Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Old Testament Passages – When hope grows dim

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.” (Genesis 21:8-11)

In our modern society a child might be weaned by 1 year old, but it is quite possible that young Isaac was two or three years old. Old enough that he had survived infancy and all the illness and injury that comes with those fragile delicate years. He was eating solid food and was thriving. It indeed was a celebration that he had firmly taken his place in the land of living.

But being alive and healthy, as was Hagar’s son, might that he would most probably grow to adulthood and be the inheritor of all that God promised. And Sarah, being a possessive mother, did want that shared with the usurper son of Hagar.

I have to say, I dismayed that there was not a camaraderie between the two women. As we know from other biblical characters, a man having more than one wife was not unusual. Often biblical studies among women studies and considers the life of Hagar as much a worthy topic as the life of Sarah and other wives to men of God. I think that is very good.

“But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” (Verses 12 – 14)

One of the things I hope studies of Hagar show is that everyone is a part of God’s plan and under God’s blessing. Especially those who do not think they are.

“When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” (Verses 15 – 18)

I have read that Hagar did her son a mercy, sheltering him under a brush, away from the heat of the son. We can assume she hoped she would die first, so she would not have to see his agony. But also hoped, I am sure, that under the brush he would not see her perish. And that might have been the end of the story. But the God of the Old Testament was not done, had not closed the chapter on Hagar and her son.

“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” (Verses 19 – 21)

When I sat down to consider the two Old Testament passages this week, I could not decide which one to use. And as I looked at them both, I realized there are many similar themes in these two passages. Maybe the constructors of the Revised Common Lectionary thought the same thing.

O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7-8)

Just as Hagar cried out in her distress, the writer of the book of Jeremiah cries out in distress also. Both are called to a difficult life, and struggle in what seems to be their fate.

“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I am sure Hagar felt used and abused, forced into motherhood not because of a relationship that promised support and respect but used to fulfill the hopes and dreams of an old man. And then when she had done what was required of her, she was set aside and driven off in favor of another. And as I compare these two passages, Hagar’s pleas and Jeremiah’s pleas came together in my mind. Jeremiah was called to prophesy, and as he laments, prophesies that was not well received. While he follows his calling from the Lord, he is punished by those around him. But if he determines not to speak, he is tormented inside. Where can he turn? Where could Hagar turn?

“But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.” (Verses 11)

It would be simple, and simplistic, of me to say, “See, call upon the Lord and your problems will be gone!” It is not that simple, and I do an injustice to both Hagar and Jeremiah if I gloss over and erase their distress. When one cries out to the Lord, one does not know what the answer will be or even if there will be a favorable answer.

“O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (Verses 12 – 13)

It is only . . . only on the other side of our troubles that we can see and say where I deliverance was. And it is only those who are delivered that are able to speak of it. Tragedy and disaster happen every day, and the victims of it multiply over the generations. I give you not false promise and insubstantial hope. I tell you (or rather the RCL) tells you these stories so that you know you are not the only one that has been set against. We who have lost hope in the desert, and feel torn between two opposing sides, have our own stories to tell. And tell them we will. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : Old Testament Passage – Starting on a long and potentially confusing road

The Revised Common Lectionary has a certain parlance (way of referring) to the Sundays in Ordinary Time (the time NOT of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter). Recap anyone?

While the church year is strewn with special days and celebrations, there are two main seasonal times of the church; Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter. Other days such as Transfiguration Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are also noteworthy time. Aside from these times are what is called Ordinary Time and is counted by how many Sundays after the last major event. But basically it is just Sunday after Sunday of just weekly worship and support for circles of faith. The lectionary gives numbers to these Sundays to help worshipers, laity, and ministers/pastors/preachers to keep track of this passage of time. This Sunday, June 18th is the first Sunday after Pentecost which signals the absolute end of the Easter season (last major church celebration time) and is numbered/names “Proper 6”, also known as “11”. The listing of lectionary passages I use also matches the dates to this numbering. Don’t worry if it sounds utterly confusing; I have to reorient myself a few times after the Easter season is over. After you have worked with it, it gets easier to pinpoint just when and where you are.

Now, to further complicate things, there are two sets of Old Testament/Psalms readings, and followers of the lectionary are free to choose which set to follow each Sunday. I had in the past tended to stick to using the first set all the time. But going into the third year of commenting on the lectionary, I decided to change things up, and am using the second set this week. Thoroughly confused yet?

Now, imagine yourself just newly released from a place that multiple generations before you had lived and all the things you had relied on are suddenly gone – every convenience and stable resource . . . gone! I imagine you might be as confused from that experience as trying to decipher the way the RCL organizes itself.

“They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:2 – 6)

In a situation like that, beloved reader, how might you act and respond?

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” (Verse 7 – 8a)

And I am sure when they said it, the Israelites gathered under Moses’ leadership meant it. But the forty years were grueling years, and many who started out where no longer alive when the promised land was reached. In fact I seem to remember that being the plan because the original Israelites weren’t able to sustain the sort of obedience that the God of Moses demanded.

You must be wondering however, beloved reader, how the wandering of the Israelites and the confusion of the lectionary connect in my mind. It is simply this. The lectionary gives a road map to finding our way through the bible, but it is up to us to apply it and live it out. Reading the lectionary passages each week will not automatically give you the answers you need. In fact, figuring out and deciphering the numbering system and progression of the lectionary throughout will not guarantee you enlightenment and salvation either!

This lectionary year, being Year A, is the year where the focus is coming to faith anew. Unbelief to belief, or moving from a shallower faith to a deeper faith. From this point on until the beginning of Advent we will journey week by week uncovering new ways of coming to and living out our faith. Whether the path be confusing and winding, or straight ahead and long, I pray you may learn along the way. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – The perfection of creation . . . and then there was us!

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1 – 5)

Many civilizations have a creation story. Other than the one in Genesis, I know one or two of them. Or know enough of them to know, many or most civilizations have one. The one in Genesis is simply the Jewish one, or the one of that area. It is, I think, the only one that has a monotheistic God. But then Judaism/Christianity is one of the few monotheistic faith systems.

I actually like the one in Genesis very much, aside from it being the one associated with the Christian faith system. It has a personal and intimate edge and tone to it that draws me in every time. Even better, it is so easy to retell inserting even more emotion and intimacy than the way it is presented in scripture.

“And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Verses 6 – 8)

I also like, very much, Trinity Sunday. I like (the word “like”, however, does not do just to my the intensity of my feelings) the concept of a Triune God. It seems fitting to me that a God who embraces the acts of creation who have multiple aspects to the Divine’s nature and character. A Triune Lord embraces the possibility of many faith traditions yet keep to a monotheistic model.

“And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Verses 9 – 13)

I have had the honor on several occasions to tell the creation story to someone who has never heard it as a story of a mighty Lord who bends down to form a world from dirt and water. Or more precisely, to form “something” where there was once “nothing.” It reminds me that we are stewards of the earth, and that the earth has come a far distance from first creation. The Lord created it “perfectly”, then handed it over to humanity. If the earth is now diseased and ailing, it because of what humanity has done. It also reminds me we have done just as “good a job” in caring for our fellow humans.

“And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.” (Verses 14 – 19)

It does not stretch my faith to encompass the fact that creation did not happen in 6 days, or 6 weeks, or anything else like that. I am quite willing to accept the millennia concept of creation – that dinosaurs etc roamed the planet and that humanity did not start out in the form that we find in Genesis but that we too had many steps in our evolution. The Lord God created the reason for the division of days and nights but we put the numbers to it, so why should we expect the Divine to keep to our system of enumerating the passage of time?

“And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” (Verses 20 – 23)

What the Lord God established in creation is the building blocks of DNA, RNA, genes, cells, and matter. Everyone that is alive today, and everyone who had life, comes from the same source. Why would we give lessor value to some members of humanity than others? We come from the same source of Divine creation.

“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Verses 24 – 27)

Humanity was created in the image of God. Does that, should that, tell us what God is like? Two arms, two legs and everything in-between? Furthermore, Jesus was sent as a human being to bridge the gap between the Divine and humanity – a further indication that we are made in the image of God. And if this is so, how can we give less honor and respect to some members of humanity than others?

“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.” (Chapter 1 verses 28 – 31 and Chapter two verse 1)

Now, if you will look at those verses closely, beloved reader, you will see that the food chain then is not the same as the food chain now. Basically, everyone and everything is a herbivore. There was no “something eat something” world. There was utter peace, shalom. Everything was as the Divine intended. And the Divine handed this perfection over to humanity.

“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” (Verses 2 – 4a)

Into this perfection and unity came imperfection and disunity. The God of creation may have rested on the seventh day, but the God of Salvation and Redemption has continuing work. It is because of humanity that we have a Triune God. We need more than just a God of creation. Let’s face it, we need a lot of things beloved reader! But whatever our needs are, we can find the answer to that need in the Lord God.

Pentecost Sunday; The Old Testament Passage – Pentecost is coming!

It will be a busy week – the Spirit is coming! But that is really not anything new. The Spirit of God has always been accessible; just not in as apparent a way in the Old Testament as it is in the New. Or, maybe it is just that people after Jesus’ ministry on earth craved the type of intimate relationship that they had with Jesus, and that Jesus exemplified between himself and the Lord God.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.” (Numbers 11:24 – 25)

Just as Jesus said to Nicodemus, the Spirit blows where it will, and we have a hard time seeing it. But we can feel it and know it. And welcome it.

“Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” (Verses 26 – 28)

I am not sure what Joshua son of Nun was so concerned about. Was it fear? Was it unfamiliarity with the ways of the Spirit? Or was it as Moses suggested, that he felt prophesy was only the purview of Moses?

“But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.” (Verses 29 – 30)

I have to think about what Moses said and agree. Would it not be wonderful if all people everywhere had the Lord’s Spirit in them. It would make life on earth like heaven. And that, I am afraid, is the exact point. We live in a fallen and fallible world. Many say they are guided by the Lord and the Lord’s Spirit. But there are also people like Joshua son of Nun who want to contain and quantify/qualify the gifting and blessing of the Spirit. The Spirit is not under control of any person but is part of the Divine. And even if we, as devote followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ, would love to be imbued with the Spirit it does not happen that way. Of course, we need to be and remain open to the indwelling of the Spirit.

As I said and to better explain, the day that celebrates the first Pentecost is coming. Let us yearn for that experience for ourselves! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – What was old becomes new

During the Sundays of Easter passages from Acts are substituted for the Old Testament passages. I have said this multiple times, and usually I say it to help you, beloved reader, know why it is a passage from Acts. Today I tell you because this passage from Acts is as informative about faithful practices as any Old Testament passage. Let me show you why.

“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

The prophets from the Old Testament are said to have been filled with God’s Spirit, and acted according to that guidance and inspiration. Here we see a new believer who is filled with the exact same essence of God and testifies to it.

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” (Verses 56 – 57)

But he is ignored and set upon just like any prophet from the Old Testament.

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Verse 58)

Unlike the Old Testament, however, unbelievers do not stop at just threatening his life but actually take it. Remember, beloved reader, how many times the Lord’s prophets had to flee in fear of their lives? It as if the reactions of those times were exacerbated with the killing of Jesus Christ. Taking a life is no longer an unthought of act, but one that is gaining acceptance.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (Verses 59 – 60)

But just as Jesus’ death was the beginning of a wave of persecution, so was Jesus’ willingness to give up his life. And even in death remaining faithful to the Lord who was followed and served. It was one thing for Jesus the Son of God to be willing to give up his life, but such faithfulness in humanity was new and unheard of, except maybe in Old Testament times.

And do not think, beloved reader, I have overlooked who was present at Stephen’s death. Here we have the foundation of the Lord getting ready to call a new prophet who would carry forth the Lord’s word and Jesus’ work. No, beloved reader, we have missed out on nothing by not having an Old Testament passage. May we learn lessons from scripture where ever we may find them. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Substitute Old Testament Passage – Peter, another man after the Lord Jesus’ heart

[Beloved reader, sometimes an Epistle Passage is used instead of an Old Testament Passage on certain occasions and certain reasons. This week is such an occasion. Read it as if it were an Old Testament prophet, but testifying to a new reality. ]

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:14a, 22 – 24)

It occurs to me that Peter is making good on identifying and claiming knowledge of Jesus Christ. How far Peter has come in his beliefs. It is one of the reasons I hold him in great esteem. Not one to shy away from anything, when he knows what is truth he speaks it with no restraint or hesitation.

“For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Verses 25 – 32)

For the rest of his life, Peter spoke of Jesus, spread the word about his life, death, & resurrection, and did not fear the consequences of it. He clearly followed the path that Jesus Christ lays out for all of the Lord God’s followers. May we do so also. Selah!

Holy Week – Easter Sunday: Just all sorts of scriptures passages telling of and celebrating the Risen Lord, and what comes afterwards

There is a long list of passages that are to be used for the Easter vigil. But if I were to use all of them, or even the portion that is recommended – a minimum of three for the Old Testaments and Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel readings – I doubt there would be time for you beloved reader to read through it all. And then there are the passages that are for the Easter Service, and even more for Easter Evening. Being the high point of the church year, it has many scripture passages appropriated for it. So instead, let me lightly and briefly list a few.

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13 – 14)

The passage from Exodus the lectionary highly recommends. It comes from where the Hebrews newly released from Egypt stand by the Red Sea as the Egyptians are racing towards them. Their deliverance comes from the Lord, and only through the Lord. Without their Lord God they would be helpless.

Another Old Testament passage cited is from Genesis, the creation story, where the Lord created the heavens and the earth, and kept creating, up to and including the creation of humanity. Passages from the stories of Noah and Abraham are also cited, as well has some beloved passages from Isaiah. Passages also from Ezekiel, Baruch (from the Apocrypha), Zephaniah, and Proverbs to recount the prophets and wisdom. And passages from the Psalms, singing and praises and celebrating the Lord. And there is also a passage from the Epistles, Romans to name the book.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

And finally, a passage from the New Testament, Matthew, telling a slightly different story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary seeing an angel of the Lord who told them of Jesus’ resurrection, and then seeing the Risen Lord who tells them to tell his disciples to go to Galilee. The passage from Matthew is also cited for possible use during the later Easter service. You can see there is a great deal of fervor, excitement during the Easter vigil time.

It has been many, many years since I have kept Easter vigil – the early morning hours of Easter Sunday. As a youth, when I had much more energy etc than I do now, our youth group made a practice of gathering together early Easter Sunday morning, many times outdoors, to have an Easter Sunday service. I remember one year I was up late the night before baby sitting, and got up early the next morning for the Sunrise Service. How I did that, went to regular church and did not crash-and-burn, I attribute only to the vigor of youth. But youth gives way, and fortunately in its stead comes (hopefully) wisdom, maturity, and deeper understanding. In a way, the first-coming-to-faith that evolves into the coming to deeper/wider/broader faith that is so intense it feels “all new”.

The disciples and followers of Jesus must have felt that same way when Good Friday turned into Easter Sunday – that is, the faith they had in Jesus their teacher giving way to Jesus their risen Lord.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.” (John 20:1 – 10)

As much as I have fondness and affection for Simon Peter, and for the other disciples in their turn, sometimes it takes a woman to get to the core and center of things.

But Mary [Magdalene] stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (Verses 11 – 18)

As I said, about a page back, it has been a long time since I kept a true Easter vigil. A long time since the first-coming-to-faith time. Youth has given way to seasoned experience. And I know that quite often the first brush with faith gives way to a more sustaining experience. It was that way with Simon Peter. Throughout the time Peter was with Jesus, he had many insights but it was only after the coming of the Holy Spirit that Peter came into his own. And even then, Peter came to a deeper and broader understanding of Jesus Christ’s message of good news.

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-43)

The apostle Paul, who came to faith through his own encounter with the risen Lord, speaks also to making plans and living out an authentic Christian life.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

If you were wondering, the under girding thrust of my thoughts are this. Jesus’ resurrection set into motion a whole new way of seeing and understanding how to live. When we first realize that, it is like coming to new faith. We feel it, but do not know or understand the deeper implications. New faith gives way, over time, to deeper faith. Because we are realizing things for the first time, it feels like first time faith. Not faith that we are recommitting to, nor coming back from going astray. But coming to new bends, twists, and turns in our faith life. Each year during Lent we journey the same ground, but many times come out at a different place, a different understanding. Now that we are on the other side, let us journey forth into new dimensions of faith. Selah!

Holy Week – Maundy Thursday: The Old Testament, Gospel, and Epistle Passages – The Last Supper, and the beginning of a new way of living

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.” (Exodus 12: 1- 4 )

I was planning on having the entire section from Exodus stand with out comment – but I wanted to draw your attention to the provision about small households. I suspect this is one of the reasons that Jesus wanted all the disciples gathered together; singly they would not be a large enough household. But all together the Passover meal would be like close neighbors joining together. And in the years to come, who would be closer neighbors than fellow believers?

The middle verses, verses 5 to 10 are left out of the strict lectionary passages. They are instructions for Jews prior to the Last Supper and Passover that Jesus had with his disciples. Not that the disciples and early Christians would have ignored these important traditions; but for us, later believers the instructions do not apply as much.

“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood [which verses 5 – 10 refer to] shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Verses 11 – 14)

The Last Supper (which is understood as the last Passover meal that he shared with them) that Jesus had with his disciples was eaten hurriedly or with staff in hand and sandals on feet. At least not has it has been painted and imaged throughout history. And the fact that there was reaching out and dipping of bread argues against it. But there was girding of loins as Jesus prepared himself for this last supper, and Judas prepared himself for where his thoughts went to.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.” (John 13: 1- 2a)

From what we read yesterday, it was only after Judas was accused by Jesus and accepting the dipped bread that Satan’s sway took hold. But the writer of the gospel of John makes note of it here, earlier in the supper. That is significant for what happens next.

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (Verses 2b – 12)

Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Knowing full well what Judas was going to do, he washed his feet humbling himself as a servant to the man who was planning his arrest. Some may say Judas did not know it would lead to Jesus’ arrest. Some say Judas was trying to motivate or incite Jesus to act when it seemed as if Jesus was not fulfilling the role of Messiah as some Jews understood it. But Judas knew full well how much the Temple rulers and authorities, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, hated Jesus. What did Judas think they were going to do? But, Jesus washed his feet.

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Verses 13 – 17)

Remember, it was not until a little later that Judas left. Do you think, beloved reader, this had any impact on Judas? And before you answer, consider and remember my questions from yesterday as to how isolated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was, and how I set that along side other straying from the authentic Christian path.

I want to spend a little more time on this, and then we will move on. The reason I want to emphasis this is because in Year A of the lectionary we are focusing on coming to new faith – either that it is a new believer or someone coming to deeper or broader faith. If it is a new believer, then the sins that were there are absolved and redeemed in Christ’s death. That is one of the large messages of Easter. Coming to deeper or broader faith means that one’s understanding has grown, and things done in the past are seen in a new light. The other lectionary years are: Year B – renewal of faith; and Year C – confession, penance, & forgiveness. What I am talking about here is a greater understanding of faith in Christ and our Lord God. A realization of what it means to live an authentic Christian life; what must be set aside and what must be picked up and lived out. It means, for Judas, realizing what he has done.

I am not talking about all of you. I know the people I have chosen. But what the Scriptures say must happen: ‘The man who shared my food has turned against me.’ I am telling you this now before it happens. Then when it happens, you will believe that I Am. I assure you, whoever accepts the person I send also accepts me. And whoever accepts me also accepts the one who sent me.” (Verses 18 – 20)

After Jesus said these things, the above verses, it troubled him. And he told his disciples that one of them would betray him. That is the interlude we looked at yesterday. We continue from that point on today – with a little bit of overlap.

When he [meaning Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. [What follows is Jesus’ words to the disciple who would form the nucleus of the early Christian church.] Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Verses 31b – 35)

And Jesus’ disciples were known. As the years past, other people became disciples of Jesus Christ. And those years past. The term disciples changed and evolved into being followers, which we are beloved reader. As we are able and as we understand, we pass along the Messiah Jesus Christ’s teachings. Some things we pass along clumsily, awkward and mutated through our own perspectives and understandings. Other things we pass along with the same clarity that they were taught by Christ.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Holy Week – Tuesday: The Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel Passages – Entering into the passion of Holy Week

Tuesday. The writer of the gospel of John places Jesus statements in response to the Greeks wanting to meet him soon after his going to the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. In-between the two is placed Jesus entering into Jerusalem.

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.” (John 12: 20 – 22)

I have to wonder a little why the message was passed along in such a manner, as if access to Jesus was limited and/or screened. Because of the murmur of threats against Jesus? Because it was Greeks as opposed to Jesus? Or maybe it is the writer of the gospel of John who felt there needed to be an explanation of the process, or a making a process of it.

“Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (Verses 23 – 26)

And who is Jesus answering? His disciples? The Greeks? The questions or request to be seen by the Greeks? What is sounds like to me is angst whose purpose is to portray or dramatize the circumstances and coming events. It sounds somewhat like the writer of John who liked things cloaked in mystery and spiritualism.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (Verses 27 – 28)

Here we have the pay off, the drama, the majesty of the time which is confirmed by the voice of the Divine.

“The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Verses 29 – 32)

You must understand, beloved reader, that for some Jesus’ death and resurrection was an event that (to them) commanded awe and sacredness. To dwell simply on the facts and simply chronological events was to miss out on the yearning and straining, the spirituality and mysticism that was there, or possibly there.

“He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” (Verses 33 – 36)

Do not forget either that this lectionary year concerns coming to new faith and new believers. There is a depth and breadth to the passion story that must be taken in. There may be at times and in some gospels an emphasis on that which seems a little over done. But it is worth it to be able to take in full spiritual miraculous impact. And we are only at Tuesday!

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”
And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength- he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:1-7)

If you would set aside the fact that most likely the writer of the book of Isaiah did NOT specifically have Jesus in mind, but apply this passage from Isaiah directly to Jesus’ death and resurrection, you can get an idea of why/where the writer of the gospel of John wished to convey spirituality and mysticism to the days leading to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

And if we enter into that frame of mind where the Messiah and our Lord God does have a mysticism and awe that brings us to our knees, we can enter into spiritual worship of the Divine and say with the psalmist . . . .

“In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.” ( Psalm 71:1-14)

And, it’s only Tuesday!

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!