Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Hearing, and Not Hearing the Lord God

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” (Psalm 68:1 – 3)

It is not an overstatement to say that the church designates certain Sundays as “celebration” Sundays. During those weeks the psalm passage are usually very praising and celebratory. And the first section of verse one fits in very well with the Ascension of the Lord theme. So let’s celebrate!


“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Part of celebrating is recounting and remembering when and how the Lord was faithful.

“O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Even though the fate and circumstances of the Lord’s called people may vary and change, surge forth and ebb away, the Lord is faithful. At least that’s what we tell ourselves and each other.

I cannot turn a blind eye, beloved reader, to the times and places that the called people of God have cried out, “My God, where are you?!” Our exemplar and Lord Jesus Christ did the same thing. Yes, there are times God goes out before us – marching, making the earth quake and water pour down, and generally making the Divine Presence known. But there are also times when we fill like we are out there all alone when the earth quakes and the waters pour, and we are shivering and shaking in the dark.

A large part of the stories in the Old Testament are of both noteworthy and common every day people who were having a hard time fulfilling the call they were supposed to have had from the Lord God. And seemingly not getting it right! And it also seemed like the Lord God was set against them and teaching them lessons that successive generations had to re-learn.

To tell you the honest truth, beloved reader, I am not sure how the people of the Old Testament messed ups, or even if they did mess up. A lot of the politics of the time swept the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews along with it, and the people suffered. They said it was because the Lord deserted them, as a consequence of their behavior. To read the Old Testament prophets (both major and minor) that’s the impression you get. What I do know is that at some point the Lord God said to the God-self, “Humanity does not seem to be getting the message. It’s time for a different plan.” So Jesus was sent. And things started to get a bit better.

So do not think that just because the Lord is not out there booming the big Divine drum that God has forsaken humanity. God is right there beside us, standing with us on the rolling shaking landscape and getting wet too! And now we know this. What we know further is that just because Jesus is in heaven, we are not alone down here. Yes, we will mess up, in ways we cannot count, fathom, or begin to know. But, we are not alone.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Verses 32 – 35)

Selah!

Ascension of the Lord: The Gospel, Epistle and Psalm Passage – All things working together under the Lord God Jesus Christ

You can pretty much assume, beloved reader, that if it is a celebration day in the church year, they will be plenty of scripture passages and I will use a great many of them! After all, I have to pack several citations onto one day!

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44 – 47)

It would not be wonderful, beloved reader, if our minds could be opened to understand ALL the scriptures! One could be a biblical commentator without equal! If that was one’s goal in life. We who are living many generations after the disciples have to learn scriptural understanding bit by bit. It takes time and effort, and there are many who do not want to make that time and effort. For myself, I do not mind so much having to come to understandings of scripture slowly, as long as I can have an outlet to share what I have learned. If my mouth and words were stifled, and I could not share it . . . well, I don’t think I could withstand that very well.

“You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Verses 48 – 53)

And I can barely imagine what it must have been like to witness Jesus in the flesh, to walk with him and learn from him, and then face the prospect of NOT talking about it. Maybe that is why the disciples/apostles continue to talk, preach, and witness concerning Jesus even when their lives were threatened. I think I would do the same thing, defy anyone who tried to keep me quiet.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

I can also understand Paul taking every opportunity to witness, preach, and testify about God. While he never met (I do not think) Jesus before Jesus was put to death, his experience on the road to Damascus is probably as close to a physical encounter with the risen Lord as one can get.

In the New Testament, it seems to be, Paul’s conversion was very close to the ascension of Jesus, probably something done soon after Jesus had returned to heaven – if we were to think about it along human time lines. It was because of Jesus’ ascension to heaven that the Spirit was able to do such work on earth.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

It reminds of the concept that all things work together in the Lord for a good result. That does not mean that the bad that happens is allowed because it happens for a purpose. But that all things that happen, good and bad, the Lord is able to work with and re-work so that suffering and pain is not in vain; and that the good in the world translates to good in heaven.

The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” (Psalms 93: 1 – 2)

We would expect no less from the Divine. We, humanity praise the Lord, and all creation praises the Lord.

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD! Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.” (verses 3 – 5)

Once again, and still, the Lord God Jesus Christ is enthroned in heaven. All may not be right with the world – there is much that is wrong. But with the Lord God in heaven, and the Lord’s called people on earth, all will be right someday. Selah!

Ascension of the Lord: The Psalm Passage – A Celebration is Coming

As I was thinking and looking towards writing for Thursday May 25th, the Day of the Ascension of the Lord, I got to thinking about the significance of that day to the disciples. As I said yesterday, it is not the same sort of celebration as Pentecost is. In hindsight it is clear to us as modern day believers that Jesus would return to heaven and the Lord who sent him. Maybe that was clear enough to the disciples or maybe that took them by surprise. But what really lodged in my mind, and led me to writing for a second time for today, is that the day BEFORE the ascension of the Lord, they did not know it was coming. It is like the day before a surprise birthday party or other celebration – the day before, you don’t know it is coming. And it is a celebration (it’s why it is commemorated in the church year) that Jesus is returning to heaven so that the things that were promised can and will come to pass.

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” (Psalm 47:1-3)

Well, the psalmist is not quite within the same perspective as us for this day – in fact, this psalm is applied to this day as opposed to having been specifically written for the ascension of the Lord. A fact that finds in parallel in a great deal of scripture passages used in the Revised Common Lectionary. We will be celebrating tomorrow that the Lord God Jesus Christ is “awesome”. Just not quite for the reason the psalmist had in mind.

“He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” (Verses 4 – 8)

This is the celebration – that the Lord who was and is Jesus is now back with the Lord God Creator and all the other aspects of the Divine. It is, albeit, a celebration that is specific to God’s people who believe in the triune nature of the Divine – God the Creator/Parent, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And the psalmist says that all things are under God; whether it be a triune God that is now reunited with its God-self (okay, at admit it strains some theologies to see God in this light) or a God who is “simply” mighty over all things. And verse nine seems to be an exclamation point on this idea. I consulted with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he helped me understand verse nine.

“The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.” (Verse 9)

Everyone is gathered under God; those who come voluntarily as the called people of God, and those who God “subdued” under the God-self, as described in verse three. Everyone and everything is under God. And our Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended, is over all things. And that is what we celebrate tomorrow, according to the psalmist.

But, and it is a big “but”, the Lord God as described by the psalmist is not quite the same Lord Jesus Christ that the disciples had come to know. And that was a big stumbling block to some. That the “mighty” Almighty Lord God came to earth and humbled the God-self unto being put to death. Not that it stopped the Lord God, you understand. So while we appropriate the celebration as the psalmist presents it, when re-define it to celebrate that what came to us humbled is now returned to heaven in victory. And that, beloved reader, is worth celebrating – tomorrow. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – When the Lord “comes through”

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.” (Psalm 66:8 – 9)

Last week I directed and dedicated the psalm passage to my fellow chronic illness sufferers. I was reminded of that by this first verse, although some in our group have passed away because of this disease.

“For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Verse 10)

Admittedly, however, these verses are directed more at sin and trying to live a life according to Christian principles. This disease is not from anything we have done that is against Christian precepts. Very very diseases are.

“You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Verse 11 – 12)

And healing from diseases is not dependent on living out Christian principles either. That is, sinners as well as saints recover from disease or succumb to the devastation of body and health. So let us leave behind health considers, and look together at what this passage has to say.

“I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.” (Verse 13 – 14)

In times of trouble, we promise the Divine if we are delivered from our problems we will be more dedicated to the religious life and will turn away from habits and patters that are contrary to the Lord’s directions and guidance. The psalmist here promises now that things are better, the psalmist will follow through on these promises. And actually, by living a more authentic Christian life there will be far less danger of bringing problems upon ourselves.

“I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah” (Verse 15)

When the Lord has delivered us from our woes and worries, our faults and failings, our straying and distress, we seek to honor the God who stood by us and walked us through it. Ways and traditions of honoring and giving thanks to God have evolved and changed. But the impulse is still there.

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” (Verses 16 – 20)

Blessed be God! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Coming to the Lord . . . . when there is illness

Seeker: “In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.”
Preacher: There are those amongst us who seek a special refuge and deliverance – those who are ill and do not foresee healing soon. Illness that is prolonged and every increasing is difficult to handle. It is not unusual for those who suffer from it to feel depressed and alone. They come to the Lord for healing and sometimes the answer is “no.”
Seeker: “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.”

Preacher: They are children of God, who suffer like this. But the Lord can seem far from them, remote and uncaring. The Lord is not like that, but from the middle of their illness it may seem like that. An answer of “no” to healing does not mean the Lord is not with them. In fact, the Lord may be especially close to them, walking with them day be day. They need not be ashamed. Their deliverance may come in different ways and at different times, but it will come in the Lord’s time.
Seeker: “You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.”

Preacher: For those in ministry, and those who simply walk beside them in life, it can also be a heavy burden. To see someone suffering, and know that there is nothing you can do, can drain even the best of saints. The Lord is there for them too!
Seeker: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.”

Preacher: The psalm passages can be used in such times – times of illness and suffering. Times of depression and downheartedness. The Lord is there at the bottom of one’s endurance and at the end of stamina.
Seeker: “My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.”

Preacher: Who can say what may come of such suffering? The Lord does not bring suffering just to draw us closer, but uses the suffering that comes in this life to invite us to a closer walk with the Divine.
Seeker: “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16)

Preacher: Let us pause in our reflections to remember those amongst us who suffer in the body, whose suffering is brought on by illness that defies human understanding. Let us come to the Lord, and in our thoughts bring with us those who come to mind. May the Lord minister to all us, and in the Lord may we find the healing that lifts us to live everlasting. Selah!

 

[There is a group that I am part of that supports myself and others who are chronically ill. This reflection goes out to them. And the prayer is for them, and for myself. Here I am both Seeker and Preacher – sufferer and minister. In need and giving support to others. If it were not for my own suffering, I would have no idea how much of a privilege it is to support and minister to others. Selah and Amen!]

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Traits of the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It occurred to me yesterday that there is a great difference between the shepherds that come to shepherding through and because of faith in the Lord, and the “Good Shepherd” who watches over both “local” shepherds and the Lord’s sheep. Now remember what we discussed yesterday that sheep are not blind mindless followers but initial followers of the the local shepherds and the the Good Shepherd.

Here in the psalm passage we learn more about the Good Shepherd. Or at least more about the motif/metaphor that the psalmist employs.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;” (Verse 2)

The Lord as the Great Shepherd does not expect us to be nurtured and nourished by turbulence. We say that times of stress and distress help us to learn to depend on the Lord. But the purpose of the Good Shepherd is to bring peace to our soul. We learn that even if there is turbulence in our lives, the Lord provides a place of calm.

“ . . . he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)

The Divine that we call by the name of Lord has pledged with all that the Omnipotent Divine has and is to undertake for us. This is what the psalmist means (I think) when he says “for his name’s sake” – although the Divine is not bound by our definitions of “his”.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.” (Verse 4)

I said a few verses back that the Lord creates places of calm. The security and calm of the Lord’s rod and staff is that it keeps danger away from us, and lead us where we should go. I am not talking about the danger that we may face in this world, but the danger to our spirit and soul, that which will survive us after bodily death. Those who follow the Lord may have fears and concerns in this life, but the answer to those concerns is the Lord, who will not abandon us – for the sake of the Lord’s name.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Verse 5)

The Might of the Lord is evident in the face of the dangers we may face, and in front of those who seek to harm us. Our calm and confidence comes from a deep well within us that the Lord has established. We can draw on that when we face the stress and pressures of this world. And we are renewed with the Divine’s calm and peace. As the psalmist says . . .

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

I want to share something with you that I came across the day I sat down to write this reflection and post – “As the print of the seal on wax is the express image of the seal itself, so Christ of the express image – the perfect representation of God. ” St.Ambrose spoke it, I do not know when as the source of the quote did not identify it. But I had to think to myself, how could so many people have misunderstand, and continue to misunderstand the nature of God when Christ exemplified it. The 23rd psalm does not say that the Messiah that is to come, or some holy man called by the Lord is the Shepherd – but Lord, the Godself, is the Shepherd who does all of these things for the sheep that have the good sense to follow. I could go on and on identifying the various ways that I feel God has been misunderstood. But that is not my purpose. Beloved reader, look to Christ as the way of compassion and care that the Lord God has always extended to humanity. Selah and shalom!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – From then to now . . . believing in the Divine

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!” (Psalm 116:1-4)

One of the things about the Old Testament is that it is a “before” in terms of a relationship to God. Before – salvation, forgiveness, redemption and atonement. Before – speaking to the Divine as a close personal friend. Before – the assurance that the Divine always has our best interests at the center of our relationship to the Lord. And, Before – we knew what the Lord wanted in return for the blessing and gifts that are bestowed on us.


“What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!” (Verses 12 – 19)

That is not to say that there was no one who had an intimate relationship with the Lord. The bible, and the Old Testament, is filled with stories of men and women who lived extra-ordinary lives dedicated to the Lord. It’s just that there were many people who didn’t, who went astray, and never really found their way back. The coming Christ broke down many barriers. But, beloved reader, humanity is also very skilled at putting up barriers to the Divine; the same skill, I imagine, that many unnamed people had back in the time of the Old Testament, branching into New Testament times.

Wouldn’t it be nice to believe that the coming of Christ tore down the barriers as it tore down the curtain in the Holy of Holies in the temple? But my optimism for those living in New Testament times, and more specifically in the decades and centuries after Christ, meets up with reality. So we look back – back to the Old Testament to learn how the distance between the Divine and the people of God came to be. Back to the New Testament to learn how a new way of believing and living came into existence. And then back over the history of humanity since Christ returned to heaven. And hopefully we learn, and carry those lessons forward. Hopefully . . . . Selah!