Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Old Testament Passage – Moves

When I sat down to write this, I had just gotten done posting the unofficial announcement (that may be turning more official as time goes by) that I plan on moving “operations” over to my other blog, “Pondering From the Pacific”. Of course, beloved reader, you are reading this a week and a day after the fact (yes, writers can “use” time machines) so you may have already absorbed the news. This posting will also be appearing on my other blog. But context and background aside, I was thinking which of the Revised Common Lectionary passages for this week I should start with. And it just seems right to start with a story of moving to a new place.

“Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan.
This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.” (Genesis 37:1 – 2)

Yes, we have come to the story of Joseph; the next stage of the Lord God establishing a called people. Now you would think with twelve brothers, it would be enough to start a small nation. But the Lord God had something bigger planned. And a very long term plan. And, a plan that would be challenging for everyone involved. It would turn out to be a very “bitter” plan. Regret and drama. But that is so often the case with human free will.

“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Israel, if you did not know, was Jacob all grown up and blessed by God. Seems though that dysfunctional family relationships are part of their family heritage.

“Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.”So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.'” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.” (Verses 12 – 19)

Yes, we skipped over that part, where Joseph had dreams where he was mightier and more powerful than his brothers, and even his parents. Having a favored “kid brother” is hard enough, but one that walks around with an attitude in a fancy cloak was just too much!

“Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” (Verses 20 – 21)

I guess big brothers do look out for their younger brothers . . . . up to a point.

“Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” –that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” ( Verses 22 – 28)

I’m not sure if selling your brother to some traveling strangers is much better than killing him. It seems to me they wanted to be rid of him, and did not care about his fate. They still ended up making their father believe Joseph was dead, and as far as they knew he might have ended up dying anyway. But dreams and dreamers do not die easily, and oft times survive after taking some interesting paths to fruition. And all of the offspring of those blessed by God have a part and purpose. What we think are plans that have a definite end and assured resolution may not turn out the way we thought at all. That is one of the reasons the journey I am on now, moving “operations” to a different site, may prove to be a very interesting one; NOT I hope, as “interesting” as Joseph’s!

May you, beloved reader, have journeys and plans that are blessed by the Lord God! Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Going out with God

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.” (Genesis 12:1-4a)

Almost twelve years (this summer) ago we moved to Eugene. Not because the Lord called us to the west coast (at least not directly) but because a good job beckoned. But we did leave family behind as we journeyed west. That was hard. We did not expect to become “a great nation”; not sure I would have wanted that anyway. But what I did hope is that we would become a blessing to those we met and befriended. And I think that we have done.

As we enter this second week of Lent, I have to think about Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus was called from his family, called to call disciples, and to spend the next years spreading the gospel. We read in the gospels that Jesus’ family did not always understand what Jesus was doing, and why. Some of the gospel writers almost make is seem like his family was against him, and he had isolated himself from his family.

And for Jesus, this verse did come true, in the fullest. Jesus was the beginning of a “great nation” – a Christian nation. And his name was made great, and became a blessing. Those who believe in Jesus are blessed; and those who curse Jesus will find themselves outside of God’s consideration.

Jesus and our Lord God call us out; maybe not to a different land or a different state. But we are called. And so we duly go forth, hoping for the best; but ready for the worst, secure in the knowledge that God is with us each step of the way. Selah!

Baptism of the Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany – The Old Testament Passage – Moving Forward

I don’t know if I can do this – move on. The day I wrote this I suffered a pretty traumatic loss – loss of property and things. But a loss that has shaken me a great deal. I don’t know if I can move on, take in this loss and move forward.

According to the calendar, the Epiphany of the Lord – when the Wise Men came which is the revelation of God’s son in the human Jesus Christ, and  signals Jesus’ salvation to the Gentiles – happens later this week (January 6th). And the first Sunday after Epiphany (January 8th) the focus is on Jesus’ baptism. So in a sense, we are getting a little met ahead of ourselves. Here I am commenting on scriptures (Jesus’ baptism) that are to be considered after the Epiphany but I am doing so before the Epiphany. It is making me feel more than a little muddled. But what is true for posting things is true for my self of loss – I have to move on. Not sure how though.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)

Isaiah is always a good book to go to when one is feeling lost and bereft. The writer of Isaiah seems to know about loss, suffering, but also how to look to God in times of trouble and grieving. So when I saw an Isaiah passage for the Baptism of the Lord, I felt like it was something I would have something to say about. There is also one for the Epiphany of the Lord, but it did not resonate as well. I may come back to it, or I may choose others passages for the Epiphany.

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 5 – 9)

Maybe not the comfort that speaks to this situation, exactly. And it does seem to speak more about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in his ministry than it does then me. But when you feel lost and bereft you take what you can get, and when you can get it. Certainly there would be other passages that speak about what I am feeling inside. But you know, part of moving on is knowing what is the NOW will not be what is the future. Days will pass, and I will start to rebuild and reclaim what was lost.

But don’t ask me how; I don’t have that figured out yet. What I do know is that by the time you read this, beloved reader, I will have moved on somehow. And I know I am not alone. Even now I have gathered friends and family around me to help. I have used the contacts and tools I used last time this happened. (Yes, this has happened before on a smaller scale. It is a consequence of living in a fallen and broken world.)

I think that is all I have to say. It has taken all I have to comment today, and to say this much. I covet your prayers, beloved reader, even if it is after the fact. I pray that when the times comes that you read this, I will be starting to heal from this. May you, beloved reader, heal from that hurts that have carried over into the New Year. Selah!

Second Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Changes are coming! Are you prepared?

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Lineage. Ancestry. Heritage.

Who your family is and was, is important. Sons are called by their father’s name – ben Joseph was Jesus last name. Daughters are expected to bring honor to their family. But the family of Jesse, King David’s family, has lost status and stature since the time of King David. No longer rulers, but tradesman and workers, shepherds or whatever they turned their hand to. But the story of King David was not over. Not by a long shot, or shoot, as the case maybe.

But this was not due entirely to the lineage of Jesse. The Lord God also contributed to the rise again of Jesse’s family, as did the family of Mary who was found equally worthy. Do not count anyone or anything, because things change.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Verses 6 – 9)

We can change too, beloved reader. What ever the course of our life, we can change it – for good or for worse. The Advent season, while a season of waiting, is also a season of change. We put up decorations and make preparations. What had been a scowl on one’s face changes to a smile. The “magic” of the season can work on young and old. Things change. Watch for the changes! Selah!

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Verse 10)

Second Sunday of Lent 2016: The Psalm Passage – Taking comfort where it can be found

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.”
(Psalm 27:1-2)

I want to tell you a story about a family who moved far across the country to a place they hoped would give them all a better opportunity in life. It is actually a story that many families could tell. Moving away from the familiar to the unfamiliar is as old as Abram leaving Ur, being called out by God.

It is not easy making a move like that on faith. Hoping that the God who watched over you in familiar places would also be there in the unfamiliar. God is there, in the foreign lands and new places – because God is everywhere. And if you look for God in the new places, the Lord will make the God-self known.

“Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (Verse 3)

I moved from my familiar small home town to Indiana to go the college. The familiar to the unfamiliar. Then my family and I moved from Indiana to the west coast. Trading what had become home to a new home. It was hard leaving family and friends behind – each time I moved. But I asked God, and always believed that the same God who was in the known places would also be in the unknown. And what I came to realize is that God makes every place home when we find our home in God.

“One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Verse 4)

A friend from seminary once said of me that I continually seek to dwell with God. It is not something that I thought about myself, but I trust him and so trust his assessment of me.

“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.” (Verses 5 to 6)

I have seen days of trouble, beloved reader, and nights of fear. But always . . . always . . . the fear passes, and I rejoice to the Lord with shouts of joy.

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Verses 7 to 8)

In all things, and under all circumstances, I search for the Lord, and search for the Lord’s guidance.

“Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” (Verse 9)

Do not think, beloved reader, that it is a sign of my wisdom that I am this way. It is not so! It is a sign of my need and dependence on God. It is a sign of my weakness that I can do nothing on my own, but in all things need God!

“If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” (Verse 10)

Now here I must pause and stop. Here I must change direction slightly. There is an event in our extended family’s life that is deeply on my mind.

In moving, first to go to college, and then moving to the west coast, I have moved farther from my family of origin. My husband did too. That was hard. Harder still was when our parents started to grow old, as parents have a habit of doing. And when my in-laws – first my husband’s mother,  then his father just a week ago today – grew ill and died, being at a distance made the mourning and grieving more intense. A grief shared is a grief lessened; or maybe it is that grieving with family helps one move through the bereavement process. My in-laws did not “forsake” us, but we felt alone nonetheless. Praise be to God, that the Divine fills in the spaces where the loss is felt.

But the psalmist is not speaking to loss, but is asking the Lord for guidance; not in the midst of sadness but in the midst of hardship and one’s enemies. This is not a psalm for grieving; but it is the psalm that is set before me. I can not bend it to my circumstances, nor can my circumstances be bent towards it.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (Verses 11-12)

What I can, and do, is pray for that we as a family here on the west coast can move through this time of grieving and come out stronger for the experience. That our sorrow will not be our undoing or downfall. That is a hope and prayer that is applicable for many circumstances.

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!” (Verses 13 – 14)

God is with us in our sorrow. God is also with us in our joys. And if we sorrow because a dear family member has passed on, we can be comforted that our dear family member is with the Lord and in the company of other family that have passed on also. It is a bittersweet joy that will sustain us. And my thoughts come full circle to the beginning of this psalm – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” I do not fear death, the end of this life. My Lord is greater than death, and has conquered death. And in that victory is life beyond this one. And that, beloved reader, is the greatest comfort of all! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – A Mother’s song of victory and celebration (A Psalms Passage)

Hannah prayed and said,
My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.”(I Samuel 2:1)

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, “Did these people in the bible really say these poetic and prophetic verses, or are these verses that have been attributed to them along the lines of – if they had the gift of writing/speaking, they would have said . . “ And sometimes the answer is “no, of course not. They did not say this; it is someone who is providing them with verse.” At times I can be quite diligent about ascribing only such poetical and prophetic verses to those who have proven they are capable. And other times I have thought, “Let them have these words and verses that, if not from their lips, are the sentiments of their hearts wonderfully transcribed.”

There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” (Verses 2-3)

We are not told much about Hannah, other than what the beginning of the first book of Samuel says. She is obviously a devote Jewish woman who has in her heart a strong relationship to God. And perhaps the joys of becoming a mother lent skills of poetic composition to her. I will not question her innate skill or knowledge of God.

“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.” (Verses 4 to 5)

It does seem she is celebrating victory over being barren, and perhaps her victory over her husband’s other spouse.

“The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.” (Verses 6 to 8)

And this is actually a quite common refrain, that the Lord reverses those who have little with those who have much. And for that reason one might suspect this is more of a case where Hannah is the recipient of ascribed authorship than being the actual author.

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.
The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.” (Verses 9 to 10)

So I do not know if Hannah is the actual author of this, or if the chronicler of Samuel’s life has provided the verses. But it is a triumphant song; God has scooped up one who felt small and overlooked, and has given her joy and blessing for her whole life. It is good to sing and celebrate such things.

May you, beloved reader, celebrate the joys and blessings in your life; and may those joys and blessings be abundant! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – A Lesson in Loyalty and Devotion (The Old Testament Passage)

We are picking up the story found in the book of Ruth part way through the story. Let me bring you up to date. Naomi and her husband had moved from their home land of Judah (where there was famine) to Moab in hopes that life would be easier their. But Naomi’s husband died, leaving her a widow with two sons. Sadness yes, but her sons would look out for her. Her sons married Moabite women, and it seemed that this would be where Naomi lived out her life. But her two sons died, and she was utterly alone. So she decided to return to Bethlehem in Judah. Her two daughters in law were ready to go with her, but she told them there was no future for them with her. Her one daughter in law eventually agreed, but her other daughter in law, Ruth, would not be dissuaded but insisted on returning with Naomi.

There was little to return to, and while Naomi had family in Bethlehem, they did not do very much to help support Naomi and Ruth. The exception was Boaz, who had much; but while a kinsman, was not a close kinsman and traditions of family relations had to be abided by.

Boaz did all that he could to watch out for Naomi and Ruth; for Naomi, because she was kin. For Ruth, well, that would be getting ahead of the story.

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” (Ruth 3:1-5)

Boaz was quite surprised to find Ruth laying at his feet. And he understood completely what Naomi was trying to arrange. He was quite agreeable to the plan; but again, formalities had to be abided by. Boaz called to account Ruth’s closer relatives, and presented to him Naomi’s need and Ruth being part of the deal. Naomi’s kin turned down her need, and turned down Ruth. This allowed Boaz to move forward in what had come to be his and Naomi’s joint plan.

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Chapter 4:13-17)

A lovely story of devotion between relatives related only through marriage; a story of loyalty and devotion, of strong women looking after each other, and God’s blessing and grace being bestowed after many years of waiting. It is, much like the book of Esther, a story for teaching about such things. Do not pass off its lessons lightly, beloved reader.

As we go through this world we meet many people who start out as strangers but become close friends and sometimes kin to us. Do not assume that the stranger among you will not turn out to be exactly what you need, and that you can give life-bestowing blessings to one who was formerly a stranger. And finally, do NOT underestimate the determination of a woman! Shalom!