Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – When things fall apart in old Jerusalem town

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.” (Lamentations 1:1)

When the United States was still growing and expanding, towns and cities would rise up as commerce and businesses were established. Where jobs and trade were, people would flock to. But when the reason for the growth faded away, so did the people. Jerusalem, according to the writer of Lamentations grew and expanded under the kings of the Old Testament. But when the surrounding nations invaded and made of with people and treasures, the city became barren and deserted. But like the “ghost towns” of the United States, a remnant was left behind. A remnant that held firm in the city and thrived against terrific odds and under terrible conditions. But for the writer of Lamentations, the glory was gone.

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.” (Verse 2)

What was it like, I wonder, to have the city emptied out, and the infrastructure collapse? I am sure there are stories and books about the ghost towns in our nation. And stories and books about similar events in other nations. It seems to me it would be the people who had the resources and means who “escaped” and those left behind had no way of leaving. Or, in the instance of Jerusalem when peopled and property were taken away, those who were left were the poor and marginal.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Was the writer of Lamentations one of those left behind? Or is the writer one who was taken and imagines what it must be like in the city of Jerusalem? I think the latter, because the despair in these verses seems magnified and mournful as if the writer is longing for what had been instead of describing what now is.

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.
From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.” (Verses 5 – 6)

One could have guessed that the writer of Lamentations suggests it was the Divine who allowed this to happen. And it was the rulers and elders who failed to follow God, and so all of Jerusalem suffers! Alas!

But truth be told, beloved reader, it was not 100% of Jerusalem that fell away from God, anymore than it was 100% of Jerusalem that was taken away. So often it is those who are held in high profile whose actions are personified and magnified as the majority or the whole. What you must decide for yourself is whether you are one of the token group; or whether you are the stalwart minority who continue on when all around you is falling apart. Interesting to consider.

Season After Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – Reading another’s letter

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (II Timothy 1:1 -2)

I want to imagine that scene when Timothy opens the second letter that Paul sent him. I wonder if he sat down to read it, or read it as soon as it was delivered to his hand. Was he looking for some specific news, or expecting some teaching? Was he anxious about what Paul would say, or secure in knowing what Paul thought of him? Did he read and re-read it? Did he share it with friends and family who were close by, or did he keep it to himself? What was it like to receive a letter from Paul, the great missionary for God?

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (Verses 3 – 7)

Encouragement, and a reminder of the faith that went before and was an example. And a reminder and a re-calling of the faith that was bestowed in Timothy, the reader. And expressions of love and tenderness. Did Timothy wipe away, remembering how dear Paul was to him? Or did he chuckle at the reminder of how Paul never passed up an opportunity to preach, teach, and exhort?

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Yes, it did not take Paul long into the letter to get to the teaching and preaching mode. Regardless of whether Timothy was strong in his faith, as Paul was, or young in the faith and still maturing – Paul would not pass up a chance to exhort and testify to the Lord Jesus Christ.

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (Verses 11 -14)

Did Timothy write back to Paul? Scripture does not tell us. And if Timothy did, evidence is not obvious and evident. But then what could one say in return? Witness and teach to Paul? Match theology to Paul’s theology? How does one answer back to such a force of God? Can one? Or perhaps Timothy wrote back to Paul as a son writes to a father, or a mentee to a mentor? Again, I do not know of such letters.

We read these epistles that have became holy scripture in a variety of ways. Let us remember though, they started as a letter from one unique individual to another. We have taken them and broaden them, polishing off the edges that are unique to the correspondents and then stretch them to fit our lives and our world. I am not saying we are wrong to do so, but remember we are reading correspondence that at it’s conception was never meant for anyone other than the addressee. This may not be as significant in the two letters to Timothy, but we must be mindful of it while reading the other epistles. And let us remember too, the tenderness that Paul exhibits and allow that to temper the hard edges of these letters. Just as I hope, beloved reader, you read the tenderness I feel towards you! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – As to faith, do or not do; there is no “try”

The apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.” (Luke 17:5)

Beloved reader, I am using The Message translation today because it seemed more clear to what the writer of Luke (and by extension Jesus) was trying to get across. It is a common pray actually – gives us more faith, or increase our faith, or strength our faith. I have prayed this myself. But Jesus cuts across all of that asking for more and implies that what you have should be sufficient.

But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.” (Verse 6)

I don’t know about you, but my faith is certainly going to make any tree, bush or shrub jump. But then why would some of faith (great or lessor) ask a tree to jump into the lake? I do not think it was meant seriously; the NRSV refers to a mulberry tree and the sea. Jesus (and the writer of Luke) continue on in the lesson.

Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’” (Verses 7-10)

Faith, it seems, is not about size but doing what is needed and called for. Great faith, or small faith, is not as important as doing the task that is before you. Now, we as participants of this modern world may not appreciate the perspective of what a servant is supposed to do. After all, we have choices & options and do not normally work from sun up to sun down at the beckon & call of another – at least, that is what we tell ourselves. But if we place ourselves in the context of being servant’s of Jesus Christ and the Lord, then the reality of task coming after task might be more appropriate. Remember too that Jesus said his yoke is light and his burden is easy, so it is not as if we are lugging large rocks or boulders, or climbing high mountains, or doing other physically draining tasks for the Lord. (If you do, than I pray that the Lord blesses you and gives you physical endurance.)

For most of us, it is being aware of times and places where we can minister to others – helping a person or a cause, or being instrumental in the mission/ministry the Lord God has called us to. You see, we do not have to have great faith to do what the Lord God has called us to. We just have to do it!

I do not know if the disciples understood what Jesus was trying to teach them. I would safely guess that the writer of Luke did. And I hope, beloved reader, that you have too! Selah!

 

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – A Seeker speaks to the Psalmist

Psalmist: “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

Seeker C: I trust in God with all my heart and soul, all of my body and spirit. But the way is hard, and long, and I grow weary.
Psalmist: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

Seeker C: I feel the Lord’s presence during the day, and sleep under the wing of the Lord’s protection at night. But I see danger all around me, I feel illness creeping closer, and I hear on the wind the sounds of hatred, aggression and war.
Psalmist: “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.” (Psalm 91:1-6)

Seeker C: Is that to be a command or a comfort?! Your world is not my world! Your reality is not my reality. I know your words are meant to comfort me and assure me of the Lord’s presence in the world and in my life. And I want to believe that; but when I am ill and weak and my breath is taken from me as the gales of the storm whip through the strong trees, I tremble and am afraid!

Psalmist: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.”
Seeker C: What does “deliverance” mean? That I will not suffer? That the things of this world will not burden me or consume me? For that is not true. But my soul and spirit rest in the Lord, and the person that I am, who the Lord created, will not be deterred or stopped by the evil and illness that is in this world.
Psalmist: “When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.”

Seeker C: Psalmist, you have optimist view of the world. Surely tragedy has touched your life, and misfortune has torn asunder what you hoped for yourself and the ones close to you. Yet your faith in the Lord is unshaken. However, it is not your words that give me hope, but the Lord who you have put your hope in that sustains me. Speak the words that the Lord has given you, and I will seek out that Lord in my life.
Psalmist: “With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” ( Verses 14-16)

I don’t know about you, beloved reader, but sometimes I just want to engage scripture in conversation and speak directly to the person or persons who first put the words on a page, or spoke them into the oral tradition. And just because they are not with me in person does not mean I cannot speak to them out of my time. When we dialogue with scripture, we can speak to the Spirit who inspired them to write and/or speak. I encourage you, beloved reader, to dialogue with scripture and speak to the Spirit who those writers/speakers drew on. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – Aligning myself with Paul on a Friday night

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;” (I Timothy 6:6)

It is Friday night, beloved reader, but one week after I have written this. Still, when you read it (if you read it soon after it is posted) it will be Friday but Friday morning. Early Friday morning. So early Friday morning that the contentment of having reached the end of the week will not yet be apparent. But when I wrote this, the contentment of Friday night was all around me.

. . for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (Verses 7 – 10)

There is nothing that the writer of I Timothy (Paul) has written this far that speaks against the contentment of the week’s end. In fact, in the Jewish tradition Friday night was a time of setting aside all other concerns and preparing for the Sabbath. Some Christian traditions still hold to Saturday being the Sabbath, and their contentment I imagine is double or triple on this evening.

What Paul does say and commend is to be satisfied with what one has. And perhaps there are some who by the estimation of basic sufficiency do not have enough and so this exhortation to be content does not apply to them. Paul says if a person has food and clothing (using himself as an example) than one should be content. Paul on other occasions speaks to the need of helping each other and insuring sustenance. In fact in some of his other epistles he urges reciprocal sharing. Here, in his first personal letter to Timothy, he reveals more of his inner self than his outer teacher/preacher persona. Thus the comments that follow are directed to Timothy.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (Verses 11 – 16)

This is not to say that we should not also follow this good advice. In fact (I am using that phrase a great deal) this one of those not so increasingly rare occasions where I would echo Paul’s sentiments. Have you noticed that trend, beloved reader, that Paul and I are closer in our thinking and sentiments? Maybe there is hope for one of us yet! Paul continues . . .

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (Verses 17 – 19)

Perhaps it is my mood of contentment that allows me to see Paul in a softer lens. Or maybe “the present age” is leading me to look and see issues more critically and offer more exhortations. Whatever the reason, this passage from I Timothy aligns with my thinking. And so I recommend it to you, beloved reader. But let me add that it is my hope and prayer that you have contentment in your life; that you have food & clothing, shelter & resources, and friends & family that God’s shalom is your reality. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – When this world seems hopeless, there is hope yet to come

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.” (Jeremiah 32:1-3a)

Jeremiah had upset the king of Judah with his prophecies and pronouncements. I guess the king felt that if he could not control the situation of Jerusalem being besieged, he could at least control Jeremiah’s movements. Often we we are stressed and can not cope with the bigger situation, at least controlling and containing a smaller one makes us feel better. Such things are important to kings, I guess. But, king or lay person, acting out in a oppressive manner is never a good choice whatever the circumstances. However, just because Jeremiah was confined, did not mean he was really being controlled by the king.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” (Verses 6 – 15)

Hope. When all seems lost and foregone, hope arises and says “Do not despair. What is now will not always be.” This is the flip side of the despair that Lazarus had yesterday; while his life on this earth was not pleasant – not by any means – his life in the world to come was much to be envied. And the rich man in purple did envy it when his life passed from this world to the next.

The king of Judah was firmly planted in this world, albeit in his time. The siege was his reality. Jeremiah, who he thought he had under controlled, showed at the behest of the Lord that what is the reality now may not be the reality to come. Of course, the being and selling of land that Jeremiah was exemplifying was also in the realm of this world. But , if liberty is achieved and confirmed in this world, how much more so in the world to come where the Lord God allows no thing to happen other than than the Lord God’s will.

Those in control think that like King Zedekiah they have all things in their control for all time. But it is not so. There time will pass, and in the eternity that is to come the Lord God will rule. Not as the Lord God rules now, urging and encouraging, guiding and directing through the Spirit. No, God’s commandments will be absolute, and all this is not of God will be swept away.

There is hope. A hope that is greater than any member of humanity can bring about, fulfill or sustain. Place your hope and faith in that, beloved reader. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – The realities of this life and the life to come, and the lessons therein

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” (Luke 16: 19 – 22)

I try to limit how much my personal life intersects and affects these comments. But it is a night I usually write, and despite my present circumstances I am trying to write. I am doing one of several studies that my medical providers have ordered. Tonight I am doing the home sleep study and so am “wired up” quite interestingly. It is getting to be increasingly uncomfortable to wear and I have to wonder how effectively it will measure a typical night’s sleep.

I was not in fact going to write tonight, but then I saw that one of the passages was this one, and the plight of Lazarus in this life and the plight of the rich man in the afterlife spoke to me, trussed up as I am.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ “ (Verses 23 – 24)

I am not comparing, exactly my situation with theirs. By the time you read this beloved reader (and actually by mid-morning tomorrow) this will be done and over, and fading into history. But while I am so encumbered, I feel for Lazarus and am glad his suffering came to an end, and he was welcomed into heaven. And if the rich man was suffering more than I am now (and he undoubtedly was) and his suffering was to be without end (and I am sure it was and is) then he surely is a miserable wretch. But what can be done?

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ “ (Verses 25 – 26)

Just as there is a separation between those who are well off, and those who suffer and do not have enough – there is a separation between heaven and Hades/hell. We may not be able to control in this life where we are, but in the life to come . . . that is a different story.

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ “ (Verses 27 – 29)

In Jesus’ time that was all the warning and teaching there was available and we know from reading about the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews that for many that was not enough to warn them and keep them from this sort of hellish fate. Something more was needed.

He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” ( Verses 30 – 31)

And there we have it – what is needed is someone to come back from the dead to convince the non-believers that there is a right and righteous way to live. And that it will be rewarded. Just as my being trussed up for this testing will be over soon enough, so too will this life. What we endure in this life is brief compared to the eternity that awaits us. So the question is, beloved reader, in which time frame would you rather have to endure difficulty? Now, or in the time to come?

Now this next idea will seem strange to you, but bear with me – prove Father Abraham wrong. Resolve to be convinced by what is preached to you – whether it be the prophets old and new, or one who has risen from the dead. For we know of someone who rose from the dead. Let that fact, if no other, convince you of the right and righteous way to live. If the teachings of Jesus during his lifetime do not persuade you, let the power he had over life and death, and the promise of the life to come, guide your journey in this world. Selah!