Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – May the Light of the Divine bring comfort

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

I am finding it hard, beloved reader, to respond positively to this psalm passage. Because I am fearful and afraid. I have not kept it secret that I have health issues. At the best of times my health is fragile. In the past day, however, it has gotten dramatically worse since I have a cold. A cold, you may say. How can that be serious? It is serious if you have lung disease; the usual cold medication imperils my health because of the side effects. It takes me twice or three times as long to recover from a cold. And it could well mean that I will not get back to my baseline of my previous health. It is tempting to ask of the psalmist, what do you know of fear for health and well-being?

As I stop and reflect, I reminded that physical infirmity does in no way decrease nor dissuade faith. In fact, clinging to the power of the Divine is sometimes the only way I can get through these times of ill health. But I still fear and am afraid.

“One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent: he will set me high on a rock.” (Verses 4 – 5)

One, among several things, that chronic illness has given me is an appreciate for ordinary and simple pleasures. I do not ask much from life. I do not cling to the promise of longevity and know that my journey to death might be hastened, more so than other people’s journeys. I do not fear the end of my life, my death. What I fear is the days that come before it, what I will have to endure. I know what will happen to me after my death, and it will be glorious. My hope and pray is during those last days I will find the shelter in the Divine, and when there comes suffering that is greater than my endurance, I will find comfort in the Tent of the Lord God. But the comfort I seek I do not think is the same that the psalmist seeks.

“Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” (Verses 6 – 9)

Do you hear that, beloved reader? Do you hear the psalmist pleading for comfort from the Lord God in the form of the favor of the Lord? This is also why this scripture passage does not resonate within in. I do not seek victory amongst or from my enemies. I know full well the day will come that my health issues will overwhelm me. I also know that my ill health is not the result of the Divine casting me off or forsaking me. And the fact that I have not been “miraculously” healed is not evidence of the Lord God’s disfavor.

As I ponder this passage even more, I feel sorry for the psalmist that he has gotten to the point in his life that he pleads like this to the Lord God. Beloved reader, to be fearful and afraid is not a sin or something to be ashamed of. Yes, I fear for my health and what it may mean for what I cannot do in the future. But I know the Lord is with me, and that all that is really and truly important is that my fear does not separate me from the Divine – but that it draws me closer to my Lord God, and that I feel the mercy and protection that is promised to all of humanity. Selah!

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 Psalm Passage – Praising from the edges

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)

Recently, say the last few weeks, I have been thinking about my faith journey in a different way. I have been considering how the ebb and flow of my strength and health is impacting my faith life and journey. Not that I am losing faith in the Lord God – but that I feel the ebb and flow in my own strength and ability to hold firm and keep moving forward. I find myself “resting” more in the Lord than surging forth. Some days I drag myself to the keyboard and summing the energy to write and say something meaningful. I tell you truly – more often than not – I am not sure where the conviction and impact comes from in what I write. It all just sort of flows out of me, and I am not even sure it originated in me.

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” (Verse 3)

I think one of the main reasons I keep writing in spite of the fatigued and weakness is that I need that strength in my life to keep me going. I need the energy and conviction that comes when I write so that I have the energy and conviction to keep going.

“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 4 – 6)

I tell the Divine, daily, about my fatigue and fears. I ask for help in getting through the day, and praise the Lord when I felt the Divine’s presence. Lately I have taken up the spiritual disciple of the spiritual examen. For those who do not know, that is a practice of thinking over the day and seeing where the Divine has been a presence and when the time or times were that you felt at a distance from the Divine. Other terms are consolation/desolation, joy/sadness and such positive and negative impacts. It is not to reveal the mistakes you make but to find ways to live more wisely and fully in the light of 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. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Verses 7 – 8)

“Do not forsake the work of your hands.” The psalmist gets it absolutely correct when he make this petition. The Lord God may may not have intended, and I firmly believe did not plan, for me to develop all the illnesses and conditions that I have. But the Divine to create me to have an inquiring and pondering mind, and to seek out the Divine Self. As I am sure the psalmist was created. So our plea is that the Lord God would keep us within the Divine purpose – despite and in spite of whatever might befall us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How to regain an ordinary life

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”– for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” (Luke 8:26 – 29)

Imagine, if you will, Jesus coming to a hospital for the unstable/mentally unwell back in the day when patients were strapped down to beds and kept in locked rooms. Where no care was done and being “institutionalized” meant being warehoused with as little concern as is given boxes of merchandise that is not needed and has not been needed for several decades. Suddenly roaming free sounds like a slightly better alternative to that. Our understanding of mental illness and the way those who are survivors of mental illness has changed drastically. That does not mean they do not suffer; it means steps are taken to mitigate the suffering as much as possible. The one stark difference from this account and what the horrors were of decades ago is that we no longer believe such people are possessed by demons. But sadly we hold those who have mental illness accountable and responsible for their condition. Again, being thought to be possessed may be a kinder thing.

Jesus has compassion for the man, and wanted to release him from this bondage – both psychologically and culturally made. And maybe Jesus actions show that he has an understanding of the “possessed” man that the onlookers did not have.

“Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” (Verses 30 – 33)

As a student of psychology, I do not quite understand or buy into what happened to the demons. I have been told by those who would know that people can, still, be possessed by demons. So maybe this man did not have paranoia or schizophrenia or any of the other possible psychological conditions. I also don’t know where the advantage was for the demons to possess a bunch of pigs. The results, however, caused quite an uproar. And maybe in some round about way that was the Divine purpose.

“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Back in the day of insane asylums being “cured” was very unlikely. If the condition itself did not preclude a cure, the conditions they lived under would pretty much assure that a normal life was not possible. And maybe that is the point of the drowned swine. SOME sort of explanation needed to be given as to why the man was “in his right mind.” That the demons were vanquished and so visibly destroyed gave credence to the cure. And the man may well have been accepted back in to society more easily than if his “cure” would have been quiet and without drama.

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Verses 37 – 39)

It was not an unkindness that Jesus did not let the cured man come along with him. First, we know where Jesus’ ministry would eventually take him. This man had already had a hard road; he did not need to venture down another one. Second, by recounting the story with the drowned pigs gave the cured man’s story a tangible conclusion – that of course he no longer had demons. They were drowned! Third, since Jesus was not welcomed to preach and heal there, the cured man and his dramatic story would have promoted fervor and interest, and those who were NOT afraid of such power would seek him out, or at least seek out new about Jesus.

I had asked before, beloved reader – how to you plan to live out Ordinary Time? How do you plan to live out your ordinary life? And if beloved reader your life is not ordinary, I hope and pray that the Divine is with you in a powerful way; and that you share that story! Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Healing Mode

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 5:1)

A good portion of Jesus’ ministry was healing people. Jesus had healed the royal official’s son before going up to Jerusalem (that was the “after this” proceeding this passage). As someone who has all manner of illnesses, I pay special attention to the healings in the New Testament.

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” (Verses 2 – 5)

If you, beloved reader, say “I cannot begin to imagine being ill for 38 years!” then you are not well acquainted with chronic illness. I must tell you, however, if it were me I would not be sitting/laying in a portico hoping to get well. I would be out living life as best I could. Even if it meant doing only a little bit every day, I would be doing as much as I could as long as I could. It could be that Jesus asked this the man the following question because there is the appearance that he had spent 38 years of his life focusing on the negative, what he cannot do.

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (Verses 6 – 7)

What you may not realize, beloved reader, is that verse 4 is missing and it would tell you more about vignette at this pool; legend said that the waters of the pool are stirred up by an angel at intervals and the first person in the water gets miraculously healed. Now the source for this detail is unreliable enough that most translations have omitted this detail. It seems to me that if something like that was going on during the time of Jesus’ ministry – that is, an angel stirring the water – Jesus might have been more aware of it and done some stirring himself. Perhaps that is why verse 4 was omitted, and why Jesus makes no comment on the legend but instead intercedes with a more direct miracle.

“Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Setting aside the tale of the angel stirring the water, I do have several questions about this passage. Was the man’s answer enough? That he wanted to be healed and was putting for the effort with all his energy and ability? Was Jesus’ heart moved because obviously the man had no friends or family to help or support him. And while there is a presumption that the man might have been by the pool for 38 years, maybe his illness only recently became chronic enough that it lead him to “reach for a miracle”.

I am reminded too of the blind man who comes later in the gospel of John (ironically) and who Jesus said was blind “so that God’s works can be revealed in him.” Now, I don’t know if that is the same situation here. But it certainly seems that Jesus was on a mission to heal those who were in need. And then I think of myself – my illnesses – and I think how I could use some healing too. As I said previously (here and other places) that I am not waiting on healing but moving forward as best I can. Not exactly taking up my mat and “walking”; but neither am I waiting for the waters to be stirred so that I can regain the health I lost. Jesus may have not healed my body, but my spirit – beloved reader – soars!

I hope and prayer beloved reader that what ever illness may be in your life, the Divine lifts you and leads you to wholeness. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine in the midst of our personal stories

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30: 1 – 5)

This psalm reminds me, beloved reader, of the time I was getting radiation for my skin cancer. At the peak of its worst (end of January 2019) I was in the hospital for several days trying to recover from the affects of the radiation. From the perspective of receiving the news that my latest CT scan was clear of any tumor/skin cancer, I can say that the “foe” of skin cancer did not “rejoice” over me, and that I was brought up from “Sheol” and restored to life! I did weep for many nights, but joy eventually came!

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

Before the cancer, I had thought nothing worse could happen to me than the diagnoses I already had – I was wrong. For a time I was literally fighting for my health and life! It is tempting to believe that the worst is behind me. But I cannot say for a certainty that is true. I thought I have had hard times in years past, but the future always brought more unpleasant surprise and bad news. I know now that I can be shaken, and moved. Each experience teaches me again not to put my faith in my own ability, power or strength – but to look to and depend on the Divine.

“By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Verses 7 – 9)

Actually, to my way of thinking I don’t value myself so greatly that my demise will cease praise of the Lord or tell of the Divine’s faithfulness. And more to the point, I my life shows praise and faithfulness to the Lord, my actions in the face of demise will be a greater testimony than my successes. But still, it is good to continue and endure.

“Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Maybe if I was THE psalmist I would consider my successes in life and overcoming of obstacles and difficulties as strong praise and testimony. But what effect does my small voice have? The Lord God knows of my gratitude to the Divine for seeing me through so much. And as you have been reading my postings, you know too beloved reader. Does that small testimony into the largeness of all the world really reverberate? To be honest, I do not know. And actually and honestly I do not need to know. It is enough that I know, and that I speak/write of it.

As the days and weeks of Easter pass by, may you speak in your own way of what the Lord God the Divine has done for you. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Ambassadors for a new life

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (II Corinthians 5:16 – 17)

One of the things that I was concerned about during my radiation treatment was that after it ended and I had recovered – something would have changed. Be it my taste buds, my skin’s appearance . . . . my life expectancy – something would have changed. And I kind of liked my life, skin and taste buds the way they were! My skin is healed, but it is subtly different. My taste buds are back, but slightly changed. And my life expectancy? Would know about that until early April. But during the treatment and the weeks afterwards, I did learn something new. I learned that I had resiliency that I did not know I had. And that the experience added new possibilities for helping others go through this potentially life altering change. It is not a new me, or even a better me. But a changed me.

The writer of II Corinthians, Paul, can get a little dramatic. And as he sees it the change from being a non-believer to a believer can be like turning 180 degrees – it was for him so why should it not be for others. Paul goes on to explain his reasoning.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Verses 18 – 21)

For Paul becoming a believer in Jesus Christ and a new view of the Lord God – he saw this change as radical because previously he thought believers in Jesus Christ were heretics and should be killed. From killing those who believed in Jesus to encouraging and exhorting people to believe in Jesus – I can see where that would make one feel like they were a new creation. And convince one to be an ambassador for this new way of thinking and a new life. That is, after all, the final outcome of Lent – Easter and new life.

May you, beloved reader, embrace new experiences and not be afraid of changes – as long as the Divine is leading you and under girding your life. Selah!