Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Gospel Passage – The ups and downs of living a Christian life

Last week, although less than exactly one week ago, Peter had made it to the “top of the heap” in identifying that Jesus was the Son of God. Now, Jesus said that it was the God in Heaven who had revealed this to Peter and not Peter’s own glimpse into the Divine. This week Peter is not as astute to the workings of Jesus.

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:21 – 23)

We are not to take this as meaning that Peter was possessed or working in league with Satan. It simply means that earthly concerns have no place in the mission that Jesus was on. And by implication, earthly concerns should have not place in our following the faith journey that the Lord calls us on. And yes, that is a pretty stern and severe perspective. To soften that, remember that Jesus did come as a human and so knew human need, want, and the other components of being flesh. But those things did not stand in the way of Jesus living out his lift as directed by God. It should not stand in our way either.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Verses 24 – 26)

Seeing the verses above in this context, of setting aside human concerns, one can understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Denying one’s self does mean setting aside all those things that our human earthly spirit may crave. That does not mean they are denied to us, but that we must decide whether the human facets of life will dissuade us and stop us from living as God directs. There are a million choices to be made, and sometimes just split seconds to make them. And it is in those split seconds that a poor choice can be made; furthermore, a poor choice that might result in sin – where sin is defined as interfering with follow Jesus example. You see, beloved reader, it cycles on itself. That is why Jesus had to be so abrupt with Peter, to stop him in the direction that his thoughts were going before it went to far.

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Verses 27 – 28)

Here, beloved reader, is a two-edged sword. What we give up in this earthly life will be returned to us in the life to come. But what we seize in this life that we should have let go and let pass, will judge when the Divine returns. Or, when our own time of judgment comes. As to verse 28, this does not mean when Jesus returns as in the second coming etc. The time is soon coming – i.e. when Jesus is raised from the death – when Jesus’ full power will come to him. We who live now, will have to wait until death or the end of all things. The disciples there will see with their own eyes the glory of Jesus which has not yet been displayed in full. Yes, beloved reader, verse 28 is not for us.

Actually, neither is verse 27 for many people. As far as history can tell us, Jesus has not returned for the second time after he ascended into Heaven. We are waiting yet for “the glory of his [Jesus’] Father”. But I suspect our own faith experiences have given us enough of a taste as to what that may be like. And maybe enough of a taste to set aside earthly things when they conflict with the Christian life as we have been called to it. At least, that is my prayer. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Gospel Passage – Long ago, faith began

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)

What does public opinion say? In the days we live in currently, beloved reader, that is a risky question. Not so much concerning Jesus (although there may be some differing in answers) but generally speaking – what is current opinion concerning the news at hand. Because, in Jesus’ time, he WAS the current news. It was one of the most talked about pieces of news. Jesus probably knew what the populace was saying but he wanted to hear what the disciples had heard; and just as important or maybe more so, what they thought.

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”(Verse 15)

If any group of people knew Jesus best, it was the group that had been traveling with him since the beginning of his ministry. These were the people who had seen him when he was in front of people preaching, teaching, and healing. And when he was taking time away to meditate and renew himself. And remember too, this was the Jesus who healed the daughter of the Samaritan woman, with just a word. And this was the Jesus who came walking across the turbulent waters. So in light of all this, he asked, “Who do you say I am?” [emphasis mine]

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Verse 16 – 17)

Now here I need to do a little doubting. In the face of all that Jesus did, who could not believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Some of the prophets (major and minor) also healed people. And did other pretty amazing things, and confronted religious and political leaders. So I can see where it might be a “leap of faith” alone to ascribe it to the Divine.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Verse 18)

Barnes and I agree that it was not on the personage of Peter that the church was built, but on solid and irrefutable truths and faith that the church would be built on. And that nothing will withstand against it. I do have a little more to say about this further on.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Verses 19 – 20)

Peter, as the first, and the apostles soon after, were given guidance and control over forming the new church that had as its foundation belief in Jesus the Christ. They, as the first ones instructed, would pass on that teaching and as they taught, so would the church be established. But it was not time yet to start this church, and establish the tenets of its faith. Jesus had more to do before the end of his time and the beginning of the new church of Christ. If what had already happened caused fervor and speculation about Jesus, then it was only the beginning. And it was not wise to rush into the times that would come. The times and the disciples were not ready.

Now, back to a point I made previously. That the church would stand resolute against whatever came against it, and it would prevail. I said in a previous posting that we live in tumultuous times. That there is furor all around us, and that the values of love, compassion, and acceptance seem to be hard pressed and not valued. The church has changed and evolved since the time of the apostle Peter.

Sometimes it seems like the basis of the church then is not like the basis of many modern day churches. I name no names, and do not have any specific church in mind. I am simply saying that as time moved forward the early church was under differing and evolving lineage of power and authority for it formation. The way it was when it started was not how it remained. BUT the foundation of the church, the power and understanding that prompted Peter’s assertion and confession of faith has not changed. And on that we can pin our hopes! And our continuing faith! Selah!

 

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Psalm Passage – Seek and treasure harmony where you find it

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)

While the psalmist might have had his own and close-by family in mind, these verses are perfect for the reunion of Joseph and his family. And their moving to a place and culture that had abundant resources. I am sure Joseph and his father Israel thought that the move to Egypt would be good for them and the coming generations, a blessing and life forevermore. But we, beloved reader, are keenly aware (or should be) that any material abundance in this world will not last and transfer over to the world to come. And that is where our true home is.

I was reminded of this by a FB firend who was lamenting that the world we live in now, and how everyone seems so eager and set upon sharing their discontent. That there is no acceptance of differing opinions, and that it seems in the world at large whoever disagrees with you “must be” bullied and shouted down. That there is, in a word, no unity.

While the psalmist may mean “kindred” to be family related by blood or marriage, the broader meaning is the family of God, humanity. There is the “good” and “pleasant” of life together. It is in shalom (increasingly rare in the world at large) where the Lord’s ordained blessing is most often seen. And if the shalom is truly from the Lord God, you can be assured it is good, pleasant, and blessed.

It would probably be easier for me if I were to draw the curtain and not look down the road to where the Israelites went from honored guest to slaves. But turning a blind eye has never been my forte. Neither has being naïve about the way of the world. I am trying these days to support and nurture the pockets and places of the Lord God’s shalom. Rejoicing where I find it, and trying to maintain those places of peace and blessing.

I had once read that humanity cannot be “peace makers”; that is, we can not create peace but can only keep peace where it is found. That seemed kind of pessimistic to me. But I understand that better now. We can keep the peace that the Lord God has created in us. And we can keep the peace that exists between two or more people who have kept the peace that was created by the Lord God and Jesus Christ in them. But we cannot “make” peace where no peace already exists. That is what I was trying to tell my FB friend. That all we cannot do where there is no peace, is not to create (or not create more) disharmony and disunity.

How good and pleasant it is when humanity lives in unity, harmony and peace. It is precious. May you seek and find that peace, beloved reader. Cherishing and nurturing it, keeping it and holding it holy and sacred. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Gospel Passage – Trusting in the Lord God, no matter the depths and circumstances

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” (Matthew 14:22)

To paraphrase, and set the scene, Jesus and the disciples had just gotten done “cleaning up the crumbs” and gathering up the leftovers after the feeding of the multitudes (five thousand according to scripture) from two fish and five loaves of bread. According to the above verse, after the tidying up was done, Jesus had the disciples get into the boat (the one he had disembarked from after trying to get some away time) and start for the other side of the sea.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,” (Verse 23)

Jesus was trying to get some “alone time” performing the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and maybe to finish whatever meditation time had been interrupt by the crowds earlier. It took several hours, we assume, for Jesus to be refreshed and ready for what might come. And, there was more to come!

. . . but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.” (Verses 24 – 25)

Now, I am not quite sure how this timing worked out. Jesus was done his meditation time some time in the evening, or was praying to the Lord through the night. I am not questioning that it might have taken overnight or disbelieve that one could be in prayer that long. And maybe the mountain was a bit of a hike away. But in any case, he was away from them from the afternoon or early evening until the next early morning. Long enough, we have to assume, for the disciples to be “out to sea” literally and figuratively. Much farther out than the disciples expected to see anyone else NOT in a boat!

“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.” (Verse 26)

Now imagine, tossed on a stormy and restless sea, they see an apparition coming towards them. Maybe seemingly from out of nowhere or from the turbulent sea itself. Scared already, now even more scared.

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Verse 27)

Be honest, beloved reader, after seeing Jesus do a miracle with multiplying food for five thousand, would you doubt that it was he walking on the water as if strolling down a solid path? Would you doubt it? Would you question it? Depends who you are I guess.

“Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Verses 28 – 30)

How often, beloved reader, do you feel called by the Lord God & Jesus Christ, most naturally heeding that call, oblivious to anything else? And then realize that you are deeper in than you thought?

“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Verse 31)

Who is the “you”, beloved reader? Just Peter, or all of the disciples? Or is it all of us who have been called, and answer the call. And then find out that our own humanness is not sufficient to the challenge involved? I will raise my hand and freely admit that I have had “little faith” and felt myself sinking, only to be pulled up by the Divine Hand. More than once. And once rescued, the turmoil I though I was in subsided.

“When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” (Verse 32)

In circumstances like that, there is really only one thing we can do.

“And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Verse 33)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)

While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.

But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.

“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.

“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)

“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)

This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)

Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.

I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.

The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Gospel Passage – Being Perfectly Divine and, Not So Much

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” (Matthew 13:13)

In my reading lately I have been presented several times with the concept that Jesus was both Divine and human – subject to fears and longings, emotions and needs just like the rest of us. But even with living with these human things Jesus never sinned; or at least that is the writers’ contentions. I am not saying that Jesus did sin, but having fears and longings, emotions and needs are not what makes us sin. It is the choices we make and the interactions we have with others; that is where we sin, treating and interacting with others in a less than perfect way. The writers I have been reading tell their readers this so that their readers will not feel reticent in coming to Jesus with their human-ness hanging out for all to see. And I appreciate their efforts and intentions. But feeling our human-ness is not what causes us to sin.

Now, you may wonder where I am going with this. My point is this; Jesus had just heard that John had been put to death by Herod. And he was mourning the loss of his cousin and evangelist companion. Many times when we get word of a loss, our instinct is to withdraw and deal with our wounds and pain. Jesus was no different than any other human who has felt loss.

But he was different. And the people sensed that. That is why the crowds followed him. Of course they might have had their own agenda as well. That is part of being human, having an agenda. But the agenda of humanity and Jesus’ agenda can be quite different.

“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Verses 14 -16)

Food is a basic human need. The crowd who followed Jesus needed food as much as Jesus did. But Jesus knew more about supply and demand than the crowd . . . . and the disciples did.

“They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.“ (17 – 21)

Several things occur to me:
First, many times something (and/or someone) needs to be “broken” before it can be put to best use.
Second, when it doubt just sit down, rest, and wait on the Lord. I needed to be reminded that of myself lately. I had gotten myself all worked up about my job situation, or actually lack of it, and I needed to be reminded to just “sit down”, rest, and wait on the Lord. So I am waiting patiently on the Lord.
Third, the limitations we think are in place . . . . are not in place for the Divine. All sorts of amazing things can happen when we think they can’t or aren’t expecting them.
Fourth, there is great abundance in the Lord God. And most of the time it cannot be measured or counted.

Now, to where I started – sin. I am also being told in my readings that all of humanity is sinful and it can’t be helped; that is, we can’t help but sinning. Jesus did not, but we do. And that notion peeves me, until I revise my definition of sin. Like needing to be broken and made contrite. Doubting the Lord, and putting forth my agenda instead of waiting on the Lord’s agenda. Placing limits on my faith and trying to direct what the Lord’s action in the world should be according to me. Doubting the Lord’s grace, abundance and just general Divine Providence.

Now if we want to point fingers at conventional sinfulness, we need look no farther than Herod who put John to death. But the disciples not taking action and having faith in feeding the crowds can be seen as “sin” as well. Not a very popular perspective I am sure, and one that causes dis-ease in me as well. But perfection, Divine perfection, is so beyond us. So, actually, are miraculous feedings. And Jesus and the Lord God know this, and love us anyway! Praise be to God! And Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Psalm Passage – Wrestling with the Psalms, of all things!

Do you remember, beloved reader, from back on Tuesday when we talked about how Jacob had treated his brother Esau, and deceived his father? And he, Jacob, was deceived by his uncle, his mother’s brother? And the week before, we talked about Jacob and his dream of the ladder up to heaven, and God giving him the same promise as his grandfather Abraham was given? We also talked about how these men (and women), called children of God, were charged with the creation of a nation of people who would be God’s shining light for/to the rest of the world. Promises were given by God, in exchange for faithfulness. These people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons – formed the foundation. The Old Testament is the history and story of this called and foundation. We know that the earlier called people of God did not follow the call as faithfully as they might. But then Christians, called by God, also have problems being faithful.

The psalmist tells us what the reward for faithfulness is.

“Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128)

Now according to Old Testament/Israelite reasoning, this wonderful life is the reward of faithful living. And if this reward is not evident, it is because the living has not been faithful. At least that is a message that comes through from the history of Israel, Judah, and the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. But we also know that we live in a fallen world where the dictates and direction of the Lord is not followed by many, and the tragedies in the world are the result not just of the recipient of the tragedy but because troubles are also inflicted upon the innocent.

So what should we say and believe? That if our lives are not as the psalmist writes, then we are at fault? Or that the misdeed and evil of others have deprived us of such blissful living? It is a conundrum that believers have wrestled with for generations. And probably one that will be wrestled with for generations more.

As the history of the Israelites continued, the idea of this “blissful living” moved from being an assured reality to a dream of the future. It became “shalom”, peaceful and harmonious living, and was a hope for the life to come. It is one aspect of the hope that Jesus offered to his disciples. And that Paul assures us will be ours in the world to come.

It is helpful to keep in mind this evolution of what the Israelites hoped would be their lives under the Lord. What they felt they were promised, but didn’t always get. It is also helpful to keep in mind when you think about what the Jews of Jesus’ time hoped that the Messiah would bring them. And, beloved reader, it is a dream that is helpful for us to keep in mind as we journey through our present lives. That this reality will not be the only reality that we are destined for. Selah!