Season After Pentecost – Look to those less fortunate among us! (The Old Testament Passage)

The book of Proverbs is one piece of good advice after another. While educational and illuminating, it can become tiring. Not everyone wants to be taught and instructed every moment of the day. If the book of Proverbs can be something we “dip” into when we need to learn a “life lesson”, then it is a very good book.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.”
(Proverbs 22:1-2)

The theme of the selections from the book of Proverbs for this week seems to center on those who are low or do not have resources for daily living – in other words, they are poor. Other than what is in the pocket book and bank account, there really is no difference between the poor and the rich. Possession, affluence, and position gives the false appearance that there is.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.”
(Verses 8-9)

I have to wonder, beloved reader, is it implicit upon us to go out and offer our personal bread to the poor? That is, to phrase it differently, are we expected to travel the highways and byways pressing our bread onto those who look like they are in need? What if such generosity was an attitude that every person had, and when presented with a need sought to meet it? Would that fulfill the meaning of verse 9? Verse 8 it is easier to understand and fulfill; deal fairly and compassionately with all you meet, extending to them grace and mercy.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.” (Verses 22-23)

These verses from Proverbs set the tone for how we should treat others who have encountered grave misfortune. I have a feeling in the times when the book of Proverbs was being written, and no doubt when Jesus walked their earth, the poor were on every street corner. And the opportunity to share bread, or conversely to crush them where they were, was quite common. In our modern world it is not quite like that. Oh, the poor are there! Have not doubt! But we do not encounter them in the same way, and we may not have readily at hand the means to help them out of their difficulty. It seems like such a small thing to say we must have a compassionate attitude when simply having a Christian attitude may not meet their daily needs.

Beloved reader, let each of us do what we can for those we meet who need help, and perhaps working together we can ease the suffering in our world. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Doing what is right and good for all (The Epistles Passage)

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)

There is a story circulating around on the internet, last appearing a good many months ago, of a minister who dressed up/down as a homeless person and appeared at church – just to see how his congregation would react. Yes, they failed that “hospitality” test!

I also heard from a friend about a church within her denomination who adamantly opposed any social or evangelical out reach, saying that is not the “purpose” of the church. Sadly there are not enough welcoming churches. I do not know the estimate of how many people are without housing or financial resources to meet their daily needs, but I suspect it is more people who go to church. Yet, if each person would help just one person, we could probably meet the needs of most of the homeless and needy. And even if it does not, the gratitude of those who are helped will make our efforts worthwhile!

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:5-7)

But I digress. The writer of James is not talking about social outreach but welcoming all people into your fellowship group. And the shame of giving preference to the rich over the poor. Although I would caution the writer of James that not all people who are rich as out to oppress the poor. Where we read in the gospels of Jesus scolding and chiding the Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes and others is where, I think, the writer of James is taking his perspective

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (Verses 8-10)

The writer of James goes on to give an example of his point, but the RCL does not always use that portion.

For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Verses 11-13)

Both offenses, committing adultery and committing murder, are serious offenses; but I think the writer of James is setting the crime of partiality in a serious light by comparing it to the seriousness of murder. A good insight in to his thinking and the vehemence of his exhortation.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” ( Verses 14-17)

The writer of James has brought himself around to what I said several paragraphs back, that supplying help and assistance to those in need is a vital part of Christian living. The whole issue of faith in the Christian life, and good works in the Christian life is a “hot topic.” The friend I mentioned earlier encountered (or gives report of the encounter) people who see no reason to do “good works” but believe faith is all that is needed. Do not fall into that morass, beloved reader. I hope and pray that you do not! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Issues in Healing (The Gospel Passage)

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:24-30)

Are you a child of God? Of the proper origin? The writer of Mark would make you think that mattered. But I assure you, beloved reader, that it does not. We all want healing, for ourselves and others. But we do not always get it, or get it the way we wanted or thought it should be. Is that because we are not the “correct” type of Christian? That we must hope and beg for the “miracle scraps” that might fall our way? Again, no beloved reader. I cannot tell you why there is so many different types of healing in our modern society – that some are so complete as to be a “miracle” and others so . . . not on target as to seem to be not miracles at all. It is not even, as this story is sometimes understood and interpreted, as a matter of strong enough or correct enough faith. Healing is what it is. But I know, from personal experience, that we are NEVER alone when we are ill, and that God’s Spirit hovers near us always!

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:31-37)

“He has done everything well . . .” This might me (and maybe you, beloved reader) wonder about “incomplete” healing or healing that is not what was desired. If then, in the telling of this story in the gospel of Mark the healing was so “well done” why is healing not “well done” now?! Again, I do not have an answer that satisfies.

And then I remember Paul, who if anyone, deserved “well done” healing. But what he received was God’s assurance that the Lord’s grace would be sufficient for him.

I may have mentioned before, beloved reader, that I have an illness myself, a “thorn in my flesh” that gives me many problems. But I have never questioned way I have not been healed; I don’t know that I really expected to be healed. But what I have found is that God’s grace is more than sufficient. I rely on that grace every day, and many times during the day. But I am straying a bit from the Gospel Passages here.

The Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin got complete healing for her daughter, even if it was miracle crumbs. The deaf man was given his hearing and his speech was cleared up completely – although I suspect that the deafness contributed to his speech problems. The healing that Jesus performed correctly targeted the very need that was presented before him. But what we do not know is what needs Jesus saw that needed to be healed. Can we ask with faith and assurance to allow God/Jesus to do the healing for what is seen as our needs, as opposed to what we think our needs are? Is this the type of faith that the Gentile woman had?

I come back to the phrase in the second scripture passage, “Then looking up to heaven, he [Jesus] sighed . . .” So I consulted a few bible commentators. And they seem to agree that the “sighing” was a response from seeing what “evil” had done in the world, and/or how much suffering there was in the world. And I can believe then that God’s grace is sufficient to relief that.

There are many questions around the whole issue of miraculous healing. And I have few, if any answers. It may well be one of those things that can only be understood completely on the other side of this life.

May you, beloved reader, receive from God the grace and healing that you need in your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Responding to the Call of Love (The Old Testament Passage)

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.”

(Song of Solomon 2:8-9)

It is said, by whom originally I do not know, that marriage is the template for our relationship with God; that is, knowing the Other completely and intimately such that the two are like one. That does not in my opinion, beloved reader, give much credence and support to marriage being for/between male and female only. But it is not my purpose here to pick up that argument.

My purpose for telling you that is to give support to the Song of Solomon being read and accepted as a love poem between Lover and Beloved, and assorted “Friends.” It is the source too of my using “beloved” as a greeting and salutation when I write. There is in the Song of Solomon the one who is be-loved and the one who loves. Gender, while implied in some places, is not firm. (Hmm, maybe I am picking up that “argument” anyway.)

That God loves is without and beyond question. So too is the fact that we are be-loved. But we also love God, and God is be-loved by us. And if the most convenient format and template to talk about that love is as between two human lovers, then let us not rush to place some “biblical commentary” grid or understanding on it.

God and God’s Spirit calls to all of us in and with love. Would we but hear that call and heed it, forming and conforming our lives to it; and then extending that love to others.

“My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

(Verses 10-13)

Come to God, beloved reader! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Living and Loving in the World (The Psalms Passage)

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.”

(Psalms 45:1-2)

Not all biblical passages are story or history, or exhortation or instruction, commandments or proclamation or typical praise and worship. And not all Revised Common Lectionary passages are either. Sometimes, beloved reader, the bible just waxes poetical about wonderful things and wonderful people. Now, bible commentators will tell you these verses are about and directed at the Messiah to come. And I certainly would not be one to say praises and accolades such as this are not appropriate for Christ Jesus. But at its heart, this a love song to the Divine. And it is set to standards of earthly appreciation, not heavenly spiritual attributes. And in verses 1 to 2 it seems like the object of these verses is not the Divine, or else the Divine blesses itself.

Later on in Psalms 45 it seems like there is a shift and God is the one being praised and adored.

Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness.”

(Verses 6-7a)

But by the second half of verse 7 the focus has switched from God to the one God has anointed.

“Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.”

(Verses 7b-9)

The notes that accompany this passage, especially in The Message version, make it abundantly clear it is a poem for a wedding. And I feel it would do a disservice to the psalmist to make it about anything else.

The bible is a book about God’s people; their lives, their successes, their failings. The Old Testament is about God’s people before Christ came to the people in God’s world. The New Testament is about what the situation was at the time Jesus born and what happened in the one hundred or so years after his death. The history of those times and the words that were preserved from those times have been passed on from generation to generation. And great lessons can be learned. But let us not forget those were real people just living out their lives. God had always intended the world to be a place where creation was born, lived, and died. And that God would oversee it all, inviting us to be in relationship with each other and with the Divine.

May you, beloved reader, learn the lessons that are presented to you, and give thanks for the people and blessings that come in this life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Living a “Clean” Life (The Gospel Passage)

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,[a] thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) (Mark 7:1-4)

Cleanliness is next to Godliness. And is also next to healthiness! You have to understand, beloved reader, that without refrigeration or preservatives or any other way of keeping things clean and fresh in the market place, it was important in the home and when away from home to keep things as clean and sanitary as possible. But some Jews took it a step or two (or many steps to far) attaching piety and religious sincerity to what started out as good hygiene practices.

So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” (Verses 5-8)

This is no longer about hygiene practices but attention to minor details but overlooking large truths. Many of the Pharisees and scribes discriminated, marginalized, and dismissed others as unimportant or insignificant, or even as being less valuable and worthwhile then themselves or others in high positions. The Pharisees and scribes that Jesus is critiquing committed acts that violated the Ten Commandments right and left, but felt themselves “clean” because they went through elaborate rituals and ceremonies to “cleanse” themselves. Jesus explains this folly to the crowd.

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”  (Verses 14-15)

It is not the food we eat or the cleanliness of our hands that brings sin into our lives, but out thoughts and actions. Jesus said, . . .

For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Verses 21-23)

Looking back at verse 5, beloved reader, where do you place importance? Human precepts and judgments? Or the commandments of God fulfilling the spirit of the commandments, and what Jesus called the greatest commandment – love and compassion. May your hearts and spirits be “clean”! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Important Instructions for Living

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:17-18)

It is a little like reading the writer of the gospel of John – you have to put yourself in a mindset of spiritual living, and then squint a bit to get the meaning. The writer of James is saying, if I may paraphrase, that anything worth while (love, compassion, caring, mercy etc) comes from God as do the “blessings” that we find. Now, this may be directly from God or because fellow believers act with compassion etc toward one another. And it was God’s intent through Christ to give us this sort of life.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” (Verses 19-21)

Further instructions as to how to live with one another and how to live reflecting God’s mercy and forgiveness of us. It is interesting to think about how the new/early Christians might be receiving this instruction, and for the first time comport their lives according to Jesus’ example. It is “scary”too (at least to me) to think about a world where people do NOT live like this, one with another.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:22-27)

Again, if I would paraphrase verses 23 to 25 I would say, keep God’s word and Christ’s example ever before you so you can and will remember how to act with and interact with others. If you do not, (to continue) then what ever you think your faith and that you are living out – you are fooling yourself. The last verse needs no paraphrase, beloved reader; it is my hope and prayer that this is one of the important focuses of your life. Selah!