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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – Getting ready for . . . what again?

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36-39)

Cheerful. No, not really. Ah but Advent sometimes starts out with unusual passages and then warms up to the more Advent-y/Christmas-y season. Year A in the lectionary cycle usually has the theme of new life, new believers or coming to faith. So some exhortation warning is to be expected when you are urging people to believe for their own best interests.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Verses 40 -42)

It is not wise to dilly-dally, members of the early Christian church thought, because you never know when your Lord is coming. We know now that the return of the Lord was not imminent then. What we do not know now is how soon the Lord will return. So maybe you should not dilly-dally now.

“But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Verses 43 – 44)

But (you say) this is the season of Advent, and we know when Advent is coming, and when Christmas is coming! It is marked on our calendars! This is the season of waiting, not hurrying – you say. But . . . this is also the season of preparation! And what better preparation for the birth of Jesus than making sure the Lord God already has a place in your heart, soul, and spirit?!

Before you hang up the mistletoe, before you drag in the Yule log, before you start the first refrain of “Fa-la-la” make sure you already have the Lord God Jesus Christ residing in your life. Then the season is sure to be a jolly one! Selah!

 

 

P.S. For those of you who saw and liked this the first time around – something went wrong in the scheduling and it posted far too early! A week too early! This is its proper place in the lectionary cycle, the first week of Advent and not the week before Thanksgiving!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – The realities of this life and the life to come, and the lessons therein

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” (Luke 16: 19 – 22)

I try to limit how much my personal life intersects and affects these comments. But it is a night I usually write, and despite my present circumstances I am trying to write. I am doing one of several studies that my medical providers have ordered. Tonight I am doing the home sleep study and so am “wired up” quite interestingly. It is getting to be increasingly uncomfortable to wear and I have to wonder how effectively it will measure a typical night’s sleep.

I was not in fact going to write tonight, but then I saw that one of the passages was this one, and the plight of Lazarus in this life and the plight of the rich man in the afterlife spoke to me, trussed up as I am.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ “ (Verses 23 – 24)

I am not comparing, exactly my situation with theirs. By the time you read this beloved reader (and actually by mid-morning tomorrow) this will be done and over, and fading into history. But while I am so encumbered, I feel for Lazarus and am glad his suffering came to an end, and he was welcomed into heaven. And if the rich man was suffering more than I am now (and he undoubtedly was) and his suffering was to be without end (and I am sure it was and is) then he surely is a miserable wretch. But what can be done?

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ “ (Verses 25 – 26)

Just as there is a separation between those who are well off, and those who suffer and do not have enough – there is a separation between heaven and Hades/hell. We may not be able to control in this life where we are, but in the life to come . . . that is a different story.

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ “ (Verses 27 – 29)

In Jesus’ time that was all the warning and teaching there was available and we know from reading about the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews that for many that was not enough to warn them and keep them from this sort of hellish fate. Something more was needed.

He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” ( Verses 30 – 31)

And there we have it – what is needed is someone to come back from the dead to convince the non-believers that there is a right and righteous way to live. And that it will be rewarded. Just as my being trussed up for this testing will be over soon enough, so too will this life. What we endure in this life is brief compared to the eternity that awaits us. So the question is, beloved reader, in which time frame would you rather have to endure difficulty? Now, or in the time to come?

Now this next idea will seem strange to you, but bear with me – prove Father Abraham wrong. Resolve to be convinced by what is preached to you – whether it be the prophets old and new, or one who has risen from the dead. For we know of someone who rose from the dead. Let that fact, if no other, convince you of the right and righteous way to live. If the teachings of Jesus during his lifetime do not persuade you, let the power he had over life and death, and the promise of the life to come, guide your journey in this world. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Confession moving towards forgiveness by accepting penance

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.” (Psalms 79:1 – 4)

The people of Israel have suffered the consequences of broken relationships with the nations around them. It has been ascribed to a broken relationship with God, and without knowing the exact history I will not dispute that. But what occurs to me is that if the nation were honoring God and living as God wants them to live, won’t that mean they would be at peace with the nations around them?

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.” (Verses 5 – 7)

The cry and justification of the psalmist is that it was the other nations that made war on the children of Jacob, and destroyed them. They were completely innocent.

Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.” (Verse 8)

Or, the psalmist says, it was the generation before ours that incurred the sin; do not hold us responsible for their actions. Have mercy on us! Save us! Lift us up!

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.” (Verse 9)

Finally, the psalmist admits, his generation may be guilty of some sins too. But to show that their God is a glorious God, God should forgive them!

This psalm is a very good example of the confession/penance/forgiveness theme. The progression from “it was them” to “it was their fault” to “it was our fault too” is a good move toward doing penance and being forgiven. It is also a very “human nature” progression of blaming others before being will to accept one’s own failing and sin. And thanks be to God that the Lord is patient and faithful! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – Paul revealed a bit more

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:23-29)

Every once in a while one must stop and appreciate what a radical change it was for Saul/Paul to change from being a Jew zealous for Judaism to a Christian just a zealous for Christ. Did Saul/Paul indeed feel “imprisoned” by the laws of Judaism? Did he secretly wish to be “free”? From all that we read in the epistles, Paul embraced the “freedom” to believe zealously in Christ. And even though Paul says there is no longer Jew or Greek, we are Abraham’s offspring – which is kind of Jewish. It is hard, after all, to step away from one birth heritage. But it is a heritage that Paul opens to all who will believe. The different shadings of Paul have kept me “off-balance” in my opinion of him. But just as Paul/Saul has different shadings, does Christianity as we practice it now. And if we have to cleave to something, let us embrace the faith that Paul describes. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – Paul who was Saul

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.” (Galatians 1:11-24)

Now, for Paul. It is tempting to say he is the antithesis of support for women of faith, but that would be playing to a section of people who favor ferment about Paul. There was a time when he was not well liked, but with cool and objective study it became apparent that what Paul said about women was taken out of the context he wrote it to – a certain group about a certain situation. Yes, I have my difference with Paul, but theological and not based on any feminist perspective. Let me affirm what he says.

Paul came to faith purely through the intervention of God. Yes, a man of God came to him and prayed over him so that he might have his sight restored. But he was convicted of belief by a Divine encounter on the road to Damascus.

As ardent as he was prosecuting believers, he became just as ardent about preaching about Jesus and God. It is actually his ardent nature, exhorting forth about all sorts of topics and gathering authority unto himself that irks me. But do confirm his ardent nature.

I do think too that he was foreordained to preach to the Gentiles. His brash nature upset the Jews, so it was to the Gentiles he went. And the Divine has a sense of humor, sending a devote Jew to the Gentiles!

And finally, he did bring glory to God. And continues to bring glory through the letters he wrote to believers. So powerful a force he was, that his writings have been retained and handed down through/as holy scripture. As I have said before, I am looking forward to meeting him in the world to come. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – Seeing and believing, and confessing the same

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:1-3)

As I have said before, I like the apostle Peter. Straightforward, no nonsense, head to the ground, nose to the grindstone Peter. So you know, if he did something outside the norm – there was a good reason!

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Verses 4 – 10)

Notice beloved reader, even on God’s instruction Peter did not reach forth and eat. He puzzled this, but he did not eat.

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ “ (Verses 11 – 14)

Notice too, that Peter did not go alone into the Gentile uncircumcised home, but exercised proper caution.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Verses 15 – 17)

Yes, who was Peter to hinder God? Peter had learned, to his own shame, that it does no one any good to deny God or Jesus. The Divine will do and better what the Divine is. Our calling is to follow faithfully. To confess, make amends, and be forgiven when we doubt God and Christ. And, to not do it again!

When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Verses 18)

God’s repentance is for all people, and actually, all creation. We err when we stand in the way of that. And, beloved reader, humanity to our shame errs quite often! Confess, make amends and accept the forgiveness of God such that we do not err again! Selah!