Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Epistles Passage – Silly Questions & Serious Answers

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1b)

The writer of Romans (Paul) asks an absurd question to make a point.

“By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Verse 2)

And answers it by saying “me genioto” which in the ancient Greek means “by no means!” I can still hear my Greek from seminary saying that with special emphasis. Paul has a habit of asking absurd questions, like this one to make a point – should we sin in order to know and get more grace? And answers it with another question asking how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin! (Picture your favorite image of Paul being horrified!)

He goes on to strengthen his point . . .


“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Therefore it is unimaginable, according to Paul, that we would sin just so we can get the grace that was already promised and given to us. Not unlike shooting your nose to spit your face – another saying tossed around. Paul has more to say . . .

“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 11)

According to Paul those who believe in Christ and have put away and repented all sin, should never again sin nor seek to sin. And that we no longer need will suffer because of the sin we did in the past. So, let’s pose that question again – how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin? Or maybe the more appropriate question is “why?”

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : Epistle Passage – The Beginning of Faith

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Boasting – it is not something that you would expect a believer in God to do. We are exhorted to be humble, not bragging about our accomplishments according to worldly measures but claiming only that which we need for belief. But we stake a claim in having salvation from God based on Jesus Christ’s actions for us and our belief in that. So yes, we can confidently state that God is our side because we have stated we are on God’s side. But the writer of Romans does not stop there.

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Verses 3 – 5)

It is not that the writer of Romans (okay, Paul) is wrong, nor that he does not have correct the progression of suffering to hope. But who amongst us can claim the type of suffering that Paul went through. For that matter, it is a select group who can claim suffering because of their faith in the Lord. Not suffering because of worldly events, but suffering because we hold firm against oppression and persecution as a result of our faith.

But should we wish suffering upon ourselves? Should we invite suffering to prove the depth of our convictions? Should we twist the events that life brings up and mold them into suffering so we can claim allegiance with those who have suffered for their faith? And just how much “general” suffering do we have to go through before it is enough to gain us admittance to the group of those who have suffered while professing faith in God. Because this blog reaches nations other than the US I cannot know for sure that there are readers who have not suffered for their faith. If so, they are among the select group I mentioned above. And I honor them.

But just as I think we have not part or claim to what Paul is talking about, I read the next verses.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Verses 6 – 8)

And suddenly we are part of the group that Paul is talking about! Yet it does not really make us feel much better, does it? Be grouped together with “sinners” who have so completely drenched themselves in sin that it is only because of Jesus Christ’s grace, benevolence, and mercy that we have any hope of forgiveness.

Paul’s writings can be bitter pills to swallow. Fortunately we do have the grace of God to help us accept forthright writings from Paul. And Paul is not the only person who speaks about following the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Where Paul invokes stern faith and expectations, others give compassion and unconditional acceptance. And finally, beloved reader, let me reiterate where Paul started out, that it is the unconditional love and acceptance of the Divine that anchors our hope. Selah!

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!