Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – Being a “presence”, and doing “good” at “good” times

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.” (Luke 14:1)

I am running a little behind, beloved reader. Not that you will notice, but it is already Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) when I am sitting down to write this. After sunset, so technically no longer the Sabbath. I had the day off from work Friday, and by the time I got back I was tired enough that I could not think to write. And Saturday during daylight, time just flew by! So here I am Saturday night doing Friday’s “work.”

My “working” on the Sabbath/Saturday would have provoked more comment back in the time of Jesus then it does now. The verses that the lectionary does not include describes Jesus healing someone who needed to be healed, and should not have had to wait until the next day. Maybe in the same way writing these posts is important enough work to break the no working rule of the Sabbath. I hope so, because tomorrow/Sunday I will have to write the post for Saturday!

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Verses 7 – 11)

In thinking about these verses and the parable, I humorously compared it to seating as church, where some pews (whether they be the front or back or the sides) are seen to be more favored. Or the “right” to sit at the end of the pew and then be told by the usher to move down!

O beloved reader! Humanity does like its status and symbol, and does these as rights rather than privileges. Jesus is correct that it would be humbling to be asked to move; and exalting to be invited to a more favored spot.

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Verses 12-14)

Scripture does not say for sure, but I have my doubts that Jesus was invited back! Do you seek to curry favor, beloved reader? Some one I know commented that some politicians seem to have planned out each speech, presentation, and statement etc to make a certain impression or present a certain image. I imagine that goes to the heart of politics, and may be why I don’t have much patience with it. That is not to say I am not concerned with my own image; but I try to be true to who I am and not invite or create false impressions. I don’t know if I am humble; I think it would be counter-indicative to try to “curry” humbleness. And when offering hospitality, I don’t expect to be repaid. Be aware, beloved reader, that offering hospitality can be done in many ways. Being “hospitable”, caring, giving etc needs to be done freely without of reward or reciprocation. Thus endth the lesson – mind and Jesus’! May you carry these lessons with you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – J’accuse!

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?” (Jeremiah 2:4 – 6)

I have long admired the audacity and “chutzpah” of the prophets in being open to hearing the word of God and putting those thoughts/emotions into word, and then speaking them out loud. {That is as close, beloved reader, as I will come to telling you the Old Testament is inerrant.}

The writer of Jeremiah uses reverse logic to set up the argument (i.e. persuasive point) that the Lord took good care of the house of Jacob and all the families of Israel.

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.” (Verse 7)

Consider that this might have been written many generations after the house of Jacob et all was brought out of Egypt and into new land. Then apply this to those who came to North America as “pilgrims” seeking religious freedom. What do you think the Lord would say to us as descendants of these pilgrims? Have we “defiled” the land our spiritual forebearers were lead to?

The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.” (Verses 8 to 11)

Let us stop and consider what we have read in this passage just above. The religious leaders did not seem to know God or God’s laws. And they sought not the Lord God but other gods. Gods that promised delights of this world and not anything that lasts. The people stand accused too, of seeking other gods and straying away from the one God. And this, the writer of Jeremiah says, is dreadful!

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 12 – 13)

It is a terrible thing, beloved reader, to stand accused because of the actions of others. Surely amongst all the people at the time the prophet Jeremiah was prophesying/this was being written there were people still faithful to God. And the same is true today. But humanity stands accused. In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, is one was guilty all were guilty. It is not quite the same today, thankfully. We realize that each person in their own heart has to answer for his/her actions. If you stood accused, beloved reader, what would you say? What would you answer this accusation with?


Season After Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – Good teachings from Paul

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1 -2)

The writer of Hebrews (attributed to Paul) gives his listeners good advice about living a Christian life. One of the hallmarks of a Christian life to be kind and generous not only to those you know, but those you do not know. And those that you may not know of, unless you asked about them and were concerned.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” (Verse 3)

For the early church it was not beyond reason to think that those they knew, and felt close to, might be in prison and might be tortured. Being a Christian was not without risks, and could be brutally punished. Paul would know these things, having once been Saul.

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Verse 4)

Then Paul sort of, to my way of thinking, digresses a bit. I am not sure why marriage as a practice was mentioned here. But I am sure Paul had a good reason; and note, beloved reader, in this portion of scripture Paul does not define marriage, but asks that it be honored. So let us not place more on/in the passage than what is there.

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,

The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Verses 5 to 6)

Then, as now, the accumulation of wealth, financial resources/possession and influence was a common pursuit; and regard was often given to those with the most and not necessarily those who lived the more authentic Christian life. Going from one social strata to another was not often heard of, so one’s position in life at birth would probably be the same one at one’s passing. Paul tells his readers not to be afraid or concerned about such realities. The Lord does not honor such things, but helps those whose lives are stressed and strained; however, one must not expect that help to be assistance to a more affluent way of life! And if there was any question as to how to live . . .

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Verse 7)

This final verse might be one that we modern readers should take special note of. While life circumstances and perspectives may change and evolve . . .

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Verse 8)

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Verses 15-16)

If in Paul’s time when the expectation was that Jesus would return soon and so worldly concerns should not have been held tightly, how more so is it a struggle and sacrifice today to share and to good to others when it means having less for one’s self. And with that thought, I will close. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – My reflections, and your responsive prayer

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
When I first started seminary, I was not entirely sure I was doing the right thing. I kept searching for confirmation that the call I felt I had from God was a true one. It was often my prayer that I would not be put to shame.

“In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.”
What I realized, years after the fact, is that a call from God is simply that – God calling you forward. It does not mean that any great burden is placed on you. I kept thinking I had to become some different than who I already was, or that there was something in me lacking that needed to be learned or acquired.

“Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”
It was not that I needed to learn or grow into a different role. It simply meant that God desired me to learn more about faith, spirituality, the Divine, and myself. What I learned in seminary was to be a better me – more fully the me that God had always intended me to be. And along the way I learned how to help other people develop into the person that God intended them to be. In a sense, to develop the aware that God is a “rock of refuge” and a “strong fortress” for eveyone.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.”

Salvation is a gift that is given to all humanity – each individual in humanity. We just have to search the Divine long enough to find the gift of salvation that has our name on it. It is there, isn’t just that not everyone searches for it. And we “misplace” or abuse it. And so we have to reaffirm and reclaim the gift. As for being delivered from the “hand of the wicked . . . the grasp of the unjust and cruel” . . . well, that does not always happen the way we think it will. But what is a sure thing is that the Lord is our “hope” and “trust” in a world that seems lacking or devoid of it.

“Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.” (Psalm 71:1-6)

This has been a pretty personal reflection on this psalm. I had thought I would right a prayer in response to it. But maybe it is better, beloved reader, for you to say your own prayer in response to it, speaking to the Lord God the things that come forth from you heart in response to the psalmist words. For I know the Lord God will hear you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Going and speaking in the Lord God

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” they asked me. And I answered one thing, and then another. Turns out, in way, I did not do any of the things I thought I would; but in another way I am doing everything I thought I would.

And then I read this passage from Jeremiah. And I think, “that is what I want to be when I ‘grow up’ in the Lord.” I am not sure I ever will grow up into that sort of person. And it might be that the burden is too much to bear if I even did. Maybe, beloved reader, it is not something you would ever want to do – become a message for the Lord. I think it is something wonderful to strive for and be open to. The Lord and all the Heavenly Hosts know that this world need people who seek out God’s words and wisdom, and are not afraid to speak it. Of course there are many who are divided as to what God’s words and wisdom are.

May you, beloved reader, be ready if/when calls you. May the Lord place God’s words in your mouth and send you where the Divine wishes you to go. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – When healing comes

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:10 – 13)

As I looked over the scripture passages for this week, I asked myself which one feels closer to where I am today. And of course, having dealt with a new aspect of my health today, I chose this one to write on. I had asked the Lord to heal me from this most recent ailment. But decided the Divine was pushing me to Urgent Care as opposed to a miracle. I may still be cured, and when the cure/healing comes, I am sure it will feel like a tremendous relief. But I am just starting on the course of treatment, and relief seems like a long way off. Would that it was instantaneous!

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” (Verses 14 -17)

I have not been ill for eighteen years, but it is getting close to that. And they have been long years. Through those years I have been praising God; not that I count that to my credit. The credit belongs the God’s Spirit who has walked with me. And even that God’s Spirit has been with me is not credit to me but to the perseverance of the Spirit that is steadfast.

I imagine too this “bent” woman had been coming to the synagogue faithfully and carrying out the prescribed practices of worshiping God. Do not think, beloved reader, that the spirit that crippled her had done in her spirit. She knew who to praise! And I suspect she knew who had healed her as well.

I have said before that I do not ask for and expect healing from the serious of my illness. This current relatively minor ear ache that I have right now aside, God has been faithful in getting me through each day. And I see a greater miracle in that then in instant healing. But do not let me dissuade you, beloved reader, from asking for healing for yourself. And may you praise God whenever the Lord touches your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – The Lord God, when the Divine shakes things up

It has been a long hard day, beloved reader. And while I do not particularly want to tackle an intense passage such as the writer of Hebrews writes (yes, it is attributed to Paul), it would give me a sense of accomplishment, and that would be a good thing after such a day. And as I prepare myself to delve into Pauline thought, I have to admit . . . it not have been easy for Paul to explain to his readers what he wanted to say.

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)

Unlike the Hebrews who were called out of Egypt, Paul’s readers (and us) can not go to a physical place to hear God’s word and receive God’s guidance. But that was a terrifying place, and perhaps it is just as well that is not possible. But, that also means that God is not accessible to us in the same way that the Lord was on Mount Sinai. And furthermore, the Holy Spirit is an intangible thing, hard to understand and even harder to grasp.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)

But, Paul says, you can come to the spiritual city of God. It is not as frightening. But neither is is tangible – that is, experienced bodily. And while Paul and others may have a strong sense of it as a spiritual place, that ability rests on one’s own faith life and experience. With my insight that Paul might have been struggling to explain this concept, I can understand and appreciate his hoping and praying that his readers understood what he meant, and had experienced it for themselves. Paul rushes on to give his exhortation.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. (Verses 25 – 29)

Let me digress just a little. You know, Paul heard God’s voice on the road to Damascus; or depending on your interpretation, he heard Jesus’ voice after Jesus had returned to heaven and took on his Divine aspect. So even if Paul was not there when God rumbled on Mount Sinai, Paul had experienced God/Jesus’ voice. But his readers did not even have that.

It is different when one does not have a concrete experience of the Divine. I am not saying it is not possible, nor that it no longer happens. It is just harder. Jesus said to Thomas, blessed are those who have seen and believed. But blessed also (perhaps even more so?) are those who have not seen but believe. That would be us, beloved reader.

I do not know what your road to believe was, beloved reader. I do not know how physically experiential it was. It is not my place to know or inquire. It is my place, however, to hope and pray that your encounter with the Divine has established and nurtured your relationship with the Divine. That you are steady in the Lord, unshaken in your faith. Selah!