Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Coming to the Lord . . . . when there is illness

Seeker: “In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.”
Preacher: There are those amongst us who seek a special refuge and deliverance – those who are ill and do not foresee healing soon. Illness that is prolonged and every increasing is difficult to handle. It is not unusual for those who suffer from it to feel depressed and alone. They come to the Lord for healing and sometimes the answer is “no.”
Seeker: “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.”

Preacher: They are children of God, who suffer like this. But the Lord can seem far from them, remote and uncaring. The Lord is not like that, but from the middle of their illness it may seem like that. An answer of “no” to healing does not mean the Lord is not with them. In fact, the Lord may be especially close to them, walking with them day be day. They need not be ashamed. Their deliverance may come in different ways and at different times, but it will come in the Lord’s time.
Seeker: “You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.”

Preacher: For those in ministry, and those who simply walk beside them in life, it can also be a heavy burden. To see someone suffering, and know that there is nothing you can do, can drain even the best of saints. The Lord is there for them too!
Seeker: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.”

Preacher: The psalm passages can be used in such times – times of illness and suffering. Times of depression and downheartedness. The Lord is there at the bottom of one’s endurance and at the end of stamina.
Seeker: “My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.”

Preacher: Who can say what may come of such suffering? The Lord does not bring suffering just to draw us closer, but uses the suffering that comes in this life to invite us to a closer walk with the Divine.
Seeker: “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16)

Preacher: Let us pause in our reflections to remember those amongst us who suffer in the body, whose suffering is brought on by illness that defies human understanding. Let us come to the Lord, and in our thoughts bring with us those who come to mind. May the Lord minister to all us, and in the Lord may we find the healing that lifts us to live everlasting. Selah!

 

[There is a group that I am part of that supports myself and others who are chronically ill. This reflection goes out to them. And the prayer is for them, and for myself. Here I am both Seeker and Preacher – sufferer and minister. In need and giving support to others. If it were not for my own suffering, I would have no idea how much of a privilege it is to support and minister to others. Selah and Amen!]

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wonders & Signs being performed

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42- 43)

“Wonders and signs” – I dearly wish I knew what the writer of Acts meant by that. I (or you) can look it up in the Greek, but that does not tell us what exactly is meant by it. Were they “wonders and signs” that “merely” confirmed faith in God – what I mean by that is words and acts of a vital faith. Or was it miraculous, out of ordinary human experience that even in our modern times would elicit awe? But is wondrous to our modern times is what follows in the writer of Acts description.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 44 – 47)

The early Christians were a vital and cohesive community. They lived and worked together in harmony and common cause. What one needed, another provided without hesitancy or thought for self – at least as it is described. And if that were true, that would be a “wonder & a sign” that something extraordinary was going on. It would be very attractive to those on the outside who were living in need and isolation. You have to understand, beloved reader, these were times when want and need were rampant, and very few people undertook for each other. Such radical community and care was rare and valuable.

The other thing to remember is that it did not last. Yes, perhaps for a healthy span of years, but eventually human willfulness eroded away the community. Thinking of self gradually became more of the norm than thinking of others. If you have doubts of this, read some of the letters that were written to the early Christian communities. The early church was a model of community and care, but that type of community without end. Certainly an example to succeeding generations but not easily replicated. For a time, a tiny slice of heaven but that eroded like fog on a warming day. The “heat” of the self-centered human heart can dissipate too easily the warming cloud of caring intent. So yes, it was a wonder and sign that the early Christians came together in such a community, and a hope that will true Christian intent we can replicate IF we keep Christ and our Lord God at the center of all our efforts. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Walking Unaware

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:13-16)

There have probably been numerous occasions that I have met someone I know but because it was at a place I usually do not see them, I did not recognize them. I am not saying this is what happened with these two disciples and Jesus, but it is possible enough. Having convinced themselves that Jesus was dead, they did not discern that the man who joined them was familiar to them. Or, Jesus could have deliberately clouded their minds to who he was.

“And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Verses 17 – 24)

“But they did not see him.” (After reading these verses for so many years, I had never given much thought to that phrase; I will now.) Jesus, their teacher and friend, is missing. So convinced are they that death is the end, that they do not consider a miracle might have happened. Despite that fact that Jesus seems to have power over life and death, they are sure enough Jesus died and stayed dead. I do not know if they disciples searched for Jesus, or may assumed that the Jewish authorities or the Roman authorities took his body away. It does not impel them to search for Jesus or wonder where he went. Instead they leave Jerusalem for other places. No wonder Jesus said what he did.

“Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.” (Verses 25 – 29)

While they may not have learned the lesson of what Jesus’ mission was, they did learn the lesson of compassion and hospitality, to care for another and for a stranger. And to be open to new learning, understanding, and knowledge. And to remember the important times in their travels with Jesus.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (Verses 30 – 31)

That is one of my favorite parts – Jesus re-enacting the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper. If they did not recognize him because they were not expecting him and could not have foreseen that he would be alive and walking, they did recognize in the moment of doing something he had done often enough – prayed over food and shared it with his friends.

“They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Verses 32 – 35)

We walk through this life not always being aware of what is going on around us. Whether to involved in our own troubles and struggles, or simply not taking in the world around us. It is said we often may “entertain angels unaware.” In the same way, we may encounter the Divine. Not as the disciples did, in the flesh and body, but the movement of the Divine intervening and interacting in our lives. It is the wise person who recognizes the movement of the Spirit, and grabs on to it and finds themselves being blessed by it. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going the distance with the apostle Peter

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” (I Peter 1: 17 – 20)

You know, beloved reader, I have great affection for the apostle Peter who is supposed to be the writer of I Peter (as well as II Peter). He as well as others believed that “the last” or “the end times” would come soon. And that soon would mean in the foreseeable future for his readers. Well, we know that is not true. Some biblical commentators feel that the apostles meant the world ending soon. Other commentators give more latitude in time span saying that it simply meant the age where God revealed the Divine through Jesus, that “this end of the ages” was the final age when God could be known clearly. It is a kindness, beloved reader, that the apostles were not held to the idea that Christ’s return was not something imminent in a relatively short count of days. When one’s world view is “small” (meaning in the geographical sense), one’s understanding of time in the future is bound to be short. So my affection for Peter leads me to a gentle interpretation of his meaning for what “the end of the ages” is. But I know, in my heart of hearts, he was thinking it would be soon.

“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (Verses 21-23)

But that does not lessen Peter’s message. It, in fact, strengthens if. If we, as his modern day readers, are to endure the unforeseeable time ahead that may stretch out yet as many generations as we are removed from Peter’s time, it is imperative that our trust in the God and in Jesus Christ is unshakable. It has to last not just a “short time” until the Divine’s return but throughout our lifetime. And we must pass that unshakable faith on to the next generations.

I have seen (although not remembered) as least 58 Easters. And while my faith may have been small and infantile for at least the first – who know how many years – it has endured. Through childhood to adolescence to adulthood. It was, is, and will be, founded on the enduring word of God – preached by many, taught by many, and exemplified by many spiritual forebearers. May you, beloved reader, stand firm in the same legacy and pass it on to the coming generation. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – The First (but certainly not the last) Converts

The lectionary passage starts again with verse 14a from Acts chapter two, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them”. Peter, in fact, addressed them for some time.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (Verses 36 – 41)

I read something interesting the other day – someone was commenting about the dramatic change in the disciples/apostles after they had received the Holy Spirit. It is true that accepting Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can dramatically change a person. Sometimes this change is very immediate, and sometimes it happens over time but is no less dramatic. Do not think, beloved reader, if there was no drama in your conversion that it was not real and authentic.

I had a seminary professor who once said that for most people it is a dramatic and “turning the corner” or “turnaround experience”. It is as if there was life before . . . . and life afterwards – distinct change. I did not find it that way. Maybe some day I will share that story. But for now we are with Peter in Jerusalem and witnessing the first conversion of people after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three thousand is a pretty impressive number. But Peter and the apostles were pretty impressive people!

As the days, and Sundays, after Easter unfold may you carry with you the wonderful changes that the Holy Spirit has made in your life. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent: Gospel Passage – Jesus is a “character” too!

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:5 – 15)

The writer of the gospel of John liked to use spiritual metaphors. And this account of the Samaritan woman at the well is filled with them. I have often thought the conversation as it is recorded between the two of them is rather stilted. It seems rather pulled and stretched to encompass the spiritual motifs; water, thirst, and the quenching of the spirit and inner life of humanity. Not exactly casual conversation.

“Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (Verses 16 – 26)

And throughout much of the conversation the Samaritan woman is placed at a disadvantage, speaking plainly without allusions while Jesus is speaking in allusions, metaphors and analogies. It seems very uneven. And yet, it contains a good bit of theology and foundational Christian faith. And Jesus in so plain and direct in identifying who he is. I am not sure he was a direct with his disciples. It is at this point they return and effectively put a stop to this conversation.

“Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.” (Verses 27 – 30)

While the people of the city were making their way to see Jesus, Jesus and his disciples are having some interesting conversation themselves.

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (Verses 31 – 38)

By now the disciples might have been completely bewildered. Jesus talking to a woman – a Samaritan woman at that! Refusing food! Talking about sowing and harvesting when they had never harrowed the ground to plant and had no seeds to plant into the earth. What did Jesus think they would harvest, they may have wondered. For the literal minded, it is an unusual passage. Yet the writer of John tells us . . .

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (Verses 38 – 42)

Verse 42, I think, is the payoff verse. Jesus has been identified as the Savior of the world. Belief is spreading throughout the countryside. And not just among the Jews.

During this season of Lent we are journeying toward the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry on the earth. It is not enough that just one type of people belief. Believe in Jesus Christ is for all people. Those who are plain talkers, and those who talk in metaphor, analogy & allusions. This is one of the things I became aware of several years ago, that Jesus Christ and the Lord God have aspects and traits that call all to all sorts of people. We cannot nearly define what a Christian should be like. We can talk about authentic Christianity, but not about a narrow set of beliefs.

Every Christian journeys through Lent, whether they call it such or not. We all times of pondering and contemplating our faith. It is not done just in the weeks before Easter but at all times of the Christian year. Jesus comes to us in the form and aspect that we need the Divine in. These are some of the truths about Lent. Shalom!

First Sunday of Lent: The Psalms Passage – The “Joy” of Lent

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”  (Psalm 32:1 – 2)

It is not quite usual for there to be “happy” and “joy” in Lent. We usually think of it as dour and sober time in the church year. I think we might be mistaken if that is our only impression of Lent. The time of Lent travels along the same time lines as Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus’s disciples did not know their teacher then/Lord later as someone who was somber and restrained. I am not sure if any biblical commentator has looked at Jesus’ life for times of levity and humor, and joy. But I am sure it would be there!

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah” (Verses 3 – 5)

The Lord does not want us to be in misery and pain. That is contrary to the purpose and reason that Christ came. Jesus said his burden is light and his yoke is easy. That is not the invitation of a humorless Messiah.

“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah” (Verses 6 – 7)

I am not sure about the “humor” level or function of the psalmist though. However, the human life has joy and happiness in it. Humanity would not have survived and advance if there was not. And I think humor has an important place in ministry, as does joy and happiness. We do Christianity a disservice if there is not.

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Yes, beloved reader, shout for and in joy! Selah!