Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Kudos to Jesus for teaching hard lessons concerning the Christian life

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Luke 6:17 – 19)

Everyone loves a good performance and performer. And Jesus delivered. But . . . . . Jesus was more than a miracle. More than a “flash in the pan” of power. He came just to do miracles, but to change people and the life they lived.

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Additionally, Jesus was more than “good news”, more than kudos for enduring tough times. Jesus was out to turn upside expectations and assumptions.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Verses 24 – 26)

I am not sure if all of this was directed to his disciples or to those who were gathered – those who had benefited from the power and healing. Living a Christian life is more than an “easy ride” through this world. I have learned that many times over, and learned it at a very young age.

That is not to say there is no blessing and comfort in living a correct authentic Christian life. But those blessings and comforts are not necessarily what the “earthly” world would call benefits.

At this writing I have completed the last of my radiation treatments. Now I turn my thoughts and attentions to healing and regaining what was lost to me because of the treatments. But, beloved reader, I have gained more during this time than I have lost. Once again I learned my strength and endurance does not come through human flesh and sinew. My strength and endurance comes from the Lord. And whatever my future health may hold, because of the Lord God strengthening me and guiding me, I am blessed beyond measure! Selah!

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Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Saying thank you to the Lord God

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.” (Psalm 138:1 – 2)

On the day you read this, beloved reader, I will have completed all of my radiation therapy, and will be focusing on healing and waiting to find out if the radiation therapy worked. Through this time I have depended on the Lord for a great deal, and I give thanks to the Divine for seeing me throughout. Much of my strength has come from writing these commentaries, wrestling with the themes and messages, and yes, wrestling with praising the Lord God when I have been under great strain, stress, and illness.

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” (Verses 3 – 6)

It occurred to me some time back (maybe I have said this before) that I did not use imaging that many cancer patients do, imaging and imaging that the treatment is targeting the cancer cells and destroying them. But what I did do was focusing on doing self care – using creams that would heal my skin and prescriptions that would heal my mouth. I was gentle with myself, as gentle as I imaged and imagined the Lord God would be with me. And I prayed – oh how I prayed! And the Divine heard me! At each step one I did not feel I could go on, the Lord provided encouragement through the people around me, through encounters with music and scripture, and through medications that eased my pain and helped to heal my body. I will be forever grateful that the Lord blessed me in these ways.

After treatment is completed will come a time of waiting to see if the treatment was successful. And during that time I will continue praying and placing my faith in the Lord God the Divine.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.” (Verse 7)

On of the ironies of this disease, this cancer, is that it is my own body that has grown these cancerous cells that have endangered my life. They must be killed off, at the risk of also killing off healthy cells which has caused radiation burns both on my outer skin and in my mouth. Such a paradox to kill off part of myself in order to save myself. And yet isn’t that what we do when we embark on the Christian life? Kill off our misguided and sinful human impulses to save our life?

“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Verse 8)

We, humanity, were made in the image of the Lord God. But we are flawed and imperfect. That flaw and imperfection must be taken out, irradiated if you will, so that I better selves under the Divine can grow and flourish. The teaching and guidance of the Lord have been spoken of as a refinery’s fire. Radiation, then, is not such an unusual metaphor.

Whether or not this treatment works, I do know that through the course of this past month and a half I have learned a great deal about myself; and I have come to see even more clearly that the Lord has not ever forsaken me. Praise the Lord! Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Being dependent on the Divine

If you were surprised by my “appearing” yesterday, do not be. You did not miss a day, and I did not slip a cog (although I was dealing with some mighty pain issues). This Saturday is the Day of the Presentation of the Lord, and I wanted to write a commentary on those passages, so I decided to add an extra day on Thursday and shuffle things around. So here it is Friday, and I am settling down to “praise” the Lord!

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.” (Psalm 74:1)

One of the prayers and pleas that I raised up to the Lord early in my seminary training was that I would not be “put to shame” in my classes. It was for me a bold step to say that I wanted to go to seminary and train for ministry. I honestly did not know if I had the intellect to be successful at a graduate level, and was not sure which direction I should go. Hence my prayer.

“In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.” (Verse 2)

Since that time I have received affirmation from many places, and have not once been “put to shame.” The Lord has been faithful in the promises that were given to me. And when I had dark times, as any and many people do, I was rescued. Once again during the “season” of my treatment of cancer (it is still hard for me to believe this is happening) I am reaching out and depending on the Lord to see me through this.

“Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (Verse 3)

It only recently occurred to me that during treatment I could use an established meditation technique to envision/image the radiation treatment shrinking the tumor. So dependent on the Divine, I did not think of using anything other than gathering up and applying the faith I have in the Lord to this situation. With the psalmist I also said . . . . .

“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The importance of the body and caring for the body

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Corinthians 12:12 – 17)

I am truly trying to work with this passage. This has been a very tough day (the day I sat down to write this), and my fear is that it is just the beginning of some very tough days – by current count (that is, again, as of the day I am writing this) at least 22 more. I am not sure if I have said, precisely, what my most current health issue is. I have skin cancer in the form of a tumor, and am currently undergoing radiation therapy. When you read this, there will be 15 more days until the end of my treatment. I have treatment each week day, so other than Saturdays each day I write, I have had a treatment. I started treatment the later part of December but it was not until the New Year that the side effects started to catch up to me. The last two weeks have been heck!

When I read the passage for this date, I quaked a bit as to how I was going to talk about the metaphor of the body. I mean my body and its members have been failing me left and right! How was I going to say something helpful and inspiring?! But I dug deep. And realized that in this instance it is not my entire body that has failed me – in fact it is a foreign and unnatural growth that has caused this problem. It took healthy tissue and corrupted it, and now the corruption has to be eradicated. And my entire body and all its members – my entire physiology – is suffering.

To dig deeper, if my entire body consisted only of my, say, right face cheek then I would be in deep trouble. But my right face cheek is only a portion of my body, and only a portion of the member of my body that is my face. Paul is talking about all of the parts of the body working together in unity. And it is actually the unity of the members of my body that have helped me cope thus far.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,. . . “ (Verses 17 – 22)

While the tumor needs to be eradicated, that does not mean that part of my face is going to disappear; only the comparatively small portion that is diseased will be made to leave. Or more precisely, shrink and melt away. The hope is that the major portion will stay, and in time heal from the radiation. I could not, and do not hate that portion of my cheek. In fact, I am doing all I can to protect it and nurture it so that the damage is at a minimum, and that in time healing will take place.

. . . and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. “ (Verses 23 – 25)

Radiation therapy may be directed at only one small portion of the body, but the effects are felt throughout the body. I learned this in only a matter of hours. I went from feeling quite well after treatment to feeling very weak and ill. I have learned how important self-care is – even more so than I ever realized.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.” (Verses 26 – 31a)

It is starting with verse 26, however, where my experience and use of the metaphor of the body parts ways with Paul’s. Not to say either of us is right or wrong. But Paul’s purpose is to use the body and its members as a metaphor for the church and all the roles that members of the church provide to each other. My purpose is to help you see, beloved reader, that care for the body is a holy act. That just because one part of the body may not be doing well does not mean the entire body becomes useless. Paul touches on this in verses 22 to 26. He moves on to talk about the church as the body and the members, well, members. Each with their own calling and role. Perhaps my purpose is also to exhort you to be gentle and caring for members of you faith circle who are struggling. To do good “self-care” in your faith circle as you would for your own body.

It has always, always been my hope that whatever experience I go through in my life might be used in helping others. It is the way I hope and pray that as a member of the body of Christ I might be supportive of the wider church and faith community. Selah!

Season After Pentecost Thanksgiving Day 2018: The Old Testament, Gospel & Psalm Passages – Raising up thanksgiving to the Divine

Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!” (Joel 2:21)

I am very late in writing this commentary posting. And writing it very late at night/early morning. My second round of pies are in the oven and I am waiting for them to be done. So while I wait, I thought I would sit down and collect my thoughts. They are very scattered. I might mention, as I hinted above, I writing in “real time” which means whenever I get this written, it will be posted. No neat and tidy timing of 30 minutes past a certain hour. I might also add, I am exhausted.

As I thought about writing this, one thought came back to my mind over and over – all the things I have to be thankful for. And the things I am not thankful for. Actually, the two are quite similar.

“Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. “ (Verses 22 – 24)

Last year around this time I had gotten word I had been hired for a job. It was a long nine months of job searching. While I did not start until after Thanksgiving, the days was breathed in relief that soon I would start working ago and be able to afford to buy the necessities of life. This year I was not dependent on the benevolence of anyone (except the Divine) for buying the essentials of the Thanksgiving meal, and a few extras!

“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.” (Verse 25)

But it also means I am working again, and wearing myself out. Last year the Thanksgiving preparations were made with plenty of time and I got to bed early. This year I am up late and was already worn out by the time I started. I guess you have to “suffer” for some blessings!

“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”

But I really cannot complain much, or more precisely should not. I really do like my job and the people I work with. In the midst of the struggle of daily work and long work weeks, it is good to have a job!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” ( Matthew 6:25 – 27)

The other good/bad element of my life is my health. Yes, I was healthy enough to make the delicious pies for Thanksgiving. And will be healthy enough to join my family around the table. But my health has also become a worry. I had let a few hints drop in the past weeks that my health has had another set back but I have not been forthright about what is going on. Now that plans are set in motion, I am ready to say more. Beloved reader, I have a rare form of skin cancer.

I had written a week of posts well in advance so I would have the time to travel to learn the treatment options. It turns out the best treatment option is here in the city I live in. I will be starting radiation treatment in the next few weeks. I have learned quite a bit about the process and therapy, but still there are some unknowns. Chief among them (at least for me) is whether the radiation treatment will work. In a very short time my list of worries shifted dramatically. And while I am thankful that my health has been relatively stable up to this point, I am becoming aware of a whole other level of worry about my health. And as is so often the case, other worries same to find when placed side by side with this new development.

“And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Verses 28 -33)

I am not ruling out that this may just be a brief chapter in my health history. I am very ready to believe that the therapy will completely cure me and that there will be no recurrence or lasting ill effects. My faith is not shaken, nor do I doubt the goodness of the Divine.

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Psalm 126)

I have always believed that what comes my way prepares me for what tasks, purpose, and mission the Divine has for me. Great blessings may come from this time. And I am prepared to see the good, embrace the struggles, and keep my faith firm. While I come to this Thanksgiving season of 2018 with a whole different set of circumstances than last year, I still give thanks for what I have received, and I give thanks the endurance and strength to see my way through the challenges before me.

May this Thanksgiving season find you, beloved reader, in the most favorable of circumstances. And if not, may the Divine be with you day by day as your journey through what is before you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 25[30]) – The Psalm Passage: Asking for intercession from the Divine with hope and integrity

With yesterday’s post in the rear view window, I did not feel called to comment on the Psalm passage that went with the passage from Job. It starts out saying,

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

And continues with,

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all. He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.” (Verses 19 – 20)

In light of my statement that I have faith (or at least want to have faith) and that my faith is not shaken, maybe I should have preserved through the passage. But the other Psalm passage was a little more suited to where I am. And it has its own challenges.

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” (Psalm 126:1 – 3)

I am not taking the easier road with this passage. It is still stepping out in faith. And it has implications of petition and intercession.

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 4 – 6)

It is not that the passages are so different. Psalm 126 is an acknowledgment of hard times being had. And the desire for intercession and rescue. But there is a victory in Psalm 34 that I cannot claim yet. Verses 4 to 6 of chapter 34 say, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.” And I cannot say yet that is my reality. I am being honest here, beloved reader. I can claim faith despite my fears. And I want to continue to claim victory in my faith overcoming my fears. But I cannot claim victory over what is causing me to fear. Not yet. What I want to ask for is restoration, and that my tears of sorrow that are sown will be overturned and I will come home with shouts of joy. That day when I know what the outcome will be is coming soon – it is 24 days away at this writing. One week less than that when you read this beloved reader. And yes, I will not wait to tell you of the outcome but will break with posting seven days ahead of when I am writing.

It is my profound hope that the fruit of this journey will be to share with you beloved reader a way to deepen your own faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 25[30]) – The Gospel Passage: Jesus Christ does not abandon or pass by those who call out to him

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:46-48)

I have on more than one occasion talked about my own health issues, and how I organize my beliefs of faith and healing. This has been tested several times when my health has been challenged and decreased. But right now, at this writing, it is been challenging more than it has ever been before. And I find myself asking for a miracle the depth and breadth I have never asked before. (Yes, that serious.) It is hard for me, however, to put my own needs and health at the forefront of my reflections on scripture. My health may inform and influence my interpretations and understandings of scripture. But there is a line of self-identification and disclosure I am loath to cross. So let me side step for a short time.

Two of the things you need to understand about this passage, beloved reader, is that the blind man called out with every confidence that Jesus could and would heal him. And that being blind was not a misfortune of genetics or physiology, but in this culture it was a blatant sign of undisclosed or unknown sin. Remember that the disciples has asked Jesus in the gospel of John what sin a blind man or his family were guilty of that caused the man to be blind. For the same reason (I think) this blind man in the gospel of Mark was shushed because the “Rabbi” could not and should not be bothered by someone so obviously inveigled in sin.

Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Just last week we read that James and John wanted Jesus to do whatever they wanted him to. That led to their being embarrassed when Jesus used their request to be seated on his left/right side as an object of how to be humble. But here Jesus opens himself up to the blind man potentially making any sort of request of him – although Jesus probably knew what was in his heart already.

Jesus knows what is in my heart. The Lord God the Divine knows what I am hoping and wishing for. And what outcome I am hoping for. I have never asked, as the blind man here asked, for the Divine to make me well again. It is not that I doubt that the Divine is capable of healing. Up to this point my failing health has never shaken my faith. It is not really shaken now. However neither has my health ever been so compromised as it is now. And it has gotten me wondering how best to navigate this new development in my life.

I have prayed on the behalf of others so that they might be well. And my prayers, along with others, has been answered. I have also had the sense (perhaps a God-given sense) of whether prayers of healing should be the resumption of health and the reversal of illness; or whether healing of the physical body was not possible but healing of the situation was. Sometimes that means that the physical body passed away but that comfort was given to those who grieved. And sometimes it means that they physical body continues at its present level of health and that the Divine aids the person in coping with that level. That is what has been my experience over the last 17 years.

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Verse 52)

You know, I am not even sure I know what that means, one’s faith making you well. But, I have to admit that may be I am afraid that the answer will be “no” if I ask the Lord God to heal me of what I have now. And maybe I am afraid that my faith may not be “sufficient” to heal me. How can one know if one’s faith is that sufficient?

What I keep coming back to though, beloved reader, is that the blind man called out in faith. Was it the faith that Jesus was the Son of God? Was it faith that his sight would be restored? I have so often carried on despite my health; been faithful despite the challenges before me. And been faithful because the Divine has seen me through so much. And then I ask myself, is the faith I have had for all my life (and especially in the last 17 years) sufficient to see me through this? I want the answer to be yes. Let’s face it – I need the answer to be yes. That may be exactly where my challenge is right now, for the answer to continue being yes. To call out in faith, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Selah!