Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Gospel Passage – Good wheat, and bad weeds

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.” (Matthew 13:24-26)

This is a little bit “edgier” a parable. False doctrines have somehow gotten intermingled with the good news, and now there is mixed in the good crop weeds that are not good for anything.

“And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ “ (Verses 27 – 28)

I have sometimes seen/heard/read evidence of the thinking that I feel is not quite right; not out and out wrong, but off somehow and results in unfortunate outcomes. Perhaps you have too, beloved reader. I have at times tried to correct it but with little or no success. Other times I have remained silent; either because I did not feel it was my task to apply a corrective. Or because I felt it would cause more harm than good. Or, I did not feel I should pass judgment at all.

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Verses 29 – 30)

The reason I find this to be an “edgy” parable is because it implies that authentic Christian thinking and actions are carried out along side the cockeyed and imperfect. It also implies that maybe we should not try to judge between the pure and good, and the imperfect and inaccurate. How’s that for a chilling prospect? Maybe no one except the Divine should try to discern between the “good wheat” and the “weeds”. Furthermore, what turns out to be “weeds” is destined for destruction. It could be the very judgmental attitude that some have which may turn out to be “weeds”. And THAT makes me nervous!

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Verses 36 – 43)

The Jesus in this parable in Matthew is very edgy. But I suppose you already knew that beloved reader. It makes even me pause and think. I know I not infallible in my scriptural, faith, and spiritual knowledge; I know I make mistakes and errors. I try to discern rightly, and not proclaim absolutely. I only write what I am as certain as I can be. Perhaps this sort of teaching from Jesus is why Paul has such strict requirements for preachers and teachers. And yet . . . . Paul was very bold and outspoken in his preaching and teaching. I am not judging Paul according to the merits of this parable. I simply mean that it is okay to speak and teach boldly in the Lord. Just make sure you are standing in the midst of “good wheat” beloved reader! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Gospel Passage – Growing in and with the Lord God Jesus Christ

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13: 1-4)

I have commented a few times about the modern person’s ability to understand basic theological concepts that people back in Jesus’ day may not have comprehended. And in considering this telling of the parable about the sower, maybe it is more accurate to say that people in the current age understand and can perceive the message in parables and stories. It is an easy connection to make when you understand that the seeds in the parable is the good news of Christ, and that the sower is Christ or one of the disciples/apostles. From there one can determine the meaning of the seeds not taking root for one reason or another.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 6)

The middle verses of this passage, verses 10 to 17, tell what happened when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he told things in parables. Basically Jesus said some people will understand and others wouldn’t simply because they refuse to see what is before them. In essence, the message in the parable about the sower is the reason Jesus used parables, so that those who were ready to receive and understand the message would, and those who were not ready would not understand.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus explained specifically to the disciples the meaning of the parable – which sort of raise the question as to whether the disciples would have understood the meaning on their own. And if my premise is correct, that our modern system of education readies us to more easily understand metaphors, allegories, analogies, and metaphors – then perhaps the disciples needed the extra help to understand what Jesus meant.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

Does this mean our modern society is more able to assimilate Christian understanding and living into their lives? Um . . . no.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Our modern understanding how parables can teach us does not mean the meaning and the lesson of the parable ‘take root.’ That is, just because we understand the concept or meaning does not mean it has and does influence our lives. This parable, then, talks about how the parable itself might function, or not function, in our lives.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Verse 23)

I want you to make special note, beloved reader, that there is not the same result in each case. Some bear more “fruit” and some bear less “fruit.” The point is not how fruit or result there is; the point is that there has been growth and development. The Lord God does not insist that all believers grow and mature in the same way, or yield up identical lives. That is not expected; what is expected is that you will make sure your lives and living are futile ground where the Lord’s words can grow. That, beloved reader, is the whole point. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Gospel Passage – Living now, but acting as in the past

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “ (Matthew 11:16 – 17)

To paraphrase, according to sense of the verses in The Message – “You are not what we wanted you to be, and not what we expected you would be.” There was some conversation on the Christian radio station I listen to, talking about what Paul might say and think about these modern times. The same sort of suppositions have been suggested as to what Jesus Christ would have to say about our generation. And I think just as pertinent a question would be what would this generation that about Jesus Christ?

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Verses 18 – 19)

From what I gleaned from listening to the radio DJs, they assumed that Paul would lambaste this current generation as much as he did in the time he was writing. But I have my doubts. They same, I would assume other assume, that Jesus Christ would. Again, I have my doubts.

Both Jesus and Paul spoke to the situations that were presented to them in their time. Now, if we are saying that not much has changed between then and now, maybe they would have the same critique and teaching. And if that is so, then we who espouse Christianity know (or should know) exactly what we should be doing – precisely. But the thing is, why are we not doing it? I will tell you my theory.

We are not living in the same times or the same reality. What was said then is not what would be said now. I think that is why it is so hard to be an authentic Christian in this world. Furthermore, I think that is one of the reasons that Christianity has gained such a diverse reputation.

“At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Verses 25 – 26)

Are you understanding this, beloved reader? Jesus is praying that he is glad that the mysteries that are the Christian life are hidden from those who think themselves educated and well-versed in understandings. But it has been revealed to those who are innocent and child-like. I don’t what that says for people like me who are educated but cling to simple and basic understandings. Lately I have been thinking that I believe in old-fashioned Christianity. Not conservative, or fundamental, or dated; but old-fashioned . . . like unconditional acceptance and love of all humankind, grace, mercy & forgiveness, gentleness & humbleness, patience, compassion & care . . . . things that are not learned by the head but by the heart, soul, & spirit.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Verses 27 – 30)

Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 8 [13]) : The Gospel Passages – Whoever

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42)

Simple kindness and hospitality. Unconditional acceptance. Care and compassion. These are things that do not cost much, but are priceless when given freely.

One of the things the Pharisees could not understand, with all their laws and rituals, was that the Ten Commandments were based on simply caring about another person and caring about God. We get so bogged down about doing the right thing, that we forget that it is really about doing the good thing. So, now that I have reminded you about that, don’t sit here and keep reading, but go out and welcome into your home and your heart . . . . whoever! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Gospel Passage – Searching for answers and living wisely in the light of the wisdom of the Divine

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25)

It is good to remind one’s self every once in a while that Jesus was in a human body, and did have some human feelings and emotions – perhaps the highest and best of human feelings and emotions. After all, Jesus was God, and humans were made in the image of God. So when Jesus tells his disciples that the way he is maligned, they will be maligned too may be a result of him feeling the sting of the censure placed on him.

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (Verse 26)

But that does not mean one should shy aware from living for Jesus and God; but instead speak about it openly and often.

“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Verses 27 – 28)

While Jesus alludes to it in vague terms, I tell you openly beloved reader – the only one who can harm you is the one who threatens you eternal life, the life and world after this one. The Lord God knows, and Jesus Christ knows, that there are things to fear in this world. But we should not let that fear dissuade us from the Christian life we know we ought to live.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Verses 29 – 33)

We live in trying times beloved reader. And each seems that with each year that passes and each event that comes upon us leaves us more bewildered and confused. My own denomination is trying to sort out the implications of our present, and how they should respond to it. Good people are divided over what is best to do. And no one can claim that there way is best. For that, we must look to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. And hope & pray that we can interpret correctly the example laid down for us.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Verses 33 – 39)

As much as we love family and friends, as much as we are devoted to church and our faith group, as much as we believe in whichever political ideology we espouse to – it cannot and should not dissuade us from the faith journey we are called to. And yet, how can we claim one faith journey is more valid than the other? It is an unsolvable question that we optimistically hope we can find an answer to. But I believe as long as we remain open to search for the best possible answer, we will not go to far astray. Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The Gospel Passages – Before and After

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” ( John 7:37 – 38)

It almost seems like, read out of context, Jesus just randomly burst out with this comment. But actually chapter seven in John concerns Jesus going to the Feast of the Tabernacle and preaching there. His listeners and the Jews/scribes there were voicing their perspective and commentary on who Jesus was. It is not, actually, a random outburst but an outburst that continues in the vein that Jesus was speaking coming very close to revealing completely who he was. But it was not quite time yet for the complete revelation – according to the writer of the gospel of John.

“Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (Verse 39)

As I have said on several occasions, the writer of the gospel of John has a purpose and reason for writing his gospel – the establishing of Jesus’ Divinity. The gospel he wrote based on the life of Jesus is a slow building toward that purpose. Because of the gospel writer’s purpose, he does not use all of the events of Jesus’ life and puts them in a certain context and perspective. It was only when Jesus had been glorified – that is, his Divinity on full display – that the coming and bestowing of the Spirit would come.

“When it was evening on that day [that is, the evening of the day Jesus was resurrected], the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

That appearance, in itself, shows that Jesus was now beyond the physical form and ability of being just human – it is time.

“After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (Verses 20)

But he is the same teacher and rabbi they had known before. But different.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Verse 21)

Now is the time. All that was to be accomplished has been, except for one thing.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Verse 22 – 23)

The writer of the gospel of John does not give the same sort of bestowing of the Spirit as other gospel writers. When we are talking about what the fuller celebration of the Pentecost is, we think about the time in the upper room, after Jesus had been taken up into heaven, when tongues of flames came upon the disciples. And when they spoke in tongues, and Peter preached. We will also look at that passage later in the week; it is in the book of Acts, and attributed to the writer of the gospel of Luke.

So I have to wonder, when did the Spirit come upon them? And how? In gradual stages? Or are we reading only one person’s interpretation? When I checked, none of the other gospels note a specific time that Jesus bestowed the Spirit on them. So I have to wonder if this was the “big” bestowal. Because later in chapter twenty Jesus comes again, when Thomas is there. And I don’t think Jesus would have meant Thomas to miss out on the bestowing of the Spirit.

But my wondering does not make me doubt; the coming of the Spirit does not have to be the same for all people and at all times. And that the Holy Spirit was/is an aspect of the Divine means that it can come in many ways and at many times. Whose to say which disciple felt it for the first time in what way. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in the most dramatic way on the Day of Pentecost. And we take the account in Acts as the “official” account. But all we can really be sure of is that there is a “before” and “after” in the coming of the Spirit. May you, beloved reader, dwell forever in the after. Selah!

 

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: The New Testament Passage and the Psalm Passage – An Indwelling of the Spirit

In the midst of all this – meaning looking at and preparing for Pentecost Sunday – we have Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Talk about an in-dwelling of the Spirit!

“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39 – 45)

Scripture passages establish that it is nigh on impossible for a woman beyond a certain age to become pregnant. And it was said of Elizabeth she was beyond that age – what that age was scripture does not tell us. But Elizabeth had long ago accepted the fact that she would not be a mother, and her husband would never become a father. Scripture also tells us a young woman can not become pregnant without “knowing” a man. And actually medical science back up both of these assertions. But while science explains what the Lord God has established as precedent and procedure, science cannot and does not limit what the Lord God can do.

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”(Verses 46 – 55)

Neither does the Lord God nor the Spirit of the Lord God limit who and when the Spirit can indwell. And I believe it was the Spirit of God who motivated Mary to go stay with her cousin Elizabeth. While she was an older woman and had never been pregnant or given birth, she probably knew enough to teach Mary what her pregnancy might be like and usher into the circle of woman who had been touched and called forth by God.

“And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.” (Verses 56 – 57)

Most of the time, when the Spirit of the Lord God touches a person, there are provisions for learning how to best use this indwelling, either directly from the Spirit or from those who have also been called on. Actually, that is one of the premises of seminary and religious education.

The Old Testament Passage (which I decided not to use this time) is the prayer of Hannah, whose body was also touched by God such that she had a child that was not expected. Her sister wives of Elkanah who had children hopefully nurtured her along in her pregnancy. Hannah gave birth to the boy Samuel who would grow to be a mighty prophet of the Lord.

All of these women praised God and were the Lord’s handmaidens, enduring (in a way) more pain and suffering than the men who were called by God. Ask any woman who has given birth! So let us appropriate the praise of the psalmist for the women that God has called into service, recognizing the contributions that women throughout history have made in service of the Lord.

“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 113)

It is good that we pause during our journey to Pentecost, to remember that the journey to the time when the Spirit would dwell amongst humanity was a long time in coming, with hints along the way of what it meant to be called upon and imbued with the Spirit of God. Selah!