Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – A day to re-direct our thinking

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. (Luke 20: 27-28)

This week there is an extra day of commenting; Tuesday Nov 1 is All Saints’ Day. A day set aside by the church to remember and honor those spiritual forebearers who have passed from this world to the next. I am hoping to cite several passages noted for that day, and devote some time to them. That is why I am commenting today, Oct 31st Halloween. I tried to pick one of the passages that reflected a more Christian perspective on Halloween. I hope it pleases you.

Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” (Verses 29 – 33)

This passage goes to the question, just what is there after this life? And if there is something, how does it run? Do the relationships on earth continue after death? It does touch somewhat on the themes of Halloween – at least the spirit world aspect. And it does connect with All Saints’ Day. Jesus gives a comforting word and an explanation.

There is also the aspect and possibility that this group of Sadducees wanted to cause problems for Jesus. Give him a complex question and situation, and have him get caught up in cross theologies and beliefs. Didn’t happen though!

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Verses 33 to 38)

Our God is the God of the living. Whatever claims Halloween might have, it does not impinge or interact with our God. That is why, I imagine, so many people are against and void Halloween and all the trappings and trimmings of it. You see quite often churches have “Fall Festivals” and “Harvest Festivals” or evening that counter and substitute for the secular experience of Halloween.

Many churches also have services to remember and honor members who have passed. The church, for the most part, does a good job of ignoring and/or negating Halloween, just as Jesus did. The only reason I am commenting today is so that tomorrow I can focus on All Saints’ Day. And to tell you, beloved reader, that whatever the secular world says about today, it does not change or alert what we know is the truth in our Lord God and Jesus Christ. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Finding comfort in the psalmist’s words

You are righteous, O Lord, and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness and in all faithfulness.” (Psalms 119:137 – 138)

It is supposed, and I am not questioning it, that the Psalms were written before the birth of Jesus. Often passages from the Psalms are said to foretell or predict what Jesus will/would do, and what he will/would mean to the Jewish people of that time – and what he means to us. That being the case, these declarations concerning God came into existence longer ago than 2000 years. And will probably withstand the test of time for the next 2000 years – if human existence lasts that long. And this gives me comfort when current events in the United States loom on the horizon.

If you reside in a country other than the United States beloved reader, these events might be more at a distance for you. And their implications not as great; but I suspect that what the people of the United States decide will still make ripples in the global pond. And that gives me comfort too.

My zeal consumes me because my foes forget your words.” (Verse 139)

This line puzzled me, so I looked at in according to the Easy to Read Version – “Something that really upsets me is the thought that my enemies ignore your commands.” Now, this sounds kind of political. And these days I have been very reluctant to dip my toe into anything political; even more so than previously. I found myself, however, pulled into politics. Or more accurately, dismayed when I discover something I previously thought non-political having political underpinnings. Of course, it may be the times we are in that has me giving political shadings to this verse. I should move on quickly.

“Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.” (Verse 140)

Yes, much better. As I said, these words come from several centuries back, and I hold tightly to me the promise and premise that God is unchanging, and that the God that Jesus the Christ points to was the same at this writing of the Psalms as he was when Jesus walked the earth, and as the Lord God is now.

“I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.” (Verse 141)

Other translations tell me “small and despised” is meant to convey the idea that the writer is young and inexperienced – not well thought of by his elders. I am not sure that is true in my case, but I too cling to God’s precepts.

“Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me, but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” (Verses 142- 144)

Throughout the history that the bible has as its backdrop, there were political situations and issues that were as unsettling then as our modern times are now. The Psalms passages comforted and sustained the people then, as they do now. It is good to remember. And it makes me feel tied and connected to my spiritual forebearers that they looked to the Psalms for comfort and strength. I would encourage and exhort you beloved reader to look to them also. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – To you, beloved reader, from me through Paul

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 1:1-2)

I want to pause and give acknowledgment that much of the way we address and speak to God comes from the inspiration of Paul. It was Paul taking words that had been used in other ways – “Lord”, “Father”, “Anointed One” – gave rise to how we address God. And these ways of referring to God and Jesus have passed down through the centuries. Of course it is spiritual, faith, and theological writers such as myself and others who have retained and carried on the traditions. But these ways of referring to God and Jesus have much rich tradition and heritage.

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.”

I do not know what trials and sufferings the believers in Thessalonica were going through. I suppose I could go look it up, do some research, and then share that with you beloved reader. But I am not going to. The reason is, in our lives in these moderns days and modern times we have our own trials, struggles, challenges, and suffering. Maybe not in your life right now or not in your faith circle, but at some point and at some time there were issues and situations that loomed large. And in the future there probably will be again. So you, beloved reader, may need and deserve someone being on your side and boasting of your endurance to others. You need support and accolades that you are persevering in the best Christian faith. So . . .

“To this end we [I] always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Amen and selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – A “short” lesson

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” (Luke 19: 1- 6)

This may be the source of all the jokes that tax collectors are unscrupulous. Certainly they have “enjoyed” such a reputation down through history, both real and imagined. Even Zacchaeus is pictured in picture bibles as a very short man dressed in loud colors and flowing clothing. But let us not forget that Zacchaeus made every effort and beyond to see Jesus. That says a great deal about his character. We see that in the following verses.

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Verses 7 -10)

Confession, penance and forgiveness. It is for everyone – even those it is assumed are undeserving of it. For a short guy with a bad reputation, he has a lot to teach us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Going to the “Compliant Department”

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:1-4)

I could have used the passage last week. It could have been my chief song and compliant! But it was the passage for last week, and would have emoted all over – I don’t think I would have moved forward and through the experience. And come out the other side. There is value in mourning and grieving, in naming our pain and our situation. But if we dwell there, and get stuck there, then we will never see hope and possibilities.

The writer of Habakkuk at the opening of the book naming and explaining his pain, and expressing it to his God. There is nothing wrong with venting to God, and asking God why these things are allowed to happen. And, why God won’t do anything about it. Words of lament have as much to be said as words of praise. In fact, words of lament are what makes words of praise so wondrous when the situation is remedied.

“I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” (2:1-4)

The writer of Habakkuk received his answer fairly swiftly; or at least it seems so as he moves from his compliant to God’s action. But even so, the writer of Habakkuk is told he must be patient. Sometimes a great deal of time passes before issues and situations are resolved; and the resolution itself can take time. One must be patient. Wait on God.

I have learned in my own life to wait three days when something happens that I lament about. Wait three days before I think all is lost. Waiting allows the full event to be understood. It forces me to come to God, and see what God has to say. I have found it a blessing many times to have three days to process something.

But as I said before, don’t allow yourself to get stuck in the situation. Do not assume the sorrow, misery, suffering etc will be unending. Yes, name the pain. Yes, speak of the hurt. Yes, come to God and express the vehemence of your feelings. And then wait for God’s action and response. It may come in three days, three weeks, three months, or three years. Or even decades. God hears your pain and sorrow. God is with you. And God will sustain you. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalm Passage – Praising God; This one is for me!

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,” (Psalms 65:1)

It has been a long hard week for me, although when you read this, it will be last week for me that the week was hard. It is not the point and purpose to retroactively have you live through my distress, beloved reader. What I do want to let you know, is that as I sit down to reflect and write on this passage, I do so with praise and gratitude that God got me through this.

“O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.” (Verses 2 to 4)

While being in the world but not of the world is a good stance to have, we forget and neglect at our peril that the world and all that is earthly and sin in the world has a hold on us and affects us. The sin of others impacts us – sometimes with disastrous consequences. And our sins, I am sure, have impact on others. That is why we pray, “ . . . as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . “ But we pray, “ . . . Forgive us our trespasses . . .” Because we cannot know and go to all the people who we have trespassed against. We can only hope that they pray too, and forgive us.

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.” (Verses 5 to 6)

In fact, it is only in praying to God that the sins we have committed and influenced others with can be forgiven – when those others are unknown to us. But God knows them, and we can only hope ministers to their hearts and being. And in some Divine way, I hope and pray, our confession and penance is made known to them, and we can all be blessed with forgiveness. The Lord is mighty in this way.

“You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.” (Verses 7 to 10)

In my musing and ponderings, however, I have strayed from the point I initially wanted to make; that was a hard long week, but I got through. There were rough days and nights, but I survived. The Lord God was with me, and comforted me, counseled me, and provided me with what I needed even when I did not know what I needed.

“You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.” (Verses 11 to 13)

How was your week, beloved reader? Were you stressed and tested? Or was it a week that had calm and peace in it? We do not live each other’s lives. A week that may be one way for me, may be quite different for you. But at the end of each week, we lay down our burdens (if not before!) and pause all things to worship the Lord God. It is good for us to do this. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Being full of self, or full of God

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Who are you, beloved reader? Who are you in the midst of other people? Do you consider your self a “somebody”, a “nobody”, or something in between? In a crowd of people, do you stand out or do you blend in? What worth and importance are you in this world? Would those around you, strangers and friends/family have the same opinion of you?

I think of these things quite frequently. Who am I that others should pay attention to me or take note of me? I am no one really; not someone to have attention paid to me. I am neither tall nor short, fat nor skinny, a beauty nor a beast. I don’t really know who I am from the outside looking in. I know who I am from the inside looking out.

I think if I am known, or known well, it is not so much for who I am but how much I open myself to let God work through me. Now hear me well! Not what I do, but what I allow God to do through me! In that I am a lot like Paul.

I had an employee tell me I am the best boss she has ever had; impressive since she is in her late 70’s and has worked all her life. She says it is because I show so much compassion and care for her. I told her, quite honestly, I treat her the same way I treat anyone else. [Okay, maybe one or three notable exceptions!] But my point is, whatever makes me special according to her is only the result of allowing and inviting God’s care and compassion show through me!

Now, back to the temple. How do you feel you stack up against other people? And how do you think God considers you to stack up against other people? Who fills up your being? You, or God?

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Alert! Life Event!

O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:23-26)

Last night I did not feel up to the task of writing, especially something that was contrary to my experience of the day. If you follow me on Facebook in real time (as opposed to my writing a week before the day this posts) you would have read that my wallet was stolen. It was a shaky night, and somehow I could not “hear” or respond back to God’s graciousness and bounty. But 48 hours later, having started to establish my “identity” again, and buoyed up by the sentiments of friends and family, I am ready to look at this passage.

It is a wondrous passage. And does speak to my heart with words of comfort. I had gotten as far as “be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God” and said uh-uh, not tonight/Tuesday night. But beyond that portion is vindication and abundant rain, and not just once but twice. There is explanation of that in some streams of biblical exegesis, that there were two rainy seasons (I think) that helped the crops to grow.

I felt a great many emotions last night, and some of them are still running through my thoughts. I am hoping I am on the other side of this experience – beyond the “locusts” et al. But I do not know for sure. The next few days will tell.

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. (Verses 27 – 30)

I am looking for the signs of healing in my life from this event. I am grateful that I am moving through this, and I have not felt that I was alone. Somehow in the midst of all the stress and complexities God is smoothing the way. And I am praying for that to continue.

I am learning more about myself, and how I am able to handle these sort of stressful events. It has caused me to think and ponder on a great many things; things I had not thought on before. And I am learning why I do the things I do – reasons that I was not conscious of, but now I am. It is a harsh way to learn about one’s self. And an even harsher way to learn about the “evil” nature of others. But along this journey I have also encountered caring and compassionate people, both those who have sent me messages of cheer and care, and those who I have met as I reconstruct my “public”. And I will survive this!

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.” (Verses 31 – 32)

Season After Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – Paul’s confidence and source of courage

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:6-8)

This past Saturday I talked about the psalmist’s attitude, the confidence of being well in-line with God’s tenets and law. And it struck me that such confidence is a little over reaching. I do not say the same thing about Paul, because Christian and religious history has proved him to be a major presence. But still, that confident grates just a little; let me hasten to say that Paul hastens to say that all will given the crown of righteousness if they have remained faithful to God’s tenets and guidance. And, Paul is writing to Timothy in whom he confesses much.

There again, we have the theme of confession/penance/forgiveness. But Paul puts a little bit of a spin on it. In longing for the day that the Lord, the righteous will come, we are put in line of continual confession, taking on penance, and receiving the forgiveness that the Lord has for us. Do not think that just because the Lord is a righteous judge that there is not a place for grace and mercy.

At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 16 – 18)

The Lord “stood” by Paul when all human others deserted him. And Paul passes on to those the grace and mercy that is with the Lord when he states he hopes it will not be counted against those who left him. And there is confidence here too that the Lord will rescue Paul each time.

I would not wish to have the confidence and attitude of the psalmist. Still, several days later I distance myself from it, although I can see and understand why the psalmist might say what was said. But Paul’s “confession” I can take. And wish it for my own. Indeed, some days I feel I am “poured out” and the time of my “departure” is at hand. But the Lord does sustain me. And has seen me through each trial. However, the “crown of righteous” I cannot claim, and that I will be saved from every evil attack is not something I can be certain of. The presence and the strength of the Lord is there, and for me that is enough. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – But not one for me

Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.” (Psalms 119:97)

Once in a while – once in a long while – I do not agree with the psalmist. That does not make me a “bad” person, or any less faithful. Does not make you that way either, beloved reader, if you do not agree with the psalmist. It is not the first verse that I disagree with, but the verses that follow.

“Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.” (Verse 98)

It is not so much that I disbelieve the words, but that I do not like the attitude. It is the “I am superior to every one because I have God’s word in my hip pocket” thinking that I dislike.

“I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation.” (Verse 99)

If you know me at all, beloved reader, I do not situation myself as knowing more or being any better than anyone else. Having God’s words with me and studying it, does not make me any more knowledgeable except to realized how much I do NOT know!

“I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” (Verses 100 – 101)

I am not sure I even could wish that I could have the unshakable confidence that the psalmist has.

“I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me.” (Verse 102)

I do love the “word of God” and I do try to follow it in all things and in all ways. But I will be the first to admit my fallibility. However . . . .

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Verse 103)

But, with the next verse I am back at being uncomfortable with the surety of it.

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Verse 104)

Psalm 119 continues after these verses cited, and the psalmist may very well develop some humility, which would take down the note of self-confidence a bit. And I have to admit, at one time or another some portions of humanity tend to pat itself on the back for being so “faithful” to the Lord. And if I were honest, there may be times I would have to confess to that sort of hubris.

Confess . . . that brings to mind this year’s theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness. However, this does not seem to be one of those passages that has much humbling confession and not much offer of penance, but maybe a sliver of asking for forgiveness . . . for failing a smidgen to hold to such perfection of faith! Therefore I must conclude, beloved reader, in this passage the psalmist does not speak for me. At least, not at this moment in my life. Shalom!