Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praising in a broken world {Preacher/Seekers and I both speak}

Preacher: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,”
Seekers: “Selah”

Preacher: “ . . . that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Seekers: “Selah”

Preacher: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.” (Psalm 67)
Seekers: Selah!

Since first starting to write this blog, I have seen come to the United States and to the world. I first started contributing to this blog back in 2007. It is coming nigh close to 10 years. I don’t remember if then the world seemed as fragmented and chaotic as it does now. I do not remember if violence and natural devastation was to the level it is now. The news media and social media do an ever increasingly good job of keeping us apprised and informed of world happenings. I am not even sure it is good to know about such things as soon as they happen; if one’s stance is to pray as soon as bad news is heard and rejoice when good news comes, then knowing is good. But if one would pray for humanity regardless of the most current happening, and rejoice that there is still good in the world, then you would not have to know the particulars.

It cannot be said with real accuracy and authenticity that “God is in control” because that does a disservice to the Divine. Humanity is in control of its self, and God is begging us to follow the principles and guidelines that the Lord has set down. Nature is under no one’s control but is spinning off wildly because of what humanity and time have done to it. So if there tragedies to mourn and pray for, it is because humanity has not let God be in control of their actions. And if there are natural devastation, it because nature is running just as amok as selfish human will.

But there is reason to praise. Preacher speaks it and Seekers affirm it. God is gracious to us, when we allow God’s grace to move and work through us. God has set down a template for humanity, if we would but follow it. God judges us, but has established a means for mercy and forgiveness to mediate that judgment. There are stories of God’s blessing and if we listen, we will hear those stories. So let us praise God where praise can be lifted up, and appeal to God when we find ourselves mired in the problems of the world. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – A Vision of Heaven

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5)

I can picture this in my mind – I often have. Picture, beloved reader, a street with old but sound buildings made of chiseled stone – more intricately carved than any human hand could do. The buildings rise up to the sky rivaling the clouds that harmlessly drift by. Down on street level there is a wide broad roadway that is both street and path. People are walking along the roadway or bicycling. Down the middle of the street is a canal and clear water runs through the canal; people along the way are stopping to take a drink, dip their feet, or splash about in the water. Along the canal are trees whose branches dip and sway in the water also. All about is light, laughter and love; there is no darkness but sunlight all the time. The water literally bubbles along in the canal like chimes swaying in the breeze, and from the tree branches come chiming notes also. Far down the canal is the center of all things and there the Throne is and the water flows out from under the Throne without ceasing. All around are white birds and butterflies that also make chiming notes. The breeze is slightly scented with flowers and flowering trees and bushes, all of which are nourished with the flow of water. The light flickers on the flowing water in accompaniment to the musical notes in the air. It is indeed Heaven!

I hope and pray you have your own vision of Heaven that sustains and nourishes you until you too are beside the water of Heaven1 Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – To walk not by sight but by faith

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16:9-10)

It would be easy to say that such vision and then taking immediate action do not happen in our modern times – but they do. I can remember several times in my life when I have felt called to do something, say something etc – and immediately did so. In recent months I have been trying even more so to cultivate the attitude of walking by faith and not by sight – that is, to trust God and move forward.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.” (Verses 11 – 12)

From the narrator of Acts you can get the sense that while it was a hurried decision, the process was quite lengthy. So it was not so much a matter of jumping and being there immediately, but deciding to do something and then make plans accordingly. God calls us to follow the Spirit, not foolish impulses.

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Verses 13 – 15)

And when you do decide and follow through on a plan given by God, God will see to all the “accommodations” along the way. That is the sort of thing I am trying to cultivate in my own life; discern what God is telling me, and then to do that thing and trust the details to God. I well let you know how that turns out, beloved reader. Shalom!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus assures those who will be left

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” (John 14:23-29)

Judas (yes, that Judas Iscariot) had just asked Jesus why he does not declare himself to the world – I am assuming as a conquering reigning king would. I have had heard it said that Judas “betrayed” Jesus to force Jesus to be the sword-wielding conquering king that Judas wanted. I do not know how much truth there is to that, and I would not speculate on it either way. I do find it interesting to consider, and mention it only because it prefaces these verses, which we will now look at. Not exhaustively, but highlighting three things that struck me as important when I read this passage this time.

“Those who love me will keep my word” – do you think those words were specifically for Judas . . . I mean in light of what I said above? Maybe, but Jesus goes on to say that God and Jesus will make their home in a person. That does not sound like a conquering king but a humble King who seeks his subjects good and comfort. But there is “bit” and “teeth” is this because it is not just Jesus’ words but the Almighty’s words that people are to know and keep.

The “Advocate, the Holy Spirit” that is from God has a tremendous task. But I tell you, beloved reader, I do not think that this Advocate and Holy Spirit had never been in the world before. But God sent it to the follower’s of Jesus, and all those who profess Jesus (loving him and keeping his word) in a special and very direct way. And this Spirit has been in the world ever since.

Jesus desires his followers be at peace, and not be afraid of what might come. While Jesus’ disciples may have been nervous and afraid at these words of Jesus, they were not meant to cause fear but to help them prepare. And not to be prepared by their own human strength and will but to be prepared and emboldened by God’s power. Jesus talks about God as “the Father” which is an image some appreciate more than others. But it was in the sense of a loving caring Parent watching out for and over beloved children, and not some parental tyrant.

All in all, this was to assure the disciples that Jesus cares for them, and the One who sent Jesus cares for them also. Good news as we watch the Easter season become more distant. May these words of Jesus assure your heart and spirit, beloved reader. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker praise!

Preacher: “Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!”

Seeker 2: Praise the Lord? Ha! With all that is going on in the world?! Turmoil and disaster, sickness and death, rack and ruin! I tell ya’, any one who can find something to praise doesn’t have eyes to see with!

Preacher: “Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!”

Seeker 2: Well, yeah, if you are not talking about the people that are suffering. Sure, nature can praise God. But even nature is suffering come to think of it. I can see that. Pollution choking out life, and animals suffering because they don’t have clean places to live that haven’t been messed up by humanity. But the sun and the moon are not affected. And the stars still twinkle. The sky is there, but you can’t trust the water that comes from it!

Preacher: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.”

Seeker 2: So, the Lord is watching out for all of this? Really? Taking care of it? And in response to all the trouble they are in, they are supposed to praise the Lord?

Preacher: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!”
Seeker 2: Preacher, are not hearing me? Nature and humanity are in an awful mess, and you want them to join together as if everything is peachy keen, and praise the Lord?!

Preacher: Seeker, I hear you. And I know you are speaking the truth. The world, nature, and all of humanity are breaking down and suffering. If there is any praise, it is praise from a position of brokenness and want; trouble and turmoil, aggression, war and death. But Seeker, the Lord has not brought about this brokenness. Nature is imperfect, and humanity even more so. All of it is broken and in need of healing. But the Lord stands with us in our brokenness, and loves us in our brokenness. The Lord does not condemn us because humanity has trashed nature and seems bound & determined to ruin all themselves in the process of fulfilling their own will instead of following the Lord’s precepts. We praise the Lord not because of the way things are, but because in the Lord’s love there is hope that someday this brokenness will be mended. And there are people who seek to do this Divine work of mending now!
Seeker 2: “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 148)

Preacher: Amen! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – When the new heaven and new earth comes

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.”

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. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (revelation 21:1-6)

When ever I read this portion of Revelations (and since it is an often used portion, I have read it several times) I think about a city the size of a castle floating down to the ground with gauze and lace fluttering around it. It is actually a pretty interesting image – a shame I cannot share it with you beloved reader. But maybe you can imagine your own visual.

This sort of thinking inevitably gets me to thinking about what heaven will be like. I know the ideas and images of heaven are pretty diverse. And from a certain perspective, kind of dull. I mean, one can only image so much singing in a choir before you get tired of it. Don’t get me wrong! That there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain is great. But will the “texture” of life be gone to? The sense of accomplishment and progression? It almost seems like from the description of the writer of Revelation, God/Christ will be accomplishing everything and we will just be standing around watching; not be thirsty, but . . . if everything is accomplished for us, what will we have to do?

You see, from my perspective there is a lot to be done in this world. And God has called us to do many things that are Godly works. And I am glad to do them, even if there is death, mourning, crying and pain. Because we are not alone. And in heaven we will not be alone either, I want to hasten to add. But . . . if all the challenge of life (and death) is gone, what will there be to do?

But then I think . . . God knows me because God created me. And I do not think that in the new earth and new heaven to come I will be so substantially changed that I will be content to do nothing. So I am thinking that God will have SOMETHING for me to do. And in that case, I can eagerly wait for “all things to be made new” and what part there will be for me. Perhaps, beloved reader, you and I can work together in the new earth and new heaven that God has in store for us. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – Seeing and believing, and confessing the same

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:1-3)

As I have said before, I like the apostle Peter. Straightforward, no nonsense, head to the ground, nose to the grindstone Peter. So you know, if he did something outside the norm – there was a good reason!

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Verses 4 – 10)

Notice beloved reader, even on God’s instruction Peter did not reach forth and eat. He puzzled this, but he did not eat.

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ “ (Verses 11 – 14)

Notice too, that Peter did not go alone into the Gentile uncircumcised home, but exercised proper caution.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Verses 15 – 17)

Yes, who was Peter to hinder God? Peter had learned, to his own shame, that it does no one any good to deny God or Jesus. The Divine will do and better what the Divine is. Our calling is to follow faithfully. To confess, make amends, and be forgiven when we doubt God and Christ. And, to not do it again!

When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Verses 18)

God’s repentance is for all people, and actually, all creation. We err when we stand in the way of that. And, beloved reader, humanity to our shame errs quite often! Confess, make amends and accept the forgiveness of God such that we do not err again! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – As God and Jesus love . . .

When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35)

I heard something interest the morning that I sat down to writer on these verses. Someone was talking about the extent of God’s love; God went against the God-self, choosing love over God’s justice. And that made me think again of how God’s justice was meted out in the Old Testament.

Now, I am one of those people who cannot accept that God’s nature could change so much from the Old Testament to the New Testament. I believe that in the Old Testament the writers of the Old Testament chose to highlight God’s justice at all costs versus God’s love at all costs. But each person must search their own heart and follow the direction of thinking that God has presented to them through the Spirit.

Jesus loved us to his death. As much as we can, we should love in the same way. Do not quibble about whether Jesus’ way of love is the same as God’s. Jesus said often enough that he and God are theologically inseparable. So, set Jesus’ manner of loving against your manner of loving. And I hope and pray, beloved reader, that the differences are not great. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalms Passage – Walking without fear

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” (Psalm 23)

At different times in my writings I have written on Psalm 23. Most writers who write about spirituality and faith issues have – several times. Sometimes one or another line or metaphor is highlighted. Others times the psalm as a whole is the focus. But there are only some many lines, and so many metaphors etc to be used as the theme. Sooner or later you are bound to repeat. And that was the challenge before me as I sat down to address this psalm once again.

I remembered another time, years and years ago, when I looked at this psalm. At that time I was writing monthly columns and sending them out to a circle of friends and family. It was something I had started doing back when we lived in Indiana, and I had continued doing it when we moved to the west coast. I do not remember why I picked on the 23rd Psalm to write on; perhaps it was appropriate to what was going on at the time. Mind you, this was 10 years ago – ancient history compared to now. Except, once again, I am sending my writings out into the ether-sphere – so to speak. At that time I was using the King James version of Psalm 23, and I suspect that was the motivation for the title I gave it – “Yea . . . Yeah!” Verse 4 in the KJV reads as follows, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” And the RCL does not stipulate one version over another.

So . . . what follows is what I wrote then. I have reused this reflection before, when I was writing a column for the “Third Way Cafe” website which is still in existence and is produced by Mennonite Media. The title for that posting on that website was “From Yea to Yeah!” But that was years ago too, and I no longer post on that website. I am using the same italics font that I use for scripture, simply because I am in a since quoting myself. So sit back, beloved reader, as I turn back years and listen to my “younger voice.”

Through my readings and study, I have come to understand that the phrase “valley of the shadow of death” does not just mean death itself, but also a place of deep gloom where “evil” seems to be all around. Think of a valley so deep that sunlight cannot reach it, and so narrow that there is no easy path. One must constantly step around or on top of stones that have fallen down from the high cliffs above. And the sides of the cliffs rise up so steeply that there is no way to climb them, so one must walk through them. And the surrounding rocks echo one’s own small footfall until you become afraid of the sound of one’s own steps. This is what I imagined when I read about “the valley”. But the Psalmist says, “I will fear no evil”. Not fearing the evil that is real or the evil that is imagined.

There is a section in one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series where the main characters are walking through such a valley following Aslan. At first only one of the characters sees him and it is only through her persuasion and perseverance that the others continue. Eventually they all see him and are led through the valley safely. The Psalmist says, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Sometimes the “rod and staff” are physical objects. Sometimes they are people who are traveling the same way or the same path. And sometimes the rod and staff are feelings inside that tell you that you are not traveling alone.

For me, it does seem there is no way to avoid the “gloomy place” I am in. I must walk through it. The sides of my predicament are high. There is no way to climb over it or avoid it. And yes, sometimes I am “spooked” by my own footsteps. I have pondered much on my situation, and as new insights come, I tremble. But I know I am not walking this path alone. There are people along the way who are giving me comfort and strength. I have my Bible and my books of Christian meditations. I have the writing of this column to give voice to my inner thoughts, and to help me process it all. And I have the solace of the Lord that cannot be felt or touched, but is most assuredly there.

Many of us at one time or another have walked through such a valley. Perhaps it has been an actual death of a loved one. Perhaps it has been the death of a hope or dream. Or the death of a relationship. Perhaps it has not been death at all, but a dark place in our lives that we have had to work, and walk, through. Each of us has our own fears and times of testing. That is probably why this psalm is so well known, because it speaks precisely to those times. But this psalm does not say we can avoid these times or that we will be easily whisked through them. It says we need not fear, and we will not be alone.

So let our “yea” turn to “yeah!” Let us rejoice in all of the assurances that are found in Psalm 23. And, let us rejoice that our Lord is the good shepherd that will never leave us or let harm come between us and his love for us. For we are not promised that no harm will befall us, that there will no “valley of the shadow of death”. The promise is the comfort, the solace, the knowing that we will come through the darkness into light. And that light is the Lord our God who watches over us, always! Yeah indeed!!!!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – No “simple” explanations

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:22-24)

The request seems simple enough – Jesus was being asked to state in plain and simple terms whether or not he was the promised Messiah. But the difficulty in making this simple statement is two-folded. First, he was not the type of Messiah that they expected. Second, this is the gospel of John where few things are plainly and simply stated.

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Verses 25 – 30)

In other words, if you have to ask you will not understand the answer or the rationale behind it. The evidence was before them in the miracles that Jesus did. But they (these Jews that asked Jesus) did not believe in the miracles (we are to assume) and therefore because they did not see the miracles as miracles, they would not believe Jesus as the Messiah. But those who saw Jesus for who he is belong to him, and in belonging they see clearly; and have been given eternal life in Jesus by God. And, by the way Jesus says, God and I are one.

Written by another person, even Paul for pity’s sake, this might be a simpler declaration. But in the hands and words of the writer of the gospel of John, it takes some mapping and diagramming to figure out. Of course, maybe not for you beloved reader; and I follow it also. But to the “Jews” it was confusing.

Do you realize how great an inheritance we have in being able to follow and understand such theological and Christological discourse? I may at times explain and delineate passages and theological understandings at length, but that is because I want to make sure I am talking about spiritual matters clearly and plainly. But I do assume, beloved reader, that your understanding is swift and complete. And I also assume you are part of Jesus’ “flock.” And as such are heirs to eternal life through Jesus who is God. Selah!