Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Warnings during Lent

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ “ (Luke 13:31 – 33)

I do not know if the Pharisees here were “friendly” and genuinely concerned about Jesus in warning him. Or whether they were goading him by telling him Herod had it out for him. And in fact the bible commentators agree with me(!) that it could have been one way or the other. But the warning to Jesus was not the only warning in this passage.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Verses 34 – 35)

The city of Jerusalem and its people have made poor and faulty decisions in the past. Yet Jesus has compassion on them, and is concerned that their decisions will cause them anguish and distress. When the sun is shining and all is well with her chicks, a mother hen will watch them as they peck and scratch. But when dangers looms she gathers them under her wings and protects them at the peril of her own life.

Jesus will not abandon us when we are in need and in harms way. But if we run from the protection – in a sense, disregard what Jesus has to teach us, guide us, and warn us against – we place ourselves in peril. Now, beloved reader, where would you seek shelter when the storms of Lent assail you? Shalom and selah!

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First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Psalm Passage – Being sheltered during Lent

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1 – 2)

A few days ago I made “confession” that I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed over something. I was going to let it rest for three days before I decided what to do, and more importantly, not to stress over it. Well, the situation has not resolved – that is, it is still present. But I am not obsessing over it, and I came up with a plan to handle it. And most importantly, I commended it to the Divine, and now I am at peace. So I can say with the psalmist “My refuge and fortress is in the Lord.” As a result . . . .

“Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” (Verses 9 – 13)

I also said last time we met over scripture that Jesus’ temptations were specific to Jesus. The psalmist does offer protection for those are the subject of the preaching/teaching. But I think the psalmist’s offer of protection for feet is more metaphorical than literal. At least that is my assumption. I base it first on hyperbole of scripture. And second, you can bet that the Devil will twist the words of scripture to its own purposes and devices.

“Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Lastly, but not least, we need to think of the saints and spiritual forebearers who have gone before us and paid with their lives for their faithfulness and steadfastness to the Divine. Can we say that the Lord God “rescued them” if they were put to death? Did that live long lives if they were cut down in their young adulthood? Yes, they were answered when they called on the Lord. The Lord was with them in troubled times and honored them. And they knew salvation. But there is no guarantee in the Christian life of safety. At least not bodily safety. And that is the falsehood that the Devil tried to sell Jesus. He did not fall for it, and neither should we.

The refuge and fortress of the Divine does not promise earthly human safety. Granted, many are saved. But it is not a promise that can be used to protect us and excuse us from reckless behavior, nor the troubled times and misfortune we have in life. In fact the season of Lent can be a time of being tested. Tested in many ways; perhaps our own temptations as we talked about yesterday. Or trouble that comes our way even within the Christian life.

Beloved reader, how I wish I could sit down with you and hear about your Christian journey. And share with you mine. Exchanging stories from our faith lives helps us to better understand the challenges and temptations, and the promises that the Divine gives us. I hope and pray during this season of Lent you do find someone to share with. Read scripture with, and pray with. Often times the refuge and fortress of the Lord is made manifest through being in community with others. And we in turn offer them a refuge and fortress that comes about because of our relationship with the Divine. The season of Lent can be an arduous one, but not one that we journey on along. Praise the Lord, and Selah!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the “land” of peace and hope during Lent

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8b – 9)

It seems that when ever there is a real world reality confronting me, there is also a epistle passage that is at the forefront of my day. Maybe something (or Someone) is trying to tell me something – that I should not obsess about the real world reality, and instead focus on the needs of the spiritual world and my spiritual life.

Many years ago, when I felt that fate and fortune were against me, I felt overwhelmed and could not manage what was at the forefront of my real world reality. So I decided not to obsess over it and instead wait three days before I felt I needed to take action. I got the idea of waiting three days because Jesus lay in the grave for three days, and the disciples and his followers mourned thinking all was lost. But on the third day grace and rescue dawned and all their problems faded away. Joy took the place of sadness and celebration took the place of mourning. It seemed like a good plan when I first decided on it, and it seems like a good plan to this day. The discipline is to let things rest for the three days.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Now, beloved reader, what is at the real world forefront for me has nothing to do with spirituality or salvation. It is actually the sort of thing that a well disciplined person with deep faith would commend to the Lord and trust in the Divine. I do, beloved reader, at times fall short of what I expect of myself. And I do, after stressing about things, finally hand it over to the Lord God. While things may not work out the way I think they would, or the way I hoped they would – things do work out. And how ever they work out, I feel the Lord is with me.

But I have to wonder . . . . . . can I/should I apply scripture that talks of faith and salvation to my real world problems? I know the answer is most probably “yes”. And I know the Lord God is concerned about my concerns and cares for all aspects of my life. And I also know the best approach is to “let go and let God.” That is not always easy to do, however.

In this instance I think I need to learn the lesson once again, to hand over the worries and concerns I have to the Divine and have faith. To stand on the promise that “No one who believes in him (the Divine) will be put to shame.”

It is an irony, beloved reader, that we are entering into Lent. A time of self-examination. A learning and growing experience. If that is the case for me, then I will be a willing student of the Divine! Selah!

 

Ash Wednesday 2019: The Old Testament, New Testament and Psalm Passages – A combined reflection

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1 – 2)

Ash Wednesday. I remember them from my days at seminary. One of the few places where it was quite natural for everyone to wear a gray smudge on their forehead on this day. I miss living in that type of community where so many things were done according to the lectionary and liturgy. At the time I did not appreciate the framework of living in a liturgical community. Somehow I had the idea that it would just continue once I got to the “outside world.” I was mistaken in that.

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?” (Verses 12 – 14)

Other things have taken the place of that liturgical framework. One large part has been doing these blog posts for . . . . over ten years now. It shapes my days and weeks. It reminds me to turn my heart inward and listen to the Divine. It shapes me!

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 15 – 17)

When I am in the “outside world” I need to be my own “priest” and “minister” as opposed to seminary where we ministered to each other. Encountering scripture on a daily basis has prepared me to both minister to myself and extend ministry to others.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1 – 6)

When I first started writing commentaries – before I started having a blog – one series I did was for a church newsletter. Actually it was more of a monthly reflection. I called “From my Prayer Closet” and it was in part inspired by this passage from Matthew.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Thinking about it, one of the drawbacks of living in a lectionary liturgical community was that was easy to know what another person’s faith life was like; or at least the broad sketches because when you worship with someone just about every day, talk to them during and outside of classes, and know their back story – you get to know them quite well. It is interesting then that Jesus exhorts his disciples, followers, and believers to partly shield their faith practices from other’s eyes.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Verses 19 – 21)

My true treasure is my faith life. It has supported me and under girded me. It has trained me to handle everything that life has thrown at me. And helped me make sense of the events in my life. The coming of the seasons of the church year – the familiar cycles both yearly and in the lectionary every three years – remind me of the tasks that need to be done for me to grow in the Lord. And finally, it leads me to prayer.

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.
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. 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. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ( Psalm 51:1-17)

 

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Coming to the “land” of Lent

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 2)

In the midst of the current political climate, these verses bother me. It has always bothered me when/if one person does well it means that another person has lost what they had. While the Hebrews might have been the inheritors of the land that the Lord God “gave” them, it meant the people native to that land lost something – either the land, their lives, or both!

“You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Verse 3)

I understand that these verses are meant to be reminders to the Hebrews/Israelites to respond to God’s promise and generosity. The Old Testament was written from the perspective that the only people who benefited from the monotheistic Divine were those who were called and chosen through the line of Abraham. But it still feels unsettling.

“When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.” (Verses 4 – 5)

At some point in the bible (probably the New Testament) believers are prompted to be kind to the strangers in the land because they too were strangers in the land at one point. I guess that exhortation did not extend to taking over Canaan.

“When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Verses 6 – 9)

It is very possible that those who came to the shores of North America might have said the same thing. And yet, and yet . . . . . we also hear the voices of those who were native to those shores, and the violence that was done to them. In fact from many, many shores around the world those native to those lands have stories of great harm done to them.

“So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The Israelites had become the prime residents of the land. Those who resided there but were not descendants of the twelve tribes were considered to be “outsiders.” Why, you might ask, does this bother me so much? One of the reasons, among several, is that we are entering the season of Lent where all of us are found to be lacking in some aspect of correct Christian living. Who are we, regardless of birthright and heritage, to call another not part of the “correct” group or people? Shalom!

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Gospel Passage – Questioning the New Testament text

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:28 – 31)

This is the story that is the central piece for Transfiguration Sunday. I know, that is pretty obvious. It (meaning the celebration of the day) is placed near the beginning of Lent which makes then time until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I know, again obvious. But my point is this – if Moses and Elijah were NOT talking about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that unfolded from that, Transfiguration Sunday would NOT mark the beginning of Lent. What’s my point you might ask? My point is this – was it because Jesus needed to consult with Moses and Elijah before he went to Jerusalem? Or, did the Divine want to specially mark this time/day as the liturgical beginning of the remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or, did the gospel writers “arrange” that this conversation should happen just before Jesus went to Jerusalem?

We can see the connection between Moses’ glowing face from the Old Testament and his appearance now when he, Jesus, and Elijah glowed. We know the significance that was Elijah’s being taken up by a chariot of fire and not seeing death; Moses’ death is not firmly recorded either. So of all the bible figures that might have joined Jesus on this mountain top, they would be the most logical. But I can’t help but feel there is some sort of guiding editorial hand at work.

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.” (Verses 32 – 33)

And if were not for Peter putting his foot in his mouth once again, I would really wonder about the whole event. But Peter, good old stumbling along to greater knowledge Peter, gives this whole account the authenticity that is needed. So yes, there is a Guiding Editorial Hand. And it is comforting at the edge of entering the season of Lent to know that the Divine has prepared the way.

“While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Now that is interesting. They kept silent. Another mark for authenticity. It was only in considering the back story and the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection that the transfiguring of Jesus and the appearance of Moses & Elijah became significant. And I hope it was Peter who was brave enough to tell the story.

“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Verses 37 – 40)

These verses and the ones following are not part of the featured text for Transfiguration Sunday. It would seem after the “mountain top” experience, we are back to the day in and day out life of Jesus’ ministry. How often might we have found this true in our lives, beloved reader? We have such inspiring experiences when we feel the Divine’s presence so keenly. Then we are back to the some life we had before.

“Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (Verses 41 – 43a)

It is, beloved reader, that nature of the Christian life that mountain top experiences do not last; they give way to the need to persevere in our every day lives. Maybe for us, just as it was for the disciples, the mountain top experiences can only be properly understood and used when we see where we have come and where we are going. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The unfathomable ways of Christian living, Part II – cease fretting and worrying

Okay, this Psalms passage I need.

“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)

My “wicked” and “wrongdoers” right now are the lingering side effects of radiation treatment. I know, not your typical “foes.” But for me, they have been “smiting” me mightily, ruining my mood, and souring my predisposition. Who knows, maybe even causing me to “sin”. Or at lest not trusting in the Lord very much!

“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. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” (Verses 4 – 6)

I know I have been a little difficult to live with lately – if for no other reason than I cause my family to worry about me. And there has been a lack of joy of living. These treatments were supposed to save my life; and instead it has caused me to focus on the dreariness of life. I certainly do not feel “vindication”, have not felt “shiny”, nor do I feel there is justice for me. I hold out hope that will change.

“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. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I have not been still and patient. I have been fretting – not over the wicked fortunately. But fretting nonetheless. And, to my shame, I have been doubting that those who oversee my treatment have been keeping my best good in mind. If I envision the tumor that necessitated this treatment as “the wicked [who] shall be cut off” – that would be a good and positive image.

“Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Verses 10 -11)

Actually, I could wish that I had that image in my mind during treatment. But it is not to let to let that image be my rallying thought. Part of the reason I am still “suffering” from these ill effects is because the radiation treatment, while actively over, is still working on killing off the tumor. So I need to hold these thought from the psalmist in my mind.

What things do you have in your mind and in your life that is warping your outlook and stealing your joy, beloved reader? Does the psalmist perhaps speak for you as well?

“The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Verses 39 – 40)

What I have been doing is taking refuge in the Lord. At times pleading to the Lord to help and deliver me. At other times to heal me. And at other times to help me endure. One of the things I have learned to value from the psalms is to allow them to speak to my fears and disheartening times. There was a book that I came across, must have been a year ago, that spoke about using the psalms to lament and weep. I worked my way through it slowly, absorbing the lessons. I think that might be part of the reason that at times I grew impatient with the “cheery” psalms. I was not at that part of my life at the time. But with God’s grace I came through to the point I am now.

Where are you, beloved reader, in your journey? Are there things, people, events, and issues that are causing you to fret? I cannot promise you that they will be resolved. But I can recommend you to bring those frets to the Lord. To allow these words of the psalmist to ease your times. And to rely on the Divine to see you through! Selah!