Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – A Question of Faith

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.” (Luke 7:1-10)

Healing stories are hard for me right now. And no more so than healing stories that rest on faith and authority. Before I say more, let me look at and consider this story.

The Jewish elders, we can presume, are not of the same ilk that Jesus criticizes but good men in whom leadership and strong belief rest. They undertake to seek out Jesus and on the behalf of this centurion ask that Jesus come and heal the centurion’s slave who he is very fond of. That speaks well of the centurion, and that the Jewish leaders also hold the centurion in high regard says great deal too. Not all Romans were the enemy to the Jews, just as not all Jewish leaders were opposed to Jesus (nor he to them.) In the midst of the mutual affirmation and camaraderie, the centurion sends a message to Jesus that just the authority of Jesus spoken word would be enough to accomplish the healing. That Jesus’ authority over life and death is very much like the centurion’s authority to those under him – it is accomplished without question. And the centurion’s faith in Jesus is commended and rewarded, and as we see is this story, Jesus’ authority was very real and true.

The centurion asked for healing for his servant because without that healing his servant would lose his/her ability to function and even his/her life. I do not mean the centurion was thinking only of what the servant could do for him, but that the servant’s functionality and life was in danger. And because of their relationship, the centurion desired his servant to be healing.

Now, back to me. I often wonder if I am lacking in faith, and faith in the Lord, because I do not ask for healing for myself. I have to confess, I have wrestled with this many times over. And each time I come out at the same place, that healing is not mine to ask for. That does not mean I do not think I am worthy or deserving of faith. Or that I do not believe the Lord can heal. Nor that I do not think my situation is not serious enough to need healing. Nor even that I do not have people who would be found worthy by the Lord to ask for healing on my behalf. And, let me hasten to add, that I think it entirely good and proper that people of faith ask the Lord for healing. But what I have found over the years, for my self, is that the Lord’s grace and blessing to me has been sufficient for my to cope with what has come my way in terms of ill health.

I have asked many times for help and strength in dealing with other things in my life – both work and personal, and help within my circle of friends, family, and faith groups. The Lord has seen me through so many things, such that I have not needed healing to be able to be the person I feel the Lord has called me to.

But in spite of my ill health, I can function. And I trust in the Lord to give me the strength and ability to continue functioning in whatever capacity the Lord calls me to. And if you allow, beloved reader, I think that calls for a good deal of faith on my part.

May you, beloved reader, place all of your faith in the Lord trusting in the authority that the Lord has over all things. Selah!

 

Season After Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – Paul and I, telling it like it is!

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:1-5)

A very nice opening. The writer of Galatians (okay, Paul) knows how to start a letter and how to bestow a blessing on his reader. I always take these kind of blessings from Paul as being addressed to me as well as any other reader. What ever else Paul did, he was not stingy or shy about blessing others.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” (Verses 6 – 9)

Of course, Paul can also do a very good “scolding” and scolded indeed were the Galatians. Paul knew he preached the correct gospel and good news of Christ. May be his advice of how to live properly and well is not in line with mine, but grace and mercy, confession and forgiveness, care and compassion, and all the other tenets of the Christian life that Paul wrote of are the correct way.

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Verses 10-12)

It is hard to know, beloved reader, what is a genuine revelation from Jesus Christ and what is a “ “contrary gospel.” In order to know what is genuine you have to be directed by the Holy Spirit; and in order to be directed by the Holy Spirit you have to know what is a genuine revelation from that Holy Spirit. It is a catch twenty-two. I have no good or valid advice beloved reader as to how to know.

All I can do is encourage you to pray to God that you might be lead to proper knowledge. Look to the lives of those who have gone before you, to your spiritual forebearers. Yes, Paul is one of them. The writers of the gospel are faithful in reflecting the essence of Christ, although each of them has a perspective they write from. And if I may, beloved reader, you can trust me. I do not claim to be a great authority, but I assure you that I am faithful and genuine. Whatever ministry I have at this point in my life is one that I have been called to by God. So, maybe I do have something in common with Paul! Who would have thought! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – God ablaze in all circumstances

Last year, beloved reader, I numbered the Sundays after Pentecost, but quickly came to see that numbering them did not contribute anything to our understanding of the scriptures or the lectionary. So this year I am just going to categorize these Sundays as “Season After Pentecost” move through the reminder of the lectionary year taking note of the special Sundays.

So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.” (I Kings 18:20-21)

It was a classic show-down. The nation was divided between worshiping God and worshiping the deity that the king and his queen worshiped. And Elijah could not stand it anymore. Elijah knew that God, who was the Living God, was more powerful than any man-created god. But the people of Israel needed to be shown. And that is what Elijah set out to do.

The Revised Common Lectionary lists as supplemental the failure of Baal’s prophets. I have included it only so you can remind yourself of what happened.

[Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. Verses 22-29]

Now is it the living God’s turn.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water. At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (Verses 30-39)

I do not know if I could have done that – had faith enough to soak the alter, the offering and everything else, and then call down fire from heaven. And I tempted to think badly of myself, and less of myself as a child of God. But then the Spirit in me reminds me of all the times I have stepped out on faith in God and God has held me up. Maybe I cannot call down actual fire from Heaven. If you are not sure you could, then be comforted that you are not alone.

Think of the challenges that are in your life; have you given them over to God? Or maybe you think that what challenges you in your life is worthy or worthwhile enough to call on God’s help. Let me tell you, beloved reader, if your thinking is like that you are pouring water over it just as much as Elijah had water poured over his altar. God did not fail him. But, I can imagine your thinking; what if you do depend on God to get you out of a “wet” situation, and it does not work out they way you thought or assumed it would!! I can understand that thinking and feeling too.

Bible characters such as Elijah seem capable of things we could not imagine. We are not called to or expected to the sorts of things that Elijah did; and if you are, beloved reader, why are you reading my writings and not writing about yourself and giving God the glory?! For those of us, however, we are living quiet lives in God, God has no need for us to have spectacular events in our lives. The comparatively small personal triumphs are lives are as much a celebration as the big ones. And there is no event in our lives to small and personal not to praise God for. The Lord indeed is God. And the small figurative altar we have in our soul and spirit is worthy enough for the fire of God to accept what we offer. Praise to the Lord who makes the God-self present in our lives. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Psalms Passage – An Ode to God, and Humanity

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalms 8)

The final aspect of the Triune Divine is God Parent and Creator. Many believe, and their theology reflects it, that God is a singular aspect or Deity, and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are subsidiaries or lessor motifs or deities of the God-self. Anabaptist theology incorporates the theory of a triune God, which means that Christ and the Holy Spirit are joined in God yet distinct in their purpose. It is admittedly confusing, for to which Holy Aspect do you pray to and look towards. On the other hand, a triune theology provides the believer with an unlimited array of God-selves for their faith life. There is no aspect of life or living that God in one aspect or another can be a part of.

But Psalm 8 brings in a new strain and thinking. While God (meaning Parent & Creator) is praised and adored, humanity also is raised up in estimation to the level of being very close, just one step, below being divine (small “d”). But it reminds me, beloved reader, that humanity is made in the image of God. Whether that means in limbs and body, or in intellect or thought, I am not sure. And in no way intend to establish. But if humans are just below divine and immortal beings in the hierarchy of things, if not for our sinful nature who knows what we might be worthy of.

It makes me all the sadder to see what we are capable of when we do listen to our sinful natures. We who have been given the knowledge of good and evil choose evil over God. And thereby confirm that we are lessor, even it is only slightly lessor. That “slightly” is enough to keep us outside of the Trinity, and mandates that is it a Trinity and not a Quartet.

How I wish humanity as a whole could step forward and take its place beside the God-self (all that is within the God-self), worthy of being made in the image of God instead of being needful of confession, penance, and forgiveness – needful God’s grace and mercy. God’s mercy comes to us through Christ; and God’s grace comes to us through the Holy Spirit (although having a triune God means all that is God comes through all the Aspects of God). But this is important – although we are made in the image of God and capable of so much, we need God and all that is God to achieve our greatest potential. This is the offering, gift, and blessing that comes from God, to be all that we were created for. May you beloved reader reach the greatest and fullest potential that you are capable of through all that God represents to you. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Wisdom in the world (the Fourth Aspect of God?)

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. “
(Proverbs 8:1-4, )

It is said of some that “they don’t have the common sense that God gave them.” I have heard this said of young and old alike. More often than not, however, it is said in comparison to the person who is speaking, and not necessarily common sense (or good sense) that is from and of God. What is common sense according to the world may not be common sense according to God. After all, Christ turned upside down many precepts and perspectives. And I am reminded that Paul talked about being foolish according to the world’s perspective. So do you thinking beloved reader, that wisdom according to the bible is the same as common sense?

And just in passing, what do you think of wisdom personified as female?

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Verses 22-31)

Wisdom is old, older than creation. From the way the writer of Proverbs has her speak, you can almost imagine her saying with God concerning creation (as Genesis is structured) “that it was good.” We talk about “Mother Nature”; is that an “off-shoot” of wisdom? If Jesus was with God, as “the Word”, does that mean that wisdom formed part of the aspect of Jesus? And what does that mean for the “male-ness” that seems to be superimposed on God? Or was Wisdom created as a servant of God? Created to be a sounding board for the Divine? Could this be part of the “image of God” we were created in? And again, how is this influenced by the fact that Wisdom is characterized as a woman?

I have always been fascinated by the idea that Wisdom is portrayed as feminine. When I have felt pushed aside in the “world of men” I have cling to the fact that Wisdom is seen in the bible as a woman. And have strived to hone my wisdom.

May you, beloved reader, heed wisdom as you find it in yourself and in the world. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Epistle Passage – When the going gets tough

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

From early on my writing has sought to integrate the principles of the Christian life with every day living, based on the assumption and assertion that what our faith and beliefs tell us MUST be reflected in how we live in the world. That Christ came into the world not only to provide deliverance and forgiveness of our sins, but to show us how to live in the world yet not be caught up in the priorities of the world. This perspective, amongst others, has set the course for my life and has been a guiding precept. I am not declaring that I am abandoning it now, so put such fears away. But over a span of months I have seen how far apart ordinary life and faith life can be. And as I have tried to bridge the two in my life, at times it threatens to tear me in two. But again, I am not abandoning it.

What I see myself needing to do is to even more closely knit the two together. What my faith tells me I HAVE TO live out. It is the ONLY way to have peace in my life. And I suspect, beloved reader, it is the only way to have peace in your life as well. We cannot just stop living in this world; there is no other world to live in. And at times it may seem like this world is just too off course, but there is no other alternative.

What should we do then? Abandon the Christian live because it is too hard to maintain? Re-format our faith to tenets and precepts are easier to follow and honor in this world? That is not an option either. What we must do is cling to our faith, have faith in God that the Divine will hold us together, and refuse to let the world rend apart our faith making it meaningless. It has probably been said by every generation, but it seems as if our present reality tests Christian faith more than it has ever been tested before.

Or perhaps we need to concede that our spiritual forebearers withstood more than we know. And if that is so, then there is hope for us! As the writer of Romans said, we boast in our suffering. Not that we suffer more greatly, but that God meets our suffering and helps us through. That endurance, character, and hope will sustain us. And that God’s love floods our hearts and spirits. God’s love is tougher, stronger, and more enduring than the world thinks love can be.

And the writer of Romans reveals to his reader, and to us, how God’s love and Christ’s example is made manifest to us – through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is one aspect of the Divine. But it is not a created presence that stands in for God, but is God! Not a wisp of smoke and a gust of wind, but the Divine covering and infusing the world. When we say “the Holy Spirit” we MEAN the Holy Spirit of God!

May you, beloved reader, endure the days that are in your life, keeping yourself whole and intact by God’s love, grace, and mercy! Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Gospel Passage – When change “changes’ us

I almost too late, beloved reader, I realized this coming Sunday is one of the special Sundays during the liturgical year. Fortunately for my own peace of mind I was able to catch this oversight and re-title these postings. Trinity Sunday is the Sunday during the lectionary year that the triune aspect of the Divine is noted. Not surprising the gospel passage focuses on Christ who is one aspect of the Divine.

The passage refers to a time near the Pentecost event where Jesus is preparing his disciples for what will come.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)

We may not think of “Ordinary Time” as one of preparation, but it is. Yes, there will be events and days of remembrance and celebration. I will bring our attention to those days. But mostly there will be days that pass; these days though prepare us for the challenges that lay ahead. We may think that we should and will be prepared for pitch battles, and the disciplines had many of those days. But they also had days were life went on as usual. It was not that the world around them had changed; rather they had changed and saw the world differently.

Pentecost, for all its tongues of fire and speaking in tongues, was an internal change. The disciples lived as such that those internal changes had external consequences. Can as much be said about us? Selah, beloved reader, as you journey into the rest of the year.