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 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!

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!

Holy Week – Tuesday: The (brief) Epistle Passage and the Gospel Passage– Continuing to look at the story in a different way

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

As I read the Epistle passage for the second day of Holy Week, I thought again of my former college bible professor’s statement about salvation not being a direct result of believing in the Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I am still pondering that one in my mind. I am only noting the one verse from the Epistle passage for that reason. And I am not particularly drawn to the Old Testament passage either, much as I enjoyed the book of Isaiah. That leaves me with the Gospel passage. And Psalm passage.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:20 – 26)

We know that Jesus is determined to head for Jerusalem. And we know that Jesus is aware that the Jewish officials (at least a large enough balance of them that Jesus was find great resistance) are determined to end his ministry and do not care how it is accomplished. In other words, Jesus knows his life is in danger.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (Verses 27)

But what hour is it that Jesus needs to be saved from? The result of his disputes with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes? Or the need for him to die in order to complete is ministry? I had quandaries like this in my earlier years – the whole issue of atonement, redemption, and salvation – and how it is to be accomplished. Blosser says that the gospels do not make the type of causal connection between Jesus’ death and salvation that some of the epistles may allude to.

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” (Verses 28 – 34)

I want to assure you, beloved reader, that my pondering is only a theological exercise – a new way of reading and interpreting scripture. This is not a matter of me questioning my faith. And I am pretty sure that Blosser’s comments are from a theological perspective and not a rejection of Christ’s ministry and example. Theological inquiry can exist along side authentic faith.

“The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” (Verses 35 – 36)

It would be easier if the Gospel passage was not from John. The Gospel of John presents Jesus as a spiritual mystic feature – Spirit given fleshly form. And this fleshly form must fall away for the true intent and purpose of Jesus’ life to be fulfilled. So I have to wonder how this into the Blosser’s discussion? I knew when I read the article that Blosser wrote that I might discover for myself some rubbing and sticking points with Paul’s letters. Especially within the story of Holy Week and Easter. I could have just set the article and my thinking aside. But something compelled me to pursue it.

There are nuances and delicate theologies that are distinct from the mainstream idea of resurrection equating salvation – I would like to take the time to look at them. Committing to the Christian life despite threats to one’s personal safety. It could be said that Jesus modeled this. That someone was willing to die rather than renounce their faith is an attribute of Christianity that is well known. But that attribute can be seen in other faith traditions. Christ’s glory was established before he died and rose again. He rose not because it was the only delivery route to salvation but because the Spirit was eternal. Walking in the light is another way of talking about living an authentic Christian life. And being children of the light is another way of saying children of God. Finally, being honored by God is just (or maybe even more so) as valuable as salvation. In fact, leading a life that gains one honor according to God’s judgment is a large component of Jesus’ teachings.

Oh beloved reader! I feel like I am trying to navigate some slippy slopes. But one of the things I have learned over the years is that the story of Jesus Christ and the Divine is large enough and diverse enough that everyone can find a home and a niche. Another thing I have learned is that it is not just one believer or one faith tradition that has the monopoly on truth and God-centered living; it is all of humanity coming together as a corporate body that reflects the fullest truth of the Divine. And that through conversation and caring dialogue that we can best understand it. Let us keep that in mind as we continue through Holy Week. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Looking at your present faith life – does it shine?

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.” (John 12:1 – 2)

We know that Martha was an accomplished hostess. Like many women of her time, she could bustle around a kitchen cooking, roasting, sauteing while making sure that every guest was comfortable and well looked after. Lazarus would have looked out for everyone’s needs, especially Jesus’ since it was due only to him that Lazarus was alive! Martha too would have put out her best spread for Jesus who raised up her brother, and most probably her future, from the dead. Then there was Mary. Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and let his words and teachings soak into her being.

“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (Verse 3)

I don’t know precisely about the customs of that time, but I suspect that most women who had reached womanhood kept their hair covered and contained. That she spun out her hair and performed such a menial tasks (washing of someone’s feet) with her “prized glory” (as a woman’s hair was often called) and expensive fragrance must have been a shock, and more, to some gathered there.

“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) “ (Verses 4 – 6)

What do you give to the Divine, beloved reader? Do you pour your all into service to the Lord God? Do you “overspend” in time and energy when you fulfill your calling? Do sent aside your dignity and commit your resources in service to others?

I want you to be aware, beloved reader, that nard is a thick and fragrant oil. Jesus’ feet would have smelled “heavenly” and would have been made soft and supple because of the oil. It would have also oiled Mary’s hair, and would have made it shine. Oily but shiny.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus’ comment was to remind Lazarus that not everything needs to be parsed out carefully and not all resources should be measured out so that there is plenty left. But I want you, beloved reader, to understand the analogy/metaphor I am seeking to make. Mary could have played it safe and been simply a cook and hostess for her brother’s dinner guests. She could have sat in a corner and listened to Jesus more. But she decided to commit her self and what resources as a single woman that she had. No thought for herself or what others would say, she acted. And she shone!

May you, beloved reader, commit yourself, your resources and your gifts to honor our Lord God! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Looking forward to the “new” thing

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.“ (Isaiah 43:16 – 18)

In a recent shipment from a large brand-name department store I received a gift card for a food delivery service. It is one of those services that delivers the recipe and all the ingredients needed to make a meal. I have avoided them because it is much more economical to shop for the ingredients myself and our family’s tastes are diverse enough that one meal/menu would not satisfy all. But I thought there was no harm in checking out the site and finding out just how much the gift card would take off the total price – it was not enough. But because I was required to give some contact information in order to get to the point where I could see the price, I am now getting emails “encouraging” me to continue my order. At this point the gift card is not NEAR enough for the hassle I am going to have. This is NOT a good “new” thing!

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Verse 19)

We so often think the “new” thing is going to be better. That is not always the case. Sometimes the “new” is just the “old” wrapped up in disguise. You may wonder beloved reader, as I sometimes do, how one can know when the new thing is a good thing. In our modern world sometimes you cannot. I honestly thought (okay, maybe hoped) this gift card would be a way to make my life easier. No luck there!

I am forced to conclude, once again, that the most trustworthy source for “new” is the Divine. It is ironic however that the “new” thing is first talked about in the Old Testament. And only takes on the identity of “new” when it is seen in the light of Jesus Christ. One can debate (but I will not) that the writer of Isaiah might not have intended the “new” to be Jesus Christ but a new understanding of the Divine in Old Testament times.

“The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Consider the names. Old and New Testament. We call it the “Old” Testament because it is based on understandings and stories that we told and recalled before Jesus the Christ was sent. The “New” Testament is the four gospels and the letters that came out of people coming to a “new” understanding of the Divine as presented by Jesus Christ. We use and refer back to the Old Testament but we use the understandings of the New Testament to re-interpret what the Old Testament was saying. And it is that crux point that sometimes agitates my sensibilities. How can we remain faithful to the Old Testament if we infuse it with understandings brought to bear by the New Testament without know if the writers of the Old Testament were cognizant of what the New Testament was going to say?! (Okay, stepping down from the soap box.)

What I prefer is to have the Spirit discern and reveal “new” understandings and yet remain true to the intentions of the Old Testament writers. Maybe that is not possible. If as Isaiah says, we allow the “old” to remain in the past, then it is only the “new” as found in the New Testament that should be a determinant for our lives . (Feeling myself climb aboard the soap box again!)

The Holy Spirit that comes from the Divine is active in the world. And that Holy Spirit continually reveals new things. Do you perceive it beloved reader? What was the norm one hundred years ago is no longer so. What was the norm ten years ago is also past history. Each day we are presented with a new day, and a new opportunity to live accountable lives. Each day is our fresh chance to do better than before. And each season of the church year is a chance to learn new spiritual disciplines. Take advantage of the season of Lent – an old concept that can be made new . . . . if you allow the Spirit to guide you! Selah!