Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Old Testament Passage: The Lord provides(?)

Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (I King 17:8 – 9)

Editorial decision – I decided to go with the other Old Testament passage rather than continuing on with the story of Naomi and Ruth. I sort of gave away the ending of the story. I suppose, beloved reader, you already knew how the story ended. The Lord God looked down on Naomi and provided for her as well as for her daughter in law Ruth. That same theme is also found in this passage. But in this instance it is/was Elijah who was provided for, and the widow in Zarephath who found herself and her son under the protection of Elijah’s God.

“So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.” (Verses 10 – 13)

It might be very much outside of our experience, beloved reader, (at least I know it is outside mine) to have such a shortage of food that a last morsel might be all that is left and starvation is imminent. I have known lean times, both as a child and as an adult, but never lean enough that I would starve to death. On the face of it, Elijah’s instructions to the woman seem rather harsh – take care of me before yourself and your son! I thought so, until I went back and read that the Lord God had already designated this woman and her son to survive the famine. Which, incidentally, Elijah started as a lesson to King Ahab. This widow and her son were not the only ones whose very life was endanger. But they were designed to be saved.

“For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.” (Verses 14 – 16)

I said above that I have known lean times. There was a time our family was on the WIC program, where nursing mothers and young children are provided with the means to buy healthy food – fruits, meat, grains, dairy products. It is not the same thing as food stamps which provide a broad range of grocery items. But because I had young children they and I were eligible. It helped during a very rough time in our children’s growing up years. Thankfully better times came along, and now we know no want or need.

It is also humbling to be in such a position. And thinking about that, maybe Elijah’s gruffness in his demands covered and offset the woman’s despair. For the benefit of this prophet of God, she and her household were saved. She did not have to feel that charity was done to her, but expedient need was given for the benefit of the Divine’s prophet. I disliked receiving charity on the state’s dime, and was not treated with the dignity that I expected. I was very grateful that better times came. And actually, as I look back on it, the Lord’s hand supported and under girded us so that I need never threatened our lives.

In our day and age, starvation is a reality for many. Those who study such things say that if the distribution of resources was more fairly and equitably divided, starvation could be eliminated. I do not know if that is true. It is unnerving to think that our abundance is at the cost of another’s life. And maybe in the face of that, it is hard to belief that the Lord God the Divine provides. The truth of the matter – the bottom ground-level truth is that the Lord provides through the actions of others. And if others do not act, then there is overwhelming and life threatening need.

May you, beloved reader, wherever and whenever possible, let your umbrella of sufficiency (or if I dare say abundance) shelter and provide for others. Shalom and Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 17[22]) – The Old Testament Passage: Being the beloved of the Lord God

The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.” (Song of Solomon 2:8 – 9)

I have a choice of two different Old Testament passage this week, from different parts of the bible. But when you look at their foundational elements they are very much the same.

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1 – 2)

We know the occasion of this second passage from Deuteronomy – the Hebrews were being readied to cross over into the lands that Yahweh had promised them. Moses was telling them to use due diligence and to be faithful to the Lord God and to the commandments and teachings the Lord God have given to them. The faithful was being ordered and commanded of them because . . . . well, because that was the type of relationship that the Hebrews expected to have with their Lord God.

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2: 10 – 13)

But what if the Lord God spoke as a lover inviting the beloved to come and dwell with the Divine. What if the plea for faithfulness was spoken as the fidelity that is between two lovers? What if the desire for exclusiveness was born of intense love and unwillingness to let anyone else be loved and love as deeply as the Divine? Do you think the Hebrews would have strayed?

Instead, they heard this . . .

You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children–” (Deuteronomy 4:6-9)

It should surprise no one that the bible commentators (for the most part) see the Song of Solomon through (as I have come to call it) the lens of the New Testament. Of course (they say) it means Christ as the lover and we the church & believers as the beloved. And quite honestly for my purposes here, that works. Other times I may emphasis the romantic passionate nature of the Song of Solomon. But then the Divine that I believe in is a romantic passion God. So what if the Lord God at the crossing over to the promised land spoke with passion and deep sentiment of love? Would the story of Israel and Judah be different?

How does the Lord speak to you, beloved reader? With authority and command? Or with love and passion? Does it make a difference in how you would respond and act? Ponder this. Shalom!

Season of Advent – Second Sunday: The Gospel Passage – The Lord God prepares

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah” (Psalms 85:1 – 2)

Our theme this week has been preparation – an important theme for Advent. But we are not the only ones who make preparations. The Lord God also makes preparations . . . for us! If, as biblical commentaries state, there are many prophecies and instances of Jesus’ coming foretold, then God made preparations for the called and chosen people many generations in advance of Jesus. And the psalmist also points out that along the way God made provision for the forgiveness and redemption of the Israelites, Hebrews and Jews.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” (Verse 8)

The Lord God also put into place prophets who would relay God’s words to the people. Prophets in the Old Testament, John the Baptist and the disciples/apostles in the New Testament, and modern day ministers, evangelists, and preachers. God has also strived to speak to creation.

“Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.” (Verses 9 – 11)

God also prepared “shalom” for us; steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. God created shalom for us, and we have been given this shalom and are charged with tending to it, and spreading it to others.

“The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Verses 12 – 13)

What the Lord God has created, cannot be destroyed. It exists. But we, as fallible creation, can fail to tend to it and keep it safe. We can fail to show it to others, and fail to teach it to the upcoming generations. If there is no shalom, it does not mean that it has gone. But that creation has forgotten it, or dismissed it as unnecessary.

Advent is a time we can pick up the pieces of shalom, and put it into practice – the same way that we unpack our Christmas ornaments and decorations, and use them in our household and in our community. God has prepared shalom for us, sent Jesus to us to teach it to us face to face, and set it in our hearts. Let us not let squander the Lord God’s efforts, but preserve those holy teachings in our hearts every day of the year. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 18 [23]): The Psalm Passage – Waiting for the Lord God to act

Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.” (Psalm 149: 1)

Last week I was impressed with the match of the Old Testament passage to the Psalm passage. This week I do not have the same feeling of the two being well matched. It is true that in the Old Testament passage, the people of God were being told to get ready to leave Egypt, and that was probably good reason to rejoice. But there was a lot unknown about this – not the least of which was whether the Pharaoh WOULD allow them to leave; if killing the first born in all the families in Egypt would so sour the Pharaoh that he would let them go. Many unknowns.

“Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.” (Verse 2)

Granted, this is a psalm written by a follower of God for the people of God after the Hebrews had been delivered from the Egyptians and are safely established in the land that the Lord led them to, so it is understandable that it would be a celebration of what God has done.

“Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.” (Verse 3)

And furthermore, admittedly my own life circumstances might be a factor in my observations – this is often quite true. I am, at this writing, waiting to see how some issues in my own life might be played out. Whether the hoped for outcomes will in fact be the outcome. Or whether I will still be caught and caught up in a situation. In waiting for the outcome, it is hard to think about praising God, when is not quite sure if the hoped for thing will happen and there will be reason for praise in this situation.

“For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.” (Verse 4)

That is not say there is not other reason to praise God, and indeed I praise the Lord God for getting me this far. But still I wait, “lamb slaughtered” and “on the spit” waiting for the appointed time. But still I wait, loins girded and staff in hand, waiting to see if it is a “go” or not.

Yes, I rejoice in the Lord and am glad for my Maker; yes I have danced because of good news I have received and have made melody; I have felt the Lord’s pleasure and have known victory from what has come against me in the past. But right now I am waiting to see if the hoped for thing will come.

“Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.” (Verse 5)

How is it that humanity can so quickly forget what the Lord has done previously, and think only of the current situation at hand. That is quite prophetic, actually, considering how the journey of the Hebrews to the land that was promised by God went. Quite prophetic indeed. And I am quite chagrined and embarrassed that I have to point that out to myself. You would think I would immediately repent and put on hope instead of fear and concern. And as I exhort myself in this, I can feel hope raising as my fear and concern ebbs away. But also know that the fear and concern may well return.

Now having admitted the background and context of my comments this day, let us move on the verses yet in this passage.

“Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!” (Verses 6 – 9)

Oh my! I am guessing that when this psalm was written, the writer and his contemporaries were safe and secure, and ready to see recompense come upon those who had caused him and/or his forebearers problems. This is very much a commonly held view and perception of what the Lord God of the Old Testament would do. Barnes tells us (or at least me, when I read his comments) that this is an “inflicting punishment upon them for the wrongs which they had done to the people of God.” We may well see this in the coming weeks, depending on what stories the Revised Common Lectionary tells concerning the Hebrews who left Egypt. It is just as applicable for the later generations of Israelites who were captured by the enemy nations that surrounded them.

But it is not exactly what I am hoping for myself; no, not at all what I am hoping will be my “deliverance.” When presented with such sentiments in scripture, I always wonder the background and context was for such sentiments. And why there is so often a crux point of “I win / you lose” or, “we win / you lose.” Because, beloved reader, very often it is “I lose” and “you also lose”. Bad news for one may be bad news for all. Much better is it to be good news for all. In fact, that could be a motto for the New Testament! And let us hope, beloved reader, when the Lord God does act, it is good news for all because the Lord God’s shalom has extended to all of humanity! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 18 [23]): The Old Testament Passage – Getting ready for the exit

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:1 – 2)

I am not enough of world historian or anthropologist to know what type of calendar ancient Egypt had. These verses seem to indicate though that it was not the beginning of the ancient Egyptian year. Because the Lord was going to do a new thing, however, this would be marked as the beginning of a new Hebrew year. Later in the history, Passover would take on a new significance. In our modern calendar, Passover comes in the spring or at least late in winter. It often seems that religious calendars and secular calendars clash over the high points and low points of the year.

In any case, change was coming, both to ancient Egypt and to the Hebrews.

“Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.” (Verses 3 – 4)

I imagine one of the things that allowed the Hebrews to bear up under the oppression and slavery to the Egyptians was a strong sense of community. We see evidence of this in more modern Jewish communities, although a strong sense of community is very evident in other cultures and religious circles. It makes me weep to think about other periods of time later in history when Jews banded together for safety and security, and times when they were forced into locked down communities. Again, this is not unique to Judaism – banding together for security and survival, but also because of oppression and enforced isolation from wider society.

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.” (Verses 5 – 6)

If you are keeping track of the timing, these instructions must have been given early in the new month. For the Hebrews who did not know what was going to be happening, they must have been curious as to what is going on. Something definitely was up. They probably knew about the previous calamities that had befallen the Egyptians, yet the Hebrews were spared. As they instructions were shared, the reason behind it became clear. This would be big!

“They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.” (Verses 6 – 10)

The thing that strikes me the most about this is that there were to be no leftovers. I do not know if this procedure with lamb was found in the dietary laws that were established later. (But there I go giving hints about possible coming passages!)

“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.” (Verse 11)

This contrasts with how Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper, which was to be their joint Passover meal. I have to shake my head at how much history passes between this meal celebrating the passing over of the Lord, and the Passover meal that Jesus had as his final meal with his disciples. Just think and consider of all the comparisons and contrasts between the two! The lamb vs the Lamb; neither of the lambs/Lamb remained afterwards; the coming and passing over of death in Egypt and the passing over of death as a penalty for sin; fleeing in wake of the meal; gathering together of kindred minded people; new and amazing changes coming; and finally, freedom as never imagined before. (More comparisons and contrasts coming!)

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” (Verses 12)

As an addendum, consider that the first born of the Egyptians died and the first born of the Lord God was put death. Judgment was executed in a totally different way. Comparing the two just boggles the mind!

“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Verse 13)

Consider also what the blood meant. The blood of the lamb signifying escape from death; the blood of the Lamb signifying escape from the wages of sin which is death. Jesus offering his blood and body as a remembrance of what was to come, and the Passover re-enacted hundreds of times between now and then as a remembrance of the deliverance of the Hebrews. But re-enacted hundreds and hundreds of times, but never completing dispelling the specter of death. But with Jesus the Lamb it was the final action needed.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Verse 14)

We as Christians re-enact the Last Supper as Communion, doing it in remembrance of Christ’s saving action. Some re-enact the entire Passover; others have Maundy Thursday meals. In-bedded in Christianity is the celebration of salvation from death. The cross -connections between Judaism and Christianity as strong surrounding these celebrations. So I have to wonder, beloved reader, how many other ways we could make connections to different faiths if we just reached out the hand of friendship and harmony.

One of the things that sticks in my mind from the Cecil B de Mille version of the Exodus is that the woman who adopted Moses was also part of the first passover meal. That means something, beloved reader. Not cinematic-ally but theologically, that faith traditions do not have to divide us.

But I have strayed from my beginning focus, getting ready for the exit. Gathering up what we need, guarding and preserving what is important, taking in sustenance for the journey, and being ready for what comes. These are holy and sacred tasks. We hope they prepare us for change. It will be interesting (depending on what scripture passages come next) to see how prepared the Hebrews were. Shalom!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Epistle Passage – Preacher and Seeker read Paul out loud

Preacher:“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
If you must compete, beloved listener, with you brother and sister – let it be a competition of caring, a race to show compassion, a contest of warm and giving hearts.
Preacher: “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Seeker: Gladden and hearten the spirit of others by zealously seeking their good. Our Lord Jesus Christ was quick to minister to others, and set before us a servant role. Let no one be a master over another, but work together as joyful companions called to the common good by the Lord God.
Preacher: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”

Seeker: When you tire, beloved listener, your fellow believer will be there as you have been there for others. And where then is a stranger among you, treat that person as a friend who you are getting to know. The body may tire, but hope in the Lord will revive you. There may be suffering, but you are not alone. So hold on to your faith, and rely on the Lord and those who are with you in faith.
Preacher: “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”

Seeker: No one is truly a stranger, because we are all children together under the Divine. Show compassion, as our Lord God Jesus Christ showed compassion. Look into the face of the stranger, and you will see the face of God.
Preacher: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

Seeker: That is not to see this life will be easy, and that you will not have hard times. While you may extend a hand of friendship, it may not be accepted and even pushed away. It is easy to love those who are lovable. The test, beloved listener, is to love where it is hard. Ask the Lord for love that will not fade away under the strain of persecution. The Lord Jesus Christ knows what it is like to bear up under persecution. There will be recourse and refuge, so that you may rest and be renewed.
Preacher: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Seeker: Rejoice! And rejoice that you have believers to rejoice with. But also, uphold one another, sharing with one another; grief shared passes, and the Lord of Light will shine upon you both.
Preacher: “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

Seeker: We all live and love under the tender eye of the Divine. Be there for your fellow believer, as your fellow believer is there for you. There is nothing to be gained by keeping your self apart from the rest of humanity, and everything to be lost. We were made for companionship.
Preacher: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.”

Seeker: You know, beloved reader, what gladdens your heart and lifts your spirit. Make that a gift to your neighbor, both near and far. Think on the good of this life, and leave what is not good where it is.
Preacher: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Seeker: Live so that no one may call you their enemy. And do not consider anyone your enemy. There is enough trial and tribulation in this life; do not add to it by creating it between you and another.
Preacher: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9 – 21)

Seeker: The good that you do, beloved listener, will spread out before you. It will multiply in the very air, and will settle on those around you. It will soften the human heart and heal the human spirit. Let no opportunity pass where you can show compassion and care. And you will find the same in the most unexpected places. I say again, look for the good and embrace it. Nurture it, and it will grow in the heart of every person you meet. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Psalm Passage – A Preacher and Seeker dialog dedicated to those who stand for peace and compassion

Preacher: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say – “
Seeker: If the Lord God had not been standing with us . . .
Preacher: “ . . . if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, . . “

Seeker: If the Lord God had not been at our side . . .
Preacher: “. . then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;”
But we were used and abused, attacked, wounded and some killed! Where was the Lord God then?! Why were some of our number allowed to suffer?! Why were we not protected!
Preacher: “then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;”

Seeker: When one among our number is lost, we mourn. When two have us have been taken away, we wail and weep. Those who have been lost, are remembered and honored for their sacrifice and courage. We ask and plead, where was the Lord?
Preacher: “then over us would have gone the raging waters.”
It is true, there is a strong remnant left. Our courage has not fled from our spirits, and our resolve is greater than ever. We gather together our number, and fortify each other, lifting up our spirits and vowing to remain strong.
Preacher: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.”

Seeker: Our foes and oppressors have bitten and gnawed at us, but we are resolute. Our ranks may be thin, but our spirit is strong. We will not be taken over.
Preacher: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.”

Seeker: Our faith and hope has not been captured or dissolved. We will rise up and stand strong against those who attack us and hate us.
Preacher: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124)

Seeker: Blessed it be the Lord who has taught us the strength of peace and compassion. We live our lives here, on earth. But the greater reward will come in the life hereafter. Now we face trial and tribulation. Those who have gone ahead of us, wait for us in the shalom of the Lord. We will stand tall, and will not be dissuaded from the course our Lord God has set before us. We are not alone, for the Lord God is with us and holds us until this time is over. Then we may rest also in the Lord God’s shalom. Selah!