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!

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Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Psalm Passage – Not questioning the Divine

The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:1 – 3)

I am pleased to say that I am doing better. The tough days as a result of my radiation treatment are over, and I am slowly healing. Being in a better space and frame of mind, the psalm passages do not hit me as hard. And this psalm passage does not ask me to follow a pre-ordained and prescribed pattern of praise, so I am fine listening to the psalmist. It is good to be at peace like this.

“Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!” (Verses 4 – 5)

And the psalmist is doing a good job of describing the Lord God who has helped me through this journey. Of course my approval (or disapproval for that matter) does not change a whit of the truth that is being told nor does it change who and what the Divine is and has done.

“Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.” (Verses 7 – 9)

And then comes the part where this touches on Transfiguration Sunday – the harking back to Moses. And then appearance on the holy mountain of of Moses and Elijah (who strangely enough is not mentioned by the psalmist). Elijah lived his life according to the decrees and statutes of the Lord God. That is why he was a colleague of Moses and a support of Jesus at this moment in his ministry. Furthermore, in the transfiguration we have the confirmation again of Jesus being the son of and part of the Lord God.

As one who believes deeply in the triune nature of the Lord God Jesus Christ who inspires the Holy Spirit – I do not question at all the Divine. Yes, sometimes I struggle in my life and in my faith life. But question? No. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The unfathomable ways of Christian living, Part II – cease fretting and worrying

Okay, this Psalms passage I need.

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

My “wicked” and “wrongdoers” right now are the lingering side effects of radiation treatment. I know, not your typical “foes.” But for me, they have been “smiting” me mightily, ruining my mood, and souring my predisposition. Who knows, maybe even causing me to “sin”. Or at lest not trusting in the Lord very much!

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” (Verses 4 – 6)

I know I have been a little difficult to live with lately – if for no other reason than I cause my family to worry about me. And there has been a lack of joy of living. These treatments were supposed to save my life; and instead it has caused me to focus on the dreariness of life. I certainly do not feel “vindication”, have not felt “shiny”, nor do I feel there is justice for me. I hold out hope that will change.

“Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I have not been still and patient. I have been fretting – not over the wicked fortunately. But fretting nonetheless. And, to my shame, I have been doubting that those who oversee my treatment have been keeping my best good in mind. If I envision the tumor that necessitated this treatment as “the wicked [who] shall be cut off” – that would be a good and positive image.

“Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Verses 10 -11)

Actually, I could wish that I had that image in my mind during treatment. But it is not to let to let that image be my rallying thought. Part of the reason I am still “suffering” from these ill effects is because the radiation treatment, while actively over, is still working on killing off the tumor. So I need to hold these thought from the psalmist in my mind.

What things do you have in your mind and in your life that is warping your outlook and stealing your joy, beloved reader? Does the psalmist perhaps speak for you as well?

“The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Verses 39 – 40)

What I have been doing is taking refuge in the Lord. At times pleading to the Lord to help and deliver me. At other times to heal me. And at other times to help me endure. One of the things I have learned to value from the psalms is to allow them to speak to my fears and disheartening times. There was a book that I came across, must have been a year ago, that spoke about using the psalms to lament and weep. I worked my way through it slowly, absorbing the lessons. I think that might be part of the reason that at times I grew impatient with the “cheery” psalms. I was not at that part of my life at the time. But with God’s grace I came through to the point I am now.

Where are you, beloved reader, in your journey? Are there things, people, events, and issues that are causing you to fret? I cannot promise you that they will be resolved. But I can recommend you to bring those frets to the Lord. To allow these words of the psalmist to ease your times. And to rely on the Divine to see you through! Selah!

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!

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!