Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Psalm 23, again

Since I got up this morning I have been trying to figure out a new approach to this psalm passage. This psalm has capture the attention and the imagination/imagery of countless people. I do not know if there is any unique approach possible. In all the years I have been writing scriptural reflections I feel like I have been re-trodding familiar ground. And yet, there is no real reason to try to come up with something different. One of the reasons this psalm is so popular is because it is so straightforward. So if some of what I say sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing that these are well established truths.

Psalm 23

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

When the Lord is with us, we may not get everything we want or need. But in terms of comfort and support in whatever our life circumstances, the Lord provides. Maybe the psalmist was being overly optimistic. But peace and contentment of the spirit and soul are priceless.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

The psalmist, it seems, prizes these things above material possessions. And I will not say that writer is wrong. We, humanity, acquire things in all shapes and sizes; excesses and necessities. We all have our own ideas of what we absolutely need, what we would like, and what we can do without. But peace of mind, spirit, and soul are so essential. And these are the things that the Lord provides.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.”

Again, going through life without fear. Priceless! Have confidence in every situation and circumstance means that you can act as the Lord would have you act. And having the Lord’s comfort around you means you are invulnerable to all the world throws at you.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

And the world knows that you are protected and beloved. If I can take this idea further, those who also follow the Lord are seated at the table of the Lord, so we have companionship for the journey through this life. And the promise of continued fellowship in the world to come.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”

The psalmist. I think, does not mean just heaven. When we have the Lord as our Shepherd all of our days on earth are lived being within the fold of the Lord. Despite what the world might hold, we are safe within the Lord’s sight. Goodness and mercy are with us, we are seen as the Lord’s beloved, we walk without fear in this life, and we are lead in good directions. We are blessed! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – The Coming of the Light

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8 – 9)

“Live as children of light” – there are so many interpretations , good interpretations, that can be made of this. The first of which is, behave yourselves. Second, believe that you are “children of light” and find comfort in that; that you are forgiven, blessed, and loved. Third, live unconcerned about what will happen to you and how you will manage, because as children of light your needs will be taken care of by the Source of All Light. I’m not sure if the writer of Ephesians, Paul, meant all that. But I do.

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Imagine, beloved reader, everything that has been done and said will be seen. Everything! The writer of Ephesians, Paul, does not state explicitly how this happens, or at least it does not seem to be directly and openly stated. But I will.

The more shameful and sinful an action or statement is, the more the perpetrator will try to hide or disguise it. Beware, however, of those who do not try to disguise their terrible actions or statements. Flee from them! But, I start to digress. The deeper the shame and sin is hidden, the more likely our Lord God and Jesus Christ, and the gospel, is to disclose and reveal it. And when it disclosed and reveal and the perpetrator is unrepentant, the graver the consequences.

This process is part of the journey of Lent. We willingly disclose and reveal where we have gone wrong. The Divine grieves and mourns our missteps, and gives us reassurance that our repentance will be meet with Divine grace. It makes no sense, beloved reader, to hide what is shameful; it will be brought to let. Better for us to reveal it to the Divine and be in line for mercy and grace than to try to hide it.

May the Lord God’s mercy and grace be yours in abundance – greater abundance then your need! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Here comes David!

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” (I Samuel 16:1 – 3)

King Saul, favored by the people. A man’s man (I assume) but not God’s man. And God is not sitting idle while King Saul is proving that he is not the type of follower that God desires. I like that the Divine says “I have provided for myself.” This tells me that the man (young boy right now) is being prepared for the role to come. It reminds me of all the prophecies about Jesus, which in a way is a sort of preparation as well. In Jesus God has provided for a Savior. He comes also from Bethlehem.

It also tells me that God is ever preparing and foreseeing what needs to happen. We do not always see or understand the movements of God. But what happens because of free will and what happens by God’ preparations and provisions come together in marvelous ways.

Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” (Verses 4 – 6)

What does “Godly” look like? What does faithful and righteous look like? Saul looked “good” if my memory of his coming to kingship is accurate. As I remember the priests who served in the Lord’s house were to be without physical flaw. But good looks do not always mean good inside.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (Verse 7)

Remember too that God and Samuel warned the people that a conventional human king like the other nations have is no guarantee of good leadership.

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Now notice the change, that Samuel tells Jesse that the Lord is choosing someone to be in the Lord’s direct service – or at least I assume that Samuel has not told Jesse the full reason. May be he has.

“Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Ah! Looks do mean something. David was healthy, with dark eyes. While not a presence like his brothers, He was pleasing to the eye. And, he was in front of his brothers set apart by Samuel’s anointing.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.” (Verse 13)

With the writer of I Samuel saying that “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David” I have to wonder, when is one prepared to serve the Lord? Before? While there was something about David when he was anointed, it seems like after that anointing he was prepared in earnest by the Lord. And that actually gives me hope; if I feel the Lord taping me on my shoulder to say “I have something in mind for you” I should not be concerned that I am not ready. The Lord will make me ready, in ways I may not ever understand.

We continue our journey through Lent – least you forget. We prepare ourselves as the Lord makes preparations concerning us. May we follow the Lord’s path and trust in the Lord’s providence and provision. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – There are none so blind . . .

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:1 – 3)

While Jesus’ ministry on the earth ushered in a new time of enlightenment and understanding, it still took place during a time of little understanding of nature and biology. Physical disabilities were not (and are not) a result of sin or misconduct, but that was the common believe. That is why the disciples asked that question. Jesus’ answer was not meant to be an explanation of why it happened to this man either, but the rationale for what would happen as a result of Jesus healing him. Keep that in mind as you read this story (or read it again).

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Verse 4 – 5)

The implication is that once Jesus has departed this world, darkness may come. But, each of us can carry the light of Jesus Christ and thereby hold back the dark. But, on with the story.

“When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” (Verses 6 – 10)

While miracles and healing from disabilities is comparatively frequent and attributed to a variety of means and interventions, in the time Jesus walked the earth miracles and healing were amazing.

“He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.” (Verses 11 to 14)

That it was a Sabbath day is important to the story, and to the Pharisees. While we understand there is no better day then the Sabbath to “work” a miracle, working on the Sabbath in Jesus’ time was very much frowned on. In fact there were complex laws about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath.

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (Verses 15 – 23)

How typically, when something is not understood or believed, to explain it away by simply denying that it happened. Someone is cured – well, they were not that sick to begin with. In other words, the miracle is not that miraculous. It is a simple development and not a complete change in the nature of things. Beware, beloved reader, of those who would belittle those things that are marvelous, be they little or big.

“So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (Verses 24 to 27)

How clever, this formerly blind man, to turn the table on his questioners.

“Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (Verses 28 – 33)

Again, I admire this clever man. I am not surprised however. Think how much instantaneous faith it must have taken to travel with mud covered eyes to bath them in a certain place. His eyes may not have seen but surely his heart and spirit did.

“They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.” (Verses 34 – 38)

Jesus told his disciples that this whole episode would show God’s work in human lives – the power of God and how God can be with us and within us. And he explains further . . .

“Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (Verses 39 – 41)

The evidence of who Jesus was and what he could do – miracles – was before them. Yet they refused to see. Jesus/the writer of the gospel of John puts in more bluntly than I would; when the reality of Jesus/God is before us, and we refuse to see it or acknowledge it, that is sin. May we not sin in this way. Selah!