Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Living on the edges of sinfulness

It was either this or Hosea, beloved reader, and both passages seem to be dealing with sinfulness that has a purpose. I do not know which passage had the lessor of two evils – this or Hosea 1:2-10 . The question of which is the greater or the lessor, I will leave to you beloved reader.

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18: 20 – 21)

Interesting things about this passage. First, it comes soon after the Lord God appearing in conjunction with the three men who are offered hospitality by Abraham, and when Abraham and Sarah are told to expect the birth of a son very soon. Second, there is a wonderful discussion as to whether Abraham should be told about what the Lord God expects to find in Sodom & Gomorrah. The Divine decides to let Abraham know because, “I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Verse 19b) This explains why Abraham is right there with the Divine and takes part of the discussion as to that twin city’s fate. And third, the three men are the eyes and ears of the Divine.

“So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Verses 22 – 25)

You have to wonder though, how Abraham had the bravery to barter with the Divine. We know that Abraham had family in Sodom/Gomorrah, and that they alone (at least most of them) are spared. And only at Abraham’s request. And if Sodom/Gomorrah was a large city or set of cities, why did Abraham start at such a comparatively low number?

And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” (Verses 26 – 28)

I did a little research, and the most probable size of the two cities were 2,400 people. That is quite small, actually. Think, beloved reader, of the small towns you know or maybe even the small town you live in or were born. If “disaster” was imminent, would there be enough righteous people in it for it to be saved?

“Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” (Verses 29 – 31)

Abraham must have known something about the cities. At this point I am wondering why Abraham’s extended family were living there. I had wondered about that off and on when encountering the story. And if you read ahead (as I did) you will read that Lot and his family are really not a part of the city; that is, the evil and sinfulness had not really touched them.

“Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Verse 32)

The question I had posed at the beginning of my comments was which Old Testament passage deals with the greater sinfulness. And to be honest, I am not sure. Hosea was told to pick a wife that had a reputation and history of being unfaithful. It was so that the Divine could give object lessons to house of Israel. Here, in this passage from Genesis, we can see that sinfulness was rampant many generations before the Israelites established their kingdom. Sinfulness lays in wait for anyone who ventures out in the world. A sobering thought. Be careful, beloved reader, and shalom!

Second Sunday after Epiphany: The Epistle Passage – Paul gets all “gusty” about sin

All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.” (1 Corinthians 6:12- 14)

The “winds” of Paul are blowing hard. At least that is my feeling as I sit down to write on this passage. Paul is blustering and blowing about poor decisions that might be made by Christians who are too swayed by earthly pleasures. Now doesn’t that phrasing make the gusty preaching easier to take? Because, really, that is all that Paul is saying.

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (Verses 15 – 17)

It truly makes me wonder what Paul thought or heard that the believers in Corinth were doing. Or maybe it was what he was afraid of what non-believers were urging the believers to do. This year’s lectionary theme (which really is most evident at Lent) is re-commitment and renewal of faith. And that might well mean leaving behind practices that are not healthy for mind, body or spirit.

“Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (Verses 18 – 20)

For Paul, sins that have to do with one’s sexuality seem to be especially grievous to him. And through the ages Paul’s perspective on sinful sexuality has been strong and pervasive. Perhaps too much so for someone who never really seemed to understand how sexuality and sexual identity is wired into the human psyche.

You have not asked, beloved reader, what my perspective is concerning sexuality and what is and is not sinful. And since you have not asked, I am not going to say anything more about it. Except, to commend and exhort you to show grace and mercy to your fellow being. And to remind you that to the Divine sin is sin – there is not greater or lessor sin. Any sin has implications. And one thing more – it is not our place to judge the sin of another. We have all we can handle just keeping ourselves from sin, and confessing to our Lord where sin is in our own lives. Enough said! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

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.

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

(Psalms 85:1-3)

I can not take any credit for the title of this, beloved reader, because it is what the NRSV has for the heading for this psalm. I can take credit, however, for deciding it is a good one for me to use. Just as we can take no credit for the grace and blessing that God bestows on us, but we can take credit for passing on that grace and blessing to others. And in light of the recent events in our world, I think it would be a fine thing to give grace and blessing to each life in our global community. It seems there has been far too little of that going one. And, it is a fine thing, a very very fine thing, to pray for restoration for a our global community.

Certainly there is every appearance and fact that not everyone in our global community wishes to live in harmony with each other person. The events fo the past two weeks give ample proof of that. I can just imagine what Preacher and Seeker would have to say. And it may not be to farfetched a thing to say they are in mourning over the recent events – not to mention what might happen between the time I write this and you read it.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.” (Verse 4)

God’s favor is something that our world desperately needs. It may not be something that some think others deserve, whatever the reason, rationale, or (dare I say it) bias/prejudice. But I tell you . . . exhort you . . . assure you . . . that God’s favor is for all. The writer of psalms may have thought God’s favor had left the people in light of what was happening. Remember, however, this was written before the coming of Jesus and the assurance through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that God’s love in eternal and unchanging.

“Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” (Verses 5 -6)

Ah, here is the key beloved reader. And Preacher/Seeker would be the first to point it out that many times . . . too many times . . . the “people” rejoice in God only when things are going well. When things are going . . . not well – think of the recent events in our world – the “people” fear and bemoan the times, the situation, and the other “people” who have caused the “not well-ness.” But that is the whole problem beloved reader; this “them/us” mindset where one group of people are given lesser value and important than others – it is literally killing us! We need to, for our very survival! Extend God’s favor and blessing to everyone! EVERYONE! Yes, EVERYONE!!!! If we allow the hatred that one person’s or one group’s action effect how we relate to each other, we have denied the possibility of God’s favor extending to them, and have set the stage for more violence.

Now, you may think I just mean certain groups or situations, but I am talking about even those who oppress, persecute, and yes, kill others. That does not mean we do not recognize their sin and evil intent. And we must restrain and stop them from allowing their sin and evil to cause more harm. But we also must make sure that our rejection to the sin and evil does not cause us to spread sin and evil that forms and festers in our own hearts! We, those who are suffering in all manner of ways, need God’s restoration too. And let it be that God’s favor heals the wounds in our hearts and the hearts, souls, and lives of those who have been brutally wounded.

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
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.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I have often asked myself in these last two weeks what I can do in the face of this. What can I do? I am not a person who attends rallies and speaks to the crowds. I do not belong to any group that marches or demonstrates or protests. I once did such things, but not now. And I have found that my efforts to add to what has been written social media forums has not resulted in good outcomes. So here I am, simply writing here on my blog, trying to address the issue of the day by putting forth scripture and commenting on it. And living peaceably with all those around me. Not much when you add it up. Yet . . . . .

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Verse 9)

If I can, through my small efforts, show “fear” for the Lord and encourage “fear” that is love, honor, reverence, and devotion to/for the Lord – then I have done much. And you, beloved reader, can do the same!

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.
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 10 – 13)

This is a prayer, and a hope, that the psalmist set forth. And it is also a promise that some day will have its fulfillment. We wait for that day, we long for that day; and, most importantly, we work towards that day in whatever ways we can and when ever we can spreading that love that we KNOW is from God. Because in these days human love just is not enough. We need to connect to the love that is from and of God. And that love will restore us! Selah!

The Third Sunday of Easter – Being healed from what truly ails you (The substituted Old Testament Passage)

When Peter saw it [the response to his healing of a crippled man], he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out . . .” (Acts 3:12-19)

There was a time, beloved reader, when Jesus name had the power to heal. In many instances, it still does. But not so many instances that it is used as a replacement for medicine or medical procedures/interventions. My own situation is a case in point – I have several medical/health diagnoses, and prayer has not taken one of them away. But, despite all of the things medically wrong, I am still active in my job, in my home, and lastly but certainly not least, writing this blog.

There was a time, soon after my visit medical diagnosis, that I thought it should be or could be a matter of faith for me to be healed – that is, to prayer with fervent believe and devotion that I could “beat” the diagnosis and be whole. But the Spirit very quickly “cured” me of that notion. And that it was not a matter of faith but a matter of God’s plan that I should know illness and sickness. But it was also a matter of God’s plan that – as verse 20 of this passage says – “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus”.

I am sure that if one asked Peter, “Why, and how did you know, through Jesus’ name, you could/should offer that man healing?” Peter would have said, “The Spirit spoke to me, that I should and could, and that it would bring about faith in the people.” I cannot tell you, beloved reader, how or when or even if someone could do this. What I can tell you is that healing through God comes for a reason or purpose that we many times do not know. I can also tell you that healing comes in many ways; and what may not seem to be “healing” because it is not the alleviation of symptoms, it actually a renew ability to function in the face of the illness or symptoms. Note too that Peter took the opportunity to preach to the people, not about how they could be illness/symptom free but how they could claim Christ’s “healing” for their sins; and that is even more important.

May you, beloved reader, feel our Lord God’s healing touch in your life – both in body and spirit. Selah!

The Third Sunday of Easter – Knowing God, and knowing how to live (The Epistles Passage)

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”(I John 3:1)

This verse makes me both happy and sad. Sad because of how some Christians are perceived, and how this might reflect on God. And happy because if someone knows God in a deep and intimate way, then Christians will be perceived in a positive way. But it works both ways, beloved reader. Who we are, and who God is – we are connected to God through our belief and God is connected to us through our actions. Woe be to us if our belief and actions do not support the image of a loving and caring God.

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (Verses 2)

I asked (several times) on Easter Sunday if you had encountered the risen Lord. The hope of the writer of I John was that when God was revealed, it would be a time of renewal and change. And this will come about we will see God clearly. But the book of I John was written some time after Christ’s resurrection, so the natural question is, when are believers likely to see God more clearly than before?

The commentators I consulted reflect the idea that it will be sometime in the future – in heaven most likely. And that is probably the most interpretation for the time that these commentators were reflecting on the passage, and our current situation. But what the writer of I John have meant? That is, what future did the writer foresee for the audience this was written to?

And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (Verses 3)

It is in heaven we will be purified further – beyond what Christ did. But the writer of I John seems to indicate the believer will be do the purifying; so still I ask, for what purpose?

What I suspect, beloved reader, is that writer of I John had in mind that Christ would return in the short term future. There is a good bit of evidence that the early church believed Christ would return in their lifetime, and this was the reason that the believers were exhorted to hold on and “build up treasures in heaven.” That is still good advice. But our task some 2000 years down the road from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is to live Christian lives in the midst of 2015 (or whatever future year you are reading this).

If anything, our task is more difficult now than it was back when I John was being written. At the time of I John letters from the apostles were being circulated around, and dealt with issues that were foremost in the minds of that audience. Today these same letters seem to hark back to a time long before current technology and seem to speak of concepts and behaviors that are only weakly parallel to ours. This is why it is so important that people seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help in the transposition of then to now. But some things remain the same, whatever the time period.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (Verses 4-7)

In the weeks and Sundays that follow Easter we have been (and will continue) looking and considering how to life in the light of Jesus’ life and resurrection. May these reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary encourage you to renew your faith and recommit your life to our Lord. Selah!

Holy Week – Wednesday (The Epistle Passage) The Long Road is close to the end

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, . . .” (Hebrews 12:1a)

We are at Wednesday, mid-week of Holy Week. I think back through our journey through Lent and all the scripture passages we have read. We have heard from the voices of the distant past in the Old Testament passages, the voices of lament and praise in the Psalms passages, the lessons of living in the Epistle Passage, and the stories of Jesus in the Gospel passages. As the writer of Hebrews says, so many witnesses and examples to follow.

. . . and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, . . “ (Verses 1b-2a)

The hardest days though are the days to come. Yes, we have heard this story before, journey through this time of year before; and yes, we know what is to come. I am not suggesting that we approach it as if it is “brand new.” We bring with us our past; our past year with its past sins, past mistakes, past fears, and – praise be to God – our past joys. We approach these final days of Lent with all that we bring. And for this reason, it may be a new experience.

. . . who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Verse 2b)

Jesus the Messiah did not die all over again in 2015. But we remember what our Lord did that meant that for all time to come our redemption and salvation has been secured. Jesus did not walk the earth in 2015. But the stories and lessons of his life are told and relearned. This lectionary year the theme is renewal and recommitment. If not before this time, let us renew our faith and recommit ourselves to Jesus Christ and the God that sent him.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Verse 3)

During the season of Lent, if not already, is the time to confess our sins and our failings. Maybe, beloved reader, you have already done that – have already made your heart contrite. Jesus our Messiah has scoped our sins and past failings, and will pay the price for them instead of us. Or maybe that is not your faith perspective. It is not for may to say what is a correct approach to this time of the year and this event in Christ’s life. But what I can say, and what I do hope and pray for you, beloved reader, is that have not grown weary or lost heart; and that you will be evermore renewed and refreshed through our Lord God. Selah!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent – A Prayer to God during Lent (The Psalms Passage)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:1-5)

You may recognize this Psalm passage from earlier in the year. It was part of the Lectionary Cycle for Ash Wednesday. It sounded very familiar to me when I was looking it over and considering what to say. This week’s scriptures do not seem to have a cohesive discernible theme for the week. Some weeks the scripture passages seem to speak to one theme or idea. But what does come through is our need to prepare ourselves, and what preparations have been made for us; the Old Testament passages speak to that. The New Testament passages have a slightly different emphasis; but we will look at that later in the week.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6-8)

It is good to remember that God has made preparation for when the Lord’s people have gone astray and sinned. God desires a relationship with humanity, and does everything in the Divine’s power to maintain that relationship.

“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Verses 9 -12)

But we need to do our part; we need to desire a relationship with God. The strength of our desire to be in relationship to God will be match by God’s relating to us. God’s Spirit creates a hunger in our soul for God; sadly too many people try to sate that hunger with other things. God stands ready to enter our lives, but we must open ourselves. God may create opportunities, direct people to do ministry, and in an infinity number of ways reach out to humanity. But we must reach out to God to.

The prayer that is Psalms 51 is the author of Psalms petition to God for salvation and relationship. May you beloved reader lift up such prayers this Lenten season. Selah!