Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Time to be ready to be raised up!

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36 – 39)

It is tempting to ignore the part where the Son of God does not know when the Lord God will return. But there is no use ignoring it; the Jesus who was speaking at this juncture did not have the information as to when the Divine would return. In other portions of the gospels Jesus seems to have that knowledge, but not here. Mayhap the rationale for Jesus’ lack of knowledge is so that his listeners would not assume there is time to prepare, or a safety net that if some sign or portent appears then it would be time to get their faith and spiritual affairs in order.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” (Verses 40 – 41)

Back in my youth much was made of “one taken and one left behind”. It was chilling to an adolescent to think that suddenly the important people in their lives who were strong in their faith might suddenly disappear. Made for one or two nightmares I am sure – at least one or two scary movies! It also made for a rush to the front of the church to “get right with God” and make sure that you were not one of those left behind. And then some years later that concept became the title of a series of books. I tell you beloved reader, I had some flashbacks to some scary times in my youth! Even now if I think about it too long or too strongly, I start to worry about the people around me – not family and close friends but those I work with and have looser connections with such that I do not know the status of their faith life.

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Verses 42 – 44)

What I have found though, is that you cannot leave on the edge of that fear for long. At some point you just have to say that those near and dear to me have already become part of God’s family, and for others who are in my life . . . . I just have to trust they have made their own arrangements in their faith lives.

When times were simpler and communities were more close knit, you would know who had committed their lives to the Lord God. Now with global communities and the reach of social media, you have no idea where some people’s faith lives are. Moreover, with so many divisions in the Christian faith there is no conformity that one can take comfort from. I am not saying that some Christians are more likely to be “raptured” (there’s a term that is not used much anymore!) than other Christians – but Christianity is not the equal and “painted with the same brush” that it used to be.

Actually keeping this all in mind, it is even more important that each person is sure that they are ready for the unexpected return of the Lord God! It is no use saying I can do that tomorrow, or next year. I don’t mean for this to be a pulpit call. But in your own heart, soul, and mind check to make sure you are in alignment with the Divine! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Jesus speak about the joy in heaven concerning salvation

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)

When I have misplaced something, I am obsessive until I find it. It use to be that I would not rest, physically rest, until it was found. Now, in my comparative maturity, I “just” keeping turning over in my mind where the missing item might be. I have not found everything that I have ever lost, and I have realized that some things lost are not find-able. But overall, what I have lost I have found again. That goes for issues of faith as much as items of possession. But the losing and finding of a soul, that is different. And is really what these parables are about. The Divine having lost a soul created, and diligently working to have it return.

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The reason then that Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners is because you cannot regain a lost soul by being at a distance from it. You need to be there, close, nurturing when nurture is not really asked for. And caring is not really required from the recipient. But still, you keep the lines of communication open. That is one of the things I have always strived to do when I am in relationship with others – keeping the lines of communication open. Being human and fallible, I am not perfect at that. But I try with all the might and ability that the Divine has given me.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Verses 8 – 10)

And rejoicing . . . rejoicing when the lost is found – be it spiritual issues or items of possession. And, just as importantly . . . at least for issues of spirituality and faith, when a strained or broken relationship is restored. This too is what these parables are about. Rejoicing when the lost is found and the broken is made whole.

Beloved reader, may you hold tenderly and dearly the people and faith/spirituality issues that are within your circle. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Paul speaks of his need for salvation, and the hope it should inspire in others

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:12 – 14)

I like comparing the Paul of the epistles to new believers & churches to the Paul we see in the letters to Timothy. This short passage does not give you the full view of Paul as he presents himself to Timothy his ward. Paul is both more outspoken and more self-effacing when he is talking/writing to Timothy.

“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the foremost.” (Verse 15)

It is good that Paul has a time and place to let down his guard and speak more directly about himself and what he sees as his situation. I think one of the best attributes of an evangelist is his/her/their vulnerability. Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable? To reveal yourself, who you are at your core? There was a time that I felt I had to maintain a certain persona, that I had to appear as if I had it “all together” even when I felt like everything was falling apart. But I learned it is best to be “transparent” and let others see your vulnerabilities. In fact, Jesus Christ can shine through the strongest when you are at your weakest.

“But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” (Verse 16)

The implication is that if the Divine can value the most horrendous of sinners – in light of the fact that Paul as Saul persecuted the disciples and believers of the Lord God – then all others should be assured of acceptance. I have a feeling, even though Paul must have realized he was forgiven – the committing of that “sin”weighed heavily on his mind. And perhaps that is one of the things that spurred him on.

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 17)

It is fascinating to me, beloved reader, that the phrase “To the” or “Now to the” in scripture is understood as salutatory blessing or the invoking of a blessing. I love the way these innocuous parts of speech get out the way and usher the Presence of the Divine. Back when I wrote a lot of blessings, I used those words quite frequently. Over time I just got out of the habit of writing blessings, and those particular type of blessings. Maybe I should start again! Shalom!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – The story is also in our hands

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:4-8)

I remember or am reminded that the world we live in now is not the world we are destined for. While it seems as if we spend forever in this world – that is because we are here for our entire life time. If that sounds rather paradoxical, you can understand why it is not something that humanity carries around in its upper most consciousness.

What exacerbates our “forgetting” of this fact is that we are actually so far from the Jesus/God event that we are used to living at a distance from the Divine. The apostles and first century believers had it in the conscious mind that Jesus was “just here” and would be back “some time soon.” Now that the “Alpha” part had come and gone, the “Omega” should be showing up soon – shouldn’t it?

And if I am reminded that the world we live is only a precursor to the world to come – the other side is believing that the end of all things will be after my life is ended. While I may (and do) hold out hope for a better way in the future beyond this reality, the current world is the only one I can be sure I will be aware of. So if my life is to be lived well, I have to live it well now! And that leads to the question, what do I want my life to be like now? And what missteps am I willing to do in order to have an “enjoyable” life now, but by doing take a chance on messing up my “life” in the world that is to come (maybe). There is the even greater paradox. So it is actually a relief to me to remember that this world is “not my home – not where I belong”.

Because when I remember that the stress and disappoints in this life will not translate to the life to come, I find I can manage this world. Things may not be perfect on this side, but things will be perfect in the future. But what will that future look like? I do not know.

The next “natural” statement to make is that I am assured of the life to come because of Christ’s death – which is a strong theme in this passage. BUT is it Christ’s blood that “freed us from our sins”? Or is it our belief in Jesus the Christ and the Lord God who sent to the earth the Divine’s Own Son? Yes, still thinking about that theological statement. I am ready to lay it aside; we chose what we will believe in, informed by the Spirit who guides us. We hope that our beliefs are authentic and true to what Jesus taught. We study and discern, examining statements, theologies, and philosophies. And we pray! We pray mightily! I pray, beloved reader, that your story and journey in Christian faith provides what you need for this world. And prepares you for entry into the eternal world that has been promised to us. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: Acts Passage substituted for the Old Testament – The story is in the hands of Jesus’ followers

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” (Acts 5:27 – 28)

In the days and weeks following Christ’s resurrection and accession the disciples had followed in his footsteps defying religious and civil authorities. And their rationale for disobedience pretty much echoed what Jesus the Christ had told them while he was on earth.

“But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Verse 29)

It is interesting to think about what the disciples, now the apostles, had absorbed watching Jesus interact with religious and civil authorities. Consider that the gospel tell us, in a side effects type of way, that they knew exactly what Jesus said and did when he was confronted with the high priests, Pilate and Herod.

“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Verses 30 – 32)

Reflecting back on the issue of whether Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary and directly lead to salvation, I have to wonder what the writer of the book of Acts meant. In looking at the commentaries offered up for these passages I see that the salvation that is referred to a changing of one’s life and not a pardon for sins – as we often may think of salvation. I am going to probably be checking and double checking for at least the next week or two to see how salvation is defined and what the requirements are. What I know for sure, after having spent time pondering it, the idea of changing one’s life as part of salvation/redemption is something I am long familiar with. What I need to do is make sure I am keeping the theology of it straight and true. And keeping theology straight and true has long been a requirement of Christianity. I could digress . . . . but I won’t.

As we move from Easter forward may you think deeply and clearly beloved reader. Selah!

Holy Week – Saturday: Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel Passages – The story stops for a short time

Some years I have not written on Holy Saturday. I had, in some writings, declared it a day of waiting. The lectionary uses verses for this day that underline suffering and our need for intervention because of our sins. Mindful of what my former college bible professor wrote, I am not connecting the blessing of salvation to his death (viewed as sacrifice) on the cross. But it is a theme that comes up quite often. It seems to me the connection between our having salvation and the need for some sort of exchange/price to be paid for that salvation is strong. There seems to be the need for someone or something to suffer and be offered up it seems.

“I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.” (Lamentations 3:1-9)

The question came to my mind, do we suffer because of our sins? According to some types of thinking we do. Some readings/interpretations of the New Testament tells us that we do. But is it suffering in this life? Or in the life to come? The writer of Lamentations finds that being separated from the Divine, or at least separated from grace and not being in relationships with the Divine is suffering.

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Verses 19 – 24)

While the gospels may not draw a connecting line between the what might have been the sacrifice of Christ and salvation, many of the letters in the New Testament lead one’s thinking that way. I do wonder, now, what makes us think there needs to be sacrifice/suffering to atone for sins.

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4:1 – 5)

As I sit with these verses from I Peter I have to shake my head at the assumptions there are of non-believers, or more accurately the assumptions there are of people who do not believe as we do. If you read Blosser’s article in total you will know that is a strong theme in what he wrote.

“For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Much has change since the time when the New Testament was written. We cling to it as the best authority of how to live a good authentic Christian life. What I fear is that we cling to the wrong parts. Jesus emphasized love, compassion, and caring. We seem to cling to the discipline, the giving up of old ways, and being prepared to be judged harshly. The days of Holy Week have seen me re-think and re-consider belief and living a good and authentic Christian life. I am not sure if my beliefs and faith traditions have changed or will change – but I am thinking. In the meantime, Saturday of Holy Week.

“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:57 – 61)

Good Friday evening gave way to Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. As I said yesterday, the followers of Jesus saw little good in the day. I don’t think we always appreciate or understand that sadness. You know, often when I am reading a book I will skip to the end, just to get a taste of the outcome of the story. So I can gauge when the story takes its turn toward the ending. It is, actually, not a very good thing to do. And I have ruined for myself several times the story line and the anticipation that builds up because I know how it ends. Now, apply that to Good Friday/Easter and I think you will see what I mean. We are, beloved reader, still on “dismal” Saturday. But, there is a little foreshadowing that we can appreciate.

“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.” (Verses 62 – 66)

Now, we wait! Shalom!

Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Palm & the Passion: The Old Testament & Psalm Passage – Good Things Now & In the Future

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

The ironic thing is, beloved reader, I am at times the teacher and the weary – I sustain myself. I will not lay out for you all the details. At night I write on these passages using my background, experience, and training. And in the morning when a new day faces me that appears to have the same challenges as the day before, I am fortified and prepared by the experience of the night before.

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Verses 5 – 6)

There is no striking, pulling, insulting or spitting – praise be to the Lord God the Divine! But some days are long and laborious. And I struggle. Each day I enter into the fray again. Mostly willingly!

“The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verses 7 – 9a)

Each and every day that I have felt buffeted by fate and misfortune is a day I have survived. Not by my own strength and might. The Lord God has pulled me through and the Divine has kept me upright. I give praise that I have made it through each day, and I pray that I might make it through the day to come.

“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-2)

And let Carole say it also!

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Verses 19 – 21)

It is not just the salvation, beloved reader, that comes as we exit this world and enter the world to come. Neither is it just the forgiveness of sin that is salvation. Salvation also comes as relief and rest when one is weary. Salvation is a temporary respite from the trials and challenges in this life. Salvation is being picked up and dusted off by the Divine. Fortified and nurtured for the things to come by the Lord God who knew what it was like to battle in this world.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!” (Verses 22 – 25)

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey it was a “soft entry”. Being saved does not mean escaping reality. Success does not mean victory as this world understands it. Salvation and success really translate to endurance and stamina. Not letting this world convert and corrupt us, leading us from authentic Christian life.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Verses 26 – 29)

Consider, beloved reader, that this psalm passage was written far before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. (No, I am not going to take issue with its re-appropriation.) The writer of this psalm passage already saw the Divine as Presence that was worthy of praise and adulation. Already known as a loving Presence – even before Jesus Christ came as an example/exemplar of the Divine’s love. Already known as a Divine who will not end. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that It is already a Presence in your life! Selah!