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!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following directions

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

What are Jesus’ commandments? For they are not the Ten Commandments – that is, not just the ten commandments. Jesus said he came to fulfill them, as if to mean that previously they had been done or kept incompletely – which is very true. So, what commandments did Jesus give his disciples? Well, it might depend on which gospel you read, actually.

But I am not sure it is specific commandments that the writer of the gospel of John has in mind. I suspect, and I checked with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he said “that love for him which leads us to do all his will, to love each other, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow him through evil report and through good report, is true attachment. “ It is not just or so much what we do as it is how we live our our lives.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (Verse 16)

Another important point is that we are not expected to live our Jesus’ commandments without help or assistance. In fact, it might be nigh on impossible to live them out on our own.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (Verses 17 – 20)

Remember too, beloved reader, Jesus is telling his disciples this before the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth came, according to the other gospels. The writer of the gospel of John does not extend his narrative to that point. Maybe things became clearer to the disciples as the years went by.
Also, I suspect Barnes was influenced by some of the later verses in section, namely . . .

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verse 21)

It is not so much making the specific correct choices, but living out one’s life according to what Jesus would have done – what would Jesus do? I gently suggest, beloved reader, you think over the ten commandments and ask yourself what would Jesus have done? What did Jesus do? And let that be your guide. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Traits of the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It occurred to me yesterday that there is a great difference between the shepherds that come to shepherding through and because of faith in the Lord, and the “Good Shepherd” who watches over both “local” shepherds and the Lord’s sheep. Now remember what we discussed yesterday that sheep are not blind mindless followers but initial followers of the the local shepherds and the the Good Shepherd.

Here in the psalm passage we learn more about the Good Shepherd. Or at least more about the motif/metaphor that the psalmist employs.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;” (Verse 2)

The Lord as the Great Shepherd does not expect us to be nurtured and nourished by turbulence. We say that times of stress and distress help us to learn to depend on the Lord. But the purpose of the Good Shepherd is to bring peace to our soul. We learn that even if there is turbulence in our lives, the Lord provides a place of calm.

“ . . . he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)

The Divine that we call by the name of Lord has pledged with all that the Omnipotent Divine has and is to undertake for us. This is what the psalmist means (I think) when he says “for his name’s sake” – although the Divine is not bound by our definitions of “his”.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.” (Verse 4)

I said a few verses back that the Lord creates places of calm. The security and calm of the Lord’s rod and staff is that it keeps danger away from us, and lead us where we should go. I am not talking about the danger that we may face in this world, but the danger to our spirit and soul, that which will survive us after bodily death. Those who follow the Lord may have fears and concerns in this life, but the answer to those concerns is the Lord, who will not abandon us – for the sake of the Lord’s name.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Verse 5)

The Might of the Lord is evident in the face of the dangers we may face, and in front of those who seek to harm us. Our calm and confidence comes from a deep well within us that the Lord has established. We can draw on that when we face the stress and pressures of this world. And we are renewed with the Divine’s calm and peace. As the psalmist says . . .

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

I want to share something with you that I came across the day I sat down to write this reflection and post – “As the print of the seal on wax is the express image of the seal itself, so Christ of the express image – the perfect representation of God. ” St.Ambrose spoke it, I do not know when as the source of the quote did not identify it. But I had to think to myself, how could so many people have misunderstand, and continue to misunderstand the nature of God when Christ exemplified it. The 23rd psalm does not say that the Messiah that is to come, or some holy man called by the Lord is the Shepherd – but Lord, the Godself, is the Shepherd who does all of these things for the sheep that have the good sense to follow. I could go on and on identifying the various ways that I feel God has been misunderstood. But that is not my purpose. Beloved reader, look to Christ as the way of compassion and care that the Lord God has always extended to humanity. Selah and shalom!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Of Sheep and Shepherds

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” (John 10:1)

The gospel of John has several purposes, beyond the telling of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The writer of the gospel of John sought to establish Jesus’ divinity, and what is here and what is left out often serve that purpose. Biblical commentators, understanding this, pick up the task and assign meanings & messages that I am not convinced were the original intention of the writer of the gospel of John. I am not arguing or disputing their interpretation, but am simply stating that many passages are laden with meanings and extrapolations that point to the character and nature of Jesus Christ. Verse one, for example, is said to mean that Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of being poor leaders, or shepherds, of the Jewish people. And they come to leadership not to care for and tend to the needs of the people but to establish power and authority for themselves.

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (Verse 2)

The person who comes into leadership through the call from the Lord is a true shepherd and will care for those who follow him/her with compassion and understanding.

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Do not think it strange, beloved reader, that the metaphor and motif of shepherds and sheep is used so much. Jesus was using what the people of that place and time knew thoroughly and gave new meaning to common understandings so that complex theologies could be made clear. Ironically, we who live in modern times and are removed from older ways of life come to know and understand these ways of life by studying them in order to have insights into scripture. Or, more interestingly, work the metaphor and motif backwards using the insights and understandings were are familiar with in scripture and applying them to the everyday practices of those people in biblical times.

“So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Here is an interesting thing – the biblical commentators I consulted with say that what Jesus means is that any and every person who tried to claim authority over the people (excluding those who were called prophets starting with Noah, Abraham etc) were false and wrong. The implication being that the Pharisees were not good leaders of the people. How then do we reconcile that with those who followed such poor leaders? Were they not sheep? Or just not the Lord’s sheep?

You see, beloved reader, it behooves us to make wise choices as to who we follow. We are not to be mindless sheep, blindly following any voice that calls out “follow me.” Do not think that the Lord’s sheep have no responsible or use no judgment in their actions. It is not just the shepherd who will be judged, but also the sheep for allowing themselves to be lead astray.

All of this will make tomorrow’s scripture passage very interesting to consider. Shalom!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Walking Unaware

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:13-16)

There have probably been numerous occasions that I have met someone I know but because it was at a place I usually do not see them, I did not recognize them. I am not saying this is what happened with these two disciples and Jesus, but it is possible enough. Having convinced themselves that Jesus was dead, they did not discern that the man who joined them was familiar to them. Or, Jesus could have deliberately clouded their minds to who he was.

“And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Verses 17 – 24)

“But they did not see him.” (After reading these verses for so many years, I had never given much thought to that phrase; I will now.) Jesus, their teacher and friend, is missing. So convinced are they that death is the end, that they do not consider a miracle might have happened. Despite that fact that Jesus seems to have power over life and death, they are sure enough Jesus died and stayed dead. I do not know if they disciples searched for Jesus, or may assumed that the Jewish authorities or the Roman authorities took his body away. It does not impel them to search for Jesus or wonder where he went. Instead they leave Jerusalem for other places. No wonder Jesus said what he did.

“Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.” (Verses 25 – 29)

While they may not have learned the lesson of what Jesus’ mission was, they did learn the lesson of compassion and hospitality, to care for another and for a stranger. And to be open to new learning, understanding, and knowledge. And to remember the important times in their travels with Jesus.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (Verses 30 – 31)

That is one of my favorite parts – Jesus re-enacting the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper. If they did not recognize him because they were not expecting him and could not have foreseen that he would be alive and walking, they did recognize in the moment of doing something he had done often enough – prayed over food and shared it with his friends.

“They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Verses 32 – 35)

We walk through this life not always being aware of what is going on around us. Whether to involved in our own troubles and struggles, or simply not taking in the world around us. It is said we often may “entertain angels unaware.” In the same way, we may encounter the Divine. Not as the disciples did, in the flesh and body, but the movement of the Divine intervening and interacting in our lives. It is the wise person who recognizes the movement of the Spirit, and grabs on to it and finds themselves being blessed by it. Selah!