Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going on a journey & touring heaven and the kingdom of the Divine

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. . . . I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 27)

The book of Revelations . . . . you know already, beloved reader, it is not a book I am comfortable with. But as I read through the above verses it occurred to me that the reader must have a somewhat sophisticated understanding of metaphors and allusions to be able to understand what the writer of Revelations is implying. And that might be part of my struggle, to understand what is supposed to be metaphor and what is supposed to be literal. If it were a place I knew of, I could discern what it metaphor and what is reality. However, if one is looking for clues about heaven and the kingdom of God it is rather frustrating to try to figure out what is literal and what is poetic license.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Chapter 22, verses 1 – 5)

I think I was much happier with the book of Revelation when I assumed it was all of poetic fanciful tour of heaven by an imaginative dreamer. That is not to say that it is all make-believe or untruths. The truth is found in the intent of what the writer of Revelation sees – a utopia where the will of the Divine finds its completion. Imagine, if you will, the outline of a city or town where everything is drawn to scale and all the streets are labeled and each building has an assigned street number. It is a literal map of where everything is. With such map one could navigate from one end of the city or town to the other the first time they step foot in it. Then imagine the same city or town on a tourist map where spots of interest are depicted in fanciful caricature and buildings float free form on the map. Could you expect to successfully navigate through with such a map?

Some view the book of Revelation as an actual map, and others view it as a introduction to the type of place the Divine would rule over. I think with that understanding in mind I am much more amenable to read the book of Revelation. May you beloved reader allow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform your faith and your understanding of Heaven. Selah!

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Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Looking at praising in a new way (for me at least)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1)

I am trying imagine and image the psalmist, and what the occasion might have been for which he penned this psalm. Or maybe it was not a special occasion but an outburst of joy and satisfaction in life. It does not seem to be the writings of someone who is busy in life nor tied up with complications and details. In fact, if I were honest, it sounds like the writings of someone who has set aside worry and concern about the nitty-gritty worries and details of life and is taking it easy. A place in life I would like to be, but am not. And there is about an honest an answer you can get about why praise passages like this rub me the wrong way.

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Verses 2 – 6)

This easy-going psalmist first considers the sky above him, and all that is there and praise worthy. Then he turns his attention to the land where he and all of humanity live. There are many who take for granted the earth and the resources we find there. When it come down to it, no matter where we live, and how above and beyond nature the infrastructure that surrounds us, we need earth and land to live.

“Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 7 – 10)

And we need nature, intact and thriving, so that we might live, thrive, and grow.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Verses 11 – 13)

And we do not live in isolation, but in community. We need relationships and connections. We need organizations and systems, the input and cooperation of others, to make our way through life. And others need us; we are at our strongest with we are intertwined with others. We are at our weakest when the connections to humanity are frayed and broken; and at our most vulnerable when we are destroying the people and the world around us.

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)

It is at this last verse, however, that we must pause and stop. The Divine knows what our wants and needs are, when and under what conditions we are at our best – as well as when and under what conditions we are at our worst. The “Horn” that has been raised up is Jesus Christ who the Divine sent to us so that we might know how to live. As well as knowing how, when, and what to praise.

We, as the people of the Divine, need to set time aside to consider ourselves and our world. The mess we may be in, and how to redeem ourselves and our world. Praise God that there have been those we came before us that can teach us. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Snaps from my life embedded in Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He leads me in right
paths for his name’s sake.    

  

 

 

 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. (Psalm 23)

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Learning about the Lord God the Divine

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (John 10:22 – 26)

What does the Messiah look like? How does the Messiah act? By what signs will we know the Messiah? These were questions that the expectant Jewish asked themselves and each other. Whatever their answers were, Jesus was not the answer they were looking for. He had the power of the physical and natural world, as they expected the Messiah would. But his appearance, background, and temperament were not what they expected of the Messiah, the powerful Envoy of the Divine. And that was exactly the point – they expected the Messiah to radiate terrifying power that would shake loose the hold that the Roman Empire had on them.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Verses 27 – 30)

If (the Jews reasoned) Jesus had power, why did he not use it to swing things to the advantage of the Jews? The problem was, beloved reader, Jesus the Messiah did not come just for the Jews. He came for the benefit of all of humanity. Those who could not see what the Messiah was meant to be, as Barnes interpret Jesus’ comments, are “not my people, my followers. You do not possess the spirit of meek and humble disciples. Were it not for pride, and prejudice, and vainglory for your false notions of the Messiah, and from a determination not to believe, you would have learned from my declarations and works that I am the Christ.”

Think back to what the Hebrews/Israelites wanted from a king. What they craved from King Saul, and what they pressed for in King David. This was their idea of a Messiah. Not the meek and gentle Jesus that pursued peace and compassion, and extolled love and acceptance. What do you look for, beloved reader, in a Messiah? Are you looking in the correct place and for the correct Deity? Do not be fooled! Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine in the midst of our personal stories

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30: 1 – 5)

This psalm reminds me, beloved reader, of the time I was getting radiation for my skin cancer. At the peak of its worst (end of January 2019) I was in the hospital for several days trying to recover from the affects of the radiation. From the perspective of receiving the news that my latest CT scan was clear of any tumor/skin cancer, I can say that the “foe” of skin cancer did not “rejoice” over me, and that I was brought up from “Sheol” and restored to life! I did weep for many nights, but joy eventually came!

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

Before the cancer, I had thought nothing worse could happen to me than the diagnoses I already had – I was wrong. For a time I was literally fighting for my health and life! It is tempting to believe that the worst is behind me. But I cannot say for a certainty that is true. I thought I have had hard times in years past, but the future always brought more unpleasant surprise and bad news. I know now that I can be shaken, and moved. Each experience teaches me again not to put my faith in my own ability, power or strength – but to look to and depend on the Divine.

“By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Verses 7 – 9)

Actually, to my way of thinking I don’t value myself so greatly that my demise will cease praise of the Lord or tell of the Divine’s faithfulness. And more to the point, I my life shows praise and faithfulness to the Lord, my actions in the face of demise will be a greater testimony than my successes. But still, it is good to continue and endure.

“Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Maybe if I was THE psalmist I would consider my successes in life and overcoming of obstacles and difficulties as strong praise and testimony. But what effect does my small voice have? The Lord God knows of my gratitude to the Divine for seeing me through so much. And as you have been reading my postings, you know too beloved reader. Does that small testimony into the largeness of all the world really reverberate? To be honest, I do not know. And actually and honestly I do not need to know. It is enough that I know, and that I speak/write of it.

As the days and weeks of Easter pass by, may you speak in your own way of what the Lord God the Divine has done for you. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – We need to carry the story to others within ourselves

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” ( John 20:19 – 23)

My first inclination was to consider this a transfer of power, similar to when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. But it is not quite that. I do not think it is the ability or authority to judge others either. The disciples are to, based on what they had learned from Jesus, determine what living an authentic Christian life should look like. Jesus retains the right to forgive, and the Lord God determines what the Christian teachings are. The disciples, now apostles, help to translate and apply it to daily living. One strong reason I feel it was not a transfer of Spiritual power is because not all of the disciples were present.

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (Verses 24 – 28)

I read somewhere that Thomas’ identification was actually a double identification – I do not remember where. By call Jesus “Lord” Thomas is recognizing the teacher that he had known, acknowledging Jesus’ Divine aspect. But he also identifies Jesus as God – which I assume means the Ultimate Authoritative Deity that first called out Abraham. That is quite an astute insight by Thomas.

“Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (Verse 29)

Do you see our (meaning those believers who came after the apostles) prominence and recognition? That we believe on strength of inner faith and insight as opposed to seeing and feeling Jesus with physical sensation.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (Verses 30 – 31)

The writer of the gospel of John is extending to his reader the opportunity to believe in Jesus as Lord God through the written word that speaks to one’s heart and spirit. The gospel of John leans heavily on the spiritual and mystical aspect of Jesus as opposed to the tactile and visual narration that is in the other gospels – so to speak. What we (modern day humanity) have is “only” words and the inspiration that we receive from the Spirit. If that spoken or written testimony brings one to faith, then we have achieved the blessedness that Jesus speaks of. I know that some people desire the type of in-person relationship with the Divine that the disciples/apostles had. And that would be wonderful. But, at least up to the time of this writing (and your reading it), that is not our reality.

If you have been moved and inspired during this season of Lent and Easter, let that be your inspiration for the coming year. And if this Lent/Easter was not a time of insight and revelation, determine in your own self to seek out the Lord through scripture reading, meditation, and prayer – and any other authentic spiritual discipline. Selah! n

Holy Week – Easter Sunday: Gospel and Psalm Passages – Now the story is ours to continue

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24:1 – 3)

Funeral practices vary from culture to culture, generation to generation, era to era – well, you get the picture. Ordinarily the body would have been prepared before burial, but time grew short before the Sabbath and expediency ruled. Now they had time, and wanted to prepare Jesus’ body properly. But as Jesus tried to tell them, he was bringing changes.

“While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (Verses 4 – 9)

Other than some brief appearances and final words, really, Jesus’ time on the earth was over. All that reminded was to prepare and commission the disciples and Jesus’ followers.

“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Not that it was a simple task to prepare them and raise them up as apostles and missionaries for the Word of God. The work ahead was more of that of the Spirit than the flesh and blood man that Jesus had been.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18 )

The books of the bible that follow the gospels tell of what happened after Jesus returned to the Divine. The letters that the apostles wrote and the accounts of faith and works that they record have been a guide to believers for, well, countless generations. The lessons were learn from those letters we apply to our lives in the best way we can. Not necessarily the most effective and correct ways, but the best we can. I become more and more aware of that as the years go by.

Preacher: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
Seeker: “Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalms 118:1 – 2)

From the first books of the bible where the story of creation is given, through the calling of the first people of the Divine and their “wandering” story, to the formation of the Hebrews/Israelites/Judahites/Jews, and then to the prophets of the Lord God – there are lessons to be learned from the accounts and chronicles there. We take from them what our own intellect tells us and what the Divine inspires us to.

Preacher: “The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
Seeker: “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly; the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
Preacher: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.”
Seeker: “The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.” (Verses 14 – 18)

The New Testament turns a corner and what was guessed it is more clearly explained to the reader. But still it with the hands, pen, and understanding of humanity that it is told. The Spirit inspires, but we discern. Do we discern correctly? Oh beloved reader, I have asked that a thousand times. Have we and do we discern correctly?

Preacher: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
Seeker: “This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.”
Preacher: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
Seeker & Preacher: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Verses 19 – 24)

When I was a youngster things were clear and absolute. As I grew to adulthood I became less sure, but more determined to discern and discover. I am still discerning and discovering. Easter Sunday, however, is one of the times when things are the most clear. Jesus has risen! And reigns for ever more! What we do with that news . . . . is up to us. Selah!