Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Gospel Passage – Growing in and with the Lord God Jesus Christ

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13: 1-4)

I have commented a few times about the modern person’s ability to understand basic theological concepts that people back in Jesus’ day may not have comprehended. And in considering this telling of the parable about the sower, maybe it is more accurate to say that people in the current age understand and can perceive the message in parables and stories. It is an easy connection to make when you understand that the seeds in the parable is the good news of Christ, and that the sower is Christ or one of the disciples/apostles. From there one can determine the meaning of the seeds not taking root for one reason or another.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 6)

The middle verses of this passage, verses 10 to 17, tell what happened when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he told things in parables. Basically Jesus said some people will understand and others wouldn’t simply because they refuse to see what is before them. In essence, the message in the parable about the sower is the reason Jesus used parables, so that those who were ready to receive and understand the message would, and those who were not ready would not understand.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus explained specifically to the disciples the meaning of the parable – which sort of raise the question as to whether the disciples would have understood the meaning on their own. And if my premise is correct, that our modern system of education readies us to more easily understand metaphors, allegories, analogies, and metaphors – then perhaps the disciples needed the extra help to understand what Jesus meant.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

Does this mean our modern society is more able to assimilate Christian understanding and living into their lives? Um . . . no.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Our modern understanding how parables can teach us does not mean the meaning and the lesson of the parable ‘take root.’ That is, just because we understand the concept or meaning does not mean it has and does influence our lives. This parable, then, talks about how the parable itself might function, or not function, in our lives.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Verse 23)

I want you to make special note, beloved reader, that there is not the same result in each case. Some bear more “fruit” and some bear less “fruit.” The point is not how fruit or result there is; the point is that there has been growth and development. The Lord God does not insist that all believers grow and mature in the same way, or yield up identical lives. That is not expected; what is expected is that you will make sure your lives and living are futile ground where the Lord’s words can grow. That, beloved reader, is the whole point. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Psalm Passage – Being wooed to a new and different kind of love

Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.” (Psalm 45:10 – 14)

It would seem that the theme for this week is blushing brides coming to their groom. We have Rebekah coming to Isaac; Paul coming willingly but with mixed motivations to Jesus; and the people from the time Jesus walked on earth greeting the Messiah with contrary responses. Well, no one said that marriage and Christian was easy and automatic! There is the newlywed honeymoon period where emotions and starry glow obscure the hard work that needs to be done. The same is true when new believers come to faith, or when established believers go deeper into their faith. But I really do not want to dim the beauty of that moment, coming new understandings.

“With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.” (Verses 15 – 17)

This last portion is not directed to the consort of the king, but to the king himself; that his fame and glory will come from his descendants and not his ancestors. This would lead one to believe, in the context of the passage, that this is a new king, one that does not owe his ascent to previous rulers but has on his own established dominion.

This underlines the direction of the commentary to be towards the understand that the King is the Messiah; and if so, the church is the Bride or consort. And that actually is one image of Jesus Christ and the church which appears several times in the New Testament. But do not let us get side tracked into Christology or theology. We are in a praise passage; and moreover, I not are focusing on the Divine Object of the praise but the one who is praising. The other possible substituted psalm passage fits the direction of my thinking here.

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

We, beloved reader, are precious to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. Jesus and the Lord God sing a love song to us, and woo us with grace and compassion, love and caring, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Let us not forget one of the main reasons that we come to faith. The love that the Divine shows us draws us in, and the faithfulness that the Divine has towards us binds us in that love.

Yes, as Rebekah showed faith and followed what was the Lord’s plan for her; yes, as our desire to follow the Lord leads us to make choices that our human will would not have thought to do; and yes, we are drawn to a faith that does not seem to coincide with the world is now. Many unusual things are done for love. But the most upside down contrary things are down because of the love of and for the Lord. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Epistle Passage – Paul leads us through an obstacle course of theology

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

What Paul, the writer of Romans, wants to do is follow God’s will. What he says he ends up doing is the opposite of God’s will and that is human willfulness. Now to be clear, we have free will and can do whatever we please – as long as it is within human capability. And it is clear enough that humans can do God’s will; it is a choice, just as following human will is a choice.

“Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.” (Verse 16)

If you feel a little confused, beloved reader, do not feel bad. I am a little confused too. I am familiar with the “not doing what I should; and doing what I should not” discussion, but this seems a little bit different. So I am going to carefully work my way through the verses until it becomes clear in my mind. I owe any clarity to Albert Barnes’ careful work on this passage.

When I referenced various translations, it seem that Paul is saying rules and laws are a good thing because they function to keep him in line. And God’s rules and laws tell Paul exactly what he should not do, and teach him what he should do.

“But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Verse 17)

Paul states that he considers himself saved and redeemed, but within his human nature, and every human nature, is the impulse to sin.

“For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” (Verse 18)

It is here that Paul puts forth his theory that humankind is sinful, and it is only because of the intervention and teaching of Christ that he (or anyone else) does good.

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Verse 19)

Now here is the clearer statement that I am more familiar with. It would seem that the verses that came before are a build up (in my perspective) to the clearer statement that is in my memory.

“Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Here again, Paul sets forth the idea that the law (that is, strict rules and regulations) are more apt to tell us what we did wrong, and entice the imagination to do wrong!

“For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Verses 22 – 23)

It is unfortunate that in our English language the word “law” does not have the nuances Paul gives the word in Greek. Or maybe Paul is inserting his own nuanced meanings when he uses it in different contexts. “Law of God”, “law at war”, “law of my [Paul’s] mind”, and “law of sin”; for Paul these seems to have different shadings and meanings. Yes, actually, we know what he means. Paul loves the guidance and instruction of the Divine, but his baser impulses gravitate to human weakness and tendency toward sin which means the strict laws of forbidding certain actions are more apt to rule his thinking than God’s grace and mercy.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Verses 24 – 25a)

Paul does seem to have placed himself in a muddle, and we as readers battle to find understanding, and then battle to find our way through it. But you know, beloved reader, there is an easier way. Just follow the example of Christ, and take your guidance from the Lord God. And depend on the mercy and grace that is ours. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 8 [13]) : The Gospel Passages – Whoever

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42)

Simple kindness and hospitality. Unconditional acceptance. Care and compassion. These are things that do not cost much, but are priceless when given freely.

One of the things the Pharisees could not understand, with all their laws and rituals, was that the Ten Commandments were based on simply caring about another person and caring about God. We get so bogged down about doing the right thing, that we forget that it is really about doing the good thing. So, now that I have reminded you about that, don’t sit here and keep reading, but go out and welcome into your home and your heart . . . . whoever! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : The Gospel Passage – Spreading the Word

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus had just completed a series of healings, and was setting out to see and spread his ministry to the people of that area – the writer of Matthew has does not name specific places.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Verse 36)

Not having studied animal husbandry, I am forced to assume that sheep do not do well without someone to make sure they have access to good food and clean water.

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Verse 38)

Now this is interesting. From the way this verse/sentence is constructed you would almost think that “laborers” are going to come out from buildings, or something, and go out to do the harvesting that is the Lord’s. But these “laborers” do not come from an outside source, but are the disciples that are supposedly traveling with Jesus. And it strikes me this is an unusual way to maneuver someone or a group into doing something. Yet, it is also familiar – this leading with already set intention. Like a subliminal motivation instead of an overt instruction.

“Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” (Chap 10: 1 – 4)

And I have to conclude, since it is obvious that this was written after Jesus’ ministry was over, that there was some purpose in phrasing the suggestion for laborers to go out. It reminds me somewhat of the theological perspective that we, as God’s called and chosen people, are the ones who bear the responsibility for spreading the word and message of God. In fact, the end of the book of Matthew ends with such a directed purpose.

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” (Verses 5 – 8)

You can be sure, beloved reader, when I post this I will most certainly put it under the tags of “Mission” , “Missiology”, and “Missional”. And I want to remind you that mission can be done close at hand. Jesus, in essence, told his disciples not wander far but to stay close to home and close by in the land of Israel.

The lectionary, while noting the verses that follow verse eight, do not include verses nine to twenty-three.

“Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Verses 9 – 23)

I am not too surprised at this, for two reasons. Number one, the verses are pretty prophetic and predictive about what happens after Jesus’ death. We can see that in the last section of verse 23 that seems more “end of the world-ish” than one would expect. Number two, the theme this year is new believers coming to faith. Stopping at verse eight leaves the emphasis on ministering and converting new believers. The verses that follow have less to do with new believers and more to do with those believers who are heading out to do missional work.

Do not think it too unusual, beloved reader, that the RCL crafts what verses and passages are presented and when. Just as Jesus (according to the writer of the gospel of Matthew) arranged for this disciples to be laborers in the Lord’s harvest, so does the RCL seek to present scripture in such a way that it supports a theme and a purpose. In the same way, do not doubt that I have a theme and purpose in what I write and I. But rest assured, my purposes are good and to aid you on your Christian journey. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : Epistle Passage – The Beginning of Faith

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Boasting – it is not something that you would expect a believer in God to do. We are exhorted to be humble, not bragging about our accomplishments according to worldly measures but claiming only that which we need for belief. But we stake a claim in having salvation from God based on Jesus Christ’s actions for us and our belief in that. So yes, we can confidently state that God is our side because we have stated we are on God’s side. But the writer of Romans does not stop there.

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Verses 3 – 5)

It is not that the writer of Romans (okay, Paul) is wrong, nor that he does not have correct the progression of suffering to hope. But who amongst us can claim the type of suffering that Paul went through. For that matter, it is a select group who can claim suffering because of their faith in the Lord. Not suffering because of worldly events, but suffering because we hold firm against oppression and persecution as a result of our faith.

But should we wish suffering upon ourselves? Should we invite suffering to prove the depth of our convictions? Should we twist the events that life brings up and mold them into suffering so we can claim allegiance with those who have suffered for their faith? And just how much “general” suffering do we have to go through before it is enough to gain us admittance to the group of those who have suffered while professing faith in God. Because this blog reaches nations other than the US I cannot know for sure that there are readers who have not suffered for their faith. If so, they are among the select group I mentioned above. And I honor them.

But just as I think we have not part or claim to what Paul is talking about, I read the next verses.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Verses 6 – 8)

And suddenly we are part of the group that Paul is talking about! Yet it does not really make us feel much better, does it? Be grouped together with “sinners” who have so completely drenched themselves in sin that it is only because of Jesus Christ’s grace, benevolence, and mercy that we have any hope of forgiveness.

Paul’s writings can be bitter pills to swallow. Fortunately we do have the grace of God to help us accept forthright writings from Paul. And Paul is not the only person who speaks about following the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Where Paul invokes stern faith and expectations, others give compassion and unconditional acceptance. And finally, beloved reader, let me reiterate where Paul started out, that it is the unconditional love and acceptance of the Divine that anchors our hope. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Psalm Passage – Knowing & Naming the Divine

Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Seeker: Who is this Sovereign Lord? What shall we call this Divine Majesty? By what name shall we know and worship this Deity?
Preacher: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

Seeker: The young and innocent know the Lord’s name, but we who have maturity and wisdom falter when trying to discern the mystery of the Divine.
Preacher: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
Seeker:
Yes, does this nameless Lord care about humanity? Is there no aspect of this Deity that has regard for we who dwell in this broken world?
Preacher: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Seeker:
The Lord God knows us, then, and sees us. We are held tenderly in the Divine’s regard. But what shall we call this Majesty who undertakes for us? How shall we know this Lord in our daily lives?
Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

Yes, you are right beloved reader, if you think that Seeker’s question was not answered. And that Preacher did not give a description of the Lord God, and the full scope of the name of the Lord. How can one describe the full and complete nature of the Divine? The truth is . . . . even giving the Divine three names does not describe all there is. How can you sum up everything from creation until this present day? What words or group of words can describe the Divine movement that is behind it all? Or, even sufficiently prove that there is a Divine movement – if we are being painfully honest?

We (meaning those who believe as I do) say that the Lord is a Triune God because we believe in the three large movements of the Lord God; Creator, Redeemer, and Presence with us. Under those three very broad categories lies, literally, a whole world of meaning.

May you, beloved reader, be blessed by the Triune God and come to know the Divine in fullness. Selah!