Third Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Provisions and teachings during Lent

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

In our household we use a lot of milk. Not very much wine – hardly any! But we use a lot of milk. We try to keep at least one full gallon of milk in the refrigerator because an open gallon of milk is usually an empty gallon of milk. We go through a lot of bread too. It seems like each member of the family likes a different type of bread; not just brown or white. But country white and 100% grain brown, and the more mundane as well. That does not count the rolls and buns we also use. Yes, milk and bread are frequent purchases; a purchase means someone has to have “labored” for it. We are no different, in that respect, than the writer of Isaiah’s audience.

The writer of Isaiah (using the voice of the Lord) goes on to talk about food items more rich and tasty than just bread and milk. And at no price! Well, sign us up! Of course, bread and milk, and other delicious food are just metaphors for living a contented and well-provided life. Still the question remains – what do we need to do (if not labor) to acquire this life?

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” (Verses 3 – 4)

If we just listen to the Lord, we will be the recipients of the same sort of covenant that the Divine made with King David?! We that sounds pretty good! However . . . . if one stops to think about all that King David went through, maybe it is not as simple and straightforward as it first appears.

Listening to the Lord and living for the Lord comes with its own set of priorities and statutes. It is not a life that is lived out quietly and unobtrusively as it first sounds.

“See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” (Verses 5)

King David lived a life that was constantly on public display. When he did things correctly, his people demanded more of him. And when he did not live correctly all of his mistakes were on display. The writer of Isaiah does not disclose the “price” of the Divine’s bread, milk, and wine. The price is not dollars and cents but living a life that confirms to the Divine, and not to our human frail will. The writer of Isaiah is correct though – our human frail will does not “satisfy”. We labor and pine after things that are not good for us, or more precisely not good for our human spirit and soul.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Verses 6 – 7)

And it is these last two verses the outline the difference between our thinking and the Divine’s thinking.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Verses 8 – 9)

As I remembered and anticipated these last two verses I could not help but think they explain so much about the difference I see in the Almighty that strides through the story of the Israelites and Judahites. Did the writers (the ones that wrote the history of the Israelites and Judahites) assume they knew the “ways of the Lord”? Did Isaiah, then, have a more accurate and attuned perception of the Divine?

Wondering about this, I went back to check in on the biblical commentators. And discovered I differ from them entirely on the meaning of these last two verses. The biblical commentators (actually I only looked up Albert Barnes, but I am sure the others come from the same perspective) take these last two verses as referring to forgiveness and pardon, and that the Divine forgives, pardons, and is merciful in ways that humanity is not. But that does not really connect with how this passage starts – seeking the wrong types of things, listening to the Lord and entering into a covenant like the one David had with God, and having attention brought to you because of the way you live.

What do you think beloved reader? I am not sure that anyone can, or should, say that one interpretation is more correct than another. The ways of the Divine encompass more than just forgiveness and pardon. If that were the case, the only case, we would be free to do whatever we want and still be assured of a pardon. No, it is more complex than that.

Lent is a complex season; recognition of sin and the way we have erred. The example set down by Jesus Christ. The expectations that the Lord God the Divine has. The gnarled and tangled road of the called and chosen people of the Old Testament. The new revelations and teachings in the New Testament. All of it seems to come together during Lent. And we are had pressed to discern it all.

I guess for me, I have to go back to the beginning of the passage. Listen carefully to the Divine. Chose the best way to live according to the example of Jesus Christ. And delight one’s self in living a Godly life. Selah!

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Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Pleas during Lent

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.” (Philippians 3:17 – 18)

Paul is very sincere in this – shedding tears because some “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Part of the reason is that he becomes profoundly disturbed in thinking that some may be lost to death and destruction because they are outside of the will of our Lord God Jesus Christ. Part of the reason is that Paul remembers when he was “Saul” and lived apart of the Lord God. And part of the reason, I think, is that Paul becomes perturbed that any one would live contrary to the rules of the Lord God Jesus Christ. And finally, I think part of the reason is that they are such a bad example to new and vulnerable Christians.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Verse 19)

As fervent as Paul was in persecuting new Christian believers, he is as fervent or more so in protecting them, and nurturing them. And encouraging them to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ and the new life that is to come for them.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Paul’s plea is also the plea of Lent. To resist temptation and stand firm in one’s beliefs no matter what you may see others do and hear of them doing.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Chapter 4, verse 1)

Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Doubts during Lent

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” (Genesis 15:1 – 4)

The season of Lent is rife with tests, trials, and challenges. Some minor consisting of abstaining from small things. Other challenges are major tests of our faith and beliefs. We have talked about such challenges in days past. Abram was challenged to believe that the Divine would be able to fulfill the promises made that Abram was the start of a long lineage. Especially since his family line, at that point, ended with him.

It reminds me somewhat of the assurances I was given during my radiation treatment. Now there were challenges – challenges to my body and my faith! But all those promises have come to pass – Praise the Lord!

“He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”
But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” (Verses 5 – 12)

Abram sort of has a pattern going here – hearing the promise of the Divine and taking it into his heart. But then starting to doubt it. I found myself having the same pattern when I was going through the last days of treatment and the week or so after. So many people told me it would get better; but all I could see was how bad it was at the moment. I have an idea of how that “deep and terrifying darkness” might have felt.

“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates….” (Verses 17 – 18)

Imagine, if you will beloved reader, the dark of a desert night; the sounds of “birds of prey” that have been denied food; other noises beyond sight but within hearing. A man alone with only dead carcasses to keep him company. And in the darkness light coming and consuming the offerings. Suddenly the smell of burnt meat fills the air, and the sizzle of the meat consumes the senses. It is not the sweet incense of worship that we are accustomed to. But burnt acrid smells that remind us of how pale and frail life is that it can be so consumed.

It is those earthy scents reminding us of the precarious balance between life and death. We can cling to our doubts, and consign ourselves to a life that ends with our own demise. Or we can take a leap of faith that there is more beyond this life and that extends into the life to come. Shalom!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Psalm Passage – Being sheltered during Lent

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1 – 2)

A few days ago I made “confession” that I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed over something. I was going to let it rest for three days before I decided what to do, and more importantly, not to stress over it. Well, the situation has not resolved – that is, it is still present. But I am not obsessing over it, and I came up with a plan to handle it. And most importantly, I commended it to the Divine, and now I am at peace. So I can say with the psalmist “My refuge and fortress is in the Lord.” As a result . . . .

“Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” (Verses 9 – 13)

I also said last time we met over scripture that Jesus’ temptations were specific to Jesus. The psalmist does offer protection for those are the subject of the preaching/teaching. But I think the psalmist’s offer of protection for feet is more metaphorical than literal. At least that is my assumption. I base it first on hyperbole of scripture. And second, you can bet that the Devil will twist the words of scripture to its own purposes and devices.

“Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Lastly, but not least, we need to think of the saints and spiritual forebearers who have gone before us and paid with their lives for their faithfulness and steadfastness to the Divine. Can we say that the Lord God “rescued them” if they were put to death? Did that live long lives if they were cut down in their young adulthood? Yes, they were answered when they called on the Lord. The Lord was with them in troubled times and honored them. And they knew salvation. But there is no guarantee in the Christian life of safety. At least not bodily safety. And that is the falsehood that the Devil tried to sell Jesus. He did not fall for it, and neither should we.

The refuge and fortress of the Divine does not promise earthly human safety. Granted, many are saved. But it is not a promise that can be used to protect us and excuse us from reckless behavior, nor the troubled times and misfortune we have in life. In fact the season of Lent can be a time of being tested. Tested in many ways; perhaps our own temptations as we talked about yesterday. Or trouble that comes our way even within the Christian life.

Beloved reader, how I wish I could sit down with you and hear about your Christian journey. And share with you mine. Exchanging stories from our faith lives helps us to better understand the challenges and temptations, and the promises that the Divine gives us. I hope and pray during this season of Lent you do find someone to share with. Read scripture with, and pray with. Often times the refuge and fortress of the Lord is made manifest through being in community with others. And we in turn offer them a refuge and fortress that comes about because of our relationship with the Divine. The season of Lent can be an arduous one, but not one that we journey on along. Praise the Lord, and Selah!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Firm resolve during Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1 – 2)

I looked it up, beloved reader, and if you have water you could go forty days without food. So it was not a Divine attribute that allowed Jesus to do this, but a natural function of the human body. However, the Devil did tempt Jesus in ways that are unique to the Divine.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Verses 3 – 12)

It is “tempting” to think that we might be able to withstand temptation such as these if the Devil were to offer it to us. But what you need to understand, beloved reader, is that these temptations were specific to Jesus. Because only Jesus as the Son of God could do what the Devil asked. We cannot turn stones to bread, much less any other food. The Devil is not really interested in us worshiping him/it, although the Devil may tempts us in that way so we do not follow the Lord God. And it was not command that the angels will protect us from harm if we foolishly endanger ourselves. No, it was only for Jesus that these temptations were worth the Devil’s time and effort.

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Verse 13)

We never do hear if there was a more “opportune time.” The book and movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” hinges itself on these phrase, suggesting that the Devil did indeed return and was more successful – for a time. But we know according to Holy Scripture that the gospel writers do not record a return, nor do they give any evidence that Jesus’ resolve failed. (Thanks be to God!)

So what is our portion for this scripture? Or do we have any part of it? Well . . . we have our own temptations; specific to our personality and to the human spirit. One of the things about Lent is that it is forty days of our proving our resolve to following Christ and the Lord God. Are we willing to give up our human agenda and commit ourselves to the way of Jesus? Do we belief that Jesus is the Son of God and empowered to forgive and absolve our sin? (Of course that is not the only thing Jesus did, but it is at the forefront of Lent and Easter.) Do we accept Jesus’ teaching as the way we should live our lives? At each week and stage of Lent there are questions that we need to answer.

Each of the three years of the lectionary cycle Lent has its own distinctive theme. This year is Year C and it is the year of penance, of confessing our sins and being forgiven. The story of the prodigal son has a prominent place in the readings this year. It comes later in the weeks of Lent. Watch for it. Until then, consider the questions that I have posed. Think too what temptations there might be in your life that takes your focus off the Divine and the life you are called to by the Lord God. May you remain firm, and give the Devil no “opportune time”! Selah!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the “land” of peace and hope during Lent

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8b – 9)

It seems that when ever there is a real world reality confronting me, there is also a epistle passage that is at the forefront of my day. Maybe something (or Someone) is trying to tell me something – that I should not obsess about the real world reality, and instead focus on the needs of the spiritual world and my spiritual life.

Many years ago, when I felt that fate and fortune were against me, I felt overwhelmed and could not manage what was at the forefront of my real world reality. So I decided not to obsess over it and instead wait three days before I felt I needed to take action. I got the idea of waiting three days because Jesus lay in the grave for three days, and the disciples and his followers mourned thinking all was lost. But on the third day grace and rescue dawned and all their problems faded away. Joy took the place of sadness and celebration took the place of mourning. It seemed like a good plan when I first decided on it, and it seems like a good plan to this day. The discipline is to let things rest for the three days.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Now, beloved reader, what is at the real world forefront for me has nothing to do with spirituality or salvation. It is actually the sort of thing that a well disciplined person with deep faith would commend to the Lord and trust in the Divine. I do, beloved reader, at times fall short of what I expect of myself. And I do, after stressing about things, finally hand it over to the Lord God. While things may not work out the way I think they would, or the way I hoped they would – things do work out. And how ever they work out, I feel the Lord is with me.

But I have to wonder . . . . . . can I/should I apply scripture that talks of faith and salvation to my real world problems? I know the answer is most probably “yes”. And I know the Lord God is concerned about my concerns and cares for all aspects of my life. And I also know the best approach is to “let go and let God.” That is not always easy to do, however.

In this instance I think I need to learn the lesson once again, to hand over the worries and concerns I have to the Divine and have faith. To stand on the promise that “No one who believes in him (the Divine) will be put to shame.”

It is an irony, beloved reader, that we are entering into Lent. A time of self-examination. A learning and growing experience. If that is the case for me, then I will be a willing student of the Divine! Selah!

 

Ash Wednesday 2019: The Old Testament, New Testament and Psalm Passages – A combined reflection

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1 – 2)

Ash Wednesday. I remember them from my days at seminary. One of the few places where it was quite natural for everyone to wear a gray smudge on their forehead on this day. I miss living in that type of community where so many things were done according to the lectionary and liturgy. At the time I did not appreciate the framework of living in a liturgical community. Somehow I had the idea that it would just continue once I got to the “outside world.” I was mistaken in that.

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?” (Verses 12 – 14)

Other things have taken the place of that liturgical framework. One large part has been doing these blog posts for . . . . over ten years now. It shapes my days and weeks. It reminds me to turn my heart inward and listen to the Divine. It shapes me!

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 15 – 17)

When I am in the “outside world” I need to be my own “priest” and “minister” as opposed to seminary where we ministered to each other. Encountering scripture on a daily basis has prepared me to both minister to myself and extend ministry to others.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1 – 6)

When I first started writing commentaries – before I started having a blog – one series I did was for a church newsletter. Actually it was more of a monthly reflection. I called “From my Prayer Closet” and it was in part inspired by this passage from Matthew.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Thinking about it, one of the drawbacks of living in a lectionary liturgical community was that was easy to know what another person’s faith life was like; or at least the broad sketches because when you worship with someone just about every day, talk to them during and outside of classes, and know their back story – you get to know them quite well. It is interesting then that Jesus exhorts his disciples, followers, and believers to partly shield their faith practices from other’s eyes.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Verses 19 – 21)

My true treasure is my faith life. It has supported me and under girded me. It has trained me to handle everything that life has thrown at me. And helped me make sense of the events in my life. The coming of the seasons of the church year – the familiar cycles both yearly and in the lectionary every three years – remind me of the tasks that need to be done for me to grow in the Lord. And finally, it leads me to prayer.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ( Psalm 51:1-17)