Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – The psalmist takes up a cause

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” (Psalms 14:1)

Psalms of lament, or venting?

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting to me that the psalmist does not count himself among those he/the Lord sees. Does this mean not even the psalmist does good, or the Lord does not see it as good, or . . . the psalmist has, on the Lord’s behalf, taken some poetic license?

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?
There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Ah, poetic license it is. I should have known. I have to remind myself often, beloved reader, that psalmist is at a heart a poet and metes out theology and faith as a poet would and necessarily as a seminarian or theologian would. And if the Lord is looking out over the Lord, the Lord is seeing past where the chosen and called people are and looking out over the wider world.

You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” (Verses 6 – 7)

And in this instance the called and chosen people are the poor and the righteous. It is against them that wickedness has been used and applied. But the Lord will rescue and heal the called and chosen people.

It is indeed a psalm of lament, and venting. It is good that these psalms exist. And it is good that people who are pressed and oppressed use them to renew their hope and courage, and reaffirm their faith in a Lord who has not deserted them but will seek and reek vengeance on their behalf.

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seek speak out

Preacher: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Seeker: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”

Preacher: We are spread throughout the globe, beloved listeners. On every continent there are people of good hearts and of strong faith who mourn what has befallen their brothers and sisters. We pray to our Lord that those are hurt, in pain, and whose lives have been devastated might be gathered up in the Lord’s comfort and grace.

Seeker: “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.”

Preacher: But it is not just the task of the Lord’s, beloved listener, to gather up those who are hurt and broken. It is our task to! We are the hands and feet of the Lord. We carry within us the capacity to show similar love and carrying as the Lord does. No, we cannot heal as the Lord does, and sadly we cannot love with the same consistent and eternal love as the Lord does, but we can bring that love to those we meet.
Seeker: “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:1-9)

Preacher: What more can I say to you, beloved listener? What can I say that will move your heart? That will move your spirit and soul? How much longer must I and those who speak and believe as I do preach to you – until love covers the world? As long as one act of violence, one instance of hatred is carried out, our mission will not be over. We must preach and exhort love until it rules and guides each heart!

Seeker: Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” (Verse 43) Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Gospel Passage – The Story of the Prodigal Son

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable . . . “Luke 15:1-3

Actually, before the story of the Prodigal Son Jesus told two other parables as preambles, I assume, to this story.

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.” (Verses 11-13)

I want to stop and consider if this would be considered a norm in Jesus’ time. Would a young man abandon his family and home? Would a father divide the family legacy prematurely and let a relatively young man carry it off with him? We have heard this story of the prodigal son often, but I am not sure I ever stopped to think about whether it would really happen. Some bible commentators believe that Jesus used stories of the time to illustrate his points rather than creating a story that has no basis in actuality.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Desperation. It can do a lot of things to you, and reveal a lot about a person. How far would one go? What would one do if desperate enough? And to bring my reflection around to the point I want to make – how far would you run away to distance yourself from sin? What would you do to avoid having to confess? Questions worthy of deep consideration. Think about them before you read on.

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ (Verses 17 – 19)

If you know enough about God, beloved reader, I hope you know enough about God’s grace to know that it is better to come to God and confess than to be left wallowing in your sin. What the prodigal son does, or at least what he is prepared to do, is a good model of confession and penance. In order to have some sort of relationship to his family home, he is willing to take an inferior place and accept less that optimum in order to survive. But the father, and our Lord God, has other plans.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him . . . “ (Verse 20a)

God sees us coming, filled with sin, guilt and remorse. Our Lord might, justifiably, be filled with disgust, rage, indignation, anger – all the attributes of a “wrathful God.” But, that is not what happens when we come before God in our brokenness.

“ . . .and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Verses 20a – 24)

A kiss of love; not heeding or remembering what we might say in our shame; clothed in comfort and grace; recognition of being back in God’s favored status; sustenance and nourishment; celebration at our return. This is what we can expect when we return to God. Forgiveness and mercy are ours before we can stumble to our knees. Not that we should not be humble and confess; not that we should not offer a humble and contrite heart. NO! We must come to God as if we expect or deserve nothing; it is only in that state that we can do penance.

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.” (Verses 25 – 28)

We, as children and followers of God, do not often see the grace and mercy that is showered on those who are returning to God. Often that return occurs inwardly, and we do not see the how God receives the contrite heart and spirit of believers. And often we do not know the depths that our fellow believers have sunk in their sin. But the older brother of the prodigal son did. And he had words for his father.

But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (Verses 29 – 30)

If it were a different time of the year, or different theme for the Revised Common Lectionary, I might delve into the story of the older son. Because there is richness in his story too. And lessons that can be learned. But, beloved reader, we are all sinners. And this season of Lent we are all returning home from doing all manner of things that we should not. If, however, you find yourself drawn more to the older son than the younger, heed well what the father of the story says to his older son.

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Verse 31)

If you, and if I, are sinless and pure this season of Lent, than we have never left God’s side. And have never had to suffer because of our mistakes. And is it not enough to have always enjoyed the abundance of never feeling apart from God? I could say more, but again, it is not the time and season. Instead, . . .

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Verse 32)

All of heaven rejoices that we have returned. Even if it was just a return from a short distance and for minor reasons. Do you think the father of this story would be any less exuberant and welcoming if the young son has changed his mind just a few miles down the road? Do you not know how it grieves the Lord and all of heaven when even for a moment we have pulled away from God? Oh beloved reader! May you know even just a portion of the joy that our Lord feels when we return to our Divine Parent! Selah!

Third Sunday After Epiphany: The Epistle Passage – A whole new take on the “body”

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

The writer of I Corinthians intended this to be a teaching on the accepting of different types of gifts in the church. I imagine that church in Corinth had people who felt some gifts and skills were more important and worthy than other ones. It is in verse 27 that he starts to center in on this theme. But it occurred to me as I read verses 14 to 26 that if we would set aside this focus and theme, these verses can have a very different and strong lesson and message. There is great pathos in thinking that parts of a body would feel unneeded and rejected. We need diversity in humanity; if everyone were the same, it would be a sad (to say the very least) world indeed. Read verses 14 to 26, beloved reader and listen to that message; I will insert my thoughts and reflections to help illustrate this point. (And hold on, because quite honestly, I don’t know where this may take us.)

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (Verses 14 to 17)

There has been, and I am sure there will continue to be, a good deal said about racism, prejudice, and basis. For a time while I was growing up, the barriers of skin color seemed to be coming down and divisions amongst people were being worked out and disappearing. But lately, that is in the past years, that does not seem to be the case. If anything, it is getting worse . . . again. As it was in the 50’s and 60’s. We seem to forget . . .

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (Verses 18 to 21)

You may not understand or agree with my new analysis of this passage. But is that not what society is doing when one group of people dismisses or goes so far as destroying another group, even if it is done individual by individual? There is not greater hate than hate that leads to killing someone. And is that not saying the ultimate “I don’t need you or want you!”

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, [now let me insert a clarification here; the writer of I Corinthians means “members” that are less desirable or not publicly shown because they are not consider fit for public display] and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor [i.e. are hidden away] , and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect [i.e. are are not talked about]; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.” (Verses 21 to 24a]

Okay, I admit my new way of looking at this passage is weaker here. What the writer of I Corinthians is saying is that the part of the body whose function is not part of “polite” conversation are kept hidden away and treated in different way. Digestion, sexual functioning, and the like are not topics of public conversation. They are personal and private matters. In the same way that mistreat of certain people was not talked about and no one would correct racist talk or actions. But that was part of the problem! Let’s continue.

But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. (Verses 24b to 26)

I feel on firmer ground now. Part of the corrective for racism is talking about how our (that is, Caucasian) attitudes and advantages blind us to the reality of what is happening (and has happened) to our brothers and sisters whose skin color has made them targets. And that makes people (again, Caucasians) feel uncomfortable. Either because their prejudices are exposed; or because they are trying to be open, fair and equal. One of the things that truly bothers me is the notion that a person of light “white” skin color is by that very skin color “guilty” of prejudice, bias and racism. And that is something I have been waiting and wanting to say for many years.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (Verses 27 to 31a)

I can not change my skin color anymore than anyone whose skin color is different than mine can. But I am not any better or any worse than anyone else whose skin color is not the same as mine. And there is only one thing more that I hate than it being assumed that because I am of Caucasian coloring I am racist. And that is because of my skin color I should be afforded more preferential treatment than anyone else. And those whose color is different than mine should and would be treated less “honorably” than I am.

People are people. Each person is in and of themselves a special gift to the world. Our task as people of faith is to discover the special gift that each person is, to insure that they have access to what they need to nurture that gift, and to journey with them as they grow into what God desires them to be. And that I believe, beloved reader, is one of God’s excellent ways! Selah!

FOOD . . . Eat so your brother/sister does not stumble, but you do not starve

If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (Reference: Romans 14:15-21 )

Before we start, two things; first, let us set aside the consideration of food shortages, because that is not at all what the writer of Romans was talking about. Second, the historic Anabaptist quoted for today is not at all on point for what the writer of Romans is saying.

People approach food in different ways. There are vegans of all sorts of types strictness. There are the glutton-free, paleo-dieters, low fat, low carb, and many varieties in-between. There are those who indulge in rich and decadent food; and those who eat a sparse and spartan diet. And aside from eating significantly more food – of any sort – than is needed for the body, there is no truly wrong approach to food.

What the writer of Romans was talking about, for those who are not familiar with the broader context of the passage, was dietary laws. The Greeks in the crowd did not have the same strict eating habits that the Jews had. And if the array of food that the Greeks ate upset the Jews, it was a kindness not to eat such food in front of them. But I have to wonder if the reverse was true – that if the Jews had eating preferences that disturbed the Greeks, should they avoid such menus?

These days people take eating pretty seriously – that is, if someone is attached to a certain type of diet, they sometimes make it difficult for others to express and enjoy choices. I am not centering on any particular menu or diet choice, just simply saying that each person needs to decide for themselves what foods are good and right for them. In some circumstances, “food fights” are not the flinging of food around but the flinging of judgmental and inciting comments.

One other thing you need to know about this passage. For Jews, their food choices were an expression of their faith, and for the Jewish converts honoring dietary restrictions may have been the last religious identification they had with the faith system that they grew up in. So it was “a big deal” and the writer of Romans is right in appealing for sensitivity and understanding. You would think that some people in today’s society approach food as a religious experience judging by the way they push their preferences on others. I see it less in society now than I did some 5 or 10 years ago. But in some quarters it is still a hotly debated topic.

In closing let me echo the writer of Romans reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven is not based on eating or drinking daily food, but is based on how we treat one another here on earth. Do not let food come between brothers and sister, and let breaking bread together be a celebration of our unity and fellowship. Selah!

CONCERNING MARRIAGE . . . . It matters greatly

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. “ (Reference: 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 )

As each day under this theme comes, I find it more and more challenging to keep my opinions to myself. There are so many things I would like to say, but I determined to have this year’s postings focus on historic Anabaptist views when there is a divergence between the situations then and in our modern day. And I am careful that my opinions not overshadow what they historic Anabaptists have to say. On this subject I fear they might.

Peter Riedeman wrote in his Confession of Faith concerning marriage,

“Marriage is a union of two in which each one undertakes to care for the other, and the second agrees to obey the first. Through their agreement, two become one; they are no longer two but one. If this is to be a godly union, the two must come together in accordance with God’s will and order, not through their own action and choice. That means that neither shall forsake the other, but together they shall endure good and bad times as long as they live. . . .

Through this we see how marriage instructs us and leads us to God, for if we regard it rightly, it teaches us to know God and to cling to him. However, where marriage is not seen in the right way, it leads people away from God and brings about death. Since there are few who perceive it correctly and many who perceive and observe it incorrectly, Paul says it is good for a man not to touch a woman, in case he is swept away in his ignorance to his own ruin. [1 Cor. 7:1-8] So we will speak of marriage insofar as God enables us.”

There is some things I could say about Riedeman’s perspective of marriage; first, who is the “one [who] undertakes to care for the other” and who is the one that is to obey the first. But that may not seriously concern me because he states that marriage instructs as to how to know and follow God. More concerning to me is that Riedeman feels that many perceive and observe marriage incorrectly – although in order for me to give my definitive opinion I would need to know more about how Riedeman thinks marriage should be correctly done and what he thinks is incorrect. Dependent on that, I may be seriously concerned about Riedeman’s role assignments in marriage. It does concern me that because many do not perceive marriage correctly (according to Riedeman) they might miss out on the joy and learning that can come from marriage. Or perhaps Riedeman does not feel that much can be learned or that the value of it is small in comparison to being “swept away in his ignorance to his own ruin.” And finally, beloved, I would wonder how firm Riedeman is in his pronoun – that is, does “he” mean exclusively male or people in general.

Riedeman does have many good things to say about marriage, and I am hopeful that my concerns spring not from his strict outlook but are concerns fueled by the cumulative abuses that have happened over the years to both genders of spouses. I have long felt that our relationship to God and our relationship to our spouse are intertwined and that one keenly affects the other.

I do not know, beloved, what your marital situation is. I imagine there is diversity. What I do hope and pray is that through those relationships you have learned about love, commitment, fidelity, honesty, compassion and caring. May God bless your relationships and may you be blessing to others through those relationships. Selah!

USELESS CHATTER . . . Listen to how “useless” it can be

“Therefore he that speaketh unrighteous things cannot be hid: neither shall vengeance, when it punisheth, pass by him. For inquisition shall be made into the counsels of the ungodly: and the sound of his words shall come unto the Lord for the manifestation of his wicked deeds. For the ear of jealousy heareth all things: and the noise of murmurings is not hid. Therefore beware of murmuring, which is unprofitable; and refrain your tongue from backbiting: for there is no word so secret, that shall go for nought: and the mouth that belieth slayeth the soul.” (Reference: Wisdom 1:8-11 )

You cannot hid the the dumb (or worse) things you’ve said. You can’t hid behind untruths. And you cannot hid yourself from being found out. You can’t avoid punishment for the things you’ve said that you should have. God will found out and so will the people around you. In addition, the results of your poor choices of words will be found out too. You will be punished for that.

There may well be people, for their own purposes, who listen and search out ill-chosen words and the consequences of them. These people may also add their punishment; or if you are lucky, just their discipline. Nothing that is said can be hidden; it will come out eventually. And the final consequence is the corruption of your soul.

Now, what were you saying?

May you, beloved, weigh your words carefully so that they may do you proud and glorify the Lord. Selah!