Holy Week – Wednesday: The Gospel and Epistle Passages – Hope is Nigh

We approach this gospel passage sort of backwards. Tomorrow we read the first part of chapter 13 in the gospel of John. Today, we are focusing on the portion of the passion where Jesus singles out Judas.

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:21 – 25)

Who is it? Who do we point the finger at? Who is guilty of turning against God and the Messiah Jesus Christ? Who has acted contrary to authentic Christian living?

You see, once you start asking the broader questions, Judas’ guilt starts to look like other sinful behavior. I am not sure if that is a good thing . . . . . or not. Many tend to have a “superior attitude” towards Judas’ sin. They think, I would never betray the Master like that. But that is a journey onto a slippery slope.

“Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” (Verses 26 – 27)

Now the writer of the gospel of John gives Judas an exit plan. It was not truly Judas the follower of Jesus who betrayed him, but Judas who allowed Satan to influence his choices. But again, I caution you gentle reader, do not think you are immune to the influence of evil and really bad choices. The influence of evil was with Adam and Eve in the garden, and they did not ignore it. Why should we suppose that hundreds of generations down humanity is resistant to that influence. And in the same way, we now are not any more resistant. I am not talking about at in individual level, but humanity as a whole. Yes, sin is wide spread throughout humanity but each of us has a thresh-hold where we do and do not go astray.

“Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” (Verses 28 – 30)

No one but the Divine knows completely what is in our hearts. What our intent is, and what our thresh-hold of sin resistance is. I do not know yours, beloved reader, and you do not know mine. In the same way, you do not know what I need to be forgiven for, and I don’t know what you need to be forgiven for. The truth and hope that we carry with us is that Jesus and our Lord God has forgiven us. Beloved reader, even Judas is forgiven.

“When he 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.” (Verses 31 – 32)

It is Wednesday of Holy Week. The week is half gone, depending on when you read this. We turn our attention now to the latter part of the week, and the events that are to come. In the first Holy Week, the hope of forgiveness is not quite there yet; hoped for, but not quite realized. By the time Paul writes, however, our hope has come. Let us endure through the next few days then, knowing that the greatest event that humanity might know about is just a few days away.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)


Liturgy of the Palms: The Gospel Passage – Following in Jesus’ footsteps, wherever they may lead

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” (Matthew 21:1 – 3)

I am sitting here, late at night, pondering these verses from Matthew chapter 21. I am thinking also of the question I posed yesterday: how far should we take our emulating Jesus Christ? Set aside for a moment the fact that we are looking at one of the two Palm Sunday passages rather than the passages concerning the Passion of Christ. For they speak of one and the same Jesus Christ. Do we have the foresight to know what will happen, enough to say go to this place and avail yourself of such a thing using based on the the authority of our identity? Most likely not.

Perhaps, beloved reader, this is not the time either to consider to what extreme we should emulate Jesus Christ. But it is exactly the time (or a little earlier) that yesterday’s passage from Philippians was referring to. Should we set aside the question for a longer time? No, I think not.

“This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Should we have been taking notes earlier in Jesus’ ministry as to what and how to emulate Jesus? Most likely.

“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Verses 6 – 9)

In my reading of the bible, and the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, I always know that by this point the events have taken on a life of their own. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem so adorned, or unadorned as the prophecies take pains to point out, portents the end of the story. In mounting the donkey/colt, Jesus is taking one more step and large step to his crucifixion.

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Whatever lessons in our living our lives that we were supposed to learn are over. Now we see how and to what lengths the Messiah is going to go in sealing and searing those lessons in our being. And that . . . . that extremism is a lesson in and of itself. Up to now it has been “be nice”, “do good things”, “turn the other cheek”, “think not of self but of others”, and other Christian adages and guidelines. But at this juncture and from this point on, it is a commitment to the way we are supposed to live. A commitment that must be kept no matter the consequences. And that, beloved reader, might just be what the writer of Philippians (Paul) had in mind. We are not Christ. We can try to follow in his footsteps, but at some point the “Divineness” of the gets beyond our abilities. But we can have the same commitment to living an authentic Christian life as the authentic Christ did. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – The bringing of life in the Spirit

Think of this as the “antidote” passage to yesterday’s theme of bringing those “dead” & dried up back to life!

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6 – 8)

What the writer of Romans (Paul) meant was that thinking of earthly and/or worldly concerns is wrong thinking. I was just teasing about above! The Ezekiel passage was not concerned with the living body as much as it was concerned about hope in God and faith in God’s nature. And really, what was being revived with the spirit. Remember in the passage from Ezekiel that the body was nothing without the spirit within. And human spirit is called out/by/to Divine Spirit.

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Verses 9 – 10)

What Ezekiel prophesied for the nation of Israel, Paul proclaims as belonging to all people.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Verse 11)

Now, despite what theology Paul might have put forth, we cannot be sure what it means for us to be given life in our mortal bodies. My “friend” Albert Barnes believes this means that the body which is by its nature sinful can be redeemed to be in service to God. Other commentators tend toward the resurrection or life after death theory/theology; maybe more of the Ezekiel-type reanimation.

As for, I just thought it made a good pairing after the Old Testament passage. But I do believe that the Spirit of the Lord God can live through and direct our spirit. Imperfect we may be, and we may not 100% authentically do everything God would have us do. But we can give our will and free choice over the Divine and live according to those precepts. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – The Coming of the Light

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8 – 9)

“Live as children of light” – there are so many interpretations , good interpretations, that can be made of this. The first of which is, behave yourselves. Second, believe that you are “children of light” and find comfort in that; that you are forgiven, blessed, and loved. Third, live unconcerned about what will happen to you and how you will manage, because as children of light your needs will be taken care of by the Source of All Light. I’m not sure if the writer of Ephesians, Paul, meant all that. But I do.

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Imagine, beloved reader, everything that has been done and said will be seen. Everything! The writer of Ephesians, Paul, does not state explicitly how this happens, or at least it does not seem to be directly and openly stated. But I will.

The more shameful and sinful an action or statement is, the more the perpetrator will try to hide or disguise it. Beware, however, of those who do not try to disguise their terrible actions or statements. Flee from them! But, I start to digress. The deeper the shame and sin is hidden, the more likely our Lord God and Jesus Christ, and the gospel, is to disclose and reveal it. And when it disclosed and reveal and the perpetrator is unrepentant, the graver the consequences.

This process is part of the journey of Lent. We willingly disclose and reveal where we have gone wrong. The Divine grieves and mourns our missteps, and gives us reassurance that our repentance will be meet with Divine grace. It makes no sense, beloved reader, to hide what is shameful; it will be brought to let. Better for us to reveal it to the Divine and be in line for mercy and grace than to try to hide it.

May the Lord God’s mercy and grace be yours in abundance – greater abundance then your need! Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent: Epistles Passage – I am a “character”!

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

I can’t help but think of my own situation, beloved reader. Yes, things are better than last time I talked about this. But my situation is the same – job ending and I am not sure what I will do next for a job. It is not suffering, because I will not be destitute. But it will call forth endurance, and no doubt many of my characteristics (for good or for bad) will come forth. I think what is meant here is “good” character – positive traits and attributes. Because those things, the writer of Romans says, produces hope.

I will admit, freely admit, that I have struggled to understand this progression – from endurance to character and character to hope. How can one trait, I ponder, lead to another? And I have finally come to the simple answer, in the midst of my current struggles . . . . it simply does! I don’t know what the weeks will bring. In fact, as you read this, I am going through my second day of unemployment. And while I am writing this, I have idea what my next job will be. But I do have hope that there will be a “next job” for me. And that I am still within the Lord’s plan for me. If that is character that has resulted in hope, it must have happened while I was sleeping!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Verses 6 – 11)

After that realization, I just sort of drift through the verse six to eleven, still back at verse four and five, thinking “this hope I have that has not basis or foundation comes from years of simply holding tight to the Lord and living out my faith.”!

Yes, the Lord Jesus died for me, a sinner and that was amazing. And yes, I am saved. And yes, I am reconciled to “God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, to all those things. But character tested and refined leads to hope, the hope that I have that all will be well. Don’t know how, just know that it will be. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Epistles Passage – Paul encourages going out with God

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?” (Romans 4:1)

It felt only right that after reading about Abraham we look at what Paul said, since it is part of the lectionary readings for this Second Sunday of Lent. Not that I would avoid reading what Paul said otherwise, but it makes a nice flow.

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Verses 2 – 3)

But Abraham did not just believe God, or believe in God. Abraham stepped out in faith that God had called him to something new, and something that was large in scope and design. And as I am learning in these days, that can be a very hard thing to do. Paul was called out too, and perhaps for that reason he can speak well to Abraham’s belief and righteousness.

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I would like to believe, as Paul explains it, that grace from God cannot be earned as one would earn a paycheck but that God grants that grace to those who believe. In fact, in these days I am counting on God’s grace to get me through some hard times. And that as was true for Abraham, that God will show me the plans that the Divine had for me.

“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Verses 13 – 15)

So, I am trying to follow along with Paul, and being aware how it pertains to my own situation – without, beloved reader, setting out my tale of woe. As far as I can figure, Paul is contrasting the law (meaning Jewish law) with believe that leads to righteous. The law cannot bring righteous or God’s grace. But belief in God can. But again, not just passive belief but belief that is active and acted on. Paul uses the term faith, and perhaps his meaning of the what incorporates action that reflects following the direction and guidance of God – I think. What Paul emphasizes is that if the law is what is important, then faith has not power or foundation. And that, Paul says, is not true.

“For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Verses 16 – 17)

By now I am feeling that Paul is so far into his theology that he sets forth here that it has to be true or everything that Paul asserts falls apart. And quite frankly, beloved reader, that is a little scary. Maybe Paul is scared, in that he has set forth his whole life since his conversion on belief in God. Just as Abraham set forth his whole life when he was called out of Ur. And just as I am setting out in faith that things will work out for me.

Maybe choosing this passage was not a good choice. But you know beloved reader, by the time you read this some days will have passed. And what was before me know as I write this will be in the past. It is my fervent prayer that events will have resolved themselves in such a way that will be evident that God’s grace and blessing was with me the whole time but I could not yet see it. And that perhaps, just maybe, my faith in this will be counted as a small sliver of righteous to me. Shalom!

First Sunday in Lent: The Epistles Passage – Paul gets “cutesy”

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned- “ (Romans 5:12)

I have to pause and say, that placing the Genesis passage first in our week was pure impulse on my part, but it works!

. . . sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.” (Verse 13 – 14)

In seminary I was told that Paul compares Adam to Jesus, but that while it was through Adam that sin came into the world, it is through Jesus that sin in world is taken away. And that death likewise takes all people, but in Jesus death is loses it sting and potency. I tell you this, beloved reader, in order to explain this passage. Paul, in his involved theological discussion, also sets theological understandings which have not been shaken or changed.

Paul has constructed a tight argument (old meaning, a theological or philosophical treatise that can be examined and considered) for his Roman readers. I don’t exactly disagree with it or dispute it, but there is something here I am uncomfortable with. Let us continue though.

“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.” (Verses 15 – 16)

I know now what bothers me about this; it is discussion for the sake of discussion. It does not advance a theory or theology, but it is Paul making correlations and connections that are intriguing and complex. It is like a “compare and contrast” exercise that is designed to test how much you know about the topic and how elegantly you can display that knowledge. It is the sort of thing as a literature student I was called on to do often. But it does not help much to advance the general reader’s understanding. Paul continues.

“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Verses17 – 19)

It also frames Adam in a negative light, for the sake of the argument. Adam did not ask for an irresistible tree so he could sin by not resisting it. No more than we ask for sin to come into our life so that we can give in to it. As I said yesterday, Adam and Eve (let us not forget her) exercised free will, but chose to disregard God’s highest intention for them. But being flawed people and setting the potential that other parts of humanity might be flawed, God and Christ Jesus were given the opportunity to right what went wrong in the garden, and give humanity a chance to chose for God. (Okay, maybe I borrowed some of Paul’s approach. Mea culpa!)

But this move us further along to Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent where we consider our choices. May we choice wisely – looking to the past, considering our present, and planning our future. Selah!