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!

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistles Passage – Knowing our Lord and being reconciled

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” (II Corinthians 5:16)

In what way do you know Christ, beloved reader? As a earthly man who did good things? As a Godly man who was influenced by God? A man who came from God and had a mission in the world that came from God? These are just some of the variations and permeation that one might know Christ as. What is your way of knowing our Lord God Jesus Christ?

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Verses 5:17-21)

Bible commentators, while have a slightly differing interpretations, are pretty uniform that Paul did not KNOW Jesus but knew of him and did not think him to be worthy of following. Indeed, when Paul was Saul he persecuted the followers of Christ. But that role and person is now history. Now Paul follows and preaches of Christ. Paul has never been shy about speaking about his faith, theology, and beliefs.

The season of Lent is a good time to get to know Jesus, and through Jesus, God. The weeks of Lent are quickly slipping away. There is only one more Sunday of Lent. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday will be here soon than we may think. And since there is only a one-way interaction, I am not sure where you are in your journey. As I write this, I am actually a week behind of this “place” and “time.”

The view from where I am now is this – there have been some unexpected events and some unexpected results. I am learning, or have learned anew, that I cannot predict what will happen. And nor should I. God has been faithful in ways I cannot imagine. My confession has been one of fear – that I am afraid and do not see how my fears can be met and quelled. But God has seen and knows my fear, and has answered those fears with Divine plans that I could not even imagine. My penance, beloved reader, is that I have to admit that I was too afraid to believe that God would have a solution. That is sort of a confession too, I guess.

In comparison to other confessions and penances, I suppose it is not too difficult to carry out. But the problem with fear is that you can justify so many things by saying, “I was too afraid to . . “ when all the time God could foresee what was going to happen. If shame and embarrassment is a penance, than that is mine.

May you, beloved reader, confession the things, places, and times that you have . . . well, let’s just leave it that God knows what you need to confess. And you find that God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace is yours in abundance. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistles Passage – The testing of a lifetime

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” (I Corinthians 10:1-5)

The writer of I Corinthians is warning his reader that while their spiritual forebearers may seem to have been formidable examples of servanthood and faithful living, they failed when put to the test. He is speaking of the Israelites who were lead out of Egypt by God and Moses. And for the readers in the time that I Corinthians was written, they had the same guidance and inspiration that the liberated Israelites had. Why, might one ask, was God “not pleased”? The writer of I Corinthians goes on to explain that.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (Verses 6 – 10)

If one reads the book of Exodus, it seems that none of them – except for Moses and Joshua and some of that inner circle – were able to follow God as God wanted them to. Makes me sort of nervous for you and I, beloved reader. How can we do any better how to live lives that are acceptable to God? Do we have better or deeper knowledge than they did? Is it easier for us to follow God in our world than it was for them? Are we less tempted or of better temperament than they? What do we have that they do not?

The answer is, really, that we are not much different than they – not really. At least, not the way the writer of I Corinthians explains it. The only difference is that we have a clearly written out remedy for when we are “sinful” people. All the guess work has been taken out.

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.” (Verses 11- 12)

This is, I think, both scary and reassuring. We may feel like we are wandering around in a “desert”; if we feel that we, we have much in common with the Israelites. But it is also scary because they failed when tested. The writer of I Corinthians tried to assure his readers, and by extension us . . .

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (Verses 13)

However I can’t help but feel that is some sort of “pie in the sky by and by”; why am I cynical about this you may ask? If this is the same God, and the same “rock” that is Christ, how can we be sure that we can endure it when the people God called out of Egypt could not? I know, same question that I posed before. But the answer I gave, beloved reader, is not based on our strength and ability but God’s! I know! Same answer that the writer of I Corinthians gave! There must be something between the two answers!!

And there is . . . . grace and mercy; confession, penance, and forgiveness. It is that the writer of I Corinthians is alluding to, and which I had not stated clearly. We may well be tested beyond our strength and fall flat on our face in the desert. I cannot say with the writer of I Corinthians (okay, Paul) that we will be able to endure the testing. It seems like I have been tested so many times in my life, and I know where I have failed that test. There was no escape hatch; but there was grace and mercy, and restoration from my failures. And maybe that is what Paul meant. When I do finally move beyond that testing that is in this life to the life that is beyond, I will ask Paul.

In the meantime, beloved reader, hold tight to your Lord and to the grace and mercy that is in the Lord. May you feel that especially in this season of Lent. Selah!