Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When the Lord complains . . . about the called and chosen people

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 2:4)

Sometimes I have to be very loud and insistent with my family. I suppose that is a common experience with parents/spouses – that you have repeat yourself in no-uncertain terms and volume. Important messages and understandings can be lost if you cannot get and hold their attention.

“Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” (Verses 5 – 6)

It may be worthy of noting, beloved reader, that the biblical commentators are no help in discerning these beginning verses. Maybe the meaning of these verses is so self-evident that they did not feel much explanation was needed. Different paraphrases and translations make it clear that the Lord God the Divine is complaining about these stubborn people!

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

The bad times and the rough journey had come to an end. The people were back in the land that had been promised to them so long ago. But did they give thanks? No! Did they seek out the Lord who had brought them there? NO! Did they worship the Lord and follow in the worship practices that were taught to them? NO!! What is a Parent and Lord God to do with such children!!

“Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 9 – 13)

To the Divine it is an unimaginable thing that they would trade in the Living God who has given them so much for false gods that have given them nothing. And we could and would stand in equal surprise and shock . . . . if we had not done the same thing.

I tell my family time and time again the same thing, teach the same lessons, and model the same actions and attitudes – but they do not listen and learn. Now, I do not mean I am so perfect. And I am not talking about life lessons; I am trying to teach them how to clean up after themselves and take care of their own needs. But it is like talking to a pile of stones. Which, coincidentally, is just what the “house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” were accused of worshiping! (Not the same rocks though.)

My point is, it can take a lot to get through to a person or group of people. The things that should be obvious – wash the plate and pot, put away leftover food, pick up after yourselves – and – worship the Lord who brought you into abundance, remember the lessons learned in the desert, show gratitude and awe that you have been brought into a good life – are missed, glossed over, or forgotten.

People like Jeremiah were called to give testimony and prophesy to the people who had gone astray. Now granted, this is a straying that took place over many generations. It did not happen as soon as the people passed over into the promised land. Does that make it more acceptable and understandable that they drifted from the Lord God? Should it? Part of the cycle of the lectionary year is calling people back to faithfulness. In years past I have made note of the themes of the three lectionary years – A, B, and C. These themes are especially emphasized during the high seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Divine can and does call us back to faithfulness at any and all times of the year. Is perhaps the Divine calling to you? Maybe complaining about you? Oh beloved reader! Do not let it be so! Shalom!

Advertisements

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope springs . . . through Sabbath observances?

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b – 10)

The other Old Testament passage, beloved reader, is where Jeremiah is called out by the Lord and sanctified to speak the Lord God’s words – Jeremiah 1:4-10. I think I have written about Jeremiah’s calling before – considering this is the second time through Year C. And I am sure the passage has come up other times in other writings. But I digress.

The last few weeks have seen a theme of Israel and Judah being critiqued, scolded, and disciplined by the prophets. It is interesting to see, in the privacy of our own thoughts and reflects, if the exhortations of then apply to us now. Do they beloved reader? There is hope though in this passage, that if the exhortation is heeded and applied that darkness will give way to light. We could apply that to ourselves as well.

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Not only will darkness give way to light but, theses verses promise, light will come to others. Considering the dire situation that some of the Old Testament prophets describe, it seems pretty wondrous that this could happen. It also seems rather contrary and paradoxical in light of some New Testament understandings, that each person needs to make their own petition to the Divine and follow the example of Jesus Christ.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Verses 13 – 14)

The Sabbath is very important, so it seems, in this passage and to the writer of Isaiah. He starts out by speaking generally about being in good relationship with others – speaking well and offering compassion. But as he continues of instruction, he narrows down to the keeping of the Sabbath. It is interesting to think about this, contrasting what should be done on the Sabbath versus what is allowed on other days. And I have to wonder if this emphasis on the Sabbath made way for ever larger inconsistency between Sabbath living and the other days of the week.

I will have to think about this as the week moves forward; what the Epistles might say and what Jesus Christ himself might say – according to the verses and passages that comprise the RCL this week. You think too, beloved reader, and ponder. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When sad things happen to a Good Loving Divine

I am at a decision point again concerning which Old Testament passage to use. Both passage are critical of the people of Israel and Judah. Isaiah compares them to a vineyard that was carefully and tenderly planted but something went wrong – terribly wrong.

“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1 – 4)

Jeremiah is speaking for the Lord God against the prophets of that time. The prophets, unlike Jeremiah, are not faithfully speaking the word of God but are created prophesy out of thin air and their own imaging. The Lord God (through Jeremiah) says that things are as bad as when Baal was worshiped instead of the Lord God. The implication is that the Israelites, before and while they were being formed as a called and chosen people, were seduced in the past and are being seduced now my false worship and the prophets are doing nothing to stem this inclination.

Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.” (Jeremiah 23:23 – 27)

In both passages the Lord God is determined to put an end to what has happened. Isaiah says,

“And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the Lord God through Jeremiah warns,

“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Verses 28 – 29)

What we have to remember, beloved reader, is two things. First – The Lord God seeks to be in relationship with humanity and creation. “In the beginning” the Divine wanted to do something with the lifeless chaos we now call earth. Starting with bringing order and a system to the vastness, to coaxing life where there was not life, to creating humanity – the Divine wanted to create relationships. So it is vastly wounding (if you can wound the Divine) that humanity turns away and craves other things. Second – this is according to two humans who may or may not be point perfect in understanding the Divine and the motivations and sentiments of the Divine. We can and do know that the Divine seeks relationship because Jesus Christ was sent. But knowing the sentiments of the Divine during the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah – that is a little more challenging. Test it out for yourself, beloved reader. Take the invitation to be in relationship with the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Discern for yourself what the Trinity wants. I can guarantee you, you will bring joy to the Divine by reaching out! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker talk about hearing in scripture what the Divine is saying

Seeker: “The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
Preacher: “Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”

Seeker: Preacher, this passage in the RCL is coupled with the passage from Isaiah chapter 1 verses 10 to 20. It seems like the same frustration and high emotion that the writer of Isaiah says the Lord God has is also in this passage from psalms. There must have been a strong and lasting sentiment within the people, or at least these representative speakers, that the Divine was very upset with the called and chose people.
Preacher: “He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah”
Yes, Seeker, the image of the Lord God in the people’s minds got very angry when those who professed to follow the Divine blatantly showed they were not. Their attitudes towards the standards of worship and relating to others showed they did not care about either thing.
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
“Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.”
Seeker: “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.” ( Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23)
Preacher:
Exactly, Seeker; they had not learned yet that more important that what they placed before or on the altar were who they were and what they did away from the altar. That is as true now as it was then. Abraham in the Genesis passage that the RCL also cites for this week, and the corresponding psalm passage for this week speak to us about this. “Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth– he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.”
Seeker:
It seems as if when the called and chosen people of the Divine swayed from following the Divine as their King at a distance to follow an earthly king as their leader – that the lines of communication were garbled and the people lost sight of what they should do and be.
Preacher: The Judges, you know them from that book in the bible, tried to explain and emulate what the Divine was saying. But their fallibility and the politics of the time made if very hard. They wanted some above and over them rather than someone living with/amongst them to give them direction. And to have a mighty hand. But they perceived in a way the value of military might. “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.” Consider that it was only for one or two generations that King David was able hold together the kingdom and run it as the Lord God would see fit; and even then David made some mistakes. But he tried to maintain being a “man after God’s own heart.” “Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.”
Seeker:
Then theologically it was no happenstance that Jesus the Christ came to live amongst the disciples. That Jesus was like a “judge” who instructed them right from wrong, and was subject to humanness as they were. But he was also Divine and kept the lines of communication between himself and the Divine who sent him – of course he was the Divine. But he emulated the type of intimate relationship that one needs to have with the Lord God.
Preacher: “Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Psalm 33:12-22)
Yes, Seeker. This the way it was intended. The Lord God called out Abraham, and he “grew up” in the Lord God as we are too. The psalmist exhorts us to be in close relationship to the Divine. And Paul exhorts us to enfold and lose our lives in the Lord God. Between scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you’d think we’d get it right. But we don’t. The important things – the investing in the eternal thing – is to keep trying, and keep listening to and for the voice of the Divine. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistles Passage – Knowing what you should believe in and why

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” (Galatians 6:1-6)

The Revised Common Lectionary sets verses 1 to 6 in parenthesis, which means that it is acknowledge as accompanying the passage that the RCL is actually focused on. Often the RCL will do this when the periphery passage in some way pertains, proceed/follows, or explain/sets the context for the focus passage. Often times this “extra” passage has interesting things in it as well. For example “For all must carry their own loads”; everyone should be responsible only for themselves. Not correcting another or judging another (although Paul sometimes seems to hold that privilege for himself) or getting into another’s business (ditto). This must refer back to the “spirit of gentleness” that one must use in restoring the one detected in a transgression. (Is Paul gentle?)

The other verse I take note of is “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” I could (but did not) look up what the biblical commentators say about this. That is, which way the sharing goes; the taught to the teacher, or the teacher to the taught. Think about it, beloved reader, because there is a difference. I believe the desired direction is that the teacher shares with those who are taught the good things – the benefits and blessings of the teachings. I am not sure if the verses that follow (that is the ones the RCL wishes to highlight for this day) are indicative or illuminating of that verse.

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Paul would say one good thing is “eternal life”, and one’s teacher teaches accountably (that is, “sow to the Spirit”) then both the teacher and the taught attain that. But Paul is not talking just of teachers but (perhaps) exemplars too.

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Verses 9 – 10)

The “family of faith” – who is your family of faith beloved reader? We talk of faith circles, fellowship of believers, churches, etc. Are these all names for the “family of faith”? I believe so. Where then does the family start and end? If we have a “large” family, then we have plenty of work to do. And “good work.” Notice though Paul includes “the good of all” , not just the family of faith.

“See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” (Verse 11)

Let me see if I can explain this. It is thought that Paul used a secretary to write some of the letters, or gave broad outlines of what was to be written. The secretary would then write the letter as if it came straight from the hand of Paul. The readers might have been aware of this. But when the letters are large, it was indicative that Paul was writing it himself, his thoughts and theology alone.

“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised–only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Evidently it was preaching that the Christ’s death was what saved (and the only thing that saved) someone resulted in persecution. By pressing the issue of being circumcised they satisfy the rules of Judaism and the law. They (those who teach and pressure the Gentiles on the issue of circumcision) do not obey the law themselves, but they make every appearance that they force the law on others. This statement may be why Paul wanted it clear that he was saying this, and that the Galatians can trust that circumcision was not necessary for Christian faith and salvation.

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule–peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (Verses 14 – 16)

I could have added to the title of this “and how to live it out”, but I did not. First, Paul is talking about faith issues and where one’s hope of salvation and eternal life is. Yes, he talks about work and good work, and teaching well and sowing in the Spirit. But these come from faith, and are not actions. Let us first get our faith beliefs aligned, then we can see what we should do with them. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – What a life change might mean

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51 – 53)

In both biblical times, and modern times, there exist rivalries and animosities. You have to look no further than sports team to so them. Although the tension between the Jews and the Samaritans came from religious positions and not recreational – then again for some sports are a religion!

“When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”But he turned and rebuked them.” (Verses 54 – 55)

And Jesus’ disciples were just as vulnerable to prejudices as the Samaritans. Let me be, beloved reader, Jesus cared as much for the Samaritans as he did the Jews, the people from which his earthly mother and father sprang from. The story of the Good Samaritan is proof that Jesus had, and has, a tender spot in the Divine heart for everyone.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Verses 56 – 58)

I consulted a couple of biblical commentators about this passage and they have little or nothing to say about the metaphor that Jesus uses. It is plain enough on its surface, I imagine, to not need comment. Animals and birds have a place to call their own, to seek shelter, to rest and recuperate – but “the Son of Man” has no such place. The implication that the biblical commentators give is the way of life the Son of Man has is not one that others can emulate. But that flies in the face of the expectation that we take Jesus as our exemplar. Does that mean we should not get to comfortable in this life? That theology is also a strong presence in the gospels and in the epistles. Why not then tie it to this point in the story of Jesus’ journey and ministry?

“To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Verses 59 – 62)

Do you remember beloved reader back at the passage from the Old Testament where Elisha wanted to bid farewell to his father and family? Well, this is the passage that I had in mind when I contrasted Elijah allowing Elisha to make his good-byes and Jesus being adamant about following the call to himself. (Not believing deeply in coincidences, I am not surprised the RCL matched these two passages.) Interesting, is it not, that Elisha looked back in a way but also received the same portion of Godly authority that Elijah did.

It also makes a strong case that Jesus saw into the depths of these people’s hearts, and knew they were not really ready to commit to following Jesus and what it would entail. One has to trust that Jesus knows the best way to journey in life and what the destination should be. That along the way you will meet people who don’t see things your way, but that is no reason to write them off. The journey will be arduous, with little chance to take one’s leisure. And sacrifices must be made.

Now interestingly, Elisha burned the plow! And gave away the oxen meat! Perhaps that is what the Divine and Elijah saw; a young man who would be ready to commit to being a made of God and that set his affairs in good order so as to be ready to take up that call. May you, beloved reader, be as ready to follow our Lord God Jesus Christ! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Starting the journey of Ordinary Time

The Sundays after Pentecost have numbers, and each successive Sunday brings us closer to Thanksgiving and the end of this lectionary year. That they span over summer and well into fall will tell you there are many of them. The number of the Sunday indicates only which passages are for that week. If I told you this was Proper 7(12) it would tell you a great deal. So I will not enumerate the Sundays. I could also tell you that now there are two sets of Old Testament and Psalm passages each week, and each matching of Old Testament and Psalm passage have a connection point – that may or may not make sense. I will try to illuminate that connection. So here we are, at the first Sunday of the long Ordinary Time.

“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels; who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long.” (Isaiah 65:1 – 5)

As to why I may choose one Old Testament passage over another, I cannot tell you. If it is one that I have not spoken to before I am more likely to choose it. Or if one is more “unfathomable” I may (or may not actually) pass on it. If I feel a flame of intrigue and passion, I will most definitely choose it! (That is how I have gotten myself sucked into some Psalm passages that vex me!)

As to this passage, the Lord God the Divine is chastising the called and chosen people for being so much less than the Divine expects of them. Not, mind you, all of them but enough that they leave a foul stench in the Nose of the Divine. Some of the commentators say of this passage . . . it is sometimes people who have gone so far astray from the Lord God who perceive themselves to be the more holy and religious. Meaning, I guess, that they have fallen into such false worship that it is so unworldly as to be mysterious and mystical. The “holy” part is not the authentic belief in the Divine, but worldly/earthly spiritually imbued that could send shivers down one’s spine. Think deep and dark evil!

“See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.” (Verses 6 – 7)

Now it is more than just a matter of worshiping in the wrong place, beloved reader. The Lord God the Divine is worshiped on flat open plains where one’s actions and attitudes are seen, and where one is amongst like minded believers. Up in the hills and mountains are the evil things, hidden dark things, idols that are not the true Yahweh. So abundant were they that it was more than just caution that would keep the true worshipper in the correct place. Giving heed to unholy (or perverted) deities was tantamount to damning one’s soul and spirit.

“Thus says the LORD: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.” (Verses 8 – 9)

But, says the Divine, wandering off to wild places does not necessarily mean one’s spirit and soul is condemned. And there may be good and true worshipers who see their peril before it is too late, or succeeding generations who do not follow their ancestors. For their sake, says the Divine, I will not destroy all of them called and chosen people.

That is important to remember, beloved reader, at those times we have gone astray. As I said previously, Ordinary Time is a long time – many miles to travel. We could get temporarily lost, wander off the good path, or slip up somewhere. If there is still good in us – as verse 8 says, blessing in some of harvests of the fruits – the Divine give us opportunities to mend our ways. Perhaps, beloved reader, something you read here in the coming weeks and months will help. Selah!