Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Old Testament Passage – An “old friend” Isaiah 55 is.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:1-9)

This is old ground, beloved reader. Very old ground, and a good old friend. I have written on this passage from Isaiah 55 so often that I am not sure I could think of anything new to say. I have much that I have written that could; either in the text of this posting or through inserting links. I am not even sure I could compile a list of every post, meditation, or reflection I have ever written on this passage without missing something. Although, if you search on the “A Simple Desire” page for Isaiah 55 it will retrieve everything I have posted here about it. I tried it, and was pleased to see that it remembers better than I do! Looking back on what I have said about this passage, I see I have even suggested imagining visuals concerning this post. Who ever the writer was for this section of Isaiah, that person and I resonant. In fact, come to think about it, after Paul and I are done our conversation in the life to come, I would probably seek out the writer(s) of Isaiah, just to meet them.

I could pick out the “best of” and put it here. I thought too maybe I could have “Seeker” and “Preacher” say something about this passage; more likely it would just be me recycling my thoughts and putting it into their conversation. I think better for today would be to encourage you, beloved reader, to think and ponder about this passage for yourself. And if it ever comes up again – which it most likely will, I will try to find something new and fresh to say. In the meantime, may the Spirit of God prompt your thinking and bless your meditations. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistles Passage – The testing of a lifetime

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” (I Corinthians 10:1-5)

The writer of I Corinthians is warning his reader that while their spiritual forebearers may seem to have been formidable examples of servanthood and faithful living, they failed when put to the test. He is speaking of the Israelites who were lead out of Egypt by God and Moses. And for the readers in the time that I Corinthians was written, they had the same guidance and inspiration that the liberated Israelites had. Why, might one ask, was God “not pleased”? The writer of I Corinthians goes on to explain that.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (Verses 6 – 10)

If one reads the book of Exodus, it seems that none of them – except for Moses and Joshua and some of that inner circle – were able to follow God as God wanted them to. Makes me sort of nervous for you and I, beloved reader. How can we do any better how to live lives that are acceptable to God? Do we have better or deeper knowledge than they did? Is it easier for us to follow God in our world than it was for them? Are we less tempted or of better temperament than they? What do we have that they do not?

The answer is, really, that we are not much different than they – not really. At least, not the way the writer of I Corinthians explains it. The only difference is that we have a clearly written out remedy for when we are “sinful” people. All the guess work has been taken out.

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.” (Verses 11- 12)

This is, I think, both scary and reassuring. We may feel like we are wandering around in a “desert”; if we feel that we, we have much in common with the Israelites. But it is also scary because they failed when tested. The writer of I Corinthians tried to assure his readers, and by extension us . . .

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (Verses 13)

However I can’t help but feel that is some sort of “pie in the sky by and by”; why am I cynical about this you may ask? If this is the same God, and the same “rock” that is Christ, how can we be sure that we can endure it when the people God called out of Egypt could not? I know, same question that I posed before. But the answer I gave, beloved reader, is not based on our strength and ability but God’s! I know! Same answer that the writer of I Corinthians gave! There must be something between the two answers!!

And there is . . . . grace and mercy; confession, penance, and forgiveness. It is that the writer of I Corinthians is alluding to, and which I had not stated clearly. We may well be tested beyond our strength and fall flat on our face in the desert. I cannot say with the writer of I Corinthians (okay, Paul) that we will be able to endure the testing. It seems like I have been tested so many times in my life, and I know where I have failed that test. There was no escape hatch; but there was grace and mercy, and restoration from my failures. And maybe that is what Paul meant. When I do finally move beyond that testing that is in this life to the life that is beyond, I will ask Paul.

In the meantime, beloved reader, hold tight to your Lord and to the grace and mercy that is in the Lord. May you feel that especially in this season of Lent. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Gospel Passage – A teachable moment for repentance

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Death or calamity does not come upon us because we have deserved it; nor are we spared calamity or misfortune because we lead exemplary lives. The caution, as Jesus tells it, is to repent from sin and lead good righteous lives. And then there is the additional warning of what can happen if we do not lead fruitful lives.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”(Verses 6-9)

I was at loss, beloved reader, to know what else to say about this passage. Fortunate happenstance took me to a posting that pointed me in a good direction. Writer spoke to the fragile nature of human life. Galilean pilgrims were slaughtered when offering sacrifices in the temple, and in tragic imagery their blood was mingled amongst the blood of their offering. Furthermore, Jesus reminds them, of eighteen residents of Jerusalem who were crushed by a falling tower. They were not any better or worse, the Galileans or the Jerusalemites, than any one else.

We live in a world fraught with danger; both natural and human made. It behooves us not to let sin accumulate in the corners of our lives, but to confess and repent so that if calamity befalls us we know that our future in the life beyond is assured. And if that places too much in this teaching and parable, then at least hear this. We do not know when our lives will end, whether we will get another year or whether this day is our last. Do not wait to come to God! Come today, in this hour, in this minute! Come to God and lay down your confessing and contrite heart. And then pick up a new heart and spirit that lives in and for the Lord. Then come what may, you are already with God! Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Psalms Passage – Knowing where and who to turn to

“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:1-8)

I am feeling a little guilty, beloved reader, for using the psalms passage from last week as my own personal sounding board for what is going on in my life. It is one thing to appropriate a passage and use a certain type of “lens” to view it with. But quite another to take as a “vehicle” to get you to a personal destination. That has been done many times by many people; and I have done it myself to make a certain point. But just using it to speak through does not feel quite right to me.

So I was very pleased to see and read this week’s psalm passage. It is a very personal psalm and no doubt the psalmist (who is thought to be King David) used it to express deep feelings that he had – yes, like I did in a way. But the psalmist was speaking to God – directly to God. And that is what this psalm deserves; that it be kept as a prayer to God. A prayer of thanksgiving and praise. So I am writing on it NOW before anything else happens in my week.

However, in times of trouble and distress (which is what I was going through when I wrote on Psalms 27) this is a good psalm to think on and remember that God is there for us always. My hope and prayer, beloved reader, is that the sentiments in this psalm reflect what your relationship with your Lord is like. Resting and depending on the Lord during the season of Lent and other seasons of sorrow is a good thing to do. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent 2016: The Psalm Passage – Taking comfort where it can be found

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.”
(Psalm 27:1-2)

I want to tell you a story about a family who moved far across the country to a place they hoped would give them all a better opportunity in life. It is actually a story that many families could tell. Moving away from the familiar to the unfamiliar is as old as Abram leaving Ur, being called out by God.

It is not easy making a move like that on faith. Hoping that the God who watched over you in familiar places would also be there in the unfamiliar. God is there, in the foreign lands and new places – because God is everywhere. And if you look for God in the new places, the Lord will make the God-self known.

“Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (Verse 3)

I moved from my familiar small home town to Indiana to go the college. The familiar to the unfamiliar. Then my family and I moved from Indiana to the west coast. Trading what had become home to a new home. It was hard leaving family and friends behind – each time I moved. But I asked God, and always believed that the same God who was in the known places would also be in the unknown. And what I came to realize is that God makes every place home when we find our home in God.

“One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Verse 4)

A friend from seminary once said of me that I continually seek to dwell with God. It is not something that I thought about myself, but I trust him and so trust his assessment of me.

“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.” (Verses 5 to 6)

I have seen days of trouble, beloved reader, and nights of fear. But always . . . always . . . the fear passes, and I rejoice to the Lord with shouts of joy.

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Verses 7 to 8)

In all things, and under all circumstances, I search for the Lord, and search for the Lord’s guidance.

“Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” (Verse 9)

Do not think, beloved reader, that it is a sign of my wisdom that I am this way. It is not so! It is a sign of my need and dependence on God. It is a sign of my weakness that I can do nothing on my own, but in all things need God!

“If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” (Verse 10)

Now here I must pause and stop. Here I must change direction slightly. There is an event in our extended family’s life that is deeply on my mind.

In moving, first to go to college, and then moving to the west coast, I have moved farther from my family of origin. My husband did too. That was hard. Harder still was when our parents started to grow old, as parents have a habit of doing. And when my in-laws – first my husband’s mother,  then his father just a week ago today – grew ill and died, being at a distance made the mourning and grieving more intense. A grief shared is a grief lessened; or maybe it is that grieving with family helps one move through the bereavement process. My in-laws did not “forsake” us, but we felt alone nonetheless. Praise be to God, that the Divine fills in the spaces where the loss is felt.

But the psalmist is not speaking to loss, but is asking the Lord for guidance; not in the midst of sadness but in the midst of hardship and one’s enemies. This is not a psalm for grieving; but it is the psalm that is set before me. I can not bend it to my circumstances, nor can my circumstances be bent towards it.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (Verses 11-12)

What I can, and do, is pray for that we as a family here on the west coast can move through this time of grieving and come out stronger for the experience. That our sorrow will not be our undoing or downfall. That is a hope and prayer that is applicable for many circumstances.

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!” (Verses 13 – 14)

God is with us in our sorrow. God is also with us in our joys. And if we sorrow because a dear family member has passed on, we can be comforted that our dear family member is with the Lord and in the company of other family that have passed on also. It is a bittersweet joy that will sustain us. And my thoughts come full circle to the beginning of this psalm – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” I do not fear death, the end of this life. My Lord is greater than death, and has conquered death. And in that victory is life beyond this one. And that, beloved reader, is the greatest comfort of all! Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent 2016: The Old Testament Passage – Abram and us

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Abram (who would become Abraham) had just passed up great riches that was retrieved and won through the war that Abram and his allies were successful in. I am assuming that God is assuring Abram that his time will come for wealth, possessions, and family. But Abram is not convinced that he will have anyone to pass his possessions and legacy onto.

But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” (Verses 2 – 7)

Again the Lord assured Abram that the Lord had plans for him, and that the Lord who called him out from his home land is the same Lord who is promising these things. But still Abram was unsure.

But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” (Verses 8 – 12)

The missing verses are a foretelling to Abram that though he would be a father of many, would live a good life and die in peace, his descendent would not have an easy time of it. But the Lord would be faithful and in good time fulfill all the promises that had been made and would be made.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates . . .” (Verses 17-18)

For a time the children of Abraham did possess all that had been foretold. But each generation and nation is an inheritor in their own right. What was given to the previous generation is not always kept by the current generation. Those of us who have lived long enough remember the way things “used to be” and it seems that the way things are now is not an improvement. That something intangible but precious has been lost. Maybe it is nothing more than our rose-colored memories of time past. Maybe it is a generational phenomenon. We feel like God has promised us something, but we are not sure how it will come to pass. So we worry, and we question. And when we think upon these things, it is like a darkness comes over us; and our worst fears for ourselves and our descendents is played out before us. God does not always promise us easy lives, but God never deserts us. And what God promises will come to pass – for good or for bad.

God has promised us, beloved reader, that forgiveness is our if we but confess our sins and make amends. And if this world is hard and harsh, and what is precious in this life seems to drift out of or be snatched from our hands – we have God’s promise that in the life to come we will live in peace and abundance. Let us hold on to these promises as we journey further into the season of Lent.

Second Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistle Passage – Paul writes from his heart and mine

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1)

This evening my health is not very good, and I am struggling to accomplish those things that are of utmost importance to me. Caring for my family, and writing to you beloved reader. I am fortunate that the RCL is citing something that the writer of Philippians has written that I can endorse fully. As you may already know, the attributed writer of much of the epistles is someone I have frequent “conversations” with and about. But this passage comes from his heart, and echoes the sentiments in mine.

I feel like I have also told you of those who are enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ, and often telling you about it has brought me to tears. And I would add that is all devoutly believing Christians whose citizenship is in heaven. Through Christ’s sacrifice our citizenship is assured, and through God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness that citizenship in heaven remains open to us. Let us do all that Paul encourages us to, my brothers and sisters – my beloved readers. I love and long for you also, and hope and pray that you are standing firm in the Lord! Selah!