Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – A “short” lesson

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” (Luke 19: 1- 6)

This may be the source of all the jokes that tax collectors are unscrupulous. Certainly they have “enjoyed” such a reputation down through history, both real and imagined. Even Zacchaeus is pictured in picture bibles as a very short man dressed in loud colors and flowing clothing. But let us not forget that Zacchaeus made every effort and beyond to see Jesus. That says a great deal about his character. We see that in the following verses.

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Verses 7 -10)

Confession, penance and forgiveness. It is for everyone – even those it is assumed are undeserving of it. For a short guy with a bad reputation, he has a lot to teach us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – But not one for me

Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.” (Psalms 119:97)

Once in a while – once in a long while – I do not agree with the psalmist. That does not make me a “bad” person, or any less faithful. Does not make you that way either, beloved reader, if you do not agree with the psalmist. It is not the first verse that I disagree with, but the verses that follow.

“Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.” (Verse 98)

It is not so much that I disbelieve the words, but that I do not like the attitude. It is the “I am superior to every one because I have God’s word in my hip pocket” thinking that I dislike.

“I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation.” (Verse 99)

If you know me at all, beloved reader, I do not situation myself as knowing more or being any better than anyone else. Having God’s words with me and studying it, does not make me any more knowledgeable except to realized how much I do NOT know!

“I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” (Verses 100 – 101)

I am not sure I even could wish that I could have the unshakable confidence that the psalmist has.

“I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me.” (Verse 102)

I do love the “word of God” and I do try to follow it in all things and in all ways. But I will be the first to admit my fallibility. However . . . .

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Verse 103)

But, with the next verse I am back at being uncomfortable with the surety of it.

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Verse 104)

Psalm 119 continues after these verses cited, and the psalmist may very well develop some humility, which would take down the note of self-confidence a bit. And I have to admit, at one time or another some portions of humanity tend to pat itself on the back for being so “faithful” to the Lord. And if I were honest, there may be times I would have to confess to that sort of hubris.

Confess . . . that brings to mind this year’s theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness. However, this does not seem to be one of those passages that has much humbling confession and not much offer of penance, but maybe a sliver of asking for forgiveness . . . for failing a smidgen to hold to such perfection of faith! Therefore I must conclude, beloved reader, in this passage the psalmist does not speak for me. At least, not at this moment in my life. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Confession moving towards forgiveness by accepting penance

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.” (Psalms 79:1 – 4)

The people of Israel have suffered the consequences of broken relationships with the nations around them. It has been ascribed to a broken relationship with God, and without knowing the exact history I will not dispute that. But what occurs to me is that if the nation were honoring God and living as God wants them to live, won’t that mean they would be at peace with the nations around them?

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.” (Verses 5 – 7)

The cry and justification of the psalmist is that it was the other nations that made war on the children of Jacob, and destroyed them. They were completely innocent.

Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.” (Verse 8)

Or, the psalmist says, it was the generation before ours that incurred the sin; do not hold us responsible for their actions. Have mercy on us! Save us! Lift us up!

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.” (Verse 9)

Finally, the psalmist admits, his generation may be guilty of some sins too. But to show that their God is a glorious God, God should forgive them!

This psalm is a very good example of the confession/penance/forgiveness theme. The progression from “it was them” to “it was their fault” to “it was our fault too” is a good move toward doing penance and being forgiven. It is also a very “human nature” progression of blaming others before being will to accept one’s own failing and sin. And thanks be to God that the Lord is patient and faithful! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – Exhortation made personal

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.” (Philemon 1:1-7)

While this letter seems to come from two people, and is addressed to several people, verses 4 to 12 is actually directed to one person – Philemon. And it is a carefully constructed letter and written (at least this first part) for one purpose – to reunite a slave owner (Philemon) with his runaway slave (Onesimus). But more than returning Onesimus to Philemon, the writer’s purpose (yes, it’s Paul) is to smooth the way so that Onesimus is received under the spirit of grace, compassion, and restitution. A “confession/penance/forgiveness” situation where Onesimus had done his penance with Paul but is expected to be given forgiveness by Philemon.

Paul starts by reminding Philemon of his better nature and Paul passes on the accolades that he has heard from others. And then Paul sets forth his rationale for Onesimus being forgiven and welcomed home.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother [emphasis mind]—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Verses 8-16)

This is not so much an argument that “slavery is wrong”, but that we are all bound together as brothers/sisters in the Lord, each one a “slave” to the Lord but free also in the Lord. Paul is asking Philemon to put into practical practice what faith would tell in to do in a spiritual and faith context. And remember that Paul reminded Philemon of the good reports he has heard of his faith.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Verses 17 – 21)

How more so must we forgive and accept one another who is bound to us ONLY through the Lord. That is, we relate to each other as equals. And if someone would trespass or offend us, then the Jesus Christ our Lord has already paid the penance for that. Let me state this again more clearly and linearly. If someone confesses to God what that person did to another, does penance to God for that offense, and God forgives that person – we too are obligated to forgive that person because our offenses were/are also forgiven by God.

What Paul may have written to Philemon can be widened to include all of us. And may it be said of us too that God is thanked because “of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus . . . . that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ . . . . much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” beloved reader. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – The psalmist writes and the Lord speaks through the words

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob. “ (Psalms 81:1)

Here it is, Sunday/Sabbath afternoon, and I am sitting down to write to you again beloved reader.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Verse 10)

After I read verse 10 I thought maybe this might be a psalm that Preacher and Seeker might enjoy doing. But the verses that came after dwelt on just one theme, and a theme more appropriate for using to preach with then read responsively. The psalmist has taken up the theme of God “complaining” about the chosen and called people. I can’t exactly precisely get behind the idea that God complains.

But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Maybe laments is a more accurate term. And one that encompasses God’s wish that the Lord’s chosen and called people (that includes in history, throughout the generations and currently) would follow the Lord God.

“O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” (Verse 13)

We (that is, this generation of humanity) are also those that the Lord God is lamenting over. And we should hear and heed this lament. We should come back to the Lord – confess and repent to receive the Lord’s forgiveness because . . .

“Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.” (Verses 14 – 15)

I encourage you beloved reader, to come before the Lord and confess whatever lays heavy on your heart, soul, and spirit. It need not be sin or any misstep you have done. Simply speak your mind and lay open you heart, soul, and spirit to the Lord God. The Lord will come to you and ease your distress and discomfort, for the Lord promises . . .

I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Verse 16)

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – Back to the basics, like prayer

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

For those who knew Jesus, knew him as a man who worked the earth, they knew where the place was that he prayed, or where his favorite places to pray were. Matthew, Mark, James, Peter, and John – they knew where he was when he was off praying. And those were times when he was not to be disturbed, and they I am sure guarded and protected Jesus alone time with God. But when he was done and ready to rejoin the group, they asked – teach us to pray.

He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Verses 2 – 4)

In some gospels the pray is a little bit longer with more of the familiar parts to it that have come down to us. But the important parts are there. This is prayer to a God who loves us as a parent loves a child – unconditionally and without end. But this is also a God who is holy above and beyond all of our understanding. This a God who has plans for us, and plans for creation; and some days those plans will come to completion. This is a God who provides for us; not only for our bodily needs but for our need of forgiveness – which reminds me that this year’s lectionary theme is confession, penance, and forgiveness. How wonderful that this passage brings that theme back around – or at least back to my attention!

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”(Verses 5 -13)

When we truly ask the Lord for what our deepest needs are, we do not ask in vain. There is a commonly used phrase – “The Lord will not give more than you can handle.” But I do not know that is completely true. I know there have been things “given” into my life that I cannot handle. Plain straight-up truth – I can not handle them. So how have I survived them, thus far? Because what I cannot handle, God does. Now, you may say that God “gave” me what was needed. But I do not and can not put such faith in my self. It was God who did the doing and handling.

So, how do we tie this all together? Prayer. We pray to God, as Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We pray – maybe not in ways that seem obvious and explicit for the need of confession, penance, and forgiveness – but God gets the message that is what we need. We pray for what we need to handle things in this life. And assurance that in the life to come we will be with God. And God gives us these things – the things we truly need; and not the things that would harm us.

May you pray, beloved reader. May you pray the prayers that God and our Lord Jesus Christ has taught you. Selah!

Liturgy of the Palms: Psalms and Gospel Passages – The Lord Comes!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalms 118:1-2)

Today we look at the scripture passages, the Psalms passage and the New Testament passage, that are the Liturgy of the Palms. The palms are the branches that were used to cover the street when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. And this psalms passage has become associated with that event.

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” (Verses 19-20)

As I consider this passage, I am reminded that of the focus and theme of this year, confession, penance, and forgiveness. And that three step process is the way to righteousness.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Verse 21)

It is during the season of Lent that this progression of confession/penance/forgiveness has significance, although I suspect that I will find ways and means to bring it to our attention later in the year. And that it is through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf that brings the righteous we want and need. Of course, there are those of authentic belief who may see other aspects of Jesus that have more significance for them. That is the beauty of Jesus’ ministry, that it contains something for everyone, if they would but look for it.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Verse 22-23)

Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem was a time of celebration; the spirit of the moment caught hold, and Jesus was sought after and revered.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Verse 24)

But Jesus and his ministry was more than celebration and accolades. And in the days that followed, a more somber note was injected into Jesus Christ’s ministry.

“Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” (Verses 25)

That is, however, pondering for another day – not today.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God, and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” (Verses 26-27)

Today we welcome Jesus Christ to his rightful place in our world, and in our lives.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Verses 28-29)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”
(Luke 19:28-34)

“The Lord needs it.” Ever since I first read this passage, and was old enough to understand it, I marveled that those simple words were enough for Jesus being given leave to take this colt. As I considered these words again, it occurred to me that in the same simple but compelling way we need the Lord.

Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” ( Verses 36-40)

Let us, beloved reader, not be silent either. Let us shout out our praises to the Lord, and confess our need of our Lord. Let us this day celebrate the coming of our Lord to us. Selah!