Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus prays, and we are drawn in

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” (John 17:1-5)

The New Revised Standard Version tells me, through section headings, that Jesus is praying this for himself in verses one to five. The next section of verses, six to eleven is part of the larger section where Jesus prays for his disciples. According to the writer of the gospel of John, Jesus prayed this at the conclusion of the Passover Supper/Last Supper. Since the gospel of John does not have the ascension of the Lord, it is as close to a sending off of the disciples as we get in this gospel.

This first section is interesting, in that it reveals what position vis a vis Jesus felt he had with God. Jesus identifies (again) that he came from God and had authority to do all the things he did – preaching/teaching and miracles. But it also identifies that Jesus had the same glory that God has, and will have the glory again. Which is probably why it is used for the Sunday closest to the Day of Ascension of the Lord. It also brings sharply into focus the aim of the writer of the gospel of John, establishing Jesus’ Divinity. You may wonder, beloved reader, why I sometimes use the noun “Divine” at times when referring to the Lord God. At the times when I used that term, I am trying to sum up all that the triune aspects (and other aspects) of the Lord God are. And to incorporate more than just a strictly narrowly-defined Christian view of the Lord God.

Jesus was not a Christian – he was Christ. Strictly speaking, the Jews who believed in him and came to believe in him during the time of the early Christian church were not Christians either. It was the people who came from other faiths that embraced belief in Christ who could be termed Christians. Christianity, and by implication Christendom, was established by subsequent generations. And those believers can be and are included in the prayer that the NRSV says were prayed for Jesus’ disciples.

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.” (Verses 6 – 9)

The world, as it would have been understood then (and remember that this prayer comes to us by way of a person writing within the context of those times) would be “pagans” who it was assumed would never give up their “pagan” beliefs nor hear about Jesus the Messiah because they were at too much of a distance. The assumption was, those who were “given to” Jesus were very close at hand and with the conceptual distance that the disciples had.

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Verses 10 – 11)

This passage of prayers goes on for eight more verses, as Jesus asks the Lord for blessing and protection on the disciples. A final passage, verses twenty to twenty-six ask a blessing on all believers – specifically those who will come to faith because of the disciple’s ministry efforts. But remember, the writer of the gospel of John could not foresee the length of time and the impact that Jesus’ life would have.

I could go on, beloved reader, describing the expanding circle of those who came to believe, and how. In part, that is what the book of Acts and the Epistle passages of the New Testament are. Tracing the progression, the impact, and the teachings of the apostles. Remember too, that there is much evidence that the early church thought not more than one or two generations would pass before Jesus would return. But here we are, 21st Century Christians who have kept (more or less) a Christian faith based on what was set down by Christ. The disciples/apostles could not envision that. But Jesus Christ could and did. So, when Jesus prayed for his “apostles” – that could be us. And when Jesus prayed for all other believers, that is us too.

I am reminded that the theme of the lectionary this year is believers coming to new/renewed faith. According to the celebration days of the church, Jesus has ascended. And the Lord God and Jesus Christ continue to welcome believers and minister to them. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. 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!

Liturgy of the Passion: The Old Testament Passage – Being teacher and taught

We are getting close now, close to the end of Lent, and close to Easter. This Sunday coming up is Palm Sunday as well as Passion Sunday. One to indication Jesus coming triumphantly into Jerusalem and one it signal the start of Passion Week. I have chosen to start the week with “passion”. One of the tasks in my life away from the keyboard is to try to find a job. It is hard for me to promote myself, preferring to point beyond myself to other concerns. So I am making it a personal challenge to look at this passage in terms of how it does or does not describe me. Of course, the ideal is for it to describe the Messiah whose journey to the cross is coming close. And while it does a good job – a very good some biblical commentators would say – I am conscious of the fact that the writer of Isaiah might have had a different idea in mind when it was penned.

“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

Perhaps it is only this time, when I look at this passage that I see the writer is both a teacher and a listener. I do not know if I had seen/realized that before – being in a tizzy about whether I can claim the role of teacher. But if one both teaches and listens, that says something significant; that one does not know everything but needs to remain open to learning and understanding in new and deeper ways. That is something I have no problems claiming.

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.” (Verse 5)

It has been hard, beloved reader, to go through this period of time. It has been seven years since I was not employed. My last period of time of unemployment lasted six months, and I am not sure how I made it through. At the two week point I find the inactivity weighs heavy on my hands and mind. Last time I used the days and weeks to write, and I wrote a great deal. This time, however, my writing is so incorporated into my other activities that this extra time is not needed for my current writing schedule. Maybe, maybe, I am being called into writing more. I know that this week being Passion/Palm Sunday and next week leading up to Easter Sunday, I will be writing daily. And it pleases me to know I will have the time. I think though, what about beyond that time?

“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Verse 6)

It is hard too, because I am used to “earning my keep” and having the measure of income to show how my time is spent. I am not one for “domestic” chores; I do not find my challenge and satisfaction in cleaning, polishing, and dusting. And perhaps, if truth to tell, I find that to be my only challenge in a day, I would rather set that aside and find other pursuits. It is also the loss of position and place of my job. I was “somebody” and in my dark times I feel like “nobody”. It is not a far stretch, in these days and weeks, to feel as the writer of Isaiah feels – back struck, cheeks pulled, insulted and spat upon. If I am the “teacher” I would feign to claim to me, you would think that I should not measure myself against worldly measures and agenda.

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verses 7 – 9a)

The writer of Isaiah’s words remind me, what was true for that person is (or should be) true for me now. I am not disgraced; no, not because of domestic chores or declining them, but because I have determined to persevere. But to look at my situation straight on and deal with it by opening my ear and listening to the Lord’s comfort and guidance.

This season of Lent has been a different one for me, fair different from other years. And I greatly suspect it will stick out in my memory. And that is not such a bad thing. Growth and new learning is hard, painful, and sometimes embarrassing. But far worse is refusing to grow and learn. A teacher may teach, but a teacher must learn also. So I say to my Lord, let the learning continue. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Them dry bones are going to rise again!

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” (Ezekiel 37:1)

I am not expert on these things, but I suspect this was a dream or a vision. Not to discount dreams or visions brought about by the Divine. I have had dreams/visions that seemed God lead or inspired. Some dreams/visions have been revealed. Some of them I am still puzzling over to this day.

“He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is always best, beloved reader, to let the Lord God lead in these dreams or visions. I have tried to puzzle some of mine out, but since the Lord God inspired them I have learned to let the Lord God lead in the understanding of them.

“Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.” (Verses 4 to 6)

My seminary professors (or was it preachers from my youth or simply the explanation in the passage itself) explained that this passage is to be interpreted as the Lord God promising to revive the called and chosen people, the nation of Israel who had been made captive and taken away from their land. That anything, even reanimating bones or people lost and gone astray, is possible.

“So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.” (Verses 7 to 8)

It is one thing, beloved reader, to revive a person or a people, to bring them back into the land of the living – whatever may have caused their death. It is quite another thing to instill hope and faith where there was once nothing. That is of the Divine.

“Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.” (Verses 9 to 14)

It seems rather redundant to say that this passage is used during Lent. Of course it is. But it is not just a history lesson for the nation of Israel. It is a reminder that what we think is dead and gone – hope, faith, compassion, care, love, mercy, grace – can be revived by the Lord God. In the nation (the nation of United States and other nations) there is moaning and bewailing of what has come to pass. Yes, there are tragedies in all places and parts of the world. We thing what had been ours before and has been taken from us is lost and gone forever. That is not so. Yes, it may take the coming/return of the Lord God. Or it may take a total change of events and the current situation. We do not know. If we feel like “dry bones”, we should not think that is our fate for all times. The Lord moves and the Spirit blows where it will, and we cannot predict it. Do not give up hope, beloved reader. In this season of Lent be reminded that dry bones can be brought back to life. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany: The Epistles Passage – Don’t exalt the teacher over what is taught

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:10-11)

I gave a good amount of thought to these first two verses of this passage. Paul’s remarks could be taken as instructions to ministers/evangelists or advice given to new believers. And I am not sure which way would be better. Paul says earlier on in this chapter that the Corinthians were “young” believers and had allowed themselves to define the good news as to who brought it, rather than taking the good news and allowing the news itself to inform the choices in their lives. But there is also here caution to those who preach/teach the good news of Jesus that they would let the news carry the weight and not the interpretation the preacher/teacher/evangelist/minister might bring to it. Paul says in another place, I seem to remember, that nothing should be added to or taken away from the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – at least I think it was Paul. But Paul moves on from this point (as does the lectionary which skips over some verses) so let us do also.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (Verses 16 – 23)

Or maybe Paul does not, actually. We have Paul’s instruction to follow God’s wisdom and not the wisdom of human thinking or our understanding. We also have the admonition not to think more about the teachers of God’s word than the word of God itself. Again, is Paul cautioning the new believers in Corinth or whatever teachers/preachers might be left behind? Because if you know Paul, you know he does not hold back his admonition or exhortation of anyone! New believers are to hold themselves apart from anything that would destroy them or their faith. But, those who would destroy a young believer or that faith is also imperiled by God’s judgment! There is much to be gleaned from this passage. May you do so under the guidance and direction of the Spirit of God. Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seeker speak plainly about righteous living

Preacher: “O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

Seeker: Maybe the question should be, who can find safety and refuge with the Lord? It seems like everywhere one turns today there is trouble, upsetting issues, and challenges to living simply. To hear some talk, one would believe that better times are coming. But others say we are plunging into more problems than we can ever deal with. Of course, that sort of rhetoric had been going on for generations. Promises for better times are made over and over. Sometimes it comes true, and sometimes it does not. Seems to me it those who would be worthy of dwelling with the Lord are the ones who we can believe the promises of. So the question remains, who can expect and who deserves to live in eternity with our Lord?

Preacher: “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;”

Seeker: In other words, those who already follow the Lord. Or say they follow the Lord. So, how can we know who are true followers of the Lord?

Preacher: “[Those] . . .who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;”

Seeker: Now we are narrowing it down! What other qualifications does it take?

Preacher: “ . . . in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;”

Seeker: It takes strong resolve and a strong conscience and will to hold to those things!
Those are indeed signs and hallmarks of called and chosen people of the Lord! Say more!

Preacher: “ . . . who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.”

Seeker: But, those who are such people are among us – which is good! Does that mean that it is not time yet to enter and live in the dwelling place of the Lord? That it is not time yet to go to the Lord’s holy hill? I suppose not. We, the good and the bad and those in-between, we still live and dwell together. And are faced with temptations; our fallen world threatens to undermine even the best of us. How will they survive? How will we survive?!

Preacher: “Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)

Seeker: That is the true test, isn’t it? Not living blameless and perfectly lives living in the tent of the Lord. But living authentic and honest Christian lives in this fallen world. Let us look closely, and discern according to the word of the Lord who is worthy for the tent’s of the Lord, and our Lord God’s holy hill! Selah!