Ascension of the Lord: The Gospel, Epistle and Psalm Passage – All things working together under the Lord God Jesus Christ

You can pretty much assume, beloved reader, that if it is a celebration day in the church year, they will be plenty of scripture passages and I will use a great many of them! After all, I have to pack several citations onto one day!

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44 – 47)

It would not be wonderful, beloved reader, if our minds could be opened to understand ALL the scriptures! One could be a biblical commentator without equal! If that was one’s goal in life. We who are living many generations after the disciples have to learn scriptural understanding bit by bit. It takes time and effort, and there are many who do not want to make that time and effort. For myself, I do not mind so much having to come to understandings of scripture slowly, as long as I can have an outlet to share what I have learned. If my mouth and words were stifled, and I could not share it . . . well, I don’t think I could withstand that very well.

“You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Verses 48 – 53)

And I can barely imagine what it must have been like to witness Jesus in the flesh, to walk with him and learn from him, and then face the prospect of NOT talking about it. Maybe that is why the disciples/apostles continue to talk, preach, and witness concerning Jesus even when their lives were threatened. I think I would do the same thing, defy anyone who tried to keep me quiet.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

I can also understand Paul taking every opportunity to witness, preach, and testify about God. While he never met (I do not think) Jesus before Jesus was put to death, his experience on the road to Damascus is probably as close to a physical encounter with the risen Lord as one can get.

In the New Testament, it seems to be, Paul’s conversion was very close to the ascension of Jesus, probably something done soon after Jesus had returned to heaven – if we were to think about it along human time lines. It was because of Jesus’ ascension to heaven that the Spirit was able to do such work on earth.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

It reminds of the concept that all things work together in the Lord for a good result. That does not mean that the bad that happens is allowed because it happens for a purpose. But that all things that happen, good and bad, the Lord is able to work with and re-work so that suffering and pain is not in vain; and that the good in the world translates to good in heaven.

The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” (Psalms 93: 1 – 2)

We would expect no less from the Divine. We, humanity praise the Lord, and all creation praises the Lord.

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD! Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.” (verses 3 – 5)

Once again, and still, the Lord God Jesus Christ is enthroned in heaven. All may not be right with the world – there is much that is wrong. But with the Lord God in heaven, and the Lord’s called people on earth, all will be right someday. Selah!

Ascension of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – A Celebration is Coming

As I was thinking and looking towards writing for Thursday May 25th, the Day of the Ascension of the Lord, I got to thinking about the significance of that day to the disciples. As I said yesterday, it is not the same sort of celebration as Pentecost is. In hindsight it is clear to us as modern day believers that Jesus would return to heaven and the Lord who sent him. Maybe that was clear enough to the disciples or maybe that took them by surprise. But what really lodged in my mind, and led me to writing for a second time for today, is that the day BEFORE the ascension of the Lord, they did not know it was coming. It is like the day before a surprise birthday party or other celebration – the day before, you don’t know it is coming. And it is a celebration (it’s why it is commemorated in the church year) that Jesus is returning to heaven so that the things that were promised can and will come to pass.

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” (Psalm 47:1-3)

Well, the psalmist is not quite within the same perspective as us for this day – in fact, this psalm is applied to this day as opposed to having been specifically written for the ascension of the Lord. A fact that finds in parallel in a great deal of scripture passages used in the Revised Common Lectionary. We will be celebrating tomorrow that the Lord God Jesus Christ is “awesome”. Just not quite for the reason the psalmist had in mind.

“He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” (Verses 4 – 8)

This is the celebration – that the Lord who was and is Jesus is now back with the Lord God Creator and all the other aspects of the Divine. It is, albeit, a celebration that is specific to God’s people who believe in the triune nature of the Divine – God the Creator/Parent, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And the psalmist says that all things are under God; whether it be a triune God that is now reunited with its God-self (okay, at admit it strains some theologies to see God in this light) or a God who is “simply” mighty over all things. And verse nine seems to be an exclamation point on this idea. I consulted with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he helped me understand verse nine.

“The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” (Verse 9)

Everyone is gathered under God; those who come voluntarily as the called people of God, and those who God “subdued” under the God-self, as described in verse three. Everyone and everything is under God. And our Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended, is over all things. And that is what we celebrate tomorrow, according to the psalmist.

But, and it is a big “but”, the Lord God as described by the psalmist is not quite the same Lord Jesus Christ that the disciples had come to know. And that was a big stumbling block to some. That the “mighty” Almighty Lord God came to earth and humbled the God-self unto being put to death. Not that it stopped the Lord God, you understand. So while we appropriate the celebration as the psalmist presents it, when re-define it to celebrate that what came to us humbled is now returned to heaven in victory. And that, beloved reader, is worth celebrating – tomorrow. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – A time for pondering and a time for acting

I know a secret. This week is the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. It is a minor big deal in the life of the church. Not quite Pentecost, but right up there – as it were. The time after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension is the interval of time when Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples. Some of the gospels chronicle that time, and others quickly move to Jesus being taken up to heaven.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:6 – 9)

I have spoken/written on numerous occasions about the expectations of the disciples concerning Jesus’ return. That they way they lived and the way the early church was set up was based on this expectation. And how the early church changed to accommodate the “wait time” for Jesus’ return. I have also talked about what we, as authentic Christians, ought to do while we wait.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Do you, beloved reader, gaze up into the sky wondering when Jesus will return in the same way as he went into heaven? No, I don’t think you do. Because we as a called people of the Lord have learned that our mission and calling is here amongst humanity. That Jesus’ Spirit and Presence is here in ways we only understand in part. Prayer is good – prayer is essential! But prayer is not all there is to living out a Christian life. There is acting as Jesus acted. Caring as the Lord cares for us. Teaching and guiding as Jesus taught and guided his disciples. And, continuing to learn about the Lord and Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a busy time, this waiting for Jesus to return. Set aside some time to gaze into the sky, and communion with the Lord. Then return to the work you are called to. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – When the Lord “comes through”

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.” (Psalm 66:8 – 9)

Last week I directed and dedicated the psalm passage to my fellow chronic illness sufferers. I was reminded of that by this first verse, although some in our group have passed away because of this disease.

“For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Verse 10)

Admittedly, however, these verses are directed more at sin and trying to live a life according to Christian principles. This disease is not from anything we have done that is against Christian precepts. Very very diseases are.

“You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Verse 11 – 12)

And healing from diseases is not dependent on living out Christian principles either. That is, sinners as well as saints recover from disease or succumb to the devastation of body and health. So let us leave behind health considers, and look together at what this passage has to say.

“I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.” (Verse 13 – 14)

In times of trouble, we promise the Divine if we are delivered from our problems we will be more dedicated to the religious life and will turn away from habits and patters that are contrary to the Lord’s directions and guidance. The psalmist here promises now that things are better, the psalmist will follow through on these promises. And actually, by living a more authentic Christian life there will be far less danger of bringing problems upon ourselves.

“I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah” (Verse 15)

When the Lord has delivered us from our woes and worries, our faults and failings, our straying and distress, we seek to honor the God who stood by us and walked us through it. Ways and traditions of honoring and giving thanks to God have evolved and changed. But the impulse is still there.

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” (Verses 16 – 20)

Blessed be God! Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Spiritual Fore-bearers, Large and Small

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (I Peter 3:13 – 16)

I both feel and see the writer of I Peter seesawing back and forth. Being bold yet advocating care and caution. It is the careful “dance” of someone who is wise as a serpent yet innocent as a dove. I was reminded today, in another context, of the apostle Peter’s hesitation concerning going to Cornelius’ home because Cornelius was a Gentile. And his explanation to the gathering at Jerusalem as to why he went.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (Verses 17 – 20)

I am reminder too of the times Peter was imprisoned and was lead out of prison. Peter did suffer for proclaiming the faith given to him. And that lends extra credence to the words that are ascribed to Peter. This can be said of all of the writers of the Epistles. But do not think that it is only those who have suffered violently for their faith that have lessons to teach us. Living out an authentic Christian life, day by day over a span of decades without persecution or oppression is just as much a testament. And in some ways more. As Peter says, when we are pressed on the issues of our faith it gives us a chance to speak to the depth and breadth of our testing. But when there is no test, merely the living out of docile days, it is easy to slip in small . . . and then larger ways. We tend to forget the sacrifice that was made for us, because there is little sacrifice and suffering on our part.

“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (Verses 21 – 22)

I cannot, beloved reader, point you to many diaries and accounts of authentic and conscientious Christians of lived out their days in unruffled ways. For those accounts are not held up as examples. But they should be. Yes, Peter and Paul, and the other apostles suffered for their faith. And we can look to them as exemplars, in a smaller way than we look to Christ. Complacency can lead us just as much astray as yielding to temptation when the tough times come. Seek out, beloved reader, models of Christianity who were not pushed or stressed. And find out how to live a Christian life in “monotony”. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following directions

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

What are Jesus’ commandments? For they are not the Ten Commandments – that is, not just the ten commandments. Jesus said he came to fulfill them, as if to mean that previously they had been done or kept incompletely – which is very true. So, what commandments did Jesus give his disciples? Well, it might depend on which gospel you read, actually.

But I am not sure it is specific commandments that the writer of the gospel of John has in mind. I suspect, and I checked with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he said “that love for him which leads us to do all his will, to love each other, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow him through evil report and through good report, is true attachment. “ It is not just or so much what we do as it is how we live our our lives.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (Verse 16)

Another important point is that we are not expected to live our Jesus’ commandments without help or assistance. In fact, it might be nigh on impossible to live them out on our own.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (Verses 17 – 20)

Remember too, beloved reader, Jesus is telling his disciples this before the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth came, according to the other gospels. The writer of the gospel of John does not extend his narrative to that point. Maybe things became clearer to the disciples as the years went by.
Also, I suspect Barnes was influenced by some of the later verses in section, namely . . .

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verse 21)

It is not so much making the specific correct choices, but living out one’s life according to what Jesus would have done – what would Jesus do? I gently suggest, beloved reader, you think over the ten commandments and ask yourself what would Jesus have done? What did Jesus do? And let that be your guide. Selah!