Pentecost Sunday; The Old Testament Passage – Pentecost is coming!

It will be a busy week – the Spirit is coming! But that is really not anything new. The Spirit of God has always been accessible; just not in as apparent a way in the Old Testament as it is in the New. Or, maybe it is just that people after Jesus’ ministry on earth craved the type of intimate relationship that they had with Jesus, and that Jesus exemplified between himself and the Lord God.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.” (Numbers 11:24 – 25)

Just as Jesus said to Nicodemus, the Spirit blows where it will, and we have a hard time seeing it. But we can feel it and know it. And welcome it.

“Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” (Verses 26 – 28)

I am not sure what Joshua son of Nun was so concerned about. Was it fear? Was it unfamiliarity with the ways of the Spirit? Or was it as Moses suggested, that he felt prophesy was only the purview of Moses?

“But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.” (Verses 29 – 30)

I have to think about what Moses said and agree. Would it not be wonderful if all people everywhere had the Lord’s Spirit in them. It would make life on earth like heaven. And that, I am afraid, is the exact point. We live in a fallen and fallible world. Many say they are guided by the Lord and the Lord’s Spirit. But there are also people like Joshua son of Nun who want to contain and quantify/qualify the gifting and blessing of the Spirit. The Spirit is not under control of any person but is part of the Divine. And even if we, as devote followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ, would love to be imbued with the Spirit it does not happen that way. Of course, we need to be and remain open to the indwelling of the Spirit.

As I said and to better explain, the day that celebrates the first Pentecost is coming. Let us yearn for that experience for ourselves! Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Hearing, and Not Hearing the Lord God

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” (Psalm 68:1 – 3)

It is not an overstatement to say that the church designates certain Sundays as “celebration” Sundays. During those weeks the psalm passage are usually very praising and celebratory. And the first section of verse one fits in very well with the Ascension of the Lord theme. So let’s celebrate!


“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Part of celebrating is recounting and remembering when and how the Lord was faithful.

“O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Even though the fate and circumstances of the Lord’s called people may vary and change, surge forth and ebb away, the Lord is faithful. At least that’s what we tell ourselves and each other.

I cannot turn a blind eye, beloved reader, to the times and places that the called people of God have cried out, “My God, where are you?!” Our exemplar and Lord Jesus Christ did the same thing. Yes, there are times God goes out before us – marching, making the earth quake and water pour down, and generally making the Divine Presence known. But there are also times when we fill like we are out there all alone when the earth quakes and the waters pour, and we are shivering and shaking in the dark.

A large part of the stories in the Old Testament are of both noteworthy and common every day people who were having a hard time fulfilling the call they were supposed to have had from the Lord God. And seemingly not getting it right! And it also seemed like the Lord God was set against them and teaching them lessons that successive generations had to re-learn.

To tell you the honest truth, beloved reader, I am not sure how the people of the Old Testament messed ups, or even if they did mess up. A lot of the politics of the time swept the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews along with it, and the people suffered. They said it was because the Lord deserted them, as a consequence of their behavior. To read the Old Testament prophets (both major and minor) that’s the impression you get. What I do know is that at some point the Lord God said to the God-self, “Humanity does not seem to be getting the message. It’s time for a different plan.” So Jesus was sent. And things started to get a bit better.

So do not think that just because the Lord is not out there booming the big Divine drum that God has forsaken humanity. God is right there beside us, standing with us on the rolling shaking landscape and getting wet too! And now we know this. What we know further is that just because Jesus is in heaven, we are not alone down here. Yes, we will mess up, in ways we cannot count, fathom, or begin to know. But, we are not alone.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Verses 32 – 35)

Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus prays, and we are drawn in

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” (John 17:1-5)

The New Revised Standard Version tells me, through section headings, that Jesus is praying this for himself in verses one to five. The next section of verses, six to eleven is part of the larger section where Jesus prays for his disciples. According to the writer of the gospel of John, Jesus prayed this at the conclusion of the Passover Supper/Last Supper. Since the gospel of John does not have the ascension of the Lord, it is as close to a sending off of the disciples as we get in this gospel.

This first section is interesting, in that it reveals what position vis a vis Jesus felt he had with God. Jesus identifies (again) that he came from God and had authority to do all the things he did – preaching/teaching and miracles. But it also identifies that Jesus had the same glory that God has, and will have the glory again. Which is probably why it is used for the Sunday closest to the Day of Ascension of the Lord. It also brings sharply into focus the aim of the writer of the gospel of John, establishing Jesus’ Divinity. You may wonder, beloved reader, why I sometimes use the noun “Divine” at times when referring to the Lord God. At the times when I used that term, I am trying to sum up all that the triune aspects (and other aspects) of the Lord God are. And to incorporate more than just a strictly narrowly-defined Christian view of the Lord God.

Jesus was not a Christian – he was Christ. Strictly speaking, the Jews who believed in him and came to believe in him during the time of the early Christian church were not Christians either. It was the people who came from other faiths that embraced belief in Christ who could be termed Christians. Christianity, and by implication Christendom, was established by subsequent generations. And those believers can be and are included in the prayer that the NRSV says were prayed for Jesus’ disciples.

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.” (Verses 6 – 9)

The world, as it would have been understood then (and remember that this prayer comes to us by way of a person writing within the context of those times) would be “pagans” who it was assumed would never give up their “pagan” beliefs nor hear about Jesus the Messiah because they were at too much of a distance. The assumption was, those who were “given to” Jesus were very close at hand and with the conceptual distance that the disciples had.

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Verses 10 – 11)

This passage of prayers goes on for eight more verses, as Jesus asks the Lord for blessing and protection on the disciples. A final passage, verses twenty to twenty-six ask a blessing on all believers – specifically those who will come to faith because of the disciple’s ministry efforts. But remember, the writer of the gospel of John could not foresee the length of time and the impact that Jesus’ life would have.

I could go on, beloved reader, describing the expanding circle of those who came to believe, and how. In part, that is what the book of Acts and the Epistle passages of the New Testament are. Tracing the progression, the impact, and the teachings of the apostles. Remember too, that there is much evidence that the early church thought not more than one or two generations would pass before Jesus would return. But here we are, 21st Century Christians who have kept (more or less) a Christian faith based on what was set down by Christ. The disciples/apostles could not envision that. But Jesus Christ could and did. So, when Jesus prayed for his “apostles” – that could be us. And when Jesus prayed for all other believers, that is us too.

I am reminded that the theme of the lectionary this year is believers coming to new/renewed faith. According to the celebration days of the church, Jesus has ascended. And the Lord God and Jesus Christ continue to welcome believers and minister to them. Selah!

Ascension of the Lord: The Gospel, Epistle and Psalm Passage – All things working together under the Lord God Jesus Christ

You can pretty much assume, beloved reader, that if it is a celebration day in the church year, they will be plenty of scripture passages and I will use a great many of them! After all, I have to pack several citations onto one day!

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44 – 47)

It would not be wonderful, beloved reader, if our minds could be opened to understand ALL the scriptures! One could be a biblical commentator without equal! If that was one’s goal in life. We who are living many generations after the disciples have to learn scriptural understanding bit by bit. It takes time and effort, and there are many who do not want to make that time and effort. For myself, I do not mind so much having to come to understandings of scripture slowly, as long as I can have an outlet to share what I have learned. If my mouth and words were stifled, and I could not share it . . . well, I don’t think I could withstand that very well.

“You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Verses 48 – 53)

And I can barely imagine what it must have been like to witness Jesus in the flesh, to walk with him and learn from him, and then face the prospect of NOT talking about it. Maybe that is why the disciples/apostles continue to talk, preach, and witness concerning Jesus even when their lives were threatened. I think I would do the same thing, defy anyone who tried to keep me quiet.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

I can also understand Paul taking every opportunity to witness, preach, and testify about God. While he never met (I do not think) Jesus before Jesus was put to death, his experience on the road to Damascus is probably as close to a physical encounter with the risen Lord as one can get.

In the New Testament, it seems to be, Paul’s conversion was very close to the ascension of Jesus, probably something done soon after Jesus had returned to heaven – if we were to think about it along human time lines. It was because of Jesus’ ascension to heaven that the Spirit was able to do such work on earth.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

It reminds of the concept that all things work together in the Lord for a good result. That does not mean that the bad that happens is allowed because it happens for a purpose. But that all things that happen, good and bad, the Lord is able to work with and re-work so that suffering and pain is not in vain; and that the good in the world translates to good in heaven.

The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” (Psalms 93: 1 – 2)

We would expect no less from the Divine. We, humanity praise the Lord, and all creation praises the Lord.

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD! Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.” (verses 3 – 5)

Once again, and still, the Lord God Jesus Christ is enthroned in heaven. All may not be right with the world – there is much that is wrong. But with the Lord God in heaven, and the Lord’s called people on earth, all will be right someday. Selah!

Ascension of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – A Celebration is Coming

As I was thinking and looking towards writing for Thursday May 25th, the Day of the Ascension of the Lord, I got to thinking about the significance of that day to the disciples. As I said yesterday, it is not the same sort of celebration as Pentecost is. In hindsight it is clear to us as modern day believers that Jesus would return to heaven and the Lord who sent him. Maybe that was clear enough to the disciples or maybe that took them by surprise. But what really lodged in my mind, and led me to writing for a second time for today, is that the day BEFORE the ascension of the Lord, they did not know it was coming. It is like the day before a surprise birthday party or other celebration – the day before, you don’t know it is coming. And it is a celebration (it’s why it is commemorated in the church year) that Jesus is returning to heaven so that the things that were promised can and will come to pass.

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” (Psalm 47:1-3)

Well, the psalmist is not quite within the same perspective as us for this day – in fact, this psalm is applied to this day as opposed to having been specifically written for the ascension of the Lord. A fact that finds in parallel in a great deal of scripture passages used in the Revised Common Lectionary. We will be celebrating tomorrow that the Lord God Jesus Christ is “awesome”. Just not quite for the reason the psalmist had in mind.

“He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” (Verses 4 – 8)

This is the celebration – that the Lord who was and is Jesus is now back with the Lord God Creator and all the other aspects of the Divine. It is, albeit, a celebration that is specific to God’s people who believe in the triune nature of the Divine – God the Creator/Parent, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And the psalmist says that all things are under God; whether it be a triune God that is now reunited with its God-self (okay, at admit it strains some theologies to see God in this light) or a God who is “simply” mighty over all things. And verse nine seems to be an exclamation point on this idea. I consulted with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he helped me understand verse nine.

“The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” (Verse 9)

Everyone is gathered under God; those who come voluntarily as the called people of God, and those who God “subdued” under the God-self, as described in verse three. Everyone and everything is under God. And our Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended, is over all things. And that is what we celebrate tomorrow, according to the psalmist.

But, and it is a big “but”, the Lord God as described by the psalmist is not quite the same Lord Jesus Christ that the disciples had come to know. And that was a big stumbling block to some. That the “mighty” Almighty Lord God came to earth and humbled the God-self unto being put to death. Not that it stopped the Lord God, you understand. So while we appropriate the celebration as the psalmist presents it, when re-define it to celebrate that what came to us humbled is now returned to heaven in victory. And that, beloved reader, is worth celebrating – tomorrow. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – A time for pondering and a time for acting

I know a secret. This week is the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. It is a minor big deal in the life of the church. Not quite Pentecost, but right up there – as it were. The time after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension is the interval of time when Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples. Some of the gospels chronicle that time, and others quickly move to Jesus being taken up to heaven.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:6 – 9)

I have spoken/written on numerous occasions about the expectations of the disciples concerning Jesus’ return. That they way they lived and the way the early church was set up was based on this expectation. And how the early church changed to accommodate the “wait time” for Jesus’ return. I have also talked about what we, as authentic Christians, ought to do while we wait.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Do you, beloved reader, gaze up into the sky wondering when Jesus will return in the same way as he went into heaven? No, I don’t think you do. Because we as a called people of the Lord have learned that our mission and calling is here amongst humanity. That Jesus’ Spirit and Presence is here in ways we only understand in part. Prayer is good – prayer is essential! But prayer is not all there is to living out a Christian life. There is acting as Jesus acted. Caring as the Lord cares for us. Teaching and guiding as Jesus taught and guided his disciples. And, continuing to learn about the Lord and Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a busy time, this waiting for Jesus to return. Set aside some time to gaze into the sky, and communion with the Lord. Then return to the work you are called to. Selah!