Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – From then to now . . . believing in the Divine

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!” (Psalm 116:1-4)

One of the things about the Old Testament is that it is a “before” in terms of a relationship to God. Before – salvation, forgiveness, redemption and atonement. Before – speaking to the Divine as a close personal friend. Before – the assurance that the Divine always has our best interests at the center of our relationship to the Lord. And, Before – we knew what the Lord wanted in return for the blessing and gifts that are bestowed on us.


“What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!” (Verses 12 – 19)

That is not to say that there was no one who had an intimate relationship with the Lord. The bible, and the Old Testament, is filled with stories of men and women who lived extra-ordinary lives dedicated to the Lord. It’s just that there were many people who didn’t, who went astray, and never really found their way back. The coming Christ broke down many barriers. But, beloved reader, humanity is also very skilled at putting up barriers to the Divine; the same skill, I imagine, that many unnamed people had back in the time of the Old Testament, branching into New Testament times.

Wouldn’t it be nice to believe that the coming of Christ tore down the barriers as it tore down the curtain in the Holy of Holies in the temple? But my optimism for those living in New Testament times, and more specifically in the decades and centuries after Christ, meets up with reality. So we look back – back to the Old Testament to learn how the distance between the Divine and the people of God came to be. Back to the New Testament to learn how a new way of believing and living came into existence. And then back over the history of humanity since Christ returned to heaven. And hopefully we learn, and carry those lessons forward. Hopefully . . . . Selah!

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Third Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Walking Unaware

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:13-16)

There have probably been numerous occasions that I have met someone I know but because it was at a place I usually do not see them, I did not recognize them. I am not saying this is what happened with these two disciples and Jesus, but it is possible enough. Having convinced themselves that Jesus was dead, they did not discern that the man who joined them was familiar to them. Or, Jesus could have deliberately clouded their minds to who he was.

“And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Verses 17 – 24)

“But they did not see him.” (After reading these verses for so many years, I had never given much thought to that phrase; I will now.) Jesus, their teacher and friend, is missing. So convinced are they that death is the end, that they do not consider a miracle might have happened. Despite that fact that Jesus seems to have power over life and death, they are sure enough Jesus died and stayed dead. I do not know if they disciples searched for Jesus, or may assumed that the Jewish authorities or the Roman authorities took his body away. It does not impel them to search for Jesus or wonder where he went. Instead they leave Jerusalem for other places. No wonder Jesus said what he did.

“Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.” (Verses 25 – 29)

While they may not have learned the lesson of what Jesus’ mission was, they did learn the lesson of compassion and hospitality, to care for another and for a stranger. And to be open to new learning, understanding, and knowledge. And to remember the important times in their travels with Jesus.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (Verses 30 – 31)

That is one of my favorite parts – Jesus re-enacting the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper. If they did not recognize him because they were not expecting him and could not have foreseen that he would be alive and walking, they did recognize in the moment of doing something he had done often enough – prayed over food and shared it with his friends.

“They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Verses 32 – 35)

We walk through this life not always being aware of what is going on around us. Whether to involved in our own troubles and struggles, or simply not taking in the world around us. It is said we often may “entertain angels unaware.” In the same way, we may encounter the Divine. Not as the disciples did, in the flesh and body, but the movement of the Divine intervening and interacting in our lives. It is the wise person who recognizes the movement of the Spirit, and grabs on to it and finds themselves being blessed by it. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going the distance with the apostle Peter

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” (I Peter 1: 17 – 20)

You know, beloved reader, I have great affection for the apostle Peter who is supposed to be the writer of I Peter (as well as II Peter). He as well as others believed that “the last” or “the end times” would come soon. And that soon would mean in the foreseeable future for his readers. Well, we know that is not true. Some biblical commentators feel that the apostles meant the world ending soon. Other commentators give more latitude in time span saying that it simply meant the age where God revealed the Divine through Jesus, that “this end of the ages” was the final age when God could be known clearly. It is a kindness, beloved reader, that the apostles were not held to the idea that Christ’s return was not something imminent in a relatively short count of days. When one’s world view is “small” (meaning in the geographical sense), one’s understanding of time in the future is bound to be short. So my affection for Peter leads me to a gentle interpretation of his meaning for what “the end of the ages” is. But I know, in my heart of hearts, he was thinking it would be soon.

“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (Verses 21-23)

But that does not lessen Peter’s message. It, in fact, strengthens if. If we, as his modern day readers, are to endure the unforeseeable time ahead that may stretch out yet as many generations as we are removed from Peter’s time, it is imperative that our trust in the God and in Jesus Christ is unshakable. It has to last not just a “short time” until the Divine’s return but throughout our lifetime. And we must pass that unshakable faith on to the next generations.

I have seen (although not remembered) as least 58 Easters. And while my faith may have been small and infantile for at least the first – who know how many years – it has endured. Through childhood to adolescence to adulthood. It was, is, and will be, founded on the enduring word of God – preached by many, taught by many, and exemplified by many spiritual forebearers. May you, beloved reader, stand firm in the same legacy and pass it on to the coming generation. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – The First (but certainly not the last) Converts

The lectionary passage starts again with verse 14a from Acts chapter two, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them”. Peter, in fact, addressed them for some time.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (Verses 36 – 41)

I read something interesting the other day – someone was commenting about the dramatic change in the disciples/apostles after they had received the Holy Spirit. It is true that accepting Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can dramatically change a person. Sometimes this change is very immediate, and sometimes it happens over time but is no less dramatic. Do not think, beloved reader, if there was no drama in your conversion that it was not real and authentic.

I had a seminary professor who once said that for most people it is a dramatic and “turning the corner” or “turnaround experience”. It is as if there was life before . . . . and life afterwards – distinct change. I did not find it that way. Maybe some day I will share that story. But for now we are with Peter in Jerusalem and witnessing the first conversion of people after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three thousand is a pretty impressive number. But Peter and the apostles were pretty impressive people!

As the days, and Sundays, after Easter unfold may you carry with you the wonderful changes that the Holy Spirit has made in your life. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – A glimpse of the Heaven of Revelation, narrated by Preacher and Seeker

Preacher: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,”
Seeker: Imagine a football stadium the size of a city; or a concert hall that stretches out several miles, but the singers are not on the stage but are the audience. And the music sweeter than any human force can produce!
Preacher:” . . . singing with full voice,“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Seeker: I know the lyrics seem strange – not what you would expect on earth. But in the Heaven of Revelation all focus and attention is on the Divine. Maybe not your idea of Heaven. But remember – this is a celebration of the greatest event in all of creation.
Preacher: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,”
Seeker: So creation itself is celebrating. Anything and everything that has ever gone wrong has been made corrected. There are no more flaws in any creature or any person – nothing to mar the heart, soul or spirit.
Preacher: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”

Seeker: And the reason that perfection now exists is seated in the midst of the celebration. What would you do if you were there?
Preacher: “And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-14)

Third Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – Meanwhile Saul . . .

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:1-6)

Before we get started, I have to tell you I love the word “Meanwhile” here. It is a reminder to me that God’s Spirit works at various places and with various people at the same time. God’s Spirit is not limited to one time and place but exists everywhere, available to anyone who professes and believes in God. While God’s Spirit is working other places, God’s Spirit is working with and to Saul who will become Paul. And working in those who will receive and teach Saul/Paul what is means to be a follower of Jesus and God, and not a persecutor.

While the Revised Common Lectionary focuses on the first 6 verses of chapter 9, and is inclusive of verses 7 to 20 which continues the story of Saul’s changing into Paul.

The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.  For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

From that moment on, Saul/Paul was as zealous in preaching about God and Jesus as he was in persecuting the followers of Jesus. Saul becoming Paul changed his focus and perspective, but not his conduct and personality. Paul was called to a particular ministry that he was well suited for. But not all missionaries and preachers of God are like Paul. For different aspects of God’s intent in the world different types of people are called – people like you and like me. We are not “Pauls” – we might not want to be nor should we be. God uses people where they are and how they are, preparing them for the call and nurturing them on their journey. Everyone of us is a “meanwhile” in the story of God. May you, beloved reader, play your part. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Of Nights, Mornings, and King David

“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”
(Psalms 30:1 – 3)

My NRSV tells me this is a song of David on the recovery from a grave illness. I am glad for David. I have felt the same way many times when I have been ill and have recovered the health I felt was lost. I tend to believe that once I get ill that I will NEVER feel better again. But I do. At least in terms of the passing illness. But I also have a chronic illness that I will never get better from, so in a way what David is talking about is slightly foreign to me. In one respect, I am still in “the Pit.”

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Weeping – I have done that a lot for various reasons. Sometimes physical, and sometimes emotional. My soul and spirit grieves at times, and I seek relief. The “night” sometimes does not just last for one night but goes on and on. So I look for “morning” – yearning for it and needing. I know that each “night” is followed by a “morning”, but the nights are long. However, I am not alone for God’s Spirit is with me.

“As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

As for me, in MY prosperity (whenever that might have been) I was always fearful that it would not last. Prosperity can have many meanings, and I take it to mean (and bible commentators tend to agree with me on this one) times when there is no worry and the things one needs are readily available and in abundance. I guess it is good to be the king. However, the psalmist David has more to say on this.

“By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: ”What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”(Verses 7 – 10)

In other words, “How can I praise you if you don’t rescue me God!” Spoken like one who has come out the other side of sadness and despair. But in the midst of grave illness or other misfortunes it is easy to get caught up in one’s own spiraling down thoughts. We need others to remind us that things can get better – if better is taken as a relative term.

Maybe you have guessed, beloved reader, I am going through something on the day I am writing this; trying to remain positive but feeling more of the “night” than the “morning. It is good for me to remember though that morning will come. As the psalmist David says,

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Selah!