Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Psalm Passage – Summing up the theme for this week, and holy scripture in general

I am having a little bit of a challenge trying to figure out what Psalm passage to us. Normally I would use the one that is linked to the Old Testament passage that I used, but I sort of made use of both. (See Tuesday of this week.) I used the Isaiah passage most overtly, and that selection is tied to Psalm 65: 1 – 13. Psalm 119: 105 – 112 is the passage tied to the passage from Genesis that told the story of Jacob and Esau, or at least the story of how Esau put aside his birthright.

“Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.” (Psalm 65:1 – 2)

You can read/see how this psalm passage relates to the might of the Lord displayed in Isaiah 55.

“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.” (Verse 2)

Yet, you could also make a case for it relating to Jacob’s and Esau’s story, where Jacob tricked Esau into forfeiting his birthright for food. And then later on in the story (beyond the cited passage) where Jacob deprives Esau of the blessing from their father.

“Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.” (Verse 4)

However, as the passage goes on, the tie to the Isaiah passage does make more sense.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” (Verses 5 – 7)

The psalms passage – being about the Lord God, passing the Lord God, and praying to the Lord God – are however appropriate for every occasion and event. Verse 7 seems especially appropriate, as the Lord God calms all things.

“Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Can you hear the echo of the Isaiah passage, beloved reader?

“You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” (Verses 11 – 13)

In the Revised Common Lectionary the Psalm passage is often a refrain of praise to God, or a petition whose theme often aligns with the other passages for that week. So it is not surprise when the themes between the passages echo each other. And as we read this week, the themes within each week – that is when there are alternate passages in each of the four types of passage (Old Testament, Psalms, Epistle, and Gospel) – also align. Of course, being that everything is from biblical scripture that has as it inspiration the Lord God and the story of the called people of God, there is always a broad common theme.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:105-112)
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.”

Selah!

HUMAN LAW . . . Honoring the parameters of God’s commandments

See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. “ (Reference: Deuteronomy 12:32 )

In studying the Talmud Jewish scholars would be very careful not to add anything to the passages nor take away (not one letter, not one symbol) from passage. But studying and understanding it, discerning what it meant, they did will great glee and sometimes with abandon! I mention this because at times Jews remind me of historic Anabaptists. And, historic Anabaptists remind me of Jews sometimes.

Historic Anabaptist Peter Riedeman wrote, “God did not wish to have heathens in his worship services, [Exod. 12:43; Ezra 4:1-3] nor did he wish his people to learn the ceremonies of the heathen. [Deut. 12:1-3] In fact, he threatened that if they did that, he would do to them as he had intended to do to the heathen. [Num. 33:55-56] For the same reason, at the time of the apostles, unbelievers were not permitted to join the believers. [Acts 5:3-13] Paul, too, separates the faithful from the unbelievers. [Acts 19:9; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1] Accordingly, we also wish in this matter and in all things, to be worthy to receive with him the promise of the inheritance. This is possible, insofar as it is in us to follow Christ as our Master. With his help we will keep his command and covenant, not turning aside from it to the right or to the left. [Josh. 1:7; 23:6; Deut. 5:32-33; 12:32; Prov. 4:27] May he give us and all others who wholeheartedly want it, his grace to do this, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Modern Anabaptists/Mennonite also strives also to keep the boundaries of faith and Christian living clear and tidy. We had created for ourselves a faith creed/confession that outlines our commonly shared beliefs – at the time of its creation. But that was something written at least one generation ago, and this creed and confession reflects understandings that no longer the way some Mennonites practice their faith. And it has caused problems.

Humanity, no matter how hard we try not to, does add things to the bible when we read it. Jewish scholars might when they interpret scripture. The Mishnah & Midrash are the ommentaries (sort of) on the Torah that have been written over the years. But unlike Christian commentaries they are read as part of scripture reading instead of just used for study. Does this mean something is added to God’s commandments?

The historic Anabaptists added understandings when they read scripture for themselves instead of relying on religious leaders. Does that mean the historic Anabaptists added something to God’s commandments? Did the religious leaders of the established church of that time add something that should not have been? Or did they take something away that the historic Anabaptists added back in?

And what of other religious that are based on the belief of one God? Have they added or taken away from God’s commandments? Because the problem is, beloved, only the Almighty truly and clearly knows what what meant. Anabaptists/Mennonites then and now rely on the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit when trying to discern scripture. And that is a fine thing; but still, it is dependent on the discernment of human and so fallible beings.

I have no words of advise on this; no blessing that will insure that a correct and precise understanding is gained. All I can do is ask that the blessing of the Spirit be on your scriptural study and understanding. Selah!

WAS IT NOT NECESSARY . . . The “whys” of Christ explained

“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” ( Luke 24:26-27 from Luke 24:13-35 )

One of the most enjoyable past times is reading and studying the scriptures. But it is not always easy to see the meaning in some passages. That is where it is helpful to have a companion, either in the form of a commentary or a study partner or a teacher/mentor/tutor. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were not studying scripture per se, but they were talking about recent events that would become scripture. And as many Jews did, they were speaking of or recalling passages of scripture that others had commented on, passing down their understandings. But this Jesus, this Messiah, who had done strange and wonderful things seemed at times out of step with known scripture. And it seemed only this Jesus Messiah could explain where his life fit into scripture, . . . and so he did.

I am sure I am not the only believer who wishes that she/he could have listened in on that conversation on the road. Imagine what insights could have been gleaned during the walk. Emmaus was 7 miles from Jerusalem, and if we assume a walking pace that allows for conversation (say maybe 30 minutes a mile) that would give about 3.5 hours. You can get a lot of conversation and explanation in that time. And if the pace was slower than that, maybe a full day. It might have taken that long for Jesus to explain his place in scripture. But, gentle reader, it only took an instant for the disciples to recognize the Christ once he put into practice (broke the bread by praying over it we assume) what he had been preaching all the walking time.

Mennonites emphasis the guidance and inspiration of the Spirit for reading scripture – a transcendent version of the walk to Emmaus. For those of us who treasure such things, that the life to come might be spent talking with God/Jesus about the scriptures and all things spiritual is a wonderful thing to look forward to. While we can read scripture and seek the Spirit, it is not the same as having the Lord right there physically beside us. What a gift Jesus gave to those disciples, and what a gift and blessing awaits us.

May you gentle reader savor the time you spend in conversation with our Lord, and may you “walk” with our God daily. Selah! And shalom for your day.

To the Scriptures and Its faithful servants

“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

Let me first say with all candor, I had approached this scripture with an incorrect interpretation. Fortunately I saved myself embarrassment and you gentle reader confusion when I realized my mistake and so started all of again. What did I get wrong? No, it is too embarrassing to go into. . . . okay, I’ll tell you . . . in my own way.

What Paul is saying here is that by God’s commission he became a servant and minister in order to spread the gospel. Where I got tripped up is that I read it as Paul becoming a servant to scripture, thereby placing Paul’s responsibility to serving the scripture rather than God. I did note that OUR view is that one is closely aligned with the other. But the paradox is that much of what Paul wrote BECAME scripture so he became the servant of what he wrote which is not necessarily all bad. But, I said, in this instance it was what inspired Paul that was holy and not what Paul wrote considering that Paul is a man/human as we are human. So obviously I had to correct my mistake.

But as I sit here in the shambles of my deleted words, I stop, think, and ponder. Have we, Christians, become servants to scripture, putting our interpretation of scripture in place of God? Paul was commissioned by God to spread the word of Jesus Christ and all that he represents. But what if instead of Christ – his life, death, resurrection, salvation, and hope for a world to come – we spread our own concept of that. Paul said he was commissioned to spread “the word of God in its fullness” – what if we just spread a slice of it, and moreover a distorted slice?

Being a servant for presenting, proclaiming, spreading (etc) the gospel is not something to be undertaken lightly I am sure Paul did not. But it is a worthy task, even if undertaken for only one or two people, or just for a day or two. And through our daily living we can also represent the message of God. Do not be mistaken gentle reader – we are not servants to the scripture, but servants to the Lord who inspired the writing of it.

May you gentle reader be faithful servants to our Lord as you are called and commissioned. Selah!

The Scriptures – the change that does you good

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 13 )

[It’s Paul again. ]

There are some speeches, phrases, slogans etc that you remember. The advertising media has expanded incalculable dollars on this premise. Politicians have staked the bank roll, their careers, and their lives on this also. I was reminded today of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. And there is the Declaration of Independence, the writings of Mahatma Gandhi to name a very limited scope. Some people would place the Bible amongst these things; and some who would place it higher or lower. But what they all have in common is they work within us. They changes us and mold us into people we never thought we would be, would want to be or (in some cases) would initially not want to be. We are convinced TO CHANGE because we believe and believe in the words we hear/read/see.

For all I may say against Paul, this I say for him; he caused people to change and brought them to God. He still does through his letters and statements. You may not agree with him – but you cannot argue against the God he believed in. You may not believe the way Paul believed or believe in the same aspect of God he believed in, but you cannot deny the God that called Paul.

The scriptures that God inspired is like evidence left behind. We study it and interpret it, and based on that come to conclusions and beliefs. And these conclusions and beliefs work within us, causing us to change and lead our lives in certain ways.

May you gentle reader, inspired and supported by the Spirit, study and learn for yourself this Divinity we call Lord God. Selah!

The Scriptures – that which unites, divides, and saves

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4: 12 )

We are two parts, gentle reader, so wound together that in this present live they are as one – our human spirit this is actions and intentions, and our soul which is feeling and motivations. Nothing can divide them so that we can look at them separately – but always they are considered together because apart they can do nothing. As I type, the letters of the words I want to express appear as my fingers touch the appropriate keys; even this writing is a unity of actions, emotions, intentions, thoughts that meld together in one unified communication.

However I should have said, nothing of this earth can divide them. The word of God can. When we pass from this world to the next, what is human and earthly falls away – who knows what that is, what of us is human and what is action and intention – what is that makes my fingers more and tells them what to say. And when we pass from this world, what continues – who knows what that is? While on earth these two are united permanently and so unalterably that everything that we are is all one.

And that is significant for sin, for what harms and sullies our humanness also sullies what will continue on after our life on this earth is over. God, because of divine wisdom and grace, does not separate these two, but washes, cleanses, and heals the two that are one.

Earlier in this passage the writer of Hebrews talks about entering God’s rest. As I said, I do not know what of us stays on this earth and what would enter this rest. But I am pretty sure that this rest is what we call “divine rest.” When that time comes, the Lord will divide us by God’s word. Until that time, gentle reader, we follow the Lord knowing that God’s word can be trusted for all things and in all things. Selah!

The Scriptures and other good teaching tools, Part II

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness … “ (2 Timothy 3:15-16 )

When I was growing up in the church, we were encouraged to memorize scripture. I was not very good at it. I always assumed that a good ministering person would be able to quote scripture in times of need, stress, duress etc, and this would bring comfort to those in need. And because I could not seem to memorize scripture, I thought that I would never be a good ministering person. I was wrong on several counts.

First, memorizing scripture for memory’s sake is not what is helpful; it is knowing what kind of help and when to offer it. Scripture used incorrectly can harm instead of help. Second, just quoting scripture by rote does not mean you understand the message in the scripture or the message behind the scripture inspired by the Spirit. Careful study of scripture and the assistance of the Spirit teaches the meaning behind the text and helps you explain the meaning to others. Third, I remember very clearly and accurately what scripture I have studied, the meaning I have found in it and have helped others to find, and how that scripture has been most effective and when. This is not memorization but familiarity with scripture gained over years. Last, I highly suspect I am a good ministering person.

Yes, I have probably expressed doubts, but underneath it all I know that I am good at it. I am just trying to find the best way to do it, and where. But just like scripture, you do not lay aside ministry but continue to carry it with you ready to share it with others.

May you gentle reader carry scripture with you, for all myriads of reasons. And may the Spirit of God go with you inspiring to use scripture for yourself and others. Selah!

The Scriptures, and other good teaching tools

“Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Timothy 4:11-14 )

Paul had great affection for Timothy. That comes across very clear in this portion of the letter to Timothy. Paul did not hold his tongue when talking to Timothy (in other parts of his two letters to Timothy, Paul “vents” on several issues) but openly. His encouragement to Timothy to not let his youth stand in the way of his ministering sounds like the kind of support you would expect from a mentor or adviser. And that is what I am sure Paul wanted to be for Timothy.

The Confession, however, passes over this implication and instead looks to the admonition to publicly read scripture. But my reading of it takes into account what Paul wished and hoped for Timothy, which includes the encouragement to use scripture. For a young preacher starting out, reading scripture aloud as a way of orating to a gathering of people is a good way to practice preaching and teaching. The Confession encourages this for all people, not just ministers. But it would be nice if the Confession would acknowledge Paul’s advice and teaching to Timothy, and what to use to further one’s ministry. Having helps and tools that support one’s faith and ministry important to those starting out and to those already maturing in faith.

I have recently decided to add something to my faith life, although it is kind of unusual for a Mennonite to have. I am going to get a rosary. I had thought about getting one several years ago, but the timing did not seem right. At the time I wandered and waded through several websites, finally concluding that I could not find anything that fit my needs or spoke to me. I am a firm believer in items that add to one’s spiritual life “speaking to us”, or more precisely the Spirit speaking to us telling us that is a “good thing.” This time when I went searching for a rosary, I found one that did resonate with me. I am already thinking and planning how I might incorporate into my faith life. I do not know yet where using a rosary will take me, but before I take the last step of buying it, I want to be sure of it.

As I think and reflect on Paul’s words to Timothy, I think about the meaning and intent underlying those words. “You know where your faith comes from and what it is based on – teach those things. Don’t be worried that you are trying new things or that you do not yet have experience – that will come. For now live your life as you know you should. You are blessed by God and have fellow believers who stand with you.” Even those of us who are “mature” Christians can have growing edges. And may need to add spiritual tools to our faith life.

May you gentle reader discover knew and exciting ways to grow in your faith. Selah!

The Scriptures: An unending pursuit

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”   (Psalms 1:2 )

As I was sitting here unwinding from my day, I started to wonder what I could say that would be new and fresh about this verse and how to say in a new but correct how Mennonites perceive, understand and use scripture. Couldn’t come up with anything off the top of my head. But I had to wonder, someone who would meditate day and night on God’s law/teaching/guidance is probably not reading anything new either. Our Bible as it is now is great, but once you have read through it several times kinda sorta know what’s coming. So I thought, why should I wrack my brain for something new to say? I could say the “same old same old” and it would be just as accurate. In fact I looked back on what I wrote in 2007 and nothing much as changed in the scripture passage, the Confession or in me – for that matter.

So the real question is, how can something be “delightful” when you have read it over and over and over (well, you get the idea) again? And how can you meditate on it days and nights in a row? The Jews did it by interpreting it in various ways, and comparing translations of it, and then looking at what other people had said about it. Come to think of it actually, contemporary biblical scholars do the same things even today. I talked to a friend recently who recently had an article published on a passage from John. Now he is very intelligent, and knows how to do exegeses on a passage. But I am pretty sure some portion of the article was a summary of what others had “meditated” on and found “delightful.”

There are many study methods to use when reading/studying the bible; two that I am familiar with are “Lectio Divina” and the Revised Common Lectionary. If these are unfamiliar terms, I encourage you to look them up. But my point here is not to recommend or advise one or another method of studying the Bible. My point is at some point Bible study is supposed to go from being a scholarly pursuit to something more, something delightful. And each person needs to find that for themselves.

As you have probably guessed, this is the second time I am commenting on these passages and on the Confession. I am not always sure it is a “delight”; the word can also mean desire or pleasure. What I have found at times is that it is an urge or compulsion to find something to say each day. The word “meditate” and its meanings however are more appropriate to my experience: they are “to moan, growl, utter, speak, muse.”

May you gentle reader find all you seek in the scripture, and may you find God. Selah!

The Scriptures – The Right Stuff!

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2: 6-9)

The Confession says, “Other claims on our understanding of Christian faith and life, such as tradition, culture, experience, reason, and political powers, need to be tested and corrected by the light of Holy Scripture.”

The whole premise of “Sip of Scripture” is based on the fact that reading scripture everyday, even just a small portion, is good for us. It is a lot like exercising – do it just a couple of minutes every day and over time you will have built up a good spiritual exercise.

But just like exercising is not the only component of being healthy, so too reading scripture is not the only wise and healthy thing to do. Other things you eat affect your body just like other things you read affect your mind. Reading “junk” is not healthy – neither is eating junk. Now, we all read “fluff” at one time or another just like we all eat junk or fast food. But as the other of Colossians says, do not let yourself be “captive” to it. Moderation and careful choices are the key. I will be the first one to admit to an addiction to chocolate, and mystery novels. I also read a small range of fictional stories, mostly about women who face challenges and overcome them, while munching on salty snacks.

We live in this world, and take part in this world. But this is not all that there is to our lives. There is a realm and reality beyond this one – we call it Heaven. I do not know if there will be mystery novels and women’s novels, chocolate and salty snacks. But I do know we need to make ourselves ready for this future.

May you make wise choices gentle reader, keeping yourself from “hollow and deceptive philosophies.” Selah!