Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Gospel Passage – One of the Mary’s story [What we need is restoration]

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

Here again is the story of Mary. I have thought about, read, written, and performed this account of Mary many times. It is very dear to me. And very familiar. So familiar that I determined to track down where and how I have used it over the years. And in this searching, I came across something I thought I had lost year ago. Not a feeling, memory or experience – but something I wrote and performed many years ago. It was a dramatic presentation about Mary and how she was restored and redeemed by Jesus because of her anointing him.

I wrote it and performed it as a part of a chapel service during Lent or Easter – I cannot remember which. It was, in its essence, religious or spiritual performance art. My dialogue reflected what was most probably the circumstances and position that women had during the time that Jesus had his earthly ministry. The set design was three chairs; each chair represented an aspect of Mary’s life story. And next to the chairs was a representation of the cross. During the service there was some singing and a time of prayer, and a worship leader who guided the congregation through the service. My part was a presenting of the the scripture passage.

I still marvel that I had the courage and confidence to do something like that. I am not sure I could do it now. I think if I were to write it, or re-write it today, I might not have been so bold in what I said, and how I presented Mary’s life and the other women who lived at that time. I tool some definite license and liberties. However, I did present it to the group who was planning the services. It warmed my spirit to think that I was the woman who conceived of, wrote and performed this drama. And it warms my spirit again that you, beloved reader, might join the character of Mary in coming to and accepting the restoration that Jesus Christ offers. Selah!

DRAMATIC MEDITATION:What we need is restoration

First chair:
I am a Jewish woman of Galilee, living in the time of Herod the Great, or the not so great. My name is Mary. There are many women named Mary. I am the one who is a sister to Martha and Lazarus. Being a woman in Galilee is not easy; of course, it is not easy anywhere. We must keep our heads covered at all times. If we are seen in public we must be properly attired, and in society we must be chaperoned. In a court of law we are not to be believed. A woman’s word is given no credibility because we are thought not to have any intellect. In the synagogue we are not to speak. There are some who would say a woman does not have an eternal soul. Other than being wives and mothers, we have little value. Even then we can be easily replaced by a simple statement, “Out, out with you; you no longer please me!” So it was set down by Moses, that great patriarch! That we can be so easily forced from our home! I am glad my brother has never forced a marriage on me, as would be his right; also according to the Torah. Clearly, the Torah is not for us, but we are ruled by it, and by it our homes are ruled. In the home our duties are confined to the kitchen and the raising of small children . . . . . . Hmmm, that’s funny thinking about me raising children, being the sister of Lazarus. I am not unfamiliar with raising; you see, my brother was raised from the dead by Jesus.

Second chair:
Jesus was a frequent visitor in our house. There are many stories of Jesus visiting in our home. One story concerns my sister Martha and myself. Martha was well suited to life in Galilee, finding satisfaction in working in the home. That time when Jesus spoke to Martha, defending my right to listen to him became a widely told story. But there is another story, a story that sends tremors through my being. There are several different accounts of that evening. Some say it was in our own home; others say it was in Simon’s home, where my character was presented as somewhat less than respectable, and I was suspected of dishonorable actions. But every woman is suspect, especially when you have the nerve to appear in public with your head uncovered. And when you touch the body of a man who is not a relative. And when you have, and then squander, valuables. Perhaps I became known as a fallen woman because of what I did then; or perhaps I have always been seen as an unredeemed and fallen woman, simply because I am a woman.

However the story is told, and whoever tells it, I was denounced, humiliated, and then cast aside. My only intent was to honor the man who brought my brother back from the dead. I had known before, sitting at his feet, that he was a man of greatness. But after the miracle that restored my brother’s life, I knew Jesus had power over life and death. I was sure he was the Messiah! But not the kind they expected. And I knew from bitter experience how those who go against society are treated. I knew, even though he was a man, he would be denounced, humiliated, and then cast aside. But did they understand? Did any of them understand what was happening that night? No, they thought only of themselves, who they were and what they could do. Jesus is for those who are helpless, outcast.

Did I know what would happen to me when I anointed him this way? Yes! I knew. Touching him in such an intimate way, kissing his feet. It was shocking I am sure. And washing his feet. It spoke of servitude, washing his feet; but better to be his servant than to be ill-used by another. And using such expensive perfumed ointment. I had saved it for many years, against the time I might be forced from my home. It was to support me in desperate times. But at that moment, I was never more desperate! He said I anointed him for his burial! My heart was breaking for him, and for myself. But Jesus saw that and understood.

Third chair:
Just as he understood when I sat at his feet, listening to his teachings. I had chosen that day to set aside what had been my life and look for something better and greater. Jesus said I had chosen the better part of life.. He spoke for me against all of established society. He lifted me up and honored me. He said I would be remembered for this service, not as a woman who has fallen, not as a woman who is disgraced, but as a woman who has done a great service for her Lord. He told me I was forgiven. In that moment when he looked at me with compassion and mercy, I was redeemed and restored. Nay, I was transformed. Who would have thought a woman could see the true role of Jesus. Who would have thought a woman would be allowed to so honor him. I am no longer just a mere woman; I am a woman of God, cherished and honored as his beloved.

Perhaps I see in your faces a longing to be so cherished, and so loved by God. Perhaps you have suffered hurts and insults; perhaps you have hurt and wronged others. Let me tell you what I learned from my Lord. All who come to him are welcomed, forgiven and honored.
{move to where the cross is}
Come, join me at this symbol of declaration, confession and transformation. Come to the cross and know who your Redeemer is.

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Old Testament Passage – Waiting in exhaustion

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:” (Isaiah 43:16-17)

I know the writer of Isaiah is referring the Egyptians – “chariot and horse, army and warrior” – who came out after the Hebrews when they left Egypt; but that is how I am feeling right now – “they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.” It sort of makes me feel for the Egyptians; I like better the “way in the sea” and the “path in the mighty waters.” I want to feel better and escape the health problems I am having. Maybe you too, beloved reader, would like to get away from some things that are plaguing you. And I suspect that the writer of Isaiah might have some things to say that will help us.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Verses 18 to 19a)

If I had “Preacher and Seeker” here I am sure they would have something to say about this; something that would make us pause and think. But tonight it is just me, and I am exhausted and extinguished. I do not perceive the new thing.

“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (19b to 21)

But just because I cannot perceive what the Lord is doing does not mean I do not praise the Lord. I have discovered in the recent past that the Lord is moving and shaping my world in ways I could not have imagined, and in outcomes that I had not conceived of. So I will wait until my “vision clears” and I can perceive the Lord’s new thing. Until then, I will live by hope and faith.

In the days that come before Easter, that is one of the “tasks” of Lent; to consider how helpless and hopeless we would be with the Lord God. So perhaps “extinguished” and “quenched like a wick” is not such a bad thing to be, during Lent. When the hope of the Lord is still to come, in ways we had never thought, conceived, or perceived.

May you waiting through Lent, beloved reader, be a time of anticipation to see what the Lord will do in your life. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Psalms Passage – Getting back what we yearn for and need

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1)

I have commented on this passage several times, and have always held it to be that the “fortunes” were physical and material; not materialistic but having a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear etc. The intent was when those who were in captivity were released and allowed to go home.

But I am thinking lately of something different, and this first verse crystallized it for me – health. When the Lord restored us . . . me to health. Not that it has happened, but if it ever would happen it would be like a glorious dream come true.

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” (Verses 2 – 3)

One of the most difficult things is that when I am having health problems, it is hard for me to breath, and it get even more breathless when I laugh. So to be able to laugh without problems, and to have a full strong voice to shout with joy, that would be a dream come true too!

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 4 – 6)

I am going to tell you something, beloved reader; something that I have not told many people. When I started to get ill and realized how serious it could be, I promised myself a good long cry when this illness I have landed me in the hospital. Instead, But the development of this illness has been slow and gradual, and I have not had one long cry but frequent intervals of crying. So these verses resonant with me very much. I feel like I have been sowing tears for a long time.

I really did not mean to get this maudlin. And I try not to talk much here about my health. But these verses hit me at a low time. So here I am, laying before you my grief.

It is good though, to lay things before the Lord. It is one way of confessing what is going on in our lives. Confession need not be about the sin we have done, but the places and situations that we find ourselves in. And the penance is not making amends, but asking the Lord that we might persevere in the face of what we are . . . facing. And it is not forgiveness we seek, but restitution and restoration of those things, the valuable essential one, that are absent or that have been taken from us.

May the Lord God hear your pleas for restitution and restoration, beloved reader. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistle Passage – What do you yearn for?

. . . even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:4b)

This portion of verse puzzled me; maybe it puzzled you too, beloved reader. But then I read verse 5 and it became clear.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Verses 4c to 6)

Paul, who had been Saul, was a “Jew’s Jew.” Born into the correct family, had the correct training, was zealous for the Lord and obeyed all the commandments as understood by the Jews – yes, he was one of the “golden boys” of his time.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Verses 7 to 9)

What do you regard as “loss” beloved reader? What do you value that pales in comparison to Christ and the good news that he brought? One of the many tasks of Lent is to take stock of ourselves, and to see what we have worked towards. What have obtained and what have we accomplished that is of true and lasting value.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Verses 10 to 11)

We value and hold on to so many things in this life; in fact it seems that our entire lives are spent in acquiring those things that make US feel good. But those “feel goods” can be so fleeting. I am not saying I am less culpable of this than anyone else. I stop, or am stopped if truth be told, and consider the hurry and scurry that I and everyone else is involved in. We focus so much on the here and now that we don’t realize – this world is not all there is. And what lies ahead is so much more precious and worthy than what we have now.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 12 – 14)

I will be one of the first ones to admit that Paul can be very melodramatic; I can be too. But this important stuff. And we need to pay attention to it. It is good that the season of Lent and such scripture passages help us to heed these things and focus on them. May you, beloved reader, work and strive towards those things that are important. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seeker 1 preach to Seeker 2 (and us)

Seeker 1: “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.”

Preacher: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.”

Seeker 2: Yeah, I would be happy if all my sins, my “transgressions” were forgiven. But I don’t see how keeping silent about them is going to make me suffer.

Preacher: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

Seeker 1: “Selah!”

Seeker 2: Okay, so maybe I was feeling kinda bad and remorseful. I’m not perfect you know.

Preacher: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;”

Seeker 1: “I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Preacher: “Selah.”

Seeker 2: You know, this season of Lent is not easy; especially for someone like me who does not talk a lot about what I am feeling inside. It is hard for me to open up; and I can be just as hard for me to talk to God as it is to people about what I am feeling – my hurts, my sins and such.

Seeker 1: “Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.”

Seeker 2: I know for listening to you two that it is better to talk to God and get right with God than it is to hide away. And I know more often than not I try to struggle through things on my own than to let anyone, God or anyone else know what is going on.

Preacher: “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”

Seeker 1: “Selah.”

Seeker 2: I get it; talk to God. Talk to others who can help me understand God and what God can do for me. But when I am knee deep in trouble, I just don’t think about “falling on my knees” so to speak.

Preacher: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Seeker 1: “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.”

Seeker 2: Now just hold on! That is just a little bit harsh and rough. Just because I may not turn to God first thing, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me!

Seeker 1: “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.”

Seeker 2: I am not wicked! [sniff] I don’t want to be wicked. I do want God and I need God’s steadfast love! And I do want to develop steadfast love for God!

Preacher: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Psalms 32)

Seeker 2: I will try. Especially in this season of Lent, I will try to be the person God wants me to be. Then I will rejoice and be glad in the Lord. Then I will shout for joy. Let it be as you say, O God. Selah!

 

 

Oh beloved reader, there is so much commentary, explanation and insight I want to give on what is going one here with Preacher, Seeker 1 and Seeker 2. Their characters, their purpose, their faith and outlook on life. And how they see God. I am hoping you can “read between the lines” and see what I tried to craft and create. And I hope in some small way it contributes to your journey through this season of Lent. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Gospel Passage – The Story of the Prodigal Son

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable . . . “Luke 15:1-3

Actually, before the story of the Prodigal Son Jesus told two other parables as preambles, I assume, to this story.

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.” (Verses 11-13)

I want to stop and consider if this would be considered a norm in Jesus’ time. Would a young man abandon his family and home? Would a father divide the family legacy prematurely and let a relatively young man carry it off with him? We have heard this story of the prodigal son often, but I am not sure I ever stopped to think about whether it would really happen. Some bible commentators believe that Jesus used stories of the time to illustrate his points rather than creating a story that has no basis in actuality.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Desperation. It can do a lot of things to you, and reveal a lot about a person. How far would one go? What would one do if desperate enough? And to bring my reflection around to the point I want to make – how far would you run away to distance yourself from sin? What would you do to avoid having to confess? Questions worthy of deep consideration. Think about them before you read on.

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ (Verses 17 – 19)

If you know enough about God, beloved reader, I hope you know enough about God’s grace to know that it is better to come to God and confess than to be left wallowing in your sin. What the prodigal son does, or at least what he is prepared to do, is a good model of confession and penance. In order to have some sort of relationship to his family home, he is willing to take an inferior place and accept less that optimum in order to survive. But the father, and our Lord God, has other plans.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him . . . “ (Verse 20a)

God sees us coming, filled with sin, guilt and remorse. Our Lord might, justifiably, be filled with disgust, rage, indignation, anger – all the attributes of a “wrathful God.” But, that is not what happens when we come before God in our brokenness.

“ . . .and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Verses 20a – 24)

A kiss of love; not heeding or remembering what we might say in our shame; clothed in comfort and grace; recognition of being back in God’s favored status; sustenance and nourishment; celebration at our return. This is what we can expect when we return to God. Forgiveness and mercy are ours before we can stumble to our knees. Not that we should not be humble and confess; not that we should not offer a humble and contrite heart. NO! We must come to God as if we expect or deserve nothing; it is only in that state that we can do penance.

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.” (Verses 25 – 28)

We, as children and followers of God, do not often see the grace and mercy that is showered on those who are returning to God. Often that return occurs inwardly, and we do not see the how God receives the contrite heart and spirit of believers. And often we do not know the depths that our fellow believers have sunk in their sin. But the older brother of the prodigal son did. And he had words for his father.

But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (Verses 29 – 30)

If it were a different time of the year, or different theme for the Revised Common Lectionary, I might delve into the story of the older son. Because there is richness in his story too. And lessons that can be learned. But, beloved reader, we are all sinners. And this season of Lent we are all returning home from doing all manner of things that we should not. If, however, you find yourself drawn more to the older son than the younger, heed well what the father of the story says to his older son.

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Verse 31)

If you, and if I, are sinless and pure this season of Lent, than we have never left God’s side. And have never had to suffer because of our mistakes. And is it not enough to have always enjoyed the abundance of never feeling apart from God? I could say more, but again, it is not the time and season. Instead, . . .

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Verse 32)

All of heaven rejoices that we have returned. Even if it was just a return from a short distance and for minor reasons. Do you think the father of this story would be any less exuberant and welcoming if the young son has changed his mind just a few miles down the road? Do you not know how it grieves the Lord and all of heaven when even for a moment we have pulled away from God? Oh beloved reader! May you know even just a portion of the joy that our Lord feels when we return to our Divine Parent! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistles Passage – Knowing our Lord and being reconciled

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” (II Corinthians 5:16)

In what way do you know Christ, beloved reader? As a earthly man who did good things? As a Godly man who was influenced by God? A man who came from God and had a mission in the world that came from God? These are just some of the variations and permeation that one might know Christ as. What is your way of knowing our Lord God Jesus Christ?

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Verses 5:17-21)

Bible commentators, while have a slightly differing interpretations, are pretty uniform that Paul did not KNOW Jesus but knew of him and did not think him to be worthy of following. Indeed, when Paul was Saul he persecuted the followers of Christ. But that role and person is now history. Now Paul follows and preaches of Christ. Paul has never been shy about speaking about his faith, theology, and beliefs.

The season of Lent is a good time to get to know Jesus, and through Jesus, God. The weeks of Lent are quickly slipping away. There is only one more Sunday of Lent. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday will be here soon than we may think. And since there is only a one-way interaction, I am not sure where you are in your journey. As I write this, I am actually a week behind of this “place” and “time.”

The view from where I am now is this – there have been some unexpected events and some unexpected results. I am learning, or have learned anew, that I cannot predict what will happen. And nor should I. God has been faithful in ways I cannot imagine. My confession has been one of fear – that I am afraid and do not see how my fears can be met and quelled. But God has seen and knows my fear, and has answered those fears with Divine plans that I could not even imagine. My penance, beloved reader, is that I have to admit that I was too afraid to believe that God would have a solution. That is sort of a confession too, I guess.

In comparison to other confessions and penances, I suppose it is not too difficult to carry out. But the problem with fear is that you can justify so many things by saying, “I was too afraid to . . “ when all the time God could foresee what was going to happen. If shame and embarrassment is a penance, than that is mine.

May you, beloved reader, confession the things, places, and times that you have . . . well, let’s just leave it that God knows what you need to confess. And you find that God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace is yours in abundance. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Old Testament Passage – Growing in God

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:9-12)

When we “spoke” on Friday, we were looking at the passage from I Corinthians 10:1-13. The writer of Corinthians (Paul) was expounding on the topic of following God and God’s statutes closely; and that the Israelites were judged as not following God closely but rebelling against God. For this reason that generation did not see the land that was promised to them. This generation in the book of Joshua did.

What I want to point and highlight was that they no longer needed the manna – that is, they were not dependent on the Lord feeding them but were able to fend and forge for themselves. They had grown and matured. To them the Lord had done all that was promised; that is why the celebrated the passover – the time when the Lord released them from the bondage of the Egyptians. Or so goes the analogy that I am suggesting. Whether they were any better than their forebearers, I do not know. The Israelites/Hebrews/Jews have a mixed track record of following God. The Old Testament is filled with their failures; but, also their successes.

Paul (the writer of Corinthians) talks about spiritual food; milk for those who are young in the faith, and meat for those who have matured & can take the headier and heartier theologies and beliefs. When one can see ones sins and failings clearly – confess them and make amends – this is also a sign of maturity in God. I desire for you, beloved reader, to be mature in your faith. It is my hope and prayer that if you have spent years reading me (yes, I have been at this for years) that you have grown some in your faith. Not because I have been a teacher of faith but because the Spirit of God has spoken to you; although I would hope I have played some minor part.

May this season of Lent be another time of growth and maturity. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Old Testament Passage – An “old friend” Isaiah 55 is.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:1-9)

This is old ground, beloved reader. Very old ground, and a good old friend. I have written on this passage from Isaiah 55 so often that I am not sure I could think of anything new to say. I have much that I have written that could; either in the text of this posting or through inserting links. I am not even sure I could compile a list of every post, meditation, or reflection I have ever written on this passage without missing something. Although, if you search on the “A Simple Desire” page for Isaiah 55 it will retrieve everything I have posted here about it. I tried it, and was pleased to see that it remembers better than I do! Looking back on what I have said about this passage, I see I have even suggested imagining visuals concerning this post. Who ever the writer was for this section of Isaiah, that person and I resonant. In fact, come to think about it, after Paul and I are done our conversation in the life to come, I would probably seek out the writer(s) of Isaiah, just to meet them.

I could pick out the “best of” and put it here. I thought too maybe I could have “Seeker” and “Preacher” say something about this passage; more likely it would just be me recycling my thoughts and putting it into their conversation. I think better for today would be to encourage you, beloved reader, to think and ponder about this passage for yourself. And if it ever comes up again – which it most likely will, I will try to find something new and fresh to say. In the meantime, may the Spirit of God prompt your thinking and bless your meditations. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistles Passage – The testing of a lifetime

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” (I Corinthians 10:1-5)

The writer of I Corinthians is warning his reader that while their spiritual forebearers may seem to have been formidable examples of servanthood and faithful living, they failed when put to the test. He is speaking of the Israelites who were lead out of Egypt by God and Moses. And for the readers in the time that I Corinthians was written, they had the same guidance and inspiration that the liberated Israelites had. Why, might one ask, was God “not pleased”? The writer of I Corinthians goes on to explain that.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (Verses 6 – 10)

If one reads the book of Exodus, it seems that none of them – except for Moses and Joshua and some of that inner circle – were able to follow God as God wanted them to. Makes me sort of nervous for you and I, beloved reader. How can we do any better how to live lives that are acceptable to God? Do we have better or deeper knowledge than they did? Is it easier for us to follow God in our world than it was for them? Are we less tempted or of better temperament than they? What do we have that they do not?

The answer is, really, that we are not much different than they – not really. At least, not the way the writer of I Corinthians explains it. The only difference is that we have a clearly written out remedy for when we are “sinful” people. All the guess work has been taken out.

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.” (Verses 11- 12)

This is, I think, both scary and reassuring. We may feel like we are wandering around in a “desert”; if we feel that we, we have much in common with the Israelites. But it is also scary because they failed when tested. The writer of I Corinthians tried to assure his readers, and by extension us . . .

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (Verses 13)

However I can’t help but feel that is some sort of “pie in the sky by and by”; why am I cynical about this you may ask? If this is the same God, and the same “rock” that is Christ, how can we be sure that we can endure it when the people God called out of Egypt could not? I know, same question that I posed before. But the answer I gave, beloved reader, is not based on our strength and ability but God’s! I know! Same answer that the writer of I Corinthians gave! There must be something between the two answers!!

And there is . . . . grace and mercy; confession, penance, and forgiveness. It is that the writer of I Corinthians is alluding to, and which I had not stated clearly. We may well be tested beyond our strength and fall flat on our face in the desert. I cannot say with the writer of I Corinthians (okay, Paul) that we will be able to endure the testing. It seems like I have been tested so many times in my life, and I know where I have failed that test. There was no escape hatch; but there was grace and mercy, and restoration from my failures. And maybe that is what Paul meant. When I do finally move beyond that testing that is in this life to the life that is beyond, I will ask Paul.

In the meantime, beloved reader, hold tight to your Lord and to the grace and mercy that is in the Lord. May you feel that especially in this season of Lent. Selah!