Season After Pentecost: The Pseudo-Psalms Passage – Ready, Set, Go! Advent’s coming!

Zechariah’s Testimony

Praise to the Lord God of Israel. He has come to help his people and has given them freedom.
He has given us a powerful Savior from the family of his servant David.
This is what he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
He will save us from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us.
God said he would show mercy to our fathers, and he remembered his holy agreement.
This was the promise he made to our father Abraham, a promise to free us from the power of our enemies,
so that we could serve him without fear in a way that is holy and right for as long as we live.

Now you, little boy, will be called a prophet of the Most High God. You will go first before the Lord to prepare the way for him.
You will make his people understand that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.

With the loving mercy of our God, a new day from heaven will shine on us.
It will bring light to those who live in darkness, in the fear of death. It will guide us into the way that brings peace.” (Luke 1:68-79 Easy-To-Read Version )

While this week commemorates the Reign of Christ, it also prepares us for the coming of Advent. We has spent a good part of the year looking at the theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness. In the coming weeks we will prepare for the arrival of the One who made the forgiveness of our sins possible, who oversees our penance, and hears of confession. And that would, at first thought, feel like a daunting preparation for Someone who may not hear with ears of love. But then we realize, it is Jesus Christ! The Author of perfect love! And our minds are at rest, our fears relieved, and our joy starts to overflow!

The pseudo-psalms passage today it the introduction to the herald the news of Christ – not the baby we will welcome in four to five weeks time, but the man Jesus who will live as an example for us and die for an atonement of our sins – if that is your faith philosophy. Jesus’ death was inevitable from the time of his birth. He was born in turbulent times when politics and the social environment were oppressive and destructive for the Jews. I think, beloved reader, that this Advent season will be filled with poignancy, and the hope which our times need.

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – The Reign of Christ Comes

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33)

What reign of a king starts out like that? With the king dying? Almost seems like it is backwards and upside down, doesn’t it? That’s not a unique perspective, but taken from the title of a book, “The Upside Down Kingdom” and it examines Christ’s ministry and how it was not at all what was expected.

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” (Verse 34)

Forgive them for doing the incorrect thing. I have been challenged by the sentiment lately – I think beloved reader you can guess why. It is something I am learning to do. I suspect it will take time to perfect that learning, and I am praying that the Lord God continues to instruct me on it.

“And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Verses 35 – 38)

But the focus of and in this passage is Christ, and his coming to his time of reign. And not about me and my needs.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Verses 39 – 41)

I am reminded once again of this year’s theme – confession, penance, and forgiveness. None of us are perfect and all are deserving of condemnation. And apart from Christ, I believe, we are condemned. In the eyes and judgment of God that is based on absolute perfection we have all fallen short. But, thanks be to God, in the Lord’s perfection is perfect love.

“Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Verses 42 – 43)

Christ’s reign is like no other kingly reign. It is not confined to time or place; it ignores or supersedes any other rule or law. Its rule is exacting, but its grace, mercy, and forgiveness is unending. Without it all of humanity is lost. But with it if we will but accept it, embrace it, fulfill it, and live it out – we will be saved! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Those who do a good job, and a not so good job, of “shepherding” the Lord’s sheep

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1 – 2)

Who are these shepherds who have so injured the sheep of the Lord’s pasture? Judging by the context and comments from Jeremiah 22, I suspect it is the ruler’s of the Lord’s people at the time Jeremiah was written. The implication, so I assume, is that if the rulers had done a better job the Lord’s people would not have been taken captive and scattered throughout foreign nations, mainly Babylon. And the rulers of the nations were punished, both by their kingdoms being taken captive and they themselves suffering.

Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”(Verses 3 – 4)

The story of the Israelites/Judahites who became the Jews was not that simple a story line – rescued and gathered up, and returned to their lands to be fruitful and multiply. Nor was it an easy time of waiting for the good shepherds to be raised up. And there was a long wait until the Good Shepherd came to the Lord’s people and perform that final and eternal rescue.

I am writing this on election day (yes, writing ahead), and I like everyone else in the United States and around the world are waiting to see who the next president will be. It will not be, however, a “righteous branch of David.”

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Verses 4 – 6)

This week, as you remember, we are looking today this Sunday as the Reign of Christ Sunday. How wonderfully ironic and coincidentally that it comes after election day in the United States. But no more so than if it were election day in any other nation. The Lord told the chosen people (through Samuel) that they should not want and pine after a king who was like the kings of other nations.

By the time you read this, beloved reader, we will know who has been elected president of the United States. And I am ever mindful that whoever it is, that the Lord has already raised up the best shepherd and leader that we will ever need. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – The Reign of Christ established! (As if there was any question that it would be!)

This week, beloved reader is the last week in this Revised Common Lectionary year. Or to put it another way, after Thanksgiving we start a new lectionary year, and so this Sunday is the last Sunday before we start Advent. I don’t know about you, but this last few months have gone quickly, and it is hard to believe we are coming to the end of another lectionary year. Gone will be lectionary year C, and we will be starting on year A, which is actually the beginning of the cycle of the lectionary years.

This Sunday is the Reign of Christ Sunday, and special attention is given to the inauguration of the Christ’s reign which is actually the reign of God also. This is the God who sent Christ, as opposed to other understandings of God. Paul does well when he says of this God . . .

. . .that God will strengthen you with his own great power, so that you will be patient and not give up when troubles come. Then you will be happy and give thanks to the Father. He has made you able to have what he has promised to give all his holy people, who live in the light. God made us free from the power of darkness. And he brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son. The Son paid the price to make us free. In him we have forgiveness of our sins.” (Colossians 1:11 – 14)

Of course, it is not exactly my place to commend or critique what Paul says about God (I have however critiqued what Paul says according to his own understanding!) What I meant in a truer sense is that Paul’s view of God and his theology concerning God is liken to my own.

No one can see God, but the Son is exactly like God. He rules over everything that has been made.
Through his power all things were made: things in heaven and on earth, seen and not seen— all spiritual rulers, lords, powers, and authorities. Everything was made through him and for him.” (Verses 15 – 16)

Paul does, however have a “unique” way of phrasing things, and connecting ideas. It can be hard to follow and parse out. Basically, the God who sent Jesus sent an aspect of the God-self, and what Jesus was/is is what God was/is/will be. I don’t know is that easier to understand.

The Son was there before anything was made. And all things continue because of him.
He is the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning of everything else. And he is the first among all who will be raised from death. So in everything he is most important.” (Verses 17 – 18)

I am reminded (don’t ask me how/why beloved reader, just go with the metaphor) that the Spirit of God is perceived as breath or wind. It is everywhere, bringing life and going as it will. God has always been known that way, both in the Old Testament/Hebrew and the New Testament/Greek. That is why as a tenet of faith, one should accept that God is Christ and Christ is God.

God was pleased for all of himself to live in the Son. And through him, God was happy to bring all things back to himself again— things on earth and things in heaven. God made peace by using the blood sacrifice of his Son on the cross.” (Verses 19 – 20)

The reign of Christ is then the reign of God – the God that was revealed through Jesus Christ and returned to being the Lord God who is over all things. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Substitute Psalms Passage – Just plain praising for praising’s sake

Some weeks in the Revised Common Lectionary the “Psalms Passage” is not actually from Psalms but an alternate passage thematic to the day or theme. To be honest, I am not sure this week is not a psalms passage. But it does seem to fit the theme or praise or worship.

“You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.”(Isaiah 12:1)

Just yesterday we had Veteran’s Day. I did not mention it at the time because if November 11 had not been on a Friday you would not have heard from me. It is just coincidence that one of the days I write was also Veteran’s Day. Also a coincidence is that yesterday’s scripture passage addressed a particular day and time, just as today’s passage does. I do not think however, beloved reader, that yesterday’s passage that alluded to end times and today’s passage referring to a certain day are the same days.

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Verses 2 – 3)

Every day God is our salvation, and we trust in God not being afraid. So I have to wonder, what day is the writer of Isaiah referring to?

“And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.” (Verse 4)

I looked back at chapter 11 of Isaiah and saw that passage was referring to the “small tree that will begin to grow from the stump of Jesse” and that these things will happen on “that day.” It is, in other words, a day to cling to hope and look to the future. To praise the Lord for what the Divine has done and will do.

“Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Verses 5 to 6)

Every day is a good day to praise the Lord, for there is something to praise the Lord God for every day. May you find reason to praise the Lord God this day. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – What will come will come, and what will go will go; but what’s important will remain

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

The beauty that comes from this world does not last. Possessions and ornamentation do not last. Structures, architecture, and infrastructures do not last either. All the things that are made by humanity, ultimately, do not last.

Now these people could have accepted this philosophical statement, but for their own reasons, they did not. Maybe they we aghast that such destruction would come upon the temple. Or maybe they wanted to know in order to protect the temple. Or maybe they were testing Jesus, to see how far he would go with it. Whatever the reason, they did not let the statement rest.

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.” (Verse 8)

This starting to sound more like end time predictions rather than just the end of the temple. Maybe the end of the temple felt like it would be end time predictions. Jesus continues with this line of thought; and for generations to follow, this becomes the template for what the end times will be like.

When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Verse 9)

There was the World War, because never before had the entire world been at war – on nation against another. And that became World War I, because the world became at war again. What followed were “smaller wars”, but no less devastating to humanity. Jesus says to expect these things to come; but it does not signal the end. Humanity has come to know that tragic lesson, and now “wars and rumors of wars” no longer raises the alarm nor the eyebrow.

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Verses 10 – 11)

I wonder if by this time Jesus’ listeners were becoming nervous. They had experienced wars and the consequences of those wars. They were devastating to the nations of Israel and Judah. And there had been famines and plagues, portents and signs of the things to come. So yes, I am sure they were becoming afraid.

But we, beloved reader, have the advantage of knowing that humanity has lived through all that, and survived to look back and tell and retell the stories that have come out of those times. In brief, the portents and signs have not been great enough or dreadful enough to mean the end is coming. But what might come from heaven? That we do not know as yet.

But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” (Verses 12 – 17)

And suddenly, when our imaginations were spiraling out of control . . . we are grounded again by the realization that Jesus is not talking to us in the present, but to the people gathered around him – his disciples and others. Yes, there are those whose belief in Jesus and the Lord God who sent Jesus have resulted in arrest, persecution, and prosecution. They were targeted because of their beliefs. And they have been put to death. But the important aspect of these believers, the vital-ness of their lives, was never lost.

But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Verses 18 – 19)

So what is the greater importance? That the artifacts and edifices of humanity will not last? That the world will come to an end? Or that the things that are most important about us, as people, as believers – will be preserved. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Looking ahead to the new, while remembering the old

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

My memory is an interesting construct. Many things I do not remember well – to my regret. But I make lists and make notes, so I do okay. Some things I remember well, and well enough. But somethings I remember vividly; when I remember them, they splash across my mind, and I feel the exact same emotions I did when the event first happened. Having such a vivid memory is not necessarily and advantage. Sometimes it seems like no time has past since the memory was made; whether that be a memory of many years ago, a memory of yesterday, or a memory that I cannot place but I know it happened!

There are some things I wish I would not remember – some unpleasant things. But it seems like the unpleasantness and the feelings/emotions are burned into my memory. And some things I do not want to forget – ever.

So, we come to the first verse of this passage, and God stating that the Divine is creating new-ness. And I have to pause, wonder and consider . . . am I willing to release the memories I have in order to be a part of this new heaven and new earth?

“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Verses 18 – 24)

You may say, beloved reader, I would be a fool not to give up my former memories in favor of this. But who of us, beloved reader, would gladly leave this earth for the live to come? Who wants to be shed of these earthly and experiences and memories in favor of the eternity beyond? Are there not many people who cling to life, squeezing every second for that it holds? Is not living many decades a goal of so many?

Now, you may interpret this passage from Isaiah as being things on earth, in this world. But where are such things happening? Where is there joy and delight as the writer of Isaiah describes it? In what day and age did such things occur? For all the “utopia” that is recorded in human history, it did not last. This is our future, beloved reader, as sure a description of the new heaven and new earth that the return of the Lord will usher in. The question is often asked, will you be ready? What I am asking is, will you be ready to let go of this world?

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD. “ (Verse 25)

Who are we to be worthy of the Lord’s holy mountain? Who are we to insist on remaining in this world? We live between two realities beloved reader. The sweetness that we do find in this life. And the promise that is yet to come. If I must make the leap from one world to the next, I need to remember clearly why that leap is worthwhile and what I must do to earn it. Selah!