Week of Leading Up to Christmas: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Quiet night, holy night; now and long ago

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

Tonight (or more precisely the night I sat down to write on this passage) I was feeling good. Last week it was the same; the first night I was feeling very out of sorts and anxious. Yesterday was a tough day and the evening did not go smoothly. But tonight things are better. Tonight I can say “how beautiful upon the mountains” because I feel at peace inside.

Now, I am not suggesting we cannot see and feel beauty when we are out of sorts, or that God’s presence in our lives is negate by the stress in our lives. Far from it! Last week on the night I felt out of sorts, the writing on the passage in question helped me immensely. As I knew it would. And last night when I felt like all things were flying out of control, I was able to center myself by writing on God’s word. But tonight . . .

“Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Tonight I can sit back and enjoy the calm that is in my spirit and soul. Tonight I can feel the harmony that is very present in the world, as opposed to the disorder and chaos that is also in the world. Tonight is a “heavenly peace” night, to use a theme of the season. For that night of heavenly peace that came at the birth of our Lord was also the night . . .

“The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. “ (Verse 10)

I do so love it when good plans come together. Goodwill and peace to all! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Finding comfort in the psalmist’s words

You are righteous, O Lord, and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness and in all faithfulness.” (Psalms 119:137 – 138)

It is supposed, and I am not questioning it, that the Psalms were written before the birth of Jesus. Often passages from the Psalms are said to foretell or predict what Jesus will/would do, and what he will/would mean to the Jewish people of that time – and what he means to us. That being the case, these declarations concerning God came into existence longer ago than 2000 years. And will probably withstand the test of time for the next 2000 years – if human existence lasts that long. And this gives me comfort when current events in the United States loom on the horizon.

If you reside in a country other than the United States beloved reader, these events might be more at a distance for you. And their implications not as great; but I suspect that what the people of the United States decide will still make ripples in the global pond. And that gives me comfort too.

My zeal consumes me because my foes forget your words.” (Verse 139)

This line puzzled me, so I looked at in according to the Easy to Read Version – “Something that really upsets me is the thought that my enemies ignore your commands.” Now, this sounds kind of political. And these days I have been very reluctant to dip my toe into anything political; even more so than previously. I found myself, however, pulled into politics. Or more accurately, dismayed when I discover something I previously thought non-political having political underpinnings. Of course, it may be the times we are in that has me giving political shadings to this verse. I should move on quickly.

“Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.” (Verse 140)

Yes, much better. As I said, these words come from several centuries back, and I hold tightly to me the promise and premise that God is unchanging, and that the God that Jesus the Christ points to was the same at this writing of the Psalms as he was when Jesus walked the earth, and as the Lord God is now.

“I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.” (Verse 141)

Other translations tell me “small and despised” is meant to convey the idea that the writer is young and inexperienced – not well thought of by his elders. I am not sure that is true in my case, but I too cling to God’s precepts.

“Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me, but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” (Verses 142- 144)

Throughout the history that the bible has as its backdrop, there were political situations and issues that were as unsettling then as our modern times are now. The Psalms passages comforted and sustained the people then, as they do now. It is good to remember. And it makes me feel tied and connected to my spiritual forebearers that they looked to the Psalms for comfort and strength. I would encourage and exhort you beloved reader to look to them also. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Lamenting and mourning for all losses

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalms 137:1)

When I read the Lamentations passage of yesterday, I was reminded of this psalm, and here it is! I have to wonder if the writer of Lamentations and the psalmist were of the same time and place. It does seem in its histories Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem have similar sorrows and woes.

“On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Verses 2 – 4)

But the would appear (and sounds like) the psalmist is with the captives as opposed to one of those left behind or mourning what was left behind.

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Gone from but not forgotten.

Sometimes I think back to my previous live, when I was a child and living in Ontario, Canada. Not that I have regrets or sorrow about my life now. But I think back to the town I grew up in and the way of life there. And I wonder – what is going on back there. How are the friends and family I still have there. What has changed. It is not with sorrow, but with reminiscence. Curiosity, and not anger. But the writer of this psalm is angry. And vengeful.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!” (Verses 7 – 8)

Hatred begets hatred. It is a lesson each generation and each nation must learn. Or they are destined to repeat the actions and mistakes that went before. What seeds does a conquering and destroying nation plant when they ripe asunder those weaker and vulnerable then them. How often has history seen the fruit of hatred and war spring up where it has been sown by a stronger nation. In each continent it has happened. And invariably it is the weak and defenseless that suffer. Let it be a grime epitaph when one nations says of another . . .

Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.” (Verse 9)

And it is a curse upon each nation that it happens to. For anger and vengeance shall rise up in defense only to become the offense and oppression, and death, that is visited on each successive nation and generation. Yes, beloved reader, let us mourn!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.

Selah
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

(Psalms 85:1-3)

I can not take any credit for the title of this, beloved reader, because it is what the NRSV has for the heading for this psalm. I can take credit, however, for deciding it is a good one for me to use. Just as we can take no credit for the grace and blessing that God bestows on us, but we can take credit for passing on that grace and blessing to others. And in light of the recent events in our world, I think it would be a fine thing to give grace and blessing to each life in our global community. It seems there has been far too little of that going one. And, it is a fine thing, a very very fine thing, to pray for restoration for a our global community.

Certainly there is every appearance and fact that not everyone in our global community wishes to live in harmony with each other person. The events fo the past two weeks give ample proof of that. I can just imagine what Preacher and Seeker would have to say. And it may not be to farfetched a thing to say they are in mourning over the recent events – not to mention what might happen between the time I write this and you read it.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.” (Verse 4)

God’s favor is something that our world desperately needs. It may not be something that some think others deserve, whatever the reason, rationale, or (dare I say it) bias/prejudice. But I tell you . . . exhort you . . . assure you . . . that God’s favor is for all. The writer of psalms may have thought God’s favor had left the people in light of what was happening. Remember, however, this was written before the coming of Jesus and the assurance through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that God’s love in eternal and unchanging.

“Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” (Verses 5 -6)

Ah, here is the key beloved reader. And Preacher/Seeker would be the first to point it out that many times . . . too many times . . . the “people” rejoice in God only when things are going well. When things are going . . . not well – think of the recent events in our world – the “people” fear and bemoan the times, the situation, and the other “people” who have caused the “not well-ness.” But that is the whole problem beloved reader; this “them/us” mindset where one group of people are given lesser value and important than others – it is literally killing us! We need to, for our very survival! Extend God’s favor and blessing to everyone! EVERYONE! Yes, EVERYONE!!!! If we allow the hatred that one person’s or one group’s action effect how we relate to each other, we have denied the possibility of God’s favor extending to them, and have set the stage for more violence.

Now, you may think I just mean certain groups or situations, but I am talking about even those who oppress, persecute, and yes, kill others. That does not mean we do not recognize their sin and evil intent. And we must restrain and stop them from allowing their sin and evil to cause more harm. But we also must make sure that our rejection to the sin and evil does not cause us to spread sin and evil that forms and festers in our own hearts! We, those who are suffering in all manner of ways, need God’s restoration too. And let it be that God’s favor heals the wounds in our hearts and the hearts, souls, and lives of those who have been brutally wounded.

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I have often asked myself in these last two weeks what I can do in the face of this. What can I do? I am not a person who attends rallies and speaks to the crowds. I do not belong to any group that marches or demonstrates or protests. I once did such things, but not now. And I have found that my efforts to add to what has been written social media forums has not resulted in good outcomes. So here I am, simply writing here on my blog, trying to address the issue of the day by putting forth scripture and commenting on it. And living peaceably with all those around me. Not much when you add it up. Yet . . . . .

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Verse 9)

If I can, through my small efforts, show “fear” for the Lord and encourage “fear” that is love, honor, reverence, and devotion to/for the Lord – then I have done much. And you, beloved reader, can do the same!

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Verses 10 – 13)

This is a prayer, and a hope, that the psalmist set forth. And it is also a promise that some day will have its fulfillment. We wait for that day, we long for that day; and, most importantly, we work towards that day in whatever ways we can and when ever we can spreading that love that we KNOW is from God. Because in these days human love just is not enough. We need to connect to the love that is from and of God. And that love will restore us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – Choosing the correct and “better” things

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

As a common practice, I try not to root my postings in the events that are happening when I write; since I sometimes write a week ahead, what is news now is past news when you read this. Dallas, Louisiana, and Minneapolis were high profile news spots the day I sat down to write this, and yesterday’s post rested heavily on the news of that time. I cannot and would not try to predict what the latest news is when you read this.

If you can remember back to the Monday of this week, I talked about how people can live and believe in different ways, yet live in harmony. My point was focused on slightly varying faith beliefs under the larger umbrella of believe in a common God – capital letter “G”. Yesterday I bemoaned large sections of society and the global community espousing and acting out beliefs that would not fit under that large umbrella. And the events of these past days, as I write this, are still floating around in my thinking.

But my focus is sharpened and defined when I read Jesus’ words “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” And I imagine the Divine saying to me, “Carole, Carole, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing – love for all of humanity.” The language we use to convey our feelings can trip us up as often as it explains our intent. People of good conscience place meanings on things that were not meant. And to reiterate the theme I started on Monday – that is why God calls people who are so diverse, so that authenticate Christianity can be lived out in such a way that it draws the maximum amount of people to it. While there may be “Marthas” among us who worry, and try to do and say the correct things, there are many, many “Marys” who have chosen “the better part” for them and those in their circle and acquaintance, and that will not be taken from them.

My heart bleeds, my head mourns, and my spirit is racked with grief over the event which were last week. I want to say so many things, and establish my opinion and perspective in words. But in the long run, my opinion does not matter as much as what is done in the wider society. I know who I am, and what I believe. And those around me know that also. Putting forth my opinion and perspective is not needed. Putting forth the unalterable love that is of and from God is what is needed. Being attentive to God, and God’s teachings on love, acceptance, compassion, and mercy is what is needed. And forgiveness – oh beloved reader, forgiveness is so needed. When we carry around resentment and hatred, prejudice and animosity, violence and revenge – we carry around lethal weapons! It is not, to say the very least, the “better part.” It is my hope in pray that as the days moved forward every chose and continues to choose “the better part.” Selah!

Fourth Week of Advent – Christ now; but who then? And what of peace to all humanity? (The Old Testament Passage)

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,

in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:2-5a)

It was “foretold” that the baby Jesus would be born of Bethlehem. A minor city at that time, but one that was important in olden days. It was the city of David; but David was long gone and his kingship a memory only. Many things in the Old Testament “foretell” things of Jesus. But this foretelling is seen in the “hindsight” of Jesus’ coming, and all that Jesus was. What might the writer of Micah been thinking about when he wrote this; was he thinking of Jesus? It is puzzling because Christian commentators take verse 5b as figurative – that is, that we evil comes against God’s people, God will provide or has already provided a remedy in Christ. Verse 5a is literal; 5b is figurative. Wish I could talk the writer of Micah.

You see, beloved reader, the Jews were not expecting the type of Messiah that Jesus Christ was. They were expecting the type of Messiah-leader who would help “If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers.” (Verse 5b) So Jesus coming to the world as a baby was not the type of kingship that the Jews of that time expected. And I suspect, gentle reader, it is not the type of kingship many people today would like to have from their God. Let me dip my “pen” into political ink for just a moment; it seems many people what a God who will punish those who they see needing punishment, and be hostile against those they feel are the “them” that the “us” need to repeal and resist. I could go on, but I think (I hope) you understand what I mean.

We are in the last week of Advent, and the last day before we delve into the week of Christmas. Throughout the history of humanity the days and season of Christmas is when we set aside our hostilities and reach out to all humanity in peace and harmonious accord. I hope and pray that it is no different this season. May it be so in your part of the world. Selah!

 

P.S. I wrote a companion peace to this posting  on my other blog, Pondering from the Pacific. You can see it in about 10 minutes after this one has posted. The Christ who was born from a God of Peace, Love, and Compassion

Season After Pentecost – Thinking about who we are, who is in opposition to us, and how we handle that. (The Gospel Passage)

It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day. I usually do not make special recognition of holidays, especially civic one. The RCL does not coincide with those days, and since I am picking which days out of the 7 days that are covered by the weekly RCL passages the verses are not meant to coincide with any specific day of that week. Of course the church/religious holidays are different – the RCL takes those into account. So it is sure happenstance that this day this passage from Mark is being presented to you on the Fourth of July. Let’s see what we can make of it.

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:1-3)

The Fourth of July celebrates the United States freedom from the “tyranny” of England. One privileged and powerful group was trying to take advantage of and gain financially/materially from less powerful and more needy group. And the less powerful/more needy group rose up in protest, and cast off & chased out the representatives of the powerful and privileged group; they demanded and eventually received self-government and autonomy. This is a scenario that has been repented endless time, and considering human nature, will be repeated endless times. The prevailing and powerful groups will always wonder how and by what right the smaller and less powerful groups came to have the desire and display the ability to be more than what others thought they would be. Now THAT is a sneaky and round about way of putting this bible passage in context for this day!

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:4-6a)

We can often get bogged down in seeing only one side of a situation, and identify too strongly with only one side such that we cannot see the opposing view. We who live in the United States get so used to being those of privilege and power that we forget what it is like to be small and powerless. I am not so sure that Fourth of July celebrations are a remedy to that.

We also have a history and heritage of being the underdogs and see ourselves pitted against the “larger” and more privileged group, and we forget that many times the larger group is just trying to sustain their own status quo and does not mean to thwart of our self-determination.

The people of Jesus’ town knew him only as an ordinary boy who had grown to manhood before their eyes. He was one of their own, and as such would be/should be no different than they. And they felt it was an insult to their self-perception that he should consider himself so different. But there can be seeds of greatness in all people; and that should not be stifled simply because we cannot imagine ourselves, or just as accurately do not want to strive to make ourselves, any different or greater.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:6b-13)

We pride ourselves on being a “great nation” that has come from “humble beginnings” and has had to fight against enormous odds to be successful. But in the rush and flourish to celebrate and congratulate we inadvertently or, more to our shame, consciously stifle and thwart the advancement of others.

Jesus told his disciples to go out humbly and thoughtfully; and they ended up doing great things. I fear it would ruffle too many feathers if I voiced my thoughts concerning the opposing but parallel perspective I hold of the United States. Not quite the Fourth of July rhetoric you usually read – but then I am Canadian and Canada’s Independence Day is past. More importantly, I am an Anabaptist Christian. And look at the issues of independence and the days to celebrate it differently. Shalom!