Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Psalm Passage – From praise to puzzlement to praise; a movement of the spirit

O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.” (Psalms 105:1)

I am often impressed and stand in awe of the Revised Common Lectionary’s matching of various types of scripture passages. This week especially the Psalm’s passage seems to be right in line with the Old Testament reading. Often the Gospel passages and the Epistle passages are in harmony with each other or other readings for the week. It actually makes writing and commenting on them fairly simple and straightforward. Other weeks I struggle to make matches and connections. But then, I do not expect it to be easy. And I do enjoy the challenge that it can bring. Either way – challenge or ease – I praise the Lord!

“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.” (Verse 2)

Do you sing to the Lord, beloved and gentle reader? I am reminded of the non-scriptural post I wrote last week about my physical/medical health. It was not a cheery posting. And as I sit to write about the psalms passage I am keenly aware of the dichotomy of the two. I need to keep this in mind – that on the same blog site I write two different and sometimes contrary content. It makes me wonder how I reconcile the two aspects of me. Maybe it makes you wonder too, beloved and gentle reader.

All I can do . . . . say I stand with Paul when he says that he boasts of the Lord and not himself. And that the Lord had given him grace and strength sufficient to deal with the “thorns” in his side. If I tell you, beloved and gentle readers, of the difficulties I have . . . I try to balance it out by saying how my faith has helped and supported me.

“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” (Verse 3)

Because, if have survived thus far, and survive in the future . . . . it is only because the Lord is with me.

“Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,” (Verses 4 – 5)

It is not because I have done anything special to merit this favor of the Lord, or that my future is destined to show any remarkable accomplishment. The Lord’s favor and blessing, support and help, is available to all believers.

“O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” (Verse 6)

When Joseph moved his family to Egypt it was, as I have said before, a major shift in the story of God’s called and chosen people. The land they had lived in had reached a crisis point because of the famine, and a system more diverse and complex than their own was needed to help them survive. So the Lord God moved them to Egypt. At least that is what we can assume. Can’t we?


“Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham. And the LORD made his people very fruitful, and made them stronger than their foes,” (Verses 23 – 24)

Or was it that Joseph made a pest of himself, causing his brothers to be determined to get rid of him the best way possible at the time, and it just HAPPENED that traders bound for Egypt took Joseph along. What was the exact cause and effect, action and result, that made this change in the story of God’s called and chosen people?

“whose hearts he then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.” (Verse 25)

And what about the circumstance of our lives? Are they a series of “cause and effect” events that are tied to the actions of humanity and society as a whole? Or does the Lord God lead us to our “own Egypt” where things happen to us that we need rescue from?

“He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron whom he had chosen.” (Verse 26)

How are we to parse this out, beloved and gentle reader? Could it be that our actions in our lives or in the lives of others that cause problems and struggles? Or do circumstances beyond our control toss us hither and yon until we are dizzy with the experience? To be very honest, I do not know.

It would be easy, and too easy, to say the good things in our lives are because of our good decisions and the Divine smiling on us. Because then we might be tempted to say the bad things in our life are things we have done to ourselves. And the Divine punishing us for our bad actions and decisions.

Or are they things that have been to us? And if done to us, by enemies that are set against us? If that is so, we would we and should we love these enemies, as Jesus the Christ told us to? And if our suffering and misfortune is because the Divine has frowned on us and condemned us to our “own Egypt” why would we love the Divine?

Many commentators and commentaries tell us the misfortune and suffering of the Hebrews / Israelites / Jews was because they did not follow the Lord God and the Divine’s commandments and guidance. A very unforgiving personality for a Divine God.

But yet Jesus is presented as totally forgiving and understanding of human frailty and failure offering chance upon chance of salvation and redemption. Who could fail to love a Divine God like that?

And, finally, am I the only person (that I know of) who sees the utter complexity and paradox of the story of the Lord God’s chosen and called people as it is told in the Old Testament?

The final verse of this psalms passage is . . .

“Praise the LORD! “ (Verse 45b)

Psalm 105 in its entirety praises God for rescuing and delivering the Israelites / Hebrews from Egypt and the cruel taskmasters there. The continuing and unfolding story of the called and chosen people of God continues, and it is not always a pleasant story. The same could be said of modern times.

But what does cause me to “Praise the Lord” (because I do beloved and gentle reader) is that I can ask such questions, query the Lord, and ask for understanding. Because when you set God outside of your daily life and experience, you can attribute all sorts of things to that God. But when you hold God close in your daily walk, and believe that God is there, you don’t feel as if that God is against you but for you. And suddenly it does not matter if the troubles in you life come from your own self or the people and world around you. Because you know . . . that the Lord who is with you wants the best for you, even if it seems like the worst is happening.

So yes, I do have very diverse postings. But when it comes down to it, it comes from the same source. And for the same purpose – to make my way in this world following the Lord God that I utterly believe in and need. Selah!

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!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Gospel Passage – The ups and downs of living a Christian life

Last week, although less than exactly one week ago, Peter had made it to the “top of the heap” in identifying that Jesus was the Son of God. Now, Jesus said that it was the God in Heaven who had revealed this to Peter and not Peter’s own glimpse into the Divine. This week Peter is not as astute to the workings of Jesus.

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:21 – 23)

We are not to take this as meaning that Peter was possessed or working in league with Satan. It simply means that earthly concerns have no place in the mission that Jesus was on. And by implication, earthly concerns should have not place in our following the faith journey that the Lord calls us on. And yes, that is a pretty stern and severe perspective. To soften that, remember that Jesus did come as a human and so knew human need, want, and the other components of being flesh. But those things did not stand in the way of Jesus living out his lift as directed by God. It should not stand in our way either.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Verses 24 – 26)

Seeing the verses above in this context, of setting aside human concerns, one can understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Denying one’s self does mean setting aside all those things that our human earthly spirit may crave. That does not mean they are denied to us, but that we must decide whether the human facets of life will dissuade us and stop us from living as God directs. There are a million choices to be made, and sometimes just split seconds to make them. And it is in those split seconds that a poor choice can be made; furthermore, a poor choice that might result in sin – where sin is defined as interfering with follow Jesus example. You see, beloved reader, it cycles on itself. That is why Jesus had to be so abrupt with Peter, to stop him in the direction that his thoughts were going before it went to far.

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Verses 27 – 28)

Here, beloved reader, is a two-edged sword. What we give up in this earthly life will be returned to us in the life to come. But what we seize in this life that we should have let go and let pass, will judge when the Divine returns. Or, when our own time of judgment comes. As to verse 28, this does not mean when Jesus returns as in the second coming etc. The time is soon coming – i.e. when Jesus is raised from the death – when Jesus’ full power will come to him. We who live now, will have to wait until death or the end of all things. The disciples there will see with their own eyes the glory of Jesus which has not yet been displayed in full. Yes, beloved reader, verse 28 is not for us.

Actually, neither is verse 27 for many people. As far as history can tell us, Jesus has not returned for the second time after he ascended into Heaven. We are waiting yet for “the glory of his [Jesus’] Father”. But I suspect our own faith experiences have given us enough of a taste as to what that may be like. And maybe enough of a taste to set aside earthly things when they conflict with the Christian life as we have been called to it. At least, that is my prayer. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Old Testament Passage – Called out by the Great “I AM”

Moses had discovered in his early adult life that he was not cut out to be the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. The story of his realization and departure from Egypt comes before this passage.

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (Exodus 3:1)

But neither was he, it was about to become clear, cut out for being a simple shepherd or herder.

“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”(Verses 2 – 3)

Ponder with me, beloved reader, the fact that God knew Moses well enough to know he would not be afraid and run off but would be curious and investigate. Moses may not have known himself well, or known his own strengths and abilities well, but the Lord God did.

“When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Remember that while Moses grew to manhood in the palace of the Pharaoh, his early years were spent in his home with his Jewish parents and siblings. There he must have absorbed the stories of the Lord God who had been the God of his forebearers many years ago.

“He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Verse 6) 

I will address a little further on my thoughts on this identification of the Lord God.

“Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I am sure there were years and years in Egypt when the descendants of Joseph were remembered by the Pharaoh and treated well. Their wants and needs taken care of because of the service that Joseph had rendered to the Egyptians. But that time had passed a long while ago.

It is interesting to consider that the Israelites/Hebrews did not cry out to the Lord God in the good years and in the plenty, to keep them and bless them. But when times were tough and oppression was all around them and consumed them, then they cried out to God. It is a pattern that the astute reader will see again and again.

“So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Verses 10 – 13)

The years in Egypt had been long, and the gods of the Pharaohs were more familiar and had names and attributes that defined them. Worship of them was set and prescribed. Idols and images of the Egyptian gods were numerous, I am sure. The God from history was now an unknown.

“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.” (Verses 14 – 15)

It is clear to me beloved reader, having checked it several different ways, that the Great “I AM” identified the God-self as the God of the three early establishers of God’s called people. Not the God of Joseph. Not that Joseph was slighted, but Joseph was put into service for Pharaoh. Joseph had an important role to play but not as the gather and the one established God’s people. And not, interestingly, the God of Israel but the God of Jacob. Joseph and his brothers became the tribes that made up God’s people. But the men who God called were included into the name of the Lord God.

It is interesting too, that the God of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob is one aspect of the Divine. Nomenclature is “the devising or choosing of names for things, especially in a science or other disciplines”, and that is what is going on here. Under the broader term of the “Divine” is the Jewish/Christian God. That does not mean the Divine and the God of Abraham/ Isaac/ Jacob are different and distinct from one another. It simply clarifies how one’s perspective on the Divine shapes the name that one gives to the Divine. This is an issue I have long felt needs to be addressed.

What do you call the Divine, beloved reader? It is good to know who is calling you – calling you to act in the world and to journey a certain path. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob simply followed the Divine who became intimately known to them. Joseph trusted the Lord God taught to him by his father Jacob/Israel. Now, Moses is the conduit for that God to reform God’s called and chosen people. But as we read before, it is a hard task to call and form a people. Let us continue to read about their journey, how it impacts our life journey, and how we might be called also. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Gospel Passage – Long ago, faith began

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)

What does public opinion say? In the days we live in currently, beloved reader, that is a risky question. Not so much concerning Jesus (although there may be some differing in answers) but generally speaking – what is current opinion concerning the news at hand. Because, in Jesus’ time, he WAS the current news. It was one of the most talked about pieces of news. Jesus probably knew what the populace was saying but he wanted to hear what the disciples had heard; and just as important or maybe more so, what they thought.

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”(Verse 15)

If any group of people knew Jesus best, it was the group that had been traveling with him since the beginning of his ministry. These were the people who had seen him when he was in front of people preaching, teaching, and healing. And when he was taking time away to meditate and renew himself. And remember too, this was the Jesus who healed the daughter of the Samaritan woman, with just a word. And this was the Jesus who came walking across the turbulent waters. So in light of all this, he asked, “Who do you say I am?” [emphasis mine]

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Verse 16 – 17)

Now here I need to do a little doubting. In the face of all that Jesus did, who could not believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Some of the prophets (major and minor) also healed people. And did other pretty amazing things, and confronted religious and political leaders. So I can see where it might be a “leap of faith” alone to ascribe it to the Divine.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Verse 18)

Barnes and I agree that it was not on the personage of Peter that the church was built, but on solid and irrefutable truths and faith that the church would be built on. And that nothing will withstand against it. I do have a little more to say about this further on.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Verses 19 – 20)

Peter, as the first, and the apostles soon after, were given guidance and control over forming the new church that had as its foundation belief in Jesus the Christ. They, as the first ones instructed, would pass on that teaching and as they taught, so would the church be established. But it was not time yet to start this church, and establish the tenets of its faith. Jesus had more to do before the end of his time and the beginning of the new church of Christ. If what had already happened caused fervor and speculation about Jesus, then it was only the beginning. And it was not wise to rush into the times that would come. The times and the disciples were not ready.

Now, back to a point I made previously. That the church would stand resolute against whatever came against it, and it would prevail. I said in a previous posting that we live in tumultuous times. That there is furor all around us, and that the values of love, compassion, and acceptance seem to be hard pressed and not valued. The church has changed and evolved since the time of the apostle Peter.

Sometimes it seems like the basis of the church then is not like the basis of many modern day churches. I name no names, and do not have any specific church in mind. I am simply saying that as time moved forward the early church was under differing and evolving lineage of power and authority for it formation. The way it was when it started was not how it remained. BUT the foundation of the church, the power and understanding that prompted Peter’s assertion and confession of faith has not changed. And on that we can pin our hopes! And our continuing faith! Selah!

 

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Gospel Passage – What is clean and not clean

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” “ (Matthew 15:10 -15)

It was not Jesus’ calm in the face of the Pharisee’s upset that Peter needed explanation of, but that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person. Remember, Peter was raised as a Jew and as such obeyed the dietary laws with the same adherence as the 10 commandments; okay, maybe even more strictly!

Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Verses 16 – 20)

While one could spend some good and worthwhile time thinking about, pondering, and then speaking about this passage from Matthew 15, RCL actually does not focus on the verses 15 to 20, but the verses that follow. What I wonder is how the two sections might connect.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” (Verses 21 – 23)

In order to understand the disciples reaction, you have to understand that a Canaanite woman was not a Jew, and therefore not someone who a Jew who cared about his/her reputation would talk to or pay attention to. Any problems a Canaanite person had were not the concern of a Jew. Jesus’ initial response to here was just what the disciple expected.

“He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Verse 24)

And yet, just above in the previous passage Jesus was all for consigning the “blind” Pharisees to be forever lost and not understanding the message that Jesus had to bring. And furthermore, as evidenced by the passage not listed here (verses one to nine) the Pharisees were according to Jesus not following God’s commandments at all. So something more than what is going on at the surface . . . . is going on.

“But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Verses 25 -27)

I encourage you to think about this, beloved reader. What was coming out of this woman’s mouth were words of faith and belief in God, even when it is not part of her cultural or religious heritage.

“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Verse 28)

Where the Pharisees faltered and failed in keeping faith, this Canaanite woman exhibited faith in Jesus as Divine and capable of healing, and having compassion for all people. Where she might have had different faith practices (ie, eating with unwashed hands) what came from her heart, mind, and mouth were words of faith and belief.

When Jesus was turning upside down long held (but erroneous) ideas and traditions, it is no wonder the disciples needed help in understanding what was meant. And it is at such times that I am very grateful for the theological teaching I received from childhood on up. It is only now, as an adult, that I realize the gift that was given to me. Understanding the “upside down” messages that Jesus told his disciples.

May you, beloved reader, incorporate these teachings of Jesus into your life. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)

While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.

But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.

“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.

“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)

“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)

This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)

Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.

I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.

The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. 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 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!