, that is just what the Creator desired with Adam and Eve, and by extension all of humanity.

Preacher & Seeker: “Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.” (Psalm 99)

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker discern the best way to follow the “Rules”

Seeker: “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.”

Preacher: And who interprets the “law of the Lord”. Because from what I have been seeing and hearing, there are some who are NOT happy!

Seeker: “Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.”

Preacher: Again, hearing from a lot of Unhappy people! People from all persuasions and walks of life who think THEIR style of “walking” with the Lord, and any other style is wrong and sinful. A lot of unhappy people!

Seeker: Preacher, what kind of point are you trying to make here?

Preacher: We read and recite these verses as if “happy” is an attribute that everyone shares. But over the years Christianity has resulted in judgment and persecution, division and dissension. And I just can’t ignore it anymore! If Christian men and women of good will and intent cannot agree on how to live out the Christian life, how can we promote and model good Christian living.

Seeker: That sounds like a question I should be asking.

Preacher: Well then, why aren’t you?!

Seeker: I guess because it is easier to take refuge in the words of scripture than it is to try to live them out. You are correct, Preacher, there are a lot of unhappy people. And I confess, at times I am one of them. Preacher, how can we know if we are living out the laws and decrees of the Lord God in an acceptable way?

Preacher: “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” But diligence is not always enough. While we may be scrupulous about the commandments, we need to keep in mind also the intent of the commandments.

Seeker: Jesus spoke to that when he preached. I remember that passage from Matthew. I confess I worry that I may not be carrying out both the letter and the spirit.

Preacher: The psalmist correctly said, “O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” While in the time of the psalmist the believers may not have considered how to be steadfast, we know from the stories of the Israelites that they should have.

Seeker: It is interesting too that the psalmist said, “Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” It argues against if self; if they had kept their eyes on the commandments, then they should not have been conquered by other nations. But they were. So were they steadfast or not?

Preacher: You are thinking about this well, Seeker. And that was my point in my “raising a ruckus”. They believed they were steadfast. But like in our modern times, steadfast belief gave way to structured and rigid belief. The prophets warned them, that they were not allowing their heart and compassion to rule their thoughts and actions. The psalmist does foresee an corrective might be needed when he says, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.”

Seeker: Yes, and then he says, “I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.” (Psalm 119:1-8) We could and should say the same things. We need to make sure our beliefs and the way we live them out does not cause upset of any nature or type towards members of humanity.

Preacher: Now you are seeing the heart, the spirit, the intent of the commandments and Jesus’ teaching. You are well on the way, Seeker!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Who is Invited to Be Blessed? Preacher and Seeker lay out the conditions of the invitation

Seeker: “O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
Jesus did not call upon the scribes and religious leaders of his time to dwell with him and become his followers. He called upon ordinary men and women. He called upon those that society had overlooked. A tax collector, fishermen, women who were forced to the fringes of polite society; all in all people who the Sadducees and Pharisees presumed to be people who were least likely to qualify devote and faithful.

Jesus’ ministry was called an “upside down” kingdom, where those who thought they would be first, came last. And those who thought they had little value were looked upon with high esteem. It was not, however, reverse psychology where sneaky innovation forces the hand. Jesus’ best and most devoted followers were plain folk who knew what it was like to see their good intentions be dismissed as pipe dreams.

If you think about it, those who were called as prophets by the Most High never received accolades from those who they preached to. At least they never expected endorsement from the society from which they were called out from. If reward came their way, it was because the Divine sent it to them.

We heard yesterday that those who were at the receiving end of the worst that society threw at them were the very ones most likely to be blessed. But again, not reverse psychology. Authentic misery and misfortune. This truth was known long before Jesus came. But years of being on the wrong side of any outcome clouded over the fact that true reward comes from the Lord God and not from the people who seemed to be living the good life. The called and chosen people of God saw their neighbors form other nations have wonders and treasures, and they came to desire that for themselves, thinking little and stopping not at the foul things that they needed to do and be to receive such rewards. Being followers of the Divine is a higher calling, and calls forth attributes that humanity does not normally value.
Seeker: “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)

Preacher: Those who are invited into the tent of the Lord God most probably lived out their lives on the outskirts of society. Because, sadly, most society lives outside of the realm of the Lord God. Shalom!

Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker talk about the actions of the Divine who sent the Messiah

Seeker: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”

Preacher: The Lord God hears us where ever we are, and whatever our circumstances are. Whether it is a cry, or a yell, or a cheer – we are heard by the Divine. When we cry out, the response may not what we though it would be, or even when we thought it would be – but the Divine will respond.

Seeker: “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Preacher: I am never surprised that, or when, the Lord God picks us up from the most horrendous places. The Divine is faithful. The world and earthly circumstances may put us in places we may never go of our own volition; or that we would not intentionally put ourselves. On the other hand, humanity has been known to get itself in the most terrible places and circumstances. But my point is, the Lord God will find us. And restore us.

Seeker: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”

Preacher: Fear? If the psalmist means revere the Lord God and be awed by the Divine, yes fear is the correct word. But humanity rarely puts their authentic trust in someone or something they fear. Desperation, though, leads us to desperate actions. To our remorse and shame.

Seeker: “Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.”

Preacher: Ah! There we are. Trusting in the Lord God is the best decision a person can make. And to keep making that decision. Oh yes, we have to keep that decision ongoing.

Seeker: “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.

Preacher: How, humanity, can you decide against the Lord God after having decided for the Lord God. How can humanity go astray? I know we do; from the earliest story of the called and chosen people up to this day, we have turned from the Lord God. But as you say, we can turn back to the Lord God . . . . time and time and time and time and time again.

Seeker: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”

Preacher: It is those of us . . . . who have opened our ear to the Lord God . . . . who should know better than to go astray. And it is to our remorse that we do. How sad and bitter it is to find we have lost ourselves, and then find ourselves apart from the Lord God the Divine. As I reminder to myself, I have a piercing in my ear that I had put in at my graduation from seminary. It does remind me, especially when I need reminding!

Seeker: What does it remind you of, Preacher?

Preacher: “Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

Seeker: What have you been called to do, Preacher?

Preacher: “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”

Seeker: And when you realize you have gone astray, how do you come back to the Lord God? What do you say to the Divine that might wash away the remorse and bitterness you feel?

Preacher: “Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” (Psalm 40:1-11)

Seeker: I think, preacher, the greatest lesson you could teach is that you have gone astray, but have been welcomed back by the Lord.

Preacher: Selah, Seeker, Selah!

Baptism of the Lord, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – The Divine above and beyond the “nut shell”

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”

Seeker: The angels on high praise the Lord and know of the Divine’s actions on behalf of the called and chosen people. Humanity does not always remember, however, what the Lord God has done. The actions of the Lord God are hard to discern when humanity is at a distance.

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.”

Seeker: It takes faith to worship the Lord. Not only faith that is belief in the Lord God, but assurance that the Lord God is working on humanity’s behalf. The early called and chosen people forgot that over time, and then ascribed their misfortune to the errors, mistakes, and sin in their lives. Who can say if they were right or wrong? But in our modern days we can look to the Messiah, and reorient our lives such that the Lord God is with us, and we can worship the Lord who has called us into relationship.

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.”

Seeker: When looking or traveling great distances, the early called and chosen people saw that “mighty waters” hemmed them in. And imagined that only the might of the Lord God could circumvent with ease the distances. In our modern times humanity flies over the waters easily, and is able to fly over many waters or all waters on the earth through the power and knowledge that humanity has taught itself. Little wonder there is “little wonder” left.

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.”

Seeker: But that does not mean the Lord God is without power or majesty. It is just that humanity finds it easier to ignore. But if society would think back on how it is come so far, and realize that the Lord God has created in humanity the ability to learn and understand, society might see that our greatness is actually a reflection, and a mere reflection at that, of what the Lord God is like and capable of.

Preacher: The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

Seeker: Simply put, the voices of humanity can do nothing like that. If humanity raises its voice in anger, people and things are destroyed. But that is no skill and talent; if taken to extremes, it is sin. The Lord God molded the earth and called creation into being with the Might of the Divine’s voice and will. We need tools fashioned from the elements of the earth and our sinful desire to destroy. That is not a worthy ability. If we create, it is only because the human mind has been designed to learn over time and come to greater understanding. We have, if you will excuse the term, evolved over time. The Lord God is the same as in the past, and remains constant throughout all time. It is humanity that has needed improvement.

Preacher: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29)

Seeker: The Lord God sits above all other things, and dwells above creation: that is, all that humanity has become aware of – the clouds, the sky, the atmosphere surrounding earth, the vacuum of space, the systems and galaxies – everything that human ingenuity and technology has allowed us to see. The Lord God is above all that!

Preacher: Seeker, you have praised the Lord God as ably as the psalmist has. When the psalmist wrote, from his perspective humanity had achieved great things. But Yahweh was above and ruler all of that. With all the advancement that humanity has made, we still have not reached the realm of the Divine. And in many ways, we are much further away from it than society was a generation ago. How, one might wonder, can we be so far away from the Lord God when creation has gained so much? It is not technology nor book learning that will get us closer to the Lord God. And if humanity cannot learn how to enter into a committed and genuine relationship with the Divine, we are destined to drift further and further from the spark that created humans in the first place. May the Lord God watch over and nurture us all!

Seeker: Selah & Amen!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker reflect on Psalm 14

Seeker: “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” I once was a fool – I admit. I did not think God existed. And if there was a God, what that to me? I was not corrup. I did not do “abominable deeds”. I least I did not think they were. And I did try to do good. But it was shallow good, passing good. If it was convenient and easy for me “good.” Yes, that is how I was a fool. I did not think beyond my own self.
Preacher: There are good people. People who do good things, are compassionate and caring. The Lord God does look favorably on such people. Do not be so hard on yourself, Seeker. The psalmist is on the look out for people who are more “corrupt” and “abominable” than you. People who hoping, in vain, that there is no God so that there is no consequence to their evil. Because you realized your folly and repented of it, it is unlikely that anything you might have done would have been to the scale that the psalmist is describing.
Seeker: “The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.”
You are correct, Preacher. I did search my heart and I did see that at my core there was something missing. There was an emptiness inside me that nothing that was in my life at the time could fill. It was only when I acknowledged the Divine that the emptiness inside was filled. And when the emptiness went away, I knew there were other things inside of me – a careless attitude and disregard for others – that needed to be gone also. When love of God and love of humanity filled me, there was no room for anything else.
There is a very good stanza from a hymn, “I sought the Lord, and afterword I knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.” The Divine searched for you, and you did not ignore that call. Jesus himself said that the Good Shepherd will seek the lost sheep.
Seeker: “They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.”
But Preacher, how can this be true? How can the psalmist be so pessimistic?
Preacher: “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?”
Ah Seeker, you have not discerned the hidden intent of the psalmist; or more precisely, the wile of the psalmist. The psalmist is looking outward to the nations around and sees that those nations are not following God, as the Hebrews/Israelites were trying to. It is, sadly, an “us” versus “them” situation where the Hebrews of the psalmist’s generation are trying to live as their God lead them but they failed. And the fools, the evil ones, took it to mean that there was no God. That the failure of the Hebrews was believing in something that did not exist.
Seeker: “There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.”
You are correct that the psalmist is staging his remarks. It is interesting that while the Hebrews/Israelites are failing to live up to that the prophets expect of them, the nations around them take this as proof that there is no God.
Preacher: “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.”
Here is the proof then, Seeker. Having come to faith in the Lord God you are now part of the company of the deluded and afflicted who have supposedly weakened themselves because of their belief in the Divine. Your care and compassion, according to non-believers, has weakened you. And your apparent failure to live up to what your deity demands has caused your stature in the eyes of the wicked to suffer. But do you not see what this failed judgment on the part of the unbeliever reveals? He or she try to claim wisdom by not believing in a deity as you do. But they are the fools because, according to the psalmist, the Lord God exists and will judge them not only on their unbelief but on their treatment of those who do believe. “O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” (Psalm 14)
Seeker: It seems to be a two-pronged situation. The prophets chide the people for failing away from the Lord God, and the people of other nations fault them for their lack of devotion to Yahweh. Yet the people of those nations disavow any belief in the Hebrew God, and therefore are free to sin and do evil as they want.
Preacher: If the Hebrews have it tough, non-believers have it even tougher. This same idea and theme comes all the way down to Paul and his preaching. Now that Jesus Christ made professing belief in the Divine available to all, and the way to salvation and redemption a simple matter of belief, he could not see why anyone would deny or disavow it.
Seeker: Then I was a fool; that is, a fool to avoid believing. In my fallibility I may look weak and foolish to others, but if I keep my faith alive despite my missteps I may look like a fool to others, but I will be very wise!
Preacher: Careful there Seeker, you are starting to sound like Paul! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker wrestle with the called and chosen’ people’s story and promise from the Divine

Seeker: “Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.”
Preacher: Would that we did that. Would that we praised the Lord God of Jacob, and who guided the called and chosen people. Called them out of a land not their own to a place they could develop and call home. Called them out of captivity to new life. But have not always done so. We have not always done so. The Lord says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.”
The Lord was with us. Then we were alone. We made our own choices, and they were not always good. Why was the Lord suddenly absent and no longer giving counsel?
Preacher: “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Seeker: We tried to remember the words of the Lord. We tried to honor the Ten Commandments. But our ears were filled with other voices.
Preacher: “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!”

Seeker: But what would we gain? What reward would there be if we followed the Lord God?
Preacher: “Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.”

Seeker: We are not the people of Israel, nor of Judah. Those days are gone. Those stories are dust on our shelves. Our spiritual forebearers gone. Their stories echo in our souls and spirits. But we do not understand clearly the lessons that are supposed to come. We live with one foot in the world of harsh realities. And the other foot seeks to find hold in the Kingdom of God. Where would it better that we live?
Preacher: “Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.”

Seeker: We do not hate the Lord. But we do not understand the Lord God either. We do not cringe before the Lord. But neither, we know, do we stand in the Lord’s glory. We are lost. Struggling to find out way, we listen for the Lord God. We listen for the promises of the Divine. We seek hope in this world. And we are learning to place our hope in the world to come. What, O Lord God the Divine waits for us in the world to come?
The Lord says, “I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” ( Psalm 81:1, 10-16)
Seeker: While we seek sustenance in this world, it does not last. Therefore we have to place our hope in the world to come. It is for the promise and fulfillment of that life that we journey through this life. Let it be, Lord God, that we do not journey alone.
Preacher: Selah!