Sixth Sunday After Epiphany: The Old Testament Passage – The coming faith in God, Old Testament style and other ways

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” (Deuteronomy 30:15)

Do not think, beloved reader, that the choice is as easy as that. The writer of Deuteronomy (or the words that Moses is said to have spoken) need to be read with two things in mind. First, that this is an admonition to the people who traveled to the land that God had picked out for them, the new Hebrew nation. It is not an promise to each individual person, but a prophecy for the new Hebrew nation to rest upon. Second, there will always be death and adversity in life. It is the nature of being alive on the earth.

If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Verses 16 – 18)

While this passage does not address the issue directly, the hidden subtext is that those who do believe on God and follow God’s tenets (commandments as Moses brought then down from Mount Sinai) will not be alone in this world. And this is a good admonition to new believers, and to those of us whose faith could use refreshing – which is all of us. (No offense intended.) Moses/the writer of Deuteronomy was being a little extreme. But when you are working to establish a new faith system, or re-establish an old one, it is good to have strong boundaries.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Verses 19 – 20)

Another thing I want to point out, the choice for God is a personal one. It is not an automatic inclusion for your descendants. Each person must decide for themselves. However, we can model our faith beliefs and teach those who are new or young to the faith what faithful living looks like. And if that is what is meant here, then I am all for it. The Jewish faith evolved as a faith that has its center in the home, where right living and good choices are modeled and encouraged by one’s parents/elders. Christianity has come to be a faith that is based in the corporate church, again where modeling, teaching and nurture happens. But that happens by intent and design, not as a consequence of simply living.

Now let me qualify that by saying the influence of the Christian faith can happen that way, no matter the setting of the teaching etc. But by and large, most of the time the church is where most Christian faith is transmitted. And even as I say that I know there will be some cases of very noteworthy exceptions. I grew up in a Mennonite/Anabaptist home as did my friends and my family before me. Religion and faith were practiced in every day practical ways and affected all aspects of my home life.

Christians come to their faith in many ways, and because of diverse influences. I am getting the feeling though, that we have drifted away from the Deuteronomy passage. To bring us back, let me say that the Lord God uses many ways and influences to bring people to faith. The Hebrews who would become the Israelites and Judahites came to faith through the influence and tradition of the family and nation they grew up in. It was here, as they entered Jordan, that faith took hold and was placed on them by the expectations of their leaders. But OH that statement could open up a whole other field of commentary!

Let my close by commending you to the Lord God who calls the Divine’s people in so many ways! Selah!

The election is over; now we start on the days to come

Throughout the day I have been logging into my Facebook page and generally checking in with everyone I connect with on social media for their reactions and responses to the surprising results of the election. I do not chose/use the word “surprise” as my own description but as it was described by others. For some it was a pleasant surprise and for some it was not. Amongst the circle of people I connect with through social media and face to face, the majority feel it was not a pleasant surprise but something they feared and continue to fear. And is so often the case, when one fears, one lashes out. And I have heard/read a lot of lashing out. But I have also read/heard voices of hope and determination to make the best of it and work towards compassion, acceptance and unity.  And that is good.

But . . . but . . . these voices of hope and determination also tell me there is great pain and fear underneath. That they have not turned to anger but love and caring is a good and positive thing. It still, however, speaks and indicates the presence of pain and fear.

I have written a time or two about fear and that God does not call us to a life of fear. Not that the Divine does not acknowledge that we fear, but that the Divine does not wish us to live in fear, but in hope and courage. And not because we fear, are afraid and act out of fear but that we banish fear and replace it with trust in God/the Divine.

This is not the first time the nation, individually or as a group, has feared for itself and others. And without being a pessimist or doomsayer, it will not be the last. We, as a nation have lived in fear and through fear. Fear may be out hope, determination and courage – but it does not always bring out the “best” of us. That is what I hope in the days, weeks and months to come we can do – bring out the best of ourselves and bring out the best in others. We can do that by not letting our fear spread and multiply; no, our fear must be set aside in favor of traits that lead to care, compassion, acceptance, understanding, and unity.

This is not “new” exhortations or encouragements. In fact, this sort of encouragement is pretty biblical. I do not have any bible verses to back this up, and these are not reflections that come from the Revised Common Lectionary. Indeed they are kind of extemporaneous in nature. But written from the heart. And these are comments not just from a national perspective, but global. While this election took place and directly impacts the United States, the U.S. is part of the global community and what happens has impact in other parts of the world. The days, weeks, and months to come will be played out against the backdrop of the global community, and the global community will also impact us.

Living in the United States but being a Canadian citizen means I did not have a part in the election process but I still live in the outcome of the election. It has been a interesting position to be in. I feel both a part of the global community and a resident of the United States – not having a voice but still being a presence. In other words, my opinion did not and does not much matter. So I have not shared much as to what I have felt inside.

What I hope has come across is hope in the Divine, and a desire to see love, compassion, caring and peace spread to all people. In the grand scheme of things, a very simple desire. It is my hope and pray that those traits are what fill our nation and the global community. And I hope and pray, beloved reader, that is your desire too. Selah!


Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – Living by faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

I would label myself a “spoil sport” if I noted and elaborated on all the things we understand now that the writer of Hebrews (attributed to Paul) would not have understood. But there are still many things we do not understand. So let us make sure our hubris is in check and praise God for all the wonders that are still in the world.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (Verses 8-16)

What do you do “by faith” beloved reader? Where and when do you step out not knowing where the steps will lead? Do you deal in this reality, and put your hope in this world? The times are rugged and rough, filled with violence and death. Every day it seems there is news of another tragedy. And yet . . . and yet, people step out in faith, believing that while the good and the promise is not immediately before them, it will come. And that the land and place where they are now is not their final home. Faith . . . it keeps us getting up and living through another day. Faith . . . it gives us hope that tomorrow, or the tomorrow after that, or the tomorrow in the future will be better than yesterday. And that in our “today” God is with us upholding our faith. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – A Question of Faith

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.” (Luke 7:1-10)

Healing stories are hard for me right now. And no more so than healing stories that rest on faith and authority. Before I say more, let me look at and consider this story.

The Jewish elders, we can presume, are not of the same ilk that Jesus criticizes but good men in whom leadership and strong belief rest. They undertake to seek out Jesus and on the behalf of this centurion ask that Jesus come and heal the centurion’s slave who he is very fond of. That speaks well of the centurion, and that the Jewish leaders also hold the centurion in high regard says great deal too. Not all Romans were the enemy to the Jews, just as not all Jewish leaders were opposed to Jesus (nor he to them.) In the midst of the mutual affirmation and camaraderie, the centurion sends a message to Jesus that just the authority of Jesus spoken word would be enough to accomplish the healing. That Jesus’ authority over life and death is very much like the centurion’s authority to those under him – it is accomplished without question. And the centurion’s faith in Jesus is commended and rewarded, and as we see is this story, Jesus’ authority was very real and true.

The centurion asked for healing for his servant because without that healing his servant would lose his/her ability to function and even his/her life. I do not mean the centurion was thinking only of what the servant could do for him, but that the servant’s functionality and life was in danger. And because of their relationship, the centurion desired his servant to be healing.

Now, back to me. I often wonder if I am lacking in faith, and faith in the Lord, because I do not ask for healing for myself. I have to confess, I have wrestled with this many times over. And each time I come out at the same place, that healing is not mine to ask for. That does not mean I do not think I am worthy or deserving of faith. Or that I do not believe the Lord can heal. Nor that I do not think my situation is not serious enough to need healing. Nor even that I do not have people who would be found worthy by the Lord to ask for healing on my behalf. And, let me hasten to add, that I think it entirely good and proper that people of faith ask the Lord for healing. But what I have found over the years, for my self, is that the Lord’s grace and blessing to me has been sufficient for my to cope with what has come my way in terms of ill health.

I have asked many times for help and strength in dealing with other things in my life – both work and personal, and help within my circle of friends, family, and faith groups. The Lord has seen me through so many things, such that I have not needed healing to be able to be the person I feel the Lord has called me to.

But in spite of my ill health, I can function. And I trust in the Lord to give me the strength and ability to continue functioning in whatever capacity the Lord calls me to. And if you allow, beloved reader, I think that calls for a good deal of faith on my part.

May you, beloved reader, place all of your faith in the Lord trusting in the authority that the Lord has over all things. Selah!


Season After Pentecost – A Miracle From Faith (The Gospel Passage)

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

As simple as that – one minute he was blind, and the next minute he could see. And all it took was a little bit of faith. Or, was it just a little bit? There was nothing remarkable in what Bartimaeus called Jesus – I checked the Greek words. But there was something in the way he asked, some expectation that “of course” Jesus, the Son of David could do this. What faith did Jesus see in this blind man? If you read closely you will see that the wanted to see again, that this affliction came on him and was not with him since birth. So one could assume that not only was the blindness healed but also whatever caused the blindness.

We can talk about the faith it takes to take up Jesus’ call, or that faith to live a certain way. These are, however, things within our abilities. What kind of faith does it take to call upon Jesus for healing and to have it granted? I am not sure I have an answer to that question. It is one of the many questions that I will have to wait to have answered in the life to come.

In the meantime, let us exercise and use all the faith we can to follow Jesus daily. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Doing what is right and good for all (The Epistles Passage)

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)

There is a story circulating around on the internet, last appearing a good many months ago, of a minister who dressed up/down as a homeless person and appeared at church – just to see how his congregation would react. Yes, they failed that “hospitality” test!

I also heard from a friend about a church within her denomination who adamantly opposed any social or evangelical out reach, saying that is not the “purpose” of the church. Sadly there are not enough welcoming churches. I do not know the estimate of how many people are without housing or financial resources to meet their daily needs, but I suspect it is more people who go to church. Yet, if each person would help just one person, we could probably meet the needs of most of the homeless and needy. And even if it does not, the gratitude of those who are helped will make our efforts worthwhile!

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:5-7)

But I digress. The writer of James is not talking about social outreach but welcoming all people into your fellowship group. And the shame of giving preference to the rich over the poor. Although I would caution the writer of James that not all people who are rich as out to oppress the poor. Where we read in the gospels of Jesus scolding and chiding the Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes and others is where, I think, the writer of James is taking his perspective

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (Verses 8-10)

The writer of James goes on to give an example of his point, but the RCL does not always use that portion.

For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Verses 11-13)

Both offenses, committing adultery and committing murder, are serious offenses; but I think the writer of James is setting the crime of partiality in a serious light by comparing it to the seriousness of murder. A good insight in to his thinking and the vehemence of his exhortation.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” ( Verses 14-17)

The writer of James has brought himself around to what I said several paragraphs back, that supplying help and assistance to those in need is a vital part of Christian living. The whole issue of faith in the Christian life, and good works in the Christian life is a “hot topic.” The friend I mentioned earlier encountered (or gives report of the encounter) people who see no reason to do “good works” but believe faith is all that is needed. Do not fall into that morass, beloved reader. I hope and pray that you do not! Selah!

The Second Sunday of Lent – New Beginnings and Renewed Faith (The Epistles Passage)

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Romans 4:13-15)

For as long as people have organized themselves, there have been rules. If we did not have rules we would have chaos, which is pretty much the way the world was before God started creating. But let me tell you, there is a big difference between the rules of nature and the rules of humanity. God created the rules of nature, but humanity created their own rules to live by. What God gave us through the Ten Commandments were guidelines for how we should relate one to another, and how we should relate to God.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Verses 16 & 17)

Faith is stronger than rules, and more enduring than rules. Rules can change under different circumstances and generations. But faith is passed from one generation, binding us all together into one people.

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Verses 18 – 21)

Now here the writer of Romans “waxes poetic” glossing over Abraham’s human attempt to bring about God’s promise according to human rules. But God’s guidelines take over where human rules fail. Abraham did eventually see that God’s way was better. And as Abraham grew into that truth, he grew into faith.

Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Verses 22-25)

Here again God’s way pushes aside the rules we believe that we should live our lives by. And accepting God’s way is the beginning of faith. The season of Lent is one of the times when we remind ourselves that we are to live as God would have us live, and not according to our own rules and agenda. Which will be strong in our lives? Our rules and agenda or our faith in God?

PERSECUTION . . . When it drags on and on and on

Moreover let us give thanks to the Lord our God, which trieth us, even as he did our fathers. Remember what things he did to Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and what happened to Jacob in Mesopotamia of Syria, when he kept the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother. For he hath not tried us in the fire, as he did them, for the examination of their hearts, neither hath he taken vengeance on us: but the Lord doth scourge them that come near unto him, to admonish them.” (Reference: Judith 8:25-27 )

Maybe I shouldn’t write today because I am losing patience with persecution! It is not just that it is a “downer” (which it is) or that it reminds me of how tough my life is sometimes (which it does) or that I feel like I have run out of things to say (which I feel like I have) – but there is only so much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that one can do before you say enough! Not that I am saying the historic Anabaptists should have recanted their faith en mass – far from it! It’s just that faith beliefs can only mature so far when they are constantly being questioned and punished.

In a way it is an interesting study of how people react when their faith beliefs are being persecuted. One thing that is readily apparent is that scripture passages get refocused to highlight the persecution experience and to find justification that the persecution is acknowledge and affirmation of faith. But I have to wonder if the point was not reached that the persecution itself became the symbol of faith – one would not be persecuted if one did not exhibit faith – rather than the actual lived out level of devotion to God. So you have “I am faithful to God because I withstand persecution and am willing to do for my faith.” Because sometimes, beloved, it takes more courage to live out a lifetime of faith than to do for it after a few scant months or a year.

Or, maybe I am just tired of trying to find new ways to talk about centuries’ old persecution.

May you beloved live out a lifetime of faith one peaceful day at a time. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . With Christ, whatever may come

You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Reference: Matthew 20:22-23 )

If a historic Anabaptist were asked if he/she could drink the cup that Christ drank what do you think they would say? When the historic Anabaptist first started proclaiming their new faith, I do not think they expected that they would be asked to “drink” such a cup. But by the time the movement passed its critical point, many had.

I noted yesterday that the baptism of blood was Christ’s atoning action, but for the historic Anabaptists that baptism was also suffering as Christ was made to suffer, and not back away from it or recant their faith. Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites do not expect or anticipate to suffer like that, and most don’t. But in the history of the Anabaptists from the 1400’s on there has been suffering other than that of the first Anabaptists. And even in our modern times some notable Anabaptists/Mennonites have suffered up to and including death. Not tortured or persecuted (although have been those exceptional cases) but it has happened that some have been killed as a result of their faith stance. We, meaning modern Anabaptists/Mennonites, do not seek that type of baptism, but if it comes we accept it as remaining faithful to our beliefs and yielding ourselves to God’s cost of discipleship.

Do we believe that God wants our deaths? No. But we do believe there is a cost of discipleship. Leonard Schiemer wrote from prison in 1527 The third baptism is that of blood. Of this baptism the Lord says in Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50: Do you wish to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? I must yet be baptized with another baptism, and how I am in fear until it is accomplished.

That baptism is a test for the Christian. An untried Christian is as unsmelted iron ore. O if I had someone who would lift me out of this baptism, that person would be my dear companion.”

May you beloved be firm in your faith, accepting the baptism of God and the Spirit that are on your Christian journey. Selah!

FAITH . . . Getting “lost” in God

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Reference: Galatians 2: 19-21 )

If you are new to reading me this year, raise your hands! Ah! I see someone of you are not aware of my vacillating opinion of Paul. Quite honestly Paul can be very confusing, and many times not for a good reason. These verses from Galatians are a good example. Between Paul dying to the law, following the law, saying that God is fulfilling the law, and that Christians at time should obey the law – one could get lost. No wonder Paul says it is “a mystery”!

The historic Anabaptists cut through Paul’s philosophizing and came up with concept of “yieldedness” which they called “Gelassenheit”. I have spoken of this concept before (though I cannot remember right now where) and I remember I referenced the Anabaptist/Mennonite encyclopedia.

Hans Denck said, “Then man takes after God and acquires the characteristics of the divine generation as a son of God and coheir with Christ [Rom. 8:17]. Therefore he, according to his

ability, also lives just as Christ lived. Indeed, not he himself lives but Christ in him [Gal. 2:20]. He does not consider it ‘robbery’ that he is in some measure like God, but, though he is a lord of all creatures, he most humbly submits himself to all creatures, [Phil. 2:6] not in order that they serve him, but that he, according to his measure, might serve them to fulfill the will of his Father.”

I was puzzled by the Philippians citation and so lucked up this (wouldn’t you know it!) Pauline letter. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Verses 5 – 8 with verse 6 emphasized) So in this excerpt from one of Denck’s writings, I am puzzled by who “he” is throughout the excerpt. It could be read as being Christ, which makes sense based on the passage from Philippians. But it could also be “he/humanity” who has taken on “characteristics of the divine generation as a son of God and coheir with Christ” as Denck says. And though this is confusing also, it makes sense in light of what Paul is saying about Christ living in him (and us).

I like too that Denck gives credence to the lack of a sense-of-self in the human who has yielded to Christ and God. Paul never says it, but it does feel like “robbery” or a “voluntary mugging” that a sense of who we are is lost in the larger divine presence of God. Yet we are more true and authentic to what and who God created us to be if we allow ourselves to be enveloped into the Divine (capital D!).

May you beloved lose yourself in God and then find yourself in the Lord’s Divine Presence. Selah!