The Third Sunday of Lent – The Laws & Teachings of God (The Old Testament Passage)

The commandments from the Old Testament were a starting point in learning how to relate to God. (And it seems to me I had put forth that idea previously, but I cannot find where.) The called people of God had to learn how to relate to this God, and the Hebrews who were called out of Egypt had to re-learn, after centuries of living as slaves to the Egyptians, who God wanted them to live. It is hard for me to believe, as a multi-generational descendent of my Christian forebearers, that people could and did live without passed down knowledge of God. But I suspect that is what might have happened in Egypt.

God spoke, and these were his words: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.
Worship no god but me. “Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws.
Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.
Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.
(Exodus 20:1-11)

But not only did they need to learn how to relate to the God who called them from Egypt, they had to learn how to relate to one another as free-born people and accountable for how they treated others, and worthy of being treated well by others. It is matter of mutual respect and accountability, something that slaves may not have been allowed to expect.

Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.
Do not commit murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not accuse anyone falsely.
Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.” (Exodus 20:12-17)

A code of honor and ethics was being set up for the Hebrews. I suspect that is why many of these laws were defined in minute detail in the other books of the Old Testament. If I sound harsh and judgmental on the Hebrews who were called out by God in the desert, consider that God determined that these people were not able to “inherit” the land that God had chosen for them. I am not saying they were too flawed; but it took a passing of a generation for these laws given to Moses and sent down to the Hebrews for them to incorporate into their daily lives.

And it took the death of Christ to make us worthy of heaven and God’s unconditional favor. That is why it is not enough to live under the law; we must live beyond the law. But we can’t – that is why we need Christ! And that is another one of the themes of Lent. Some of our society and generation still struggle to maintain and obey these simple laws. How much more is the struggle to live a more perfect life under God’s guidance! May you ponder on these things, beloved reader, during the season of Lent. Shalom!

The Second Sunday of Lent – In Praise of New Beginning with Our Lord (The Psalm Passage)

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” (Psalm 22:23-24)

If you are afraid to make “new beginnings” with the Lord because you still have “old sins” and past mistakes, fear not! God and Christ our Lord want us to make “new beginnings”, as many new beginnings as we need. This is one of the themes of Lent, to resolve and resolve anew to live a more Christian and Godly life.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!” (Verses 25-26)

“Happy hearts!” Hearts that are filled with God’s love and express God’s love! These are the hallmarks of “new beginnings.”

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.” (Verses 27-29)

Everyone on the earth – the healthy and content, the poor and needy, and those whose days are few upon the earth – all shall worship God, and God is Lord over all of them. The news of our Lord and God will travel to all places and through all times!

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” (Verses 30-31)

The Second Sunday of Lent – New Beginnings & Its “Cost” (The Gospel Passage)

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:31-33)

When the old established ways of doing things no longer works, we don’t mind switching to a new and different way of doing things. In fact, sometimes that can be a pleasure and relief. But we don’t want the new way to be harder or more costly. We want the benefit of the new without paying the price for something new. “Can’t we just trade in our old lives for new – straight exchange without paying a price difference?” we ask.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

It would be nice, beloved reader, to take on a new life in Christ without have to forfeit the “privileges”, “advantages”, and “indulgences” we had with our old life. But what we fail to realize is that it was those very same “perks” in our old life that were dragging us down! Instead of bemoaning what we have to give up, let us be glad to be rid of the burdens and baggage of our old life, and come to God and Christ lighter and less burdened. The “cost” of this new life can actually a liberation from our past and our problems.

May you, beloved reader, during the season of Lent cast what has been old and a burden to you. Jesus’ offer of new life may come at a “cost”, but it is a price we should be glad to pay because the ongoing dividends will much us much richer in the longer run. Selah!

The Second Sunday of Lent – New Beginnings and Renewed Faith (The Epistles Passage)

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Romans 4:13-15)

For as long as people have organized themselves, there have been rules. If we did not have rules we would have chaos, which is pretty much the way the world was before God started creating. But let me tell you, there is a big difference between the rules of nature and the rules of humanity. God created the rules of nature, but humanity created their own rules to live by. What God gave us through the Ten Commandments were guidelines for how we should relate one to another, and how we should relate to God.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Verses 16 & 17)

Faith is stronger than rules, and more enduring than rules. Rules can change under different circumstances and generations. But faith is passed from one generation, binding us all together into one people.

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Verses 18 – 21)

Now here the writer of Romans “waxes poetic” glossing over Abraham’s human attempt to bring about God’s promise according to human rules. But God’s guidelines take over where human rules fail. Abraham did eventually see that God’s way was better. And as Abraham grew into that truth, he grew into faith.

Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Verses 22-25)

Here again God’s way pushes aside the rules we believe that we should live our lives by. And accepting God’s way is the beginning of faith. The season of Lent is one of the times when we remind ourselves that we are to live as God would have us live, and not according to our own rules and agenda. Which will be strong in our lives? Our rules and agenda or our faith in God?

The Second Sunday of Lent – New Beginnings (The Old Testament Passage)

When ever I think about the books of Genesis, I think about how it starts . . . “In the beginning . . . “ And the gospel of John starts the same way.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:1-7)

Abraham was a beginning too. Called out of his homeland, he left prestige and a place in society, and went unto at the time an unknown future. God had promised Abraham (as he came to be known) many things, but as of yet few of them had come to pass.

Now, if Abraham had felt unsure as to how all of this was to come about, one cannot blame him. After all, he was new (comparatively) to a faith and religion where the believer had to do a good bit of work in order for the prophecies and predictions to come true – after all idols of wood and stone would be hard pressed to accomplish much. And Abraham did not know at that point a covenant with God is nothing to dismiss lightly. After all, if we dismiss with ease our covenant with God in light of what we know and should know, we can’t blame Abraham much.

God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Verses 15-16)

This is the second time that Abraham had been told that he would have a son of his own to inherit from him. The first time God said it would be his own son and not from another household. This time God is more precise saying it will be from his wife Sarah that the son will come.

When God wants to make a new beginning, the Divine does not re-use issues and situations from the past. God’s new beginnings are fresh and new; just as we cast off our old lives and take on new life, so God gave Abraham and Sarah a new life that would carry on and be built into a whole nation.

The ashes from Ash Wednesday are sins of old sins and old ways. The process of Lent can lead us to new ways and new understandings. I hope and pray, beloved reader, that you find this true for you. Selah!

The First Sunday of Lent – Encountering the God we know and will learn to know (The Psalm Passage)

It is believed that King David is the author of many of the psalms. Reading the psalms is a good way to get an insight the man was chosen by God to be king.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” (Psalm 25:1-3)

One the emotions that is often a part of Lent is the feeling of shame. Recognizing we have gone wrong; it is interesting then to “hear” David say he does not want to be put to shame. In his plea is the desire to be directed and guided by God. We know from the stories from David’s rule that he often did things that did not make God pleased. But God was pleased by David’s desire to live rightly according to God’s laws.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” (Verses 4-7)

While we may remember our shame, we also remember God’s love for us, which manifested itself in the sending of Jesus. And we remember Jesus’ love for us in the sending of the Holy Spirit. When David wrote these words he had no actual knowledge of God sending Jesus and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit. But David glimpsed God’s love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness.

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (Verses 8-10)

The days and weeks of Lent contain instruction and new learning, and reminders of what we have known before. I hope and pray for you, beloved reader, that it will be a time of relearning and learning anew. And that you will be drawn more closely to God and our Lord Jesus. Selah!

The First Sunday of Lent – the First Step in Fulfilling God’s Covenant (The Old Testament and The Epistles Passage)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-17)

As I read through this passage, I remembered all the times I have used this passage in worship services, meditations, and other writings. God’s cleansing of the lands (whether you understand it as being literal or figurative) is powerful. And the promise of “never again” destroying the world as sealed by the rainbow in the sky is a continual reminder that God is with creation and humanity for all of its existence. And that God will provide for creation and humanity beyond its existence.

There will be times of trouble and trauma, distress and discord, but never again through destruction. No, humanity is now capable of destroying itself and all that surrounds it. God is embarking on a plan to renew.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

As we enter into Lent, we are reminded of what we have done to others, to our relationship with God, and to ourselves. In the times of the early church, the period of time leading up to Easter was a time of preparation for baptism of new converts. That is part of how the season of Lent came into existence, and part of the recurring three themes for each of the lectionary years. Year A is the calling of new Christians. Year B, where we are now, is renewal and recommitment. And Year C is penance, confession, and forgiveness. It is during the yearly season of Lent that these themes come out most strongly.

This past Wednesday we have been marked as those in need of our God and the covenant that was made between God and humanity. Let us give thanks that God set in motion a plan that is still being fulfilled. Selah!