Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus gives some final instructions

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14: 1 – 4)

Jesus leaves himself wide open in a couple of places here. I imagine here, at the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus was feeling pang of leaving his disciples. They in turn were becoming more fearful concerning Jesus’ talking about what would come next.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (Verses 5 – 7)

It reminds me a bit of a parent trying to explain to a child (of any age) why they will be apart for a time, and what to expect. Oh the patience Jesus must have had with his disciples as they struggle to understand.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Verses 8 – 9)

Even Christians/believers of great maturity and understanding falter at incorporating into their faith that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. Distinct and for the time that Jesus was on earth, two separate Entities/Deities, yet one and the same.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is hard for us, beloved reader, who have only known our Lord God and Jesus “from a distance.” But then, maybe for the disciples it was even more confusing because they knew Jesus as flesh, as they were flesh. They knew because they had lived with Jesus in the flesh for three years (according to some of the gospels). Eating and sleeping, and all that is part of being human flesh. How, they must have thought, can Jesus be otherwise? And if so, what does this say about the God that Jesus called Father/Parent?

But they saw what Jesus had done, and it could not be denied that Jesus had done more than any other human could have done – more miracles and more compassion. If they could not understand theologically what Jesus meant, at least they could see for themselves that Jesus was something other than just merely human.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Verse 12)

And then, Jesus surprises them again. I have several times puzzled at these words – how can humans do more than Jesus? Maybe it is just rhetoric, something to make the disciples feel better. Or some reason that the writer of the gospel of John had. But I checked in with my “friend” Albert Barnes. He explained it this way – it is not that the disciples (or us for that matter) will do something more miraculous than Jesus. But what the disciples will do (did) is going to have a more far-reaching impact that what Jesus did, considering that Jesus was local; and those who are called, believe in, and act according to Jesus and the Lord God will (and have) spread the word further than when Jesus was alive. But it was not done on the strength of the human abilities of the disciples.

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Now, it was not that the disciple (or us) can ask for ANYTHING but those things that align with the guidance and directive of the Divine. And brings glory to the Divine. This rests on the notion of “smart sheep” that I put forth last week.

It is good that the Revised Common Lectionary places these verses after Jesus’ death and resurrection – although it comes in the story before Jesus’ crucifixion. So much is better understood after Jesus was/is revealed as the Risen Lord. The disciples understood better what Jesus meant after it was revealed to them that Jesus was Divine; of course, they had the Holy Spirit given to them to help this understanding. But, beloved reader, we have the Holy Spirit too!

May you, beloved reader, understand what Jesus has to say to you. And may you act upon so that glory is brought to the Divine. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – The First (but certainly not the last) Converts

The lectionary passage starts again with verse 14a from Acts chapter two, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them”. Peter, in fact, addressed them for some time.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (Verses 36 – 41)

I read something interesting the other day – someone was commenting about the dramatic change in the disciples/apostles after they had received the Holy Spirit. It is true that accepting Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can dramatically change a person. Sometimes this change is very immediate, and sometimes it happens over time but is no less dramatic. Do not think, beloved reader, if there was no drama in your conversion that it was not real and authentic.

I had a seminary professor who once said that for most people it is a dramatic and “turning the corner” or “turnaround experience”. It is as if there was life before . . . . and life afterwards – distinct change. I did not find it that way. Maybe some day I will share that story. But for now we are with Peter in Jerusalem and witnessing the first conversion of people after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three thousand is a pretty impressive number. But Peter and the apostles were pretty impressive people!

As the days, and Sundays, after Easter unfold may you carry with you the wonderful changes that the Holy Spirit has made in your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – A Seeker speaks to the Psalmist

Psalmist: “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

Seeker C: I trust in God with all my heart and soul, all of my body and spirit. But the way is hard, and long, and I grow weary.
Psalmist: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

Seeker C: I feel the Lord’s presence during the day, and sleep under the wing of the Lord’s protection at night. But I see danger all around me, I feel illness creeping closer, and I hear on the wind the sounds of hatred, aggression and war.
Psalmist: “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.” (Psalm 91:1-6)

Seeker C: Is that to be a command or a comfort?! Your world is not my world! Your reality is not my reality. I know your words are meant to comfort me and assure me of the Lord’s presence in the world and in my life. And I want to believe that; but when I am ill and weak and my breath is taken from me as the gales of the storm whip through the strong trees, I tremble and am afraid!

Psalmist: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.”
Seeker C: What does “deliverance” mean? That I will not suffer? That the things of this world will not burden me or consume me? For that is not true. But my soul and spirit rest in the Lord, and the person that I am, who the Lord created, will not be deterred or stopped by the evil and illness that is in this world.
Psalmist: “When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.”

Seeker C: Psalmist, you have optimist view of the world. Surely tragedy has touched your life, and misfortune has torn asunder what you hoped for yourself and the ones close to you. Yet your faith in the Lord is unshaken. However, it is not your words that give me hope, but the Lord who you have put your hope in that sustains me. Speak the words that the Lord has given you, and I will seek out that Lord in my life.
Psalmist: “With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” ( Verses 14-16)

I don’t know about you, beloved reader, but sometimes I just want to engage scripture in conversation and speak directly to the person or persons who first put the words on a page, or spoke them into the oral tradition. And just because they are not with me in person does not mean I cannot speak to them out of my time. When we dialogue with scripture, we can speak to the Spirit who inspired them to write and/or speak. I encourage you, beloved reader, to dialogue with scripture and speak to the Spirit who those writers/speakers drew on. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seeker (when I step into Preacher’s voice)

Seeker: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might, and come to save us!” (Psalms 80:1-2)

Preacher: Lord God, You have placed yourself as the leader of all peoples. Who ever they are, where ever they are, and when ever they are. You are in your holy place, where no mortal has been and has lived in this world to tell about it. But, Lord God, your people need you! Help!

Seeker: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.

Preacher: Lord, many years ago and in a place far away – so far away that its existence is shroud from modern eyes, You brought your chosen people out of Egypt; several times you rescued them from exile and imprisonment, and established them strongly in the land. And over the generations your people, who grow from one called nation to many diverse nations, have rescued themselves and established themselves in new lands – each time claiming the God they worshiped brought them to the new place and established them. Or, lead them to re-establish a claim they felt they had before. All over the globe, Lord God, you people have “established” themselves, sometimes pushing out those who were there before. Lord God, we have to wonder, how could so many “establish” themselves in violent ways and claim the God of Peace ordained it? Perhaps that is why your people are now such a broken people. And we ask,

Seeker: “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.”

Preacher: O Lord God, it is such a mess. And we ask, who has made it such a mess? The psalmist says it was you, Lord God. But now, so many generations down the road, we have to admit humanity has also broken down the peace and good will between the people who should be united under your name.

Seeker: “Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.
They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.”

Preacher: “They”, Lord. It is so often them, those people, that have ruined it. But Lord, in truth, it is us! We have done this to ourselves, and to each other. We have burned each other with fire! We have cut down others! Oh Lord, all the ways we have cut each other down! We have perished! Have you rebuked us Lord? Is all the devastation your rebuke? I do not think so, Lord God! I think, and I believe you have wept at we have down. What we have done as we claimed to be doing it in your Holy Name!

Seeker: “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.”

Preacher: Your favor, O Lord! On the person or people who You have designated for a certain task. We look around us; we look within us. Who is the favored of the Lord? Who is at the Divine’s right hand? Many claim that favored spot, and of those many deserve it. But some do not. Lord, if there is a person who sees clearly what needs to be done, and has been prepared for that task, let Your Strength and Spirit be upon the ones chosen.

Seeker:Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.”

Preacher: O Lord God! If there was such a person, or such a people that lead forth, we would follow them! Give us direction and guidance; give us hope and peace; and clutching that to our soul and spirit, we would go forth calling Your Name!

Seeker: Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Verses 8-19)

Preacher: Amen!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – The psalmist speaks for me

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted. ” (Psalms 77:1-2)

Two times past, when I have come to the psalms passage, I have revealed to you my thoughts and approaches to the psalms. Do you remember? When I am in a prickly, bad mood – the psalms do not reach me. My anger and discount forms a wall that will not be breached. I need to cool down and de-stress before the words of the psalmist can reach me. When I am musing and soulful, letting my thoughts and emotions wander – I can sit with the psalms and let the psalmist thoughts inspire my own. Then days like to today, when I am anxious and not doing well physically and emotionally – the psalms become my words and I have nothing more to say or add.

I cry out, because I hurt and am in pain. I do not have the words to speak, nor the breath to speak them. So I silently call on the Lord and beg for intercession. These first two verses of this psalm say for me what I would say if I could.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.” (Verses 11 – 12)

The psalmist has more to say, more words than I want to or can use. And the RCL cites them, going on verse after verse. And I am pulled along, and find myself thinking on these things. I remember in times past, when I have called upon the Lord to help me, the Divine has been there to support and under gird me. My help and strength comes from the Lord; my support and sustenance comes from the hand of God.

“Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah” (Verses 13 – 15)

In my praise of God, the words of the psalmist flow over me, and I echo them in my heart and soul.

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Verses 16 – 20)

This is the gift and the blessing of the psalms. Speaking for use when our own words fail us. Reminding us of the Lord’s strength and might when ours is small and helpless against our circumstances. May you too, beloved reader, allow the words of the psalmist speak for you if and when your circumstances leave you without word, breath, or might. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Psalms Passage – An Ode to God, and Humanity

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalms 8)

The final aspect of the Triune Divine is God Parent and Creator. Many believe, and their theology reflects it, that God is a singular aspect or Deity, and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are subsidiaries or lessor motifs or deities of the God-self. Anabaptist theology incorporates the theory of a triune God, which means that Christ and the Holy Spirit are joined in God yet distinct in their purpose. It is admittedly confusing, for to which Holy Aspect do you pray to and look towards. On the other hand, a triune theology provides the believer with an unlimited array of God-selves for their faith life. There is no aspect of life or living that God in one aspect or another can be a part of.

But Psalm 8 brings in a new strain and thinking. While God (meaning Parent & Creator) is praised and adored, humanity also is raised up in estimation to the level of being very close, just one step, below being divine (small “d”). But it reminds me, beloved reader, that humanity is made in the image of God. Whether that means in limbs and body, or in intellect or thought, I am not sure. And in no way intend to establish. But if humans are just below divine and immortal beings in the hierarchy of things, if not for our sinful nature who knows what we might be worthy of.

It makes me all the sadder to see what we are capable of when we do listen to our sinful natures. We who have been given the knowledge of good and evil choose evil over God. And thereby confirm that we are lessor, even it is only slightly lessor. That “slightly” is enough to keep us outside of the Trinity, and mandates that is it a Trinity and not a Quartet.

How I wish humanity as a whole could step forward and take its place beside the God-self (all that is within the God-self), worthy of being made in the image of God instead of being needful of confession, penance, and forgiveness – needful God’s grace and mercy. God’s mercy comes to us through Christ; and God’s grace comes to us through the Holy Spirit (although having a triune God means all that is God comes through all the Aspects of God). But this is important – although we are made in the image of God and capable of so much, we need God and all that is God to achieve our greatest potential. This is the offering, gift, and blessing that comes from God, to be all that we were created for. May you beloved reader reach the greatest and fullest potential that you are capable of through all that God represents to you. Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The substituted Old Testament Passage – Speaking the language of faith and belief

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

Where two or three, or more, are gathered wondrous things can happen!

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

When I was growing up, and growing up in faith, speaking in tongues was not something that usually happened to a person. It was seen as a “special” sort of gift, and one that was commended by others. It was a sign of devotion and strong, deep faith in God. It was in a word, cool! If you did not have that gift, that was okay because it was a rare gift and blessing from God. If you did have it though . . . wow! . . . . cool!

Now, I am not so sure it gives a person a “leg up on faith” or any particular enlightenment of faith that is not available to others. And especially when I are reading now this passage, it was done for a purpose set in motion by the Spirit and not because of any particular attribute or accolade for the disciples.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

What did it mean? It meant that at this opportune time the Spirit used the disciples to jump start the ministry they were called to. It also jump started doubt and disbelief in the purposed and tenets of Christianity because . . .

But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter, the disciple who was most likely to trip and make a misstep in his faith was suddenly imbued with leadership, ability, and the calling of preaching.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:1-17)

I am not sure what the “last days” part means, but it seems to us who follow in this faith that it was the beginning or first days of the spreading of Christianity. The Spirit uses us and whatever circumstances that seems best to spread faith. If we let ourselves be used, and allow the Spirit to make good use of the talents that we have and are given, then the spreading of faith will continue on from generation to generation. The celebration and remembrance of Pentecost is not just about what happened back then, but the hope, promise, and foretaste of what might yet come. The prophesying, seeing of visions and dreaming dreams is not done . . . far from being over! But it is up to us to be open to it, to gather together in faith, and to carry out the plans that the Spirit sets before us. May you beloved reader keep yourself open to the Spirit and to speak what the Spirit gives you to speak. Selah!