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!

Day of Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – “Children” are “messy”

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)

“[T]hat very Spirit” – that is the Spirit that came down at Pentecost. How quickly it used in scripture! The writer of Romans came to faith soon after the death and resurrection of Christ. How quickly the Spirit became a part of the Christian confession of faith. It was not by human means that this happened, although the writer of Romans adding it into his letter probably helped in spread across the known world at that time. And it spread to us, beloved reader. It is part of our confession of faith. How good is it also that this year’s lectionary theme if confession, penance, and forgiveness. And how well that suits this passage for today! Everything tied up so tidily!

But faith is not tidy, beloved reader. It is messy; we slip and slide in our beliefs, using them at times to divide us instead of uniting us. Messy because Christians have been hounded and persecuted for their faith. Messy because we walk away from our faith, or consign it to only a small portion of our lives instead of letting rule everything. And messy too because the Spirit convicts us of our sins, and pleads with us to return to faith.

The Spirit came down at Pentecost, not to tidy up the loose ends but to start and establish a faith that can all things, endure all things, accomplish all things, and forgive all things. And let us not forget that there was faith before the coming of Jesus, the Christ, resurrection, and Pentecost. So perhaps I misspoke when I said “start and establish”; more accurately it was to jump start and spread faith. Lead it, and the believers, into new and renewed faith. Remind us of what had been and what can come – for good and for bad.

May this Pentecost season see your faith confirmed and encouraged to grow! Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – If Jesus leaves, the Spirit will come

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’? 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.” (John 14:8 – 11)

Growing up a vital part of my faith was the concept of a Triune God – Jesus, the Lord, and the Holy Spirit individual yet as one. It is something I never questioned, and do not question now. I never had to have the proof of it given to me; it was part of my bone and marrow of faith. However, as vital as this is, it is not the focus of the portion of scripture today.

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. 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 12 – 14)

Also a strong part of my faith is that Jesus did not mean “anything” without any limits. Jesus/God is not going to give you the wealth of another person – just as an example. Of course the caveat and protection is asking it in Jesus’ name. Jesus will not be taken advantage, and Jesus’ name protects itself from greed and sin. However, neither is this the focus of the portion of scripture today.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Verses 15 – 17)

This is the focus of today, and for this week – the coming of the Spirit. As I said my faith tells me that God the Creator and sender of Jesus, Jesus Christ who was and is the living example for us, and the Holy Spirit who holds and contains all the counsel that is from God and Jesus Christ – are part of the same Divine. In fact, if I would give the term “the Divine” a definition it would be the Triune God, encompassing all the faiths that hold God as its center. God came to the Hebrews as the “breath” that is God; Jesus came to the Jews as the Son of God; and the Spirit came to the world after Jesus returned to Heaven. Never, NEVER, was the world without God. If we can see and understand, we can know God in our world and in our hearts. Each Day of Pentecost we celebrate that God’s presence has always been in the world, and God in ever increasing ways binds the world to the God-self. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – To walk not by sight but by faith

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16:9-10)

It would be easy to say that such vision and then taking immediate action do not happen in our modern times – but they do. I can remember several times in my life when I have felt called to do something, say something etc – and immediately did so. In recent months I have been trying even more so to cultivate the attitude of walking by faith and not by sight – that is, to trust God and move forward.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.” (Verses 11 – 12)

From the narrator of Acts you can get the sense that while it was a hurried decision, the process was quite lengthy. So it was not so much a matter of jumping and being there immediately, but deciding to do something and then make plans accordingly. God calls us to follow the Spirit, not foolish impulses.

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Verses 13 – 15)

And when you do decide and follow through on a plan given by God, God will see to all the “accommodations” along the way. That is the sort of thing I am trying to cultivate in my own life; discern what God is telling me, and then to do that thing and trust the details to God. I well let you know how that turns out, beloved reader. Shalom!

Baptism of the Lord: Epistles Passage – We start to look at this year’s lectionary theme

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

At Jesus’ baptism John the Baptist said that he could only baptize with water, but that the Messiah who would come would baptize with the Spirit. It is this Spiritual baptism that Peter and John were sent to Samaria to accomplish. Sometimes a basic baptism – water baptism – is not enough. The human spirit and soul need more; it needs the baptism of the Spirit.

I do not want you to think, beloved reader, that this baptism of the Spirit only happens in one way. Sometimes it takes the prayers of another, for others they pray for it themselves. It can happen instantaneously or over time. Most times, I think, the effect of the Spirit increases over time. Or thought of in another way, the Holy Spirit of God increases in influence and effect. But it can also decrease in influence and effect; that is, our human will can be at odds with the effect of the Spirit, and because we are human we cannot “stay the course” in living a Christian life. It is not that the influence of the Holy Spirit is weak (no, not by any means) but that our imperfections are at odds with the Perfection that is Spirit.

Now you might say, why doesn’t the Holy Spirit simply override that? Well, we as humans are given free will, the freedom to reject that which is the best for us. You can see with it being so complicated and nuanced that it might take the prayers of another to have the Holy Spirit bestowed and come to rest. And that it is not just “prayers” but teachings as well that bring the Holy Spirit and help the human spirit learn how to decrease so that the Holy Spirit might increase.

These are important issues to have before us as we consider this year’s lectionary theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness. I have wanted to do some study on what penance is, what it means. It is not merely, or only, making amends for sin but wanting and desiring to repent and then mend the places in one’s life where sin has been. It is being contrite, sorry and humbled, by one’s actions. While these can, and often are, facilitated by ministers/priest etc, it is also the action of the Holy Spirit that brings a person to confess, be contrite, and mend the “torn” places in one’s life. Upon this action, forgiveness is given by God’s Holy Spirit. We may be very early in the lectionary year to consider such things, so I will leave it at that.

May God’s Holy Spirit rest on and in you. And may this New Year be a time of seeking the Holy Spirit and allowing it into and further into your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Since Christ our High Priest . . . let us (The Epistle Passage)

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:11)

In case you had forgotten, beloved reader, I wanted to remind you that the writer of Hebrews is writing to the Jews Christians to explain to them the Christian faith, as the writer of Hebrews understands it; and how it interrelates to the Jewish faith. This part of the reason that the writer of Hebrews (often attributed to Paul) makes use of the “high priest” motif.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Verses 12-14)

The Revised Common Lectionary citation does not make use of verses 15 to 18 which outlines God’s intention, through the Holy Spirit, for how the Lord’s followers would be reminded of the covenant with God. It is a small break from the “high priest” motif, and perhaps that is why it is not included. Or maybe the architects of the RCL wanted to keep the passage shorter and felt these verses could be set aside for brevity sake.

(“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”)

It is significant though in light of the theme for this lectionary year, renewal and recommitment because the actions of the Holy Spirit are a call and a reminder of God’s intentions.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Verses 19 to 25)

I want to highlight what Paul is saying, in light of this year’s theme. Let us approach the Divine with confidence and surety that we are saved and valued. Let us remember our confession of faith, the way we first believed in the newness of faith. Our beliefs and understandings may have matured, and we may be believers with a wider and deeper faith; but our promise and commitment to God should not change. And let us encourage one another to life an authentic and accountable Christian life.

These are good things to remember. It is good for you, and it is good for me too . . . as I consider new plans and ventures in the coming year. I was reminded just today (the day I wrote this) of what it means to follow God’s plan for one’s life as we understand it. I asked God to send me a sign or a nudge as to what God would have me do and what my plans for the coming year should be. Instead God sent me a kick in the rear and a wake up call to take seriously planning and to start thinking through now what needs to be done in the future. I was also sent a reminder of how far I have journeyed in the last seven years; and throughout that journey I have trusted in God, and that trust has not failed me. But I was also reminded that I might not know or see what may come. And furthermore, I was reminded that what is in the past can come around to the present, and that I have to trust that to God also. It was, beloved reader, a day of many reminders and revelations. I know I need to sit with them, and then let God lead. I suspect, and hope, that scriptures in the coming days will help me with that.

May our Lord God with you; remember that while Christ has made the single sacrifice that is needed in your life, it continues to inform your life and ever change into the person God desires and has destined you to be. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Blessing, praising and being strong in the Lord. (The Psalms Passage)

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalms 34:1)

That’s a tough one today, the day I am writing this. I do not feel well and on those days it is hard to find anything a blessing. But that puts me in good company with Job, whose story we just finished yesterday. And, I remember, Job was not initially able to praise or bless anything when he was in the grips of his suffering.

I am surrounded by family and friends who support me. That is a blessing. And I do know I can call on the Lord in the midst of my suffering, and I know I will be heard. That is a blessing too.

“My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” (Verses 3 & 4)

It is in the midst of our suffering that we can know the sweetest joy and relief in the Lord. And I know that if I can set aside the messages my body is sending me, my spirit can connect with the Lord’s Spirit and I can feel the joy and relief spread through me which makes the discomfort and pain bearable.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.” (Verses 5 & 6)

Can you believe this with me, beloved reader? That in the midst of pain and suffering you can find relief in the Lord? It is hard, I know. It took time and years of experience to be able to do this spiritual discipline. It also takes faith and belief in something that can be beyond our understanding and sight.

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” (Verses 7 & 8)

There are many saints and Christian “heroes” who struggled to have this type of faith and belief. So if you desire this, but struggle with it you are in good company.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” (Verses 19-22)

The Lord may not prevent or stop trouble, discomfort, pain and suffering. And it is hard to understand why the Lord does not. But we do not have to endure it alone. The psalmist says the Lord “keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.” And if we anticipate this in a literal sense, we may be disappointed. But with the Lord’s presence the important parts of our being, our spirit and soul, will not be broken. Indeed, they will be become stronger from the endurance and blessing of the Lord.

My health deteriorates as each months and years pass. But my spirit and soul has become stronger. May your spirit and soul be strengthened through the Lord as you go through all that is in your life, beloved reader. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Responding to the Call of Love (The Old Testament Passage)

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.”

(Song of Solomon 2:8-9)

It is said, by whom originally I do not know, that marriage is the template for our relationship with God; that is, knowing the Other completely and intimately such that the two are like one. That does not in my opinion, beloved reader, give much credence and support to marriage being for/between male and female only. But it is not my purpose here to pick up that argument.

My purpose for telling you that is to give support to the Song of Solomon being read and accepted as a love poem between Lover and Beloved, and assorted “Friends.” It is the source too of my using “beloved” as a greeting and salutation when I write. There is in the Song of Solomon the one who is be-loved and the one who loves. Gender, while implied in some places, is not firm. (Hmm, maybe I am picking up that “argument” anyway.)

That God loves is without and beyond question. So too is the fact that we are be-loved. But we also love God, and God is be-loved by us. And if the most convenient format and template to talk about that love is as between two human lovers, then let us not rush to place some “biblical commentary” grid or understanding on it.

God and God’s Spirit calls to all of us in and with love. Would we but hear that call and heed it, forming and conforming our lives to it; and then extending that love to others.

“My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

(Verses 10-13)

Come to God, beloved reader! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Knowing one’s self; and knowing God (The Epistle Passage)

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:2-10)

I am grateful to the commentators that I looked at were clear and unequivocal that the writer of II Corinthians were referring to himself (Paul, that crafty fellow) in the opening verses of this passage. And I would take to task for that, but later in the passage he humbles himself and admits that there was an affliction that he asked God to heal him from, but the Divine refused saying the Lord’s grace was sufficient for Paul to persevere despite his weakness and affliction.

You may remember, beloved reader, that back on June 27th I talked about healing, and that I had come to terms with not being healed. It would seem that Paul came to that same place. Yes, it is true; Paul and I may be a lot alike.

Do I consider my affliction to be a thorn? No. I do not think it was given to me to make me humble. And if that was the purpose, then quite honestly it has not worked. What it has done is given me insight into the medical world, and given me a point of connection with those who suffer physically even if I do not talk about my illness – which a very seldom do.

But I do not think weakness and lack of healing are the only issues in this passage. As my title suggests, Paul also knows himself well. May be his affliction did keep him humble; or at least kept him connected to physical realities. And perhaps tended to gentle his temperament towards weaknesses in others. The Spirit knows what needs to be done in order for us to reach our full potential for ministry, or more accurately the ministry that God calls each of us to.

Consider that Paul knew himself well enough to know what his affliction affected him as a person. And he knew God well enough to ask for healing AND accept the answer. These two facts should not be passed over lightly. Furthermore, perhaps because of enduring this affliction and relying on God’s grace Paul was able to endure other things for the sake of Christ and the good news that Paul spread. So Paul is right to boast not in what he can do, but what God can do through him despite and because of who Paul is.

May we, you and I beloved reader, boast not of ourselves but God within us and God working through us for the Lord’s purpose. Selah!