Holy Week – Wednesday (The Epistle Passage) The Long Road is close to the end

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, . . .” (Hebrews 12:1a)

We are at Wednesday, mid-week of Holy Week. I think back through our journey through Lent and all the scripture passages we have read. We have heard from the voices of the distant past in the Old Testament passages, the voices of lament and praise in the Psalms passages, the lessons of living in the Epistle Passage, and the stories of Jesus in the Gospel passages. As the writer of Hebrews says, so many witnesses and examples to follow.

. . . and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, . . “ (Verses 1b-2a)

The hardest days though are the days to come. Yes, we have heard this story before, journey through this time of year before; and yes, we know what is to come. I am not suggesting that we approach it as if it is “brand new.” We bring with us our past; our past year with its past sins, past mistakes, past fears, and – praise be to God – our past joys. We approach these final days of Lent with all that we bring. And for this reason, it may be a new experience.

. . . who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Verse 2b)

Jesus the Messiah did not die all over again in 2015. But we remember what our Lord did that meant that for all time to come our redemption and salvation has been secured. Jesus did not walk the earth in 2015. But the stories and lessons of his life are told and relearned. This lectionary year the theme is renewal and recommitment. If not before this time, let us renew our faith and recommit ourselves to Jesus Christ and the God that sent him.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Verse 3)

During the season of Lent, if not already, is the time to confess our sins and our failings. Maybe, beloved reader, you have already done that – have already made your heart contrite. Jesus our Messiah has scoped our sins and past failings, and will pay the price for them instead of us. Or maybe that is not your faith perspective. It is not for may to say what is a correct approach to this time of the year and this event in Christ’s life. But what I can say, and what I do hope and pray for you, beloved reader, is that have not grown weary or lost heart; and that you will be evermore renewed and refreshed through our Lord God. Selah!

Holy Week – Tuesday (The Epistles Passage) Why it is good to be foolish and repeat things

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. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (I Corinthians 1:18-9)

Each day of Holy Week there are 4 sets of verses, one from the Old Testament, one from the Psalm, one from the New Testament and one from the Gospels. Occasionally (and sometimes more often than that) scripture passages are repeated, is the one from today. I cannot tell you exactly when, but I can often get a sense of when I have spoken on a particular fairly recently.

It may be “foolishness” to repeat scripture passages over and over again, and so maybe the entire Revised Common Lectionary is such foolishness as it repeats itself every three years.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe” (Verses 20-21).

After all, what new can be learned from something that has been read and repeated so often? Is it not foolishness to go over and over again something that is old and well-known?

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (Verses 22-25)

And what about Lent itself? Why acknowledge and observe it each year? We know what happened and what the results of that time in Jesus’ life. Why put ourselves through the agony and angst of repeating that awful time in the life of Jesus and his disciples?

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (Verses 26-29)

The thing is, beloved reader, we HAVE to repeat these verses and re-live these events because we tend to forget about their impact and relevance to our lives. If we heard the good news of salvation and redemption for ourselves, set aside our sinful ways and always & forever lived as God directed and Jesus exemplified, we would not have to repeat it. But we don’t get it right.

We do not like to think of ourselves this way. We would like to be “wise”, we would like to think we follow God and Christ very well, and do not need to repeat and relearn lessons of the past. But we do slip up, make poor choices, allow our own agenda to get in the way. You see however, God uses this to show that we, and all of creation, are in continual and daily need of God. God does not use this to belittle us or embarrass us, but to draw us closed to the Divine. God’s desire to show compassion, caring and love is so great that God delights at teaching us again, and welcoming us back to the God-self.

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (Verse 31)

So here we are, at the second day of Holy Week, thinking again of God’s gift to the world and our need of it. And how we, as foolish and frail as we are, are actually a part of God’s plan to reconcile the world to the God-self. Selah!

Holy Week – Monday (The Psalms Passage) Singing Praises to our Lord

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.” (Psalm 36:5-6)

Many of the psalms passage were first designed as being songs or song-like refrains used for prayer and worship. It is no wonder that modern day Christians have turned psalms passage into songs. When ever I read this lines from Psalm 36 I think of the song by Third Day entitled “Your love, Oh Lord”. If you have an internet connection, I would encourage you to listen to the song if you are not already familiar with it.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Verses 7-9)

Who would not want to sing praises to a God such as this! But there have been many people, throughout all the ages, who have not been moved to bring praise and worship to such a God. And many people who have not remained faithful to such a God. Or have not followed faithfully and completely such a God. What I am trying to say very gently, beloved reader, is that we have not consistently and unswerving followed such a God. This lectionary year the focus is recommitment and renewal of our faith. And during the season of Lent is when this need seems most poignant. Thankfully one of the wondrous things about this God is that the Divine forgives us without end and has made preparation for our redemption even before we needed it.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!” (Verse 10)

As to this last verse, since we are looking inward, I would, again gently, put forth one idea as to how to understand this verse.

Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Verse 11)

Do not let us mess up ourselves, so much Oh Lord, that we cannot find our way back to You! Selah!

The Sixth Sunday of Lent – The Lord comes to make us worthy (The Psalms Passages)

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. “ (Psalm 31:9-10)

I am not what you would call in the best of health. There is something within these first two verses that resonate with me. When I woke up this morning I did not feel good at all, and was fearful that the rest of the day would be spent in pain and misery. I have called out to the Lord often since my ill health started, and the Lord has been gracious and merciful to me, walking with me and supporting me. The psalmist continues writing saying,

I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. (Verses 11to 13)

It has not been, beloved reader, as bad as that for me. The psalmist, who many believe was David, was writing about a time not of ill health but in a grave situation and danger. Not until in old age do we hear about King David being in falling health. So these verses were most likely written during one of the periods of trial in David’s kingdom. Since there were many times like that we would be had pressed to know which time this was. The opening eight verses do not continue much of a clue.

Regardless of where David was in his life, or where we are in our lives, God is with us. The psalmist says,

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. (Verses 14-16)

Our “enemies and persecutors” may not come in the form of people, but as situations or even as ill health. When a person is ill it seems like cause of the illness or the symptoms are like “enemies” and “persecutors.” Even if the illness or situation persists, God’s presence and comfort can be felt and known.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-2)

Let all people, in all places, at all times, say the Lord’s steadfast love endures forever and for all things! Psalm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus coming into Jerusalem fully revealed as the salvation of the people.

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. (Verses 19-21)

Long, long before I became ill, I have believed in, followed, and depended upon the Lord. Long before King David became King he believed in, followed, and depended on his Lord. While this verse may be closely associated with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, it was in existed and used by the Israelites and others for generations.

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
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 22-24)

What do you think that original “chief cornerstone” might have been? For when it was written by the psalmist, if it was King David, it would not have been meant and understood as a “Christ” who had been overlooked. Because so much of the Old Testament is seen through the lens of the New Testament, the connection between Christ and is image is quite fixed. But it was not always so.

I have an idea of what the psalmist might have meant; I think the psalmist is referring to a person who others had disregarded, but the impact of that person was under estimated by some, but the Lord has used that person in surprising ways, and the psalmist is giving thanks to that. If my theory is correct, there might be a touch of hubris in the psalmist’s telling of this. But God has uses for all things in creation and for all of humanity. And that God values each one of us, regardless of the opinions of our peers, is marvelous. When the overall tone of Lent is self-examination and seeing where we have fallen short, it is good to be told that God values and uses each one of us. And the verse that follows,

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” (Verse 25)

is a confirmation of the value we have of ourselves, seen through the Lord’s compassion. And then the verse that follows . . .

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Verse 26)

. . . confirms this value. But as all people should, we reserve the greater adoration for our Lord. The coming of our Lord is salvation and redemption for all of us.

The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Verses 27-29) Selah!

The Sixth Sunday of Lent – The Promise & Passion of Christ (The Gospel Passages)

[Before we begin, I want to note that I am using the Gospel Passages for both “Liturgy of the Palms” and “Liturgy of the Passion.” The second is a very long passage, from Mark 14 verse 1 to Mark 15 verse 47, and includes the entire story of Jesus arrest, trial and crucifixion. For purposes of brevity and to highlight my comments I will be using only certain sections]

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:1-11)

What strikes me reading this verse anew is that Jesus’ influence all things are planned and prepared ahead of time. There is already a colt that has never been ridden waiting for Jesus, and people already agreeable to it being taken. The people along the streets of Jerusalem are ready to welcome Jesus into the city. So I have to ask, have you allowed Jesus to make your heart ready for him to enter into it?

Just as things were prepared as Jesus told his disciples, Jesus (and our Lord God) promises that if we follow the Divine’s directions and guidance, things will be prepared for us, and/or we will be prepared for the events to come.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” (Mark 14:1-2)

The chief priests and scribes (some assortment of Pharisees and Sadducees) were ready to be rid of Jesus. They did not what him in their hearts nor in their lives – not any longer!

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.” (Verses 3-5)

But the woman, Mary the sister of Lazerus as other gospels identify her, wanted Jesus in her life and wanted to show the strong attachment she had to him.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Verses 6-9)

Jesus understands her gesture for what it meant, that she new what her Lord was prepared to do for her, and for all of humanity, and wanted to show her thankfulness for it. And we do remember her action of devotion and worship.

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Judas also had his opinion of Jesus. Biblical scholars have had a variety of ideas as to just what was Judas’ purpose and motivation for betraying Jesus. Whatever those might have been, we do know what the result was. And we shall hear next week what Judas did as a result of his betrayal of Jesus. I shall try to remember to tell you that – if you do not already know, and if the scripture passages next week do not relate the outcome.

But if you have been reading this blog since the beginning of the year I assume you do know the complete outcome of Lent. And as I said above, the “Liturgy of the Passion” tells the complete story. However, the Revised Common Lectionary has scripture passages for each day between this coming Sunday and the Sunday after that – which is Easter Sunday.

And I have decided in recognition of that week, Holy Week, I will write something each day. But I will leave off the story for now, and exhort you to continue to preparing your hearts. Our Lord God and Christ know what is to come in our lives, and seek to help us to prepare for it, if we will let the Divine do that. We can try to work against God and Christ, as the scribes and high priests tried to. We can try to determine for ourselves what our lives should be like as part of God’s creation, as Judas tried to. The stories during Lent are as much about those types of decisions as they are about what God and Jesus did.

May you, beloved reader, follow the path that God prepared and Christ set down as an example. Selah!

The Sixth Sunday of Lent – The Annunciation of the Lord (The New Testament & Epistles Passages)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. “ (Luke 1: 26-38)

A little explanation of this day, the Annunciation of the Lord. In the lectionary cycle it is the day when Mary is said to have been told by the angel that she would give birth to Jesus nine months hence. Therefore it occurs on March 25, whenever that might fall. I do not know for sure, but I would suspect that it comes during the season of Lent quite often. However, when it occurs during Holy Week that feast day is moved to the first open/available time after Easter.

One way of understanding this is as a “throwback day”. It might be a term you, beloved reader, are more familiar with. When we are looking inward at our faith life and how we are living our Christian lives it is good to remember that Jesus did not come to the world as the Messiah he is now. Jesus came as a baby and went through each step of human development. Jesus knew what it meant to be human and to have human blood and emotions coursing through one’s body. It is also good, beloved reader, to remember in the weeks that come that Jesus had a human body.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:4-10)

This passage in Hebrews is based on Psalm 40 verses 6-8. They are a declaration by the psalmist that it is understand God does not desire offering and burnt items on an altar. God wants an open and willing heart and spirit in believers. Verses 7 and 8 say, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” We are to cultivate this attitude. Mary, the mother of God had this attitude; that might be why it is part of the lectionary readings for this day. But Jesus Christ, Mary’s son, had this attitude also. The writer of Hebrews sets it down as his experience of Jesus Christ. Psalm 40 does not convey the idea that a body or our body has been prepared, but that the psalmist will try to keep his/her heart and spirit open to God. But Jesus offers up his body for God’s purpose, and our redemption and salvation.

With these reminders set before us, let us continue to journey through Lent. Selah!

The Sixth Sunday of Lent – As we draw nearer to the end of Lent (The Old Testament Passage)

The time is close now. Last week in the Gospel Passage Jesus announced “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and a voice from heaven confirmed Jesus’ pronouncements. Are you ready beloved reader? Are you wondered what you should be ready for?

It is my hope and prayer that God has been working in your life, beloved reader. By the 50th chapter of Isaiah the writer of Isaiah declares,

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

I do not know if you have the “tongue of a teacher”, but there are many gifts and blessing that the Divine bestows on us. And if we listen to our God, morning by morning or day by day, we will learn what our gifts our and how to use them.

The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Verses 5 & 6)

When we are called by God, we often have to endure much. God’s gifts come, but there is no guarantee that the world will welcome what God has given us to give and share with humanity. However, as the writer of Isaiah says,

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.” (Verses 7-8a)

Whether your journey through the season of Lent has been one filled with learning and greater understanding infused with love and caring; or if it has been one filled with difficult lessons and challenges, God is with you. And so is your circle of faith.

“Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verses 8b to 9a)

I have probably said this before, but it is during the season of Lent that many believers take account of their Christian faith and Christian living, to see where they have been less than faithful and accountable in their faith and life. It is a time re-commit and renew faith, and that is also the them of this lectionary year. May the God who has already made provision for our salvation and redemption guide you, beloved reader, with compassion and care through the remaining weeks to come in this Lenten season. Selah!