Season After Pentecost – Journeying to the correct places, and seeking the Lord (The Psalms Passage)

I am wondering, beloved reader, if my Fourth of July “rant” is still echoing in your mind. I have been trying to think why the writing of it left me “raw”; and only now realized it is because it was so “political.” But having realized that, I am more at peace for having written it.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

The opening lines of Psalms 24 sets forth the fact that the earth and all humanity and creation is the Lord’s. In a sense, we do not belong to ourselves but we belong to God. And every person in every nation belongs to God. But as the Psalm continues we are told that existing and belonging does not entitle us to welcomed into the presence of the Lord.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah. “(Verses 3-6)

It occurs to me that one has to want to “ascend the hill of the Lord.” I so focus on being worthy and journeying to ascend that hill that I sometimes forget that others may not want to do that. The psalmist too seems to assume that is a desired thing. And if, as many commentators believe (and I am not to say they are wrong) the psalmist is David, it says a great deal about him that he desires to come into God’s presence.

Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.” (Verses 7-10)

The psalmist commends and commands that the door be open to that “the King of Glory” may come in. But I tell you beloved reader, it is just as appropriate to believe that it is the doors to our lives, our hearts, and our spirits that must be opened to God. As I said, it is not just enough to live in this world and feel kinship to creation and humanity. We must also look to our God, for that is where our most true and important relationship can be found. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Thinking about who we are, who is in opposition to us, and how we handle that. (The Gospel Passage)

It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day. I usually do not make special recognition of holidays, especially civic one. The RCL does not coincide with those days, and since I am picking which days out of the 7 days that are covered by the weekly RCL passages the verses are not meant to coincide with any specific day of that week. Of course the church/religious holidays are different – the RCL takes those into account. So it is sure happenstance that this day this passage from Mark is being presented to you on the Fourth of July. Let’s see what we can make of it.

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:1-3)

The Fourth of July celebrates the United States freedom from the “tyranny” of England. One privileged and powerful group was trying to take advantage of and gain financially/materially from less powerful and more needy group. And the less powerful/more needy group rose up in protest, and cast off & chased out the representatives of the powerful and privileged group; they demanded and eventually received self-government and autonomy. This is a scenario that has been repented endless time, and considering human nature, will be repeated endless times. The prevailing and powerful groups will always wonder how and by what right the smaller and less powerful groups came to have the desire and display the ability to be more than what others thought they would be. Now THAT is a sneaky and round about way of putting this bible passage in context for this day!

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:4-6a)

We can often get bogged down in seeing only one side of a situation, and identify too strongly with only one side such that we cannot see the opposing view. We who live in the United States get so used to being those of privilege and power that we forget what it is like to be small and powerless. I am not so sure that Fourth of July celebrations are a remedy to that.

We also have a history and heritage of being the underdogs and see ourselves pitted against the “larger” and more privileged group, and we forget that many times the larger group is just trying to sustain their own status quo and does not mean to thwart of our self-determination.

The people of Jesus’ town knew him only as an ordinary boy who had grown to manhood before their eyes. He was one of their own, and as such would be/should be no different than they. And they felt it was an insult to their self-perception that he should consider himself so different. But there can be seeds of greatness in all people; and that should not be stifled simply because we cannot imagine ourselves, or just as accurately do not want to strive to make ourselves, any different or greater.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:6b-13)

We pride ourselves on being a “great nation” that has come from “humble beginnings” and has had to fight against enormous odds to be successful. But in the rush and flourish to celebrate and congratulate we inadvertently or, more to our shame, consciously stifle and thwart the advancement of others.

Jesus told his disciples to go out humbly and thoughtfully; and they ended up doing great things. I fear it would ruffle too many feathers if I voiced my thoughts concerning the opposing but parallel perspective I hold of the United States. Not quite the Fourth of July rhetoric you usually read – but then I am Canadian and Canada’s Independence Day is past. More importantly, I am an Anabaptist Christian. And look at the issues of independence and the days to celebrate it differently. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – Knowing one’s self; and knowing God (The Epistle Passage)

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:2-10)

I am grateful to the commentators that I looked at were clear and unequivocal that the writer of II Corinthians were referring to himself (Paul, that crafty fellow) in the opening verses of this passage. And I would take to task for that, but later in the passage he humbles himself and admits that there was an affliction that he asked God to heal him from, but the Divine refused saying the Lord’s grace was sufficient for Paul to persevere despite his weakness and affliction.

You may remember, beloved reader, that back on June 27th I talked about healing, and that I had come to terms with not being healed. It would seem that Paul came to that same place. Yes, it is true; Paul and I may be a lot alike.

Do I consider my affliction to be a thorn? No. I do not think it was given to me to make me humble. And if that was the purpose, then quite honestly it has not worked. What it has done is given me insight into the medical world, and given me a point of connection with those who suffer physically even if I do not talk about my illness – which a very seldom do.

But I do not think weakness and lack of healing are the only issues in this passage. As my title suggests, Paul also knows himself well. May be his affliction did keep him humble; or at least kept him connected to physical realities. And perhaps tended to gentle his temperament towards weaknesses in others. The Spirit knows what needs to be done in order for us to reach our full potential for ministry, or more accurately the ministry that God calls each of us to.

Consider that Paul knew himself well enough to know what his affliction affected him as a person. And he knew God well enough to ask for healing AND accept the answer. These two facts should not be passed over lightly. Furthermore, perhaps because of enduring this affliction and relying on God’s grace Paul was able to endure other things for the sake of Christ and the good news that Paul spread. So Paul is right to boast not in what he can do, but what God can do through him despite and because of who Paul is.

May we, you and I beloved reader, boast not of ourselves but God within us and God working through us for the Lord’s purpose. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Becoming king under The King (The Old Testament Passage)

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.” (II Samuel 5:1-5)

I have never become a royal ruler over anything. And unless I am mistaken, I don’t think you have become a royal ruler either – if you have, my extreme apologizes your majesty! So we, you and I, do not know what it is like to have a large group of people come to you and say “rule us!” It may be something like getting hired to run a large company or organization. In my job, every once in a while I am taken aback by the fact that people depend on me for their livelihood and daily needs. Magnify that by about 100 times and we may be approaching what David felt.

I will clue you in on something, beloved reader. David did not always do a perfect job of being king. We will learn about that as we journey through the days and weeks ahead. But here and now, in this passage of scripture, we have young David who is still in his prime and feels the blessing of the Lord upon him.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” (Verses 9-10)

But is that all there is for us, beloved reader? Looking on as David comes to power? No. We may not rule over a kingdom (again, if your life is much different than imagine, my apologizes) nor even a large corporation that is in involved in and upholds the lives of hundreds of people. But what we do no less influences the world than what kings and rules do. And we need to be just as responsible and attentive to what we do as King David needed to. Where he faltered, we can learn. Where he made missteps, we can make better choices. Where he was tempted, we can resist the temptation that is in our lives. At least . . . that is what we hope.

But we know, and we must know this, we will make our own mistakes, yield to the temptations that come in to our lives, and stray away from where God is leading us. We are human, just as David was human. But we can have the Lord, “the God of hosts” with us just as David did. We can rule over our own “little kingdom” which is made up of our life and the lives of family and friends. May you beloved reader make a covenant between yourself and your God to do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Praising God in the midst of the City (The Psalms Passage)

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.
Within its citadels God has shown himself a sure defense.” (Psalms 48:1-3)

I had a frustrating day today – not that is, the day you are reading this beloved reader; but the day I wrote it. In-between not feeling good were times of figuring out and arranging, and trying to remember what I wanted to do before I was interrupted from what as was doing before/after the previous interruption. So I was glad to see that it was the Psalms Passage that was next on the schedule. I had fears that it might have been the Old Testament Passage and I was not sure I was equal to dealing with that. But hey! It is the end of the day! I can praise God for that and getting me through the day!

Then the kings assembled, they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic, they took to flight; trembling took hold of them there, pains as of a woman in labor, as when an east wind shatters “the ships of Tarshish.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Does not sound like the assembled kings were having any better a day than I was. In fact, I think I may have done better than they! I did not run away from my day! I did not panic! I was not in pain – at least not because of the day at work. I did not shatter!!

But of course, neither was I coming to God as an adversary or enemy which is the sense of these verses, that the assembled kings came to the holy city (meaning the city of David I think) in order to assess it and see if they could attack it and win. Rather than coming against the holy city as an adversary, I was seeking God in my day and had asked the Lord to be with me.

As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes forever. Selah” (Verse 8)

In the day of the psalmist, the city of our God was a geographical place. It existed in space and time. So that one could go to it, and see it, checking out whether it matched up to its reputation. In our day the city of the Lord of hosts in not in any specific geographical place but exists as a spiritual reality – and no, that is not an incompatible idea. The Lord’s city exists, but it is made out of faith and belief in the power of God; and since the power of the Lord will never fail, it exists forever!

We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.

Let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice because of your judgments.” (Verses 9-11)

Whether it is the time of the psalmist, or our modern times, the Lord is worthy of praise.

Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever.” (Verses 12 – 14)

How, you may ask beloved reader, are you supposed to walk around and tour a “spiritual reality”? I would love to leave that question hovering around you, beloved reader. I could, I suppose try to explain it. But I am not sure my explanation would be helpful or illuminating. You sort of have to experience it to understand it. Perhaps the best thing to do is to wait until this posts, and then see if any one of you asks for an explanation.

May the Lord ease all of your days, beloved reader, and may you dwell in the city of the Lord of hosts. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Being Healed (The Gospel Passage)

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. (Mark 5:21-24)

First, I want to mention and then set aside several issues on healing. Not everyone who gets sick enough to die gets better. That might sound kind of inane, but what I mean is that good and true Christians get sick, pray to God with others for healing but die anyway. You cannot judge the depth and breadth of a person’s faith according to whether their prayers, or the prayers for them, result in healing. Sometimes “healing” on comes through death. So what Jairus ask of Jesus is indeed a miracle – totally counter to what was the norm then and now. We will come back to that a little further on.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” (Verses 25-29)

I thought I understood the plight of this woman, but because of now suffering myself from a disease that I have seen a good many doctors for I can understand at a greater depth her suffering. At one time I felt sympathy for her because of the type of illness she had – the abnormal shedding of blood, which in the society that Jesus lived in would have ostracized her. But now I sympathize with her because she had sought treatment from so many but nothing helped and it only grew worse. I feel that way too. I also admire her faith and belief that Jesus could heal her with just a touch. I long ago gave up on my being healed through the spiritual touch of God/Jesus; and if I was in her place, knowing what she probably knew of Jesus (meaning as a prophet and man of God but not Divine) I am not sure I could have held the same faith as she did.

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Verses 30-34)

It is not enough to want to be healed – I want to be healed! It is believing you will be healed. THAT is what drains power from the cloak of the Divine. I still have my afflictions; but I have also touched the spiritual cloak of the Divine believing that despite my afflictions I can keep going. And that has happened time and time again. My healing is not the woman’s healing in this story; but it is sufficient.

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.” (Verses 35-40a)

“Your disease is rare, and treatment for it is drastic. You must accept the inevitable.” When I read about what I had, I did despair. And it would have been easy to scale back all my activities and withdraw. But I decided to keep on doing what I felt called to do and needed to do. I am not giving up anything! I used to be afraid, but now I journey forth in belief and faith. And I have found a group of people to support me in my journey, as I support them.

Jesus knew what he would accomplish, and the small details – like the girl had passed away – was not going to stop the Lord Jesus. It would require unshakable believe, however, to accomplish this.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.(Verses 40b -43)

While this is the stuff of miracles, it is also grounded in normal life. When the body is alive, it needs food to continue its processes. And people make much hoopla and fanfare out of miracles. With all my afflictions, I still get up everyday and accomplish the things that need to be done. I have wondered more than once if I should just stop posting on this blog and shut it down. But the Spirit calls me to keep writing. It has become like food and drink to me.

May you, beloved reader, have faith to reach out to the spiritual cloak of our Lord for healing; and may our God bring you back to life when you feel ill and weary of all manner of things. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Sneaky things for good causes (The Epistles Passage)

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” (II Corinthians 8:7)

The writer of II Corinthians wants money – not for himself, but for another faith circle that the writer of II Corinthians has establish. That faith group is undergoing some hardships, and a gift from another faith group would not only relief their suffering but prove to them that they are not alone in this new faith.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (Verses 8-9)

It seems that material possessions and position/stature are being intermingled in the writer of II Corinthian’s mind. I do not think that Jesus Christ had sacks of gold, nor would something like that appeal to the Divine. And I suspect if I think about this theological/philosophical issue that the writer of II Corinthians is setting up, I will get more and more stirred up, so let us move on.

And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
(Verses 10-15)

Abundance and need, sufficiency and deficiency, are very subjective terms. What might be little for one is wealth for another – depending on one’s point of view and relative position in society. Maybe the reader’s of II Corinthians had in mind “wealth” that is in heaven, and were humbled that Jesus left that for their sake. And so perhaps sharing what they had above and beyond what they needed to sustain themselves would seem like imitating Christ. The writer of II Corinthians was not above playing one group against another, engendering benevolence and philanthropy to tie two geographically distant groups.

We do the same thing in our modern day, sending help to other parts of the world and going to help them. So my criticism of the writer of II Corinthians (yes, Paul) is not severe or deep. He was, after all, a good “arranger” of ideas, philosophies, and people. I have been known to exhibit that trait myself. Maybe that is why it catches my attention when I see it in others!

We all, beloved reader, must make sure our actions and outcomes support the mission of Christ and our Lord God. We must examine both our means and motivations. It is part of being in ministry and leadership for Christ’s sake. May you beloved reader take care in what you plan to do and in how you accomplish your plans. Selah!