Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Playing your part in the Prodigal Son parable

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . . “ (Luke 15:1 – 3)

Actually Jesus told two other parables, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, before this one. In a way those two parables the stage for this longer parable.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.” (Verses 11b – 13)

I remember as a young child (at least I think this actually happened) seeing this parable acted out during a worship service. It was part of those times, the 1960’s and 70’s, when churches really made an effort to reach out to the very young and engage adults in worship services and evening services that appealed to all age groups and understandings. This type of presentation made the bible come alive and really set the stage for my later interest in ministry and making scripture accessible and understandable.

“When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.” (Verses 14 – 15)

As I read further in this story I do remember seeing this parable performed – maybe not as a child but certainly at an age in my life that it had impact.

“He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ (Verses 16 – 19)

It is at this point in the story that the value of seeing the parable performed becomes apparent – especially if the roles are well cast. If you can, beloved reader, image it in your mind an older man slightly bent from age seeing his young son come towards him – not arrogant as he was when he left, but thinner, and perhaps limping himself, with head bowed & tears in his eyes.

“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “ (Verses 20 – 21)

The young man is not deterred or mollified by his father’s affection. He wants to make clear to his father that he was in the wrong and does not expect the special attention and affection that he once had. This is important in this story. The young man knows his sin and confesses it freely to his father.

Henry Nouwen, a great writer and an even greater man, wrote about this parable and a picture that he saw that depicts this moment, Nouwen said he could see himself in all the roles that this parable has – the father who has lost someone dear to him, the young son who has made so many mistakes, and the older son who comes later in the story.

“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Verses 22 – 24)

Do you see, beloved reader, the importance of the proceeding parables? The emphasis on celebrating the finding of what was thought to be lost? But this parable takes another turn.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ “ (Verses 25 – 27)

I will confess, beloved reader, that sometimes I come before the Lord with the confess of my sinning because I want to feel the welcome that this prodigal son had. I do not sin because I wish to experience the forgiveness and welcome; I confess with out fear, however, because I know I will be welcomed back by the Lord God the Divine.

“Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ “ (Verses 27 – 30)

In the presentation of the parable that I watched as a mini play this part of the story was acted also. And again, if the roles were cast well you could well understand the anger of the older son. And his feeling that he never had is father’s affection as his younger brother did. As I think about it this section, it reminds me of that the other side of the story of Joseph might have been like, and where the anger that Joseph’s eleven older brothers might have had. One more thing – I always felt like my role would have been more of that of the older son/brother. Having never strayed as far as the younger did, I was more likely to have been the one who stayed around and acted the part of the loyal son.

“Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'” (Verses 31 – 32)

Which part do you identify with the most beloved reader? The younger prodigal son who ventured out having cashed in on his father’s good will? The older son who was faithful but never felt appreciated or rewarded? Or the father who worried and wept over his sons, never sure if they understood his love and care for them?

It is interesting to note that none of these roles seemed to fit the Pharisees and scribes. Not the young son, for they would never have confessed doing any wrong. Not the older son because he never availed himself special treatment. And certainly not the loving father who welcomed the sinning son back as a favored son. No, the Pharisees and scribes were only bystanders and probably learned nothing from the story. But we, beloved reader, we can see ourselves in any of these roles; and each role has a lesson for us. May you, in the time that remains in the season of Lent, think upon this story and the lessons it has. Selah!

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Third Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – More teachings during Lent

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” (I Corinthians 10: 1 – 5)

I may have to change my schedule when I write to which passage – many times when I sit down to write for the second day I do not have much patience with the writer of I Corinthians, or most all of the other epistles.

I raced off to consult the biblical commentators as to what Paul was talking about! Here is the easy-to-understand version. The Corinthian believers were being asked and invited to parties where worship of idols was the party theme. They thought that since they were devote Christians and believers it was not harmful to party around idols that they knew had not power. But Paul said, “not so fast! The Israelites had Moses to lead them and tell them right from wrong, and they still messed up when it came to idols. Don’t take chances!!!”

“Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (Verses 6 – 10)

Paul is equating the Lord God, who the Israelites and Moses looked to, with Christ – since according to Paul the Lord God and Christ are the same Divine. It also makes it easier to explain things to the Corinthians if you are not parsing out the “old” Old Testament Lord God with the “new” New Testament Lord God Jesus Christ, but placing them under (if I may) one Triune Lord. But let us read on.

“These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (Verses 11 – 13)

The perennial question comes to my mind – what does that have to do with us? We are not the Hebrew/Israelites that wandered around for at least one generation until they got their faith down pat and were lead to the promised land. Nor are we the Corinthians who could see danger if it plopped down beside them. Are we? Maybe we need to look at verses 6 – 10 again.

The season of Lent. Traditionally a time that we work extra hard at living an accountable life, and “navel gaze” to see where we have gone wrong. Do we worship the wrong things in life? Do we consider faithfulness and integrity to friends and family as optional attributes? Do we get ourselves into untenable situations and then call for miraculous rescue rather than face up to what we did, confess our wrong doing, accept the consequences, and ask for forgiveness? Do we complain that living a Christian life is hard, too hard and exacting?

The season of Lent. It comes every year. It comes to every Christian life. And thanks be to the Lord God the Divine – we do not have to go through it alone and without hope! Selah!

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!

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Psalm Passage – Not questioning the Divine

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!” (Psalm 99:1 – 3)

I am pleased to say that I am doing better. The tough days as a result of my radiation treatment are over, and I am slowly healing. Being in a better space and frame of mind, the psalm passages do not hit me as hard. And this psalm passage does not ask me to follow a pre-ordained and prescribed pattern of praise, so I am fine listening to the psalmist. It is good to be at peace like this.

“Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!” (Verses 4 – 5)

And the psalmist is doing a good job of describing the Lord God who has helped me through this journey. Of course my approval (or disapproval for that matter) does not change a whit of the truth that is being told nor does it change who and what the Divine is and has done.

“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. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.” (Verses 7 – 9)

And then comes the part where this touches on Transfiguration Sunday – the harking back to Moses. And then appearance on the holy mountain of of Moses and Elijah (who strangely enough is not mentioned by the psalmist). Elijah lived his life according to the decrees and statutes of the Lord God. That is why he was a colleague of Moses and a support of Jesus at this moment in his ministry. Furthermore, in the transfiguration we have the confirmation again of Jesus being the son of and part of the Lord God.

As one who believes deeply in the triune nature of the Lord God Jesus Christ who inspires the Holy Spirit – I do not question at all the Divine. Yes, sometimes I struggle in my life and in my faith life. But question? No. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – The unfathomable ways of Christian living – love, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27 – 28)

There are several people I have known in my life who I have found it very hard to forgive them and wish them well. I suspect a lot of people have had that experience. It would be nice to study Jesus’ words very carefully and find a loophole that allows you to seethe inside while being outwardly cordial and calm. But I have to tell you, beloved reader, Jesus is pretty careful to close up the loopholes. And what it appears that Jesus may not covered because of translation gaps, commentators have taken into account. Or when you take into account the shift of context and perspective because of cultural difference, you will find yourself up against stiff prohibitions against withholding Christian concern.

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Verses 29 – 31)

And do not think, beloved reader, that it is only the “saints” who conduct interpersonal relationships in this way. Yes, saints are “saintly” but Jesus is speaking to all of his followers. And if his words here are not sufficient, think how he lived them out in his life and death.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” (Verses 32 – 34)

What one has to see is that this is not a burden added on to your life, but freeing because it rids you of all the hate, violence, grievance, pettiness etc that humanity can carry around that is actually a heavy burden to bear.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Verses 35 – 38)

I will be quite honest, beloved reader, when I first started reading this people came to my mind that had intentionally or unintentionally wounded or hurt me; and the old feeling came springing up again – “I have to forgive them?!” And yet I knew it was true – I had to let those negative feelings go (again) to make room for positive feelings. To be open to what Christ has in store for me. If I keep hold of those negative emotions and sentiments, I will not be ready to receive all the good things that the Lord God the Divine has for me. And quite honestly, there have been too many tough times in my life lately to shut off the possibility of good coming. If it means letting go of my grievances etc to get to better times, I am ready to “turn the other cheek.” I hope and pray you are too beloved reader! Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Mothers and Sons – the gift they are to each other

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1 – 5)

It is my belief that in order to understand these first few verses of this passage, you have to have a visual, or at least a picture in your mind of what is going on. In short, Jesus’ mother is giving him “the look.” That “look” that mothers have when they are silently telling their children to shape up and fly right. Don’t think that because Jesus was/is divine he was immune to the look, or that his mother never used that persuasive device technique on him. Jesus may have protested that it was not the correct time, but when Jesus’ mother instructs the servants to do as Jesus tells them, and the next verse talks about what things Jesus used that were already there, you know “the look” worked.

“Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.” (Verses 6 – 8)

I don’t know what Jesus reason was that he did not want to show his “divine hand’ just yet. Maybe it was too public a place or he was concerned that the “miracle” that was needed in this situation was appropriate. But it is a mote point in any case; his mother convinced him that the time was here and now.

“When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I like it that at first it was unknown where the good wine came from. Consider, beloved reader, Jesus could have created inferior wine or mediocre wine, and no one would have thought twice. But he created superior wine, most excellent wine. Why I wonder? Was it because he could do no less? Or was it because he knew his mother expected the best out of him?

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (Verse 11)

Jesus “revealed his glory” not because the Lord God instructed him to, or that the need was life threatening, or because it revealed an aspect of the Divine. No, Jesus did it because his mother asked him to. Mary I am sure was well aware (by this time) that Jesus was the Son of the Divine. And that he had his own heaven-given agenda. But he was also her son. She had nurtured him and guided, and had a strong hand in creating who he was as a man. How do I know this? The Lord God would not have picked her out if she was not suited to this role.

Each family member in families has a special type of relationship within the family group; fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, parents/spouses, and siblings one to another. In choosing my title I did not mean to suggest that mothers and sons have a unique relationship set apart from the rest of the family. Each family member is a gift to the other family members. That is also true in the family of God, so please remember that. However this story gives us a unique view of Jesus and his mother. It functions on more than one level. And it is just a nice heartwarming story.

Beloved reader, may you find your home in the family of God. Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Being the beloved of the Divine Lord God

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, . . . “ (Isaiah 62:1a)

Another day that was a struggle. There will probably be lots of them in the next few weeks. (Yes, beloved reader, you are probably correct that my struggle with psalm passages is related to my difficulties in life.) Old Testament passages, however, are much more helpful. And the book of Isaiah usually has passages and excerpts meet my needs quite well. I would like to be Jerusalem for whom the Divine will not rest until she feels better.

. . . . until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” (Verses 1b – 3)

It is said the the relationship between the Divine and the followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ is like that between committed spouses. That might be one reason the traditional marriage relationship is held as the only acceptable option for marriage – in or outside of the church. Often we read about the “bride” of Christ as what the church is. At a young age I took that very literally; and wondered how that left a place for males in the church. How, I wondered, could a man be a “bride”? Yes, I decided, church is much more a place for women. But then why, I wondered, are so many men in charge of churches if the church is the “bride” of Christ? Men are not the same as the Messiah. It left me very puzzled. Not as puzzled as some of the actions and behaviors of people who say they profess Christianity. I guess in my adult years I have exchanged one confusion for another.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I have never asked any male in my acquaintance how he bridges or understands that analogy. In my younger years I wouldn’t have had the nerve. In my older years I understand that each man must take the analogy, understand the premise and underlining meaning, and allow himself to subject and place himself in submission to the Divine. And that, beloved reader, is such a sacred thing that I would never ask any male of my acquaintance to reveal to how that works.

May you, beloved reader, experience a Divine Lord God who does not rest until all things are done on your behalf. And may you be loved by the Lord God in that most intimate way. Selah!