Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Spiritual Fore-bearers, Large and Small

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (I Peter 3:13 – 16)

I both feel and see the writer of I Peter seesawing back and forth. Being bold yet advocating care and caution. It is the careful “dance” of someone who is wise as a serpent yet innocent as a dove. I was reminded today, in another context, of the apostle Peter’s hesitation concerning going to Cornelius’ home because Cornelius was a Gentile. And his explanation to the gathering at Jerusalem as to why he went.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (Verses 17 – 20)

I am reminder too of the times Peter was imprisoned and was lead out of prison. Peter did suffer for proclaiming the faith given to him. And that lends extra credence to the words that are ascribed to Peter. This can be said of all of the writers of the Epistles. But do not think that it is only those who have suffered violently for their faith that have lessons to teach us. Living out an authentic Christian life, day by day over a span of decades without persecution or oppression is just as much a testament. And in some ways more. As Peter says, when we are pressed on the issues of our faith it gives us a chance to speak to the depth and breadth of our testing. But when there is no test, merely the living out of docile days, it is easy to slip in small . . . and then larger ways. We tend to forget the sacrifice that was made for us, because there is little sacrifice and suffering on our part.

“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (Verses 21 – 22)

I cannot, beloved reader, point you to many diaries and accounts of authentic and conscientious Christians of lived out their days in unruffled ways. For those accounts are not held up as examples. But they should be. Yes, Peter and Paul, and the other apostles suffered for their faith. And we can look to them as exemplars, in a smaller way than we look to Christ. Complacency can lead us just as much astray as yielding to temptation when the tough times come. Seek out, beloved reader, models of Christianity who were not pushed or stressed. And find out how to live a Christian life in “monotony”. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wasting Time

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22 – 23)

Paul was a pretty sharp guy. The Athenians, being Greeks, were covering every possibility of gods (small “g”) and so as not to leave anyone/thing out and so as not to offend anyone, they had an altar set up for “anonymous.” Paul took advantage of this loophole and present the Lord God, the one all encompassing God. Kinda risky considering he may not have been sure exactly who the altar was meant for. But when you have the Lord God on your side, you can take chances like that.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “ (Verses 24 – 28)

If you know anything about the Greek gods, and the Roman gods which some Greek gods are modeled after, you might know that Paul is speaking pretty specifically against the attributes and needs of the Greek gods in worship.

“Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.” (Verse 29)

And it is not just the Greek gods that can be found under Paul’s critic. Other gods (again small “g”) of other nations had not much more representation and existence beyond having a statute or idol made of it. And some pretty unusual looking ones there were too!

“While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Verses 30 – 31)

A great deal hinges on this “fixed day” that the world will be judged. Paul makes the appeal to wait not, but repent now. Cast away belief and worship of the false gods, and embrace only the true God. Because . . . time may be running out. However, we know now that time was not running out, unless you count the day when each individual person might be judged because their life on this earth has ended. Between when Paul spoke these words and now – there has been a great span of time.

But, beloved reader, do not let my rough-shod critique of Paul lead you to believe that time is not slipping away, because it is! Just because there has been time, and time again, to turn from disbelief to belief do not think you can waste more time. What Paul does not say (at least not explicitly here) but I do say – days and nights chasing after false gods are hours and minutes wasted. The gold or silver or stone or image in art or image from the imagination of mortals.

These images can do nothing for you. Worship of them wastes your time and energy, and leads to nothing good or useful. These images will not last, and whatever good you think you get from them will not last. On that Paul and I agree. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Of Sheep and Shepherds

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” (John 10:1)

The gospel of John has several purposes, beyond the telling of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The writer of the gospel of John sought to establish Jesus’ divinity, and what is here and what is left out often serve that purpose. Biblical commentators, understanding this, pick up the task and assign meanings & messages that I am not convinced were the original intention of the writer of the gospel of John. I am not arguing or disputing their interpretation, but am simply stating that many passages are laden with meanings and extrapolations that point to the character and nature of Jesus Christ. Verse one, for example, is said to mean that Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of being poor leaders, or shepherds, of the Jewish people. And they come to leadership not to care for and tend to the needs of the people but to establish power and authority for themselves.

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (Verse 2)

The person who comes into leadership through the call from the Lord is a true shepherd and will care for those who follow him/her with compassion and understanding.

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Do not think it strange, beloved reader, that the metaphor and motif of shepherds and sheep is used so much. Jesus was using what the people of that place and time knew thoroughly and gave new meaning to common understandings so that complex theologies could be made clear. Ironically, we who live in modern times and are removed from older ways of life come to know and understand these ways of life by studying them in order to have insights into scripture. Or, more interestingly, work the metaphor and motif backwards using the insights and understandings were are familiar with in scripture and applying them to the everyday practices of those people in biblical times.

“So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Here is an interesting thing – the biblical commentators I consulted with say that what Jesus means is that any and every person who tried to claim authority over the people (excluding those who were called prophets starting with Noah, Abraham etc) were false and wrong. The implication being that the Pharisees were not good leaders of the people. How then do we reconcile that with those who followed such poor leaders? Were they not sheep? Or just not the Lord’s sheep?

You see, beloved reader, it behooves us to make wise choices as to who we follow. We are not to be mindless sheep, blindly following any voice that calls out “follow me.” Do not think that the Lord’s sheep have no responsible or use no judgment in their actions. It is not just the shepherd who will be judged, but also the sheep for allowing themselves to be lead astray.

All of this will make tomorrow’s scripture passage very interesting to consider. Shalom!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany: The Old Testament Passage – A question posed: who speaks for and represents you?

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.” (Isaiah 58:1-2)

The writer of Isaiah had the Lord angry at the called and chosen people. During much of the history of Israel and Judah the people (meaning those who personified the nation) did not do right in the sight of the Lord. That is the reason given for their being captured and recaptured by the nations around them. And why the prophets were called to write in the Lord’s voice of the displeasure that the Lord was assumed to have against them. And if the Lord is presumed by the writer of Isaiah to be angry, the people are presumed to be clueless.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” (Verse 3a)

It is an interesting conversation between the Divine and the people, with the writer of Isaiah speaking for both sides.

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Verses 3b – 7)

But it is also an instructive discourse, and that may very well be the purpose of it. Not so much to assume and presume what the Lord says and what the people would say. But to sum up the seeming attitude of the rules and powers that be in that nation, and what the Lord expects of a called and chosen people.

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” (Verses 8 to 9a)

Here ends the the main portion of the Old Testament passage for this week. There is allowance for verses 9b to 12. Perhaps this a good juncture to insert on of my favorite teaching tools – what does this mean for us? Have we (or those who seemingly express the nature and attitude of us) been as the people of Israel and Judah? Have “we”committed offenses against the Divine? It is a question not only to ask ourselves, but to ask of those who in one way or another presume to speak for us and lead us.

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 9b to 12)

I try to avoid treading on the political side of anything. And normally I would refrain with utter conviction in doing so. But to be truthful and authentic to this passage, I need to be clear that it does not speak for every soul during the time of the writer of Isaiah. It speaks to those who guided and controlled the nation. Yes, we need to examine our own lives and discern in the light of God’s wisdom how we have comported ourselves. But we must also allow the passage to stand as an indictment of the type of people the writer of Isaiah spoke to and of. Let each person discern for themselves who those people and those type of people are in their lives. Selah!


Baptism of the Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany – The Old Testament Passage – Moving Forward

I don’t know if I can do this – move on. The day I wrote this I suffered a pretty traumatic loss – loss of property and things. But a loss that has shaken me a great deal. I don’t know if I can move on, take in this loss and move forward.

According to the calendar, the Epiphany of the Lord – when the Wise Men came which is the revelation of God’s son in the human Jesus Christ, and  signals Jesus’ salvation to the Gentiles – happens later this week (January 6th). And the first Sunday after Epiphany (January 8th) the focus is on Jesus’ baptism. So in a sense, we are getting a little met ahead of ourselves. Here I am commenting on scriptures (Jesus’ baptism) that are to be considered after the Epiphany but I am doing so before the Epiphany. It is making me feel more than a little muddled. But what is true for posting things is true for my self of loss – I have to move on. Not sure how though.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)

Isaiah is always a good book to go to when one is feeling lost and bereft. The writer of Isaiah seems to know about loss, suffering, but also how to look to God in times of trouble and grieving. So when I saw an Isaiah passage for the Baptism of the Lord, I felt like it was something I would have something to say about. There is also one for the Epiphany of the Lord, but it did not resonate as well. I may come back to it, or I may choose others passages for the Epiphany.

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 5 – 9)

Maybe not the comfort that speaks to this situation, exactly. And it does seem to speak more about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in his ministry than it does then me. But when you feel lost and bereft you take what you can get, and when you can get it. Certainly there would be other passages that speak about what I am feeling inside. But you know, part of moving on is knowing what is the NOW will not be what is the future. Days will pass, and I will start to rebuild and reclaim what was lost.

But don’t ask me how; I don’t have that figured out yet. What I do know is that by the time you read this, beloved reader, I will have moved on somehow. And I know I am not alone. Even now I have gathered friends and family around me to help. I have used the contacts and tools I used last time this happened. (Yes, this has happened before on a smaller scale. It is a consequence of living in a fallen and broken world.)

I think that is all I have to say. It has taken all I have to comment today, and to say this much. I covet your prayers, beloved reader, even if it is after the fact. I pray that when the times comes that you read this, I will be starting to heal from this. May you, beloved reader, heal from that hurts that have carried over into the New Year. Selah!

First Week of Advent: The Psalms Passage Year A – Journeying to a better place

Preacher: “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Seeker: I have not been too many places in the world. I have not traveled much. I have like the places I have seen. And I wish I could see more of this world. But, that might not be a reality for me. I always figured I would see the world in new and wonderful ways once I have passed from this life to the next. But going to the house of the Lord? Yes, I would love to do that, any time!
Preacher: “Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”

Seeker: How good it will be to declare that we are our destination, that our journey is done and we are within the Lord’s Holy City.
Preacher: “Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.”

Seeker: The Lord’s Holy City is well built, and defended. No one who is not invited is allowed in. All evil and sorrow is kept outside its walls.
Preacher: “To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.”

Seeker: Every one who knows, and is known by the Lord, goes there. The Lord’s people stream there, and are glad to be there and worship the Lord within the gates.
Preacher: “For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.”

Seeker: But it is not for the faint of heart. Or those who have evil within their hearts. The Lord’s justice is carried out. And the Lord’s will is the law.
Preacher: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

Seeker: And the Lord’s will and law is shalom for all people. Everyone has what they need, and no one has more than they should. All live together in harmony and accord. Neighbor watches our for neighbor. Love flows from one person to another, and discord is never known.
Preacher: ”For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122)

Seeker: We do not yet live in the Lord’s Holy City. The world we live in has a mix of good will, good intentions, and discord. There are some who seek to create a city that is like the new Jerusalem. But others want to the old ways, where a person takes what he or she wants and does not consider the other. Where the marginalized and the poor are kept away from abundance, prosperity and justice. This world has many wonders and much beauty. But I long for the Lord’s Holy City. May we all journey towards the House of the Lord, helping each other along the way. And may we create, whenever and wherever we can, the shalom that is within the City of the Lord. Selah!