Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – What was old becomes new

During the Sundays of Easter passages from Acts are substituted for the Old Testament passages. I have said this multiple times, and usually I say it to help you, beloved reader, know why it is a passage from Acts. Today I tell you because this passage from Acts is as informative about faithful practices as any Old Testament passage. Let me show you why.

“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

The prophets from the Old Testament are said to have been filled with God’s Spirit, and acted according to that guidance and inspiration. Here we see a new believer who is filled with the exact same essence of God and testifies to it.

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” (Verses 56 – 57)

But he is ignored and set upon just like any prophet from the Old Testament.

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Verse 58)

Unlike the Old Testament, however, unbelievers do not stop at just threatening his life but actually take it. Remember, beloved reader, how many times the Lord’s prophets had to flee in fear of their lives? It as if the reactions of those times were exacerbated with the killing of Jesus Christ. Taking a life is no longer an unthought of act, but one that is gaining acceptance.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (Verses 59 – 60)

But just as Jesus’ death was the beginning of a wave of persecution, so was Jesus’ willingness to give up his life. And even in death remaining faithful to the Lord who was followed and served. It was one thing for Jesus the Son of God to be willing to give up his life, but such faithfulness in humanity was new and unheard of, except maybe in Old Testament times.

And do not think, beloved reader, I have overlooked who was present at Stephen’s death. Here we have the foundation of the Lord getting ready to call a new prophet who would carry forth the Lord’s word and Jesus’ work. No, beloved reader, we have missed out on nothing by not having an Old Testament passage. May we learn lessons from scripture where ever we may find them. Selah!

The election is over; now we start on the days to come

Throughout the day I have been logging into my Facebook page and generally checking in with everyone I connect with on social media for their reactions and responses to the surprising results of the election. I do not chose/use the word “surprise” as my own description but as it was described by others. For some it was a pleasant surprise and for some it was not. Amongst the circle of people I connect with through social media and face to face, the majority feel it was not a pleasant surprise but something they feared and continue to fear. And is so often the case, when one fears, one lashes out. And I have heard/read a lot of lashing out. But I have also read/heard voices of hope and determination to make the best of it and work towards compassion, acceptance and unity.  And that is good.

But . . . but . . . these voices of hope and determination also tell me there is great pain and fear underneath. That they have not turned to anger but love and caring is a good and positive thing. It still, however, speaks and indicates the presence of pain and fear.

I have written a time or two about fear and that God does not call us to a life of fear. Not that the Divine does not acknowledge that we fear, but that the Divine does not wish us to live in fear, but in hope and courage. And not because we fear, are afraid and act out of fear but that we banish fear and replace it with trust in God/the Divine.

This is not the first time the nation, individually or as a group, has feared for itself and others. And without being a pessimist or doomsayer, it will not be the last. We, as a nation have lived in fear and through fear. Fear may be out hope, determination and courage – but it does not always bring out the “best” of us. That is what I hope in the days, weeks and months to come we can do – bring out the best of ourselves and bring out the best in others. We can do that by not letting our fear spread and multiply; no, our fear must be set aside in favor of traits that lead to care, compassion, acceptance, understanding, and unity.

This is not “new” exhortations or encouragements. In fact, this sort of encouragement is pretty biblical. I do not have any bible verses to back this up, and these are not reflections that come from the Revised Common Lectionary. Indeed they are kind of extemporaneous in nature. But written from the heart. And these are comments not just from a national perspective, but global. While this election took place and directly impacts the United States, the U.S. is part of the global community and what happens has impact in other parts of the world. The days, weeks, and months to come will be played out against the backdrop of the global community, and the global community will also impact us.

Living in the United States but being a Canadian citizen means I did not have a part in the election process but I still live in the outcome of the election. It has been a interesting position to be in. I feel both a part of the global community and a resident of the United States – not having a voice but still being a presence. In other words, my opinion did not and does not much matter. So I have not shared much as to what I have felt inside.

What I hope has come across is hope in the Divine, and a desire to see love, compassion, caring and peace spread to all people. In the grand scheme of things, a very simple desire. It is my hope and pray that those traits are what fill our nation and the global community. And I hope and pray, beloved reader, that is your desire too. Selah!

 

JUDGMENT . . . Applied to all humanity and for all time

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. “ (Reference: 1 Peter 4:4-6 )

This is sort of a hard verse to parse out, The writer of 1 Peter is taking great care to emphasis that both the living and the dead will be judged. There are several possible reasons that the writer is so carefully noting this. And since the faith communities that he is writing to were anticipating Christ’s return soon, and the judgment that would come, the theology expressed in this verse might be different than the one or ones we are more familiar with. So I am taking “tiny steps” in examining the theology. The Easy-to-Read Version puts verse six like this, “Some were told the Good News before they died. They were criticized by others in their life here on earth. But it was God’s plan that they hear the Good News so that they could have a new life through the Spirit.” So this makes it clear that, according to the writer of 1 Peter, those who have already died will be judged just like those who are, or more precisely, were then alive.

But still, I was not satisfied that I had seen this passage from all the possible angles. So I consulted Barnes. And his answer satisfied me. I am excerpting him at length. If you do not want to read through all of it, meet me at the end.

“Many, as Doddridge, Whitby, and others, understand this of those who are spiritually dead, that is, the Gentiles, and suppose that the object for which this was done was that “they might be brought to such a state of life as their carnal neighbors would look upon as a kind of condemnation and death” – Doddridge. Others have supposed that it refers to those who had suffered martyrdom in the cause of Christianity; others, that it refers to the sinners of the old world (Saurin), expressing a hope that some of them might be saved; and others, that it means that the Saviour went down and preached to those who are dead, in accordance with one of the interpretations given of 1 Peter 3:19. It seems to me that the most natural and obvious interpretation is to refer it to those who were then dead, to whom the gospel had been preached when living, and who had become true Christians. This is the interpretation proposed by Wetstein, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, and others. In support of this it may be said:

(1) that this is the natural and obvious meaning of the word dead, which should be understood literally, unless there is some good reason in the connection for departing from the common meaning of the word.

(2) the apostle had just used the word in that sense in the previous verse.

(3) this will suit the connection, and accord with the design of the apostle. He was addressing those who were suffering persecution. It was natural, in such a connection, to refer to those who had died in the faith, and to show, for their encouragement, that though they had been put to death, yet they still lived to God. He therefore says, that the design in publishing the gospel to them was, that though they might be judged by people in the usual manner, and put to death, yet that in respect to their higher and nobler nature, the spirit, they might live unto God. It was not uncommon nor unnatural for the apostles, in writing to those who were suffering persecution, to refer to those who had been removed by death, and to make their condition and example an argument for fidelity and perseverance.”

I had thought perhaps that the writer of 1 Peter did mean “spiritually dead” but Barnes makes a good case for just plan having passed away. Or perhaps those who had passed away long ago, in the “before the gospel” time. And adjacent to that interpretation is that Christ went “down” to preach to those who died. But again, that did not seem right. No, I think Barnes has the best explanation and solid proof.

What then of us? It seems, beloved, living or dead we do not escape judgment. And more importantly what we believe alive will have great consequences when we have died. And as the Easy-to-Red Version points out, criticism that is received when one is alive pales in comparison to criticism by the God who judges after we have died!

We have heard/read several theories and versions of judgment – from “light judgment” that is tempered by mercy to heavy judgment that is unavoidable and comes with great consequences. It may be hard to know what type of judgment we should anticipate and prepare for. The solution, beloved, is easy. Live your life according to God’s agenda and direction, not any other. Then the judgment that comes will be merely a portal to what is beyond. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Giving what is due

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Reference: Matthew 22:21 )

The imposition of taxes on a populace has a long and strong tradition. When Christ spoke these words he was holding a coin of the realm that has Caesar’s face on it. But discerning what is Caesar’s and what is not can be a tricky thing. Peter Riedeman wrote a very good guide and explanation for how the historic Anabaptists felt about it, He wrote, “The governments always do wrong when they set out to exterminate nations. [Isa. 10:1-16] Whoever pays them taxes for that, aids them in their wrongdoing and participates in the guilt of their sin. If they try to force us to it, we say with Peter that we must obey God rather than people. [Acts 5:29] We will not obey them in this matter; we will give them nothing that makes us take part in the sins of others. [1 Tim. 5:22] Many governments use Paul’s statement to defend their right to these taxes, [Rom. 13:7] and support themselves with the words of Christ: “Pay Caesar what is due to Caesar.” [Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25] Yet we fear they do so only to avoid the suffering which the cross of Christ brings. They want the approval of people, which results in the disapproval of God. [Gal. 1:10; James 4:4] . . . However, neither Christ’s words nor Paul’s words were intended to permit rulers to carry out every whim . . . the words make a distinction between two things: First, Paul says, “Give what you owe,” and “Pay to whom it is due.” [Rom. 13:7-8] Second, he does not say, “Give to anyone who wants it, and pay whatever someone wants.” Christ also commands us to give to

Caesar what is Caesar’s. [Matt. 22:21] He does not speak at all, as many interpret it, of taxes for warfare and slaughter. The Pharisees asked Christ whether it was right to continue paying an annual tax. History tells us that this annual tax began when Christ was born, during the rule of the emperor Augustus, [Luke 2:1-5] and there was peace in all the world. Thus this tax was not imposed for war or bloodshed.” [Emphasis mine]

The sentence I highlighted I feel applies very well to the U.S. Government, although I would not say congress passing resolutions (or whatever) to send soldiers (also known ironically as “peacekeepers”) is a “whim.” But as a deliberate choice, it is even worse. Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites have a long history also of refusing to pay taxes on the theory that they support war. But as Riedeman points out, not all taxes are for war. Some modern Anabaptists/Mennonites take this into consideration and pay a portion of their tax withholding the percentage that it is reported goes to the war fund. Others live below the tax line so as to avoid the issue. There are many responses.

I am aware, as a consequence of my job, how many other programs are supported by taxes, truly worthy ones that help people in need. For that reason I pay my taxes and pray that the “whim’s” of the government are wise and peaceful ones. And accept the fact that I might be for the time being praying for a losing cause.

I have also thought long and hard for myself what is “Caesar’s” and what is God’s. “Caesar” is entitled to much less things of mine than God is, and I save all the “good stuff” for God, and for my fellow believers. May you, beloved, only give to “Caesar” that which will help humanity, and may you give to God all of your heart, soul, strength, and body. Selah!

A Letter to You, Beloved

Beloved,

I started this year of commenting on Reading the Anabaptist Bible knowing that it was taking more and more out of me commenting each day. While I was looking forward to commenting again on what the historic Anabaptist came to believe in as their faith, I also knew it would be hard work to think deeply and thoroughly about the tenets of faith that they had. But I did not know how hard that work would be, or how much it would take out of me. At times I have faltered in being able to think clearly through some of the scripture passages and the excerpts from historic Anabaptist writing. If I have been less than what you had come to expect, I apologize.

At the beginning of 2014 I had already thought seriously about making this my last year of commenting on “Sip of Scripture” as posted and sent out daily from Third Way Cafe. And as the months rolled by it become clearer that doing this daily for still another year beyond 2014 was too much. I needed to make a change.

My plan, as the title of this blog alludes to, is a simple one. I wanted to return to some basics, but still keep in my focus scripture. I wanted a preset plan that would determine what each scripture passage would be, but not something that was daily. After considering and then setting aside several ideas, I decided to use the Revised Common Lectionary as my source of scripture. Several times over the years I have talked about the Revised Common Lectionary.

Basically it is a set of scripture passages that are in a three year cycle – every three years the cycle starts again. I am not sure of its complete history or beginnings. I could do a Google search and give you the results, but it might be more efficient for you to do that search yourself. What you will find is that the three years are designated as Year A, Year B and Year C. For each week there are four scripture passages; my intention is to write on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

I have already started writing these and they will start to appear at the beginning of Advent season which is the beginning of each lectionary year. The daily posting based on “Sip of Scripture” using scripture passages from Reading the Anabaptist Bible will continue until the end of the year along with the Advent postings. At that point “A Simple Desire” will continue, being posted four times a week using scripture passages as found in the Revised Common Lectionary. I have tried to give you, beloved reader, some orienting information about the Revised Common Lectionary as it pertains to the Advent season during the first week of this new blog format. Watch for it close to the end of November.

It may seem confusing at first, “A Simple Desire” being the same but different. I am hoping that you will continue to follow my postings. It is not the first time that I have posted on passages that were different from “Sip of Scripture.” During 2013 I picked passages from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) during Advent and commented on them. That might have been the beginning of my thinking about using the RCL as the source of scripture, and moving to a four day a week schedule instead of seven days. As I said before, I was getting pretty worn out.

I am hoping as time goes on my overall plan with become plainer. In the meantime, please beloved reader, if you have any comments or questions let me know.

May the Lord who is with us with each new venture be with you. Selah!

MURDER . . . All types . . . throughout the land

“What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains. All men lie in wait to shed blood; each hunts his brother with a net. Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire- they all conspire together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen has come, the day God visits you. Now is the time of their confusion.” (Reference: Micah 7;1-4)

I am set once again to quote and comment on Menno Simons’ critiquing the church leaders of the time, warning them, “Do not excuse yourselves, dear sirs, and judges, because you are the servants of the emperor. . . . Do not usurp the judgment and kingdom of Christ, for He alone is the ruler of the conscience, and besides Him there is none other . . . . You must hearken to God above the emperor, and obey God’s Word more than that of the emperor. If not, then you are the judges of whom it is written in Micah . . . “ He tells them, “Let Him [God] be your emperor in this matter and His holy Word your edict, and you will soon have enough of storming and slaying.” I am sure Simons’ lament would be like Micah’s that the godly and upright are no longer in the land. But I am weary of hearing such laments and explaining again that it is not fair too condemn a large group for what just a handful do.

But then I remember my own peeves against politicians and such. How can I critique Simons when I myself long to lash out and the social and political pundit and “movers/shakers” when their beliefs do not coincide with mine. And Simons does have the greater peeve, for his “pundits” were putting people to death rather than just putting them down!

But you know what? I am tired of all of them. Simons and all the others’ rants and rhetoric. Modern day political/social commentators and all of the news media who feeds on it and feeds it to us. I am weary of this person criticizing that person for what they said about another person. I am tired of hearing about it and reading about it. I am tired of it all!

The misery is mine! I long to gather peace and harmony – shalom. But it is not there! The branches are empty of any good fruit! As to the godly and upright? Well . . . they are there. You are there beloved. Do you tire of it also? The murder – make no mistake, there is loss of life – and the verbal murder – fueled at times with anger that could kill with a look. Where is the peace beloved? Let us look for it, gather it where we may. Selah!

CONCERNING FALSE PROPHETS AND THE ANTICHRIST . . . What comes around . . . Goes around

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine.” (Reference: Jeremiah 14:14-15 )

It is tempting, beloved, to continue connecting political people (especially commentators and pundits) to this verse – inferring that they are prophesying what is to come and what should be done. But that would be unfair and mean-spirited, ie not Christian. Instead, I want to highlight the symmetry that they (who Jeremiah is speaking of) are prophesying against the very thing that will happen to them. It is like (but I do not mean it in a mean-spirited way) a weather forecasting that there is no rain in sight, and then stepping outside only to be drenched in a downpour!

But of course, the writer of Jeremiah is speaking of much more serious issues, and the verses previous to these talk about what will happen to the people who have displeased the Divine. “Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
Truly they have loved to wander,
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them,
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins.

The Lord said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.” (Verses 10 – 12)

The God of the Old Testament was very strict and at times unforgiving. Imagine, beloved, if we were told in our modern times NOT to pray for someone’s welfare? Even the historic Anabaptists (at least some) said they prayed for their accusers and oppressors that they might see the error of their ways and turn to living the way the historic Anabaptists felt was right. But I am straying from my point. But it raises another interesting analogy. Supposing the oppressors and persecutors of the historic Anabaptists were they themselves accused of heresy and put to death? But beloved, it this very thing that the historic Anabaptists prayed would NOT happen (again, at least some of them). I remembering reading a while back of a historic Anabaptist who spoke such a caution to his accuser – I cannot remember when however.

My plea and admonition to you then, beloved, is to live rightly according to God. Do not prophesy falsely or live apart from God’s commandments and guidance. May your worship of God be heard by our Lord and be found acceptable. Selah!