Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Hearing, and Not Hearing the Lord God

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” (Psalm 68:1 – 3)

It is not an overstatement to say that the church designates certain Sundays as “celebration” Sundays. During those weeks the psalm passage are usually very praising and celebratory. And the first section of verse one fits in very well with the Ascension of the Lord theme. So let’s celebrate!


“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Part of celebrating is recounting and remembering when and how the Lord was faithful.

“O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Even though the fate and circumstances of the Lord’s called people may vary and change, surge forth and ebb away, the Lord is faithful. At least that’s what we tell ourselves and each other.

I cannot turn a blind eye, beloved reader, to the times and places that the called people of God have cried out, “My God, where are you?!” Our exemplar and Lord Jesus Christ did the same thing. Yes, there are times God goes out before us – marching, making the earth quake and water pour down, and generally making the Divine Presence known. But there are also times when we fill like we are out there all alone when the earth quakes and the waters pour, and we are shivering and shaking in the dark.

A large part of the stories in the Old Testament are of both noteworthy and common every day people who were having a hard time fulfilling the call they were supposed to have had from the Lord God. And seemingly not getting it right! And it also seemed like the Lord God was set against them and teaching them lessons that successive generations had to re-learn.

To tell you the honest truth, beloved reader, I am not sure how the people of the Old Testament messed ups, or even if they did mess up. A lot of the politics of the time swept the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews along with it, and the people suffered. They said it was because the Lord deserted them, as a consequence of their behavior. To read the Old Testament prophets (both major and minor) that’s the impression you get. What I do know is that at some point the Lord God said to the God-self, “Humanity does not seem to be getting the message. It’s time for a different plan.” So Jesus was sent. And things started to get a bit better.

So do not think that just because the Lord is not out there booming the big Divine drum that God has forsaken humanity. God is right there beside us, standing with us on the rolling shaking landscape and getting wet too! And now we know this. What we know further is that just because Jesus is in heaven, we are not alone down here. Yes, we will mess up, in ways we cannot count, fathom, or begin to know. But, we are not alone.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Verses 32 – 35)

Selah!

Ascension of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – A Celebration is Coming

As I was thinking and looking towards writing for Thursday May 25th, the Day of the Ascension of the Lord, I got to thinking about the significance of that day to the disciples. As I said yesterday, it is not the same sort of celebration as Pentecost is. In hindsight it is clear to us as modern day believers that Jesus would return to heaven and the Lord who sent him. Maybe that was clear enough to the disciples or maybe that took them by surprise. But what really lodged in my mind, and led me to writing for a second time for today, is that the day BEFORE the ascension of the Lord, they did not know it was coming. It is like the day before a surprise birthday party or other celebration – the day before, you don’t know it is coming. And it is a celebration (it’s why it is commemorated in the church year) that Jesus is returning to heaven so that the things that were promised can and will come to pass.

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” (Psalm 47:1-3)

Well, the psalmist is not quite within the same perspective as us for this day – in fact, this psalm is applied to this day as opposed to having been specifically written for the ascension of the Lord. A fact that finds in parallel in a great deal of scripture passages used in the Revised Common Lectionary. We will be celebrating tomorrow that the Lord God Jesus Christ is “awesome”. Just not quite for the reason the psalmist had in mind.

“He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” (Verses 4 – 8)

This is the celebration – that the Lord who was and is Jesus is now back with the Lord God Creator and all the other aspects of the Divine. It is, albeit, a celebration that is specific to God’s people who believe in the triune nature of the Divine – God the Creator/Parent, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And the psalmist says that all things are under God; whether it be a triune God that is now reunited with its God-self (okay, at admit it strains some theologies to see God in this light) or a God who is “simply” mighty over all things. And verse nine seems to be an exclamation point on this idea. I consulted with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he helped me understand verse nine.

“The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” (Verse 9)

Everyone is gathered under God; those who come voluntarily as the called people of God, and those who God “subdued” under the God-self, as described in verse three. Everyone and everything is under God. And our Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended, is over all things. And that is what we celebrate tomorrow, according to the psalmist.

But, and it is a big “but”, the Lord God as described by the psalmist is not quite the same Lord Jesus Christ that the disciples had come to know. And that was a big stumbling block to some. That the “mighty” Almighty Lord God came to earth and humbled the God-self unto being put to death. Not that it stopped the Lord God, you understand. So while we appropriate the celebration as the psalmist presents it, when re-define it to celebrate that what came to us humbled is now returned to heaven in victory. And that, beloved reader, is worth celebrating – tomorrow. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Traits of the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It occurred to me yesterday that there is a great difference between the shepherds that come to shepherding through and because of faith in the Lord, and the “Good Shepherd” who watches over both “local” shepherds and the Lord’s sheep. Now remember what we discussed yesterday that sheep are not blind mindless followers but initial followers of the the local shepherds and the the Good Shepherd.

Here in the psalm passage we learn more about the Good Shepherd. Or at least more about the motif/metaphor that the psalmist employs.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;” (Verse 2)

The Lord as the Great Shepherd does not expect us to be nurtured and nourished by turbulence. We say that times of stress and distress help us to learn to depend on the Lord. But the purpose of the Good Shepherd is to bring peace to our soul. We learn that even if there is turbulence in our lives, the Lord provides a place of calm.

“ . . . he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)

The Divine that we call by the name of Lord has pledged with all that the Omnipotent Divine has and is to undertake for us. This is what the psalmist means (I think) when he says “for his name’s sake” – although the Divine is not bound by our definitions of “his”.

“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.” (Verse 4)

I said a few verses back that the Lord creates places of calm. The security and calm of the Lord’s rod and staff is that it keeps danger away from us, and lead us where we should go. I am not talking about the danger that we may face in this world, but the danger to our spirit and soul, that which will survive us after bodily death. Those who follow the Lord may have fears and concerns in this life, but the answer to those concerns is the Lord, who will not abandon us – for the sake of the Lord’s name.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Verse 5)

The Might of the Lord is evident in the face of the dangers we may face, and in front of those who seek to harm us. Our calm and confidence comes from a deep well within us that the Lord has established. We can draw on that when we face the stress and pressures of this world. And we are renewed with the Divine’s calm and peace. As the psalmist says . . .

“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.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

I want to share something with you that I came across the day I sat down to write this reflection and post – “As the print of the seal on wax is the express image of the seal itself, so Christ of the express image – the perfect representation of God. ” St.Ambrose spoke it, I do not know when as the source of the quote did not identify it. But I had to think to myself, how could so many people have misunderstand, and continue to misunderstand the nature of God when Christ exemplified it. The 23rd psalm does not say that the Messiah that is to come, or some holy man called by the Lord is the Shepherd – but Lord, the Godself, is the Shepherd who does all of these things for the sheep that have the good sense to follow. I could go on and on identifying the various ways that I feel God has been misunderstood. But that is not my purpose. Beloved reader, look to Christ as the way of compassion and care that the Lord God has always extended to humanity. Selah and shalom!

Holy Week – Monday : The Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel Passages – Tensions are mounting and rationales are revealed

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:11-15)

Monday of Holy Week. While the disciples may not have seen it or understand it, Jesus’ ministry was coming to a close. The time was drawing when one aspect of Jesus’ purpose for coming to humanity would be fulfilled. I say one aspect because Jesus was not sent for one purpose but many purposes and reasons – enough to satisfy all of humanity for all time. The Lord God, however, had only one umbrella reason for sending the Divine Son.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Psalm 36:5-11)

Love of humanity, and love for humanity was a trait the Messiah Jesus and the Lord God shared. And according to the gospel of John, there was something among several things that Jesus wished to do.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.” (John 12:1- 2)

Let me say, beloved reader, that the gospels place events in Jesus’ life in different order. The priorities that Jesus had remained unchanged in their differing accounts, but the sequence of events get shuffled around. Therefore . . .

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (Verse 3)

An outpouring of love for the teacher who brought her brother back to life? A portent of what was to come? Whatever the reason, it was an extravagant offering.

“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) (Verses 4 – 6)

The writer of the gospel of John did not have much respect for Judas. And Judas properly did not have much respect for some of the disciples. And probably not much respect for Mary either. Biblical commentators and theologians have varying ideas of Judas’ motivation – so more sympathetic and generous than others. We also might have varying ideas about Judas. But let me reminder you, beloved reader, Jesus loved Judas as much as any of the other disciples and the people who followed Jesus.

“Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I would like to be able to pause here and think about Jesus’ statement concerning the poor and Jesus’ presence on earth. And maybe at some point we can. But I am conscious of the fact that we have a ways to go, and much ground to cover. And those who have plotted and planned against Jesus are advancing their plans.

“When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Monday. It is not just Jesus who is in danger, but those who believe in him also. It is shaping up to be a tense week.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus Christ = Resurrection and Life

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.” (John 11:1-2)

Some gospels say she was the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Other says she was a different Mary. A not so socially acceptable Mary. It would interesting to know if it was one and the same Mary – the Mary who was socially acceptable, who sat at Jesus’s feet, and who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But I digress – the focus is on Lazarus.

“So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (Verse 3)

In the time of Jesus, any illness had the potential for being serious as medicine then did not follow the same regime as it does now. On with the story.

“But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Verses 4 – 16)

I want to insert briefly that Thomas meant die with Jesus, assuming that the Jews in Judea would be successful in killing Jesus.

“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (Verses 17 – 22)

Martha had faith in Jesus, and knowledge of who Jesus was (and is still). It was not then that Martha needed to be told and reminded of God’s glory and Jesus being part of that glory. Or at least not very much.

“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.” (Verses 23 – 29)

I have in the past wondered what it was about Lazarus that made him worthy of being resurrected. But as I ponder on this passage, I am starting to think it was not Lazarus per se but when it Jesus’ ministry that Lazarus became ill and died. Lazarus was not the only person that Jesus brought back to life. Nor was Jesus the only one who brought back from the dead. Elijah did also. But it was at this point in Jesus’ ministry that connection between Jesus being Lord over life and death was made. Let us read further in this story.

“Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (Verses 30 – 33)

I have to ask, and I would have to ask the writer of the gospel of John – why the difference? Martha says if Jesus would have been there Lazarus would not have died, assuming that Jesus would have healed him. But Mary says the same thing, and Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The biblical commentators reflect two causes; being by the total scene of mourning OR being indignant at the false mourning and weeping that the Jews accompanying Mary were doing. There was such a profession as being professional weepers and mourners to give sound and numbers at funerals. The writer of the gospel John might have made note of such as these, and having Jesus react to them. Or, Jesus upon seeing the woman who wept for him, wept on her behalf. Let us continue the story.

“He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verses 34 – 37)

Criticism and cynicism noted by the writer of the gospel of John, and Jesus reacts.

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.” Verse 38)

I can see where the two interpretations to Jesus’ grief and disturbance came from. I should not forget that many times the writers of the gospel were also acute observers of the society of the time.

“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” (Verses 39 – 45)

Power over life and death. It is hard not to believe when you see such dramatic proof. But while some did believe, there were others who were angered (or perhaps more accurately, frightened) at the display/report of such power. The verses that follow this passage tell of the reaction of Jewish/Temple authorities and their fear. And the story of Jesus’ ministry moves one step closer to its conclusion.

These events of Jesus’ life are remembered and set down to explain what was to come. While each of the gospels might differ somewhat, they form a cohesive story of what Jesus did. And with these stories in hand, generation after generation has had to decide whether they believe or not.

While we are in the season of Lent, we are also in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary – the year of coming to new faith. In the early Christian church, the season of Lent and Easter was a preparatory time of coming to faith. May you use this time to ponder on your own faith, perhaps coming to new understandings. I pray that you faith in grounded in the strong foundation of who Jesus Christ was, and is to you. And the place of our Lord God in your life. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – The bringing of life in the Spirit

Think of this as the “antidote” passage to yesterday’s theme of bringing those “dead” & dried up back to life!

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6 – 8)

What the writer of Romans (Paul) meant was that thinking of earthly and/or worldly concerns is wrong thinking. I was just teasing about above! The Ezekiel passage was not concerned with the living body as much as it was concerned about hope in God and faith in God’s nature. And really, what was being revived with the spirit. Remember in the passage from Ezekiel that the body was nothing without the spirit within. And human spirit is called out/by/to Divine Spirit.

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Verses 9 – 10)

What Ezekiel prophesied for the nation of Israel, Paul proclaims as belonging to all people.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Verse 11)

Now, despite what theology Paul might have put forth, we cannot be sure what it means for us to be given life in our mortal bodies. My “friend” Albert Barnes believes this means that the body which is by its nature sinful can be redeemed to be in service to God. Other commentators tend toward the resurrection or life after death theory/theology; maybe more of the Ezekiel-type reanimation.

As for, I just thought it made a good pairing after the Old Testament passage. But I do believe that the Spirit of the Lord God can live through and direct our spirit. Imperfect we may be, and we may not 100% authentically do everything God would have us do. But we can give our will and free choice over the Divine and live according to those precepts. Selah!


Third Sunday of Lent: Old Testament Passage – We have needs

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1)

This sounds like a set up to me! It is said that the human body can survive longer without food than it can without water. It is not surprising to me that “the whole congregation” was upset. And it occurs to me that the Lord must have known they would be upset. So I have to wonder, what this a time of teaching for both “the congregation” and Moses?

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is not easy to be a leader, any more than it is to be a follower. Even after 40 years of history together, they don’t seem much to understand each other. But neither they nor Moses were alone.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Verses 5 to 7)

Moses felt powerless in front of these people, unable to fulfill their simplest need. And the people, “the congregation” doubted that Moses and the Lord could fulfill their simplest need. How can the people of the Lord trust for the complex needs of life when they cannot trust for the simplest. Maybe that is a lesson that we all need to learn. May the Lord God set people before who lead, and tap into our simplest and deepest needs to fulfill them. Selah!