Third Sunday After Epiphany: The Gospel Passage – The ministry of Jesus begins

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” (Luke 4:14-15)

Jesus, according to the gospel of Luke, had come from the desert where he had been “ministered to” after resisting the temptation of the the evil one. That accounts, I suppose, why he was filled with the “power of the Spirit.” It should not surprise the reader of this passage that what came next was a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus. Even Spirit-filled people have been known to do amazing and astounding things.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (Verses 16 to 20)

I have known that feeling – when you have read a scripture passage and the hearers of it have been caught up in the words and the message. It is a pivotal moment. And in that instant you, the human fallible you, could step forward figuratively and literally, and say just about anything. But the wise scripture reader and worship leader knows to step back, at least figuratively, and let the Spirit do as it will. We who are human and give leadership in worship and at other times welcome the Spirit and in fact depend on the Spirit to guide us. Jesus, being Spirit-filled and Divine had no need to step back but spoke what needed to be said . . .

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Verse 21)

And all “heaven” broke loose!

Season After Pentecost – What we need, and when we need it (The Epistle Passage)

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:13-20)

I confess, beloved reader, I am a little tired of James. The writer of James makes everything so simple and straightforward, when often life is full and complicated. At least . . . that is how I am feeling about my life as I sit down to write about this passage.

I know I am not being true to you as beloved readers if I allow my “feelings in the moment” to dictate how I present this passage to you. What I should say is . . . here is proof that renewing and recommitting your life to God will bring you great rewards. That prayer and faith circles do much to encourage and inspire. That writer of James, in the passage above, gives ample reason to return to God. Being supported by prayer, being surrounded by people of cheer, being ministered to by the elders of the church, having the power of God on your side, and last but certainly not least, salvation itself.

But I sit here, knowing all that, but yet . . . I have a headache, there are many things I need to do and arrange. I have responsibilities, and people are depending on me to accomplish many things. I am tired and weary, ailing and overextended. And wondering if I am on the right path. In other words, the words from the letter from James do little for me.

What do I need? Well, someone to pray for me and anoint me. Someone to sing cheerful songs to me. I guess what I really need is someone like James to minister to me. I just do not have the strength and energy to be a “James”; I want someone to be a “James” to/for me! We all, at some time or another need to have someone to minister to us. I guess this is my day to want/need that.

My blessing for you today then would be that you would have or find someone to minister to you. I cannot ask you to minister to others when I cannot do the same. So may you have people in your life who would pray for you and tend to your needs. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – Sneaky things for good causes (The Epistles Passage)

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” (II Corinthians 8:7)

The writer of II Corinthians wants money – not for himself, but for another faith circle that the writer of II Corinthians has establish. That faith group is undergoing some hardships, and a gift from another faith group would not only relief their suffering but prove to them that they are not alone in this new faith.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (Verses 8-9)

It seems that material possessions and position/stature are being intermingled in the writer of II Corinthian’s mind. I do not think that Jesus Christ had sacks of gold, nor would something like that appeal to the Divine. And I suspect if I think about this theological/philosophical issue that the writer of II Corinthians is setting up, I will get more and more stirred up, so let us move on.

And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
(Verses 10-15)

Abundance and need, sufficiency and deficiency, are very subjective terms. What might be little for one is wealth for another – depending on one’s point of view and relative position in society. Maybe the reader’s of II Corinthians had in mind “wealth” that is in heaven, and were humbled that Jesus left that for their sake. And so perhaps sharing what they had above and beyond what they needed to sustain themselves would seem like imitating Christ. The writer of II Corinthians was not above playing one group against another, engendering benevolence and philanthropy to tie two geographically distant groups.

We do the same thing in our modern day, sending help to other parts of the world and going to help them. So my criticism of the writer of II Corinthians (yes, Paul) is not severe or deep. He was, after all, a good “arranger” of ideas, philosophies, and people. I have been known to exhibit that trait myself. Maybe that is why it catches my attention when I see it in others!

We all, beloved reader, must make sure our actions and outcomes support the mission of Christ and our Lord God. We must examine both our means and motivations. It is part of being in ministry and leadership for Christ’s sake. May you beloved reader take care in what you plan to do and in how you accomplish your plans. Selah!

Third Sunday After Pentecost – Talking about Heaven (The Gospel Passage)

He [Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

The Kingdom of God comes and raises up without us knowing or doing anything. And when it is in its fullness, the “harvest” is brought in. You can correctly assume, beloved reader, that there is a different understanding for most every biblical scholar who has commented on this passage. I do not ascribe to any particular understanding of this passage. I do appreciate what Barnes says, that you cannot press the passage to give up specifics but accept that the Kingdom of God grows because of the Spirit and it grows to maturity. Whether we are the grain, or the message of God is the grain, or some other understanding/interpretation, the central piece is that God’s Kingdom grows where and when according to no discernible pattern to humanity.

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Verses 30-32)

This one is easier to discern; we can understand how something small is planted and, because of its nature, grows to something much bigger than its source would explain. I think often about how Christian faiths and beliefs (yes, beloved reader, there are many) spread across the globe, and that a story that came out of one small part of the world can be found in every place in the world. And that some many diverse people have come to “nest” in its branches.

It is true that through parables that we can best understand these concepts.

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”(Verses 33-34)

The gospel of Mark has Jesus keeping many complex theologies concerning the Kingdom of God secret. We tend to forget (or maybe it is just me) these were once complex and secret understandings. Humanity’s understandings about the complexities of life and religion have grown since the time of the bible. What is clear and evident now was not always that way. Or maybe I assume to much, that humanity has an understanding of these things. I do not know. I write, and explain, to both teach and share what I have come to know.

May the Spirit who quickened the thinking and understanding of the disciples bless you with the secrets of the Kingdom of God. Selah!

The Second Sunday of Easter – The blessing of goodness and pleasantness through unity (The Psalms Passage)

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.”

(Psalm 133)

As a companion piece to the scripture passage from Acts, this works very well. And after my “vent” yesterday about how modern Christianity falls short of the Early Christian church, I want to emphasis that this goodness and pleasantness is exactly what I hope all Christians all over the globe can feel towards one another. But it is not always so.

I am well acquainted, and I am sure you are too beloved reader, with the metaphor of precious oil running down the face. It is an image of great abundance and firm resources, of well-being and contentment. In the past I have spoken about this psalm when it has been the passage for the day.

I am less acquainted with verse three. Hermon, or Mount Hermon is a mountain cluster in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. The summit of the mount straddles the border between Syria and Lebanon and 9,232 ft above sea level, is the highest point in Syria. Furthermore, geographically it is the source of the Jordan river, and clouds from the mount drift down and provide moisture to the lands around it. This is the “dew” that falls on the mountains of Zion, and one commentator said that it refreshes and renews the land and its inhabitants. At least, that is the biblical imagery. Syria and Lebanon, in modern day, are areas of conflict and unrest. I do not think the cooling dews of the mountains are enough. But would that goodness, pleasantness, and unity would be there.

We, beloved reader, can do much to bring calm and contentment to our world. Our small actions can inspire other actions, and if we chose compassion and peace we can be a part of spreading that to all parts of the globe, and to all people. May you, in the days that follow Easter, follow the example of compassion and caring that was set before us; and may you feel God’s blessing. Selah!

Ash Wednesday (The Old Testament and Psalms Passage)

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1-2)

The Day of the Lord, a day of darkness and gloom. But it is not armies that come marching against us, but our sin. It has darkened our souls and threatens to extinguish the light that is our faith and belief. What can we do?!

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.

Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples, Where is their God?’” (Verses 12-17)

There is a rhythm in Christian life – sin and confess, sin and confess, sin and confess. But there needs to be a time when we sit and face squarely our sin, and feel the deep need to confess. And when we have purged ourselves of all sin, and have confessed all our faults, missteps, and mistakes. Then, and only then, can we feel the deepest sense of God’s forgiveness.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:1-3)

There are times and days to confess what we have done to each other, the sins we commit person to person. These may be such days; but these are also the days to consider what our sin has done to our relationship with God and our Lord Jesus.

“Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Verses 4-5)

It is human to sin. Our nature is such that we are not perfect, and even the smallest of imperfections looms large when we come face to face with God.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6-8)

It hurts to be faced and confronted by our sins. But the greater hurt would be to hide more and longer from our sins. And in facing our sins, and the fear that comes from being confronted as a sinner we find release in our Lord.

“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Verses 9-17)

May you beloved reader enter into this time of Lent ready to encounter God and Christ in new ways, and may your faith be renewed and deepened. Selah!

Ash Wednesday (The Epistles Passage)

It does not seem like we have gotten very far into the year/the church year, and yet here we are at Ash Wednesday (although this is Tuesday). I want to take two days to look at Ash Wednesday themes and scripture passages, and use the following two days of posts to look at the first Sunday in Lent. For those who do not know, there are six Sundays in Lent (including Palm or Passion Sunday) leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We will look at each day in turn during the season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and in some churches services ash or soot is used to the attendee’s forehead with the sign of the cross as an outward symbol of inner repentance of sin. The days of Lent are a journey towards of our need of confession and forgiveness of sin culminating in the Holy Days of Lent.

The writer of II Corinthians says to his readers, “[W]e entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.” (II Corinthians 5:20b, 6:1)

Lent can be a time we become reconciled to God. It can be time of acknowledging sin and our need & desire to be forgiven. One might rightly ask, why does this last so long, throughout the weeks of Lent.

For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (Verse 2)

Let me say that for the writer of II Corinthians and the other Epistles, there was no season of Lent. What they would have celebrated/commemorated was Passover, and it was during the Passover week that Jesus was said to have been put to death, as he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples as the Last Supper. It is the more “modern” Christian church, starting with the Roman Catholic Church, that first apportioned the days of Lent. Actual start of Lenten observances dates back to the 300’s. Churches other than the Roman Catholic church have incorporated Lent into their church year – some with great intent and preponderance and others with a lighter touch. It is an extended period of time for contemplation and introspection in preparation for the greatest event in the church year, and in the history of humanity.

We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (II Corinthians 6:3-10)

Christians and Christianity has endured much since its establishment amongst the Jews and Gentiles in Jesus time. It is not only the writer of II Corinthians and his companions who have suffered for their faith. Christians all through the ages have been persecuted. Christianity has been maligned and misunderstood, as was Christ himself. It is good for us to set aside time in the church year and in our faith to think about who we are as Christians, what we believe, and how we have or have not lived out our faith. I invite you to journey with me through the days and weeks of Lent.