Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Psalm Passage – Summing up the theme for this week, and holy scripture in general

I am having a little bit of a challenge trying to figure out what Psalm passage to us. Normally I would use the one that is linked to the Old Testament passage that I used, but I sort of made use of both. (See Tuesday of this week.) I used the Isaiah passage most overtly, and that selection is tied to Psalm 65: 1 – 13. Psalm 119: 105 – 112 is the passage tied to the passage from Genesis that told the story of Jacob and Esau, or at least the story of how Esau put aside his birthright.

“Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.” (Psalm 65:1 – 2)

You can read/see how this psalm passage relates to the might of the Lord displayed in Isaiah 55.

“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.” (Verse 2)

Yet, you could also make a case for it relating to Jacob’s and Esau’s story, where Jacob tricked Esau into forfeiting his birthright for food. And then later on in the story (beyond the cited passage) where Jacob deprives Esau of the blessing from their father.

“Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.” (Verse 4)

However, as the passage goes on, the tie to the Isaiah passage does make more sense.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” (Verses 5 – 7)

The psalms passage – being about the Lord God, passing the Lord God, and praying to the Lord God – are however appropriate for every occasion and event. Verse 7 seems especially appropriate, as the Lord God calms all things.

“Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Can you hear the echo of the Isaiah passage, beloved reader?

“You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” (Verses 11 – 13)

In the Revised Common Lectionary the Psalm passage is often a refrain of praise to God, or a petition whose theme often aligns with the other passages for that week. So it is not surprise when the themes between the passages echo each other. And as we read this week, the themes within each week – that is when there are alternate passages in each of the four types of passage (Old Testament, Psalms, Epistle, and Gospel) – also align. Of course, being that everything is from biblical scripture that has as it inspiration the Lord God and the story of the called people of God, there is always a broad common theme.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:105-112)
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.”

Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Gospel Passage – Growing in and with the Lord God Jesus Christ

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13: 1-4)

I have commented a few times about the modern person’s ability to understand basic theological concepts that people back in Jesus’ day may not have comprehended. And in considering this telling of the parable about the sower, maybe it is more accurate to say that people in the current age understand and can perceive the message in parables and stories. It is an easy connection to make when you understand that the seeds in the parable is the good news of Christ, and that the sower is Christ or one of the disciples/apostles. From there one can determine the meaning of the seeds not taking root for one reason or another.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 6)

The middle verses of this passage, verses 10 to 17, tell what happened when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he told things in parables. Basically Jesus said some people will understand and others wouldn’t simply because they refuse to see what is before them. In essence, the message in the parable about the sower is the reason Jesus used parables, so that those who were ready to receive and understand the message would, and those who were not ready would not understand.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus explained specifically to the disciples the meaning of the parable – which sort of raise the question as to whether the disciples would have understood the meaning on their own. And if my premise is correct, that our modern system of education readies us to more easily understand metaphors, allegories, analogies, and metaphors – then perhaps the disciples needed the extra help to understand what Jesus meant.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

Does this mean our modern society is more able to assimilate Christian understanding and living into their lives? Um . . . no.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Our modern understanding how parables can teach us does not mean the meaning and the lesson of the parable ‘take root.’ That is, just because we understand the concept or meaning does not mean it has and does influence our lives. This parable, then, talks about how the parable itself might function, or not function, in our lives.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Verse 23)

I want you to make special note, beloved reader, that there is not the same result in each case. Some bear more “fruit” and some bear less “fruit.” The point is not how fruit or result there is; the point is that there has been growth and development. The Lord God does not insist that all believers grow and mature in the same way, or yield up identical lives. That is not expected; what is expected is that you will make sure your lives and living are futile ground where the Lord’s words can grow. That, beloved reader, is the whole point. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 8 [13]) : The Psalm Passages – Rescued from the shakes

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” (Psalm 13:1-4)

The previous three or four days before I sat down to write this were as good of health days as I have had for a long time. But the morning of the day I sat down to write, I felt the familiar aches and pains that meant another “flare” was coming. While I try to live my live so that I am an enemy to no one, and no one would consider me any enemy, I do have an “enemy” of sorts – my own body. I have several autoimmune diseases.

An autoimmune disease means that for some reason your own body attacks itself; there are many types and kinds of autoimmune diseases. Sometime arthritis is considered an autoimmune disease; it may come with old age or it may start its “corrosive” action at an earlier age. Type 1 diabetes can be considered autoimmune; my type is type 2, but it seems in a causal relationship with my autoimmune diseases. I am part of several support groups that are composed of people who have autoimmune illnesses or who know/support people in their lives who have one or more. In any case when I have flares, which are gradual or sudden increases in symptoms, I am shaken. And it does seem like my “enemy” has prevailed. But the psalmist and I are not alone, as the support groups attest to.

“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Verses 5 – 6)

This trust in the Lord and having been dealt with “bountifully” does not mean symptoms go away or that I feel better. “Better” is only a relatively term, and as I have learned again lately, does not last long. I am still able to keep to some sort of a regular schedule and list of accomplishments only because the sum total of my strength, stamina, and endurance does not lay only within my one body but also in the Lord. Over the years where my ability fades off and the Lord’s ability steps in to carry me through has blurred over the years such that I am not sure where one ends and the other begins. And that is why I trust the Lord and trust in the Divine’s steadfast love.

In a sense, we all have an autoimmune disease – we call it “sin” and “human willfulness.” We do things that are hurtful to our soul and spirit, and the soul and spirit of others. We “attack” harmony and the shalom that the Divine wishes for the world. And when the Lord God rescues us and all of humanity, that is the salvation that the psalmist rejoices in. I do too, for that matter.

So I am at peace; the Lord is with me, both for my health and my salvation. The enemy will not, in matters that are most important, prevail. Selah!

 

Addendum: Fifteen minutes after this posting appears, it will also appear on my Pondering From the Pacific blog. Since the posting touches (and more than touches) on my health, I thought it good to post it there also. I hope over time to bring the two blogs closer together in content and focus. Shalom! 

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Old Testament Passages – When hope grows dim

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.” (Genesis 21:8-11)

In our modern society a child might be weaned by 1 year old, but it is quite possible that young Isaac was two or three years old. Old enough that he had survived infancy and all the illness and injury that comes with those fragile delicate years. He was eating solid food and was thriving. It indeed was a celebration that he had firmly taken his place in the land of living.

But being alive and healthy, as was Hagar’s son, might that he would most probably grow to adulthood and be the inheritor of all that God promised. And Sarah, being a possessive mother, did want that shared with the usurper son of Hagar.

I have to say, I dismayed that there was not a camaraderie between the two women. As we know from other biblical characters, a man having more than one wife was not unusual. Often biblical studies among women studies and considers the life of Hagar as much a worthy topic as the life of Sarah and other wives to men of God. I think that is very good.

“But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” (Verses 12 – 14)

One of the things I hope studies of Hagar show is that everyone is a part of God’s plan and under God’s blessing. Especially those who do not think they are.

“When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” (Verses 15 – 18)

I have read that Hagar did her son a mercy, sheltering him under a brush, away from the heat of the son. We can assume she hoped she would die first, so she would not have to see his agony. But also hoped, I am sure, that under the brush he would not see her perish. And that might have been the end of the story. But the God of the Old Testament was not done, had not closed the chapter on Hagar and her son.

“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” (Verses 19 – 21)

When I sat down to consider the two Old Testament passages this week, I could not decide which one to use. And as I looked at them both, I realized there are many similar themes in these two passages. Maybe the constructors of the Revised Common Lectionary thought the same thing.

O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7-8)

Just as Hagar cried out in her distress, the writer of the book of Jeremiah cries out in distress also. Both are called to a difficult life, and struggle in what seems to be their fate.

“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I am sure Hagar felt used and abused, forced into motherhood not because of a relationship that promised support and respect but used to fulfill the hopes and dreams of an old man. And then when she had done what was required of her, she was set aside and driven off in favor of another. And as I compare these two passages, Hagar’s pleas and Jeremiah’s pleas came together in my mind. Jeremiah was called to prophesy, and as he laments, prophesies that was not well received. While he follows his calling from the Lord, he is punished by those around him. But if he determines not to speak, he is tormented inside. Where can he turn? Where could Hagar turn?

“But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.” (Verses 11)

It would be simple, and simplistic, of me to say, “See, call upon the Lord and your problems will be gone!” It is not that simple, and I do an injustice to both Hagar and Jeremiah if I gloss over and erase their distress. When one cries out to the Lord, one does not know what the answer will be or even if there will be a favorable answer.

“O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (Verses 12 – 13)

It is only . . . only on the other side of our troubles that we can see and say where I deliverance was. And it is only those who are delivered that are able to speak of it. Tragedy and disaster happen every day, and the victims of it multiply over the generations. I give you not false promise and insubstantial hope. I tell you (or rather the RCL) tells you these stories so that you know you are not the only one that has been set against. We who have lost hope in the desert, and feel torn between two opposing sides, have our own stories to tell. And tell them we will. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : The Psalms Passage – Psalm 100 Embedded in Nature

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.”

Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.”

Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.”

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Trinity Sunday: The Psalm Passage – Knowing & Naming the Divine

Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Seeker: Who is this Sovereign Lord? What shall we call this Divine Majesty? By what name shall we know and worship this Deity?
Preacher: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

Seeker: The young and innocent know the Lord’s name, but we who have maturity and wisdom falter when trying to discern the mystery of the Divine.
Preacher: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
Seeker:
Yes, does this nameless Lord care about humanity? Is there no aspect of this Deity that has regard for we who dwell in this broken world?
Preacher: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Seeker:
The Lord God knows us, then, and sees us. We are held tenderly in the Divine’s regard. But what shall we call this Majesty who undertakes for us? How shall we know this Lord in our daily lives?
Preacher: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

Yes, you are right beloved reader, if you think that Seeker’s question was not answered. And that Preacher did not give a description of the Lord God, and the full scope of the name of the Lord. How can one describe the full and complete nature of the Divine? The truth is . . . . even giving the Divine three names does not describe all there is. How can you sum up everything from creation until this present day? What words or group of words can describe the Divine movement that is behind it all? Or, even sufficiently prove that there is a Divine movement – if we are being painfully honest?

We (meaning those who believe as I do) say that the Lord is a Triune God because we believe in the three large movements of the Lord God; Creator, Redeemer, and Presence with us. Under those three very broad categories lies, literally, a whole world of meaning.

May you, beloved reader, be blessed by the Triune God and come to know the Divine in fullness. Selah!

Trinity Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Paul talks about the Trinity

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” (II Corinthians 13:11-12)

Being that this was Paul’s second and last letter to the Corinthians, I am sure it was a final farewell. I do not think Paul got back to see them before his final missionary journey, nor before the time he was put to death. But the Revised Common Lectionary does not include this passage because of his final farewell. It was for another reason, the following verse.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (Verse 13)

The attributes listed for Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit are not the only attributes the Triune Divine has, nor are the exclusive to each aspect of the Divine. What is important here is that Paul separates out the Divine to three aspects. I do not know if this was the first time ever a Triune God was presented in the Epistles; I do not think it was the first time in scripture. Old Testament passages contain traces of a authoritative God or a creative God, as we read about yesterday. There was scripture and prophetic scripture about the Messiah. And scripture about the Presence of God. So, beloved reader, a Triune Divine is not a new concept but well steeped in history and scripture. It just takes writers who have a firm but multi-functional sense of the Divine to write about it. Selah!