Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How good believers will praise and give thanks when the good news comes to pass

The consequence of using both Old Testament passages is that you have to consider both passages are the accompanying psalm passages. The Isaiah passage actually has another Isaiah passage that it is matched to. But the passage from Malachi is matched to a passage from the book of Psalms.

Malachi, if you remember, promised retribution for those who arrogant and evildoers. But those who are true believers will bask in sunlight and righteousness. The Psalm passage echoes those happy promises, and gives instructions on how to celebrate.

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98)

The Isaiah passage, Isaiah 65, also held promises of the blessings and new living conditions that true believers will enjoy. And the Isaiah passage that is matched to it also has instructions for returning thanks.

You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12)

I did question as to just when these wonderful would come to pass. And while I did not pose the question then, I pose it now – how long will those good things last? A careful read (or even a casual read) of the Old Testament shows that the Israelites and Judahites did not bask in the glorious living conditions for long, if their living conditions rose to fulfill the promises that Malachi and Isaiah listed. If we followed logical reasoning, why would we/one praise God for a way of life that has not come about? The short answer is – one wouldn’t.

The longer answer is that the life and way of life the prophets Malachi and Isaiah were predicting come not in this life that we know, but in the life to come. I know – that is sort of a sobering fact. But then, if we do not expect this world to be the “heaven on earth” that was written about, it makes us (or at least me and those who think like me) grit our teeth and settle ourselves to live as best and most perfectly that we can in anticipation and hope for the world to come. Because what the Old Testament prophesies do not make clear enough is that we are not alone in the world. Or at least not in the world post Jesus Christ the Messiah.

As some of you may know and/or remember, I am a survivor skin cancer. I also have a host of other diagnoses that could give pause. Even I ask myself from time to time, how can I survive and endure all of this? If it was just me, on my own, I could not. But from a very young age I have commended my life and living over to the Divine. It is not me that is able to withstand all of it, but the Lord God with me. What I have to endure now, I will not have to endure forever. And what I have endured has brought me closer to the Lord God and has strengthened my relationship to the Divine. The good news is that I am not alone in my struggle. The better news is that some day the struggle will be over and I will be with my Lord God. I praise the Lord God now . . . . for what will come in the future.

May you, beloved reader, hold firm to the good news that the Divine has given to you. And may you praise in this world for what will surely come in the world that follows. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Following the Divine no matter your age

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1 – 4)

This bible story is one I remember from young childhood up. Even now I think of it as a “children’s story.” And that does not mean I think it is an inconsequential story. There is no heavy lesson or moral to it. There is no complex theology in it. The idea of a grown man climbing a tree is amusing, and children understand completely about being too short to see things.

“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Children love to have company come over – if it is company they know and trust. It is like having a play date.

“All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” (Verse 7)

And children are very aware that jealousy and bad feelings exist among people who do not get along. It is a children’s story for all of the best reasons. And serves as a wonderful introductory story about becoming friends with Jesus. Plus the light lesson within the story is a good cautionary tale to children – be nice, share, and play fair.

“Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Zacchaeus had a generous heart, when it came right down to it; and when the transforming presence of Jesus Christ was presented to him, in responded in a good way.

Listen, beloved reader – Jesus Christ said that believers must accept the Divine as a child would. While the story of Zacchaeus may seem like an innocent little anecdote, believers of all ages should pay heed to it. First, do all you can to prepare yourself to bring the Divine into your life. Get out of your comfort zone if you have to. Second, welcome the Divine without hesitation or reservation. Toss out those habits and agendas that clash or conflict with the will of the Divine. Third, don’t be bothered by what other people may say about your acceptance of faith and living as an authentic Christian. May you, beloved reader, become a child of God! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – You never need to “wrestle” alone

Preacher: “I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?” Where does your help come from? Do you relay on just the Divine? You may say you do, but in reality your help comes from all sorts of places. I am not saying you are looking in the wrong places or dangerous unholy places. I am simply saying help, good help, can come from all sorts of places.
Seeker: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
But you are correct Preacher. I know my help also comes from the people around me. As you said, good people who believe in the Lord God and help because the Divine moves them to do so. My help comes from inspirational readings and devotional books, hymns and song that speak of the Lord God Jesus Christ. My help comes from spiritual forebearers and from their story. My help comes from the Lord God but also the people who have been influenced by the Lord God.
Preacher: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”
If you ask, through prayer and petition, the Lord God will always be there for you. If you have experienced help through family and friends who have pledged to be there for you, you know what I mean. Yes, the Lord God will be there when ever you call on the Divine. But it is also through fellow believers that the Lord God is able to be with you at every step.
Seeker: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Jesus Christ speaks of that when he talks about the neighbor that is awaken and gives help and sustenance to those who knock on his or her door in need.
Preacher: “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.”
And if the Lord is at your right hand, you can be sure that human help will be at your left – if you ask for that help and you ask for those who are truly sent by the Divine.
Seeker: “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
Preacher, does that mean the Lord God will protect you from unsavory people and things? We all know there are people out there who do not have one’s good and best interest as their intentions?
Preacher: “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.”
Yes, in a sense. Bad things help to good people; and yes, sometimes bad people who hurt and wound you, and worse. But the Lord God will protect the essence of you. That does not rule out calamity or even death. Seeker, you can only push and expand the words of the psalmist so far. There are harsh realities in our world. And faith in God does not make you invulnerable. Gather around you those you can trust and who trust in the Lord God the Divine. Offer up prayers for one another. Look out for one another. And when trouble and turmoil come, and it will, those who are faithful to the Lord will do all they can – as you will do all you can for them. In this way, and through those times of Divine intervention . . . . . “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Bloom where you are transplanted(?)

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1)

I am mindful, when I write my ponderings and comments on the prophets and their prophecies, that there is often a distinct break between the narration of what the prophets say & do and the actual prophecies. Here for instance there is the lead in that these are “the words of the letter” that Jeremiah sent, and then come the actual words. I imagine notations such as this lead commentators to consider who wrote the prophecies and what the circumstances were. It is easily understood that Jeremiah was not there in Babylon but else where. Further questions could asked such as did Jeremiah actually send the letter or did someone else carry it to Babylon? Was there an actual direction connection between what Jeremiah heard whispered in to his spiritual ear and what he says the “Lord of hosts, the God of Israel” said? The reason I ask/ponder is that the letter seems to have some surprising contents.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Back when the Hebrews were first coming in to the land that would be Israel and Judah they were told to keep themselves separate and apart from those who already dwelt in the land. The fine print was that they would become the majority in the land and would supplant those who had dwelt there before them. But this time is different. This time they were to abide peacefully amongst the Babylonians and seek their welfare so that there own welfare would be assured. They are in a very different position than previous times.

And it occurs to me that advice would, could, and should transmit down to us. But the question becomes for us (and most probably for those taken from Jerusalem) how much should we “fade” into society and how much should we hold to our distinctiveness?

I wish I could carry forth my reflections and pondering further – but this evening I am suffering the miseries of a cold that I caught, no doubt, from one of my co-workers. And yes, there is irony in sharing their germs but striving to remain my own person who rarely becomes ill. Again there is fodder for pondering but my brain cells are crying congestion and fogginess.

May you beloved reader be inspired to ponder where your musings take you, and to journey in good health! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Listening and trusting in the Lord God . . . which is easy

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.” (Psalm 37:1 – 3)

I am not sure I really know anyone who is wicked nor anyone who is a wrongdoer – in the sense that the psalmist is talking about. Well, no one in my circle of acquaintance. I guess I do know of people who just seem bent and determined to do things that are “not nice” – to put it very gently and mildly. But, I am not going to let this go in a political direction. Besides, the psalmist says they they fade like the grass and wither away. So why would I let my life be deterred, sidetracked, or influenced by a person who has no staying power?

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Lately I have been finding that events and circumstances sort of dovetail into one another. If something happens that seems, well, jostling . . . I realize that supposedly jostling thing actually made opportunity for something better to come along and be realized. I read some time back the advice to not be afraid when the unfortunate happens that makes you feel helpless; rather, take the attitude of praying to the Lord God the Divine and lifting up you concerns. And then watch to see how the Divine will work things out. It is a step of faith, I know. And in light of yesterday perhaps I need to clarify. It is not your faith – personal or otherwise – but the faith and believe you have in the Lord God that things will work out. Because . . .

“He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” (Verse 6)

Again, it is not your faith or understanding that you are stepping forth with or trusting in. It is the promise and covenant of the Lord that is carrying you through. There are times in my life when I felt totally lost, feeling that I had no control and no hope or idea of what I would do. Eventually, to my embarrassment, I realized and remembered I could have come to the Lord God.

“Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.” (Verse 7)

Again, not referring to “those who prosper in their way” and “those who carry out evil devices”. They, as this verse refers to, are not worth fretting over. I believe this verse applies as much to situations as people. We understand that just because terrible things happen, happen to us, and situations of distress present themselves – that does not mean a person or even a “evil” presence is behind them. Stuff happens! The question is, as Christians, how will we respond to it?

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.” (Verse 8)

Now the psalmist lived in different times then us, and may-hap he had enemies that lashed out at him from every direction and at every junction of his life. And just maybe he had his own lessons to learn about turning each situation over to the Lord God. From his time to our time, his advice stands.

“For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Verse 9)

Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – When it is hard to hear the good news

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)

While we most times read the psalms I reminded that many times the psalms were song to a chorus or musical tune. Or perhaps a tune was created to fit the words. Remembering that makes me sad, because right now my hearing is such that music is hard to hear and discern. I love music, I really do! But right now the notes warble and discordant, and the words within the tune are hard to understand. So I really can’t appreciate music right now, even though I long to hear music to soothe my discordant soul and spirit.

I recently bought a new “boombox” and was looking forward to listening to my favorite CDs, ones that I have not heard for many years. But it is a disheartening experience. And I kind of feel like I am standing/sitting outside of any refuge and fortress.

“For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.” (Verses 3 – 6)

So I have to remind myself that often times this level of poor hearing does not last for long, and that better hearing may be just a day or two away. And that even though my organic human ears cannot hear the songs accurately or pleasantly, the memory of the music is still clear in my memory and can still speak to my soul. And that however much “the fowler” and “the pestilence”, and all the other creatures of the nether regions of this existence may try to pull me down, the Lord God is holding me up. That is one of the strong and sure messages for the psalms. And, as I hear them through the distortion of my ears and the mechanical devices that the CDs are played on, I remember that is also the message of my favorite songs.

“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)

Perhaps, beloved reader, there are things that obscure the good news and messages of hope from you. If there are, it is my hope and prayer that the Spirit of the Lord God the Divine will break through those distortions and bring to your heart, soul, and spirit messages of hope and refuge. Because while we may be subject to the distortions and obstacles of this world, we also dwell in the shelter of the Most High, and in the shadow of the Almighty.

How can we live in both you ask? Well as I sit here listening to the metallic echo and buzz of the speaker of my CD player, trying to discern the tune and lyric of one of my favorite CD, the words of the singer warm my spirit. The “shelter” and “shadow” are not above me or even below me, but within me protecting me from the harshness of this existence and remind me that the Divine is with me; and has inspired the song writers whose words speak to and soothe my soul. That the same Lord God who is within me was and is within the song and psalm writers. And that we are all bound together by our faith. What, or who, could stand up against that? Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalms Passage – Hope when you are known by the Divine

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

Because I am writing ahead, I am sitting down to write on the psalm passage on an evening when I am usually writing on an epistle passage. Hmmm . . . . Facing the enthusiastic psalmist or the exhorting apostle . . . . which sounds more appealing on a hot summer evening? But then I realized that the psalmist actually has me pegged – the Divine knows what my struggles are. Knows where I find joy and when I have to seek joy out. The Divine knows what brings me hope, and what can dash my hopes.

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is actually comforting to be known so well. Now, that may not be the case with everyone . . . being known so well by the Lord God. If their “fear of the Lord” is actually fear, it may be intimidating to be so well known by the Almighty Ultimately Holy Lord. What is needed is to know not only the Awesomeness of the Divine but to also know the compassion of the Divine, and the Unconditional Acceptance of the Divine. I do believe the psalmist knew the Lord God in that way.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Maybe the psalmist is putting a little bit of hyperbole prose in this passage; if the psalmist speaks of the Lord God having this depth and breadth of knowledge, then he must be able to attain the knowledge. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that the Divine knows me that well. Maybe it is not knowledge that stays at the forefront of the human mind.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Verses 13 – 16)

Imagine, beloved reader, the Divine knew us before we had any concept of the Divine. When I was but an infant (you too) the Lord knew me, and knew who and what I would become. All the missteps I took to get to where I am, the Lord knew of. The long roads and emotional journeys. The things I had to learn over and over and over and over and over . . . . again.

Imagine too that the Divine knows (and knew) how I struggle with certain passages. Consider all that was put into place so that you and I would be where we are now. Even more so, that others who were part of our journey were also nurtured by the Divine; an intricate maze of people interacting with each other, all on their own journey but also interconnecting with each other so that the solo journeys were linked and dependent on each other.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.” (Verses 17 – 18)

If for no other reason than that, we should never lose hope. Whatever journey you are on, beloved reader, you are not alone. It may seem that your path winds hither and yon, through slogging mud and delightful meadows; and the Divine is aware of all of it. How can it be that our missteps have the potential to lead us to exactly where we should be? NO, beloved reader, never lose hope! Selah!