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!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – When the Lord “comes through”

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.” (Psalm 66:8 – 9)

Last week I directed and dedicated the psalm passage to my fellow chronic illness sufferers. I was reminded of that by this first verse, although some in our group have passed away because of this disease.

“For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Verse 10)

Admittedly, however, these verses are directed more at sin and trying to live a life according to Christian principles. This disease is not from anything we have done that is against Christian precepts. Very very diseases are.

“You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Verse 11 – 12)

And healing from diseases is not dependent on living out Christian principles either. That is, sinners as well as saints recover from disease or succumb to the devastation of body and health. So let us leave behind health considers, and look together at what this passage has to say.

“I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.” (Verse 13 – 14)

In times of trouble, we promise the Divine if we are delivered from our problems we will be more dedicated to the religious life and will turn away from habits and patters that are contrary to the Lord’s directions and guidance. The psalmist here promises now that things are better, the psalmist will follow through on these promises. And actually, by living a more authentic Christian life there will be far less danger of bringing problems upon ourselves.

“I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah” (Verse 15)

When the Lord has delivered us from our woes and worries, our faults and failings, our straying and distress, we seek to honor the God who stood by us and walked us through it. Ways and traditions of honoring and giving thanks to God have evolved and changed. But the impulse is still there.

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” (Verses 16 – 20)

Blessed be God! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Traits of the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It occurred to me yesterday that there is a great difference between the shepherds that come to shepherding through and because of faith in the Lord, and the “Good Shepherd” who watches over both “local” shepherds and the Lord’s sheep. Now remember what we discussed yesterday that sheep are not blind mindless followers but initial followers of the the local shepherds and the the Good Shepherd.

Here in the psalm passage we learn more about the Good Shepherd. Or at least more about the motif/metaphor that the psalmist employs.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;” (Verse 2)

The Lord as the Great Shepherd does not expect us to be nurtured and nourished by turbulence. We say that times of stress and distress help us to learn to depend on the Lord. But the purpose of the Good Shepherd is to bring peace to our soul. We learn that even if there is turbulence in our lives, the Lord provides a place of calm.

“ . . . he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)

The Divine that we call by the name of Lord has pledged with all that the Omnipotent Divine has and is to undertake for us. This is what the psalmist means (I think) when he says “for his name’s sake” – although the Divine is not bound by our definitions of “his”.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.” (Verse 4)

I said a few verses back that the Lord creates places of calm. The security and calm of the Lord’s rod and staff is that it keeps danger away from us, and lead us where we should go. I am not talking about the danger that we may face in this world, but the danger to our spirit and soul, that which will survive us after bodily death. Those who follow the Lord may have fears and concerns in this life, but the answer to those concerns is the Lord, who will not abandon us – for the sake of the Lord’s name.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Verse 5)

The Might of the Lord is evident in the face of the dangers we may face, and in front of those who seek to harm us. Our calm and confidence comes from a deep well within us that the Lord has established. We can draw on that when we face the stress and pressures of this world. And we are renewed with the Divine’s calm and peace. As the psalmist says . . .

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

I want to share something with you that I came across the day I sat down to write this reflection and post – “As the print of the seal on wax is the express image of the seal itself, so Christ of the express image – the perfect representation of God. ” St.Ambrose spoke it, I do not know when as the source of the quote did not identify it. But I had to think to myself, how could so many people have misunderstand, and continue to misunderstand the nature of God when Christ exemplified it. The 23rd psalm does not say that the Messiah that is to come, or some holy man called by the Lord is the Shepherd – but Lord, the Godself, is the Shepherd who does all of these things for the sheep that have the good sense to follow. I could go on and on identifying the various ways that I feel God has been misunderstood. But that is not my purpose. Beloved reader, look to Christ as the way of compassion and care that the Lord God has always extended to humanity. Selah and shalom!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Psalm 23, again

Since I got up this morning I have been trying to figure out a new approach to this psalm passage. This psalm has capture the attention and the imagination/imagery of countless people. I do not know if there is any unique approach possible. In all the years I have been writing scriptural reflections I feel like I have been re-trodding familiar ground. And yet, there is no real reason to try to come up with something different. One of the reasons this psalm is so popular is because it is so straightforward. So if some of what I say sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing that these are well established truths.

Psalm 23

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

When the Lord is with us, we may not get everything we want or need. But in terms of comfort and support in whatever our life circumstances, the Lord provides. Maybe the psalmist was being overly optimistic. But peace and contentment of the spirit and soul are priceless.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

The psalmist, it seems, prizes these things above material possessions. And I will not say that writer is wrong. We, humanity, acquire things in all shapes and sizes; excesses and necessities. We all have our own ideas of what we absolutely need, what we would like, and what we can do without. But peace of mind, spirit, and soul are so essential. And these are the things that the Lord provides.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.”

Again, going through life without fear. Priceless! Have confidence in every situation and circumstance means that you can act as the Lord would have you act. And having the Lord’s comfort around you means you are invulnerable to all the world throws at you.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

And the world knows that you are protected and beloved. If I can take this idea further, those who also follow the Lord are seated at the table of the Lord, so we have companionship for the journey through this life. And the promise of continued fellowship in the world to come.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”

The psalmist. I think, does not mean just heaven. When we have the Lord as our Shepherd all of our days on earth are lived being within the fold of the Lord. Despite what the world might hold, we are safe within the Lord’s sight. Goodness and mercy are with us, we are seen as the Lord’s beloved, we walk without fear in this life, and we are lead in good directions. We are blessed! Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seeker speak plainly about righteous living

Preacher: “O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

Seeker: Maybe the question should be, who can find safety and refuge with the Lord? It seems like everywhere one turns today there is trouble, upsetting issues, and challenges to living simply. To hear some talk, one would believe that better times are coming. But others say we are plunging into more problems than we can ever deal with. Of course, that sort of rhetoric had been going on for generations. Promises for better times are made over and over. Sometimes it comes true, and sometimes it does not. Seems to me it those who would be worthy of dwelling with the Lord are the ones who we can believe the promises of. So the question remains, who can expect and who deserves to live in eternity with our Lord?

Preacher: “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;”

Seeker: In other words, those who already follow the Lord. Or say they follow the Lord. So, how can we know who are true followers of the Lord?

Preacher: “[Those] . . .who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;”

Seeker: Now we are narrowing it down! What other qualifications does it take?

Preacher: “ . . . in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;”

Seeker: It takes strong resolve and a strong conscience and will to hold to those things!
Those are indeed signs and hallmarks of called and chosen people of the Lord! Say more!

Preacher: “ . . . who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.”

Seeker: But, those who are such people are among us – which is good! Does that mean that it is not time yet to enter and live in the dwelling place of the Lord? That it is not time yet to go to the Lord’s holy hill? I suppose not. We, the good and the bad and those in-between, we still live and dwell together. And are faced with temptations; our fallen world threatens to undermine even the best of us. How will they survive? How will we survive?!

Preacher: “Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)

Seeker: That is the true test, isn’t it? Not living blameless and perfectly lives living in the tent of the Lord. But living authentic and honest Christian lives in this fallen world. Let us look closely, and discern according to the word of the Lord who is worthy for the tent’s of the Lord, and our Lord God’s holy hill! Selah!

Third Sunday After Epiphany: The Old Testament Passage – The remedy for our distress is sent down for us

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” (Isaiah 9:1)

There will be those bible commentators who will say this also refers to Jesus. And it does point to Jesus, for that is the area where he grew up and ministered. But the ministry of Jesus was not confined to that one place, or what it confined to that one time. (Please note I am leaving alone the who argument that the prophet Isaiah/the writer of Isaiah was writing to the audience of the time! Or at least trying to.)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” (Verse 2)

Because Jesus was for all people and for all times, it does not matter if this passage foretells Jesus, or is comfort for those who read this in the time of the book of Isaiah. We are believers in Jesus Christ and God can take comfort from it to. I know I do.

“You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” (Verses 3 – 4)

So we can read this passage and walk forward knowing that never again will we be burdened? Ah, that is the rub beloved reader. (I will identify that “rub” a little further one.) One of the reasons I am so vigilante about not taking verses/passages from the time they were written, and from the people they were written for/to. I know that is not the aim of biblical commentators. But after you read enough of that, you start to feel like you are eavesdropping on a conversation that was not meant for you!

When this passage of the book of Isaiah was written, people were suffering, burdened with weights across their shoulders and opposed! When the Jews (contemporaries of Jesus) read it, they were also burdened and opposed. And when we, as modern believers read it with our troubles and burdens we can take the same good news from it that our spiritual forebearers did before us.

The rub? Belief in God in the time of the writer of Isaiah, belief in God in the time of Jesus, and belief in God and Jesus Christ now – does not exempt us from burdens, weights, and oppression. Yes, the promise comes down to us that God and Christ is with us. But we still live in a world that has problems and strife. The called people of God have problems and strife. That is why we must take these verses to our heart and soul, and use them to mend ourselves with God’s compassion, love and care. Let us do so! Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany: The Psalm Passage – Waiting in anticipation

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1 – 3)

A psalm of overcoming. But also a psalm of hope, that this would happen. I have been in the pit of desolation, and have cried. And cried out to the Lord. I know I have been heard, because the Lord always hears. And I know I will be lifted out, because the Lord comes to those who call on the Divine. Furthermore, I know that no matter how often I (or anyone else) calls out to the Lord, the Lord will come and minister to us. I know all of these things! But when I am in that pit, it is hard to wait patiently.

“Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.” (Verse 4)

I am not sure I am to “happy” yet. I have been there before, and hope and have faith I will be there again. But right now, being patient takes all of my being.

“You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted. Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” (Verses 5 – 6)

I remember, as I read these verses, 12 years ago I put these verses in my heart as I graduated from seminary. It was a long road culminating in a feeling of accomplishment and peace. I thought I had overcome so much, and now was ready to stride forth with confidence and the Lord’s plan for me laid out before me.

But there were corners, changes, disappointments, and heartaches I had no idea of. And desolate pits too numerous to count. But as I said, with each pit I found myself the Lord lifted me out and set me on firm ground.

I have never regret saying . . .

Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Verses 7 – 10)

This week (and last week too for that matter) I have been quite honest about my struggles. I have tried to be honest too about where and how I have felt the Lord’s presence. I hope I have been clear enough about that. Even though I have felt as if I was in pit after pit, I have never felt that I was alone; the Lord was with me, comforted me, strengthened me. And when I was ready, the Lord lifted me up and set upon the Lord’s path for me.

So I say . . .

“Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” (Verses 11)

Selah!