Season After Pentecost – A Reflection on Paul’s Teaching – Surprise! We agree! (The Epistle Passage)

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-5)

Because there one God we have been called to unite as one believing body under the one and only God.
“What about denominations, doctrines, creeds, faith statements, faith systems, and all the other terminology we use to divide ourselves into separate entities?” you ask.
And I tell you, one believing body.
“Well, if they do not believe as I believe, they are not part of the body” you state.
And I emphasis to you, ONE UNITED believing body. Under God the distinctions melt away.
“But . . . but . . . but!!” you stutter.
And I tell you – it is we, humanity who has drawn these lines.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)” (Verses 7-10)

That means, beloved reader, while there is one God and one faith that we are called to, there are many ways to live it out accountably and authentically. Christ journeyed through all things and all places – if you are the science fiction type this means all parallel universes etc – and from this wealth give to God’s people differing gifts and understandings. And if Christ gave them, we are not to question them. If not from Christ – and who of us is TRULY qualified to judge that – then it is not part of the one faith, and God and Christ will attend to the matter.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Verses 11-16)

Do not look to your own self, beloved reader, and think you are any greater or any lesser than you ought to be, for this building up is not completed. And I suggest will not be completed until the Lord God returns. For each believing person first comes to faith and then grows in faith so that there is never a “completed time.” So be patient and caring with yourself and others. But do not be fooled either. God stands in judgment of those who deliberately spread falseness and seek to trick and deceive. They will receive their punishment in God’s time. You beloved reader look to yourself and seek communities of faith that espouse God’s truth, compassion, love, and righteousness.

Thus endeth this preaching and teaching! I was in the mood to speak forth, and Paul provided the content. Blessings as you meet together in your circles/communities of faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Looking Sustenance that Sustains the Human Spirit (The Gospel Passage)

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (John 6:24-26)

Remember when I said that Jesus accused the crowd of seeking him because they wanted more free food? What I did not remember was that Jesus comes across (at least to the writer of the gospel of John) as being very patient with their limited understanding. Jesus uses this opportunity to try teach them something about God and himself. Do you, beloved reader?

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (Verses 27-31)

When the earthly world is set beside the heavenly/spiritual world, and cross connections are made, it can be hard to figure out which means what. Jesus is telling the crowd that it is more important to put ones energy and effort into living a good authentic Christian life than to acquire and retain earthly possessions and treasures. It does not mean starve to death. I think the crowd understood this based on the questions they asked Jesus. Or at least the writer of the gospel of John has significant people in the crowd understanding. Or maybe they are just asking for more food.

Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Verses 32-35)

These verses echo Jesus’ offering his disciples the cup and the bread at the Last Supper. At this point in the gospel the first time reader of John would not be aware of how this concept will show up again. But the writer of the gospel of John knew, at this point, how Jesus’ ministry would end and so these sentiments from Jesus now set up what will come later.

I had pressed the point last week (yes, I saw that it accidentally posted one day early!) about whether we follow Jesus because we like the “benefits” and “perks”, or whether we follow out of devotion and commitment. Although those who have suffered for their faith would tell you they have experienced few “perks” and “benefits”. Faith in God is supposed to be life changing, turning priorities upside down from what modern (or any earthly/non-faith based) society would have us believe in and work for.

Do you need signs and wonders, wonder bread and food to fill you, before you will believe and live for God? Perhaps it is good that the miracles that the Divine does are more hidden, so that we believe not because we have seen “magic” but because we have heard the Spirit call us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Preacher and Seeker read Psalm 14 together (The Psalms Passage)

Preacher: “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.”
Seeker: Those who do not believe in God are fools twice. Fools once because they do not believe. Fools again because they do evil in the sight of a God who is real.

Preacher: “The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.”
Seeker: The Lord invites and encourages humanity to believe. The Lord hopes humanity will believe, and the heavens and those who dwell there hope too.

Preacher: “They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good,
no, not one.”

Seeker: It is hard to find those who believe, and will live out their beliefs. So hard that it would almost seem like none believe.

Preacher: “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?”
Seeker: The Divine asks, are there none who will believe? And will their unbelief ravage and devour those few who do believe?

Preacher: “There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.”
Seeker: It will not go well with those who cause God’s people to suffer because the Lord dwells with and undertakes for the righteous.

Preacher: “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.”
Seeker: The poor and downtrodden cry out to the Lord and that Lord hears them and comes to them. The poor are not alone but have the Lord with them. The oppressed find their strength in God.

Preacher: “O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!”
Seeker: Do not doubt that deliverance will come. What seems now like defeat for those who suffer will turn to victory.

Preacher: “When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” (Psalm 14)
Seeker: Those who have been foolish and lived as if there is no God will be shown the full error of their ways. When the Lord’s people have been rescued and vindicate all of humanity will see what has been true from the beginning of time. God reigns! And God’s people will enjoy the favor of the Lord forever! Selah!

Beloved reader, Psalms 14 is a passage that seemed to cry out for the attentions of Preacher and Seeker. Seeker has come a long way since heard from. Preacher either speaks the scripture or has the greater insight into scripture. But much wisdom and knowledge has been revealed to Seeker. It is my hope and prayer that the Lord has revealed much wisdom and knowledge to you also. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – When Good and Strong Believers Go Astray (The Old Testament Passage)

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, . . .” (II Samuel 11:1a)

I just have to comment here. I looked it up, and yes, when it was good weather for “going to war” off would go military leaders and rulers. I guess the people of Israel really got what they wanted! A king who would go to war regularly, loss the lives of soldiers, drain the resources of the nation, and make “mortal” enemies at every opportunity. Who in the nation would want to miss out on that?!?!

David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” (Verse 1b)

It seems, however, David would. So he stayed home. And got into trouble there!

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” (Verses 2-5)

UH-OH!

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.” (Verses 6-9)

David had a plan. A very simple plan. That would provide the solution to a very complicated problem. This is no longer simple shepherd David who guarded his sheep and played a lyre singing songs to God. This is King David who has learned manipulation and plotting at the level of a royal court. But, Uriah the Hittite was a simple man, and a man loyal to his king and kingdom.

When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” (Verses 10-11)

A simple plan for a complicated problem. The problem is, as I stated, Uriah is a simple man, much like David had been. So many the simple plan needs a bit more agenda to it. Some help and nurturing along.

Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.” (Verses 12-13)

Principles, integrity, honor, firm resolve. These are, I am told, the qualities of a good soldier. And Uriah was a good soldier. And what happened to Uriah, happens to many good soldiers.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” (Verses 14-15)

There are so many things I could say, beloved reader. So many directions I could go. Remember I said the story of David’s kingship would take some twists and turns? This is the first twist. It is also a cautionary tale about war and violence. About believing that people can be expendable for one’s own purpose and agenda. It is also a sad story about honor people who do what is told and expected of them, and the way war “wastes” such people. It also the story of being accountable for one’s actions and not being swayed by circumstances and situations. King or not, Bathsheba should have shown as much honor as her spouse did. But who can say “no” to a king.

And finally, this is a story of hope. Redemption, recommitment and renewal. David remained a man of God, despite how many wrong twists and turns he took. And if God can redeem David after all this, surely God will redeem us too. We are never gone so far, beloved reader, that God cannot bring us back to the God-self. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Praying for Others

One of the wonderful things about belonging to a circle of faith is being prayed for. I have fond memories of being prayed for, and I am assured that I am still being prayed for. One of the other wonderful things about belonging to a circle of faith is praying for others. I have fond memories of praying for others, and I continue to pray for others. While we may have not met in person, beloved reader (and for those of my beloved readers that I have met, I hold dear the memories of those meetings) I feel that all of you are within my circle of faith. Most of you I do not know, and if I am very honest, I am not sure how some of you came to find me. But each one of you is special and welcomed. And so I say with the writer of Ephesians (yes, Paul, at is best) . . .

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

I say too, “Amen.” Selah!

Season After Pentecost – The One and Only . . . Miraculous Divine (The Gospel Passage)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:1-14)

I had many different thoughts as I read through this passage. If I had interrupted the flow of the story, however, it would have spread the scripture text a page at least. So I present my thoughts in the order that I thought them, and hope to save space for the next section.

The gospel of John presents a more “mystic” or “spiritual” side of Jesus; hence the statement by the writer of John that he already knew what was going to happen – that a miracle would happen with just a little bit of food.

Do not be fooled, gentle reader, that six months of wages would not buy much. I am pretty sure that the “wages” were not just small amounts that a fisherman would get, but the salary of one who had position and resources in the society.

Can you imagine 5,000 people?! Imagine a church pew. Most church pews can hold 10 people. Now have two rows so there is an aisle down the middle and on each side. Now, count out 250 rows of pews! Think of how much Communion Bread and Wine it would take! Now, imagine the leftover Communion bread – left over after everyone has eaten to being full! Twelve baskets!! Enough maybe to have Communion again with the little bits of bread?!

No wonder the people thought Jesus was something extraordinary!!

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (Verses 15)

But Jesus was not the type of ruler, nor prophet or king, whose mission it was to make sure the people were feed for all time. No, Jesus (and God) had a different agenda and plan.

But let’s a minute and think about this. Do we expect Jesus, and God, to take care of us and provide us with all the material possessions we need? Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Give us Lord our daily bread”; but I do not think that is the same as “give us Lord money to buy bread for the rest of our lives.” Do we come to God expecting all our needs to be meet? In one of the gospels (I can’t think right now which gospel it was) Jesus accuses the crowds of just following him to get free food, or to see the next miracle. Is that what we expect of our God? A vending machine that supplies us with all that we need?

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. (Verses 16-21)

We are followers of a marvelous miraculous God, and Jesus Christ. A Savior who can solve any problem, cure any illness, and do anything. Is that why we follow Jesus Christ, and God?

On Saturday I reminded you that, according to the Psalm 89, we are worthy of God’s blessing and protection. But to be found worthy, we need to do . . . . something . . . other than sit on a mountain side and wait to be feed. This lectionary year is one of renewal and recommitment. It is well for us to think about who we are, and who God is. Who we are to God, and Who God is to us. May you think deep and well beloved reader. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Living Under the Blessing of God (The Psalm Passage)

I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.” (Psalm 89:20-23)

I have had some hard days lately, and I have been very slow to do the writing for this week. I saved the Psalm passage for last because I wanted that to be what I focused on before the Sunday when this weeks passages might be a part of worship services. Yes, if you have not figured out yet, beloved reader, the passages I comment on each week are for the Sunday that is coming and not reflections on what had been used the Sunday before. It is the way (or can be the way) the Revised Common Lectionary is used in communities that gather for worship or devotions.

I had not yet decided what I would say about the Psalm passage nor how I would present it. But as I read it in preparation for writing, it spoke to me in a certain way. If King David wrote the majority of the psalms (which many bible scholars believe) then he wrote about himself as he envisioned God thinking and considering him. And if King David, why not us? What not read this psalm with ourselves in mind? As I just did. “I have found my servant Carole”

“My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him [her] ; and in my name his [her] horn shall be exalted.” (Verse 24)

Of course, not everything that applied to King David can, or should, apply to us.

“I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.” (Verse 25)

But what can be applied to us is the same type of protection and blessing that David received. And we can come to the Lord God the same way that David did, before and after he became king.

“He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ (Verses 26)

It is at these points in the Psalm passages that I especially place my name in – crying out to God and depending on the Lord.

“I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Verse 27)

And in thinking about it, while we may not be of royal line, we are as deserving and worthy of God’s love and tender attention as anyone else. So why should we not, keeping our own situation in mind, aspire to the love, attention and exaltation that we pray is bestowed on our rulers!

“Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.” (Verses 28 – 29)

For we are all under God, subject to the rules and admonitions of God.

“If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances, if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges; but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness.”(Verses 30-33)

Each person stands before God, either in the life to come or in the world now, to be held accountable for what they have done and believed. I say “in the world now” because not everyone wants until the Judgment Day in being held accountable. There is a spiritual disciple, the Conscious Examen, where each day you review what you did and said, asking for forgiveness in that places and time when you went “astray”; and praising God for the good things and blessings in the day.

“I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.” (verses 34-35)

The writer of this Psalm believed that God is faithful to each person who has offered up their will and life to God. We may not merit the rank and privilege of royalty; or any other accolade that is valued by society. But we are honored by God, if we honor God. What God has established in each of us will not fade away.

His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun.
It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies. Selah “ (Verses 36-37)

You are worthy, beloved reader. And I, with all my faults and failings, am worthy too. We have been called to live for God. And we shall do so with all the strength and power we possess.