Trinity Sunday: The Psalm Passage – Knowing & Naming the Divine

Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Seeker: Who is this Sovereign Lord? What shall we call this Divine Majesty? By what name shall we know and worship this Deity?
Preacher: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

Seeker: The young and innocent know the Lord’s name, but we who have maturity and wisdom falter when trying to discern the mystery of the Divine.
Preacher: “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?”
Seeker:
Yes, does this nameless Lord care about humanity? Is there no aspect of this Deity that has regard for we who dwell in this broken world?
Preacher: “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.”
Seeker:
The Lord God knows us, then, and sees us. We are held tenderly in the Divine’s regard. But what shall we call this Majesty who undertakes for us? How shall we know this Lord in our daily lives?
Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

Yes, you are right beloved reader, if you think that Seeker’s question was not answered. And that Preacher did not give a description of the Lord God, and the full scope of the name of the Lord. How can one describe the full and complete nature of the Divine? The truth is . . . . even giving the Divine three names does not describe all there is. How can you sum up everything from creation until this present day? What words or group of words can describe the Divine movement that is behind it all? Or, even sufficiently prove that there is a Divine movement – if we are being painfully honest?

We (meaning those who believe as I do) say that the Lord is a Triune God because we believe in the three large movements of the Lord God; Creator, Redeemer, and Presence with us. Under those three very broad categories lies, literally, a whole world of meaning.

May you, beloved reader, be blessed by the Triune God and come to know the Divine in fullness. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Gospel Passage Being sent by the Three-in-One

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16 – 17)

There are two things in these two verses I have to wonder about. First, what does the writer of Matthew mean by “worship”? In our modern context when we worship God or the Lord or Jesus or the Divine, it usually without them present – except for the Presence of the Spirit and the both imminent and transcendent. What clues I can gather from commentators and the Greek-English interlinear is that they fell down at his feet. The second thing I have to wonder is what did they doubt? Again the bible commentators suggest it was like the apostle Thomas felt, to stunned to know what to think.

But the writer of the gospel of Matthew does not ponder on those things as I do. He continues on to get to his point.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Verses 18 – 20)

Sometimes these verses are referred to as the Great Commission. And trust me, beloved reader, they have been pondered and considered by many generations many times. Doing mission work and evangelizing has taken up a great many lives of believers, and a great deal of money, time and energy has gone into it. But the RCL I suspect uses these verses for this Sunday because of the sending of the disciples in done in the “name of the Father [Parent] and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is a mission on behalf of the Triune God. And the further implication is that the disciples/apostles will teach the theology of a Triune God.

I sometimes feel a little awkward and shy about strongly putting forth the theology of a Triune God. Not because I have problems believing it myself – no, I believe in it very strongly. I hesitate because I am not sure if it is a strong belief for those I am talking to. It seems so obvious and basic to me . . . . but I am not sure how it is for other people.

Since Trinity Sunday only comes once a church year, and other times of the year the concept and theology of a Triune God is not as heavily presented, this awkwardness and hesitancy is not often an issue in writing this blog. The Divine is . . . . . what the Divine is. And what we know in part now, we will know in the fullness to come. Until then, I will state my belief clearly but gently. Shalom!

Trinity Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Paul talks about the Trinity

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” (II Corinthians 13:11-12)

Being that this was Paul’s second and last letter to the Corinthians, I am sure it was a final farewell. I do not think Paul got back to see them before his final missionary journey, nor before the time he was put to death. But the Revised Common Lectionary does not include this passage because of his final farewell. It was for another reason, the following verse.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (Verse 13)

The attributes listed for Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit are not the only attributes the Triune Divine has, nor are the exclusive to each aspect of the Divine. What is important here is that Paul separates out the Divine to three aspects. I do not know if this was the first time ever a Triune God was presented in the Epistles; I do not think it was the first time in scripture. Old Testament passages contain traces of a authoritative God or a creative God, as we read about yesterday. There was scripture and prophetic scripture about the Messiah. And scripture about the Presence of God. So, beloved reader, a Triune Divine is not a new concept but well steeped in history and scripture. It just takes writers who have a firm but multi-functional sense of the Divine to write about it. Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – The Meaning of the Day

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.” (Acts 2:1- 4)

I want you to note, beloved reader, there are two aspects of the Spirit happening here – first that each of the disciples receives the Spirit of the Lord, and that they started to talk in different languages. As Paul asserts in his epistles, speaking of tongues is not a test of whether or not you have the Spirit of the Lord. And most times such speaking is for a specific purpose and not just as a “merit badge” for the Spirit of the Lord.

“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.” (Verses 5 – 11)

Two things I take from these verses; first that Jews from all over the known world were gathered in Jerusalem. This was probably one of the only handful of times that so many devout Jews would be in one concentrated area. This was a jump start to making disciples all over the known world. What better way to get their attention then to have local people suddenly start speaking in the native tongue of these Jews. Second, the sound of this must have been more deafening than we could imagine for it to have spilled out into the streets and draw the attention of a large crowd. I am not quite sure what the audio dynamics of that would have been. In any case . . .

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Verses 12 – 13)

When the Spirit of the Lord comes and intervenes in usual life, there will invariably be those who seek and find reasons to explain it away. And as humanity becomes more aware of the natural world and the ways science can explain it, the easier it is to find a non-Spiritual reason and rationale for such events. Maybe that is way miracles seem to happen less often; I don’t think miracles happen any less. What I do think is that we find ways to understand the underpinnings of the events; or, we are more accepting of Divine intervention and events that we do not observe astonished and aghast. I would like to think that we are more accepting and accommodating of the Spirit of the Lord intervening in our lives. That we accept that daily walks with the Lord will be accompanied by the Lord acting in our lives.

“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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Verses 14 – 18)

A lot has been made about the phrase “in the last days” and a lot of assumptions have been been made about the “last days” before or of what. In fact, it seems pretty opinion interpretation. Each person who tries to explain or interpret it, does it within his/her own time period which might negate the explanation of the person before them. Let me parse that out for you, giving you some hypothetical explains.

The prophet Joel might have meant when the Lord restores the fortunes of the people of Israel. (Joel 2:28) Peter might have meant the last days or the days just following the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth; he might have meant the last days before the Christ returns. More modern commentators might have meant when the Spirit of the Lord has dominion over the earth and the peace of the Lord is known, but not necessarily the return of the Lord. Some more “fiery” ones might mean the last days before the Day of Judgment.You see, each person interprets it to be compatible to the time they are living in. So when you, beloved reader, hear of prophesies that spell out when the last days are to come, remember each previous person who made such a prediction was incorrect.

“And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.” (Verses 19 – 20)

I wrote, beloved reader, my cautionary before we came to to more calamitous verses so that you would not take them as signs to be on the look out for. In Peter’s time such things would have had not explanation. They were mysterious and frightening. We, with our science and understanding, know what events these are and realize it is most probably nature and not the return of the Divine.

“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “ (Verse 21)

THIS is the important part of Peter’s message – that when in the midst of problems or situations that seem terrifying or “end of days”-ish, call on the Lord! Whether it is one of a string of problems or the first of its kind – call on the Lord! The overwhelming message and meaning of Pentecost is that the Spirit of the Lord dwells with us and in us, in ways that are mystifying and wondrous. That in times of trouble, when it seems like nothing is natural or understandable; or in times of calm, when our days spread out before us – call on the Lord to be with you. And that the Lord God will do many things to get our attention, specific to ourselves and our life situations.

The celebration of the Day of Pentecost comes but once a year; the Lord, however, is with us all ways. Look for the Divine tongues of the Lord’s fire in your life. Heed them! Call upon the Lord and let the Divine rest upon your life. 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!

 

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!