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 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 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 10 [15]) : The Epistle Passage – Wrestling with Paul’s theology again

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1 – 4)

If you have been following along, beloved reader, with my commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, you have read/heard how I have been wrestling with Paul’s theology. It is helpful in my wrestling to read that according to Paul the law has been weakened by the flesh. I am not sure why Paul has this few of the law. From previous comments Paul has made I have understood his perspective to be that the law defines what sin is but is not helpful in determining how would should live. Or perhaps Paul is echoing some of Jesus’ perspective on some of the Jewish leaders of his time, that they have sought to circumvent the spirit of the law and have so weakened it by reinterpreting the letter of the law to the Jewish leaders’ own advantage. The law, neither in it letter nor in its diluted spirit can save us; only the Spirit of God brought to us through Jesus can do that.

Do not forget that when Paul was Saul, he strove to up hold every letter of the law, but it did not set him right with God. His encounter on the road to Damascus might have impacted his theology a great deal.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Verses 5 – 6)

To Paul, then, the law represents things of the flesh – prohibitions and regulations. The Spirit represents life and correct living. It is also helpful to remember that Paul and his teachings were on the leading edge of Christian living; introducing new ideas and concepts that we in our modern time have come to understand and incorporate into our world view of Christian living. That is why I think, and said what I said concerning what Paul might have to say to our modern world. I think Paul would have been savvy enough to know that his world is not our world, and that his message and letters might have been different for our modern age. But some things would have remained the same.

“For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Verse 7)

Our modern world is consumed with the “flesh”, worldly things and worldly agendas. Not as it was back in Paul and Jesus time, but according to modern definitions. The message to Christian now would still be . . .

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Verses 8 – 9)

This perspective also relates back to what I was trying to emphasize yesterday, that the definition of lineage has changed and that the determinant of being in the family of God has been broadened to encompass all people.

“But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Paul is speaking about which law, the law of flesh or the Law of the Spirit, should be used as the determinant for correct living. That the law of the flesh should not have hold on you, but the law and example of the Spirit should. I add to this that living according to the Law of the Spirit, we are apart of the same family. I do not think Paul would disagree.

Paul’s dividing of the flesh and the spirit (meaning the human spirit) has caused problems, setting the body against the human spirit/psyche, condemning the physical while elevating the mind. We know that the body and the mind are so intertwined that one can not neatly divide one against the other.

Oh beloved reader, theology can be such a mishmash – terms and definitions changing and evolving. Praise to the Lord God that the Divine is a sturdy concept, including all peoples and all ways of living, holding them to the standard embodied in Christ. May the Spirit of the Divine be with you as you wrestle with the issues in your life. Selah!