Advent Season 2019, Year A – Third Sunday of Advent: The Substituted Psalm Passage – Magnificent Joy

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1:46b – 48a)

I was undecided as to which passage to use; this one or the actual psalm passage, Psalm 146:5 – 10. I decided to go with the Luke passage. I hesitated because in years past . . . . well, to be honest I felt the need to defend Mary’s spontaneous joyful chorus from commentators who do not/did not believe that Mary (a young woman) would and could compose such a moving testament to the Divine. I have looked at this passage from both sides of the exegetical fence. But lately I have just let things be what they are. And allowed myself to simply get caught up in Mary’s joy.

She has traveled to her cousin Elizabeth, who herself is unexpectedly expecting a child. Elizabeth greets her with joy and anticipation, and I am sure Mary felt relief that someone sees that something wonderful has and will happen.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Verses 48b – 53)

In Mary’s exuberance she brings the past forward to the present, and calls to mind the waiting that God’s called and chosen people had to do to come to this point. And, actually, Mary reminds me a great deal of myself.

What if you, beloved reader, entered into Mary’s joy and felt that the Divine has done great things for you? Would you feel joyful? Can you see where the Divine has helped you, in fulfillment of promises made long ago, and perhaps very recently? Would you not express your joy? Perhaps more eloquently because the joy comes not from human will but Divine blessing?

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Verses 54 – 55)

We are coming to the end of the third week of Advent. The time is drawing closer. I do not know if it was the placement of Thanksgiving in the calendar, but this year Advent does not seem to be the long weeks away that it has been other years. And as one of the more commercial Christmas jingle goes, “we need a little Christmas right this very minute!” Moreover, we need the Son of God! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : All Saints Day: The Gospel & Epistle Passages

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.” (Luke 6:20 – 23)

Why is it that saints need to suffer before they become “saints”? Think about it, beloved reader; have you ever heard of a saint who had not undergone some trial and/or tribulation? Now, I can’t keep up with all the people that have been declared saints – beatified is the term. But I am pretty sure that most all of them has some sort of situation that they had to persevere through. Of course, to officially be a saint your name/aspect has to have been responsible for a miracle when prayed to. This day, November 1st is the day that is set aside to remember the saints, both those known and unknown. So really, if there is someone in your own life that for you was an inspiration and helped you in your life, this is the day to remember and give thanks for that person. The blessing the received from the Divine is the reason you have received a blessing from them.

“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)

It would seem, according to the writer of Luke, that Jesus Christ considers it an attribute to suffer; and the governing body who discerns and proclaims saints requires it. But . . . . Paul quite often writes “To the Saints at such and such” which we could take to mean that beatification may not the sole providence of religious authorities.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Verses 27 – 31)

Yes, suffering may lead to a path of sainthood. But each of the saints started out as “simple” believers of the Divine. We may not catch the attention of a governing church body that declares saints, but we will catch the attention of believers and non-believers alike with the way we live and live out the message of the Lord God and Jesus Christ.

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11 – 14)

True saints, however, do not live saintly lives so they may be declared saints when their life is over. In fact, true saints do not think they are living in any sort of extraordinary way at all. They are simply living as they feel they ought, how the Divine has lead and directed them to. It is those who watch, observe, and monitor their lives that declare the degree of their goodness and sainthood.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Verses 15 – 18)

What’s more, some saints don’t even assume their lives and demeanor will automatically make them eligible for admission to heaven; in that they are right. Because it is not our own human power that gives us admission to heaven, but Christ’s intercession for us. Now, we as authentic Christians (and saints if we deserve that beatification) live in response to Christ’s intercession and the Lord God’s love for us.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 19 -23)

So I have to ask you, beloved reader, do you think you could be declared a saint? Would you want to be? Think and consider all of the people who have lived all over the world since Jesus Christ came to humanity and set for us an example that is beyond our reach. Think about how many people out of those potential millions that have been declared saints. Now, odds are you and I will NOT be declared saints by the religious institution(s) that make such declarations. And that is okay with me. Ironically Paul’s criteria for saints is not as stringent as established religious traditions. And the Divine’s criteria for sainthood is even less stringent – belief in the Lord God and Jesus Christ, living as good a Christian life as possible with all of our heart, mind, and strength, and a humble contrite spirit.

May you, beloved reader, as you remember and celebrate the “saints” that have passed from this life, remember that as well. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – When the times are tough and your face shows the strain, remember the Lord is with you

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:6 – 8)

I sent a picture of myself to my mother recently – no, I am not going to post it here! She said, “You look like a woman who has seen and worked through some hard times and can still offer a sweet smile!” That’s just another way of saying I look like I have been dragged some miles down rough road but I have not let it sour me on life! And that is very true! I appreciated very much her thoughts and sentiments (love you mom!!) and I don’t mean to minimize her care for me. But I know I have aged in my appearance. Life, living, and being ill will do that. I don’t like having my picture taken; haven’t ever since I can remember. One of the pictures taken in my college years, however, I love. At my passing that is the only picture that is allowed to be published! I don’t care that it is almost 40 years old. In my mind I am still that young strong woman who looks calm and serene, and just glows! So it is jarring to see that “old face” looking back at me from pictures, and it even jostles sometimes when she has sneaked into the mirror! Moving on.

If that younger version of me is not accessible, it would be nice to think that – like Paul – I have earned a “crown of righteousness”. Nice to think privately to myself, but I don’t have Paul’s confidence to broadcast it. But if I had to choose between the younger me and me with a crown of righteousness, I would choose the crown. Youth flees when life presses in. Righteousness stands confident that one will prevail no matter what comes. (Now, if my mother had said my aged face radiates righteousness, I would be showing off that picture to the world!)

Righteousness, though, does not come across through pictures or images; it is evident through one’s actions. And most likely those actions have been prompted and informed by one’s faith and belief in the Divine.

“At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Verses 16 – 18)

Now here is an interesting thing; it has sometimes felt that I am all alone. I don’t mean that friends and family have deserted me – far from it! However, at the toughest times of my life, my best support has come from the Divine. As Paul said, it takes grit and determination to keep going when it seems that a good portion of the world is against you, and few have a firm idea of what you are up against. But the Lord God has been there. And it is also true that through all that I have endured, I have proclaimed what the Divine has done for me. Does that mean, beloved reader, I am more like Paul than I think? Perhaps. I am not alone, though, in having the Lord God close by. You too, beloved reader, have the Lord God the Divine close by. You too could be like Paul, proclaiming that God has rescued you from whatever trials and tribulations you have been through. And yes, you might also be destined for a “crown of righteousness.” Wouldn’t that look great in a portrait of you!

May you remember, beloved reader, that the Lord God is with you. And that whatever glow you might have, the glow of Christian faith shines more radiantly and lasts for eternity! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – “Wrestling” with the Divine through prayer

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” ( Luke 18:1)

I might have made this comment before – but for the purposes of today’s commentary I am making it again. Too many times when I am stuck and stymied on an issue or situation, I forget the first thing I should do about it is pray. I am getting better at that though. Thank God!

“He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” (Verses 2 – 5)

Thank God also that the Divine has infinite regard and love for creation. And, well, abides my the laws and commandments that the Lord God has made for the God-Self. We may not think the outcome of prayer has justice, especially if we wanted is not granted after prayer. But . . . . that is a whole different topic, the answering for prayer. And if our prayers are not answered the way we want, the Lord God the Divine never gets worn out from repeated requests.

“And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Verses 6 – 8)

That is the other thing I have learned over the years – faith that the Lord God will answer my prayers, and that the answer will be the best one for me. Praying, learning how to pray, and learning how to ask for the best outcome in a situation or on an issue is a spiritual discipline.

I have to think back over some of the milestones in my prayer journey. Realizing that telling the Divine what I want the outcome to be is not really a good prayer. Trying to specify what type of “sheepskin” [meaning the sign that tells me what I should do or that points the direction I should go] I want to have is not a good prayer either. Nor is asking for the might, strength, or endurance to handle things myself. The best prayer is along these lines – “My boat is so small, and the ocean is so large! Help!” Really, the Divine knows what you are going through and is just waiting for you (or me) to pray. I get the sense so often the Divine is saying “What took you so long to pray?” And really, other than not thinking about it, there is no reason. In fact, the philosophy of pray I try to use now is – pray first, then worry about it! I had a dream once that I came to the Divine with a huge ball of worry, concern, trouble, fretting, bad feeling etc – then I just set in down in front of the Divine, backed away and said “I can’t carry this anymore. Please can you take it on?” And that huge massive load just faded away. Lesson learned!

May you, beloved reader, pray with all the faith and endurance of the widow woman. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Wrestling with teaching others, and being attentive to yourself

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14 – 15)

Setting up this passage with the quotation marks, parenthesis, and other hallmarks of my posting – I am reminded of the person who first invited me to start commenting on scripture passages on a blog that he had started. What I am remembering most right now is how nervous I was the first time I set and sat down to write something. I was not familiar with posting on WordPress and was not sure the protocol was, nor the mechanics of it. I was unsure also how to differentiate my remarks from the scripture passage in question. I was very, very nervous! But I did it. And he, gentle person that he is, complimented me on the care I took to make sure everything looked legible and clear. I learned pretty quickly how to do it, and before the first year was posting and blogging up a storm! Haven’t really slowed down since!

While it was hard to know how to write to the site and how to make sure it posted at the appropriate time, what was not hard was knowing what to say. Well, I may have hmmed and uhhed a little, it did not seem like too much time had passed before I was very confident what to say. I cannot, however, claim any human insight expertise. Like Timothy, I had good teachers and a good foundation of instruction was laid down for me.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” (Chapter 3, Verses 16 – 17 & Chapter 4, verses 1 – 4 )

It may sound strange to ask, but was Paul prophetic in what he was saying to Timothy? Or did he have knowledge of human nature in his time, which segues into human nature in our time? Many feel that Paul was in error in some of his theology and teaching. Yes, Paul is a tremendous example of dedicated belief, and his letters form a good foundation of instruction. Buuut, some things he said are not exactly the way we understand them now. The better understand might be ours or Paul’s; or, with the changing times, there needed to be a change in application and living out Christian principles. Still and nonetheless, Paul is correct about people accumulating teachers that are more palatable to their tastes and agendas – for good or for bad you understand. And in the judgment of some, “turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” But and however, that is Paul venting and maybe prophesying for Timothy’s benefit and may not be the word that Paul would have for others. And in a sense Paul sets that aside when he says to Timothy . . . .

“As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” (Verse 5)

What strikes me the most about that verse, other than it being good advice, is that Paul did not really consider Timothy a “peer” yet. The phrase “as for you” signifies to me that Timothy is not to worry about such things. And I would be inclined to get a little huffy on Timothy’s behalf – until I remember that the Divine does not want us to worry about such things either. Be aware, yes. But worry and fret about it – no. The Divine and the Spirit of the Divine take care of mis-beliefs and mis-understandings. It is in the Divine Hands to correct others; our task is to teach what we belief and know. Which sort of brings us back around to the opening verses of this scripture passage.

May you, beloved reader, find and have good solid instruction in your spiritual journey. And may you be lead to share it with others for their benefit and to the glory of our Lord God. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Wrestling with who were, are, and will become

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.” (Genesis 32:22-23)

Jacob was returning home, and he heard that Esau was coming to meet him. I imagine that all the memories of how he had treated Esau were coming back to him. And he thought, or assumed the recompense was coming. His first action was to protect all that was near and dear to him. Then, and only then, did Jacob prepare himself to face what was coming.

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Verse 24)

I can imagine that scene; can you beloved reader? Out the dark a figure emerges, and before Jacob can discern who it is, he is tackled. He tries to prevail against the man but they seem to be evenly matched. But Jacob does not back down. He’s future is waiting for him on the other side; all his hopes, and his fears. He grips one as closely as the other.

“When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” (Verses 25 – 26)

Did Jacob know who he was wrestling with? Do we know? Was it an image or incarnation of the Divine? Or was it merely his own hopes and fears that he needed to grapple with and come to terms with. So many years he worked hard to achieve all that he dreamed of. And he would not let go until he has achieved all that he wanted and felt he deserved.

“So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (Verses 27 – 31)

Jacob was in the line of men who were inheritors of the promise and covenant of the Divine. Grandpa Abraham first heard and answered the call. Then Father Isaac carried forth the promise of becoming a great nation. Jacob took from his brother Esau that lineage and literally ran with it – although he is returning home now. Of all the struggles Jacob had to endure, wrestling and proving himself to this mysterious stranger (Mysterious Stranger?) was the greatest challenge. And he prevailed. We, beloved reader, may not wrestle literally with our destiny – but we most assuredly wrestle figuratively. For some of us, the wrestling and struggling never seems to be over. The thing to remember though, is that the Divine really is on our side! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Listening and trusting in the Lord God . . . which is easy

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)

I am not sure I really know anyone who is wicked nor anyone who is a wrongdoer – in the sense that the psalmist is talking about. Well, no one in my circle of acquaintance. I guess I do know of people who just seem bent and determined to do things that are “not nice” – to put it very gently and mildly. But, I am not going to let this go in a political direction. Besides, the psalmist says they they fade like the grass and wither away. So why would I let my life be deterred, sidetracked, or influenced by a person who has no staying power?

“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.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Lately I have been finding that events and circumstances sort of dovetail into one another. If something happens that seems, well, jostling . . . I realize that supposedly jostling thing actually made opportunity for something better to come along and be realized. I read some time back the advice to not be afraid when the unfortunate happens that makes you feel helpless; rather, take the attitude of praying to the Lord God the Divine and lifting up you concerns. And then watch to see how the Divine will work things out. It is a step of faith, I know. And in light of yesterday perhaps I need to clarify. It is not your faith – personal or otherwise – but the faith and believe you have in the Lord God that things will work out. Because . . .

“He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” (Verse 6)

Again, it is not your faith or understanding that you are stepping forth with or trusting in. It is the promise and covenant of the Lord that is carrying you through. There are times in my life when I felt totally lost, feeling that I had no control and no hope or idea of what I would do. Eventually, to my embarrassment, I realized and remembered I could have come to the Lord God.

“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.” (Verse 7)

Again, not referring to “those who prosper in their way” and “those who carry out evil devices”. They, as this verse refers to, are not worth fretting over. I believe this verse applies as much to situations as people. We understand that just because terrible things happen, happen to us, and situations of distress present themselves – that does not mean a person or even a “evil” presence is behind them. Stuff happens! The question is, as Christians, how will we respond to it?

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.” (Verse 8)

Now the psalmist lived in different times then us, and may-hap he had enemies that lashed out at him from every direction and at every junction of his life. And just maybe he had his own lessons to learn about turning each situation over to the Lord God. From his time to our time, his advice stands.

“For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Verse 9)

Selah!