Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Epistles Passage – Mapping some slippery slopes with Paul

I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– “ (Romans 9:1)

Call me a skeptic of long running, but many times when someone tells me they are speaking the truth, I prick me ears up and discern whether they are really lying. Maybe it is because part of my professional life has been discerning between absolute truths, somewhat truths, convenient truths, and outright non-truths. Do I doubt Paul? No. But for my sake, I wish he had phrased it some other way.

So is his absolute truth? The gospel he is talking about? If so, I believe him. Much of what he says aligns with what others have said, and my own experience. Or, is he talking about what he is about to say?

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” (Verses 2 – 3)

That is a lot of sorrow for one man to carry around. And a pretty severe wish on behalf of another. Really, cut off from Christ? Is this not the man just a few verses ago who said that nothing could separate us from the love of Christ? And what is the love that Christ has for us but Christ himself made manifest? Or is this a “safe” wish because Paul knows that his wishing it would not make it happen? Seems to me we are right back where we started with Paul vowing that he is telling the truth.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Verses 4- 5)

What is not out rightly stated is that Paul fears if they do not accept Christ and profess faith that Jesus was the Messiah, they will be lost. The whole purpose of them being a people called by the Lord and a light to the other nations would be lost. It was for their sake, firstly, that Jesus came. Then for the benefit of the Gentiles and all the other nations, and all people. But the “Jews”, meaning religion/nationality of those born into Judaism, have rejected Christ. And not all Jews, but as a nation and as a corporate people they have rejected Christ. And Paul grieves this.

One may suppose, I imagine, that it is no different than Christians mourning for all the non-Christians who do not know and believe in Jesus . . . . . as they believe. Here’s the thing though, how do we know what is in the heart of others? How do we know how they respond to and recognize the Divine. Paul, in his Pauline way, is being kind of presumptuous about the Jews. And that irks me just a touch. But I am irked more when that presumption is magnified by some Christians who draw very narrow boundaries for Christian faith. I actually much prefer Paul’s wish to draw them in no matter the cost to himself than Christians segregating out those who do not believe as they do.

Yes, beloved reader, I am not sure where all of this puts me in regards to my . . . . . regarding of Paul. Nor my regarding of Christians who do not believe as I do. There are some slippery slopes here. Beware!

We are on safe ground, though, if we commend all people to believe in the Lord God, and trusting that the Lord God knows their hearts. May you seek out the Lord God, beloved reader, and may nothing keep you from faith in the Divine. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Old Testament Passage – Lessons to be learned and legacies to be established

We pick up the story of Jacob when he had reached the ancestral home of his grandfather and his mother. His uncle Laban, now married himself and and with daughters, has agreed to employ Jacob to tend his flocks. But wants Jacob to earn more than just his room and board. Jacob has an idea of how he would like to be paid though.

“Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.” (Genesis 29:15 – 17)

Now you will have to believe me that Leah and Rachel were not that much different, and maybe not that much far apart in age and looks. The reason why I believe this strongly will become apparent. Remember too that Jacob is his mother’s son, and Laban is her brother. Family resemblance and traits are important here, so remember what Jacob is like also.

“Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”(Verses 18 – 21)

So Jacob is an eager young bridegroom who has been waiting for the woman of his dreams. Seven years, enough time for a young girl to grow into a woman.

“So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)” (Verses 22 – 24)

Well . . . . what do you know? Uncle Laban is a bit of a trickster himself! And Jacob has been as smoothly outsmarted as Esau was back home!

“When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (Verse 25)

Ah yes, beloved reader. Only in the light of morning does Jacob realize what he has longed for those seven years is not what he got. Perhaps it would help your incredulity to know that most probably Jacob had not seen much of Leah or Rachel – that is, they were wearing concealing clothing. Remember Leah had beautiful eyes, and Rachel was graceful and of lovely form. Jacob would not have spent much time alone with her, nor might have he known how exactly she changed over the seven years. Laban pulled off a smooth transfer to be sure.

“Laban said, “This is not done in our country–giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.” (Verses 26 – 28)

Jacob subbed himself in for Esau with his father getting the family blessing, as well as fooling Esau into giving away something very valuable for a meager return. Laban subbed in Leah for Rachel as well as fooling Jacob into working for him a total of fourteen years. Jacob went along with taking Leah as his wife, since he got Rachel. Seems to me that no one is exactly operating on the up and up. And what of Leah and Rachel? How might have they felt being traded around by their father, and ending up with the same husband? Seems to me, beloved reader, there are some legacies being established. Think too of grandpa Abraham who used Hagar to get a son, and yet was okay with tossing them out of the camp when Isaac was born. Abraham also did some other fancy maneuvering with the truth when it suited his purpose. I have a feeling, beloved reader, we are not done seeing the shenanigans in this family!

Yet, these are people of God. People who are charged with carrying out God’s establishing of a new nation, and a people called by God. One of the points of the Old Testament is that the people of God were far from perfect, and God called them to task on it. Yet the Lord God was faithful in establishing a nation from these people, these men and women who looked out from themselves almost more than they looked out for following the Lord’s guidance.

So do not despair, beloved reader, if you have fallen short in anyway. The Lord God is bound to use you for a Divine purpose – whether you cooperate or not! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Psalm Passage – Being wooed to a new and different kind of love

Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.” (Psalm 45:10 – 14)

It would seem that the theme for this week is blushing brides coming to their groom. We have Rebekah coming to Isaac; Paul coming willingly but with mixed motivations to Jesus; and the people from the time Jesus walked on earth greeting the Messiah with contrary responses. Well, no one said that marriage and Christian was easy and automatic! There is the newlywed honeymoon period where emotions and starry glow obscure the hard work that needs to be done. The same is true when new believers come to faith, or when established believers go deeper into their faith. But I really do not want to dim the beauty of that moment, coming new understandings.

“With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.” (Verses 15 – 17)

This last portion is not directed to the consort of the king, but to the king himself; that his fame and glory will come from his descendants and not his ancestors. This would lead one to believe, in the context of the passage, that this is a new king, one that does not owe his ascent to previous rulers but has on his own established dominion.

This underlines the direction of the commentary to be towards the understand that the King is the Messiah; and if so, the church is the Bride or consort. And that actually is one image of Jesus Christ and the church which appears several times in the New Testament. But do not let us get side tracked into Christology or theology. We are in a praise passage; and moreover, I not are focusing on the Divine Object of the praise but the one who is praising. The other possible substituted psalm passage fits the direction of my thinking here.

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

We, beloved reader, are precious to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. Jesus and the Lord God sing a love song to us, and woo us with grace and compassion, love and caring, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Let us not forget one of the main reasons that we come to faith. The love that the Divine shows us draws us in, and the faithfulness that the Divine has towards us binds us in that love.

Yes, as Rebekah showed faith and followed what was the Lord’s plan for her; yes, as our desire to follow the Lord leads us to make choices that our human will would not have thought to do; and yes, we are drawn to a faith that does not seem to coincide with the world is now. Many unusual things are done for love. But the most upside down contrary things are down because of the love of and for the Lord. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Gospel Passage – Living now, but acting as in the past

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “ (Matthew 11:16 – 17)

To paraphrase, according to sense of the verses in The Message – “You are not what we wanted you to be, and not what we expected you would be.” There was some conversation on the Christian radio station I listen to, talking about what Paul might say and think about these modern times. The same sort of suppositions have been suggested as to what Jesus Christ would have to say about our generation. And I think just as pertinent a question would be what would this generation that about Jesus Christ?

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Verses 18 – 19)

From what I gleaned from listening to the radio DJs, they assumed that Paul would lambaste this current generation as much as he did in the time he was writing. But I have my doubts. They same, I would assume other assume, that Jesus Christ would. Again, I have my doubts.

Both Jesus and Paul spoke to the situations that were presented to them in their time. Now, if we are saying that not much has changed between then and now, maybe they would have the same critique and teaching. And if that is so, then we who espouse Christianity know (or should know) exactly what we should be doing – precisely. But the thing is, why are we not doing it? I will tell you my theory.

We are not living in the same times or the same reality. What was said then is not what would be said now. I think that is why it is so hard to be an authentic Christian in this world. Furthermore, I think that is one of the reasons that Christianity has gained such a diverse reputation.

“At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Verses 25 – 26)

Are you understanding this, beloved reader? Jesus is praying that he is glad that the mysteries that are the Christian life are hidden from those who think themselves educated and well-versed in understandings. But it has been revealed to those who are innocent and child-like. I don’t what that says for people like me who are educated but cling to simple and basic understandings. Lately I have been thinking that I believe in old-fashioned Christianity. Not conservative, or fundamental, or dated; but old-fashioned . . . like unconditional acceptance and love of all humankind, grace, mercy & forgiveness, gentleness & humbleness, patience, compassion & care . . . . things that are not learned by the head but by the heart, soul, & spirit.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Verses 27 – 30)

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 8 [13]) : The Epistle Passages – Paul discerns between law and grace

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.
No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12 – 14)

On the one hand, Paul (the attributed writer of Romans) is a stickler for details and all things proper and in order; he rarely allows any wiggle room on any issue. On the other hand, he is such a idealist! Now, if he means that sin will no longer hold us back from unity with the Lord God because our sins have been and will be absolved, then I would agree. But the issue of whether sin has control over us in as far as our actions, that is a tougher one to figure out. My favorite commentator, Barnes, said it was Paul’s aim not to appeal to law and legalistic reasoning to avoid and stay away from sin. But to appeal to the human conscience and convictions under the terms of grace. Perhaps that law invites to skirt it or defy it, thereby leading to sin. But grace understands and forgives so there is no need to defy authority.

Paul then goes on to ask a familiar question . . . .

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Verse 15)

“Me genioto” which in the ancient Greek means “by no means!”

Again, grace does not encourage acting out but in fact gives reason not to challenge the Divine but to comply with the Divine’s guidance. At least, that is Paul’s reasoning. He goes on to explain how grace has hold of us.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Verses 16 – 18)

I really wonder sometimes what Paul would make of our modern world. Which side of him would be more forthright: the legalist who expected that every part of wise Christian living would be adhered to; or the pleader of grace and mercy, under which he placed himself.

“I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verses 19 – 23)

Things were so clear to Paul; good and evil, sin and righteousness, grace and law. We live in a world, beloved reader, that is filled with murkiness, gray areas, and half truths that bleed into both pure truth and clear evil. And let’s not forget “fake news” and other the other derivatives of that. Maybe we need a little “Paul” to clear away the uncertainties. But, if we need a little Paul, we need a whole lot of Jesus! And I would say, that sounds like the correct kind of proportions! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 8 [13]) : The Old Testament Passages – In faith I say, “The Lord will Provide”

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:1)

Trust me, beloved reader, when the Lord calls your name, you may as well answer. But do not doubt that answering the Lord will lead to things you never imagined!

“He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.”(Verses 2 – 5)

Now we know this story well enough to know what happened in the short term and in the long term. So let us glean other aspects of this story as Abraham and Isaac make their way to the mountain where they do not know what will happen.

Abraham did not want the young men that he brought with him to know what the Lord expected him to do. He had not even told Isaac, which I totally understand. But just what did Abraham think would happen when he came back WITHOUT his son?! What sort of story would he tell the two young men who must have known how much his son meant to him. And what did Abraham think he was going to tell his wife Sarah about what happened to he beloved son that she did not believe would come, and for whom she sent away Hagar and her son? So often we rush to the end of this story, or knowing how it would end, we are loathe to consider what the consequences could have been! And what of Abraham himself, who must have seen how his legacy would soon be at an end!

“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.” (Verse 6)

Abraham must have been fairly old to not be able to carry the wood that was to be used; and Isaac must have been more than just a young tot to carry the wood. And if Abraham was that old, he must have thought that he would never have another child. And if Isaac was hold enough to carry wood, how did Abraham think he would manage if Isaac resisted?

“Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Verse 7)

Notice how Isaac calls to his father, and his father answers him – as the Lord called Abraham and he answered in complete faith and trust.

“Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.” (Verses 8 – 10)

So here we are, at the moment. I have read other versions and paraphrases that strongly indicate that Isaac put his complete trust in his father, as much as Abraham put his trust in the Lord. Have we ever held back, beloved reader, because did not put our complete trust in the Lord God? When the Lord God calls us, have we ever held back because we suspected we would be called on to do things we would rather not? It reminds me of when the Lord God called for Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, and they hid because they knew that had done counter to the Lord’s wishes.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Verse 11)

And here, beloved reader, is the payoff for answering the Lord God swiftly and completely.

“He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (Verses 12 – 14)

“The Lord will provide.” If it is not a reminder to you, beloved reader, it is certainly a reminder to me. I am still in the midst of a job search, as I write this, and wondering mightily what and how the Lord will provide. Just as Abraham had to trust, so must I. I have not been asked to place anything on an altar to sacrifice . . . . except my hope for the future. Not like sacrificing a child, but still, I am hopeful that something will come soon that will answer my needs.

Until then I journey on, knowing the Lord is with me. May it be so for you too beloved reader. Selah!