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!

First Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Cleansing our house of intolerance, hatred, and animosity

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” (Isaiah 2: 1 – 2)

In the days of Isaiah, and the time that the bible (both Old and New Testament) were being written, the believe was that at some point and in some place the Lord in heaven and humanity on earth would meet up and dwell together. That would be the place to be, the ultimate place that all people would want to be. It was, in a sense, a very naïve and innocent assumption.

Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Verses 3)

Being a called people meant that one should not chase after other gods or other beliefs. One should not worship any other god; why would one, when God was the best, the truest, the Only Living God? Why indeed? And yet, and yet . . . . there are other religions, other faith systems, other ways of believing in the Divine. There has been over the decades and centuries an ebbing & flowing of tolerance of other faiths. And that would not bother me so much if Christianity as it is practiced today reflected the same unconditional compassion and acceptance as the way Jesus Christ set it down and modeled it. Christians and Christianity are shamed when intolerance and animosity directed toward people because of differences and deviations from what certain mainstream groups believe is normative. (Isn’t that a gentle way of saying some people hate others who are not like them!) This is NOT what is taught in the hour of the God of Jacob. And should not be taught or tolerated in any household espousing faith in God.

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;” (Verse 4a)

Do not think, beloved reader, that certain nations are guaranteed to win favor with the Lord. Do not think that certain faiths, even certain and varying versions of Christianity, will be favored over other faiths. It is what is in a person’s heart and how they live their lives that will be judged, and not how closely they followed the tenets of their own faith systems.

“ . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Verse 4b)

I am speaking to you, beloved reader, straight and unabashedly. I am taking you to task for any hidden or cloaked prejudice or bias you might have against another person. There has been far too much meanness and hateful talk and action in our world lately. Swords and spears come in the form and shape of words, attitudes, and actions. As we entered into the Advent season, especially, we need to root it out and repent of it. And most certainly before we enter into the Lord’s house that is to be above such things!

O house of Jacob [and every other house in the world],
come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Verse 5)

First Week of Advent: The Epistle Passage Year A – Waiting in hope

I am very much relieved that the verses for Advent delicately touch on the season. It seems far to early to start thinking about Advent. Yet, Thanksgiving comes at the end of this week and this Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. The first candle in the Advent wreath will be lite, and soon will come (if it has not already according to the decorations in stores) planning for the holiday.

The year seems to have rushed away, and recent events may have blurred for a moment the coming of the season; but I am determined in my own way to reassert the spirit of Advent, and in good time, Christmas.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13: 11-14)

A little starker than I would have put it, but that is the writer of Romans for you. Writing to a people who lived squarely in the midst of politics and social upheaval, trying to carve out a Christian way of living in a society that at times seemed against them. No matter; they prevailed and so shall we. Because when it comes right down to it, the power of love and compassion, caring and acceptance, forgiveness and mercy is stronger than what is antithetic to Christian principles.

The season of Advent is a season of waiting; waiting in hope but knowing (really) what is to come. It occurs to me we are also in a season of waiting, waiting to see what will happen in current politics and the upheaval that is with us. So it doubly good that the season of Advent will help us move through this time with hope and the promise that salvation is resting firmly in the hands of the Divine. Selah!

The election is over; now we start on the days to come

Throughout the day I have been logging into my Facebook page and generally checking in with everyone I connect with on social media for their reactions and responses to the surprising results of the election. I do not chose/use the word “surprise” as my own description but as it was described by others. For some it was a pleasant surprise and for some it was not. Amongst the circle of people I connect with through social media and face to face, the majority feel it was not a pleasant surprise but something they feared and continue to fear. And is so often the case, when one fears, one lashes out. And I have heard/read a lot of lashing out. But I have also read/heard voices of hope and determination to make the best of it and work towards compassion, acceptance and unity.  And that is good.

But . . . but . . . these voices of hope and determination also tell me there is great pain and fear underneath. That they have not turned to anger but love and caring is a good and positive thing. It still, however, speaks and indicates the presence of pain and fear.

I have written a time or two about fear and that God does not call us to a life of fear. Not that the Divine does not acknowledge that we fear, but that the Divine does not wish us to live in fear, but in hope and courage. And not because we fear, are afraid and act out of fear but that we banish fear and replace it with trust in God/the Divine.

This is not the first time the nation, individually or as a group, has feared for itself and others. And without being a pessimist or doomsayer, it will not be the last. We, as a nation have lived in fear and through fear. Fear may be out hope, determination and courage – but it does not always bring out the “best” of us. That is what I hope in the days, weeks and months to come we can do – bring out the best of ourselves and bring out the best in others. We can do that by not letting our fear spread and multiply; no, our fear must be set aside in favor of traits that lead to care, compassion, acceptance, understanding, and unity.

This is not “new” exhortations or encouragements. In fact, this sort of encouragement is pretty biblical. I do not have any bible verses to back this up, and these are not reflections that come from the Revised Common Lectionary. Indeed they are kind of extemporaneous in nature. But written from the heart. And these are comments not just from a national perspective, but global. While this election took place and directly impacts the United States, the U.S. is part of the global community and what happens has impact in other parts of the world. The days, weeks, and months to come will be played out against the backdrop of the global community, and the global community will also impact us.

Living in the United States but being a Canadian citizen means I did not have a part in the election process but I still live in the outcome of the election. It has been a interesting position to be in. I feel both a part of the global community and a resident of the United States – not having a voice but still being a presence. In other words, my opinion did not and does not much matter. So I have not shared much as to what I have felt inside.

What I hope has come across is hope in the Divine, and a desire to see love, compassion, caring and peace spread to all people. In the grand scheme of things, a very simple desire. It is my hope and pray that those traits are what fill our nation and the global community. And I hope and pray, beloved reader, that is your desire too. Selah!

 

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Finding comfort in the psalmist’s words

You are righteous, O Lord, and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness and in all faithfulness.” (Psalms 119:137 – 138)

It is supposed, and I am not questioning it, that the Psalms were written before the birth of Jesus. Often passages from the Psalms are said to foretell or predict what Jesus will/would do, and what he will/would mean to the Jewish people of that time – and what he means to us. That being the case, these declarations concerning God came into existence longer ago than 2000 years. And will probably withstand the test of time for the next 2000 years – if human existence lasts that long. And this gives me comfort when current events in the United States loom on the horizon.

If you reside in a country other than the United States beloved reader, these events might be more at a distance for you. And their implications not as great; but I suspect that what the people of the United States decide will still make ripples in the global pond. And that gives me comfort too.

My zeal consumes me because my foes forget your words.” (Verse 139)

This line puzzled me, so I looked at in according to the Easy to Read Version – “Something that really upsets me is the thought that my enemies ignore your commands.” Now, this sounds kind of political. And these days I have been very reluctant to dip my toe into anything political; even more so than previously. I found myself, however, pulled into politics. Or more accurately, dismayed when I discover something I previously thought non-political having political underpinnings. Of course, it may be the times we are in that has me giving political shadings to this verse. I should move on quickly.

“Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.” (Verse 140)

Yes, much better. As I said, these words come from several centuries back, and I hold tightly to me the promise and premise that God is unchanging, and that the God that Jesus the Christ points to was the same at this writing of the Psalms as he was when Jesus walked the earth, and as the Lord God is now.

“I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.” (Verse 141)

Other translations tell me “small and despised” is meant to convey the idea that the writer is young and inexperienced – not well thought of by his elders. I am not sure that is true in my case, but I too cling to God’s precepts.

“Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me, but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” (Verses 142- 144)

Throughout the history that the bible has as its backdrop, there were political situations and issues that were as unsettling then as our modern times are now. The Psalms passages comforted and sustained the people then, as they do now. It is good to remember. And it makes me feel tied and connected to my spiritual forebearers that they looked to the Psalms for comfort and strength. I would encourage and exhort you beloved reader to look to them also. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Lamenting and mourning for all losses

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalms 137:1)

When I read the Lamentations passage of yesterday, I was reminded of this psalm, and here it is! I have to wonder if the writer of Lamentations and the psalmist were of the same time and place. It does seem in its histories Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem have similar sorrows and woes.

“On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Verses 2 – 4)

But the would appear (and sounds like) the psalmist is with the captives as opposed to one of those left behind or mourning what was left behind.

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Gone from but not forgotten.

Sometimes I think back to my previous live, when I was a child and living in Ontario, Canada. Not that I have regrets or sorrow about my life now. But I think back to the town I grew up in and the way of life there. And I wonder – what is going on back there. How are the friends and family I still have there. What has changed. It is not with sorrow, but with reminiscence. Curiosity, and not anger. But the writer of this psalm is angry. And vengeful.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!” (Verses 7 – 8)

Hatred begets hatred. It is a lesson each generation and each nation must learn. Or they are destined to repeat the actions and mistakes that went before. What seeds does a conquering and destroying nation plant when they ripe asunder those weaker and vulnerable then them. How often has history seen the fruit of hatred and war spring up where it has been sown by a stronger nation. In each continent it has happened. And invariably it is the weak and defenseless that suffer. Let it be a grime epitaph when one nations says of another . . .

Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.” (Verse 9)

And it is a curse upon each nation that it happens to. For anger and vengeance shall rise up in defense only to become the offense and oppression, and death, that is visited on each successive nation and generation. Yes, beloved reader, let us mourn!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – When things fall apart in old Jerusalem town

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.” (Lamentations 1:1)

When the United States was still growing and expanding, towns and cities would rise up as commerce and businesses were established. Where jobs and trade were, people would flock to. But when the reason for the growth faded away, so did the people. Jerusalem, according to the writer of Lamentations grew and expanded under the kings of the Old Testament. But when the surrounding nations invaded and made of with people and treasures, the city became barren and deserted. But like the “ghost towns” of the United States, a remnant was left behind. A remnant that held firm in the city and thrived against terrific odds and under terrible conditions. But for the writer of Lamentations, the glory was gone.

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.” (Verse 2)

What was it like, I wonder, to have the city emptied out, and the infrastructure collapse? I am sure there are stories and books about the ghost towns in our nation. And stories and books about similar events in other nations. It seems to me it would be the people who had the resources and means who “escaped” and those left behind had no way of leaving. Or, in the instance of Jerusalem when peopled and property were taken away, those who were left were the poor and marginal.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Was the writer of Lamentations one of those left behind? Or is the writer one who was taken and imagines what it must be like in the city of Jerusalem? I think the latter, because the despair in these verses seems magnified and mournful as if the writer is longing for what had been instead of describing what now is.

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.
From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.” (Verses 5 – 6)

One could have guessed that the writer of Lamentations suggests it was the Divine who allowed this to happen. And it was the rulers and elders who failed to follow God, and so all of Jerusalem suffers! Alas!

But truth be told, beloved reader, it was not 100% of Jerusalem that fell away from God, anymore than it was 100% of Jerusalem that was taken away. So often it is those who are held in high profile whose actions are personified and magnified as the majority or the whole. What you must decide for yourself is whether you are one of the token group; or whether you are the stalwart minority who continue on when all around you is falling apart. Interesting to consider.