Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Hearing, and Not Hearing the Lord God

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” (Psalm 68:1 – 3)

It is not an overstatement to say that the church designates certain Sundays as “celebration” Sundays. During those weeks the psalm passage are usually very praising and celebratory. And the first section of verse one fits in very well with the Ascension of the Lord theme. So let’s celebrate!


“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Part of celebrating is recounting and remembering when and how the Lord was faithful.

“O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Even though the fate and circumstances of the Lord’s called people may vary and change, surge forth and ebb away, the Lord is faithful. At least that’s what we tell ourselves and each other.

I cannot turn a blind eye, beloved reader, to the times and places that the called people of God have cried out, “My God, where are you?!” Our exemplar and Lord Jesus Christ did the same thing. Yes, there are times God goes out before us – marching, making the earth quake and water pour down, and generally making the Divine Presence known. But there are also times when we fill like we are out there all alone when the earth quakes and the waters pour, and we are shivering and shaking in the dark.

A large part of the stories in the Old Testament are of both noteworthy and common every day people who were having a hard time fulfilling the call they were supposed to have had from the Lord God. And seemingly not getting it right! And it also seemed like the Lord God was set against them and teaching them lessons that successive generations had to re-learn.

To tell you the honest truth, beloved reader, I am not sure how the people of the Old Testament messed ups, or even if they did mess up. A lot of the politics of the time swept the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews along with it, and the people suffered. They said it was because the Lord deserted them, as a consequence of their behavior. To read the Old Testament prophets (both major and minor) that’s the impression you get. What I do know is that at some point the Lord God said to the God-self, “Humanity does not seem to be getting the message. It’s time for a different plan.” So Jesus was sent. And things started to get a bit better.

So do not think that just because the Lord is not out there booming the big Divine drum that God has forsaken humanity. God is right there beside us, standing with us on the rolling shaking landscape and getting wet too! And now we know this. What we know further is that just because Jesus is in heaven, we are not alone down here. Yes, we will mess up, in ways we cannot count, fathom, or begin to know. But, we are not alone.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Verses 32 – 35)

Selah!

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Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus prays, and we are drawn in

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” (John 17:1-5)

The New Revised Standard Version tells me, through section headings, that Jesus is praying this for himself in verses one to five. The next section of verses, six to eleven is part of the larger section where Jesus prays for his disciples. According to the writer of the gospel of John, Jesus prayed this at the conclusion of the Passover Supper/Last Supper. Since the gospel of John does not have the ascension of the Lord, it is as close to a sending off of the disciples as we get in this gospel.

This first section is interesting, in that it reveals what position vis a vis Jesus felt he had with God. Jesus identifies (again) that he came from God and had authority to do all the things he did – preaching/teaching and miracles. But it also identifies that Jesus had the same glory that God has, and will have the glory again. Which is probably why it is used for the Sunday closest to the Day of Ascension of the Lord. It also brings sharply into focus the aim of the writer of the gospel of John, establishing Jesus’ Divinity. You may wonder, beloved reader, why I sometimes use the noun “Divine” at times when referring to the Lord God. At the times when I used that term, I am trying to sum up all that the triune aspects (and other aspects) of the Lord God are. And to incorporate more than just a strictly narrowly-defined Christian view of the Lord God.

Jesus was not a Christian – he was Christ. Strictly speaking, the Jews who believed in him and came to believe in him during the time of the early Christian church were not Christians either. It was the people who came from other faiths that embraced belief in Christ who could be termed Christians. Christianity, and by implication Christendom, was established by subsequent generations. And those believers can be and are included in the prayer that the NRSV says were prayed for Jesus’ disciples.

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.” (Verses 6 – 9)

The world, as it would have been understood then (and remember that this prayer comes to us by way of a person writing within the context of those times) would be “pagans” who it was assumed would never give up their “pagan” beliefs nor hear about Jesus the Messiah because they were at too much of a distance. The assumption was, those who were “given to” Jesus were very close at hand and with the conceptual distance that the disciples had.

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Verses 10 – 11)

This passage of prayers goes on for eight more verses, as Jesus asks the Lord for blessing and protection on the disciples. A final passage, verses twenty to twenty-six ask a blessing on all believers – specifically those who will come to faith because of the disciple’s ministry efforts. But remember, the writer of the gospel of John could not foresee the length of time and the impact that Jesus’ life would have.

I could go on, beloved reader, describing the expanding circle of those who came to believe, and how. In part, that is what the book of Acts and the Epistle passages of the New Testament are. Tracing the progression, the impact, and the teachings of the apostles. Remember too, that there is much evidence that the early church thought not more than one or two generations would pass before Jesus would return. But here we are, 21st Century Christians who have kept (more or less) a Christian faith based on what was set down by Christ. The disciples/apostles could not envision that. But Jesus Christ could and did. So, when Jesus prayed for his “apostles” – that could be us. And when Jesus prayed for all other believers, that is us too.

I am reminded that the theme of the lectionary this year is believers coming to new/renewed faith. According to the celebration days of the church, Jesus has ascended. And the Lord God and Jesus Christ continue to welcome believers and minister to them. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – A time for pondering and a time for acting

I know a secret. This week is the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. It is a minor big deal in the life of the church. Not quite Pentecost, but right up there – as it were. The time after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension is the interval of time when Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples. Some of the gospels chronicle that time, and others quickly move to Jesus being taken up to heaven.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:6 – 9)

I have spoken/written on numerous occasions about the expectations of the disciples concerning Jesus’ return. That they way they lived and the way the early church was set up was based on this expectation. And how the early church changed to accommodate the “wait time” for Jesus’ return. I have also talked about what we, as authentic Christians, ought to do while we wait.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Do you, beloved reader, gaze up into the sky wondering when Jesus will return in the same way as he went into heaven? No, I don’t think you do. Because we as a called people of the Lord have learned that our mission and calling is here amongst humanity. That Jesus’ Spirit and Presence is here in ways we only understand in part. Prayer is good – prayer is essential! But prayer is not all there is to living out a Christian life. There is acting as Jesus acted. Caring as the Lord cares for us. Teaching and guiding as Jesus taught and guided his disciples. And, continuing to learn about the Lord and Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a busy time, this waiting for Jesus to return. Set aside some time to gaze into the sky, and communion with the Lord. Then return to the work you are called to. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – A reminder of the blessings from Easter

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)

Stand back a moment, beloved reader. Feel the earnestness and intensity of this prayer that Jesus prayed for and over his disciples. The fervor and the desire that Jesus had that they might receive the good and love that is God. Theological after theological concept, spilling over from one petition to the next. Now, if you are ready, we will look at this piece by piece.

This prayer was not just for his disciples that were there to hear, but those who would come to believe in Jesus over time – that is us, beloved reader. This is clear from the very first verse in this passage. Then Jesus ushers us into relationship with God and Jesus, one in the other and we in them both. And the world, if it will see, is witness to this. And if they will hear our words that have been passed down through the generations, then each generation and each hearer will be heir to the glory that Jesus called down from God.

While my explanation may be relatively short, the implications are huge. Not that I have explained it so eloquently or mightily – no, but that there is eloquence and might in what Jesus prayed. And ONLY Jesus could have prayed it, because only Jesus is so glorified by God. We may be heirs and kin to this, but it comes not from what we are nor what we do, but from God through Jesus. Mighty words that remind us what Easter brought. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament – Journeying with Paul

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” (Acts 16:16-18)

Other than this being a story from Paul’s journeys, what I find interesting about this story is the shift in narration. Some of Acts is written in third person, as if it is being reported as what happen to others. But in this passage, and other portions of Acts, the narration is first person – it is happening to the person who is writing the book of Acts. I had notice it in other portions of Acts that have been cited by the Revised Common Lectionary, and thought about making note of it – but never got around to that.

The other interesting thing is that Paul cast out the spirit because she annoyed him! Now, bible commentators give all sorts of reasons why Paul was annoyed. And if I set aside my own baser impulse of needling Paul, I can see where he delivered from the spirit because there was ample evidence that she was doing this out of compulsion and it was a burden to her; of, it was probably a burden to Paul in some way too. (I could not resist!) But, giving credit where it is due, Paul was very powerful in the Lord in being able to do this thing. And he might have known, as it turned out, the the girl’s owners would be very displeased. Paul is/was quite well known for thinking less of his own safety and concerns and acting as he felt the Lord called him to.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Verses 19 – 24)

And God used Paul’s impulses to accomplish great things. When Paul got himself into a situation, such as being put in jail, God used Paul’s daring-do to further Paul’s witness. I may poke and tease Paul, but I cannot deny the impact that he had and the impact that God had through him.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” (25 -34)

I think, beloved reader, it would be good to reminder that this year’s lectionary theme is confession, penance, and forgiveness. And that we should not define these words too narrowly. Confessing or coming to faith in God is just as much part of this theme as confessing one’s sins. Note too that the jailor did “penance” for the treatment that Paul and Silas suffered. And that as a believer in God, his being forgiven for what he might have done in the past was assured. Paul, along with whatever else he might represent and symbolize, is also a symbol of confession, penance, and forgiveness.

May you beloved reader continue journeying through this taking good advantage of the opportunities that God sets before you; and at every juncture confessing faith and your sins, doing penance for the missteps you have taken, and receive forgiveness through the Lord’s compassion. Selah!

The Seventh Sunday of Easter – Overhearing a good “prayer” (The Gospel Passage)

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:6-19)

Like children at the “grown-up table” the disciples and we hear these words. I am not criticizing this passage beloved reader, but pointing out a truth that the disciples may not have been able to understand and take in this prayer; or maybe they did. It is not typically what we would think of as a prayer. It is more of a conversation between two Divine equals, one telling the other what is mutually understood by both of them, but saying this conversation out loud for the purpose of informing and enlightening the listener.

Again, I am not being critical. Let me assure you of that beloved reader. Many times prayer is thought of as telling God what we want or thanking God for something. It’s direction is from us below to God high above us. But this prayer of Jesus’ is more like a report to God of what Jesus has done according to a plan that was set down far in advance of Jesus’ coming to earth. It is just so different!

What would it be like . . . what would it mean if we prayed to God like this? What would it mean to be on this much of intimate terms with God? What would it be like to partner with the God-self to this depth and level? But how can we turn away from this opportunity? Jesus did not have to pray this prayer out loud in front of his disciples. It could have been done as a time away in prayer that Jesus did so often during his earthly ministry. Makes you wonder what those times away were like. But Jesus HAD to have a reason for disclosing to the disciples this depth of relationship with God. And I HAVE to believe it was to show them, and show us beloved reader, what a relationship with God could be like.

I encourage you to cultivate such a relationship with God, and to enter into such conversations with our Lord. And I await to hear how it might change you, your life, and the people around you. Shalom!