Second Week of Advent: The Epistles Passage Year A – Taking time to hope

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:4-6)

I feel like I have been living in a rush these past few days. There seems to be so much to do, to attend to, and to monitor. There’s not enough minutes in the day to do everything I feel I should do, and not enough strength in my body and mind to accomplish everything.

These verses from Romans do not precisely address my flurry, but close enough for me to stop and ponder on them – which in itself is probably a good thing. Harmony is not a need of mine right now as much as peace and rest. Glorifying God with one voice is not much a challenge as stopping long enough to realize that there is much I can praise God for. Not the least of which is to be able to get through these next days. Which, thinking that, has me itching to rush off, hurrying and scurrying to accomplish. But the writer of Romans has more to say.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Verses 7 – 9a)

Everything within me wants to say, “Hurry, scurry, next task!” Next portion of the passage, move along. But I keep going back over these verses – welcoming takes time. It takes space and expanse to do it well and wisely, with compassion, love and acceptance. Servanthood takes time, and a willing heart and spirit. These things take time, I tell my self, and I must take the time to consider it all.

As it is written,
Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,“The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (Verses 9b – 12)

Hope – that is what I must pause and read in these verses. Hope that things will work out. Hope that I will accomplish all that I must do. Hope that if my strength and endurance give out, God’s strength will see me through. Hope takes time. Hope does not rush around but calmly says these thing will accomplished. Hope says I can put away my fears, and my “hurrying” and “scurrying” and rest in the Lord.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 13)

Selah!

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Second Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – What is coming? Who is coming?

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:1-4)

John the Baptist was unusual. From the moment of his birth (and even before) he was set apart. Just as his cousin Jesus was. John and Jesus were contemporary, although the bible does not seem to make mention or note as to whether they knew each other before John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.

“Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Verses 5 to 10)

Unconventional and uncontrollable, that was John the Baptist. But as I said, he was much like his cousin Jesus the Christ.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Jesus the Christ is coming! Will you be ready?

First Week of Advent: The Psalms Passage Year A – Journeying to a better place

Preacher: “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Seeker: I have not been too many places in the world. I have not traveled much. I have like the places I have seen. And I wish I could see more of this world. But, that might not be a reality for me. I always figured I would see the world in new and wonderful ways once I have passed from this life to the next. But going to the house of the Lord? Yes, I would love to do that, any time!
Preacher: “Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”

Seeker: How good it will be to declare that we are our destination, that our journey is done and we are within the Lord’s Holy City.
Preacher: “Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.”

Seeker: The Lord’s Holy City is well built, and defended. No one who is not invited is allowed in. All evil and sorrow is kept outside its walls.
Preacher: “To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.”

Seeker: Every one who knows, and is known by the Lord, goes there. The Lord’s people stream there, and are glad to be there and worship the Lord within the gates.
Preacher: “For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.”

Seeker: But it is not for the faint of heart. Or those who have evil within their hearts. The Lord’s justice is carried out. And the Lord’s will is the law.
Preacher: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

Seeker: And the Lord’s will and law is shalom for all people. Everyone has what they need, and no one has more than they should. All live together in harmony and accord. Neighbor watches our for neighbor. Love flows from one person to another, and discord is never known.
Preacher: ”For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122)

Seeker: We do not yet live in the Lord’s Holy City. The world we live in has a mix of good will, good intentions, and discord. There are some who seek to create a city that is like the new Jerusalem. But others want to the old ways, where a person takes what he or she wants and does not consider the other. Where the marginalized and the poor are kept away from abundance, prosperity and justice. This world has many wonders and much beauty. But I long for the Lord’s Holy City. May we all journey towards the House of the Lord, helping each other along the way. And may we create, whenever and wherever we can, the shalom that is within the City of the Lord. Selah!

First Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Cleansing our house of intolerance, hatred, and animosity

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” (Isaiah 2: 1 – 2)

In the days of Isaiah, and the time that the bible (both Old and New Testament) were being written, the believe was that at some point and in some place the Lord in heaven and humanity on earth would meet up and dwell together. That would be the place to be, the ultimate place that all people would want to be. It was, in a sense, a very naïve and innocent assumption.

Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Verses 3)

Being a called people meant that one should not chase after other gods or other beliefs. One should not worship any other god; why would one, when God was the best, the truest, the Only Living God? Why indeed? And yet, and yet . . . . there are other religions, other faith systems, other ways of believing in the Divine. There has been over the decades and centuries an ebbing & flowing of tolerance of other faiths. And that would not bother me so much if Christianity as it is practiced today reflected the same unconditional compassion and acceptance as the way Jesus Christ set it down and modeled it. Christians and Christianity are shamed when intolerance and animosity directed toward people because of differences and deviations from what certain mainstream groups believe is normative. (Isn’t that a gentle way of saying some people hate others who are not like them!) This is NOT what is taught in the hour of the God of Jacob. And should not be taught or tolerated in any household espousing faith in God.

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;” (Verse 4a)

Do not think, beloved reader, that certain nations are guaranteed to win favor with the Lord. Do not think that certain faiths, even certain and varying versions of Christianity, will be favored over other faiths. It is what is in a person’s heart and how they live their lives that will be judged, and not how closely they followed the tenets of their own faith systems.

“ . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Verse 4b)

I am speaking to you, beloved reader, straight and unabashedly. I am taking you to task for any hidden or cloaked prejudice or bias you might have against another person. There has been far too much meanness and hateful talk and action in our world lately. Swords and spears come in the form and shape of words, attitudes, and actions. As we entered into the Advent season, especially, we need to root it out and repent of it. And most certainly before we enter into the Lord’s house that is to be above such things!

O house of Jacob [and every other house in the world],
come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Verse 5)

Season After Pentecost: Thanksgiving 2016 – Moving from one season to the next

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (John 6:25)

I am breaking with tradition and writing this on the eve of Thanksgiving. I have completed all the advance preparations – that is, the household is as clean as it going to get for tomorrow and the pies are baked. It is late; in fact, if I post this when I am done writing it, it will appear at the usual time for this blog posts.

I chose to write on the eve of because I wanted it to be as up-to-date and relevant as possible. Thanksgiving is a time of advance thinking and last minute preparation – feast advice notwithstanding!

“Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” (Verses 26 – 27)

I did not, however, do any pre-thinking or planning as to what I was going to say/write, other than determining the order I am going to list/address the scripture passages that the Revised Common Lectionary has for this Thanksgiving season. It seemed to me to be good to think first about what Jesus said about food and spiritual food – seeing as tomorrow will be a day of fooding!

Whether your Thanksgiving planning was done weeks or months ago, or like me this year who did all the planning and shopping very last minute, the food of tomorrow will not last much longer than the day – leftovers exempted! My point is that what we celebrate with tomorrow will “perish”; but the care and compassion we have for those around the table will endure for our lifetime and beyond. And the spiritual food that the Lord God provides will last from this world into the next.

“Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” (Verses 28 – 31)

The food we eat tomorrow will be set in front of us – at least that is true for most of us. While I might have prepared the food for those who gather around my table tomorrow, the acquiring it and preparing it was relatively simple – as if it came down from heaven. I did not have to sacrifice myself for it, nor did it cause me pain and toil (at least not comparatively speaking along side my next comment). But the spiritual food which we partake of comes to us at the cost of Christ’s life. And our partaking of it obligates us to be followers of Christ, which could involve great sacrifice.

“Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Verses 32 – 35)

While we satisfy our hunger Thanksgiving, let us remember that we should not settle for the food that the world gives, but should crave and seek the spiritual food that is promised us by and through our Lord God Jesus Christ!

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

Giving thanks for the bounty and abundance that the Lord has given. So we turn from considering spiritual food to the blessings of this life that the Lord has given us. And we remember, or should remember, those who still struggle for sustenance and the simple basics of life. Charity was an important aspect of Jewish life; this verse from Deuteronomy specifically mentions the “aliens” who resided among the chosen people of God. Reminding them that God’s favor does not just rest on them, and that they at one time struggled in their daily lives. Let us be thankful that our struggles are small. And if, beloved reader, your struggles are large, I hope and pray that there are those who reach out the hand of compassion and assistance to you!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

With spiritual food given to us, and blessings and abundance bestowed on us, we have much to be thankful for. What response will we make to the Lord God, and how will we show our praise and appreciation?

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Verses 8 – 9)

As you have been reading, this year Thanksgiving comes within the first week of Advent. The end of the lectionary year is thus intermingled with the beginning of the next lectionary year. Beginnings and endings do sometimes get entangled. Let us not try to untangle them, but reside in the blessings of both. We celebrate what the Lord has done for us this year, and look forward to the blessings of the coming year. Let us rejoice that the Lord is with us and keeps us. And let us draw closed to the Lord so that we might feel that Divine blessing, and share that blessing with others. Selah!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

First Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – Getting ready for . . . what again?

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36-39)

Cheerful. No, not really. Ah but Advent sometimes starts out with unusual passages and then warms up to the more Advent-y/Christmas-y season. Year A in the lectionary cycle usually has the theme of new life, new believers or coming to faith. So some exhortation warning is to be expected when you are urging people to believe for their own best interests.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Verses 40 -42)

It is not wise to dilly-dally, members of the early Christian church thought, because you never know when your Lord is coming. We know now that the return of the Lord was not imminent then. What we do not know now is how soon the Lord will return. So maybe you should not dilly-dally now.

“But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Verses 43 – 44)

But (you say) this is the season of Advent, and we know when Advent is coming, and when Christmas is coming! It is marked on our calendars! This is the season of waiting, not hurrying – you say. But . . . this is also the season of preparation! And what better preparation for the birth of Jesus than making sure the Lord God already has a place in your heart, soul, and spirit?!

Before you hang up the mistletoe, before you drag in the Yule log, before you start the first refrain of “Fa-la-la” make sure you already have the Lord God Jesus Christ residing in your life. Then the season is sure to be a jolly one! Selah!

 

 

P.S. For those of you who saw and liked this the first time around – something went wrong in the scheduling and it posted far too early! A week too early! This is its proper place in the lectionary cycle, the first week of Advent and not the week before Thanksgiving!

First Week of Advent: The Epistle Passage Year A – Waiting in hope

I am very much relieved that the verses for Advent delicately touch on the season. It seems far to early to start thinking about Advent. Yet, Thanksgiving comes at the end of this week and this Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. The first candle in the Advent wreath will be lite, and soon will come (if it has not already according to the decorations in stores) planning for the holiday.

The year seems to have rushed away, and recent events may have blurred for a moment the coming of the season; but I am determined in my own way to reassert the spirit of Advent, and in good time, Christmas.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13: 11-14)

A little starker than I would have put it, but that is the writer of Romans for you. Writing to a people who lived squarely in the midst of politics and social upheaval, trying to carve out a Christian way of living in a society that at times seemed against them. No matter; they prevailed and so shall we. Because when it comes right down to it, the power of love and compassion, caring and acceptance, forgiveness and mercy is stronger than what is antithetic to Christian principles.

The season of Advent is a season of waiting; waiting in hope but knowing (really) what is to come. It occurs to me we are also in a season of waiting, waiting to see what will happen in current politics and the upheaval that is with us. So it doubly good that the season of Advent will help us move through this time with hope and the promise that salvation is resting firmly in the hands of the Divine. Selah!