Season After Pentecost – Our past deeds can back to haunt us (The Gospel Passage)

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”(Mark 6:14-16)

John the Baptist had taken Herod to task for marrying his brother’s wife. I do not know exactly why that was a sinful thing, but I assume it had something to do with how his brother’s wife came to be his wife – a sordid tale most likely.

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” (Verses 17-20)

We try to tell ourselves that our past actions are just that, in the past. And cannot influence our presence, unless we allow them to. But actions tend to snowball; started in the past they “roll” into our presents and smash our good intentions.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Verses 21-25)

Herod seems like the type of man who indulged himself in the pleasures he wanted, and did not consider the costs or consequences. We can assume that from the fact that he married his brothers wife, and that he took “pleasure” in the dancing of his wife’s daughter, who I am suspecting was the daughter of his “missing” brother.

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.”

(Verses 26-29)

One may think that Herod acted with integrity by granting his niece’s(?) request. But who would give into such a blood thirsty request? Especially when realizing from whom the request actually came? I heard or read somewhere the idea that Heriodias herself came up with the idea of her daughter dancing for Herod and then asking a favor of him. No, I don’t think Herod thought through his actions very well.

I do hope and assume, beloved reader, that you think carefully about your actions, their cost and consequences. I am reminded again of this year’s lectionary theme of renewal and recommitment.

Living responsible lives is part of that. It is sometimes a painful process – first seeing where we have gone astray and made poor or unwise choices. Then we must face the cost and live with consequences. We could even continue this cycle of poor/unwise choices and the cost & consequences. Or we could change, which can be just as painful or more so than continuing our previous pattern.

Do not think, beloved, that renewal and recommitment is just for those who only strayed a little. We may often think of renewal and recommitment as just deciding to be more diligent in the life we are leading. It is possible to pull yourself back from the brink and go a completely different direction.

May you, beloved reader, not allow whatever mistakes you have made in the past derail or destroy your future! Selah!

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Fourth Sunday After Pentecost – Having faith in the known Jesus (The Gospel Passage)

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

The gospel of Mark places this story after a series of parables that Jesus told to explain different aspects of faith. He taught in parables both to make things simple and plain to those who understood, and to hid meanings from those who could not or would not understand. The gospel of Mark says that Jesus explained all things to his disciples. That is why the Jesus’ questions to them are so poignant and the word “still” has such sting. And after all of Jesus’ teaching, they still wonder who Jesus was and why he had such power over nature.

And what of us?

I have not spoken for quite a while about this lectionary year’s theme of renewal and recommitment. Perhaps it is time again to bring that consideration into our conversation. How can we renew our faith in someone that we do not know? The simple answer is, we can’t.

The more complicated answer is that we can, if we know just enough to realize it is good for us to have faith in God and Jesus Christ. We cannot know God and Jesus completely, but we can know enough to believe in and follow, worship and praise, give thanksgiving and adoration, ask for intercession and petition – all the interactive aspects of faith that can be done when God and Jesus are Spirit to us. And, from reading all the accounts of the disciples, I do not know if we could have understood any better if we had been there when Jesus walked the earth. Because it seems that it was only when the disciples were given the Spirit that they truly understood – and we have that!

When the storms and waves of life seem to be overwhelming us, are we afraid? Could we in that moment of turmoil recommitment and renew our faith in the Divine? Or will we scream and yell that we are drowning and the Divine does not seem to care? A caution, however, beloved reader. God may not calm the storms and waves of life, but God can calm our human spirit. We may think we are bereft because Jesus is not physically in our “boat” to calm the storm. But the disciples had that and they didn’t know what to make of it!

So, I must conclude that having Jesus physically at our side would prove to be enough of an advantage that we can see that by NOT having Jesus at our elbow excuses us for not renewing our faith and not recommitting our life to God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

May you, beloved reader, feel the calm that the Divine can provide. Selah!

Change for the better (The Epistles Passage)

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

Sometimes I wonder why the Revised Common Lectionary (or more precisely those who organized it) put certain verses together. Especially verses for significant days such as Transfiguration Sunday. This is the point in the church year when we look at and celebrate when Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain and there has a meeting (to put it simply) with Elijah and Moses. We will get to the story tomorrow.

Today we are with the Epistle passage and are reading what the writer of 2 Corinthians had to say. The passage has to do with light, the glory of Jesus Christ, and the revealing and telling of Jesus. All themes that are very appropriate for Transfiguration Sunday, and probably why this passage was matched with it.

But we are also looking at the theme of renewal and recommitment to faith. The writer of 2 Corinthians may talk about the blinded minds of unbelievers, but those who already believe can have their minds blinded too by “the god of this world.” If, as we know, the knowledge of God and the glory of God is unending then we can be unending-ly renewed and recommitted to Jesus and our Lord God. It does not necessarily mean we have gone astray; it could mean we have gone deeper. Something to consider as we approach Transfiguration Sunday.

What teaches best (The Psalms Passage)

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.” (Psalm 62:5-7)

The question has been, beloved reader, how do we preach to the generations who have no fear of this world ending, and so have to urgency to prepare for the world to come. Or as I posed the question back on Tuesday, “How do we preach, teach, and guide for the life to come when life here is defined only by age and calamity?“ In the past the foretelling of end times would motivate people to come to faith. But that is not as powerful a motivation now as in the past. When Christ walked the earth during his ministry people were drawn to him and coming to faith when you had a tangible and Divine guide seemed so logical and inevitable. But now, as “only” human flesh ourselves, the draw and pull to faith is not the same.

But I do have the answer, beloved reader. And you may well think that I am making more of this “question” than I ought to. Or that when you hear my answer, you might think I have been “stringing” you along. But in this year of renewal and recommitment, I am deeply about how one might draw people back to faith who have drifted away.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8)

It is implicit in our modern times that life is difficult and there is heartbreak along the way. There are some who survive it, and some who are destroyed by it. Many who survive (I do not say “all” because I do not believe in being absolute or all-encompassing) have found strength and endurance to carry on because of their faith. And in a world that seems to be running headlong into ruin with no end in sight, having “help and hope along the way” is a tremendous blessing.

Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (Psalm 62: 9-10)

It is not so much, beloved reader, what you say to others if/as you preach and teach to them, but what they see as evidence in your life. The wealthy and powerful have as much problems in life as the poor and needy. We see that in the news and in the social media everyday.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all according to their work.” (Psalm 62:5-12)

So . . . now . . . the answer to the question . . . it is this. Preach and teach not about theology, philosophy, or any world to come doctrine. Preach and teach about what it means to live in the world today. To live each day . . . with compassion, caring and integrity.

I am sure some days or weeks or months down the road, I will probably talk/write about the “world to come” – the eternal hereafter. And no doubt I will warn you about what will happen if you do not pay heed to this. But when I think about the world today, what each of us wakes up to face each day, I realize we all need God. Not for the time to come, but NOW! Today! This second! Because without God what ever days may come in the here or the hereafter will be empty.

Blessing to you, beloved reader. I will talk to you again next week.

The Power and the Timing to Preach (The Gospel Passage)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ “ (Mark 1:14-15)

I don’t know how much theological proof there is to this, but one of my seminary professors said that it was only after/because of John’s arrest that the appointed came for Jesus to start his ministry. Biblical chronology tells us that John was put to death soon after his arrest. Or, it could just be that gospel ordered the story of Jesus so that his minister started after John’s arrest.

But I have serious doubts that that as John faded to background story, Jesus rise in prominence was just a coincidence or the story of it was a manufactured device. I think my seminary professor was very accurate and correct. John himself said that he must fade away so that Jesus can come forth at the appointed time. There is nothing that can stop this – it will happen. And the good news will be spread!

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” (Mark 1:16-20)

There was something about Jesus that was very difficult to turn away from and deny – in person. Or at least that is what the bible tells us – that his disciples followed him without a second thought and the crowds thronged after him. He had his detractors however; those who would not see and refused to believe. Believer or non-believer, no one was “wishy-washy” when it came to Jesus; you believed in him as the Son of God or you did not. The power of his presence and the power of his preaching were just . . . Divine!

Our focus has been this week preaching and ministering for converting souls and spirit in an age when there is weak motivations to believe. In Corinthians we read that the appointed time is growing short and the present world will pass away. In Jonah we read that for Nineveh their destruction was close at hand but their salvation was the sincerity of their belief. Here in the gospel of Mark we read that Jesus said the time was “fulfilled” and the “kingdom of God” was near.

But here we are, 2000 year plus, and the world is still turning. And if we do not have the sense of timing to know when to act, the Divine ability to call people to discipleship, not to mention the Divine ability to preach for repentance – how are we to call people to faith? That seems to be a lingering question that grows heavier each day; especially with this year’s focus on renewal and recommitment to faith. There is one more day left in this week. Perhaps we will find the answer there.

What will our future hold? Will we have a future? (The Old Testament Passage)

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.“ (Jonah 3:1-5)

The story of Jonah is a story told in several chapters. Chapter one is where Jonah refuses to preach to the city of Nineveh, and how convinces him to. The second part of the story, where we are now, is how Jonah successfully saved the city of Nineveh from destruction. The last part of the story was how Jonah felt about this success.

Yesterday we considered the question of how someone can preach and save a population. But unlike present day ministers and evangelists, Jonah had the advantage of being able to give the people of Nineveh a prediction the believed. Jonah said they had forty days before it was destroyed, and the people all they way to the king believed and made repentance to God.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)

So unfortunately beloved reader, the story of Jonah does not have an insistent edge that we can use. If someone were to proclaim the end of all things in forty days, they would be laughed at, ridiculed and not believed. But it occurs to me, as I think further on this, perhaps the open-ended life we have can be a point for needed salvation.

I think we can all agree that for the most part the current generations who are of a sufficient age can look back and say that life in the past was easier, or at least not as filled with stress and disaster. Or that the future looks bleaker now than it did a good many years ago. I do not mean to argue this point and be dogmatic about it. My point is that we need a great deal of help in these present times. Would it not be easier to journey through this life with the support of the Divine?

And who knows what calamity we might be helped through? The people of Nineveh were looking at the end of their existence in just forty days. But because of the sincerity of their faith this judgment was lifted. But more importantly, they now had a relationship – a relationship characterized by love and care – with a God powerful enough to end their existence but compassionate enough to hold back the Divine hand.

Perhaps our message and sermon (for those who are called to deliver messages and sermons) can be that we do not know when our end may come, but do we want to wait to find out? Is it not better to ensure our future and make a present easier by entering into, or re-committing to a relationship with God?

May you, beloved reader, chose to be in relationship with God, not waiting until your end is imminent. Selah!

The Lord knows those who are called (The Psalms Passage)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:1-6)

Tuesday we read about Jesus knowing and recognizing Nathanael. Nathanael was surprised at this; but according to this passage from Psalms God/Jesus knows us even more intimately than the writer of John indicated in the passage.

When I read this passage from Psalms, the first thought that went through my mind was “God knows me this well! And the Divine still calls on me as a disciple of God?!” But it is true. God knows us and loves us through all our faults and failings.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:13-18)

Do not doubt, beloved reader, that God knows and values each one of us. We are precious to God. So precious that the Lord desires to bring us back into communion with the God-self. Does it not make sense to seek out and stay with a God who knows us, who has known who we would be even before we came into existence?

May the God who formed you just as you are watch over you and guide you on your life journey. Selah!