Third Sunday of Lent: Epistles Passage – I am a “character”!

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

I can’t help but think of my own situation, beloved reader. Yes, things are better than last time I talked about this. But my situation is the same – job ending and I am not sure what I will do next for a job. It is not suffering, because I will not be destitute. But it will call forth endurance, and no doubt many of my characteristics (for good or for bad) will come forth. I think what is meant here is “good” character – positive traits and attributes. Because those things, the writer of Romans says, produces hope.

I will admit, freely admit, that I have struggled to understand this progression – from endurance to character and character to hope. How can one trait, I ponder, lead to another? And I have finally come to the simple answer, in the midst of my current struggles . . . . it simply does! I don’t know what the weeks will bring. In fact, as you read this, I am going through my second day of unemployment. And while I am writing this, I have idea what my next job will be. But I do have hope that there will be a “next job” for me. And that I am still within the Lord’s plan for me. If that is character that has resulted in hope, it must have happened while I was sleeping!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Verses 6 – 11)

After that realization, I just sort of drift through the verse six to eleven, still back at verse four and five, thinking “this hope I have that has not basis or foundation comes from years of simply holding tight to the Lord and living out my faith.”!

Yes, the Lord Jesus died for me, a sinner and that was amazing. And yes, I am saved. And yes, I am reconciled to “God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, to all those things. But character tested and refined leads to hope, the hope that I have that all will be well. Don’t know how, just know that it will be. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent: Old Testament Passage – We have needs

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1)

This sounds like a set up to me! It is said that the human body can survive longer without food than it can without water. It is not surprising to me that “the whole congregation” was upset. And it occurs to me that the Lord must have known they would be upset. So I have to wonder, what this a time of teaching for both “the congregation” and Moses?

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is not easy to be a leader, any more than it is to be a follower. Even after 40 years of history together, they don’t seem much to understand each other. But neither they nor Moses were alone.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Verses 5 to 7)

Moses felt powerless in front of these people, unable to fulfill their simplest need. And the people, “the congregation” doubted that Moses and the Lord could fulfill their simplest need. How can the people of the Lord trust for the complex needs of life when they cannot trust for the simplest. Maybe that is a lesson that we all need to learn. May the Lord God set people before who lead, and tap into our simplest and deepest needs to fulfill them. Selah!

 

Second Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Keeping my eyes, and hopes, lifted up

I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalms 121: 1 – 4)

My life has seen a lot of changes over the past few weeks. The changes have not been easy to take or manage. At times I felt like I was being stretched and tested. It was only after emerging from each interlude of being stretched and tested that I could see and realize always I was safe in God’s hands. It is a human reality, I believe, that we cannot always see that when we are in the midst of trials. It is at those times we simply have to have faith that God is with us.

“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Verses 5 – 8)

I did not lose hope or faith; I just could not see how it would all work out. I could not find my way through what I saw was before me. All I could do was to hold on, and trust that a way would be made. And it was. And based on that experience, I will hold to the same hope and faith was events move forward. It is a little exciting and more than a little scary to not know how the events in the future will unfold and resolve themselves. All I can do is keep lifting my eyes up to the place where I know my help and strength will come. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus and Nicodemus talk; let’s listen

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3:1 – 2)

If one went back to the Greek, as I did, one would see the connection between verse 2 and verse 3 . . .

“Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (Verse 3)

I was not sure what the connection was between the two verses; over the years of biblical and exegetical study this passage had garnered much discussion. But how, I thought, does the passage connect from one statement to the next? Jesus is actually telling Nicodemus (at least this is my interpretation) that it is significant that he recognizes that Jesus is from God. But Nicodemus does not understand the way Jesus is phrasing the transformation that Jesus states Nicodemus under went.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Verses 4 – 6)

We (meaning us modern Christian folk) that the Spirit of God informs us and transforms us so we can understand belief, faith, spirituality and the other components of Christianity – each person being given/gifted with their own insight.

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ “ (Verse 7)

Then comes the next verse, that is not as often given spot light and consideration.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Verse 8)

While many people share a common belief and a common faith, allowing them to gather together to worship, study, praise & honor God – each person has their own relationship to/with God, and that relationship forms their understanding and distinct faith system. That is why it is so important to recognize and respect authentic faith, even though it may not conform to what we understand authentic faith to be.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” (Verse 9)

This is the question of many good intentioned (and not so good intentioned) people – how can another Christian’s faith (or other believer in/of the Divine) look so different than my faith?

“Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (Verses 10)

That is the answer that I think Jesus and our Lord God gives us – you are believers in me, the Diverse, Divine, and Almighty God, and you cannot understand this and take it on faith?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Again, only my supposition, but I think what the writer of John is trying to convey is that Jesus is really the only one who has full knowledge of the things in heaven. Then, the passage goes in a different direction and starts to speak about what Jesus’ ultimate destiny is. That Jesus, who knows all the things of heaven, will need to be made to atone for all the ways humanity has gone the wrong direction.

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Verse 15)

Here comes the famous verse, often quoted and used . . .

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Verse 16)

Even though Jesus Christ knew all, all that is on earth and in heaven, he sacrificed himself for us. And God and Christ does not hold our lack of knowledge and understanding against us.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Verses 17)

We may not know all that there is to know, or understand all that there is to understand. But we have been found worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Epistles Passage – Paul encourages going out with God

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?” (Romans 4:1)

It felt only right that after reading about Abraham we look at what Paul said, since it is part of the lectionary readings for this Second Sunday of Lent. Not that I would avoid reading what Paul said otherwise, but it makes a nice flow.

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Verses 2 – 3)

But Abraham did not just believe God, or believe in God. Abraham stepped out in faith that God had called him to something new, and something that was large in scope and design. And as I am learning in these days, that can be a very hard thing to do. Paul was called out too, and perhaps for that reason he can speak well to Abraham’s belief and righteousness.

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I would like to believe, as Paul explains it, that grace from God cannot be earned as one would earn a paycheck but that God grants that grace to those who believe. In fact, in these days I am counting on God’s grace to get me through some hard times. And that as was true for Abraham, that God will show me the plans that the Divine had for me.

“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Verses 13 – 15)

So, I am trying to follow along with Paul, and being aware how it pertains to my own situation – without, beloved reader, setting out my tale of woe. As far as I can figure, Paul is contrasting the law (meaning Jewish law) with believe that leads to righteous. The law cannot bring righteous or God’s grace. But belief in God can. But again, not just passive belief but belief that is active and acted on. Paul uses the term faith, and perhaps his meaning of the what incorporates action that reflects following the direction and guidance of God – I think. What Paul emphasizes is that if the law is what is important, then faith has not power or foundation. And that, Paul says, is not true.

“For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Verses 16 – 17)

By now I am feeling that Paul is so far into his theology that he sets forth here that it has to be true or everything that Paul asserts falls apart. And quite frankly, beloved reader, that is a little scary. Maybe Paul is scared, in that he has set forth his whole life since his conversion on belief in God. Just as Abraham set forth his whole life when he was called out of Ur. And just as I am setting out in faith that things will work out for me.

Maybe choosing this passage was not a good choice. But you know beloved reader, by the time you read this some days will have passed. And what was before me know as I write this will be in the past. It is my fervent prayer that events will have resolved themselves in such a way that will be evident that God’s grace and blessing was with me the whole time but I could not yet see it. And that perhaps, just maybe, my faith in this will be counted as a small sliver of righteous to me. Shalom!


Second Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Going out with God

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.” (Genesis 12:1-4a)

Almost twelve years (this summer) ago we moved to Eugene. Not because the Lord called us to the west coast (at least not directly) but because a good job beckoned. But we did leave family behind as we journeyed west. That was hard. We did not expect to become “a great nation”; not sure I would have wanted that anyway. But what I did hope is that we would become a blessing to those we met and befriended. And I think that we have done.

As we enter this second week of Lent, I have to think about Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus was called from his family, called to call disciples, and to spend the next years spreading the gospel. We read in the gospels that Jesus’ family did not always understand what Jesus was doing, and why. Some of the gospel writers almost make is seem like his family was against him, and he had isolated himself from his family.

And for Jesus, this verse did come true, in the fullest. Jesus was the beginning of a “great nation” – a Christian nation. And his name was made great, and became a blessing. Those who believe in Jesus are blessed; and those who curse Jesus will find themselves outside of God’s consideration.

Jesus and our Lord God call us out; maybe not to a different land or a different state. But we are called. And so we duly go forth, hoping for the best; but ready for the worst, secure in the knowledge that God is with us each step of the way. Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Lenten temptations and journey

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Matthew 4:1 – 2)

I was curious, so I looked up Jesus and the concept of fasting for 40 days and nights. As with most Google searches, a lot of information (both helpful and unhelpful) was there. I would not put it past the writer of Matthew to access the 40 days as symbolic rather than chronological. But that is not my point, nor I think is it the point of the writer of Matthew. The point is, beloved reader, Jesus’ physical body was in need of nourishment. His spirit/Spirit however . . .

“The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Verses 3 – 4)

People have all kinds of relationships to food. And all kinds of relationships to God. Tending to each carefully is part of living an authentic Christian life. There were other points in Jesus’ life and ministry where food, and drink, play important roles. But we are not done reading this passage, and neither was the tempter.

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
(Verses 5 – 7)

I would to look up how that is said in other translations. But I suspect it would be presented with the same sort of wording. But it makes me think about all the people in human history who have dared to do something daring. Or, those who through no fault of their own have been put in precarious situations.

But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we? It is not as if God is going to “fail” the test. There is though, free will that has corresponding consequences. It is best then to travel with God and not act contrary to one’s own fallible human limits.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” (Verses 8 – 11)

There are limits then to what Jesus was willing to put with. Target human body frailty, and most humans will rise above their baser desires. Target human sense of safety and security, and most people will stay within sensible limits. But target human awareness of God’s authority, and that might be the breaking point. Jesus did not break.

“Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Verse 11)

I am very glad for verse 11. When we have been tempted and tortured by the tempter and the devil, and have resisted with all our might and strength, it is good to know that our needs will be ministered to. May you carry out your Lenten journey strong in the Lord God and assured of the Divine’s tender attention and mercies. Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Psalms Passage – The “Joy” of Lent

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”  (Psalm 32:1 – 2)

It is not quite usual for there to be “happy” and “joy” in Lent. We usually think of it as dour and sober time in the church year. I think we might be mistaken if that is our only impression of Lent. The time of Lent travels along the same time lines as Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus’s disciples did not know their teacher then/Lord later as someone who was somber and restrained. I am not sure if any biblical commentator has looked at Jesus’ life for times of levity and humor, and joy. But I am sure it would be there!

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah” (Verses 3 – 5)

The Lord does not want us to be in misery and pain. That is contrary to the purpose and reason that Christ came. Jesus said his burden is light and his yoke is easy. That is not the invitation of a humorless Messiah.

“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah” (Verses 6 – 7)

I am not sure about the “humor” level or function of the psalmist though. However, the human life has joy and happiness in it. Humanity would not have survived and advance if there was not. And I think humor has an important place in ministry, as does joy and happiness. We do Christianity a disservice if there is not.

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Yes, beloved reader, shout for and in joy! Selah!

Ash Wednesday: The Gospel Passage – Entering Lent properly

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:1 – 2)

I can’t imagine, literally tooting a horn when you give to the poor or to charity. I often donate things that I no longer need to a thrift shop that sells them to finance the community outreach that they do. I do not even “toot my horn” to call the thrift shop staff much-less announce to others that I am doing it!

“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verse 4)

But neither do I feel that I have been “reward” by the Divine or anyone else. It is just something I do to help out. I can’t afford to give money away but I can find other ways to help. And I do. The reward, and the only reward I want, is that I know what I am doing makes a difference.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verses 5 – 6)

This is “my” verse – one of the verses I orient my life around. I have had many “prayer rooms”; some actual places/spaces and some that are just my own personal time to come to the Lord in prayer. I don’t “toot my horn” or make a public announcement. I just bring myself and my total attention to the Lord, and pray. And yes, I have been rewarded!

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Again, beyond my experience. I guess back in Jesus time the local “hypocrites” employed trumpet playing people to announce when and where they were giving alms, prayed at loud decibels in public places and walked around looking like death’s last stop when they were fasting. We as Christians are told to life our faith publicly, but that is NOT the way to do it!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Verses 19 – 21)

As we enter the season of Lent, let us enter it properly; as Jesus instructed his disciples and followers to live their faith lives. Without embarrassment or shame, but also without fanfare and notoriety. The world will notice and know that you are different from others they know. It will become evident in so many ways. And that, beloved reader, will be enough. Selah!

Ash Wednesday: The Psalms Passage – Entering Lent

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1)

Ash Wednesday. It is said in some traditions the ashes that are smudged on the forehead are from the burnt palms from the previous year. I like that continuity from year to year. Each Lent season we enter it with good intentions that when we are forgiven from our sins, we sill sin no more. But days and weeks pass, and sin creeps in, until Lent season is upon us again and we again need forgiveness.

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Verses 2 – 3)

I also like the idea that the church body knows that it will inevitably sin, and retaining the memory of grace, hopes on it again. Jesus dying once for us was enough. But we need to repent and be forgiven again and again. This is one of the lessons that young believers learn. That the thrill of new belief gives way to the reality of trying to life a new life in an old world.

“Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Verses 4 – 5)

While it is true that the new believer most likely has turned away from a life not at all centered on God and Christ, human will alone is not enough to keep us sin free. Or, as we have been talking about in the past few days, free will allows us to make choices that are contrary to God’s leading and guidance.

“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Verses 6 – 9)

New Christian, or old hand at the Christian life, each of us needs to be re-oriented towards God and Christ. Ash Wednesday is one of those days when we examine our selves, see ourselves as we are, seek to make amends, and hope in the grace and mercy that is to come. And opening ourselves like that, we invite God and Christ is – for the first time or again.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Verses 10 – 13)

It is a yearly rhythm; self examination, confession, and the hope for forgiveness. We sometimes create a journey where we move from self-examination to confession, and then “feign” not knowing what we will do – whether grace and mercy will be ours. In this way we re-discover anew the grace and mercy that God intends.

“Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Verses 14 – 17)

But the using of palms from the year before belies that idea. In its stead we recognize that human will and human frailty have tripped us up . . . again. There are many spiritual disciplines and practices that are carried out during Lent. Throughout history the church has espoused differing ways to take on “burdens” during Lent to remind us of Christ’s travail. We go without something or do something extra to mark the 40 days that are Lent. And there is good and benefit in that.

But we must also remember that grace and mercy are not to be rewards for the burdens we endure or the challenges we take up. As it is so often said, you must believe . . . simply, believe. This is the good news for the new Christian, and good news for those of us who have seen many Lenten seasons.

May you, beloved reader, enter into the season of Lent looking for the hope that is already in place. Selah!