Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Epistle Passage – Our function and call within the Body of the Lord God

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Often times there is the presumption that what we do with or to our bodies is separate and distinct from what we do with our thoughts. The body, being base, is assumed to do base things. But the mind, being elevated, should not do what is base and sinful. But Paul does not make this allowance. That is not to say I do not see in the epistle evidence of body/mind connection thinking; just simply an exhortation to be as pure in body as in mind.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Verse 2)

Here we have the same exhortation to keep the mind and thoughts pure also.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Verse 3)

Paul has on many occasions exhorted his readers not to be boastful or proud of things done with their own strength and might, but to boast in what the Lord has done and is able to do through them.

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,
so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Verses 4 – 8)

And the Lord God can do through us; not just one type of service to the world but diverse work. Some teach or prophecy. Workers like Paul minister by spreading the word of God. Some lead, and some uphold the body by compassion and cheerfulness. What do you do for the body of believers in God? What is your call as voiced by the Lord?

Keeping our bodies and our minds pure and holy is not the only way to worship the Lord, or give testimony concerning the Lord. I pray, beloved reader, that Lord God might reveal to you your function in the body of believers. Selah!

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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 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)

While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.

But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.

“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.

“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)

“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)

This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)

Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.

I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.

The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. Selah!

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!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Psalm Passage – Wrestling with the Psalms, of all things!

Do you remember, beloved reader, from back on Tuesday when we talked about how Jacob had treated his brother Esau, and deceived his father? And he, Jacob, was deceived by his uncle, his mother’s brother? And the week before, we talked about Jacob and his dream of the ladder up to heaven, and God giving him the same promise as his grandfather Abraham was given? We also talked about how these men (and women), called children of God, were charged with the creation of a nation of people who would be God’s shining light for/to the rest of the world. Promises were given by God, in exchange for faithfulness. These people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons – formed the foundation. The Old Testament is the history and story of this called and foundation. We know that the earlier called people of God did not follow the call as faithfully as they might. But then Christians, called by God, also have problems being faithful.

The psalmist tells us what the reward for faithfulness is.

“Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128)

Now according to Old Testament/Israelite reasoning, this wonderful life is the reward of faithful living. And if this reward is not evident, it is because the living has not been faithful. At least that is a message that comes through from the history of Israel, Judah, and the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. But we also know that we live in a fallen world where the dictates and direction of the Lord is not followed by many, and the tragedies in the world are the result not just of the recipient of the tragedy but because troubles are also inflicted upon the innocent.

So what should we say and believe? That if our lives are not as the psalmist writes, then we are at fault? Or that the misdeed and evil of others have deprived us of such blissful living? It is a conundrum that believers have wrestled with for generations. And probably one that will be wrestled with for generations more.

As the history of the Israelites continued, the idea of this “blissful living” moved from being an assured reality to a dream of the future. It became “shalom”, peaceful and harmonious living, and was a hope for the life to come. It is one aspect of the hope that Jesus offered to his disciples. And that Paul assures us will be ours in the world to come.

It is helpful to keep in mind this evolution of what the Israelites hoped would be their lives under the Lord. What they felt they were promised, but didn’t always get. It is also helpful to keep in mind when you think about what the Jews of Jesus’ time hoped that the Messiah would bring them. And, beloved reader, it is a dream that is helpful for us to keep in mind as we journey through our present lives. That this reality will not be the only reality that we are destined for. Selah!

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 12 [17]): The Epistles Passage – It can be a hard life, beloved reader

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Paul has just got done exhorting us to hope, just as I have commended to hope even though you cannot see what you have hoped for. Then both Paul and I say “likewise” the Spirit helps us. Yes, I think I am on the other side of a passage from Paul that I struggle with. But that does not mean it is easy coasting from here on out.

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Verses 27 – 28)

I want to let you in on a little secret beloved reader (that you may already know); the Spirit and God are . . sorta One. What I mean is that God “knows what is the mind of the Spirit” because God is the Mind of the Spirit. At least that is true in Triune theology. Less easy to prove is that “all things work together for good for those who love God . . .” That’s not to say that it is not true; but when you are in the middle of “less than good” things, it is hard to know that it is all going to work out for “good.” Or maybe you can embrace the idea that whatever happens God will use it to work out good purpose.

Now, that would be a theological mouth-fill if it were not spoken by Paul. Paul who had been Saul, who had been imprisoned and tortured, who had to flee for his life, who had to endure much grief and distress and pain. The man knows suffering, and knows that thus far in his life the bad has worked out to positive outcomes.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Verses 29 – 30)

In other words, if you feel picked on, used, and abused – you probably were. But for a reason. What you are going through will have an outcome that will bring about glory to God. Okay, you sort of have to want that to happen in order to withstand the tough times. But think about this; if you do have tough times, it may just be that the toughness will result in something awesome. That is not to say that God allows us to be whipped around, or that the Divine whips us around. What it is saying is that God is going to work things out in ways we could never image!

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Verse 31)

God is mightier than anything that comes up against us. We may not mightier or stronger than anything we might encounter. Situations and circumstances may be more than we can handle, and we may get ground into dust. But we will be God’s dust! And that, beloved reader, is better than being just plain dust!

“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Verses 32 – 35)

You see, that is Paul’s litmus test. Not that we will have an easy life, but whatever happens in our life will not necessarily prevent us from rejoicing glory and reward from the Lord God. If you look at life from Paul’s mindset, being ground into dust for the Lord God is a privilege! Yeah, I have one or two things I would like to say to Paul about that too. But he has a point. This world & the favors and ease that it offers is not something we should regard as important.

“As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verses 36 – 39)

Hard times, rough conditions, stress and turmoil, suffering and death – they are all apart of this world. We either endure . . . . . well actually there is not much other choice. We endure until we can no longer endure. But once endurance is done, and our lives are over, there is something beyond that. It all comes back to hope. And the Spirit who is there for us, groaning in ways that we could never groan ourselves. And praying, in ways so deep that it goes beyond words. Whatever hardship comes our way, we are not alone. Maybe helpless, but not alone. And, beloved reader, that Presence may make all the difference! Selah!