Second Sunday After Christmas Day: New Year’s Day

The passages from Ecclesiastes and Revelation are two of the scripture passages that the Revised Common Lectionary uses for New Year’s Day – which this year is on a Thursday and not my usual posting day. But since New Year’s Eve is a very typical time to make resolutions for the new year. I think it quite appropriate to look at this scripture passage and decide what in the new year we have time for and will make time for.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

What will you make time for, beloved reader? And what will you not take time to do?

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13)

Does it surprise you that God wants us to enjoy life and living? We are all familiar with those who don’t seem to know what God does for them and what God wants them to do. But so often, too often, we assume God means for us to work hard. Nose to the grind stone and suffering for God – isn’t that the way we consider the Christian life? But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this new year, why don’t we resolve to “cast our burdens upon the Lord” and bring our problems to God.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ “(Revelation 21:1-4)

A new heaven and a new earth – a new beginning of humanity. The beginning of the new year is something like this. The days are fresh and new – no sin has yet been committed, no hatred or violence has been expressed. And God is with us.

But we know as the days of the new year count themselves out, there will be sin; and because evil is still in the world, there will be hatred and violence. In fact, it is very likely before the the new year is but a few minutes old there will be sin, hatred, violence and many other tragedies.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:5-6a)

God is the only one who can make all things new, and keep all things from sin. And God has already accomplished what needs to be done to insure that in the world to come that newness will endure. But right now, it may be a new year, but it is the “old” us. Take heart, beloved reader. God is with us and God is seated on the holy throne. The Lord was there in the beginning, and the Lord will be there at the end of all years. Selah!

CHILD REARING . . . . The end and the beginning of the Christian Life

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. “ (Reference: Colossians 3:20-21 )

It is the last day of the year, beloved. And the last post on Reading the Anabaptist Bible. This collection of scripture has taken us from “Fear of God” through activities of church life such as “Discipleship”, “Baptism”, “Prayer”, “Communion” to pitfalls of life such as “Sin”, “Greed, “Wrath”, “Useless Chatter” to the events of human life such as “Brotherly Rebuke”, “Marriage”, “Human Law”, “Food” and to punishment of not living as God would have us live. Three hundred and sixty-five days of considering how the historic Anabaptists lived and believed. And we end at “Child Rearing”, which is passing on what we have learned in this life to the next generation. This comes as we see the old year passing away and the new year coming. A poetic ending to be sure.

And what of this last verse? Is there some final message we can glean? The writer of Colossians says it is pleasing to the Lord to have children listen and obey their parents. This rests on the premise however that one’s parents have wisdom and experience following and living for God. I hope and pray, beloved, that your parents were/are like this. And if not, that you have found mentors and spiritual parents who have taught you of God and an authentic Christian faith.

This verse also gives a warning to parents (this is advice not only for fathers but mothers too) not to “embitter” their children. In other words, to be the parents that are models for following God and leading an authentic Christian life. Hendrick Alewijns wrote to his children, saying, “Behold, my children, in these holy instructions in correction I acquit myself of my duty towards you; and in all this I admonish you not only in your youth, but also in your riper years, to give ear to the advice of the wise and pious, and always to love the Christians, God’s dear children, the holy church . . . “

It was intention at the beginning of the year to present to you, beloved, as clear picture of what they historic Anabaptists believed, and where that believe may have sprung from. I hope I have done that. But as spring turned into summer and then summer into fall, I found that the historic Anabaptists, while at times squarely addressed some issues relevant to our modern times, were also badly out of step with our modern times. And as the themes grew more grim and stern, I found it harder and harder to support their perspective. Our times differ so radically from theirs, that I think we must look on them as history as opposed to signposts for Christian living. There are good lessons contained in their writings, but in this new century that is almost 15 years old we must forge new ways and understandings.

Five years ago when I finished writing on Reading the Anabaptist Bible, I was anticipating another year of writing posts based on the scripture passages from “Third Way Cafe.” But as you have been aware since soon after Thanksgiving, in 2015 I will be continuing down a different path. It is my hope for the coming year that we can look together at scripture passages and find within them the signposts for a new year, drawing on wisdom from all ages of humanity.

This signals the end of my interlinked relationship with “Third Way Cafe.” It is just you and I now beloved. May God be with us in the new year. Selah!

Second Sunday After Christmas Day: Holy Name of Jesus Day

This is a day in the liturgical year that celebrates the naming of Jesus. Usually celebrated on Jan 1, being eight days after Jesus birth when he would have been dedicated and circumcised. The Revised Common Lectionary does not always have verses used on the days specified by biblical chronology. And since I do not post on Friday, which is January first this year, I decided to use the following scripture passages this day.

Psalm 8 is wonderfully suited to this day. Stop and think a moment on the coincidence of the writer of Psalms writing this praise to God far in advance of any humanly known plan for Jesus’ birth. But God, in the way that God is all-knowing knew. From the time that it was written, down through the years, it has been a celebration of the Almighty God, and a thanksgiving that humanity has been so adored by God as to promote the gift of God’s son to us.

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!” (Psalm 8)

God from the very beginning of calling out the Lord’s people had desired to set them apart as a testimony to the Lord’s involvement in humanity. In some respects the birth of Jesus was the beginning of a new relationship between God and humanity. But in other respects it was a culmination of what God had always hoped would be the relationship between the God-self and humanity.

The Book of Numbers is a culling together of God’s people, forming them by laws and rules, teaching them how to get along. It is often misunderstood and used out of context. Some of its laws and rules do not (or should not) apply now. It’s main attempt, I think, is to give structure to God’s people’s lives. They were to be God’s people – often getting wrong the way the should live, and substituting strict admonitions for caring compassion. In that respect, not much has changed. But God’s intentions are clear.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, . . . . So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Number 6:22-23, 27)

The blessing that was given to God’s people at that time is a blessing that has been passed down generation to generation. I have used it several times, and each occasion is marked especially in my mind. I give it to you, beloved reader, as a reminder that who ever you are, you are favored and loved by God, known and named as a child of God . Selah!

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

(Numbers 6:24-26)

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . It will come. But do not live for that day!

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (Reference: 2 Peter 3:3-7 )

Scoffers have come and gone, writer of 2 Peter. Generations of them. And yet the world goes on. We have had proclaimers of the world coming to an end in all shapes and sizes. And each one of those proclaimers has passed on to the next world. But this world goes on. If we are in the last days, the last days have gone on for hundreds of years.

But I am not scoffing, beloved. Neither am I following my own desires. I see proof all around me that God’s power and might is as strong now as in the past. What I do not see is any proof that these last days are any different than the last days of decades ago. So what must I understand, writer of 2 Peter?

Walter of Stoelwijk posed the question, “who are these unbelievers, who do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and shall therefore suffer everlasting pain?” and answered it saying, “They are those who now do not observe the commandments of Jesus Christ, and will not suffer for the name of God, or confess the truth according to the instruction of the Gospel . . .“ Many of the historic Anabaptists believed they were living in the last times and they would be delivered from the persecution and oppression that was pressed against them. But the Day of Judgment did not come, and all of those who lived in that time, both the historic Anabaptists and their accusers, they all passed away as mortals do.

Hear me well, beloved. If you are living for the day that the “godless” will be punished and the “Godly” will be rewarded, you are not truly living. It is not the Day of Judgment that you should be ready for, but the daily question, . . . . are you living for yourself? Or living for God? This is a question some of the historic Anabaptists wrestled with, and this past year we have heard their voices speak of their faith. If you would remember them for anything, remember them for sincere efforts to live as they felt God called them to live. Selah!

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . Does this mean you?

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. “ (Reference: 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 )

The writer of 2 Thessalonians was writing to a people who had believed in God, and the writer’s warning about those who did not believe was tempered with the assurance that the writer’s audience did believe – therefore I believe it was a positive message.

The historic Anabaptist, Lenaert Plovier, wrote to his children saying, “Behold, dear children, that the Word of the Lord is food for the soul, by which the soul must live; and he that does not govern his life according to these words, is threatened with eternal damnation, as Christ says: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3. Hence Christ says: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel; for the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Mark 1:15; Matt. 3:10. Therefore, dear children, see that you escape punishment; for those who do not obey the Gospel shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. 2 Thess. 1:9. O dear children, behold what punishment shall come upon him who does not obey the Gospel—eternal banishment from the face of God, and everlasting punishment. Hence, dear children, prepare while you have time.” And this seems like a negative pessimistic message to me.

I have read writings where the message is of constant correction and need for repentance. Not all of the historic Anabaptist writing comes from that exhortation, a “hellfire and brimstone” perspective if you will; but it is hard to remember that when it seems like for many weeks we have been steeped in that sort of message. And it is especially hard to read, and write on in the Christmas season. Five years ago it seems I was more able to address these sort of verses without becoming weary of the constant message of correcting wrong living. Back then I wrote This includes you! which also noted that the message of Plovier was for those not living as he and other historic Anabaptist thought they should.

And I wonder, off and on, why it is draining on me. Part of it might be my own health is more precarious than 5 years ago. Another reason might be that I have also been writing Advent and Christmas themed posting and so have been looking at our coming hope rather than doom. And I cannot discount the fact that I have been writing solo and that I have been doing this for many years. I think than the change I am planning for 2015 will be good for me, and I hope it will be beneficial to you too beloved.

It is my hope and prayer that you are not among the godless, beloved. It is my hope and prayer you are like those Thessalonians who believe in the life and testimony of Jesus Christ. Selah!

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . Those who have placed themselves outside of faith in God

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (Reference: Romans 1:16-18 )

I almost feel like these verses could be a continued theme from yesterday. I ended yesterday’s posting with a declaration of faith for all of us, that we believe in God and want our lives to be filled with God. Historic Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier wrote a scathing indictment of those he and his fellow believers labeled as “godless” and wicked. But it was not just (or was not at all) their own opinion, but one that they felt God had established. Hubmaier wrote, “This is a judgment of the righteous God on account of their own wilfull [sic.], wanton, and unrepentant evil, because they fight against the known and recognized truth. Yes, they turn their backs on God and say that he will not let himself be seen. They stop up their ears so that they do not have to hear his voice. If they were to hear his voice they think they would have to die, even though it is in that way that one must and should become alive. They turn their eyes away from God and blame him for not wanting to know them. They close off their hearts and hide themselves and yet complain that he does not knock at their heart’s door nor seek them. . . . the time is coming when they will seek God, but will not be able to find him.”

I had posed the question yesterday as to whether the “godless” are those who do not believe in God, or simply those who do not do God’s will but their own will and wicked agenda. Hubmaier adds another layer to this when he says they refuse to believe in God even when the evidence is presented to them and is before them. I guess there are many ways to be “godless.”

But what comes through very clearly in this verse, aside from not being ashamed by the gospel and spreading true faith in God, is that it is God’s task to judge who is godless and who is not. We can, as Hubmaier has, describe the type of people who we think are godless and what sort of godlessness we think they practice. But it is for God to judge them and release God’s wrath on them. And that is an important word to be heard in our current world. And if we claim and cling to being Godly, then we should not exact any punishment on one another, leaving that to God.

As the final days of this year close out beloved, may you invite God into your life (again) for the coming year, filling yourself with God. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day: The Post-Christmas Story

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-23)

Now, as then, children are brought before God, thanking the Divine for new life. And asking the Divine for strength, guidance, and wisdom to raise the child well. Family and friends gather around to support the parents and the child. Celebrations are held and there is rejoicing. However, Mary and Joseph were probably alone, without family. But God provided these young parents and this holy child with support nonetheless.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:24-32)

Do you think, beloved reader, that these young parents might have felt a bit bewildered? It was challenging enough taking care of a new born infant in an unfamiliar city, but to raise up a son who would do all the things prophesied about him. Many new parents need advice and assurance, blessing and encouragement and I am glad to read that Mary and Joseph received this. But that was not all that they received. They were told early on that their son would be special, bringing to mind what the angel told Mary and Joseph, and added to by these experiences during the early days of Jesus’ life.

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:33-35)

One of the things I never tire of reading in the nativity story is that Mary pondered things in her heart. I think that is one of the reasons she was chosen as the mother of Jesus. She could hear all these things, think about them in her heart, and yet carry on doing the tasks that were expected of her as a wife and mother. She was not alone is this trait as a woman and a woman of God.

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”(Luke 2:36-37)

It is my hope that Mary received good advice and support, not only in being a young wife but also being a mother to a very special child. I suspect that God, over the years, provided both Mary and Joseph with the support they needed.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.(Luke 2:38-40)

At this point the gospels grow silent. What stories there are about Jesus’ growing up years are apocryphal in nature. Perhaps it is enough to know that during the years that Jesus to adulthood, God granted resources and blessing so the years past smoothly. And the epistles give fuller evidence that God has chosen and ordained that it would be so.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

Just God prepared the way for Jesus to grow into the Christ, God has also prepared a way for us to grow into being children of God. Being fully human, we sometimes lose our way and need to come back crying out “Abba”, recommitting and renewing ourselves through God’s grace and mercy, so that we might be still and again children of God. Selah!