The Sixth Sunday of Lent – The Annunciation of the Lord (The New Testament & Epistles Passages)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. “ (Luke 1: 26-38)

A little explanation of this day, the Annunciation of the Lord. In the lectionary cycle it is the day when Mary is said to have been told by the angel that she would give birth to Jesus nine months hence. Therefore it occurs on March 25, whenever that might fall. I do not know for sure, but I would suspect that it comes during the season of Lent quite often. However, when it occurs during Holy Week that feast day is moved to the first open/available time after Easter.

One way of understanding this is as a “throwback day”. It might be a term you, beloved reader, are more familiar with. When we are looking inward at our faith life and how we are living our Christian lives it is good to remember that Jesus did not come to the world as the Messiah he is now. Jesus came as a baby and went through each step of human development. Jesus knew what it meant to be human and to have human blood and emotions coursing through one’s body. It is also good, beloved reader, to remember in the weeks that come that Jesus had a human body.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:4-10)

This passage in Hebrews is based on Psalm 40 verses 6-8. They are a declaration by the psalmist that it is understand God does not desire offering and burnt items on an altar. God wants an open and willing heart and spirit in believers. Verses 7 and 8 say, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” We are to cultivate this attitude. Mary, the mother of God had this attitude; that might be why it is part of the lectionary readings for this day. But Jesus Christ, Mary’s son, had this attitude also. The writer of Hebrews sets it down as his experience of Jesus Christ. Psalm 40 does not convey the idea that a body or our body has been prepared, but that the psalmist will try to keep his/her heart and spirit open to God. But Jesus offers up his body for God’s purpose, and our redemption and salvation.

With these reminders set before us, let us continue to journey through Lent. Selah!

Mediator of a New Covenant or a New Beginning . . . that can be us too!

“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them …” (Hebrews 9:15a-b from Hebrews 9:1-28 )

I noted that this has been a sustained theme over 6 chapters – the role that Jesus Christ can play in the life of the believer, as an agent of grace, mercy, and salvation. However, I am chagrined to report that it took me this long to look back at the beginning of Hebrews; this letter from Paul is designed from the first to be an introduction to Christ the Messiah, and specifically that, his role as Messiah. Here Paul reveals Christ in the role of mediator which ties into the other roles that Paul has identified as Christ having. And I might have said again, yes/but, this is not all the Jesus does. Instead I have a different approach I want to make to this.

I don’t usually spend a lot of time with clients over the course of a year. First, most of our clients are stable in their lives and do not need some to monitor them. Second, most of them have other service providers who oversee their medical, physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. But not all. I spent several hours with a client who was in the midst of a client and needed to get services beyond what had already been established. My role was to advocate and insure the client got the needed services. So in a way I functioned as a mediator between the client and the location of services. It is not the first time I have done this, and most certainly will not be the last. As I read this verse, it gave pause.

Let me hasten to say that the services I mediated and advocated for were most certainly earth bound. Furthermore, they were not spiritual in nature. And finally, I am not the only one who can and has done this type of advocating and mediating. We are familiar with the term “mediator” because it is something that is done all the time in our culture and the global culture. It is a task that is quite often needed, especially as our global community because more broken and hurting. All of us at one time or another need fresh starts and new beginning.

I am aware that thus far I have not said much new or revolutionary. Nor perhaps have I explained completely why it gave me pause. Certainly I was pleased in a human earthly sort of way I helped by client by being an advocate and mediator. But it is the portion of the verse where Paul says “those who are called may receive.” From Paul’s perspective not everyone may gain the benefit of this new covenant or beginning. And that Christ is the mediator insuring that they are granted the new covenant. That it is ONLY THROUGH Christ, in fact, that this new covenant if available to them.

Now, if I was to tell you that my biggest role today was to insure that my client’s name would be called to receive treatment and receive exactly the treatment that was needed, perhaps the parallel would make more sense. So many people go to service providers of all types for treatment, but often they and their problems are minimalized or overlooked. It is very helpful to have someone there to make sure they are called back for services and treated correctly and appropriately. Is this not what Paul is saying that Christ does? I do not say this to place a spotlight on myself, but to show you gentle reader that while we may not be Divine, our actions can be life-saving to another. Do not think that what we do for another is inconsequential – for better or for worse. What we do matters. While we cannot bring any eternal to the other, we can bring grace, mercy, and compassion.

And the reason I am so adamant about this is because it is exactly what is missing from Paul’s theology in Hebrews. That Jesus is not only Highest Priest but Exemplar as well! Paul portrays a Christ who does most wondrous things, but does not teach that we should model as much and as best we can what Christ does for us!

May you gentle reader look to Christ for mercy and redemption for a new beginning; may you also work with and for others so that they might have new beginnings also. Selah! And shalom for all of us this day.

RETURN TO ME . . . Any “Now” Will Do

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents from sending calamity. “ (Joel 2:12-13 from Joel 2:12-17 )

It is my unshakable opinion that the phrase “yet even now”, however it is translated, means there is an open invitation to return to God. It was true and relevant when the prophet Joel spoke it. It was true when it was first set down in print. It was especially true when Jesus was alive and maybe even read these scriptures. It was true when the Hebrew was translated to other versions and paraphrases. It is continues to be true for every bible that is printed, sold, and read. It will always be true!

Return to God with everything that is in your body and spirit. Return with confession and petition, weeping in sorrow and weeping in joy for the gift of forgiveness and mercy. Do not bother to make physical gestures because God knows your heart, soul, and spirit.

Return to God because God is always welcoming – gracious and merciful. God loves us and does not hate us no matter what the sin. Return to God, because what ever we think might be our punishment can be turned aside.

Return as many times as you need to – God does not keep count. Return to God . . . . because there is nothing better that you can do. And not retuning does not bear thinking about. Return!

Shalom to you gentle reader as you turn again to God.

ZION REDEEMED – But who/where is “Zion”?

“Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” (Isaiah 1:27 from Isaiah 1:1-31 )

The Hebrew Interlinear tells me that “Zion” is a place, and the phrase “those in her” would tend to confirm that. But I would like to believe that we, gentle reader, are Zion or are in Zion; because that would mean that justice would redeem us and if we repent, we would receive righteousness.

While I am writing this, I am listening to some Christian music that is encouraging: granting us grace if we do not lead an exemplary Christian life and assuring us that if we are sincere in repentance we will not lose Christ’s love and compassion; committing our total selves and lives to following Christ’s example; and emboldening us to face those things that keep us from following God completely. Concepts of faith, forgiveness, mercy, and grace swirl around and through my ears. And makes me long for Zion, where justice is ever present and righteousness is there for the granting of.

Point us in the direction of Zion Lord, for we long to be there! Shalom for your day!

OUT OF SLAVERY – What redemptive love looks like

“I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of slavery; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you …” (Judges 6: 8b-9a from Judges 6:1-10 )

The Israelites, once again, turned their back on God and as a consequence (the book of Judges says) they were “handed over to” the Midianites for seven years – years filled with destruction and death of both the Israelites and their livestock, and the ruining or stealing of their crops. God said (again according to the book of Judges) “I did wonderful things for you, protected you and brought you to good lands, and told you what you must and more importantly what you must NOT do. And you did not listen to me! Still, I will send you someone who will help you.”

Firstly, let us note and then put aside this was a biblical/theological interpretation of a geographical/political incident. Second, let note and then put aside that there parallels and similarities between what happened to the Israelites and other nations BUT the same interpretations are not as readily made.

Having done those two things, let us look at the nature of God. . . . . Wow! Such patience and compassion for a people who insist on doing everything they should NOT, and who do NOT do the things they should. You would think sooner or later the Divine would give up. But our Lord does not. In spite and in the face of everything that God’s chosen people do, God still intervenes and lends a hand. And this is true, gentle reader, whether you are an Israelite or a modern day Christian. If we would/could just humble ourselves for one moment, we would have to confess that God is more faithful to us than we deserve, or sometimes expect.

We have been at this scriptural surveying of the beginning of the bible long enough to know how we SHOULD respond to God by seeing where the Israelites went astray. I suggest that on this Valentine’s Day we stop for (another) moment amidst our heart-shapes, cards, candy boxes etc and turn out thoughts to God, and thank our Lord for loving us so completely and being patient with us so thoroughly.

May you gentle reader have a Valentine’s Day filled with love from friends and family, and may you return that love to all of creation! Shalom for your red-hearted day!

ATONEMENT: Saying “I am sorry” visually

“Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, put fire on it from the altar and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them.” (Numbers 16:41-50 )

Here in Eugene (on the day of writing this) we are in the midst of cloud and fog. I am not sure why. None of my high school science lessons prepared me for understanding this current weather phenomenon. That is, warm air and cold air mix together to produce fog. But there is no hint of warm air. But then, as my daughter observed, maybe with global weather changes weather science needs to change too. I think she has a point.

How then does this relate to the scripture passage? Well, have you ever been in an incense cloud? It looks a lot like a weather cloud/fog. I have been in services where an incense burner has been carried throughout the congregation, and the smoke coming from the burner that is swung on a chain looks very much like a cloud or fog. So I have to wonder, is this God’s way of making atonement to nature for the abuses humanity has committed against nature?

But back to the pragmatics of the text. Yes, the Israelites did it again! Riled up God and the Divine let loose a plague that according to Numbers killed off “14,700 people . . . , in addition to those who had died in the affair involving Korah.“ (verse 49) Fortunately Moses’ quick thinking and Aaron’s nimble feet stopped the plague before it got worse.

It is interesting though to think about this in pragmatic terms; for instance, just how quickly did the plague kill them? And how quickly did Aaron spread the smoke? And might it be that the smoke killed off whatever germs etc that were killing the Israelites? I have other such “impertinent” questions.

Gentle reader, I have mulling this over and questioning this in my mind for over a week now. And I do not feel I am any closer to an answer as to why the God of Moses takes such action against a people that moved the Divine to such compassion as to free them from Egypt. If I was an Israelite I too might be at the point of saying, “if this is the actions of a “loving” God, who needs enemies?”

But another thought occurs to me, one that I have not thought of before. Maybe Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites believed that all things, good and bad, came directly from God’s hand. If an Israelite dies, it is because God chose/willed it. If an Israelite lived, it is because God chose/willed it. If one rants against God and then suffers in some way it is because God chose/willed it. But you and I, gentle reader, know that is not always the case. What would it feel like though, to believe one’s life and death were solely at the hand of God? That no accident, chance or coincidence was involved?

Interesting thoughts again. We may come back to them. However to sum up, and apply the “moral” to this story. It is good, when you grieve our Lord, to apologize. You don’t have to use smoke or incense. Just a simple heartfelt word or prayer to God will do. Whatever God the Israelites had, the God/Christ that I believe in welcomes our apologies and desires to be in open and good relationship with us. Shalom for your day!

What Does It Mean To Know Jesus/God And Be Saved?

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3: 4-6 )

I get quite discouraged when I read such absolutes – “if you sin you don’t know Jesus!” There just doesn’t seem to be much compassion and grace in such statements. And to me, that is what Christ is all about. Compassion and grace, love and forgiveness that overcomes all obstacles. If it were not so, how can we consider our God all powerful and all loving?

Thank goodness (and God) for Barnes whose interpretations and explanations not only echo my own, but examines the text and the meanings behind it. He says,: “Whosoever abideth in him – The word here employed (μένων menōn) properly means to remain, to continue, to abide. It is used of persons remaining or dwelling in a place, in the sense of abiding there permanently, or lodging there, and this is the common meaning of the word, [in Matthew, Mark and Luke] “et saepe.” In the writings of John, however, it is quite a favorite word to denote the relation which one sustains to another, in the sense of being united to him, or remaining with him in affection and love; being with him in heart and mind and will, as one makes his home in a dwelling. The sense seems to be that we have some sort of relation to him similar to that which we have to our home; that is, some fixed and permanent attachment to him. We live in him; we remain steadfast in our attachment to him, as we do to our own home. For the use of the word in John, in whose writings it so frequently occurs, see [other passages from John]. In the passage before us, as in his writings generally, it refers to one who lives the life of a Christian, as if he were always with Christ, and abode with him. It refers to the Christian considered as adhering steadfastly to the Saviour, and not as following him with transitory feelings, emotions, and raptures. “

But Barnes is not done yet; he examines the contention that any one who sins does not know Jesus/God. He says, “Who can maintain that Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob; that Moses, David, or Job; that Peter, John, or Paul, were absolutely perfect, and were never, after their regeneration, guilty of an act of sin? Certainly they never affirmed it of themselves, nor does the sacred record attribute to them any such perfection.” Barnes goes to say that if one sins always, with out remorse or awareness of the consequences, than this is a person who does not know or does not wish to know God. We sin when overtaken by temptation, not because we have turned away from God. It is an awareness of their sins that draw them closer to God and seek to know God even better so that they might not sin again.

There is hope, gentle reader, for us to be saved, and saved again if need be. God and Christ desire our salvation even more than we do. The Divine will not turn away from us. Rest assured in this gentle reader. Selah!

Salvation – the final bead on a long strand

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5 )

I got my rosary in the mail the day I wrote this. Now that I have it, I am not quite sure what to do with it. It is more than jewelry, but less than a tool for worship and reflection. It is pleasing to the eye, but not what one would call beautiful. I suspect as time goes by I will probably imbue it with meaning and significance. At this point it is like an empty vessel ready to be filled.

The writer of Romans starts out his letter to the believers in Rome by identifying what he feels he was called to do. Some of the basic translations of this verse say, “Jesus was kind to me and chose me to be an apostle, so that people of all nations would obey and have faith. “ (CEV) or “Through Christ, God gave me the special work of an apostle—to lead people of all nations to believe and obey him. I do all this to honor Christ.” (ERV) And as I think about, it seems to me the rosary is much the same thing – a way of being drawn to and reminded of Jesus Christ, the message of salvation and the tenets of their faith.

The rosary’s purpose is to help people become aware of praying and lifting themselves and their prayers to God, amongst other things. We can “work” our way through faith, like people work their way through prayer cycles counting off their prayers as the beads pass through their fingers. And when we get to the end, there we find our hope and our salvation. I have chosen as my “medallion” (the metal piece that is the link point of the circle of beads and from which five beads hang down ending in the crucifix symbol) on my rosary the chalice or cup, representing for me, a Mennonite, communion. I am not yet sure how I feel about the cross that dangles at the end. It is the means for salvation, which is the answer to sin. But there is more to my faith than that.

Obedience and faith, for me, are intermingled, one stemming from the other. And obedience and faith can come from prayers. But they also come from what you do when you put down the beads and enter into the world. And it is through one’s actions that one lives out and confirms what the gift of salvation has done in one’s life.

I do not know what place and significance salvation has in your life gentle reader – I would not presume to know. But I encourage you to think on it, and all the faith practices you have in your life. I am sure you will be hearing more about my rosary and how/if it inspires my thinking.

May our Lord Jesus Christ and the God who bestowed the gift of salvation on our world keep you and lead you where the Divine will. Selah!

What Does It Mean To Be Saved? Being lawful and lawless

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2 )

There is in the United States (and I am sure around the world) laws that do not make any sense, or refer to things that no longer need to be ruled and regulated. According to the law in Oregon dishes must drip dry, ice cream may not be eaten on Sunday, and canned corn cannot be used for bait while fishing. Specifically in Marion ministers are forbidden from eating garlic or onions before delivering a sermon. And in Portland shoelaces must be tied while walking down the street, it’s against the law for a wedding ceremony to be performed at a skating rink, people may not whistle underwater, and you cannot wear roller skates in restrooms. Important things to remember if you ever come out to visit me.

These laws were passed for good reason . . . I am sure . . . at one point in time. But now they just seems silly. However, the laws of sin and death are serious, and are laws that show no mercy or compassion, or a sense of humor. When you are brought up in front of the judge who adjudicates the law of sin and death it is not on the level of towel drying your dishes, tying a can of corn to a fishing rod or any of the other Oregon laws or other laws on the books. You will need a very strong defense.

Fortunately the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” gives you “legal” ground to stand on and plead your case. And the Spirit who is our Advocate will speak for us. Verse one of chapter eight says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” and the Confession says, “By his [Christ’s] death and resurrection, he breaks the powers of sin and death.”

So what does it mean to be saved? It means that Christ’s law frees us from death and brings us into eternal life. May you gentle reader be free to live lives that bring glory and thankfulness to our Redeemer. Selah!