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!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Moving forward from Easter Day

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:1 – 3)

Because I write a week ahead, I am actually writing this Easter day. And I confess, thoughts of Easter are swirling through my head. It is a nice swirling, but it makes it challenging to move forward in my thinking. The RCL seems to do the same, staying in the Easter mood for six Sundays until the ascension of the Lord is celebrated. It is interesting to consider psalms passage with the comforting awareness that we are praying to and petitioning a Lord who is rife with the power of the Resurrection.

“Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” (Verses 4 – 6)

In fact, most everything is better considered and offered up to a Risen Lord. I am also listening to music as I write – Christian contemporary music as it is my “go-to” type of music – and it seems sweeter to my ears as I am aware it is about a Risen Lord. Indeed, following other purposes and agendas on such a day as Easter day seems the height of foolishness. I am enjoying my “goodly heritage” and Godly choices.

“I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.” (Verses 7 – 9)

But what about you, beloved reader? How are you this day? When you read this it will not be Easter day, but a week after – minus a day since this will be set to post on Saturday. Is Easter still in your heart? Or have you moved on? Considering your life in light of Christ’s sacrifice and gift of life eternal to us? Or to “other purposes and agendas”? How long can we and do we carry the message of Easter? For us is it six weeks and then no longer a relevant fact and event? On a day such as this, it seems hard to imagine.

“For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The Lord God who gave us Jesus Christ the Messiah does not forget us, or move away from love for us, giving and caring for us. How then could we? Easter may came only once a year, but the lessons of Easter and the sweet sense of the Divine’s compassion is year long. Let us life that way, beloved reader! Selah!

Liturgy of the Passion: The Old Testament Passage – Being teacher and taught

We are getting close now, close to the end of Lent, and close to Easter. This Sunday coming up is Palm Sunday as well as Passion Sunday. One to indication Jesus coming triumphantly into Jerusalem and one it signal the start of Passion Week. I have chosen to start the week with “passion”. One of the tasks in my life away from the keyboard is to try to find a job. It is hard for me to promote myself, preferring to point beyond myself to other concerns. So I am making it a personal challenge to look at this passage in terms of how it does or does not describe me. Of course, the ideal is for it to describe the Messiah whose journey to the cross is coming close. And while it does a good job – a very good some biblical commentators would say – I am conscious of the fact that the writer of Isaiah might have had a different idea in mind when it was penned.

“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

Perhaps it is only this time, when I look at this passage that I see the writer is both a teacher and a listener. I do not know if I had seen/realized that before – being in a tizzy about whether I can claim the role of teacher. But if one both teaches and listens, that says something significant; that one does not know everything but needs to remain open to learning and understanding in new and deeper ways. That is something I have no problems claiming.

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.” (Verse 5)

It has been hard, beloved reader, to go through this period of time. It has been seven years since I was not employed. My last period of time of unemployment lasted six months, and I am not sure how I made it through. At the two week point I find the inactivity weighs heavy on my hands and mind. Last time I used the days and weeks to write, and I wrote a great deal. This time, however, my writing is so incorporated into my other activities that this extra time is not needed for my current writing schedule. Maybe, maybe, I am being called into writing more. I know that this week being Passion/Palm Sunday and next week leading up to Easter Sunday, I will be writing daily. And it pleases me to know I will have the time. I think though, what about beyond that time?

“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Verse 6)

It is hard too, because I am used to “earning my keep” and having the measure of income to show how my time is spent. I am not one for “domestic” chores; I do not find my challenge and satisfaction in cleaning, polishing, and dusting. And perhaps, if truth to tell, I find that to be my only challenge in a day, I would rather set that aside and find other pursuits. It is also the loss of position and place of my job. I was “somebody” and in my dark times I feel like “nobody”. It is not a far stretch, in these days and weeks, to feel as the writer of Isaiah feels – back struck, cheeks pulled, insulted and spat upon. If I am the “teacher” I would feign to claim to me, you would think that I should not measure myself against worldly measures and agenda.

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verses 7 – 9a)

The writer of Isaiah’s words remind me, what was true for that person is (or should be) true for me now. I am not disgraced; no, not because of domestic chores or declining them, but because I have determined to persevere. But to look at my situation straight on and deal with it by opening my ear and listening to the Lord’s comfort and guidance.

This season of Lent has been a different one for me, fair different from other years. And I greatly suspect it will stick out in my memory. And that is not such a bad thing. Growth and new learning is hard, painful, and sometimes embarrassing. But far worse is refusing to grow and learn. A teacher may teach, but a teacher must learn also. So I say to my Lord, let the learning continue. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Crying out and receiving hope

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” (Psalm 130:1 – 4)

I stumble at the word “revered”. So I went to look it up, consulting my “friend” Albert Barnes. He said, “The idea is, not that pardon produces fear or terror – for the very reverse is true – but that God, by forgiving the sinner, brings him to reverence him, to worship him, to serve him: that is, the sinner is truly reconciled to God, and becomes a sincere worshipper.“ This sits well my perspective and understanding. With/for a Lord that brings such comfort and peace . . .

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Verses 5 – 6)

We often think and talk about the return of Jesus Christ and the Lord God. But the reality is that more have gone, passed away, to meet the Divine. The Divine may well return, but what I mean is that while we are waiting souls are passing away. And there wait is no more. The further reality is that it is more likely that I will pass from this life into the next rather than being here on the earth in life when the Lord God Jesus Christ returns. I wait not for the return of the Lord but to be united with my Lord in the life to come. My morning . . . . is my death.

“O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” (Verses 7 – 8)

All of the people of Israel – and Judah and the psalmist and all the prophets and the Christians of the early Christian church and most all of my forebearers, spiritual and otherwise – have gone on to meet the Lord God Jesus Christ. It is where our hope is.

My point is, we do not have to wait until the Lord returns. We do not have to wait until our passing either; our hope is now. This is part of the good news, the gospel that Paul and the other disciples journeyed forth to let us know. And I pass that news on to you, beloved reader. Our hope has come! Selah!