Should the two become one? [What does it mean to pray about something? Part Two]

(This post appeared on my other blog, “Pondering From the Pacific”, on July 17th. It was the second part of a two part reflection on my decision to move from posting on “A Simple Desires” scripture and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, and have only one blog as my sole blog. You can see the first part at What does it mean ot pray about something. Part One that I wrote on July 4th on the blog“Pondering From the Pacific”. The readers/followers there have been aware, if they have chosen to read it, that I have been thinking about this. Just recently I started making pragmatic plans and preparations. I discovered that some aspects at first seemed difficult, but with perseverance and not a small amount of luck, the arrangements have been working out very well. I chronicled that in the post Pragmatism, Theology, and Relatively Minor Miracles! . I wrote and posted that July 30th. I imagine that will serve as unofficial notice of the move. I have already started posting the August entries for the Revised Common Lectionary posts on “Pondering From the Pacific” The official move date will be sometime later in the fall. I invite you, before the official move, to explore the site [https://ponderingfromthepacific.wordpress.com/] and sincerely hope all of you will move the move with me. )

 

It started with an idea, a vague unformed idea. And from that idea came a desire. Not a simple desire but a rather complex one, actually. When I first started this blog [meaning “Pondering From the Pacific] (my second one, in addition to the blog “A Simple Desire” that I inherited since after a time I was the only one writing it) my reasoning was that I was not just a ponderer and writer based on scripture passages, but an observer of all facets and aspects of life. And I wanted an outlet for my other thoughts and observations. I had hoped there would be time for me to write for both blogs. But time is an elusive thing. More fleeting than I thought it would be.

Back in 2012 when I started this second blog that you are now reading, “Pondering From the Pacific”, my other blog “A Simple Desire” commented on scripture that was also posted on Third Way Cafe,  a website that MennoMedia created and ran as a part of the media outreach of Mennonite Church USA – to give the context. Third Way Cafe posted on a daily basis “A Sip of Scripture” and that was the source of the scripture passages I and others had been wrote about. (In 2010 I went solo.) However, at the close of 2014 I switched from using their scripture passages to writing on the Revised Common Lectionary. And starting January 2015 I posted exclusively on the Revised Common Lectionary changing from a daily posting to posting 4 times a week. However, that did not result in posting more often to my other blog – this one. As I said above, time was more fleeting than I hoped it would be.

So for 5 years I have been straddling writing two blogs; giving most of my attention to one and sadly neglecting the other. My idea was to try somehow to combine my writing efforts. And the desire was to have a blog that was from start to finish my very own. Not something I inherited from someone else, but for good or for bad was all me. Much as I appreciated the gentle soul who handed over the blog “A Simple Desire” to me without any backward glances (and the other writers who made worthy contributions), I always felt I was standing on the shoulders of another. I had made the choice when I became the solo writer to continue host the postings that were not mine but the efforts and thoughts of  others. Good thoughts, inspiring thoughts .  .  .  . but not mine. I felt more and more strongly that I wanted something that was just mine.

But I will admit it was scary thinking about truly foraging out on my own. “A Simple Desire” as a blog has amassed a formidable following. I remind myself in the past seven years since it has been just me, it has grown in readership; that has truly humbled me. And since writing on the Revised Common Lectionary, the growth has been even greater which I am also humbled by. How can I just walk away from that?

The issue is complex because I do not want to eliminate the work of others, pretending that their work has just disappeared; I want to honor their contributions. But I also want to move forward under my own power and see what I can do. In the past weeks and months I have been torn over what to do. And more importantly when to do  .  .  .  .  whatever I decide to do.

My fledgling plan is to move my posting on scripture passages over to “Pondering From the Pacific”, clearly announcing my intentions, and hope that the readers (my readers) will follow me over the the new site. “A Simple Desire” would continue, but I would not add anything new to that site. In this way I hope to honor what has been written in the past, but move forward into my own future, on a site that is truly my own. Just me. It is scary to think about – well maybe not scary in the chills up and down one’s spine; but daunting to make such a change. And why? For my own self-image? That’s not why I started writing either blog in the first place.

On the other hand, I don’t feel the need to be part of a “bunch.” I am ready to stand out on my own, come what may. I am pretty sure I can handle it; and what I can’t handle .  .  .  . well, let’s just say that my faith is strong enough for whatever may come, in spite of what my pride and self-image might quake at. Actually, that might be exactly where my crux point is – my faith on the one side and my pride/self-image on the other. And I am pretty sure I know which side is going to come out on top. Shalom & Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Psalm Passage – Wrestling with the Psalms, of all things!

Do you remember, beloved reader, from back on Tuesday when we talked about how Jacob had treated his brother Esau, and deceived his father? And he, Jacob, was deceived by his uncle, his mother’s brother? And the week before, we talked about Jacob and his dream of the ladder up to heaven, and God giving him the same promise as his grandfather Abraham was given? We also talked about how these men (and women), called children of God, were charged with the creation of a nation of people who would be God’s shining light for/to the rest of the world. Promises were given by God, in exchange for faithfulness. These people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons – formed the foundation. The Old Testament is the history and story of this called and foundation. We know that the earlier called people of God did not follow the call as faithfully as they might. But then Christians, called by God, also have problems being faithful.

The psalmist tells us what the reward for faithfulness is.

“Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128)

Now according to Old Testament/Israelite reasoning, this wonderful life is the reward of faithful living. And if this reward is not evident, it is because the living has not been faithful. At least that is a message that comes through from the history of Israel, Judah, and the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. But we also know that we live in a fallen world where the dictates and direction of the Lord is not followed by many, and the tragedies in the world are the result not just of the recipient of the tragedy but because troubles are also inflicted upon the innocent.

So what should we say and believe? That if our lives are not as the psalmist writes, then we are at fault? Or that the misdeed and evil of others have deprived us of such blissful living? It is a conundrum that believers have wrestled with for generations. And probably one that will be wrestled with for generations more.

As the history of the Israelites continued, the idea of this “blissful living” moved from being an assured reality to a dream of the future. It became “shalom”, peaceful and harmonious living, and was a hope for the life to come. It is one aspect of the hope that Jesus offered to his disciples. And that Paul assures us will be ours in the world to come.

It is helpful to keep in mind this evolution of what the Israelites hoped would be their lives under the Lord. What they felt they were promised, but didn’t always get. It is also helpful to keep in mind when you think about what the Jews of Jesus’ time hoped that the Messiah would bring them. And, beloved reader, it is a dream that is helpful for us to keep in mind as we journey through our present lives. That this reality will not be the only reality that we are destined for. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Gospel Passage – The Kingdom of Heaven is . . . .

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31 – 32)

Most of the time when I have read this parable / metaphor I have focused on the largeness of what the mustard seed becomes. But this time I have taken with how small it starts out as, and what implications that has for the Kingdom of Heaven. Many times / many people envision the Kingdom of Heaven as some large well-established place. But in reality it might start our quite small – as small as one person believing in it.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Verse 33)

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven starts out small but has great influence over something larger that is changed, and its nature is changed. The Kingdom of Heaven, very likely beloved reader, is something that may be created in the hearts of each member of humanity who has placed itself under the influence of the Divine.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Verse 44)

Here is another perspective on the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not readily or easily seen. But once found, everything else in life becomes unnecessary. The necessary thing is to make the Kingdom of Heaven and the rewards it has one’s own.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Verses 45 – 46)

What would make a person give up all other things in one’s life just to possess this one item? We who have room after room of items and possessions may find it hard to imagine giving all of that up just for one item. And yet, that is the same sort of instructions Jesus had for following him. It is not surprising therefore that he uses a parable / metaphor that has the same sort of motif.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;
when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Verses 47 – 50)

But it is not just we believers who need to be discerning in what we prize and what we give up. The Kingdom of Heaven will also decide and discern who and what will be worthy of entry. And that is a definite change from the earlier parables. That many will chose and price the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Kingdom will also chose amongst those who inhabit this world. It is not just that we must decide in favor of the Kingdom of Heaven above and apart from all other things. We must also live our lives according the the guidance and direction that the Kingdom gives.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Verses 51 – 52)

If we understand these teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven, it incumbent on us to teach them to others, and to practice it in our own lives. We must search for the Kingdom of Heaven where it exists and who it exists with, We must give up those things that stand between us and the Kingdom of Heaven, clinging not to unimportant things but giving what we must in order to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. And once we have down that, live according to the guidance and direction of the One who called the Kingdom of Heaven into existence. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Epistles Passage – It can be a hard life, beloved reader

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Paul has just got done exhorting us to hope, just as I have commended to hope even though you cannot see what you have hoped for. Then both Paul and I say “likewise” the Spirit helps us. Yes, I think I am on the other side of a passage from Paul that I struggle with. But that does not mean it is easy coasting from here on out.

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Verses 27 – 28)

I want to let you in on a little secret beloved reader (that you may already know); the Spirit and God are . . sorta One. What I mean is that God “knows what is the mind of the Spirit” because God is the Mind of the Spirit. At least that is true in Triune theology. Less easy to prove is that “all things work together for good for those who love God . . .” That’s not to say that it is not true; but when you are in the middle of “less than good” things, it is hard to know that it is all going to work out for “good.” Or maybe you can embrace the idea that whatever happens God will use it to work out good purpose.

Now, that would be a theological mouth-fill if it were not spoken by Paul. Paul who had been Saul, who had been imprisoned and tortured, who had to flee for his life, who had to endure much grief and distress and pain. The man knows suffering, and knows that thus far in his life the bad has worked out to positive outcomes.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Verses 29 – 30)

In other words, if you feel picked on, used, and abused – you probably were. But for a reason. What you are going through will have an outcome that will bring about glory to God. Okay, you sort of have to want that to happen in order to withstand the tough times. But think about this; if you do have tough times, it may just be that the toughness will result in something awesome. That is not to say that God allows us to be whipped around, or that the Divine whips us around. What it is saying is that God is going to work things out in ways we could never image!

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Verse 31)

God is mightier than anything that comes up against us. We may not mightier or stronger than anything we might encounter. Situations and circumstances may be more than we can handle, and we may get ground into dust. But we will be God’s dust! And that, beloved reader, is better than being just plain dust!

“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Verses 32 – 35)

You see, that is Paul’s litmus test. Not that we will have an easy life, but whatever happens in our life will not necessarily prevent us from rejoicing glory and reward from the Lord God. If you look at life from Paul’s mindset, being ground into dust for the Lord God is a privilege! Yeah, I have one or two things I would like to say to Paul about that too. But he has a point. This world & the favors and ease that it offers is not something we should regard as important.

“As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verses 36 – 39)

Hard times, rough conditions, stress and turmoil, suffering and death – they are all apart of this world. We either endure . . . . . well actually there is not much other choice. We endure until we can no longer endure. But once endurance is done, and our lives are over, there is something beyond that. It all comes back to hope. And the Spirit who is there for us, groaning in ways that we could never groan ourselves. And praying, in ways so deep that it goes beyond words. Whatever hardship comes our way, we are not alone. Maybe helpless, but not alone. And, beloved reader, that Presence may make all the difference! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Old Testament Passage – Lessons to be learned and legacies to be established

We pick up the story of Jacob when he had reached the ancestral home of his grandfather and his mother. His uncle Laban, now married himself and and with daughters, has agreed to employ Jacob to tend his flocks. But wants Jacob to earn more than just his room and board. Jacob has an idea of how he would like to be paid though.

“Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.” (Genesis 29:15 – 17)

Now you will have to believe me that Leah and Rachel were not that much different, and maybe not that much far apart in age and looks. The reason why I believe this strongly will become apparent. Remember too that Jacob is his mother’s son, and Laban is her brother. Family resemblance and traits are important here, so remember what Jacob is like also.

“Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”(Verses 18 – 21)

So Jacob is an eager young bridegroom who has been waiting for the woman of his dreams. Seven years, enough time for a young girl to grow into a woman.

“So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)” (Verses 22 – 24)

Well . . . . what do you know? Uncle Laban is a bit of a trickster himself! And Jacob has been as smoothly outsmarted as Esau was back home!

“When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (Verse 25)

Ah yes, beloved reader. Only in the light of morning does Jacob realize what he has longed for those seven years is not what he got. Perhaps it would help your incredulity to know that most probably Jacob had not seen much of Leah or Rachel – that is, they were wearing concealing clothing. Remember Leah had beautiful eyes, and Rachel was graceful and of lovely form. Jacob would not have spent much time alone with her, nor might have he known how exactly she changed over the seven years. Laban pulled off a smooth transfer to be sure.

“Laban said, “This is not done in our country–giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.” (Verses 26 – 28)

Jacob subbed himself in for Esau with his father getting the family blessing, as well as fooling Esau into giving away something very valuable for a meager return. Laban subbed in Leah for Rachel as well as fooling Jacob into working for him a total of fourteen years. Jacob went along with taking Leah as his wife, since he got Rachel. Seems to me that no one is exactly operating on the up and up. And what of Leah and Rachel? How might have they felt being traded around by their father, and ending up with the same husband? Seems to me, beloved reader, there are some legacies being established. Think too of grandpa Abraham who used Hagar to get a son, and yet was okay with tossing them out of the camp when Isaac was born. Abraham also did some other fancy maneuvering with the truth when it suited his purpose. I have a feeling, beloved reader, we are not done seeing the shenanigans in this family!

Yet, these are people of God. People who are charged with carrying out God’s establishing of a new nation, and a people called by God. One of the points of the Old Testament is that the people of God were far from perfect, and God called them to task on it. Yet the Lord God was faithful in establishing a nation from these people, these men and women who looked out from themselves almost more than they looked out for following the Lord’s guidance.

So do not despair, beloved reader, if you have fallen short in anyway. The Lord God is bound to use you for a Divine purpose – whether you cooperate or not! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Psalm Passage – Far away, and close to home . . . the Lord is there

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

As you may have figure out, beloved reader, this Psalm passage is meant to match up with the other scripture readings this week, and by consequence, match the Old Testament passage concerning Jacob. But I think every person in the Old Testament who had been called by God could say that they have they have been searched and known.

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” (Verses 2 – 4)

And not just Old Testament figures, but New Testament and Epistle writers also. They were known and inspired by God and Jesus Christ. In fact Jesus himself was inspired by God – that is, the aspect that was Jesus was fueled by the aspect that is the Lord. Triune theology can get complicated and wordy at times.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Verses 5 – 6)

We too, beloved reader, are known by the Divine. Known and thoroughly known. All that was, is, will be is known by the Divine. Just sit with that for a moment. While we do not know the future, or can only make guesses from our human knowledge and abilities, the Divine knows what the future holds for all of us. Good, bad, and in-between. Why, we ask, does the Lord God not prevent the bad? Why does the Lord God not make only the good things? It is because humanity does not exist in a vacuum. What one person does intersects with what another person does. If every single person on the planet lived every single second of their life in perfect harmony with the guidance of the Lord, it would all be “good.” But humanity has been given free will and choice. One poor or unwise choice collides with another, and before too long the shalom that the Divine wills has been upset. The only good thing that can be relied on is that we are not alone in the world.

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Verses 7 – 12)

Abraham traveled far from his home and family to establish a new way of life. The Lord was there. Isaac established a place for himself and his family. The Lord was there. Jacob returned to his grandfather’s ancestral home, and the Lord was there to work out the events that would establish Jacob. Joseph was taken to Egypt, and the Lord was there. The Hebrews were in Egypt for many generations, and the Lord was with them. Then Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, and the Lord traveled with them to the land that would be theirs. The Lord God follows those that set out in the Divine’s name. And is there at each one of their destinations.

The psalmist speaks for all of us when he wrote these words. Let these words be your request also . . . .

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Verses 23 – 24)

Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Old Testament Passage – Being called and inspired by the Lord God

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.” (Genesis 28:10)

Last time with visited with Jacob and his family, Jacob had just cheated Esau out of his birth right. Then later he cheated Esau out of the blessing from their father, disguising himself as Esau. Isaac was pretty old by then, mostly deaf and mostly blind, so it was not to difficult to fool him. Esau was plenty upset, so Jacob fled.

“He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” (Verses 11 – 14)

I sit here in wonderment, beloved reader, that Jacob liar and opportunist that he was, would be blessed by God and promised the same sort of things that his grandfather Abraham was promised. It just goes to show, I guess, that the Lord God can make use of all sorts of people.

“Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Verses 15 – 17)

One would hope that this dream scared Jacob straight. Or inspired him to be a better person. Or, gave him something to believe in and strive for. It is not uncommon to have an aimless feeling, not sure what life holds for you and not sure if you will accomplish much. Maybe Jacob felt that way as the younger brother. Maybe he did yearn for his father’s attention and approval. We read in scripture that Esau was the one who went out and accomplished things in hunting and providing food while Jacob stayed close to the encampment and the tents.

God very well might have known the dreams and hopes that Jacob had, to prove himself to his family. And prove that he could do things and accomplish things. Liar and trickster, yes. Opportunist, yes. But also called to be a man of God.

“So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.” (Verses 18 – 19a)

We would do well to mark the places in our lives where we have been called by the Lord God. And remember them as holy places. To give thanks to the Lord God, and to commit to fulfilling the calling that the Lord God has for us. But, beloved reader, let us try to do that with a little more honesty and integrity. Selah!