Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Epistle Passage – Preacher and Seeker read Paul out loud

Preacher:“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
Seeker:
If you must compete, beloved listener, with you brother and sister – let it be a competition of caring, a race to show compassion, a contest of warm and giving hearts.
Preacher: “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Seeker: Gladden and hearten the spirit of others by zealously seeking their good. Our Lord Jesus Christ was quick to minister to others, and set before us a servant role. Let no one be a master over another, but work together as joyful companions called to the common good by the Lord God.
Preacher: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”

Seeker: When you tire, beloved listener, your fellow believer will be there as you have been there for others. And where then is a stranger among you, treat that person as a friend who you are getting to know. The body may tire, but hope in the Lord will revive you. There may be suffering, but you are not alone. So hold on to your faith, and rely on the Lord and those who are with you in faith.
Preacher: “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”

Seeker: No one is truly a stranger, because we are all children together under the Divine. Show compassion, as our Lord God Jesus Christ showed compassion. Look into the face of the stranger, and you will see the face of God.
Preacher: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

Seeker: That is not to see this life will be easy, and that you will not have hard times. While you may extend a hand of friendship, it may not be accepted and even pushed away. It is easy to love those who are lovable. The test, beloved listener, is to love where it is hard. Ask the Lord for love that will not fade away under the strain of persecution. The Lord Jesus Christ knows what it is like to bear up under persecution. There will be recourse and refuge, so that you may rest and be renewed.
Preacher: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Seeker: Rejoice! And rejoice that you have believers to rejoice with. But also, uphold one another, sharing with one another; grief shared passes, and the Lord of Light will shine upon you both.
Preacher: “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

Seeker: We all live and love under the tender eye of the Divine. Be there for your fellow believer, as your fellow believer is there for you. There is nothing to be gained by keeping your self apart from the rest of humanity, and everything to be lost. We were made for companionship.
Preacher: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.”

Seeker: You know, beloved reader, what gladdens your heart and lifts your spirit. Make that a gift to your neighbor, both near and far. Think on the good of this life, and leave what is not good where it is.
Preacher: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Seeker: Live so that no one may call you their enemy. And do not consider anyone your enemy. There is enough trial and tribulation in this life; do not add to it by creating it between you and another.
Preacher: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9 – 21)

Seeker: The good that you do, beloved listener, will spread out before you. It will multiply in the very air, and will settle on those around you. It will soften the human heart and heal the human spirit. Let no opportunity pass where you can show compassion and care. And you will find the same in the most unexpected places. I say again, look for the good and embrace it. Nurture it, and it will grow in the heart of every person you meet. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Psalm Passage – A Preacher and Seeker dialog dedicated to those who stand for peace and compassion

Preacher: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say – “
Seeker: If the Lord God had not been standing with us . . .
Preacher: “ . . . if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, . . “

Seeker: If the Lord God had not been at our side . . .
Preacher: “. . then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;”
Seeker:
But we were used and abused, attacked, wounded and some killed! Where was the Lord God then?! Why were some of our number allowed to suffer?! Why were we not protected!
Preacher: “then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;”

Seeker: When one among our number is lost, we mourn. When two have us have been taken away, we wail and weep. Those who have been lost, are remembered and honored for their sacrifice and courage. We ask and plead, where was the Lord?
Preacher: “then over us would have gone the raging waters.”
Seeker:
It is true, there is a strong remnant left. Our courage has not fled from our spirits, and our resolve is greater than ever. We gather together our number, and fortify each other, lifting up our spirits and vowing to remain strong.
Preacher: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.”

Seeker: Our foes and oppressors have bitten and gnawed at us, but we are resolute. Our ranks may be thin, but our spirit is strong. We will not be taken over.
Preacher: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.”

Seeker: Our faith and hope has not been captured or dissolved. We will rise up and stand strong against those who attack us and hate us.
Preacher: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124)

Seeker: Blessed it be the Lord who has taught us the strength of peace and compassion. We live our lives here, on earth. But the greater reward will come in the life hereafter. Now we face trial and tribulation. Those who have gone ahead of us, wait for us in the shalom of the Lord. We will stand tall, and will not be dissuaded from the course our Lord God has set before us. We are not alone, for the Lord God is with us and holds us until this time is over. Then we may rest also in the Lord God’s shalom. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Psalm Passage – Seek and treasure harmony where you find it

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)

While the psalmist might have had his own and close-by family in mind, these verses are perfect for the reunion of Joseph and his family. And their moving to a place and culture that had abundant resources. I am sure Joseph and his father Israel thought that the move to Egypt would be good for them and the coming generations, a blessing and life forevermore. But we, beloved reader, are keenly aware (or should be) that any material abundance in this world will not last and transfer over to the world to come. And that is where our true home is.

I was reminded of this by a FB firend who was lamenting that the world we live in now, and how everyone seems so eager and set upon sharing their discontent. That there is no acceptance of differing opinions, and that it seems in the world at large whoever disagrees with you “must be” bullied and shouted down. That there is, in a word, no unity.

While the psalmist may mean “kindred” to be family related by blood or marriage, the broader meaning is the family of God, humanity. There is the “good” and “pleasant” of life together. It is in shalom (increasingly rare in the world at large) where the Lord’s ordained blessing is most often seen. And if the shalom is truly from the Lord God, you can be assured it is good, pleasant, and blessed.

It would probably be easier for me if I were to draw the curtain and not look down the road to where the Israelites went from honored guest to slaves. But turning a blind eye has never been my forte. Neither has being naïve about the way of the world. I am trying these days to support and nurture the pockets and places of the Lord God’s shalom. Rejoicing where I find it, and trying to maintain those places of peace and blessing.

I had once read that humanity cannot be “peace makers”; that is, we can not create peace but can only keep peace where it is found. That seemed kind of pessimistic to me. But I understand that better now. We can keep the peace that the Lord God has created in us. And we can keep the peace that exists between two or more people who have kept the peace that was created by the Lord God and Jesus Christ in them. But we cannot “make” peace where no peace already exists. That is what I was trying to tell my FB friend. That all we cannot do where there is no peace, is not to create (or not create more) disharmony and disunity.

How good and pleasant it is when humanity lives in unity, harmony and peace. It is precious. May you seek and find that peace, beloved reader. Cherishing and nurturing it, keeping it and holding it holy and sacred. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Epistles Passage – Mapping some slippery slopes with Paul

I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– “ (Romans 9:1)

Call me a skeptic of long running, but many times when someone tells me they are speaking the truth, I prick me ears up and discern whether they are really lying. Maybe it is because part of my professional life has been discerning between absolute truths, somewhat truths, convenient truths, and outright non-truths. Do I doubt Paul? No. But for my sake, I wish he had phrased it some other way.

So is his absolute truth? The gospel he is talking about? If so, I believe him. Much of what he says aligns with what others have said, and my own experience. Or, is he talking about what he is about to say?

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” (Verses 2 – 3)

That is a lot of sorrow for one man to carry around. And a pretty severe wish on behalf of another. Really, cut off from Christ? Is this not the man just a few verses ago who said that nothing could separate us from the love of Christ? And what is the love that Christ has for us but Christ himself made manifest? Or is this a “safe” wish because Paul knows that his wishing it would not make it happen? Seems to me we are right back where we started with Paul vowing that he is telling the truth.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Verses 4- 5)

What is not out rightly stated is that Paul fears if they do not accept Christ and profess faith that Jesus was the Messiah, they will be lost. The whole purpose of them being a people called by the Lord and a light to the other nations would be lost. It was for their sake, firstly, that Jesus came. Then for the benefit of the Gentiles and all the other nations, and all people. But the “Jews”, meaning religion/nationality of those born into Judaism, have rejected Christ. And not all Jews, but as a nation and as a corporate people they have rejected Christ. And Paul grieves this.

One may suppose, I imagine, that it is no different than Christians mourning for all the non-Christians who do not know and believe in Jesus . . . . . as they believe. Here’s the thing though, how do we know what is in the heart of others? How do we know how they respond to and recognize the Divine. Paul, in his Pauline way, is being kind of presumptuous about the Jews. And that irks me just a touch. But I am irked more when that presumption is magnified by some Christians who draw very narrow boundaries for Christian faith. I actually much prefer Paul’s wish to draw them in no matter the cost to himself than Christians segregating out those who do not believe as they do.

Yes, beloved reader, I am not sure where all of this puts me in regards to my . . . . . regarding of Paul. Nor my regarding of Christians who do not believe as I do. There are some slippery slopes here. Beware!

We are on safe ground, though, if we commend all people to believe in the Lord God, and trusting that the Lord God knows their hearts. May you seek out the Lord God, beloved reader, and may nothing keep you from faith in the Divine. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Old Testament Passage – Jacob on the road to a new life

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.” (Genesis 32: 22 -23)

Jacob was going home. He had wives and children, livestock and possessions. He had spent 14 years making Laban a wealthy man, but he also made himself wealthy as well. Or maybe it was the Lord who blessed both men. In any case, he was finally going home to the family he left behind. And that was the problem. When he left, he had angered his brother and fooled his father. And he had left his mother alone to deal with it all. His brother’s messengers said his brother wanted to see him. But they also said he has 400 men. And Jacob was scared for his livestock, his possessions, and his wives and children. Scared for himself too. He knew they were safe, so it was his own self that he thought was yet in danger.

Thinking about it, Jacob was pretty brave to face his brother, considering what he thought the reunion of the two would be like. Jacob feared for his life. And, he was alone.

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” (Verses 24 – 27)

One could say that Jacob was wrestling with himself – his demons, his past, and his actions of the past. Maybe he was wrestling with his conscience. But it was a physical wrestle, an opponent with skin and sinew; one that was almost a match for Jacob, and Jacob almost a match for this unnamed stranger. And why did Jacob think this stranger would, could, and should give him a blessing? Maybe Jacob realized that the blessing from his father was never really his to begin with. And the dream he had on his way to Laban was so far in the past, and being on the cusp of facing that past, he wanted some reassurance.

“Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (Verse 28)

Striven with God – fulfilling his destiny? Or creating one with his own efforts? Striven with humans – overcoming the trick Laban has pulled? Or besting Laban at raising flocks? Or agreeing to finally confront what his need to his family of origin? In all these things he had prevailed. And because of this the legacy of creating a new people has been manifested in him.

“Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” (Verses 29 – 31)

I recently thought and considered what it would be like to come to faith again. Not anew, as if faith was deepened, but coming to faith as if faith in God had not been there before. That faith was fresh and untarnished. And the discovering of what living in faith would be like. That is the theme of this lectionary year; discovering faith and living in faith as a new being. That is what was given to Jacob, now Israel. A new beginning. A new way of living . . . . . with all the benefits and rewards that had been accumulated in the past life. What is a limp compared to all that?!?!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Psalm Passage – Wrestling with the Psalms, of all things!

Do you remember, beloved reader, from back on Tuesday when we talked about how Jacob had treated his brother Esau, and deceived his father? And he, Jacob, was deceived by his uncle, his mother’s brother? And the week before, we talked about Jacob and his dream of the ladder up to heaven, and God giving him the same promise as his grandfather Abraham was given? We also talked about how these men (and women), called children of God, were charged with the creation of a nation of people who would be God’s shining light for/to the rest of the world. Promises were given by God, in exchange for faithfulness. These people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons – formed the foundation. The Old Testament is the history and story of this called and foundation. We know that the earlier called people of God did not follow the call as faithfully as they might. But then Christians, called by God, also have problems being faithful.

The psalmist tells us what the reward for faithfulness is.

“Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128)

Now according to Old Testament/Israelite reasoning, this wonderful life is the reward of faithful living. And if this reward is not evident, it is because the living has not been faithful. At least that is a message that comes through from the history of Israel, Judah, and the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. But we also know that we live in a fallen world where the dictates and direction of the Lord is not followed by many, and the tragedies in the world are the result not just of the recipient of the tragedy but because troubles are also inflicted upon the innocent.

So what should we say and believe? That if our lives are not as the psalmist writes, then we are at fault? Or that the misdeed and evil of others have deprived us of such blissful living? It is a conundrum that believers have wrestled with for generations. And probably one that will be wrestled with for generations more.

As the history of the Israelites continued, the idea of this “blissful living” moved from being an assured reality to a dream of the future. It became “shalom”, peaceful and harmonious living, and was a hope for the life to come. It is one aspect of the hope that Jesus offered to his disciples. And that Paul assures us will be ours in the world to come.

It is helpful to keep in mind this evolution of what the Israelites hoped would be their lives under the Lord. What they felt they were promised, but didn’t always get. It is also helpful to keep in mind when you think about what the Jews of Jesus’ time hoped that the Messiah would bring them. And, beloved reader, it is a dream that is helpful for us to keep in mind as we journey through our present lives. That this reality will not be the only reality that we are destined for. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Epistles Passage – It can be a hard life, beloved reader

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Paul has just got done exhorting us to hope, just as I have commended to hope even though you cannot see what you have hoped for. Then both Paul and I say “likewise” the Spirit helps us. Yes, I think I am on the other side of a passage from Paul that I struggle with. But that does not mean it is easy coasting from here on out.

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Verses 27 – 28)

I want to let you in on a little secret beloved reader (that you may already know); the Spirit and God are . . sorta One. What I mean is that God “knows what is the mind of the Spirit” because God is the Mind of the Spirit. At least that is true in Triune theology. Less easy to prove is that “all things work together for good for those who love God . . .” That’s not to say that it is not true; but when you are in the middle of “less than good” things, it is hard to know that it is all going to work out for “good.” Or maybe you can embrace the idea that whatever happens God will use it to work out good purpose.

Now, that would be a theological mouth-fill if it were not spoken by Paul. Paul who had been Saul, who had been imprisoned and tortured, who had to flee for his life, who had to endure much grief and distress and pain. The man knows suffering, and knows that thus far in his life the bad has worked out to positive outcomes.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Verses 29 – 30)

In other words, if you feel picked on, used, and abused – you probably were. But for a reason. What you are going through will have an outcome that will bring about glory to God. Okay, you sort of have to want that to happen in order to withstand the tough times. But think about this; if you do have tough times, it may just be that the toughness will result in something awesome. That is not to say that God allows us to be whipped around, or that the Divine whips us around. What it is saying is that God is going to work things out in ways we could never image!

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Verse 31)

God is mightier than anything that comes up against us. We may not mightier or stronger than anything we might encounter. Situations and circumstances may be more than we can handle, and we may get ground into dust. But we will be God’s dust! And that, beloved reader, is better than being just plain dust!

“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Verses 32 – 35)

You see, that is Paul’s litmus test. Not that we will have an easy life, but whatever happens in our life will not necessarily prevent us from rejoicing glory and reward from the Lord God. If you look at life from Paul’s mindset, being ground into dust for the Lord God is a privilege! Yeah, I have one or two things I would like to say to Paul about that too. But he has a point. This world & the favors and ease that it offers is not something we should regard as important.

“As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verses 36 – 39)

Hard times, rough conditions, stress and turmoil, suffering and death – they are all apart of this world. We either endure . . . . . well actually there is not much other choice. We endure until we can no longer endure. But once endurance is done, and our lives are over, there is something beyond that. It all comes back to hope. And the Spirit who is there for us, groaning in ways that we could never groan ourselves. And praying, in ways so deep that it goes beyond words. Whatever hardship comes our way, we are not alone. Maybe helpless, but not alone. And, beloved reader, that Presence may make all the difference! Selah!