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!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Of Sheep and Shepherds

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” (John 10:1)

The gospel of John has several purposes, beyond the telling of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The writer of the gospel of John sought to establish Jesus’ divinity, and what is here and what is left out often serve that purpose. Biblical commentators, understanding this, pick up the task and assign meanings & messages that I am not convinced were the original intention of the writer of the gospel of John. I am not arguing or disputing their interpretation, but am simply stating that many passages are laden with meanings and extrapolations that point to the character and nature of Jesus Christ. Verse one, for example, is said to mean that Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of being poor leaders, or shepherds, of the Jewish people. And they come to leadership not to care for and tend to the needs of the people but to establish power and authority for themselves.

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (Verse 2)

The person who comes into leadership through the call from the Lord is a true shepherd and will care for those who follow him/her with compassion and understanding.

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Do not think it strange, beloved reader, that the metaphor and motif of shepherds and sheep is used so much. Jesus was using what the people of that place and time knew thoroughly and gave new meaning to common understandings so that complex theologies could be made clear. Ironically, we who live in modern times and are removed from older ways of life come to know and understand these ways of life by studying them in order to have insights into scripture. Or, more interestingly, work the metaphor and motif backwards using the insights and understandings were are familiar with in scripture and applying them to the everyday practices of those people in biblical times.

“So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Here is an interesting thing – the biblical commentators I consulted with say that what Jesus means is that any and every person who tried to claim authority over the people (excluding those who were called prophets starting with Noah, Abraham etc) were false and wrong. The implication being that the Pharisees were not good leaders of the people. How then do we reconcile that with those who followed such poor leaders? Were they not sheep? Or just not the Lord’s sheep?

You see, beloved reader, it behooves us to make wise choices as to who we follow. We are not to be mindless sheep, blindly following any voice that calls out “follow me.” Do not think that the Lord’s sheep have no responsible or use no judgment in their actions. It is not just the shepherd who will be judged, but also the sheep for allowing themselves to be lead astray.

All of this will make tomorrow’s scripture passage very interesting to consider. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – The Authentic Christian Life is “Tough Stuff”

When I set out to comment on a text – while I may bring background knowledge with me – I strive to understand the text, its meaning and its importance at the moment I am reading it. So for this passage of scripture I need to figure out how the two went together. Because at first glance they do not seem to connect.

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27)

This is clear enough; or at least a clear as it is going to get. We are not to “hate” family or even friends. That is contradictory to the Christian life. BUT if regard for them gets in the way or stops us from living an authentic Christian life, then we must set aside any affection for them and place our focus on God and Christ. This goes for any other issue, item, possession or concept that is in our life. And that is how the first portion of this passage connects to the second.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Verses 28-33)

With the caveat of any other item etc, it is clear to see that one must from the beginning be determined not to let anything, not ANYTHING get in the way of our Christian calling. And that is pretty severe. I know, because I have traveled a hard road to the point I am in my life. Goals, ambition, preconceived ideas, even my own understanding of my life and my world – I have had to set aside. And I will be the first to admit I probably did not do that as well as I could have or should have. But each of us, beloved reader, makes choices according to what he/she knows at the time. We need to extend to ourselves grace when the choices we make do not turn out the way we thought.

Now, this probably does not sound in the way and perspective of what the writer of Luke is saying that Jesus is saying. The Jesus that Luke is quoting sounds pretty definite and a bit harsh to our ears – maybe not to yours, but looking back over my life it sounds harsh to mine. If I had truly followed this to the utmost letter, I would have made choices that would have been devastating to those around me. And I do not think that is what Jesus would have us do.

Listen carefully to the language in verses 28 to 33, and contrast that to the “hate” that is to be expressed to family. If one, for the sake of leading a Christian life, does hate family – how does that fit into “counting the cost”? And yet if one cleaves to family and does not heed the call to the Christian life – how does that fit into “counting the cost”? It is not as cut-and-dried as the write of Luke would have us believe. That is why there MUST be grace and compassion at all steps. At least that is what my road in life has shown me.

I encourage you, beloved reader, to count the cost and factor in compassion and caring. Spread the gospel message but also spread peace. And if you have comments and reflections on this, according to your own perspective, I would invite you to post and share them in the comments section. Shalom!

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 Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker . . . and me

Seeker: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:”
Teacher: God seeks to instruct the leaders of the earth as to how they should govern the people and rule over them. But many do not seek God’s wisdom or follow correctly what God teaches. God loses patience with them, and the psalmist narrates God’s displeasure.
Preacher: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah”

Teacher: God accuses the leaders of playing favorites and allowing those with wealth and privilege to have their own way. And the leaders themselves use and abuse their subjects who are without power and influence. This was true in the time of the psalmist, and is true today.
Seeker: “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Teacher: Whether it is in the time of the psalmist, or in contemporary times. Those who have power and influence, who set themselves up to rule or are asked/elected to leadership have a responsibility to govern and lead wisely. God accuses them when they do not fulfill those obligations.
Preacher: “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.”
Teacher: God tells them they have let down the people who look toward them, and have let down God who has placed them or allowed them to be placed/allowed them to seek out positions of authority.
Seeker: “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.”

Teacher: God’s accusations stand, from the time of the first ruler to now. And the people who have been used and abused cry out to God . . .
Preacher: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Psalms 82)

A new name today, “Teacher.” When I thought about what I wanted to accomplish here, I knew there needed to be a voice that narrated this psalm; told you, beloved reader, what was going on. I did not want to use “Preacher” or “Seeker” because the persona of each has never been to reveal background or context; and if giving any commentary, only in the gentlest of senses. But context and background needed to be set, so I determined to place my self in the reading as “Teacher” but only in the sense that I was giving information that anyone could learn from reading commentaries. I do not know if we will form a trio again . . . stay tuned.

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – Road Trip!

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ “ (Luke 10:1-11)

Some rules for the road when you are traveling for God.

  1. Know that there could be danger at any turn. But do not arm yourself. Go out trusting that all will be well.
  2. Do not burden yourself down with possessions or baggage of any kind – neither literal or figurative. Do not let yourself be dissuaded by the people you meet along the way.
  3. Bless the household you stay it and the people who live there. Do not jump from house to house hoping to find better accommodations.
  4. Accept the food and hospitality that is presented to you. Do what you can to help those where you are staying. And remember the message you are bringing to them.
  5. If you and the message you are sent out with are not welcomed, leave. And let the people know what they have missed out on.

These are not rules that apply to modern day missionaries. Missionaries come with their own provisions so they are not a burden on the people they are ministering to. Jesus did not send the seventy to dwell with them, however, so it is understandable that modern day missionaries come prepared to meet their own needs. But everything else pretty much translates from then to now.

Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Verse 16)

The last item, letting the people know what they have missed out on is not practiced in a strong way I imagine. But then modern missionaries tend to NOT give up with the going is rough. But it is true, that those who reject the gospel/salvation part of mission trips have rejected not only the missionary but the Lord who has sent them.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Verses 17 to 20)

If you hear missionaries talk about their trips and times in mission, you will hear them tell how grateful and honored they were to be sent. The hard times and harsh conditions (usually) do not phase them or dissuade them. And they rejoice in what the Lord has done. Now, where is the Lord calling you to?

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – Taking up the mantle and following Jesus

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56)

Reading this passage, I see a parallel between Elijah/Elisha and Jesus. Both Jesus and Elijah knew their time was coming to an end, and they had with them their followers. But the disciples did not do as good a job at understanding Jesus as Elisha did understanding Elijah and following in his footsteps. Of course, the disciples were not at the end of their learning journey as Elisha was. And Jesus was more complex than Elijah was, so allowances can and should be made.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Verses 57 – 62)

Again, I see the parallels; do you beloved reader? Elisha followed, even when Elijah would have excused him. The people that Jesus encountered always had one reason or another to not follow. Elisha left friends and family to follow Elijah. Perhaps the recognition of “different times, different perspectives” needs to be applied here. That following Jesus, who had a reputation of being radical and ridiculed, would be harder to leave everything behind for, and follow. But, Elijah was threatened with death by royalty.

So, maybe the awkward parallels need to stand. However, the question can be applied to our modern world; who are we? Elishas who are ready and wanting to step into the footsteps of a prophet? Or would-be disciples who keep looking back to what we had and what was familiar? It is a good question to consider as the Sabbath approaches. Selah!