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!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Spiritual Fore-bearers, Large and Small

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (I Peter 3:13 – 16)

I both feel and see the writer of I Peter seesawing back and forth. Being bold yet advocating care and caution. It is the careful “dance” of someone who is wise as a serpent yet innocent as a dove. I was reminded today, in another context, of the apostle Peter’s hesitation concerning going to Cornelius’ home because Cornelius was a Gentile. And his explanation to the gathering at Jerusalem as to why he went.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (Verses 17 – 20)

I am reminder too of the times Peter was imprisoned and was lead out of prison. Peter did suffer for proclaiming the faith given to him. And that lends extra credence to the words that are ascribed to Peter. This can be said of all of the writers of the Epistles. But do not think that it is only those who have suffered violently for their faith that have lessons to teach us. Living out an authentic Christian life, day by day over a span of decades without persecution or oppression is just as much a testament. And in some ways more. As Peter says, when we are pressed on the issues of our faith it gives us a chance to speak to the depth and breadth of our testing. But when there is no test, merely the living out of docile days, it is easy to slip in small . . . and then larger ways. We tend to forget the sacrifice that was made for us, because there is little sacrifice and suffering on our part.

“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (Verses 21 – 22)

I cannot, beloved reader, point you to many diaries and accounts of authentic and conscientious Christians of lived out their days in unruffled ways. For those accounts are not held up as examples. But they should be. Yes, Peter and Paul, and the other apostles suffered for their faith. And we can look to them as exemplars, in a smaller way than we look to Christ. Complacency can lead us just as much astray as yielding to temptation when the tough times come. Seek out, beloved reader, models of Christianity who were not pushed or stressed. And find out how to live a Christian life in “monotony”. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following directions

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

What are Jesus’ commandments? For they are not the Ten Commandments – that is, not just the ten commandments. Jesus said he came to fulfill them, as if to mean that previously they had been done or kept incompletely – which is very true. So, what commandments did Jesus give his disciples? Well, it might depend on which gospel you read, actually.

But I am not sure it is specific commandments that the writer of the gospel of John has in mind. I suspect, and I checked with my “friend” Albert Barnes, and he said “that love for him which leads us to do all his will, to love each other, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow him through evil report and through good report, is true attachment. “ It is not just or so much what we do as it is how we live our our lives.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (Verse 16)

Another important point is that we are not expected to live our Jesus’ commandments without help or assistance. In fact, it might be nigh on impossible to live them out on our own.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (Verses 17 – 20)

Remember too, beloved reader, Jesus is telling his disciples this before the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth came, according to the other gospels. The writer of the gospel of John does not extend his narrative to that point. Maybe things became clearer to the disciples as the years went by.
Also, I suspect Barnes was influenced by some of the later verses in section, namely . . .

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (Verse 21)

It is not so much making the specific correct choices, but living out one’s life according to what Jesus would have done – what would Jesus do? I gently suggest, beloved reader, you think over the ten commandments and ask yourself what would Jesus have done? What did Jesus do? And let that be your guide. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wasting Time

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22 – 23)

Paul was a pretty sharp guy. The Athenians, being Greeks, were covering every possibility of gods (small “g”) and so as not to leave anyone/thing out and so as not to offend anyone, they had an altar set up for “anonymous.” Paul took advantage of this loophole and present the Lord God, the one all encompassing God. Kinda risky considering he may not have been sure exactly who the altar was meant for. But when you have the Lord God on your side, you can take chances like that.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “ (Verses 24 – 28)

If you know anything about the Greek gods, and the Roman gods which some Greek gods are modeled after, you might know that Paul is speaking pretty specifically against the attributes and needs of the Greek gods in worship.

“Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.” (Verse 29)

And it is not just the Greek gods that can be found under Paul’s critic. Other gods (again small “g”) of other nations had not much more representation and existence beyond having a statute or idol made of it. And some pretty unusual looking ones there were too!

“While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Verses 30 – 31)

A great deal hinges on this “fixed day” that the world will be judged. Paul makes the appeal to wait not, but repent now. Cast away belief and worship of the false gods, and embrace only the true God. Because . . . time may be running out. However, we know now that time was not running out, unless you count the day when each individual person might be judged because their life on this earth has ended. Between when Paul spoke these words and now – there has been a great span of time.

But, beloved reader, do not let my rough-shod critique of Paul lead you to believe that time is not slipping away, because it is! Just because there has been time, and time again, to turn from disbelief to belief do not think you can waste more time. What Paul does not say (at least not explicitly here) but I do say – days and nights chasing after false gods are hours and minutes wasted. The gold or silver or stone or image in art or image from the imagination of mortals.

These images can do nothing for you. Worship of them wastes your time and energy, and leads to nothing good or useful. These images will not last, and whatever good you think you get from them will not last. On that Paul and I agree. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – To walk not by sight but by faith

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16:9-10)

It would be easy to say that such vision and then taking immediate action do not happen in our modern times – but they do. I can remember several times in my life when I have felt called to do something, say something etc – and immediately did so. In recent months I have been trying even more so to cultivate the attitude of walking by faith and not by sight – that is, to trust God and move forward.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.” (Verses 11 – 12)

From the narrator of Acts you can get the sense that while it was a hurried decision, the process was quite lengthy. So it was not so much a matter of jumping and being there immediately, but deciding to do something and then make plans accordingly. God calls us to follow the Spirit, not foolish impulses.

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Verses 13 – 15)

And when you do decide and follow through on a plan given by God, God will see to all the “accommodations” along the way. That is the sort of thing I am trying to cultivate in my own life; discern what God is telling me, and then to do that thing and trust the details to God. I well let you know how that turns out, beloved reader. Shalom!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus assures those who will be left

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” (John 14:23-29)

Judas (yes, that Judas Iscariot) had just asked Jesus why he does not declare himself to the world – I am assuming as a conquering reigning king would. I have had heard it said that Judas “betrayed” Jesus to force Jesus to be the sword-wielding conquering king that Judas wanted. I do not know how much truth there is to that, and I would not speculate on it either way. I do find it interesting to consider, and mention it only because it prefaces these verses, which we will now look at. Not exhaustively, but highlighting three things that struck me as important when I read this passage this time.

“Those who love me will keep my word” – do you think those words were specifically for Judas . . . I mean in light of what I said above? Maybe, but Jesus goes on to say that God and Jesus will make their home in a person. That does not sound like a conquering king but a humble King who seeks his subjects good and comfort. But there is “bit” and “teeth” is this because it is not just Jesus’ words but the Almighty’s words that people are to know and keep.

The “Advocate, the Holy Spirit” that is from God has a tremendous task. But I tell you, beloved reader, I do not think that this Advocate and Holy Spirit had never been in the world before. But God sent it to the follower’s of Jesus, and all those who profess Jesus (loving him and keeping his word) in a special and very direct way. And this Spirit has been in the world ever since.

Jesus desires his followers be at peace, and not be afraid of what might come. While Jesus’ disciples may have been nervous and afraid at these words of Jesus, they were not meant to cause fear but to help them prepare. And not to be prepared by their own human strength and will but to be prepared and emboldened by God’s power. Jesus talks about God as “the Father” which is an image some appreciate more than others. But it was in the sense of a loving caring Parent watching out for and over beloved children, and not some parental tyrant.

All in all, this was to assure the disciples that Jesus cares for them, and the One who sent Jesus cares for them also. Good news as we watch the Easter season become more distant. May these words of Jesus assure your heart and spirit, beloved reader. Selah!

The Sixth Sunday of Easter – When it is hard to make a joyful noise (The Psalm Passage)

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.”  (Psalm 98:1-2)

Sing a new song, meaning a psalm of praise and worship to the Lord. Each week of the lectionary a psalm passage is offered up – sometime one of praise, and sometimes of mourning or petition, or at times confession. But this Sunday the psalm is one of praise. But what if one does not feel like praising?

The other scripture passages in this week’s lectionary reading have been ones of positive outcome and of people coming to faith. We heard about the household of Cornelius who came to faith. And about God’s assurance of love for us and exhortation to us to love others. So it is not surprising that part of the lectionary reader would be a song of praise and worship in celebration of what has been told to us this week.

“He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” (Verse 3)

God is a might God; mighty in love and mighty in action. God is love. But humanity struggles to love, and struggles to show love. Living is not easy, and loving is not easy. We fail to love, and human love fails us.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.” (Verses 4-6)

When we are feeling low, and not feeling love, we might make noise. Not a “joyful” noise, but noise nonetheless. Perhaps this reflection of mine is a corporate confession of sorts, that we let things get in the way and get us down, so we don’t or can’t make a joyful noise, sing praises and make pleasing music in celebration and thanksgiving to our Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth.” (Verses 7-8)

But thanks be to our Lord and God that others, and even creation, make a joyful noise. That is one of the benefits on being in a faith circle and having people surround you with support and love. When you cannot lift up your voice in joyful noise to save your soul!! . . . . Others around you can. Or, creation itself praises it Maker. Do not fear, beloved reader, if the noise you make to the Lord are not joyful or not filled with praise. Because our Lord is filled with love and mercy for us. The psalmist promises the reader concerning our Lord that . . . .

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Verses 9)

God will not judge us harshly, nay not judge us at all that life and living has made it hard or near impossible to sing a new song of praise and worship. That our songs are of sadness and petition, or confession. The psalmist has written psalms like that also.

That is why it is important to read about the mighty things that God has done, and to be reminded that the worries and cares of this world will not overwhelm or undo the good things that God does, and will continue to do.

May you, beloved reader, be blessed by God so that there is praise and joy in your heart. And when you struggle to raise up songs of joy, may you have people around you who will praise God for you, and pray for you. Selah!