Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Jesus speak about the joy in heaven concerning salvation

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . . “ ( Luke 15:1 – 3)

When I have misplaced something, I am obsessive until I find it. It use to be that I would not rest, physically rest, until it was found. Now, in my comparative maturity, I “just” keeping turning over in my mind where the missing item might be. I have not found everything that I have ever lost, and I have realized that some things lost are not find-able. But overall, what I have lost I have found again. That goes for issues of faith as much as items of possession. But the losing and finding of a soul, that is different. And is really what these parables are about. The Divine having lost a soul created, and diligently working to have it return.

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The reason then that Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners is because you cannot regain a lost soul by being at a distance from it. You need to be there, close, nurturing when nurture is not really asked for. And caring is not really required from the recipient. But still, you keep the lines of communication open. That is one of the things I have always strived to do when I am in relationship with others – keeping the lines of communication open. Being human and fallible, I am not perfect at that. But I try with all the might and ability that the Divine has given me.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Verses 8 – 10)

And rejoicing . . . rejoicing when the lost is found – be it spiritual issues or items of possession. And, just as importantly . . . at least for issues of spirituality and faith, when a strained or broken relationship is restored. This too is what these parables are about. Rejoicing when the lost is found and the broken is made whole.

Beloved reader, may you hold tenderly and dearly the people and faith/spirituality issues that are within your circle. Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalms Passage – Hope when you are known by the Divine

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

Because I am writing ahead, I am sitting down to write on the psalm passage on an evening when I am usually writing on an epistle passage. Hmmm . . . . Facing the enthusiastic psalmist or the exhorting apostle . . . . which sounds more appealing on a hot summer evening? But then I realized that the psalmist actually has me pegged – the Divine knows what my struggles are. Knows where I find joy and when I have to seek joy out. The Divine knows what brings me hope, and what can dash my hopes.

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is actually comforting to be known so well. Now, that may not be the case with everyone . . . being known so well by the Lord God. If their “fear of the Lord” is actually fear, it may be intimidating to be so well known by the Almighty Ultimately Holy Lord. What is needed is to know not only the Awesomeness of the Divine but to also know the compassion of the Divine, and the Unconditional Acceptance of the Divine. I do believe the psalmist knew the Lord God in that way.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Maybe the psalmist is putting a little bit of hyperbole prose in this passage; if the psalmist speaks of the Lord God having this depth and breadth of knowledge, then he must be able to attain the knowledge. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that the Divine knows me that well. Maybe it is not knowledge that stays at the forefront of the human mind.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Verses 13 – 16)

Imagine, beloved reader, the Divine knew us before we had any concept of the Divine. When I was but an infant (you too) the Lord knew me, and knew who and what I would become. All the missteps I took to get to where I am, the Lord knew of. The long roads and emotional journeys. The things I had to learn over and over and over and over and over . . . . again.

Imagine too that the Divine knows (and knew) how I struggle with certain passages. Consider all that was put into place so that you and I would be where we are now. Even more so, that others who were part of our journey were also nurtured by the Divine; an intricate maze of people interacting with each other, all on their own journey but also interconnecting with each other so that the solo journeys were linked and dependent on each other.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.” (Verses 17 – 18)

If for no other reason than that, we should never lose hope. Whatever journey you are on, beloved reader, you are not alone. It may seem that your path winds hither and yon, through slogging mud and delightful meadows; and the Divine is aware of all of it. How can it be that our missteps have the potential to lead us to exactly where we should be? NO, beloved reader, never lose hope! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker wrestle with the called and chosen’ people’s story and promise from the Divine

Seeker: “Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.”
Preacher: Would that we did that. Would that we praised the Lord God of Jacob, and who guided the called and chosen people. Called them out of a land not their own to a place they could develop and call home. Called them out of captivity to new life. But have not always done so. We have not always done so. The Lord says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.”
Seeker:
The Lord was with us. Then we were alone. We made our own choices, and they were not always good. Why was the Lord suddenly absent and no longer giving counsel?
Preacher: “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Seeker: We tried to remember the words of the Lord. We tried to honor the Ten Commandments. But our ears were filled with other voices.
Preacher: “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!”

Seeker: But what would we gain? What reward would there be if we followed the Lord God?
Preacher: “Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.”

Seeker: We are not the people of Israel, nor of Judah. Those days are gone. Those stories are dust on our shelves. Our spiritual forebearers gone. Their stories echo in our souls and spirits. But we do not understand clearly the lessons that are supposed to come. We live with one foot in the world of harsh realities. And the other foot seeks to find hold in the Kingdom of God. Where would it better that we live?
Preacher: “Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.”

Seeker: We do not hate the Lord. But we do not understand the Lord God either. We do not cringe before the Lord. But neither, we know, do we stand in the Lord’s glory. We are lost. Struggling to find out way, we listen for the Lord God. We listen for the promises of the Divine. We seek hope in this world. And we are learning to place our hope in the world to come. What, O Lord God the Divine waits for us in the world to come?
Preacher:
The Lord says, “I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” ( Psalm 81:1, 10-16)
Seeker: While we seek sustenance in this world, it does not last. Therefore we have to place our hope in the world to come. It is for the promise and fulfillment of that life that we journey through this life. Let it be, Lord God, that we do not journey alone.
Preacher: Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Staving off complaints

Let mutual love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

I do not want to give you a false impression, beloved reader, concerning my comments yesterday about my family. I love each one of them very much. And if I nag and complain to them about their being self-sufficient, it is because I know I cannot care for them indefinitely and I want to assure myself that their needs will be taken care of. It is a gift to teach someone independence, and how to make their way in the world.

In the Old Testament Yahweh sought to create a people who stood strong and firm in their beliefs. Much of the Divine’s complaints were that the people of Judah and Israel were influenced by the nations around them. That was the Divine’s fear when they sought a king as other nations had. Good man that he was, King David brought them into close contact with other nations and in each generation they became a people less set apart from other nations. And that growing closeness to other belief traditions pulled them away from the Divine.

In the New Testament Jesus taught his disciples how to be distinct and strong within themselves and their faith so that they could teach others. Much of Paul’s letters teaches that faith and distinctiveness.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Verses 2 – 7)

In other letters Paul gives guidance as to how to live in the large community and society in peace, while maintaining a Christian lifestyle. We may think that at time Paul extolled the virtue of “going along to get along”. But he did not want the new fragile faith to be crushed before it had time to take hold. In other of his letters he advocates boldness and confrontation with the outside society, encouraging believers to stand on their own and not be swayed by unbelievers.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Verses 8, 15 – 16)

The same Lord God and Jesus Christ is in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Desiring to create a called and chosen people, and to lead them in to the world to come. The hope for humanity has always been the same. And while humanity may have understood and lived it out differently in the Old and New Testament, the wisdom and guidance of the Divine has always been the same.

May we, beloved reader, stave off the complaints of the Lord God; and instead enter into a blessed relationship. And may we also stave off the complaints of wider society. You know I read recently that Christianity is now one of the most persecuted faith traditions. I do not like to think how that came about, but let us set our hearts, minds, will, and strength to win over others. And if that is not possible, may we stay true and firm to the word of God as discerned by the Holy Spirit. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When the Lord complains . . . about the called and chosen people

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 2:4)

Sometimes I have to be very loud and insistent with my family. I suppose that is a common experience with parents/spouses – that you have repeat yourself in no-uncertain terms and volume. Important messages and understandings can be lost if you cannot get and hold their attention.

“Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” (Verses 5 – 6)

It may be worthy of noting, beloved reader, that the biblical commentators are no help in discerning these beginning verses. Maybe the meaning of these verses is so self-evident that they did not feel much explanation was needed. Different paraphrases and translations make it clear that the Lord God the Divine is complaining about these stubborn people!

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

The bad times and the rough journey had come to an end. The people were back in the land that had been promised to them so long ago. But did they give thanks? No! Did they seek out the Lord who had brought them there? NO! Did they worship the Lord and follow in the worship practices that were taught to them? NO!! What is a Parent and Lord God to do with such children!!

“Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 9 – 13)

To the Divine it is an unimaginable thing that they would trade in the Living God who has given them so much for false gods that have given them nothing. And we could and would stand in equal surprise and shock . . . . if we had not done the same thing.

I tell my family time and time again the same thing, teach the same lessons, and model the same actions and attitudes – but they do not listen and learn. Now, I do not mean I am so perfect. And I am not talking about life lessons; I am trying to teach them how to clean up after themselves and take care of their own needs. But it is like talking to a pile of stones. Which, coincidentally, is just what the “house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” were accused of worshiping! (Not the same rocks though.)

My point is, it can take a lot to get through to a person or group of people. The things that should be obvious – wash the plate and pot, put away leftover food, pick up after yourselves – and – worship the Lord who brought you into abundance, remember the lessons learned in the desert, show gratitude and awe that you have been brought into a good life – are missed, glossed over, or forgotten.

People like Jeremiah were called to give testimony and prophesy to the people who had gone astray. Now granted, this is a straying that took place over many generations. It did not happen as soon as the people passed over into the promised land. Does that make it more acceptable and understandable that they drifted from the Lord God? Should it? Part of the cycle of the lectionary year is calling people back to faithfulness. In years past I have made note of the themes of the three lectionary years – A, B, and C. These themes are especially emphasized during the high seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Divine can and does call us back to faithfulness at any and all times of the year. Is perhaps the Divine calling to you? Maybe complaining about you? Oh beloved reader! Do not let it be so! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope springs . . . through new locations and theologies from the Divine

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)” (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)

In the Old Testament Mount Sinai was the literal and theological gathering point for Israel and Judah. From here the Ten Commandments were sent out. From this place the Lord God spoke to Moses and Moses relayed the message to the people gathered below. The Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt could not endure the Voice of the Almighty and were frightened in hearing even the echoes from the mountain. I imagine it felt not unlike a severe scolding from someone in a higher authority. And maybe the memory of the overlords in Egypt was still too vivid to hear other voices of authority. They did not know this Lord God personally – at least not like Moses did. Everything was raw and new.

But . . . . Paul says coming now to the Divine is not like that. Not like hearing the stern reverberations of the Divine? Not hearing the absolutes that the called and chosen people needed to live by? So, what is it like now?

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)

And this is different how? And remember, beloved reader, this is Paul speaking. Do not be fooled into thinking this is the easier road!! That tranquility and consistency will be experienced now. Nor that nothing more will be said and revealed from Mount Zion.

“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven. This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (25 – 27)

In a reversal of what is the norm, the biblical commentators (yes, I have been tracking what they say about this passage) water down Paul’s exhortations – sort of. The one who warned them on earth was Moses – a “mere” man. And in only one location, Mount Sinai. The One who warns from heaven is the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. You might think that would consist of a great deal of “rumbling”; however, the Divine “speaks by every message of mercy; by every invitation; by every tender appeal. [The Divine] spake by [the Divine’s] Son; . . by the Holy Spirit, and . . . by calls and warnings in the gospel. “ (Albert Barnes, slightly paraphrased for inclusive language. ) As to the “ yet once more” shaking, that is taken to mean a new style of worship and understanding of the Divine that was introduced and initiated by Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul sets in terms that make the reader shudder at the newness. But was new then to them is established to us. Even more precisely, it was new to Paul.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Verse 28)

So, where to we come out in our modern times? Oh beloved reader! That is a loaded question! For those who are authentic, firm, devoted readers – it confirms what we knew. For new believers it leads and invites them to a new way of living that is full of blessing and compassion. But . . . . for those who undoubtedly Paul would exhort most vehemently . . . it probably would shake up their world. And maybe, beloved reader, that is why they do not want to hear it!

May you, beloved reader, gather on the gently slopes of Mount Zion and hear the gentle words of the Divine usher you into an more devote way of living. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – When faithful and devoted believers do terribly sad and unwise things

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:49 – 50)

I was all ready, beloved reader, to write a critique of the urgency of these first two verses. But I paused a moment and thought of my own “dear” self, and realized I am the same way. When something urgently needs to be done, I want to get it done! When a task needs to be accomplished, whether large or small, I want to get moving and do it. For the small ones I say, “This won’t take long so I want to do it now, and then move on to the next thing.” For the large ones I say, “This is going to take some time and effort so I want to map out my plan and at least start the first step/stage.” In other words, I just can’t wait!!

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Verses 51 – 53)

I used to be shy and hesitant about speaking my mind, deferring rather than opening up. But that has changed. More often than not I speak my mind, and if it ruffles some feathers, then maybe they need to be ruffled. I used try to be controversial – never really pulled it off. But I realized maybe it was not that I was so mundane but so persuasive that no only really took issue with it. Anyway, while I am a person of peace, I am far from being retiring and reticent.

“He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.” (Verses 54 – 55)

Over the years I have refined my counseling techniques. Many times when I see someone heading towards a “not good place in life” I try to warn them. If they do not heed my warnings, I don’t intercede but just wait for the inevitable mess up, and then help them recover from their missteps. But if in my honest and considered opinion the person should have known better, I don’t give a warning but wait for the mess up. Because, well, sometimes people have to learn the tough lessons of life . . . . several times over.

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Verse 56)

Overall, in the past, I thought this passage was rather harsh and unyielding. But I have come to see that sometimes you have to be blunt and direct to get your point across. I know the Divine has a time or two (or three or four) had to use blunt and direct tactics with me.

It is my hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you will learn quickly, well, and completely the things the Divine has to teach you. Selah!