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!]

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the Lord from . . . . wherever

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:2 – 3)

This is a good verse when thinking about new believers – of any faith tradition really. The apostle Peter is talking about belief in Christ, and so our reflection is informed and guided by that. But all new believers long for good clear understanding of the faith they are entering into. Peter’s qualifier of “tasting” of the Lord sets his comments in Christianity. And from this point on, we educated in that belief system.

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Peter’s remarks and teachings not only instruct in new faith, but support the forming of a church, or at least a body of believers. Christianity is not to be lived out in isolation, although many times that is the case.

“For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”
and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Peter also frames non-belief as a deliberate action; that is, knowing better but choosing not to belief. I am not convinced it as straightforward as that. Or rather, I make room for not knowing about Jesus and our Lord God in a way that makes it clear that it is a good choice. I also make room for devote sincere belief that may not be constructed and lived out in the way mainstream Christians may know and live it. In fact, it seemed clear to me many years back that some mainstream Christianity had already diverged from what I felt and believed that Jesus taught and exemplified.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I truly and strongly feel that there is a potential for a latitude in authentic and devote faith in the Divine. Coming from an Anabaptist background, I emphasis authenticity as opposed to “mere” motions and surface faith. Coming from a background on my paternal family side, I also have great regard and respect for authentic Judaism. There is irony there because Peter might well have been talking to Jews who had not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Or, he might have been talking to Gentiles who had no faith in a monotheistic deity. There is room in the family of God for many peoples to come in, from all sorts of backgrounds. And Peter certainly had a rough road of it coming to faith. That’s just one of the many reasons he is close to my heart.

May you, beloved reader, come to faith in our Lord God from whatever your background is. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus gives some final instructions

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14: 1 – 4)

Jesus leaves himself wide open in a couple of places here. I imagine here, at the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus was feeling pang of leaving his disciples. They in turn were becoming more fearful concerning Jesus’ talking about what would come next.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (Verses 5 – 7)

It reminds me a bit of a parent trying to explain to a child (of any age) why they will be apart for a time, and what to expect. Oh the patience Jesus must have had with his disciples as they struggle to understand.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Verses 8 – 9)

Even Christians/believers of great maturity and understanding falter at incorporating into their faith that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. Distinct and for the time that Jesus was on earth, two separate Entities/Deities, yet one and the same.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is hard for us, beloved reader, who have only known our Lord God and Jesus “from a distance.” But then, maybe for the disciples it was even more confusing because they knew Jesus as flesh, as they were flesh. They knew because they had lived with Jesus in the flesh for three years (according to some of the gospels). Eating and sleeping, and all that is part of being human flesh. How, they must have thought, can Jesus be otherwise? And if so, what does this say about the God that Jesus called Father/Parent?

But they saw what Jesus had done, and it could not be denied that Jesus had done more than any other human could have done – more miracles and more compassion. If they could not understand theologically what Jesus meant, at least they could see for themselves that Jesus was something other than just merely human.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Verse 12)

And then, Jesus surprises them again. I have several times puzzled at these words – how can humans do more than Jesus? Maybe it is just rhetoric, something to make the disciples feel better. Or some reason that the writer of the gospel of John had. But I checked in with my “friend” Albert Barnes. He explained it this way – it is not that the disciples (or us for that matter) will do something more miraculous than Jesus. But what the disciples will do (did) is going to have a more far-reaching impact that what Jesus did, considering that Jesus was local; and those who are called, believe in, and act according to Jesus and the Lord God will (and have) spread the word further than when Jesus was alive. But it was not done on the strength of the human abilities of the disciples.

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Now, it was not that the disciple (or us) can ask for ANYTHING but those things that align with the guidance and directive of the Divine. And brings glory to the Divine. This rests on the notion of “smart sheep” that I put forth last week.

It is good that the Revised Common Lectionary places these verses after Jesus’ death and resurrection – although it comes in the story before Jesus’ crucifixion. So much is better understood after Jesus was/is revealed as the Risen Lord. The disciples understood better what Jesus meant after it was revealed to them that Jesus was Divine; of course, they had the Holy Spirit given to them to help this understanding. But, beloved reader, we have the Holy Spirit too!

May you, beloved reader, understand what Jesus has to say to you. And may you act upon so that glory is brought to the Divine. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – What was old becomes new

During the Sundays of Easter passages from Acts are substituted for the Old Testament passages. I have said this multiple times, and usually I say it to help you, beloved reader, know why it is a passage from Acts. Today I tell you because this passage from Acts is as informative about faithful practices as any Old Testament passage. Let me show you why.

“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

The prophets from the Old Testament are said to have been filled with God’s Spirit, and acted according to that guidance and inspiration. Here we see a new believer who is filled with the exact same essence of God and testifies to it.

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” (Verses 56 – 57)

But he is ignored and set upon just like any prophet from the Old Testament.

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Verse 58)

Unlike the Old Testament, however, unbelievers do not stop at just threatening his life but actually take it. Remember, beloved reader, how many times the Lord’s prophets had to flee in fear of their lives? It as if the reactions of those times were exacerbated with the killing of Jesus Christ. Taking a life is no longer an unthought of act, but one that is gaining acceptance.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (Verses 59 – 60)

But just as Jesus’ death was the beginning of a wave of persecution, so was Jesus’ willingness to give up his life. And even in death remaining faithful to the Lord who was followed and served. It was one thing for Jesus the Son of God to be willing to give up his life, but such faithfulness in humanity was new and unheard of, except maybe in Old Testament times.

And do not think, beloved reader, I have overlooked who was present at Stephen’s death. Here we have the foundation of the Lord getting ready to call a new prophet who would carry forth the Lord’s word and Jesus’ work. No, beloved reader, we have missed out on nothing by not having an Old Testament passage. May we learn lessons from scripture where ever we may find them. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – When the new heaven and new earth comes

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (revelation 21:1-6)

When ever I read this portion of Revelations (and since it is an often used portion, I have read it several times) I think about a city the size of a castle floating down to the ground with gauze and lace fluttering around it. It is actually a pretty interesting image – a shame I cannot share it with you beloved reader. But maybe you can imagine your own visual.

This sort of thinking inevitably gets me to thinking about what heaven will be like. I know the ideas and images of heaven are pretty diverse. And from a certain perspective, kind of dull. I mean, one can only image so much singing in a choir before you get tired of it. Don’t get me wrong! That there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain is great. But will the “texture” of life be gone to? The sense of accomplishment and progression? It almost seems like from the description of the writer of Revelation, God/Christ will be accomplishing everything and we will just be standing around watching; not be thirsty, but . . . if everything is accomplished for us, what will we have to do?

You see, from my perspective there is a lot to be done in this world. And God has called us to do many things that are Godly works. And I am glad to do them, even if there is death, mourning, crying and pain. Because we are not alone. And in heaven we will not be alone either, I want to hasten to add. But . . . if all the challenge of life (and death) is gone, what will there be to do?

But then I think . . . God knows me because God created me. And I do not think that in the new earth and new heaven to come I will be so substantially changed that I will be content to do nothing. So I am thinking that God will have SOMETHING for me to do. And in that case, I can eagerly wait for “all things to be made new” and what part there will be for me. Perhaps, beloved reader, you and I can work together in the new earth and new heaven that God has in store for us. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – Seeing and believing, and confessing the same

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:1-3)

As I have said before, I like the apostle Peter. Straightforward, no nonsense, head to the ground, nose to the grindstone Peter. So you know, if he did something outside the norm – there was a good reason!

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Verses 4 – 10)

Notice beloved reader, even on God’s instruction Peter did not reach forth and eat. He puzzled this, but he did not eat.

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ “ (Verses 11 – 14)

Notice too, that Peter did not go alone into the Gentile uncircumcised home, but exercised proper caution.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Verses 15 – 17)

Yes, who was Peter to hinder God? Peter had learned, to his own shame, that it does no one any good to deny God or Jesus. The Divine will do and better what the Divine is. Our calling is to follow faithfully. To confess, make amends, and be forgiven when we doubt God and Christ. And, to not do it again!

When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Verses 18)

God’s repentance is for all people, and actually, all creation. We err when we stand in the way of that. And, beloved reader, humanity to our shame errs quite often! Confess, make amends and accept the forgiveness of God such that we do not err again! Selah!

The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Preacher and Seeker Present Psalm 22 (The Psalm Passage)

Seeker: “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.”
Preacher: We shall praise God forever! Before those who know our Lord and before those for whom the Lord is unknown, we shall speak of our God!
Seeker: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

Preacher: Those who come to know our Lord shall find all of their deepest needs are met. All shall praise the Lord!
Seeker: May your hearts live forever!

Preacher: Amen! Selah!
Seeker: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.”
Preacher: There will come a day when all of creation and all of humanity shall know the Lord, and turn to the Lord.
Seeker: “For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.”

Preacher: And the Lord shall rule over all of humanity and all of creation, not sure above in the heavens, but on the new earth.
Seeker: “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.”
Preacher: The Lord shall rule over all who have passed over from this life to the next; those living and those who have lived will call the Lord their God. And I shall call the Lord my God.
Seeker: “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

Preacher: The future is spread out before our Lord, and our Lord rules over it. There is no one and no thing that shall not recognize the absolute authority of our God’s rule. All that people that have come and come, all the people who are here now, and all the people who are to come will call God their Lord and Ruler. The Lord has accomplished what the Divine has set out to do. Amen! Selah!
(Psalm 22:25-31)

Psalm 22 was also one of the readings for Friday of Holy Week. I had decided that rather than commenting on it further, I would give over its recitation to Preacher and Seeker. These scriptural conversations are meant not just to be read silently, but to be read aloud and perhaps used within a circle of faith. I have been privileged in the past to write responsive and choral readings for worship services, and would be honored if you, beloved reader, would make use of them. Shalom!