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!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Gospel Passage – The Corporate Turns Personal

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” ( Luke 3:1-6)

Beloved reader, the faith that the Lord God Abraham to was never meant to be a group experience. If it was, the Lord God would have called to the town where Abraham lived, or where some other group lived. But the Lord God called Abraham, singular. Yes, Abraham brought his wife and some family members, but the Lord God talked to Abraham. Promised Abraham he would be the start of God’s nation. Not Abraham’s neighborhood, but Abraham singular. Isaac had an individual relationship with the Lord God. Jacob had an individual relationship with the Lord God. Joseph had an individual relationship with Lord God. Then the Lord God called out the chosen people from Egypt, but through an individual, Moses. And it was from that group of people that the group experience of having the Lord God started. Originally, however, it was the Divine connecting to individuals.

And when the Lord God determined to start again, the Divine chose an individual, John the Baptist. John the Baptist did not preach that the Jewish faith must repent, but each person must repent of their own sins. That is probably one of the reasons that John might not have been popular with the Jewish leaders. Take note that “the words of the prophet Isaiah” says “every” – every valley and every mountain and hill, that every [implied] crooked will be made straight and every [implied] rough way made smooth. And that all individual [implied] flesh shall see salvation. Salvation through an individual.

Paul, as you may remember from Hebrews went to great lengths to promote Jesus as the High Priest, superior to the group of high priests that the Jews/Israelites had. The Anabaptists (which is my professed faith belief) established the priesthood of all believers, meaning that each individual believer acts as their own intermediary, or more precisely every individual believer relates directly to/with the Divine and not through anyone else. I am not saying that the Anabaptist had everything right in their beliefs but on the topic of group faith versus individual faith, they rightly saw that the individual needs to establish their own relationship with the Lord God the Divine.

So, here we are coming to the end of the second week of Advent. It may seem like we have taken a circuitous route through corporate faith – maybe a journey that you might feel was not needed. But I felt it important to show you, beloved reader, that the coming of Advent is the coming of a “new” way of relating to the Divine, in comparison to how the Jewish people had previously seen faith. It may explain why for the Jews the birth of a Jesus was seen as a seemingly unimportant birth of an infant/individual. And because it was so new that it had to be heralded by, well, heralds from on high. But we will get to that in later weeks.

I started this week by focusing on the Old Testament where it talks about nations changing, the Israelite/Judahites nation, to be precise. I said it would not be accomplished by the nation itself but by the Lord God. Baruch said it would be the whole nation that were descendants of the called and chosen people. It could have been, if the entire Jewish nation recognized it as such. I believe part of the reason that the Jews as a corporate group did not recognize Jesus was because his ministry was a one-to-one relationship. Maybe if they had remembered their history better, ie individualized, they would have recognized Jesus as the individually oriented Messiah.

We celebrate Advent as a group, beloved reader, and earlier this week I exhorted to revel in that group experience. But is at its center Advent can and should be an individual experience. Because the baby Jesus was born for each one of us. And that was and is how nations are changed! Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Putting on and taking off a national identity

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” (Baruch 8:1 – 4)

A brief search concerning the book of Baruch will quickly show you that there is much controversy about the book. Who wrote it? When was it written? What time period was it written about? But I do not care much about figuring out the answers. What intrigues me is the concept of putting on a new national identity. The writer of the book of Baruch (who ever and whenever that person might be) talking not about individuals being re-cast but a whole nation. Jerusalem was comprised of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people who for the most part professed the same type of perspective and outlook. Judaism had long ago established an exclusiveness that kept the national identity from changing much. What was the lot of one person was probably the lot of that person’s neighbor. Remember too that Judaism was based on the twelve descendants of Jacob and those families carried on the traditions from each succeeding generation. So for the Jewish nation to change as a nation from sorrow and affliction to splendor, righteousness, peace and Godliness would mean a remaking of every person in Jerusalem. It was a promise and prediction of . . . . biblical proportions!

“Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.” (Verses 5 – 8)

Not only is writer of Baruch foretelling that the nation of Jerusalem will be remade, but those who were taken from families and neighborhoods will be returned. At least that is the overt promise. But as I said above, it is not the individual persons who will be returned and remade. It is the nation of Jerusalem, the re-establishment of the identity of the Israel nation. It is, beloved reader, a group identity rather than a collection of individuals. Moreover, it the group identity that is washed clean and presented as unsullied and unmarred.

“For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.” (Verse 9)

Our modern society is so taken up with individuals, and each individual’s identity recognized and honored. I am not saying that is a wrong or bad thing. But the writer of Baruch is in essence saying, do not mourn the individuals that were lost. Have hope because the nation of Jerusalem and Israel will at some time in the future be re-established and be better than ever.

According to the understandings of Israel’s and Judah’s demise, it was their inability and unwillingness to follow Yahweh’s laws and guidance. Presumably, according to the writer of the book of Baruch, this will be remedied by the work of the Divine. What once was will be changed; not by the actions of any one person, or even by a group, nor even by the actions of the whole nation. The Lord God will just do it, and all of Jerusalem and Israel will be changed.

What I am trying to say, beloved reader, but am reluctant to say forthright – is that the personality of a nation will be changed. Think of Russia during the Cold War years. Think of Germany during WWII. Think of England/Britain in the 1800’s. Think of India/China/Japan in the previous century. It is the same thing concerning Africa. All of these “personalities” were not based on individuals but on the group identity – for right or wrong. Can you, beloved reader, think of nations that have taken on a corporate/national personality? For right or for wrong?

Now, with the concept of the changing of the personality of a nation, let us look at the other Old Testament passage for this week.

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”( Malachi 3:1-4)

When we think about the refiner’s fire, we may picture individuals being tested and recast as something better. But it is more likely in these passages that the Lord God as the refiner will remold a whole group – the descendants of Levi who were the priestly tribe. Then the purified priestly tribe will be sanctified to offer up sacrifices for the nation and usher in the change on a national level. Our focus on the individual does not always fit in with the way scripture was written. But that is not to say that focusing on the individual is wrong, nor that we have misinterpret New Testament theology. I hope at some later point speak to that change. But this week, beloved reader, it would seem that our focus needs to be on large groups and not the individual. So let us stick together, holding one another in our thoughts and prayers. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – First Sunday: The Psalms Passage – In praise of compassion & goodness

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” (Psalm 25:1 – 3)

I have been thinking lately about the choices we make – specifically how we chose to interact and treat each other. Maybe it is the time of year, but I have been thinking and pondering about how we relate to the people around us. And it is a choice, beloved reader. We are not “accidentally” mean and callous to others. It is not a “slip of the lip” when we talk in unkind and disrespectful ways to each other. And it is not more difficult to chose to be kind than it is to chose to be mean.

“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” (Verses 4 – 5)

It is not even a matter of choosing to be Godly. Even though I am strong a believer in living faithfully and living a Christian life spiritually and morally, I do not think you need to be Godly to be kind, gracious and caring. I have known non-believers who were more kind and caring than some Christians.

This psalm passage admittedly does not echo where my thoughts are today. That is not to say this psalm is contrary to my theme. But neither is the psalmist and I speaking from the same perspective. The writer of the psalm (King David) is asking the Lord God to protect him against those who are set against and to teach him how to live rightly. In the next set of verses King David will also ask the Lord God for mercy and forgiveness.

“Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!” (Verses 6 – 7)

I have myself pleaded for the Divine’s mercy and restitution when I have gone astray. I guess where I am coming from today is that we can chose to act in such a way that we are in accord with the “ways” of the Lord God.

“Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (Verses 8 – 10)

It is my belief, beloved reader, that if you fail often enough to live as the Lord God the Divine instructs and guides – you will eventually learn what you have to do, how you have to act, and what you should say. You CAN learn these things. Then, you will have to chose if you are going to do those things. As we continue in the journey of Advent I am hoping and praying that you, beloved reader, will make choices of caring and being compassionate. If you do, I believe you will find the season of Advent filled with love and joy. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 26[31]) – The Old Testament Passage: The value of love and commitment

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.
But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.” (Ruth 1:1 – 3)

If Ruth were telling her story, she would say that there is a great deal of tragedy in her story. First her husband dies, and with her her primary identity. Yes, she has two sons and they will bring their wives (when they marry) into her household. But without a husband she will be dependent on her sons’ to provide a home for her.

“These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” (Verses 4 – 5)

This is the second tragedy. She is now without a home. With no husband to maintain a household and no sons to share a household with, she has nothing. Her two daughters-in-law have nothing either. Women of that time were very dependent on male relatives making a home for them. Yes, women kept the home and did much of the home care tasks, but without a male relative they had not identity that could be recognized in society – unless they were well off. And Naomi, living in a foreign land, had not resources or supports.

“Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.” (Verses 6 – 9)

As was the custom in Judah, so two was it in the country of Moab, that for a woman it was the house of her husband that sheltered her and gave her a place to live out her adult life. Their mother’s house would have been sustained by the position and resources of their father.

“They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.” (Verses 10 – 13)

For ten years Naomi was like a mother to them; from their household of origin they came as young brides to Naomi’s sons. From Naomi they learned how to run a household and how to be a good wife. There was probably more emotional grief at the loss of Naomi as a mother-in-law than the emotional loss of a husband. The scriptures do not say this; I am basing my opinion on human nature and the nature of marriage during the times of the bible.

“Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.” (Verses 14 – 18)

Ten years is a long time to share every day life and living with someone. I had wondered at verse eight of this passage, where Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to go back to the house of their mother, and not their father. Biblical commentators explain this saying that housing for women would have been separate from men, and that their mother’s house would have been more welcoming of their return. With this understanding, it may be easier to see why Ruth could not separate herself from Naomi. And I would surmise that Naomi did not really want to separate herself from Ruth. This is nothing against Orpah; I am sure she was just as good a daughter-in-law. But with Ruth, Naomi may have felt a kinship that was not entirely based on her just being her son’s wife. And it may be, as we find out in the continuing story of Naomi, that the Lord God say Ruth as being essential to Naomi’s survival. It is good for me to remember this, that the Divine places people in our lives that are essential to us. And, places us in people’s lives when we are essential to them! Look around you, beloved reader, and seek out why you are where you are right now! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 22[27]) – The Psalm Passage: Finishing out the week

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.” (Psalm 26:1 – 3)

This is Job’s psalm, that is the psalm that goes with the passage from Job. The Divine Lord God-self declared Job free from sin. And even when the Evil One whipped up all that could be flung at Job, Job did not sin. Even when Job’s own wife and helpmate (consider, beloved reader, that the Evil One could have momentarily “possessed” Job’s wife and turned her against him) dismissed him and tempted him to sin, he resisted.

“I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.” (Verses 4 – 7)

“I wash my hands in innocence” – I had not before considered that verse and the depth of sinlessness that implies. In Jewish tradition part of the preparation to worship or offer a sacrifice was to wash one’s hands to literally and figuratively cleanse one’s self in order to be worthy of coming before the Divine. If you had no figurative dirt on you, it meant you had never been sullied with sin in the first place.

“O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.” (Verse 8)

I had a friend from seminary who used to say that one of my greatest desires was to dwell in the house of the Lord. I think what he meant (because I never out and out asked him) was that I conducted myself in such a way that I would be worthy of living in the House of the Lord. I always think of him and bless him when I read such passages.

“Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.” (Verses 9 – 12)

This psalm is not only a declaration of Job’s innocence but a plea for the Divine to help him keep his innocence intact and to keep him from the ways of the sinners. If indeed this was written by King David, the psalm takes on a different complexion. Job, we know, was innocent before God. King David, however, had many missteps in his life. I can imagine that things that David did as king might have horrified the man of God who was David.

King David most likely also wrote psalm that is coupled with the passage from Genesis.

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalms 8:1 – 9)

In the seesaw struggle of gender inclusiveness and exclusiveness it is hard to discern whether the Hebrew meant humanity or a more focused subset of humanity. The inquiry is germane in light of how women were treated from early in civilization up to and including our modern day society. You did not think, beloved reader, that I remain unaware of the current news in the days that I wrote hits – did you? That once again women are targeted by a “subset” of humanity? Just think and imagine, beloved reader, if each member of humanity regarded every other member of humanity the way the Divine regards each member of humanity? While my focus this week was marital relationships, those relationships have their foundation in how we treat our fellow members of humanity. Consider that, beloved reader, as you praise your Maker. Selah!