Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth – As we journey further, we draw closer (The Gospel Passage)

The lectionary readings for this week include not only scripture readings for Trinity Sunday, but readings that have as their focus Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. In terms of triune aspect of God, this visitation comes in advance of the coming of Jesus (obviously) and far in advance of the coming of the Spirit. I have chosen just one passage from the four possible ones. The others are I Samuel 2:1-10 (the passage where Hannah rejoices in her son’s birth), Psalms 113 (a psalm of rejoice that includes rejoicing that a woman formerly barren gives birth) and Romans 8: 9-16b (instructions from the writer of Romans on living a good Christian life). So you can see that the Luke passage is the one that is right on point.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 8:39-45)

Even here, beloved reader, the Holy Spirit is a concept already spoken of; because the writer of Luke is writing after Jesus’ ministry and return to heaven, and after the coming of the Holy Spirit. So it is to that aspect of God that the writer of Luke ascribes Elizabeth’s reaction to Mary’s visit.

And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

I have said on other occasions there is some doubt that Mary actually had said this. And the NRSV notes that other “ancient authorities” say that is was Elizabeth who said this. In either case, or if it was the writer of Luke who inserted this into the account, it seems clear its inspiration and inclusion comes from the Spirit. And it is the Spirit who has inspired the praise for God, giving further evidence of a triune belief of God. And least according to THIS writer.

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.” (Luke 1:56-57)

If you follow this chronology, Mary was with Elizabeth for the first three months of her pregnancy – perhaps learning from Elizabeth what to expect and how to care for a newborn infant, that be Jesus who was and would become again part of the triune God. And it was the herald for Jesus, John the Baptist who leapt in his mother’s womb.

This is part of the nature of the Revised Common Lectionary. As you think you are journeying farther from the central story of Jesus, you find that you are actually drawing closer. It is this exact inclusive nature that gives, for me, credence to a triune belief in and of God. So endth my input on the Trinity. Selah! Shalom!

Trinity Sunday – Seeing the Spirit in our spirit (The Epistles Passage)

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:12-17)

There are “stronger” scripture passages about the Spirit – outlining where the Spirit comes from and what the Spirit does in the lives of believers. But this is a good scripture passage to show how the Spirit is part of the Triune God. In the verses that follow (specifically verse 26) the writer of Romans says that the Spirit intercedes for us in prayer, when we do not know what or how to prayer, “with sighs too deep for words.” That is an instance of the “Spirit bearing witness with our spirit.”

Remember back on Wednesday, when Jesus told Nicodemus what is born of flesh is flesh, but what is born of “Spirit” is spirit. This is the unfolding of Jesus’ instruction to Nicodemus, of being “born again” and “being born from above”, and that the Spirit cannot be controlled or completely understood by humanity because it is a part of God, as Jesus is a part of God. Oh, beloved reader, how a triune understanding of God knits together all of this!

It is my hope and prayer that these three days of looking at the three aspects of God have given you something new to think about. And if your faith system already includes believing in the Trinity, I hope and pray that you have been blessed in looking at this part of your faith again. Selah!

Trinity Sunday – Seeing Jesus (The Gospel Passage)

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:1-17)

Nicodemus was curious about Jesus, and most likely defying his fellow Pharisees, he went to talk to him. We can suspect this because he went late at night. He and Jesus talked about deep spiritual matters – for them. Take a moment to think about this, beloved reader; we can understand what Jesus meant (at least I am hopeful this is true for all of my beloved readers) because we have been educated in what it means to be spiritually minded. But for Nicodemus these were deep unfathomable ideas. Jesus rightly asked, “how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

We can see and recognize who Jesus is, and if you believe in the trinity, you can see how this is another aspect of God. Jesus said many times, “I come from God; if you know God, you know me. And if you know me, you know God.”

May you, beloved reader, see Jesus for who he was, is and will be; that part of God that came to us because the Divine so loved us! Selah!

Trinity Sunday – Seeing God (The Old Testament and Psalm Passages)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

This is one of my favorite passages – for so many reasons! The absolution of sin; the sending out of a prophet; the songs it has inspired. And of course, seeing the Lord in almighty splendor. I am also partial to the book of Isaiah, or at least large chunks of it. The writer of Isaiah can get carried away. But here, the fairly young Isaiah sees something in the temple that changes his entire life. Seeing or encounter God can do that.

The week’s lectionary passages commemorate the belief in the Trinity. And I have, of course started with God. This passage from Isaiah, with all that it does, gives a glimpse of the Almighty God. Of course, this is not the only aspect of God; God as parent, creator, sender of blessings and forgiver of sins are also themes of God that make up the first part of the Trinity.

The psalmist in Psalm 29 also gives us a picture and image of God that is awe-inspiring and overwhelming.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

The voice of the Lord, or to be more precise, this voice of the Lord was the only voice of God that the people of the Old Testament knew; and to be very exact, it was the only voice of the Lord God that the people in Jesus time knew. The concept of “triune” God came only when the aspect(s) of God branched into different parts. Trinity Sunday does is identify and celebrate each part and aspect. So here, beloved reader, is God – in all the God-self’s glory! Fear and love the Lord . . . for so many reasons! Selah!

Day of Pentecost – The Account of the Actual Day (The Substituted Acts Passage)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.(Acts 2:1-4)

Did the disciples know, when they woke up that morning, that today would be the day? And that after this day nothing would be the same? While some of the gospels talk about this day, this recounting of the coming of the Spirit seems more complete and full. I think it is important to note that they were all together in one place. That is significant, that the Spirit did not come individually, and that everyone of them was there. This was a group experience, so that no one could or would be left out.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Verses 5-13)

Note, beloved reader, that Jews were of every nationality at the time – just a passing thing to be aware of. But it also provided a built in witness to the power of the Spirit, and the genuineness of the speaking of the different languages. It is a small foreshadowing that Jesus and God would be Lord over all nations and all peoples, not just to the Jerusalem Jews. It is also a foreshadowing of non-belief and refusal to believe.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “(Verses 14-21)

I think that portion of scripture should be titled “Peter comes into his own.” What a powerful testimony that bullish, impulsive Peter who denied Jesus three times takes the lead and explains what is happening – preaches a sermon right there!

We too, beloved reader, can come into our own. We can be touched and changed by the Spirit so that we might speak and preach, spreading the new of Jesus. We do not have to talk in tongues; in fact many devout Christians who have ministered and spread the news of God have never talked in tongues. The Spirit gives us the words to say, if we will but invite the Spirit in and listen.

This ends the Easter season for 2015. The Sundays that follow are what is called “Ordinary Time” the passing of Sundays until Advent comes again. To be sure there will be some special days, and scripture to help us observe those days. But for the most part there will be week days and Sundays that we live out our Christian lives. I will return at times to the theme of renewal and recommitment to the Christian life. May you find blessing in your ordinary daily walk with God. Selah!

Day of Pentecost – The policy behind the Spirit (The Gospel Passage)

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)

These passages from the gospel of John are a little confusing. Both because the wording of the translation is a little confusing, and because the writer of the gospel of John seems to be talking (or has Jesus talking) in riddles and mysteries. I will attempt to pierce through the muddle and put it in plain speech – not that I assume, beloved reader, you cannot parse out and understand it yourself; but if we are to carry the message and good news of Christ, we need to state it in simple and plain ways.

Jesus is telling his disciples that both they and the Spirit of Truth will testify. But the Spirit does not speak directly in a verbal way but encourages and inspires us, humanity to speak.

But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.”(John 16:4-6)

The writer of the gospel of John portrays a Jesus who was both human and divine – both at the same time. The Jesus of the gospel of John nurtures along the disciples, explaining things in what seems to be clear ways, but always with the aura of mystery and spiritual density. In point of fact, other gospels do have the disciples asking where Jesus is going.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.(Verses 7-9)

Why, one might ask, cannot Jesus and the Advocate not be in the same place? Some triune God-believers have this idea because only one aspect of the God-self can be present at any time. I cannot speak for the writer of the gospel of John, but this maybe why he has Jesus say this. And it goes along with the writer of the gospel that he feels that those not part of Jesus’ followers could not and do not understand Jesus. Furthermore, that the “ruler of this world” is the aspect of sin we call Satan.

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

Apparently the writer of the gospel of John does not see the Spirit of Truth as a separate entity but an outpouring of Jesus and the God-self into the world. Or maybe the phrasing is simply to emphasis that the Spirit is not an independent Being but part of the corporate God (meaning all the Lord is in all the roles and aspects of God). You can see with the theological denseness comes in.

Tomorrow we will look at what actually happened when the Spirit came. But what is most important – more important than the theology/philosophy/policy and the history that is set down by the writers of the bible – is how you encounter the Spirit beloved reader. May the Spirit speak to you in ways that you can easily understand. Selah!

Day of Pentecost – Pausing, and praising God (The Psalms Passage)

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” (Psalm 104:24-34)

It is good for us to pause, and praise God. We need to remember that the Spirit who came to the world on the Day of Pentecost has always been with God and a part of God. But the mentioning of the Spirit is only a small part of this psalm. It is at its core a praising of God for creation.

Creation has always known its Creator. It is humanity that was slow to come in realizing who God the Creator was, is, and will be. And because the Holy Spirit is now seen as a distinct entity, we can see who God the Creator is, and who Christ the Redeemer is. If, however, your faith does not the Divine as a Triune God, this may not make much sense to you. And if that is the case, enjoy this passage from Psalm for what it is – a praise to God. And whatever your beliefs, echo with the psalmist . . .

Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!” (Verse 35b)

Day of Pentecost – The Epistles Passage

In a way, the Day of Pentecost is what we have been counting down to since Easter. It marks the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world in a way that it was not present before. If you think about it, that is rather sad. The Spirit and Presence of God had always been amongst God’s people, and those that God had singled out as being in relationship to the Divine. But with the coming of the Spirit to the disciples, the Holy Spirit was launched into the world as the aftermath of Jesus’ ministry. Without the ministry of Jesus, the disciples and apostles would have never been established. And the writer of most of the Epistles would never been called by God – called out from old belief into new belief. And nurtured by the disciples until he was ready to take up the mantle of his own ministry.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:22-27)

There is a great deal in this passage from Romans chapter 8; more than can be dealt with in one posting. It if a very important passage concerning pray, and petition & intercession. It also has important information about the life to come. And, of course, hope. But what I want to highlight is the fact that the Spirit is talked about as separate from God – an entity or aspect of the Divine that is distinct. This is a difference. But for those of us who believe in a triune faith, it marks the emergence of the third aspect of God – an eminent God that is with us always.

As the week unfolds we will hear more about the Spirit that comes from God, that has work separate from God, but yet is a part of God. As the writer of Romans would say, a great mystery.

May you, beloved reader, be ushered into the presence of the Spirit and may you see, in part at least, some of the mystery revealed. Selah!

The Seventh Sunday of Easter – Preacher and Seeker Praise God for being the Lord (The Psalm Passage)

Preacher: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;” (Psalm 1:1)
Seeker: We are happy this day because we have lived wisely and walked with the Lord. Praise God for showing us the way to happiness.

Preacher: “ . . .but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Verse 2)

Seeker: We have studied God’s word and taken in the guidance and direction we find there. Praise God for showing us the way to delight.

Preacher: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (Verse 3)

Seeker: We have soaked up all that Lord has given to us, and our lives are good. We have faith in the Lord is firm and strong. Praise God for leading us to good places and providing us with resources.

Preacher: “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (Verse 4)
Seeker: We see how others live; while they may have more possessions and enjoy the abundance the world has to offer, what they have will not last. Praise God for giving us the Lord’s good gifts that endure.

Preacher: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;” (Verse 5)

Seeker: Those who sin will not be able to stand up against the judgment of the Lord. They have not place among the righteous. Praise God for teaching us how to be righteous, that we might be found worthy in God’s judgment.

Preacher: “ . . . for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Verse 6)

Seeker: We know that God watches over us, and leads us. God leads us in this world and will lead us to the world to come. Praise God that we will not perish but will be counted among God’s righteous. We will endure! Praise God!

Last time we encountered the Psalm passage, I lamented that we cannot always praise God. But that we, humanity, are not the only thing in creation that praises God. This is good to know and remember. This week’s Psalm passage does not ask us to praise but gives us reason to praise God. We praise God for being, simply, everything that God is. I like this Psalm because it confirms that we are blessed by God if we follow God. It does set up the assumption that if we follow God, our lives will be blessed and full. And that is not always the case, or so it seems. But it does not demand that we praise God, but simply that we remain faithful to God. May you do so, beloved reader. Selah!

The Seventh Sunday of Easter – Overhearing a good “prayer” (The Gospel Passage)

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:6-19)

Like children at the “grown-up table” the disciples and we hear these words. I am not criticizing this passage beloved reader, but pointing out a truth that the disciples may not have been able to understand and take in this prayer; or maybe they did. It is not typically what we would think of as a prayer. It is more of a conversation between two Divine equals, one telling the other what is mutually understood by both of them, but saying this conversation out loud for the purpose of informing and enlightening the listener.

Again, I am not being critical. Let me assure you of that beloved reader. Many times prayer is thought of as telling God what we want or thanking God for something. It’s direction is from us below to God high above us. But this prayer of Jesus’ is more like a report to God of what Jesus has done according to a plan that was set down far in advance of Jesus’ coming to earth. It is just so different!

What would it be like . . . what would it mean if we prayed to God like this? What would it mean to be on this much of intimate terms with God? What would it be like to partner with the God-self to this depth and level? But how can we turn away from this opportunity? Jesus did not have to pray this prayer out loud in front of his disciples. It could have been done as a time away in prayer that Jesus did so often during his earthly ministry. Makes you wonder what those times away were like. But Jesus HAD to have a reason for disclosing to the disciples this depth of relationship with God. And I HAVE to believe it was to show them, and show us beloved reader, what a relationship with God could be like.

I encourage you to cultivate such a relationship with God, and to enter into such conversations with our Lord. And I await to hear how it might change you, your life, and the people around you. Shalom!