Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wasting Time

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22 – 23)

Paul was a pretty sharp guy. The Athenians, being Greeks, were covering every possibility of gods (small “g”) and so as not to leave anyone/thing out and so as not to offend anyone, they had an altar set up for “anonymous.” Paul took advantage of this loophole and present the Lord God, the one all encompassing God. Kinda risky considering he may not have been sure exactly who the altar was meant for. But when you have the Lord God on your side, you can take chances like that.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “ (Verses 24 – 28)

If you know anything about the Greek gods, and the Roman gods which some Greek gods are modeled after, you might know that Paul is speaking pretty specifically against the attributes and needs of the Greek gods in worship.

“Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.” (Verse 29)

And it is not just the Greek gods that can be found under Paul’s critic. Other gods (again small “g”) of other nations had not much more representation and existence beyond having a statute or idol made of it. And some pretty unusual looking ones there were too!

“While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Verses 30 – 31)

A great deal hinges on this “fixed day” that the world will be judged. Paul makes the appeal to wait not, but repent now. Cast away belief and worship of the false gods, and embrace only the true God. Because . . . time may be running out. However, we know now that time was not running out, unless you count the day when each individual person might be judged because their life on this earth has ended. Between when Paul spoke these words and now – there has been a great span of time.

But, beloved reader, do not let my rough-shod critique of Paul lead you to believe that time is not slipping away, because it is! Just because there has been time, and time again, to turn from disbelief to belief do not think you can waste more time. What Paul does not say (at least not explicitly here) but I do say – days and nights chasing after false gods are hours and minutes wasted. The gold or silver or stone or image in art or image from the imagination of mortals.

These images can do nothing for you. Worship of them wastes your time and energy, and leads to nothing good or useful. These images will not last, and whatever good you think you get from them will not last. On that Paul and I agree. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – Paul revealed a bit more

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:23-29)

Every once in a while one must stop and appreciate what a radical change it was for Saul/Paul to change from being a Jew zealous for Judaism to a Christian just a zealous for Christ. Did Saul/Paul indeed feel “imprisoned” by the laws of Judaism? Did he secretly wish to be “free”? From all that we read in the epistles, Paul embraced the “freedom” to believe zealously in Christ. And even though Paul says there is no longer Jew or Greek, we are Abraham’s offspring – which is kind of Jewish. It is hard, after all, to step away from one birth heritage. But it is a heritage that Paul opens to all who will believe. The different shadings of Paul have kept me “off-balance” in my opinion of him. But just as Paul/Saul has different shadings, does Christianity as we practice it now. And if we have to cleave to something, let us embrace the faith that Paul describes. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – More about Paul

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:15-16a)

Let me explain just a little bit, beloved reader. The type/sect of Jew that Saul/Paul was believed that adherence to the law was the way of salvation in God. God, they believed, desired close following of the law in every minute detail. And such Jews were determined to follow the law in every minute detail, even if it meant ignoring the big picture, or ignoring the actual intent or purpose of the law. Furthermore, because Gentiles do not have these laws, such Jews believe that Gentiles are sinners and can have no hope of salvation in God.

And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Verses 16b -21)

The NRSV makes it tough going in some of these verses. I find it help to read other versions so as to parse through some of Paul’s theology. Paul does make some clearer statements at the end of this passage – living by having faith in Jesus as the Son of God who died for Paul’s (and our) sins.

Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles, and by all accounts he did very well in this. I am not sure how I would feel as a Gentile reading this. I know that sometimes some of the Jews of Paul’s time did not appreciate him well. But then Paul did not seek the “appreciation” of others. I think I said before that as bull headed as Saul/Paul was before his transformation and conversion, he was the same way afterward. Unswerving dogmatic faith, that was Paul. We would not do so badly ourselves, beloved reader, to be as firm in our faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Living together, just as we are (The Epistles Passage)

Where is your growing edge, beloved reader? Are there are of the admonitions below that the writer of Ephesians has listed that you need to work one? Let us gently go through each of them.

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)

There is outright lying, and there is conveniently or deliberately leaving out the truth. The boundaries of truth can be drawn nearly and widely; narrow boundaries, let say, are ones where only the absolute truth and nothing that is untrue is allowed in. Wider boundaries, let say, are ones half-truths and convenient truths are allowed to live around the edges, and absolute truth is sometimes and often intermingled with the shady truths that are around it. What are your boundaries like?

And to why is this important? When you live in community, a shady truth told in the moment can cause more problems than an absolute truth said with love and caring.

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, . . “ (Verse 26)

Anger in and of itself is not wrong or bad. It what we do with the anger, how we express the anger, and how long we hold on to the anger that can cause problems. An anger expressed is a problem addressed, and finding the solution to lead to a better peace than there was before. Especially when done carefully in a supported community. As the writer of Ephesians cautions, do not let anger become a sin between you and others, and do not let it be as sin before God. Resolve what has caused the anger, and then let it go before it festers.

“ . . . and do not make room for the devil.” (Verses 27)

That prompting in your mind that tells you your anger is “justified” and should be expressed long, loud, and hard, while may not the “devil incarnate” is probably NOT a voice you should be heeding and following. If you give your anger over to God, the devil and any other unhelpful voice or idea will be squeezed out and silenced.

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” (Verse 28)

Stealing, hmm. Just like the truth, stealing can happen under a variety of guises. Whatever is not rightfully yours (whether it be material goods, possessions, accolades etc) or that you have not gained from your own efforts and strength, you should not claim as yours. Attached to this admonition, the writer of Ephesians also says you should be responsible and accountable for how it is used.

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Verse 29)

You may be thinking by now, beloved reader, that there is very little “gentleness” in my commentary. These might seem like hard standards to live up to. Remember these instructions were given to a close knit community who interacted with each other daily. This was also a fledgling faith community and the writer of Ephesians knew that small offenses committed by one to another could do great harm. And that the larger community was watching to see how these Christians interacted with each other and with the large community. The onus on us present day is not much different. “Christianity” comes in different forms and is lived out in different ways. Verse 29 is just as, or more important now than then.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Verse 30)

Oh beloved reader! How we must grieve the Holy Spirit! I think the writer of Ephesians might have a little harsh in his thinking that grieving the Spirit of God is something we can avoid doing. I do know how we can not grieve the Divine. But our best efforts do not go unnoticed and unappreciated. The Holy Spirit is present and ever ready to guide us in making the best choices.

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, . . .” (Verse 31)

Here we have the summing up, the exhortation to be better than what our baser human nature would lead us to.

“ . . . and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Verse 32)

This is the key to living in community. Knowing that we have failed each other, according to how God and Christ would have us live. But forgiving each other, and making amends to each other showing the mercy and compassion that God and Christ have shown to us.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Chapter 5, verses 1-2)

Selah! Beloved reader; may you be encouraged and not downhearted. None of us are perfect; but in our imperfection we understand the imperfection of others; and we can offer each other the sweetest gift of mercy, forgiveness and compassion. And it is those things that we help us to live in harmony. Again, selah!

Season After Pentecost – Knowing one’s self; and knowing God (The Epistle Passage)

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:2-10)

I am grateful to the commentators that I looked at were clear and unequivocal that the writer of II Corinthians were referring to himself (Paul, that crafty fellow) in the opening verses of this passage. And I would take to task for that, but later in the passage he humbles himself and admits that there was an affliction that he asked God to heal him from, but the Divine refused saying the Lord’s grace was sufficient for Paul to persevere despite his weakness and affliction.

You may remember, beloved reader, that back on June 27th I talked about healing, and that I had come to terms with not being healed. It would seem that Paul came to that same place. Yes, it is true; Paul and I may be a lot alike.

Do I consider my affliction to be a thorn? No. I do not think it was given to me to make me humble. And if that was the purpose, then quite honestly it has not worked. What it has done is given me insight into the medical world, and given me a point of connection with those who suffer physically even if I do not talk about my illness – which a very seldom do.

But I do not think weakness and lack of healing are the only issues in this passage. As my title suggests, Paul also knows himself well. May be his affliction did keep him humble; or at least kept him connected to physical realities. And perhaps tended to gentle his temperament towards weaknesses in others. The Spirit knows what needs to be done in order for us to reach our full potential for ministry, or more accurately the ministry that God calls each of us to.

Consider that Paul knew himself well enough to know what his affliction affected him as a person. And he knew God well enough to ask for healing AND accept the answer. These two facts should not be passed over lightly. Furthermore, perhaps because of enduring this affliction and relying on God’s grace Paul was able to endure other things for the sake of Christ and the good news that Paul spread. So Paul is right to boast not in what he can do, but what God can do through him despite and because of who Paul is.

May we, you and I beloved reader, boast not of ourselves but God within us and God working through us for the Lord’s purpose. Selah!