Second Sunday After Christmas 2019, Year A in 2020: The Substituted Psalm Passage – Wisdom Again

For reasons that seemed more clear at the beginning of the week, I decided instead of the Psalm passage that is for this week (Psalm 147:12-20) I would use the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. Now, when I sit down to write on it, I am doubting my wisdom.

This is not the first time we have encountered Wisdom personified as the female gender; I have to admit that was a wise decision by the writer of this book. Wisdom is not specifically knowledge but intuition that informs the senses as to what is best to do. I did try to do a search to find out why Wisdom would be personified as female. The conclusion I quickly came to is that commentators (male) are not really sure. But ask a female (commentator) and she would say that heart knowledge is typically (stereo-typically) the arena of females while head knowledge is the arena of males. And wisdom is more likely to be heart knowledge.

A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors, She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs. She gave to holy people the reward of their labors; she guided them along a marvelous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night. She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters; but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea.” (Wisdom of Solomon 10:15 – 19)

Here and other places Wisdom is the Divine and was created by the Divine. She came into being before the creation and saw the Creator form the world and all those (creatures and humanity) in it. She was also a companion along with the Lord God at the exodus. According to this passage, it was she who drowned the Egyptians. You do not defy or cross Wisdom with out consequences.

“Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand; for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.” (Verses 20 – 21)

It is interesting to think, beloved reader, that Wisdom was created and brought into existence by the Lord God. And then a woman, meek and wise, brought into existence Jesus the Christ. One begat the other. We often think about the Holy Spirit as the same gender as we think about the Divine – that is, exclusive stereotypical. But what if the Holy Spirit is, behind the mystical curtain, more feminine than one might imagine? Interesting to ponder. Maybe this was a good choice of passage after all.

May you, beloved reader, search for wisdom in the New Year. And may that Wisdom lead you to a gentler, compassionate, and merciful belief system. Selah!

Second Sunday After Christmas 2019, Year A: The Old Testament Passage – Starting afresh with Wisdom

Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people. In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway.”
Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide?” (Sirach 24:1 – 7)

It does not seem, beloved reader, that this incarnation of Wisdom is humble or modest. And quite frankly, it is a little off putting that Wisdom asserts herself so. I have to ask myself, “Is that wise?”

“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’ “ (Verse 8)

I think I prefer the incarnation of Wisdom as found in Proverbs. Although as I remember the way Wisdom proclaims herself there, she also lauds herself and draws attention to herself. In Proverbs Wisdom is not always heeded, just as here. In this telling, however, Wisdom is not yet rejected by the descendants of Jacob and the people of Israel.

“Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.”

We are coming to the end of the year, beloved reader; and in the past few days I have become keenly aware of how wise it is to embrace new beginnings and new ways. It almost seems in our modern world that “wisdom” seems to be whatever easiest and expedient. It should not be like that. If this Wisdom, as the book of Sirach portrays her, is the Wisdom that is from the Divine we would do well to study her. The called and chosen people apparently were blessed in having Wisdom dwell among them. It is interesting to consider how they went from wisdom to being rejected by Yahweh, as many of the prophets major and minor take pains in writing about. What happened? What went wrong? Can we, beloved reader, discern their errors so we do not make them? Or are we destined to make mistakes – either like ones in the past or new errors that are unique to us?

May you, beloved reader, enter into the New Year grasping tightly the hand of Wisdom and may she abide with you all year long! Selah!

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 : The Gospel Passage – How good believers will praise and give thanks when the good news comes to pass

The consequence of using both Old Testament passages is that you have to consider both passages are the accompanying psalm passages. The Isaiah passage actually has another Isaiah passage that it is matched to. But the passage from Malachi is matched to a passage from the book of Psalms.

Malachi, if you remember, promised retribution for those who arrogant and evildoers. But those who are true believers will bask in sunlight and righteousness. The Psalm passage echoes those happy promises, and gives instructions on how to celebrate.

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98)

The Isaiah passage, Isaiah 65, also held promises of the blessings and new living conditions that true believers will enjoy. And the Isaiah passage that is matched to it also has instructions for returning thanks.

You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12)

I did question as to just when these wonderful would come to pass. And while I did not pose the question then, I pose it now – how long will those good things last? A careful read (or even a casual read) of the Old Testament shows that the Israelites and Judahites did not bask in the glorious living conditions for long, if their living conditions rose to fulfill the promises that Malachi and Isaiah listed. If we followed logical reasoning, why would we/one praise God for a way of life that has not come about? The short answer is – one wouldn’t.

The longer answer is that the life and way of life the prophets Malachi and Isaiah were predicting come not in this life that we know, but in the life to come. I know – that is sort of a sobering fact. But then, if we do not expect this world to be the “heaven on earth” that was written about, it makes us (or at least me and those who think like me) grit our teeth and settle ourselves to live as best and most perfectly that we can in anticipation and hope for the world to come. Because what the Old Testament prophesies do not make clear enough is that we are not alone in the world. Or at least not in the world post Jesus Christ the Messiah.

As some of you may know and/or remember, I am a survivor skin cancer. I also have a host of other diagnoses that could give pause. Even I ask myself from time to time, how can I survive and endure all of this? If it was just me, on my own, I could not. But from a very young age I have commended my life and living over to the Divine. It is not me that is able to withstand all of it, but the Lord God with me. What I have to endure now, I will not have to endure forever. And what I have endured has brought me closer to the Lord God and has strengthened my relationship to the Divine. The good news is that I am not alone in my struggle. The better news is that some day the struggle will be over and I will be with my Lord God. I praise the Lord God now . . . . for what will come in the future.

May you, beloved reader, hold firm to the good news that the Divine has given to you. And may you praise in this world for what will surely come in the world that follows. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Good news for good believers . . . . maybe

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”(Malachi 4:1-2a)

I could have gone for the Malachi passage; short and to the point. Good news for “good” believers. That faith will be rewarded with righteousness and healing. And those that are set and determined in their evil ways will have the comeuppance, and then will no longer bother the faithful. But it seemed too easy.

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:17 – 19)

Where Malachi is direct and simple; bad = gone, & good = righteous/ here to stay, Isaiah draws out the plan. What had been before will be swept away and something new and better will come in its place. It talks less about undesirable people vanishing and more about undesirable circumstances.

“No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” (Verses 20 – 21)

It makes the assumption that all in the hearing of this good news will be included in the blessings that will be received. That is, not one is going to disappear because of their evil and arrogant ways. From this one could safely assume that Malachi is a warning but Isaiah is a promise of prosperity and shalom.

“They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Verses 22 – 24)

The people of Israel and Judah knew what it was like to plan for something and then have those plans destroyed before their eyes. Promised land was taken from them, and possession were stolen from them. How could someone plan out a legacy for their family when the future could be so uncertain.

But in a way, these promises of blessings seemed too easy also. The writer of Isaiah said, “For I am about to”; not, it will be coming in the next measurable time period. It is hope, but not yet hope. Could, and would, the Israelites and Judahites pin their hopes and their planning on what may come in the unknown future? What assurances would be given, and how would they know when it would happen?

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” (Verse 25)

Yes, beloved reader, I did set you up for verse 25 – knowing full well that the verse describes something that is more metaphor and image than fact. You see, if you look at the calendar we are coming (at least when you read this) closer and closer to Thanksgiving. And the beginning of Advent – which is well known for its “waiting” period of time. The other thing to remember is that when Jesus did come, as a baby and then grew to be the Messiah, the Jews had pretty much given up on the “new heaven and new earth”. In fact some of the Jews were highly invested in maintaining the status quo of their time.

So, should we become discouraged? Start looking for wolves and lambs & lion and oxen dining together? I am afraid not. There is newness, however. Each day can be new when you recommit yourself to the Lord God and Jesus Christ. In receiving forgiveness when offering out contrite souls the “evil” and “arrogance” that was our past disappears without a trace. And when building an accountable and authentic Christian life, we can be assured it will not be taken away from us. It is, actually very good news! 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 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!