Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Gospel Passage – Long ago, faith began

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)

What does public opinion say? In the days we live in currently, beloved reader, that is a risky question. Not so much concerning Jesus (although there may be some differing in answers) but generally speaking – what is current opinion concerning the news at hand. Because, in Jesus’ time, he WAS the current news. It was one of the most talked about pieces of news. Jesus probably knew what the populace was saying but he wanted to hear what the disciples had heard; and just as important or maybe more so, what they thought.

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”(Verse 15)

If any group of people knew Jesus best, it was the group that had been traveling with him since the beginning of his ministry. These were the people who had seen him when he was in front of people preaching, teaching, and healing. And when he was taking time away to meditate and renew himself. And remember too, this was the Jesus who healed the daughter of the Samaritan woman, with just a word. And this was the Jesus who came walking across the turbulent waters. So in light of all this, he asked, “Who do you say I am?” [emphasis mine]

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Verse 16 – 17)

Now here I need to do a little doubting. In the face of all that Jesus did, who could not believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Some of the prophets (major and minor) also healed people. And did other pretty amazing things, and confronted religious and political leaders. So I can see where it might be a “leap of faith” alone to ascribe it to the Divine.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Verse 18)

Barnes and I agree that it was not on the personage of Peter that the church was built, but on solid and irrefutable truths and faith that the church would be built on. And that nothing will withstand against it. I do have a little more to say about this further on.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Verses 19 – 20)

Peter, as the first, and the apostles soon after, were given guidance and control over forming the new church that had as its foundation belief in Jesus the Christ. They, as the first ones instructed, would pass on that teaching and as they taught, so would the church be established. But it was not time yet to start this church, and establish the tenets of its faith. Jesus had more to do before the end of his time and the beginning of the new church of Christ. If what had already happened caused fervor and speculation about Jesus, then it was only the beginning. And it was not wise to rush into the times that would come. The times and the disciples were not ready.

Now, back to a point I made previously. That the church would stand resolute against whatever came against it, and it would prevail. I said in a previous posting that we live in tumultuous times. That there is furor all around us, and that the values of love, compassion, and acceptance seem to be hard pressed and not valued. The church has changed and evolved since the time of the apostle Peter.

Sometimes it seems like the basis of the church then is not like the basis of many modern day churches. I name no names, and do not have any specific church in mind. I am simply saying that as time moved forward the early church was under differing and evolving lineage of power and authority for it formation. The way it was when it started was not how it remained. BUT the foundation of the church, the power and understanding that prompted Peter’s assertion and confession of faith has not changed. And on that we can pin our hopes! And our continuing faith! Selah!

 

Advertisements

Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Gospel Passage – Trusting in the Lord God, no matter the depths and circumstances

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” (Matthew 14:22)

To paraphrase, and set the scene, Jesus and the disciples had just gotten done “cleaning up the crumbs” and gathering up the leftovers after the feeding of the multitudes (five thousand according to scripture) from two fish and five loaves of bread. According to the above verse, after the tidying up was done, Jesus had the disciples get into the boat (the one he had disembarked from after trying to get some away time) and start for the other side of the sea.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,” (Verse 23)

Jesus was trying to get some “alone time” performing the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and maybe to finish whatever meditation time had been interrupt by the crowds earlier. It took several hours, we assume, for Jesus to be refreshed and ready for what might come. And, there was more to come!

. . . but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.” (Verses 24 – 25)

Now, I am not quite sure how this timing worked out. Jesus was done his meditation time some time in the evening, or was praying to the Lord through the night. I am not questioning that it might have taken overnight or disbelieve that one could be in prayer that long. And maybe the mountain was a bit of a hike away. But in any case, he was away from them from the afternoon or early evening until the next early morning. Long enough, we have to assume, for the disciples to be “out to sea” literally and figuratively. Much farther out than the disciples expected to see anyone else NOT in a boat!

“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.” (Verse 26)

Now imagine, tossed on a stormy and restless sea, they see an apparition coming towards them. Maybe seemingly from out of nowhere or from the turbulent sea itself. Scared already, now even more scared.

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Verse 27)

Be honest, beloved reader, after seeing Jesus do a miracle with multiplying food for five thousand, would you doubt that it was he walking on the water as if strolling down a solid path? Would you doubt it? Would you question it? Depends who you are I guess.

“Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Verses 28 – 30)

How often, beloved reader, do you feel called by the Lord God & Jesus Christ, most naturally heeding that call, oblivious to anything else? And then realize that you are deeper in than you thought?

“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Verse 31)

Who is the “you”, beloved reader? Just Peter, or all of the disciples? Or is it all of us who have been called, and answer the call. And then find out that our own humanness is not sufficient to the challenge involved? I will raise my hand and freely admit that I have had “little faith” and felt myself sinking, only to be pulled up by the Divine Hand. More than once. And once rescued, the turmoil I though I was in subsided.

“When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” (Verse 32)

In circumstances like that, there is really only one thing we can do.

“And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Verse 33)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Gospel Passage – The Kingdom of Heaven is . . . .

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31 – 32)

Most of the time when I have read this parable / metaphor I have focused on the largeness of what the mustard seed becomes. But this time I have taken with how small it starts out as, and what implications that has for the Kingdom of Heaven. Many times / many people envision the Kingdom of Heaven as some large well-established place. But in reality it might start our quite small – as small as one person believing in it.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Verse 33)

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven starts out small but has great influence over something larger that is changed, and its nature is changed. The Kingdom of Heaven, very likely beloved reader, is something that may be created in the hearts of each member of humanity who has placed itself under the influence of the Divine.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Verse 44)

Here is another perspective on the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not readily or easily seen. But once found, everything else in life becomes unnecessary. The necessary thing is to make the Kingdom of Heaven and the rewards it has one’s own.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Verses 45 – 46)

What would make a person give up all other things in one’s life just to possess this one item? We who have room after room of items and possessions may find it hard to imagine giving all of that up just for one item. And yet, that is the same sort of instructions Jesus had for following him. It is not surprising therefore that he uses a parable / metaphor that has the same sort of motif.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;
when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Verses 47 – 50)

But it is not just we believers who need to be discerning in what we prize and what we give up. The Kingdom of Heaven will also decide and discern who and what will be worthy of entry. And that is a definite change from the earlier parables. That many will chose and price the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Kingdom will also chose amongst those who inhabit this world. It is not just that we must decide in favor of the Kingdom of Heaven above and apart from all other things. We must also live our lives according the the guidance and direction that the Kingdom gives.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Verses 51 – 52)

If we understand these teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven, it incumbent on us to teach them to others, and to practice it in our own lives. We must search for the Kingdom of Heaven where it exists and who it exists with, We must give up those things that stand between us and the Kingdom of Heaven, clinging not to unimportant things but giving what we must in order to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. And once we have down that, live according to the guidance and direction of the One who called the Kingdom of Heaven into existence. Selah!

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!