Season After Pentecost (Proper 9[14]) – The Psalm Passage: The much longer story of the Divine

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within its citadels God has shown himself a sure defense.” (Psalm 48:1- 3)

This week we have been taking up the theme of “brief stories” – small vignettes from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels. Now here we find ourselves in Psalms. And the story has gotten bigger – as big as the Divine!

Then the kings assembled, they came on together. As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic, they took to flight; trembling took hold of them there, pains as of a woman in labor, as when an east wind shatters the ships of Tarshish.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The story of the Divine extends back to the beginning of all things, and beyond even that. Our human minds cannot comprehend such a thing!

“As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes forever. Selah We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple. Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with victory.” (Verses 8 – 10)

At times I have used pictures when presenting the Psalms, because sometimes words are not enough. What the intellect cannot always take in, the part of our brain that processes pictures is sometime more able to grasp a large scope and understanding. When the psalmist says, “reaches to the ends of the earth” he most probably has in mind the distance to a far horizon and beyond – beyond what his brain understands and what his eyes tell him is an eternal distance.

“Let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice because of your judgments. Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever.” (Verses 11 – 14)

Great men, even great kings, know that there is a limit to what one can build; what a group of men can construct and raise up. The psalmist is saying that the Lord God and the City of the Lord God is, according to human standards, larger than anything they have seen. Now, take that image and metaphor, and expand it to what modern man (and woman) is able to build – and still our Lord God and the city of the Lord God would be greater than that!

The story of the Divine is unending, and will go on after any life on the earth has passed away! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 4 [9]) – The Psalms Passage: Praise for the weekend and your Sabbath

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.” 
(Psalm 81:1 – 4)

I am awfully glad when the weekend comes. Sometimes the week goes slowly and each day drags on. Other weeks the days skip by and the weekend comes even before the week has worn me out – those a good weeks! The weekend is a repast from the week, and I savor it. But some weekends go quickly and I am plunged into a new week before I am ready.

I can appreciate celebrating “festal days”, days when burdens are set aside and there is time to savor life and living, family and the joy in being in relationship and fellowship. While I may not sound a tambourine or strum a lyre or harp, and I have no trumpet to blow at any moon, I do admit to raising up a song or two and my heart shots for joy. In my own way, each weekend is a celebration. Part of that celebrations is writing reflections on the Gospel and Psalm passages.

“He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a voice I had not known: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah” (Verses 6 – 7)

Many weeks I feel tested; my job is not always easy, and my health can fluctuate and fail. I run out of energy, and I doubt myself. I need to remind myself to place my faith in the Divine, and trust in the providence, abundance, and benevolence of the Lord God.

“Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
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.” (Verses 8 – 10)

“There shall be no strange god among you” . . . . You may say, “I do not worship strange gods nor do I have homage to them.” And that may be true, from an Old Testament perspective. But if you look at those verses with New Testament eyes, you should ask yourself, “Do I give things more importance than worshiping the Lord and living as Jesus Christ instructed his followers?” Do the pressures and demands of the week overtake your faith in the Lord? Do you “work” and “toil” on the Sabbath at things that do not bring live and save yourself and/or others? Do you give your Sabbath its due? Do you trust in the Lord, and trust that the Lord will fill your needs? The Divine stands ready to hear your prayers, and grant your truest petitions and intercessions.

Take out your tambourine of joy and shake it. String and strum your lyre and harp of peace. Blow your trumpet of testimony to the Lord’s abundance. And sing a song to praise the Lord God for the deliverance you have been given. Celebrate the festal day of the Lord! Selah!

Trinity Sunday – The Psalms Passage: The Lord is all things to all people throughout all time

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” (Psalm 29:1 – 5)

It is tempting, when presented with such powerful images of the Divine, to say there is only one God, one complete Creator and Ruler. That Jesus was not a part of the Lord God but a temporary indwelling. That the Holy Spirit is a reflection of the Divine power of the Almighty and not a presence apart of the Creator and Ruler of the heavens and the earth. It is tempting to say “Glory, Glory” to the one and only Lord God. But it is not biblical and scriptural. Jesus said if you knew him, you knew the Lord, and vice versa. Yet Jesus was fully here, doing miracles. And God was in heaven listening to the prayers of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit came only after Jesus had left. If the Lord God can have ascribed to the God-Self all the things that are lauded here, why couldn’t the Divine split off parts of the Divinity to full the roles of Lord God, Savior, and Holy Presence?

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!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” (Verses 6 – 10)

We speak of the transcendent aspect of the Lord God that is over all things. And we speak of the imminent aspect of the Lord God who is present with us through all things. And we speak of Jesus who pleads for us in front of the Holy Throne. We need all three aspects of the Divine. And all the other facets of the Divine – healer, teacher, counselor, and many more besides. The Divine has ministered to the needs of creation and humanity as long as there had been the existence of both, and before their inception. We need a multi-layered Deity to met the diverse needs that exist. But we also need the Unity that comes from having one Lord God who loves us without condition or end.

“May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Verse 11)

Selah!

Trinity Sunday – The Old Testament Passage: Being called by all aspects of the Divine

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1 – 4)

At first glance this is a pretty strange vision. When I have visions like that (though mine come in dreams) my first suspicion is low blood sugar! I do not mean to be disrespectful. My point is that every time and culture has an archetype of what a holy vision would be like. And if helps you continue in your Christian pilgrimage, then all one can hope is that the vision means something to you, and that you are believed. I suppose the six wings on the seraphs, each set having their own purpose was an important factor. As was the chorus that they repeated to one another. And if the person having the vision, correctly recognizes that it is a holy vision and not from some other cause, then an instant self assessment does not seem out of line.

“And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Verse 5)

Now what I find interesting is that the writer of of the book of Isaiah not only feels he is unclean but he feels the people he is with/from are also unclean. And because of this corporate uncleanliness, he is not worthy to see the Divine.

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Verses 6 – 8)

Many times I have read this passage, and have taken from it the experience of being called to ministry and to continue the work of the Lord. But I am also keenly aware that this passage is cited for Trinity Sunday which is the Sunday that the triune nature of the Divine is celebrated. So my thinking pauses on reading verses 8 “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” [Emphasis mine]. “I” meaning the Divine, but “Us” that which will become the Creator/Redeemer/Holy Spirit? For surely the “us” could not be the seraphs who are flying around with 6 wings.

It is interesting to think that we who are called by the Divine may hear the calling from one of the triune natures of the Lord God. Are we called to carry out the work of the Creator? Or are we to carry out the work of the Redeemer? Or is our calling from the Holy Spirit? What is the nature of your calling, beloved reader? If I were to ask myself that question like that, I know what my answer would be. I am called by the Holy Spirit, because the union of spirituality and everyday living is where I write from. Yet, because of the triune nature of the Lord God, I am called also by the Creator and the Redeemer. Praise be to God that there is room for all in the wide field of ministry. Selah!

Day of Pentecost – The Psalms Passage: Even Creation contains the Lord’s Spirit

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.”

These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”

May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works– who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”

May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!”          ( Psalm 104:24-34, 35b)

Day of Pentecost – The Gospel Passage: One of a Kind Divine

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.” (John 15:16)

They say that Christianity is a monotheistic religion, meaning it is based on the belief of one single God. But I will readily admit that at times it sounds like there is a whole Host of Lords, Gods, Spirits, and Advocates. And that any one time one or the other of them is coming and/or going to complete some task that needs to be done. I know I am exaggerating just a touch; and I most certainly realize that the monotheism of God is based on the fact that the Divine does and is all things. It is the next statement of Jesus that sort of clinches it though.

“You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” (Verse 27)

The disciples have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry. They have seen and heard him appeal to one God who has done all manner of miracles and sign/wonders. And Jesus was one man who functioned within the normal realm of existence (except for a few notable exceptions) and was not several different places at the same time. There was one Jesus, and one Divine Lord God Almighty that sent him.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.” (Chapter 16, verses 4b – 6)

If there had been anyone like Jesus before, perhaps the disciples would not have been so sad at his leave-taking. That is what the biblical commentators make of the verses above; the disciples were so sad at Jesus announcing he was leaving they never asked where he was going. And if there had been anyone else like Jesus after he ascended to heaven, the Christian world may not have been as enthralled with Jesus some two thousand years afterwards.

Now I want to interject here that I am going a different direction with this passage than typically done with passages that are cited to support Pentecost. That is the direction that these passage typically point – the Day of Pentecost. But the reason that day is so special is because it is another once in a lifetime event. Just as the Divine Lord God the Almighty is a one time singular Deity, so too is Pentecost – the first time the Holy Spirit comes upon the world.

Think of that! All that the Old Testament prophets endured and accomplished was without the Holy Spirit of God moving in the world. Or more precisely, without being imbued with the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” (Verses 7 – 11)

An interesting thing about these proofs that Jesus gives; the proof of sin is not believing in Jesus and the Lord God – that is, not believing in the nature of the Divine which is as I stated about a All-In-One Divine God. The proof of righteousness is that while condemned to death Jesus arose from the dead. And the proof of judgment is that Satan will be unseated and the Divine will be victorious.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Verses 12 – 15)

And here we are back again with the statement that there is One God and One God only, and that Jesus is a part of the Divine.

Pentecost is coming, beloved reader. The day when the Holy Spirit settles into and amongst humanity. From the One God through the One Jesus Christ the blessing of the One Holy Spirit. May you be ready! Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Easter – The Psalm Passage: It is wise not to be wicked!

Preacher: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; . . .”
Seeker: Am I happy? I ask myself that every once in a while. If things are going my way, I am pretty sure to be happy. But sometimes when times are tough, I am happy anyway. Or I try to find some happiness in the situation I am in. But sometimes I mope and grump.
I am happy when I am doing the correct thing and am not getting myself or someone else in trouble. If I know I have made a wise decision but see the results of someone else’s poor decision, I may be happy that I made the right choice. Being happy at someone else’s misfortune is the the caring thoughtful thing to do, so I try very hard to not let my thoughts stray that way – after all, that could be considered sinning. Or sitting in “the seat of scoffers”. More often though I would describe myself as content or serene.
Preacher: “. . . but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.”

Seeker: I don’t really meditate on the law, or at least not the Old Testament version of the law. God’s law of love and compassion – I think on that quite a bit. I love God’s law of love and compassion. It brings me delight to show it, and delight when I see it shown.
Preacher: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”

Seeker: Now, about prospering – it depends how you define that. By the measures of the world, I am probably not prospering. But by the measures of the Lord, I am. Or at least I hope and pray that according to the Lord God and the Divine I am doing well in my life and living as Christ showed us how to live. And I hope I am yielding up spiritual fruit. I know I have been “pruned” enough!
Preacher: “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”
Seeker:
I am not sure to take that as a comfort that the wicked will not prevail, or as a warning to me to not be “wicked”. I guess really one could take it as both – and maybe that is for the best. If I want to endure and prevail – honest, integrity, and compassion should be my watch words.
Preacher: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; . . .”

Seeker: When the final day of all days come, the wicked will not be there. By that time they will be driven away, or will have already be condemned by the Divine’s judgment. In any case, we will not have to worry about them. That too is comforting news. But also a warning – if I want to be counted as righteous, I must put aside and flee from all wickedness. I do not want to be left out!
Preacher: “for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1)

Seeker: I think of all the warnings and admonitions found here and other places in the bible. I think about the psalmist lamenting when the wicked seem to prosper. If I were wicked, or tempted to sin or do evil, I would worry about myself. Not that I was sinning, but that my sinning would be my ruin. So perhaps it is a measure of my following God that I worry what will become of me if I sin, do evil, and am wicked. My worry reassures me. As does the assurance that what ever sin I have done, has been erased by Christ’s sacrifice and my belief in it. Under God’s dominion the wicked will have no place – at least not in what is truly important. When my days are dark, and my hope seems dim – I will remember this! And praise the Lord! Selah!