Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Epistle Passage – Once again, Paul speaks forth

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” (Romans 11:1-2a)

Paul, being a Jew and standing firm in that identity, does not believe God can be seen as starting over called a new people. But the Jewish people are not the only ones who are inheritors of God’s favor and blessing. Those blessings are not given lightly, as Paul says further on in the passage.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Verse 29)

What was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and brought about through Joseph and his brothers will not be taken away. But it as been expanded to cover more people, all people actually.

“Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.” (Verses 30 – 31)

Now these verses are interesting. Paul’s audience, the Gentiles, were at one time disobedient and sinful. But through Jesus’ act salvation and mercy they were redeemed. Paul contends (or at least that is one impression one subscribe to) that the Jews can see what has been given to the Gentiles and still claim it for themselves.

As strict as Paul can be at times, he is all for second chances as he was given a second chance.

“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” (Verse 32)

It is interesting to think and consider how Paul who was once Saul – how his life influenced his preaching and teaching. It would not make so much difference if Paul had been no major a teacher than some more contemporary preachers; even considering such preachers as Billy Graham or other such preachers of renown. You see, Paul did not just preach but established scripture. His life experiences and perspective crafted theology as it is taught. And every once in a while that realization creeps under my skin and just itches! I am not saying Paul is wrong; just that the twists and turns of his life have impacted almost 2000 years of Christianity.

And I would go from that point to mount my soapbox about Paul. But the other thing I remember is that Paul never meant to be so influential. So there you are. Paul speaks forth, and we diligently take note.

It is true, we see grace and mercy lived out in the lives of others, and we covet it for ourselves. It is true that everyone has been disobedient, and the Lord God grants mercy to us all. And it is very true that the blessings, gifts, grace, mercy and calling of the Lord God stand forever. Furthermore, beloved reader, it is very very true that no person or group of people have been rejected by the Lord God. No matter their lineage or pedigree, no person is accepted by the Lord God on that basis alone. Nor are they rejected because of lineage, pedigree or self-identification. All are eligible for grace and mercy upon confession of and forgiveness from the Lord God. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Epistle Passage – Going another round with Paul

The late afternoon/early evening that I sat down to write this, it got up to 97 degrees with hotter weather for tomorrow. So what better time to sit down and wrestle more with a passage from Romans!

“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5)

As I prepared to write on this passage, I had to wonder which law (from which righteousness comes from) Paul was referring to? The law that convicts and does nothing to free us. Or the law that liberates us and makes sin no more? If one did, as I did, and consulted a trusted commentary/commentator, one would learn that Paul’s reference to Moses did not mean the Judaic law, but “law” as guidelines and precepts that the Lord God through Jesus Christ established.

“But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” (Verses 6 – 7)

The commentator I consulted (thank you again Albert Barnes) said that righteousness from faith does not demand that one goes far distances or undertake arduous travel. No, there is a way much closer at hand.

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Now, this is not exactly what the Israelites understood as what Moses was saying at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Nor does Paul say that is what Moses was saying. The “takeaway” concept is that believe in God is what is required. This is something that has come up again and again in my readings, that we cannot earn salvation and righteousness through what we do or how we act. It is a blessing and gift from the Lord God and Jesus the Messiah. Our correct living is (or should be) a response to that gift and blessing. But so often the response and the acting get intertwined and we believe that our good actions are what gains us salvation.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” (Verses 10 – 11)

To make clear, confession is worthless unless you believe in the Divine that you confess to, and are sincere in both confession and belief. It is not enough to beat one’s chest and pray/bray aloud one’s faults. Belief is necessary and a contrite heart is mandatory. But other than that, not qualifications are necessary.

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Paul, however, takes it one step further. Because, he is . . . . . you know, Paul.

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Verses 14 – 15)

Paul is giving leniency for those who have NOT heard the good news of Jesus Christ. If I can conjecture, it might be an exhortation to share and proclaim one’s faith. Reading further on outside of this passage Paul has not said so explicitly. He does however say the the proclamation concerning Jesus Christ was in Old Testament scripture (as we name it). And if the Jews did not believe in God and Jesus Christ because of what had been set down before them – that was their fault and their eternal loss.

If they may seem rather shaky reasoning, beloved reader, set it aside. And consider, there are very few parts of the world that are not acquainted, at least in passing, with the message of Jesus Christ. And for those places, the same exemption stands for them as Paul explains it. But for those who have heard and have NOT believed, it will not go well with them. Paul is being stern. And I can’t fault him for that. For Paul, this is literally live and death stuff. Take it, and make of it what you will.

There are other approaches to evangelism and salvation. Other perspectives and expectations. And in the heat of the day I just cannot be as exacting as Paul is.

Look to your own inner spirit and soul. Discover and discern what you believe and what you believe in. May the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and meditations, and bring you through the “heat” of your life. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)

While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.

But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.

“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.

“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)

“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)

This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)

Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.

I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.

The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. Selah!

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!