Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following directions

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

What are Jesus’ commandments? For they are not the Ten Commandments – that is, not just the ten commandments. Jesus said he came to fulfill them, as if to mean that previously they had been done or kept incompletely – which is very true. So, what commandments did Jesus give his disciples? Well, it might depend on which gospel you read, actually.

But I am not sure it is specific commandments that the writer of the gospel of John has in mind. I suspect, and I checked with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he said “that love for him which leads us to do all his will, to love each other, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow him through evil report and through good report, is true attachment. “ It is not just or so much what we do as it is how we live our our lives.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (Verse 16)

Another important point is that we are not expected to live our Jesus’ commandments without help or assistance. In fact, it might be nigh on impossible to live them out on our own.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (Verses 17 – 20)

Remember too, beloved reader, Jesus is telling his disciples this before the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth came, according to the other gospels. The writer of the gospel of John does not extend his narrative to that point. Maybe things became clearer to the disciples as the years went by.
Also, I suspect Barnes was influenced by some of the later verses in section, namely . . .

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verse 21)

It is not so much making the specific correct choices, but living out one’s life according to what Jesus would have done – what would Jesus do? I gently suggest, beloved reader, you think over the ten commandments and ask yourself what would Jesus have done? What did Jesus do? And let that be your guide. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wonders & Signs being performed

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42- 43)

“Wonders and signs” – I dearly wish I knew what the writer of Acts meant by that. I (or you) can look it up in the Greek, but that does not tell us what exactly is meant by it. Were they “wonders and signs” that “merely” confirmed faith in God – what I mean by that is words and acts of a vital faith. Or was it miraculous, out of ordinary human experience that even in our modern times would elicit awe? But is wondrous to our modern times is what follows in the writer of Acts description.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 44 – 47)

The early Christians were a vital and cohesive community. They lived and worked together in harmony and common cause. What one needed, another provided without hesitancy or thought for self – at least as it is described. And if that were true, that would be a “wonder & a sign” that something extraordinary was going on. It would be very attractive to those on the outside who were living in need and isolation. You have to understand, beloved reader, these were times when want and need were rampant, and very few people undertook for each other. Such radical community and care was rare and valuable.

The other thing to remember is that it did not last. Yes, perhaps for a healthy span of years, but eventually human willfulness eroded away the community. Thinking of self gradually became more of the norm than thinking of others. If you have doubts of this, read some of the letters that were written to the early Christian communities. The early church was a model of community and care, but that type of community without end. Certainly an example to succeeding generations but not easily replicated. For a time, a tiny slice of heaven but that eroded like fog on a warming day. The “heat” of the self-centered human heart can dissipate too easily the warming cloud of caring intent. So yes, it was a wonder and sign that the early Christians came together in such a community, and a hope that will true Christian intent we can replicate IF we keep Christ and our Lord God at the center of all our efforts. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – From then to now . . . believing in the Divine

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!” (Psalm 116:1-4)

One of the things about the Old Testament is that it is a “before” in terms of a relationship to God. Before – salvation, forgiveness, redemption and atonement. Before – speaking to the Divine as a close personal friend. Before – the assurance that the Divine always has our best interests at the center of our relationship to the Lord. And, Before – we knew what the Lord wanted in return for the blessing and gifts that are bestowed on us.


“What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!” (Verses 12 – 19)

That is not to say that there was no one who had an intimate relationship with the Lord. The bible, and the Old Testament, is filled with stories of men and women who lived extra-ordinary lives dedicated to the Lord. It’s just that there were many people who didn’t, who went astray, and never really found their way back. The coming Christ broke down many barriers. But, beloved reader, humanity is also very skilled at putting up barriers to the Divine; the same skill, I imagine, that many unnamed people had back in the time of the Old Testament, branching into New Testament times.

Wouldn’t it be nice to believe that the coming of Christ tore down the barriers as it tore down the curtain in the Holy of Holies in the temple? But my optimism for those living in New Testament times, and more specifically in the decades and centuries after Christ, meets up with reality. So we look back – back to the Old Testament to learn how the distance between the Divine and the people of God came to be. Back to the New Testament to learn how a new way of believing and living came into existence. And then back over the history of humanity since Christ returned to heaven. And hopefully we learn, and carry those lessons forward. Hopefully . . . . Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – The bringing of life in the Spirit

Think of this as the “antidote” passage to yesterday’s theme of bringing those “dead” & dried up back to life!

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6 – 8)

What the writer of Romans (Paul) meant was that thinking of earthly and/or worldly concerns is wrong thinking. I was just teasing about above! The Ezekiel passage was not concerned with the living body as much as it was concerned about hope in God and faith in God’s nature. And really, what was being revived with the spirit. Remember in the passage from Ezekiel that the body was nothing without the spirit within. And human spirit is called out/by/to Divine Spirit.

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Verses 9 – 10)

What Ezekiel prophesied for the nation of Israel, Paul proclaims as belonging to all people.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Verse 11)

Now, despite what theology Paul might have put forth, we cannot be sure what it means for us to be given life in our mortal bodies. My “friend” Albert Barnes believes this means that the body which is by its nature sinful can be redeemed to be in service to God. Other commentators tend toward the resurrection or life after death theory/theology; maybe more of the Ezekiel-type reanimation.

As for, I just thought it made a good pairing after the Old Testament passage. But I do believe that the Spirit of the Lord God can live through and direct our spirit. Imperfect we may be, and we may not 100% authentically do everything God would have us do. But we can give our will and free choice over the Divine and live according to those precepts. Selah!


Seventh Sunday After Epiphany: The Epistles Passage – Don’t exalt the teacher over what is taught

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:10-11)

I gave a good amount of thought to these first two verses of this passage. Paul’s remarks could be taken as instructions to ministers/evangelists or advice given to new believers. And I am not sure which way would be better. Paul says earlier on in this chapter that the Corinthians were “young” believers and had allowed themselves to define the good news as to who brought it, rather than taking the good news and allowing the news itself to inform the choices in their lives. But there is also here caution to those who preach/teach the good news of Jesus that they would let the news carry the weight and not the interpretation the preacher/teacher/evangelist/minister might bring to it. Paul says in another place, I seem to remember, that nothing should be added to or taken away from the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – at least I think it was Paul. But Paul moves on from this point (as does the lectionary which skips over some verses) so let us do also.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (Verses 16 – 23)

Or maybe Paul does not, actually. We have Paul’s instruction to follow God’s wisdom and not the wisdom of human thinking or our understanding. We also have the admonition not to think more about the teachers of God’s word than the word of God itself. Again, is Paul cautioning the new believers in Corinth or whatever teachers/preachers might be left behind? Because if you know Paul, you know he does not hold back his admonition or exhortation of anyone! New believers are to hold themselves apart from anything that would destroy them or their faith. But, those who would destroy a young believer or that faith is also imperiled by God’s judgment! There is much to be gleaned from this passage. May you do so under the guidance and direction of the Spirit of God. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany: The Old Testament Passage – A Post-Valentine’s Day Message

This is the passage I was highly tempted to use for Valentine’s Day. Why you ask? Because . . . it does not matter in what time or century you live, it does not matter what the economy is based on, it does not matter at distance someone is – we have to live together in harmony. And this passage is about living in harmony.

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:1-2, 9 – 10)

The poor are among us. Live so that they can live; do not use all the resources that are available to you but make room for the marginalized. Not only financially or economically but keep compassion and care in the forefront of your being.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.” (Verse 11)

Live honestly in all your dealings.

“And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.” (Verse 12)

Remember that language matters. Not only naming the Lord as the Divine and Holy, but naming others with honor and integrity. Oh beloved reader, if we would only live according to the Lord’s law of love. Keep reading, and measure our society against the Lord’s tenets.

“You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.” (Verses 13 – 15)

Verse 15 does seem to be a strange anomaly. But consider, it can do as much harm to the poor in pitying them and not considering them a worthy member of society just because of their misfortune. That is just as wrong as giving advantage to the rich and powerful.

“You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Verses 16 – 18)

How are we doing as a society beloved reader? Are we showing the best side of compassion and care? We talk about love as if it was only balloons, flowers, chocolates, romance, and heart shaped everything. Love is bigger and more enduring than that. Love looks at the nitty-gritty issues and keeps righteous in clear sight. Love endures beyond one day or one season. The Lord is the Almighty Lord God of all things, and that Lord is love. Selah!