Second Sunday of Lent, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Keeping faith alive & well – wherever and whatever its beginnings, & however it is lived out: Preacher & Seeker guide us

Seeker: “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!”

Preacher: Are you intending this as a call to current believers or a retrospective on what was in the past, Seeker?

Seeker: True, it does call out to the ancient called and chosen people. But it could be to the current generation – if they consider themselves offspring of Jacob and Israel. There are so many threads of Christian from so may cultural heritages. There was a time we could talk about having the same spiritual forebearers and ancestors, but even that is stretching the connections now. I am not saying this is a bad thing; far from it. I think this is what Jesus Christ and the Divine intended. It is just that our common frame of reference is getting thin and sparse. Praise the Divine for the translators and preachers who take up the delicate and important task of presenting the Word of the Lord God to believers throughout the global community!

Preacher: My simple question sparked something in you, didn’t Seeker?

Seeker: I guess it did Preacher. I know when I first came to faith, I wondered what some of the passages meant when they harked back to the time Old Testament. The New Testament seems easy to grasp. But the Old Testament seemed to concern a people so long past that I wondered at times what I had in common with them. And the Yahweh they worshiped.

Preacher: I know what you mean, Seeker. I sometimes wonder too if the story of the ancient called and chosen people is a story of people going astray, or people finding a new way to believe in the Divine. It seems best to think of it a both.

Seeker: Then there is the challenge of deciding if God’s wrath or mercy is the take away from the stories.

Preacher: “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.”

Seeker: “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.”

Preacher: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!”

Seeker: It is good for me to remember that King David showed the heart and temperament of a man after God’s own heart. And yet David made mistakes in his life but ultimately did not keep him from the Divine.

Preacher: David’s life is a good example of the Lord God’s wrath tempered by mercy and love. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.”

Seeker: “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.”

Preacher: You said an interesting thing, Seeker. That a common Christian heritage is harder and harder to envision. I am sure the disciples/apostles felt the same way. When the gospel and faith spread to the Gentiles, the Jews had to work to accept it. In our modern times, we seem to have an easier time accepting the presence of Christianity in cultures far from the northern western hemisphere. But at the same time we have a hard time accepting people who live out their Christianity in ways that seem to conflict with each other. For all that we have moved forward, we have not gotten any better at accepting diversity in Christian beliefs. Admittedly some ways that people live out their Christian lives chafe. And that chafing irritates; and the irritation causes conflict, aggression, hate and violence. We can see that and acknowledge it. I have to wonder at times if we compromise our Christian ideals when we are too judgmental of other Christians.

Seeker: Preacher, as always, you raise uncomfortable questions that strike at the conscience and force us to reflect on what we have done, for good or ill; and what we should do to live a better Christian life.

Preacher: “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.” (Psalm 22:23-31)

Seeker: Shalom & Selah, Preacher, Shalom & Selah!

First Sunday of Lent, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Experiencing the Divine . . . . all over again: Preacher & Seeker show the way

Preacher: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.”

Seeker: I can imaging Jesus the Messiah praying such a prayer while in the wilderness, striving with the wild beasts, debating with Satan, and being grateful for the ministrations of the angels.

Preacher: That is a wonderful image, Seeker. Both a prayer of petition and thankfulness for blessings and mercies received.

Seeker: “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.”

Preacher: I imagine the psalmist must have had times of testing, to have penned such a prayer and entreaty to the Divine.

Seeker: “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.”

Preacher: It is hard for me to imagine though, that Jesus needed to ask the Divine for guidance.

Seeker: I was thinking the same thing, Preacher. We do not know, do we, how much of Jesus’ humanity was intermingled with the Divinity that was his birthright. But if Jesus prayed for knowledge and strength, we who are completely human should do it more often than we do currently.

Preacher: No matter how much we do know, Seeker?

Seeker: Yes, Preacher. If, as you have taught me, prayer is simply conversation and communion with the Divine, then we should all pray more – no matter how much we pray now.

Preacher: You have learned well, Seeker, and you teach & remind me of these things.

Seeker: “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!”

Preacher: Here the character and knowledge of the psalmist comes through – the mercy and the steadfast love the Lord is well established in his experience. That is also something that should be established in our experience.

Seeker: I am not sure what you mean, Preacher? The mercy of the Lord is unshakable fact, and the love the Lord has is ongoing stretching back to the beginning of creation and stretching forward to the end of time. How could it be more established? Or more experienced?

Preacher: We can know of the existence of something that is far away from us, see pictures of it, have it taught to us. But until we have invited it our lives and incorporated it into our being, we have not fully experienced it. The psalmist says, “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.” (Psalm 25:1-10)

Seeker: And if we do not receive and use that instruction, humble ourselves, and follow the paths of the Lord, we are lost. That is a Lenten journey, but it is done life long. I know of some who live that life.

Preacher: Shalom & Selah, Seeker, Shalom & Selah!

Ash Wednesday in Lent, Yr B, 2021: A goodly collection of scripture – Re-framing Lent

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near – a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. . . . . Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Joel 2:1 – 2, 12 – 13)

Ash Wednesday. Tradition says the palm leaves from last Easter are saved and then burnt to ash and used to smug the forehead with a cross. Actually, it is a tradition I like. As you may have gathered, beloved reader, I coming to the season of Lent with a different perspective. I am looking for signs and symbols of hope and renewal rather than assuming there will be sadness and penance. Maybe because 2020 was a year of sadness, and I want to move on from that.

“Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 14 – 17)

I can no longer countenance a season of the church year where we forget all the good that has come in our faith and spiritual lives, and focus only on the gloom and foreboding. Let us no approach this season assuming we are lost. Jesus Christ did not assume that humanity would be lost, but through his journey and mission that humanity would be found and saved.

It is hard though. The scripture of Lent is doom and gloom.

“Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” (Isaiah 58:1 – 5)

But it is the doom and gloom of people who h ave left their faith and their faith practices far behind. They are called to task, and right so. The writer of Isaiah blasts his readers with their sins. But there is also instruction to redeem and correct themselves.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 6 – 12)

Celebration during Lent? Is it a possible thing? If we left up petition and intercession, and we receive the grace and mercy of the Divine, should we not celebrate that?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:1 – 17)

Here we have the psalmist, through his prayer of petition and intercession, showing us joy comes when we humbly place ourselves before the Divine; and pledge to live an accountable life. We cannot, beloved reader, turn our backs on all that we have learned just because the turning of the calendar pages brings us to Lent. We also have Paul exhorting and teaching us.

“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” ( II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10)

Perhaps we have not endured what Paul did. And maybe we think we have to endure hardship in order to win grace, mercy, redemption and salvation. But even Paul says it is not works that win us the mercy & favor of the Divine. In fact, it is not “winning” at all but accepting the gift that is given to us, and believing in the Giver; and then pledging our lives to the Lord God that made it possible.

Maybe the lesson to be learned this Lent season is be both humble and joyful in our faith.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ( Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)

Ash Wednesday. A day to remember where we may have gone wrong. But a day also to remember that we have strived to be faithful and accountable. We wear the ashes of last year’s Easter. That reminds us that we can have hope because we were rescued and redeemed; and it will not wash or wear away as the soot from the burnt palm leaves does. Our faith lasts! From season to season, and year to year – our faith lasts and endures! Shalom & Selah!

Transfiguration Sunday, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker talk about potential impact of the Transfiguration

Preacher: In the story of Jesus’ ministry on earth, there are few and select times that the reader of the gospels is reminded that the Divine and Jesus had and maintained a very vital and distinct connection. Transfiguration Sunday is one of those important and peak times.

Seeker: And the disciples who witnessed it did not understand it very well, at the time. Obviously it became more relevant to them; or one assumes so since it was mentioned.

Preacher: Also interestingly, this occurrence did not prompt them to explore, more than they did, the connection between Jesus and the Divine.

Seeker: Perhaps, for the disciples, a connection was made between them and the divinity that they came to realize was a part of Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus the Risen Lord became their Divine. It does, however, set to one side the Divinity that the psalmist spoke of. “The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” (Psalms 50:1 – 2) Do you think, Preacher, that the disciples viewed the Psalms in a different way?

I think, for the disciples, the invocation of the Lord God that the psalmist makes may attributed to Jesus in his being taken up to heaven and rejoining the Lord God they knew as Yahweh. It would be interesting know, however, how they incorporated the psalmist’s perspective, “Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” (Verses 3 – 5)

Seeker: I see your point, Preacher. And I have to think about what the disciples turned apostles said about the impetus to turn to the Lord God and ask for forgiveness of sins. And Paul’s exhortation to come to belief. The way would be “gentle” because Jesus Christ was gentle. But the results & consequences of not coming to belief would be hard because of the high and holy expectations of the Lord God they called Yahweh & Adonai. “The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah” (Verse 6)

Preacher: Seeker, that may have been one of the reason Jesus warned them not to speak of what they saw until after Jesus had established his divinity. There still is so many things we do not understand yet; so many aspects of Jesus’ ministry that are still a mystery! For those things we do not understand, we just have to take it on faith. For now, it serves as the point in the Christian Lectionary year that we move into the Lenten journey.

Seeker: Yes, as Jesus turns towards his final journey to Jerusalem, we turn to the consideration of Lent; and then Easter. And I will keep in mind the pivotal event of Transfiguration, and what it means for the gospel & our belief system.

Preacher: Shalom & Selah!

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Understandable what the Lord God Jesus Christ started, & being aware of the implications: Preacher & Seeker talk about it

Preacher: “Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.”

Seeker: When Jesus healed the mother-in-law of Simon, it case Jesus into the limelight. And in order to prepare for it, Jesus went to a deserted place and prayed. It seems that when the Divine is in heaven, dealing with the adoration, acclaim, and attention is easy to do, and welcome. But Jesus needed to sometimes take some rest and refresh himself.

Preacher: What does that tell you Seeker?

Seeker: The Lord Jesus was human and subject to human weakness. We talk about that and know that, but we are not always attentive to those “human” moments when we read scripture.

Preacher: “The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. “

Seeker: No wonder some of the Jews and some of the Jewish leaders could not wrap their minds around the concept that a man who got dirty and tired was also the Son of the Most High. They put the Divine up on such a high pedestal that they were sure Yahweh would never come down. “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.”

Preacher: And the disciples grew up with these psalm passages ringing in their ears; praise and worship of Yahweh was what they knew and expected. The Jews knew the Lord they worshiped could heal. It was a surprise to them that the Healing Lord was among them.

Seeker: “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.” They knew and beloved that God would take care of them. He was HERE though, taking care of them!

Preacher: Jesus had a long uphill battle to convince his disciples and the people who came to believe that the Lord God was both above them looking out for them, and among them caring for them.

Seeker: Preacher, it is sad to say, but I do not think Jesus would have the same welcome here that he had then. We have comes so far in our spiritual and faith understandings, it is true. But the Jesus that was born to Mary and Joseph would not be understood in this current era. We need Jesus – there is no doubt of that! But which aspect of the myriad of aspects and traits of Jesus would work best?!

Preacher: Fortunately, we do not need to know that. Or maybe, just as true, all the aspects would be needed in order to reach our global community. But the good thing is, with Jesus working through us by the inspiration of the Holy Presence, the Divine can reach everyone in the way they are best reached. A foundation was laid down for converts in becoming Christians to carry the gospel to all places. We can see how sometimes established biblical canon is not what is needed to touch the hearts of non-believers. Seeker, can you imagine how overjoyed the Divine is that this spiritual foundation has grown, multiplied, and spread throughout the global community!

Seeker: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Sometimes, Preacher, I feel like humanity has drifted so far from authentic faith and belief – a gentle compassionate merciful belief – but then we talk, and my hope is restored!

Preacher: “Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 147:1-11, 20c)

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Inspired & uplifted when you check in with teaching & authority

In early January I began feeling restless when thinking about pondering on scripture and writing my reflections. I felt like I had gotten into a rut, and was simply rephrasing and emphasizing scripture passages. Last time I felt like this, I decided to create a new blog and move from “A Simple Desire” to this blog, “Pondering From the Pacific”. It worries me, beloved reader, that I am restless again. But maybe it should not. Maybe being “restless” means it is time for me to explore different ways about thinking and talking about scripture. I had determined, early in January, to talk more about my thinking has lead when I read scripture, and less about “parroting” the scripture back to you, beloved reader. But I would fall into the “trap” of feeling the beauty of the words written, and let that be as far as my thinking went. I wanted to write in my own voice, not the scripture writer. After all, that is why a started a new blog; to write about the intersection point of scripture and daily living. But if it is all about scripture, there is no intersection.

“Preacher & Seeker” were one way to get outside of myself; but after awhile they started to sound like the “old” me. And when they did not, I felt like I was hiding behind a construct; and worse yet, trapped by it. The psalms were the hardest to speak to without preaching, and using “Preacher & Seeker” turned into “hear this, insert brief comment, hear that, insert brief comment.”

So here we are, at the psalms passage. And I have no idea which direction to go. I am in a word, stuck. I will try, however, to clear out the roadblock and move forward.

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” (Psalm 111:1)

The psalmist says he will give thanks “in the company of the upright.” If we take him at his word, that means in a comfortable and familiar place, with people who think as he does. Kind of like here, within my blog. It seems as much as I try to controversial, I strike a “pleasing chord” and it melds into what others have said.

Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.” (Verse 2)

That is in congregations; faith circles that are well established. Even IF it is a faith circle that does not share your beliefs and is therefore controversial to you, within each individual faith circle there is really new and radical stuff. In current society, the new and radical is shouted down and those who caused the ruffling of feathers find more amiable places with people who think like them. This is true in both religious and non-religious circles. I am not accusing or condoning – just starting fact.

“Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.” (Verses 3 – 6)

The Israelites (that is, the ancient called and chosen people) depended heavily on Yahweh backing them up 100%. Knowing the favor of the Lord was upon them at first made them brave enough to become a distinct people. But over time they became complacent, and then slipped in being faith to the spirit and intent of their faith. The psalmist is very steeped in the assurance.

“The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Being complacent- that is, feeling assurance that you are doing the right thing from generation to generation because you are following in the footsteps of the previous generation – is actually a dangerous thing. If those around you and those who came before you did a thing, the reasoning goes, then it must be all right for you to do it. But what if small errors crept in? And those errors became confirmed, which lead to more wrong thinking?

Every once in a while you have to raise your head up from traditional thinking and ways, and make sure you are headed in the correct direction. I get this image of “the company of the upright, in the congregation” actually bending forward at the waist with their hand on the back of the person in front of them and simply following the one before them.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.” (Verse 11)

Fearing something means that you keep your eye on it; watching it & seeing where it goes and what it does. Now we know that fear of the Lord is not shivering and quaking that your body/being is going to be harmed. It is having acute awareness and proper respect for the Divine.

The psalmist may have shared his words of praise in a group, but I think it most likely that he expected each individual to consider him/her self, and keep themselves reoriented to it wisdom and value.

I am hoping, beloved reader, to be more aware when I write and not fall back on to old and former patterns. I want to ponder anew, not just remember what I have said in the past. It will be a spiritual discipline, I am sure. And it will actually require me to pay more attention to scripture, and to the Holy Presence that guides me. Shalom & Selah!

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Listening for the Divine: Preacher & Seeker are absent

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Psalm 62:5)

No “Preacher & Seeker” today, beloved reader. It surely is apparent that I am both Preacher and Seeker. I think to one degree or another we all are. There is the “Preacher” part of us, which is based on our experience of the Divine and the religious instruction we have received. That may have been from a fellow believer, minister, instructor or professor – or from the Holy Presence. And there is the “Seeker” part of us who longs to know more and expresses an understanding that reflects our learning curve. In my writings sometimes “Seeker” has wonderful insights and instructs “Preacher”; our desire to learn more about the Lord God pushes our growing edge and informs that part of us which holds confirmed understandings, as well as challenging them. There was a time, when I first started using that motif, that Preacher always taught and Seeker always was the learner and the one new in faith. But that did not reflect me, in my faith, so the two intermingled to become a duet in speaking to and about scripture.

Today, however, the line between the two is too close to use one voice, or the other – perhaps both at the same time. I think it is more likely, however, that I am sitting in silence.

“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” (Verse 6)

I am firm in the Lord, even if silence is my mode of communication. Or at least that is what I aspire to. Maybe it is my “shakiness” that makes me reluctant to take on the duet of voices. I do not feel sure enough to “preach”; and I do not feel strong enough to “seek.” So in silence I read this passage.

“On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Verses 7 – 8)

How Preacher and/or Seeker would would in a clear and strong voice proclaim this. Maybe one or the other would give testimony to it. Me, I “climb” upon these words clinging to the footholds to get above the turmoil that I feel around me. I would try to pour out my heart, but most probably the Holy Spirit would to speak for me, for my groans are too deep for words.

“Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (Verses 9 – 10)

Here the psalmist and I agree; we cannot put stock and faith into what the world values.

“Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.” (Verses 11 – 12)

At this words, my head lifts up from my Mighty Rock, my Refuge. My being belong to the Divine, and the Divine has shown to be steadfast in love. And I have worked for the Lord, under the Guidance of the Holy Presence, and feeling the blessing of the Divine. I can therefore hope the grace and mercy of the Lord God will be with me.

As this new year flows past us, beloved reader, may you – at times – listen in silence to the Lord God. And may you find the refuge and strength that you need. Shalom & Selah!

Second Sunday after Epiphany, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Being pivotal to the Divine

Preacher: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.”

Seeker: The Divine sees in every part of me – I know I should be nervous about that, wondering whether I am deemed worthy in spite all times and places I have done wrong.

Preacher: “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.”

Seeker: But I am calmed and reassured because I know the Divine loves me. That Jesus Christ has made me acceptable to the Lord God.

Preacher: “You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”

Seeker: Moreover, the Lord God calls on me and invites me to participate in the Divine’s mission and purpose in the world.

Preacher: “Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.”

Seeker; If I were to depend on my human self and human will, then I would be afraid. But I have asked my Lord God to be with me all my days and in every way. Therefore I can step out confidently, as long as I trust in the Lord.

Preacher: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

Seeker: If I am right with the Lord, I do not feel the weight of the world on me. I feel the comforting hand of the Lord on me and upholding me.

Preacher: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.”

Seeker: It is true though, sometimes I doubt. And when I doubt, I fear. And when I fear, I can feel that I have stepped away from the Lord and I am alone. The Lord God still knows me, but in my foolishness I “forget” the Lord.

Preacher: That is a moving confession, Seeker. It also may very likely echo the feelings of the psalmist. That as magnificent as the Divine is, we fall short of what we are offered in mercy and grace. Not that we are not worthy, but that we forget that the Lord God finds us worthy and we stumble into sin because of forgetfulness and fear.

Seeker: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Preacher: I confess that I forget it was the Lord who formed me, and I think I can accomplish more than my grasp and understanding can reach.

Seeker: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”

Preacher: I have to remind myself that my true strength comes from the Lord. I was made so that the Lord might work through me.

Seeker: “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”

Preacher: It is a precious gift & blessing that the Lord has chosen humanity to reveal the Divine. Each of us was designed to play a part in this world. We do not know that part, and it can cause us to doubt. And yes, doubt leads to sin. But, even our sins are known to the Divine.

Seeker: “Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

Preacher: That comforts me to, that despite all the things I will do, I am still a child of the Divine.

Seeker: “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” Preacher, how can those who do not find their life, rest, and comfort in the Lord survive this world?

Preacher: It is not just this world that is the concern, Seeker. It is the world to come. Will they have a place in it? We need to say with the psalmist, “I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18)

Seeker: Shalom and Selah, Preacher, Shalom & Selah!

Baptism of the Lord, Yr B, 2021: Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker declare, “We will praise again and again!”

Seeker: Preacher, do you want me to start or do you want to?

Preacher: It does not matter to me, Seeker. The Advent & Christmas season is a time of such praise, that one might get a little weary. And then the Epiphany comes, and the feast of the baptism of Jesus. I find myself longing for Ordinary time when the paces is slower.

Seeker: “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.”

Seeker: I sort of know how you feel. The Heavenly Beings must not be of a nature that tire or become weary.

Preacher: The Heavenly Beings were designed to praise the Lord Jesus and the Divine. It is not something that the consciously chose, but they simply give forth praise. We, on the other hand Seeker, must chose to praise. And we need to find or compose the words while the Heavenly Beings seem to simply open their mouths and out it comes.

Seeker: But the psalmist has written so many praises, Preacher.

Preacher: Over a life time, Seeker. Not in just a few weeks. And it is not just in my nature to just open my mouth and praise the Divine without my spirit being actively participating and moved.

Seeker: I appreciate your honesty, Preacher. Moreover, I dare to say, the Divine appreciates that your praise is from your whole being. I think that is why, or at least one of the reasons why, the Divine created humanity with free will so that praise would be genuine.

Preacher: Oh Seeker, you are so good for me! You remind me of what new faith looks and sounds like, and moves me to renew my own! “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.”

Seeker: “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.”

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.”

Seeker: Preacher, your mature faith fans the flames of my new faith. “The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.”

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” Seeker, we are blessed to have each other. To encourage and comfort each other. To hold each other accountable. The faith journey is easier when we do not travel alone.

Seeker: Then let us praise the Lord that we have each other! “The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

Preacher: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.”

Seeker & Preacher: “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!(Psalm 29)

Epiphany of the Lord, Yr B, 2021: Gospel & Psalm Passages – Preacher & Seeker celebrate the day

Preacher: Seeker, come listen to the story of the Magi coming to the infant Jesus. This is one of the foundational stories of Epiphany. Receive it as a child would, for you are a child of the Divine. And if you are moved, speak as the Spirit leads you. And rejoice in this story!

Seeker: Preacher, I am glad to have this invitation. And I will respond as the Spirit prompts and moves within my thinking.

Preacher: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:1 – 2)

Seeker: They were seeking Jesus, the Messiah. But they did not know him as such; only what they had heard from faraway. Astronomers, maybe. Or mystics discerning the heavens and its movement. The Lord God calls many, in many different ways.

Preacher: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” (Verses 3 – 6)

Seeker: Oh, this does not bode well. Herod would not welcome any rival to his leadership and authority. I would not trust him! Surely the mystical Magi did not trust him either! I note that Herod did not have this information but relied on others to inform him. Were those chief priests and scribes leaders in the temple or synagogue, and of the same ilk that Jesus confronted in his lifetime? Oh no! This does not bode well at all!

Preacher: “Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Verses 7 – 11)

Seeker: There are many components to this section. First, Herod is disguising his true purpose. We know what his intent might be, but the wise men did not. How typical of worldly wisdom, that it knows great facts but does not know the hearts and minds of the human spirit. And the wise men entered a house? Not a stable? The writer of Matthew seems to have written a slightly different story in his account. And the gifts they brought were more suited for a king in a mighty palace, and not an infant child in lowly housing. Yet maybe this windfall helped Joseph and Mary; like a nest egg or a down payment on a better life for their child. How the Divine works things out, right Preacher? I have heard the three gifts have significance, especially myrrh. Foreshadowing to be sure. And sweet Mary took all of this in, I am sure, and pondered it in her heart.

Preacher: You are delightful, Seeker! Just the sort of responses and thoughts I was hoping for! Let us finish this story. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Verse 12)

Seeker: Yeah! The wise men got wise and outsmarted Herod! I am sure that frustrated him greatly! But I also know how he took out his frustrations. That is tragic. Often, too often, with a gain there is also loss. What a legacy to launch the infant Jesus!

Preacher: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1 – 3)

Seeker: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.” (Psalm 72:1 – 3)

Preacher: “Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. (Isaiah 60:4)

Seeker: “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. (Isaiah 60:5)

Preacher: The writer of Isaiah seems to have foreseen the honor that would come to the infant Jesus.

Seeker: That seems to be true. However, as you well know Preacher, honor of the highest order would have been given whoever the Divine sent. On the other hand, the writer of Isaiah does seem to have seen to the future. “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6)

Preacher: You are also correct, Seeker, on both counts. The Messiah that the Jews of Jesus’ time expected was, and was not, foretold.“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.(Psalm 72: 4 – 7)

Seeker: Epiphany is the revelation that within Jesus Christ was the imprint of the Divine, more exact in him than in anyone before or since. I know, Preacher, that is understating the case. In actuality and reality Jesus was the Divine. The praise that the writer of Isaiah and the Psalms gives great praise to the revealed Jesus. While I hesitate to say it, I think it is not enough praise.

Preacher: “May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.” (Psalm 72: 10 11)

Seeker: That is the Magi. An accurate foretelling yes, but could also be seen as kings from afar coming to the court of the new king to curry favor.

Preacher: You give pointed critique to the psalmist. I think you have learned that from me. The psalmist was right in the next verses though. “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72: 11 – 14)

Seeker: Yes, the psalmist has seen into the heart of Jesus. Or, assumes that a King and Lord who will be appointed by the Divine will have higher standards than any other king. He was right in that. And we are right to use such passages for this time of Epiphany. But let us not forget that any human praise will fall short of completely describing the Divine.

Preacher: Because we are only human and limited in our understanding of the Lord God who is unlimited. And yet the Divine came to us in a form that would fit into our limited understanding, and then gave opportunity for our understanding to grow. You yourself are proof of this Seeker. Your understanding has grown. With the words of the writers of the Bible we can expand our praise, adoration, and worship, and in that way bring us ever closer to the Divine.

Seeker: Shalom & Selah, Preacher. Shalom & Selah!