Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Epistles Passage – Mapping some slippery slopes with Paul

I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– “ (Romans 9:1)

Call me a skeptic of long running, but many times when someone tells me they are speaking the truth, I prick me ears up and discern whether they are really lying. Maybe it is because part of my professional life has been discerning between absolute truths, somewhat truths, convenient truths, and outright non-truths. Do I doubt Paul? No. But for my sake, I wish he had phrased it some other way.

So is his absolute truth? The gospel he is talking about? If so, I believe him. Much of what he says aligns with what others have said, and my own experience. Or, is he talking about what he is about to say?

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” (Verses 2 – 3)

That is a lot of sorrow for one man to carry around. And a pretty severe wish on behalf of another. Really, cut off from Christ? Is this not the man just a few verses ago who said that nothing could separate us from the love of Christ? And what is the love that Christ has for us but Christ himself made manifest? Or is this a “safe” wish because Paul knows that his wishing it would not make it happen? Seems to me we are right back where we started with Paul vowing that he is telling the truth.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Verses 4- 5)

What is not out rightly stated is that Paul fears if they do not accept Christ and profess faith that Jesus was the Messiah, they will be lost. The whole purpose of them being a people called by the Lord and a light to the other nations would be lost. It was for their sake, firstly, that Jesus came. Then for the benefit of the Gentiles and all the other nations, and all people. But the “Jews”, meaning religion/nationality of those born into Judaism, have rejected Christ. And not all Jews, but as a nation and as a corporate people they have rejected Christ. And Paul grieves this.

One may suppose, I imagine, that it is no different than Christians mourning for all the non-Christians who do not know and believe in Jesus . . . . . as they believe. Here’s the thing though, how do we know what is in the heart of others? How do we know how they respond to and recognize the Divine. Paul, in his Pauline way, is being kind of presumptuous about the Jews. And that irks me just a touch. But I am irked more when that presumption is magnified by some Christians who draw very narrow boundaries for Christian faith. I actually much prefer Paul’s wish to draw them in no matter the cost to himself than Christians segregating out those who do not believe as they do.

Yes, beloved reader, I am not sure where all of this puts me in regards to my . . . . . regarding of Paul. Nor my regarding of Christians who do not believe as I do. There are some slippery slopes here. Beware!

We are on safe ground, though, if we commend all people to believe in the Lord God, and trusting that the Lord God knows their hearts. May you seek out the Lord God, beloved reader, and may nothing keep you from faith in the Divine. Selah!

Advertisements

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the Lord from . . . . wherever

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:2 – 3)

This is a good verse when thinking about new believers – of any faith tradition really. The apostle Peter is talking about belief in Christ, and so our reflection is informed and guided by that. But all new believers long for good clear understanding of the faith they are entering into. Peter’s qualifier of “tasting” of the Lord sets his comments in Christianity. And from this point on, we educated in that belief system.

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Peter’s remarks and teachings not only instruct in new faith, but support the forming of a church, or at least a body of believers. Christianity is not to be lived out in isolation, although many times that is the case.

“For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”
and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Peter also frames non-belief as a deliberate action; that is, knowing better but choosing not to belief. I am not convinced it as straightforward as that. Or rather, I make room for not knowing about Jesus and our Lord God in a way that makes it clear that it is a good choice. I also make room for devote sincere belief that may not be constructed and lived out in the way mainstream Christians may know and live it. In fact, it seemed clear to me many years back that some mainstream Christianity had already diverged from what I felt and believed that Jesus taught and exemplified.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I truly and strongly feel that there is a potential for a latitude in authentic and devote faith in the Divine. Coming from an Anabaptist background, I emphasis authenticity as opposed to “mere” motions and surface faith. Coming from a background on my paternal family side, I also have great regard and respect for authentic Judaism. There is irony there because Peter might well have been talking to Jews who had not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Or, he might have been talking to Gentiles who had no faith in a monotheistic deity. There is room in the family of God for many peoples to come in, from all sorts of backgrounds. And Peter certainly had a rough road of it coming to faith. That’s just one of the many reasons he is close to my heart.

May you, beloved reader, come to faith in our Lord God from whatever your background is. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus gives some final instructions

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14: 1 – 4)

Jesus leaves himself wide open in a couple of places here. I imagine here, at the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus was feeling pang of leaving his disciples. They in turn were becoming more fearful concerning Jesus’ talking about what would come next.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (Verses 5 – 7)

It reminds me a bit of a parent trying to explain to a child (of any age) why they will be apart for a time, and what to expect. Oh the patience Jesus must have had with his disciples as they struggle to understand.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Verses 8 – 9)

Even Christians/believers of great maturity and understanding falter at incorporating into their faith that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. Distinct and for the time that Jesus was on earth, two separate Entities/Deities, yet one and the same.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is hard for us, beloved reader, who have only known our Lord God and Jesus “from a distance.” But then, maybe for the disciples it was even more confusing because they knew Jesus as flesh, as they were flesh. They knew because they had lived with Jesus in the flesh for three years (according to some of the gospels). Eating and sleeping, and all that is part of being human flesh. How, they must have thought, can Jesus be otherwise? And if so, what does this say about the God that Jesus called Father/Parent?

But they saw what Jesus had done, and it could not be denied that Jesus had done more than any other human could have done – more miracles and more compassion. If they could not understand theologically what Jesus meant, at least they could see for themselves that Jesus was something other than just merely human.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Verse 12)

And then, Jesus surprises them again. I have several times puzzled at these words – how can humans do more than Jesus? Maybe it is just rhetoric, something to make the disciples feel better. Or some reason that the writer of the gospel of John had. But I checked in with my “friend” Albert Barnes. He explained it this way – it is not that the disciples (or us for that matter) will do something more miraculous than Jesus. But what the disciples will do (did) is going to have a more far-reaching impact that what Jesus did, considering that Jesus was local; and those who are called, believe in, and act according to Jesus and the Lord God will (and have) spread the word further than when Jesus was alive. But it was not done on the strength of the human abilities of the disciples.

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Now, it was not that the disciple (or us) can ask for ANYTHING but those things that align with the guidance and directive of the Divine. And brings glory to the Divine. This rests on the notion of “smart sheep” that I put forth last week.

It is good that the Revised Common Lectionary places these verses after Jesus’ death and resurrection – although it comes in the story before Jesus’ crucifixion. So much is better understood after Jesus was/is revealed as the Risen Lord. The disciples understood better what Jesus meant after it was revealed to them that Jesus was Divine; of course, they had the Holy Spirit given to them to help this understanding. But, beloved reader, we have the Holy Spirit too!

May you, beloved reader, understand what Jesus has to say to you. And may you act upon so that glory is brought to the Divine. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wonders & Signs being performed

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42- 43)

“Wonders and signs” – I dearly wish I knew what the writer of Acts meant by that. I (or you) can look it up in the Greek, but that does not tell us what exactly is meant by it. Were they “wonders and signs” that “merely” confirmed faith in God – what I mean by that is words and acts of a vital faith. Or was it miraculous, out of ordinary human experience that even in our modern times would elicit awe? But is wondrous to our modern times is what follows in the writer of Acts description.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 44 – 47)

The early Christians were a vital and cohesive community. They lived and worked together in harmony and common cause. What one needed, another provided without hesitancy or thought for self – at least as it is described. And if that were true, that would be a “wonder & a sign” that something extraordinary was going on. It would be very attractive to those on the outside who were living in need and isolation. You have to understand, beloved reader, these were times when want and need were rampant, and very few people undertook for each other. Such radical community and care was rare and valuable.

The other thing to remember is that it did not last. Yes, perhaps for a healthy span of years, but eventually human willfulness eroded away the community. Thinking of self gradually became more of the norm than thinking of others. If you have doubts of this, read some of the letters that were written to the early Christian communities. The early church was a model of community and care, but that type of community without end. Certainly an example to succeeding generations but not easily replicated. For a time, a tiny slice of heaven but that eroded like fog on a warming day. The “heat” of the self-centered human heart can dissipate too easily the warming cloud of caring intent. So yes, it was a wonder and sign that the early Christians came together in such a community, and a hope that will true Christian intent we can replicate IF we keep Christ and our Lord God at the center of all our efforts. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany: The Epistles Passage – Don’t exalt the teacher over what is taught

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:10-11)

I gave a good amount of thought to these first two verses of this passage. Paul’s remarks could be taken as instructions to ministers/evangelists or advice given to new believers. And I am not sure which way would be better. Paul says earlier on in this chapter that the Corinthians were “young” believers and had allowed themselves to define the good news as to who brought it, rather than taking the good news and allowing the news itself to inform the choices in their lives. But there is also here caution to those who preach/teach the good news of Jesus that they would let the news carry the weight and not the interpretation the preacher/teacher/evangelist/minister might bring to it. Paul says in another place, I seem to remember, that nothing should be added to or taken away from the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – at least I think it was Paul. But Paul moves on from this point (as does the lectionary which skips over some verses) so let us do also.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (Verses 16 – 23)

Or maybe Paul does not, actually. We have Paul’s instruction to follow God’s wisdom and not the wisdom of human thinking or our understanding. We also have the admonition not to think more about the teachers of God’s word than the word of God itself. Again, is Paul cautioning the new believers in Corinth or whatever teachers/preachers might be left behind? Because if you know Paul, you know he does not hold back his admonition or exhortation of anyone! New believers are to hold themselves apart from anything that would destroy them or their faith. But, those who would destroy a young believer or that faith is also imperiled by God’s judgment! There is much to be gleaned from this passage. May you do so under the guidance and direction of the Spirit of God. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany: The Gospel Passage – A Valentine’s Day Message

Yes, I know if is Valentine’s Day, a day of hearts, roses, chocolates and cards; pick and red, puffy clouds and little cherubs with tiny arrows that do not hurt.

I was faced with two choices for the scripture passage for today. Originally I was going to go with the Old Testament passage from Leviticus 19, and just explain why. (I will explain my reason/rationale for that choice tomorrow.) But then I looked at the Matthew 5 passage, and saw that it worked just as well – in a “upside down Kingdom” sort of way. So, here we go.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)

This is love – love that is not smiley faced and perky sweet. This is love that goes the distance and stays as blessed and holy as when it began. This is the love that sustains through the darkest times and wins out over everything else. This is the love that we need. It may not be the type of love we want to do, but it is the love we should do. Love takes off it delicate pink coating and goes to work in the world. This is the love we are called to by God, because this is the type of love God has for us. Love in this way, and never cease! Selah!

First Week of Advent: The Epistle Passage Year A – Waiting in hope

I am very much relieved that the verses for Advent delicately touch on the season. It seems far to early to start thinking about Advent. Yet, Thanksgiving comes at the end of this week and this Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. The first candle in the Advent wreath will be lite, and soon will come (if it has not already according to the decorations in stores) planning for the holiday.

The year seems to have rushed away, and recent events may have blurred for a moment the coming of the season; but I am determined in my own way to reassert the spirit of Advent, and in good time, Christmas.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13: 11-14)

A little starker than I would have put it, but that is the writer of Romans for you. Writing to a people who lived squarely in the midst of politics and social upheaval, trying to carve out a Christian way of living in a society that at times seemed against them. No matter; they prevailed and so shall we. Because when it comes right down to it, the power of love and compassion, caring and acceptance, forgiveness and mercy is stronger than what is antithetic to Christian principles.

The season of Advent is a season of waiting; waiting in hope but knowing (really) what is to come. It occurs to me we are also in a season of waiting, waiting to see what will happen in current politics and the upheaval that is with us. So it doubly good that the season of Advent will help us move through this time with hope and the promise that salvation is resting firmly in the hands of the Divine. Selah!