Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Gospel Passage – Growing in and with the Lord God Jesus Christ

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13: 1-4)

I have commented a few times about the modern person’s ability to understand basic theological concepts that people back in Jesus’ day may not have comprehended. And in considering this telling of the parable about the sower, maybe it is more accurate to say that people in the current age understand and can perceive the message in parables and stories. It is an easy connection to make when you understand that the seeds in the parable is the good news of Christ, and that the sower is Christ or one of the disciples/apostles. From there one can determine the meaning of the seeds not taking root for one reason or another.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 6)

The middle verses of this passage, verses 10 to 17, tell what happened when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he told things in parables. Basically Jesus said some people will understand and others wouldn’t simply because they refuse to see what is before them. In essence, the message in the parable about the sower is the reason Jesus used parables, so that those who were ready to receive and understand the message would, and those who were not ready would not understand.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus explained specifically to the disciples the meaning of the parable – which sort of raise the question as to whether the disciples would have understood the meaning on their own. And if my premise is correct, that our modern system of education readies us to more easily understand metaphors, allegories, analogies, and metaphors – then perhaps the disciples needed the extra help to understand what Jesus meant.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

Does this mean our modern society is more able to assimilate Christian understanding and living into their lives? Um . . . no.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Our modern understanding how parables can teach us does not mean the meaning and the lesson of the parable ‘take root.’ That is, just because we understand the concept or meaning does not mean it has and does influence our lives. This parable, then, talks about how the parable itself might function, or not function, in our lives.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Verse 23)

I want you to make special note, beloved reader, that there is not the same result in each case. Some bear more “fruit” and some bear less “fruit.” The point is not how fruit or result there is; the point is that there has been growth and development. The Lord God does not insist that all believers grow and mature in the same way, or yield up identical lives. That is not expected; what is expected is that you will make sure your lives and living are futile ground where the Lord’s words can grow. That, beloved reader, is the whole point. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Epistle Passage – Wrestling with Paul’s theology again

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1 – 4)

If you have been following along, beloved reader, with my commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, you have read/heard how I have been wrestling with Paul’s theology. It is helpful in my wrestling to read that according to Paul the law has been weakened by the flesh. I am not sure why Paul has this few of the law. From previous comments Paul has made I have understood his perspective to be that the law defines what sin is but is not helpful in determining how would should live. Or perhaps Paul is echoing some of Jesus’ perspective on some of the Jewish leaders of his time, that they have sought to circumvent the spirit of the law and have so weakened it by reinterpreting the letter of the law to the Jewish leaders’ own advantage. The law, neither in it letter nor in its diluted spirit can save us; only the Spirit of God brought to us through Jesus can do that.

Do not forget that when Paul was Saul, he strove to up hold every letter of the law, but it did not set him right with God. His encounter on the road to Damascus might have impacted his theology a great deal.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Verses 5 – 6)

To Paul, then, the law represents things of the flesh – prohibitions and regulations. The Spirit represents life and correct living. It is also helpful to remember that Paul and his teachings were on the leading edge of Christian living; introducing new ideas and concepts that we in our modern time have come to understand and incorporate into our world view of Christian living. That is why I think, and said what I said concerning what Paul might have to say to our modern world. I think Paul would have been savvy enough to know that his world is not our world, and that his message and letters might have been different for our modern age. But some things would have remained the same.

“For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Verse 7)

Our modern world is consumed with the “flesh”, worldly things and worldly agendas. Not as it was back in Paul and Jesus time, but according to modern definitions. The message to Christian now would still be . . .

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Verses 8 – 9)

This perspective also relates back to what I was trying to emphasize yesterday, that the definition of lineage has changed and that the determinant of being in the family of God has been broadened to encompass all people.

“But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Paul is speaking about which law, the law of flesh or the Law of the Spirit, should be used as the determinant for correct living. That the law of the flesh should not have hold on you, but the law and example of the Spirit should. I add to this that living according to the Law of the Spirit, we are apart of the same family. I do not think Paul would disagree.

Paul’s dividing of the flesh and the spirit (meaning the human spirit) has caused problems, setting the body against the human spirit/psyche, condemning the physical while elevating the mind. We know that the body and the mind are so intertwined that one can not neatly divide one against the other.

Oh beloved reader, theology can be such a mishmash – terms and definitions changing and evolving. Praise to the Lord God that the Divine is a sturdy concept, including all peoples and all ways of living, holding them to the standard embodied in Christ. May the Spirit of the Divine be with you as you wrestle with the issues in your life. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Old Testament Passages – Tying together two themes; tying two lineages together

I have chosen to use the alternate set of Old Testament and Psalm passages this week – not sure of my reasoning but I felt at the time the Gospel and Epistle passages were better suited to the second set. However, I wanted to give you a little update on Isaac’s wife, Rebekah. She is with child after many years of marriage to Isaac. She came to him as a young woman, but her youth is spent. Isaac had prayed to God for a child and the Lord broke her barrenness. But it was not an easy pregnancy, so she herself prayed to God to inquire why it was so difficult. The Lord answered her saying, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.” (Genesis 25:23b-24)

And as I sit here and ponder that, it occurs to me it is a perfect lead in to the other Old Testament passage.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

The Lord had promised Abraham that he would be a father of a nation. And what better way to start a nation then by having twin grandchildren. Ah! The Lord said, however, there are two nations in Rebekah’s womb. So, was Abraham the father of one nation or two nations? The fraternal twins were Esau and Jacob. And it was through Jacob that the lineage was passed down. Esau was the older and the stronger, but it was Jacob who received the inheritance.

Let us reflect back on the first two verses from the Isaiah passage that I selected for today. The Word of the Lord goes out and does not return empty but accomplishes that which the Lord intended. What was the intent of the Lord? Esau was the stronger and the older, but his nature was not what the Lord intended to build on. Jacob was younger and not as robust. He stayed close to “home”. He was also sneaky, but met his match in sneaky from his uncle Laban. He fled from home and the wrath of his brother, but found the Lord God and confirmation of his inheritance. He was worthy of the Lord God to wrestle with and Jacob also demanded a blessing from the Divine. And this actually ties to the verses that follow in this passage from Isaiah.

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Esau, if you allow, was the thorn – rough and hearty. Jacob was the cypress – growing strong in time and useful in worship. Esau was the brier – wild and impulisive. Jacob the myrtle – sweetly scented and even useful when crushed. But do not let me lead to believe that those who are “rough and hearty”, “wild and impulsive” are not also God’s children. I want to make that abundantly clear. Each of us has our use in the Lord’s kingdom. Esau had a part to play, and Jacob had a part to play. While Jacob’s lineage might have been that which is traced down to Jesus, Esau was also a nation. Two nations, the Lord said to Rebekah. Just as Hagar’s son also had his own part to play in the story of the people of God. Those who came from Esau also have a place at the Lord’s table. Just as we can intertwine scripture passages, the children of the Lord God can also intertwine, bringing glory and honor to our Lord. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Gospel Passage – Living now, but acting as in the past

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “ (Matthew 11:16 – 17)

To paraphrase, according to sense of the verses in The Message – “You are not what we wanted you to be, and not what we expected you would be.” There was some conversation on the Christian radio station I listen to, talking about what Paul might say and think about these modern times. The same sort of suppositions have been suggested as to what Jesus Christ would have to say about our generation. And I think just as pertinent a question would be what would this generation that about Jesus Christ?

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Verses 18 – 19)

From what I gleaned from listening to the radio DJs, they assumed that Paul would lambaste this current generation as much as he did in the time he was writing. But I have my doubts. They same, I would assume other assume, that Jesus Christ would. Again, I have my doubts.

Both Jesus and Paul spoke to the situations that were presented to them in their time. Now, if we are saying that not much has changed between then and now, maybe they would have the same critique and teaching. And if that is so, then we who espouse Christianity know (or should know) exactly what we should be doing – precisely. But the thing is, why are we not doing it? I will tell you my theory.

We are not living in the same times or the same reality. What was said then is not what would be said now. I think that is why it is so hard to be an authentic Christian in this world. Furthermore, I think that is one of the reasons that Christianity has gained such a diverse reputation.

“At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Verses 25 – 26)

Are you understanding this, beloved reader? Jesus is praying that he is glad that the mysteries that are the Christian life are hidden from those who think themselves educated and well-versed in understandings. But it has been revealed to those who are innocent and child-like. I don’t what that says for people like me who are educated but cling to simple and basic understandings. Lately I have been thinking that I believe in old-fashioned Christianity. Not conservative, or fundamental, or dated; but old-fashioned . . . like unconditional acceptance and love of all humankind, grace, mercy & forgiveness, gentleness & humbleness, patience, compassion & care . . . . things that are not learned by the head but by the heart, soul, & spirit.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Verses 27 – 30)

Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Old Testament Passages – Following the Lord God’s Tide

From the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare:
There is a tide in the affairs of men [humankind],
Which, taken at the flood,
leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life,
Is bound in shallows and miseries”

I am leading off, not with a citation from scripture, but a quote that I read in my morning meditations. It is used in the cycle of scripture not for this week, but the week before. As I read it, it seemed to me that it is applicable for today also. This quote was used to support the idea that one should not tarry in coming to faith, but express belief in the Lord God and Jesus Christ when presented with that truth, and to put that faith and belief into action. This idea is in line with the theme of this lectionary year, coming to new and renewed faith.

In today’s passage you will read about several people who took good advantage of the “tide” that came about in their lives and affairs.

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys.
And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ ” (Genesis 24:34-38)

The Lord had helped Abraham prosper. While he made some missteps, for the most part he was faithful to God, and so God was faithful to Abraham. Abraham saw the “tide” that God had set before him, and he waded full in. Now Abraham again, “goes with the tide” and determines to pick a wife for Isaac who would most likely be faithful to God’s intent. Rather than simply settle for one of the ‘local’ girls, he instructs his servant to find a special girl. And Abraham’s servant also goes with the tide that his master has set for him. Consider what they could have missed out on if they had not heeded God’s tide.


“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” –let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’” (Verses 42 – 45)

The servant does not wish to take any chances, and so seeks to place himself in the tide that is the Lord. He does not wish to depend on his own eye and judgment, but gives over to God to pick the correct girl for Isaac’s wife. Consider what he could have missed out on if he had not heeded God’s tide.

She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.” (Verses 46 – 48)

Rebekah also places herself in God’s tide by helping the stranger and foreigner, and being hospitable and gracious to him. She could have thought of only herself and her household, and not extended graciousness to the stranger. Consider what she could have missed out on if she had not heeded God’s tide.

Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.” (Verses 49, 58 – 61)

Laban also took a chance with his sister, and stepped into God’s tide. And, if you will remember other biblical stories, you will remember that by stepping into God’s tide, he made this place, and a second place for himself and his family in God’s plan. Consider what he now and latter on could have missed out on if he had not heeded God’s tide.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Verses 62 – 67)

Isaac could have insisted on marrying a girl close at hand. He could have insisted on going along and approving of the girl he was to marry. But instead he trusted in his father and his father’s servant, and by extension trusted in God. By all accounts Rebekah was quite beautiful and we know she was compassionate, caring, and giving. Consider what he could have missed out on if he had not heeded God’s tide.

We are all free, beloved reader, to step into God’s tide and go where we are directed. We can refuse to go, resist God, and take our own chances. As William Shakespeare pointed however, are lives will be much less than if we had followed God. Consider Shakespeare himself, writing truths into his plays. Consider how much the world has benefited from his writings. Consider too my heeding this quote, and the writer of the book that I read it in. Consider all these things, beloved reader. Consider all of us – Abraham, his servant, Rebekah, Laban, Isaac, Shakespeare, the writer of the book, and myself – how we have sought out and followed God’s plan and guidance. Now, consider yourself; what will you chose to do? Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Epistles Passage – Silly Questions & Serious Answers

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1b)

The writer of Romans (Paul) asks an absurd question to make a point.

“By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Verse 2)

And answers it by saying “me genioto” which in the ancient Greek means “by no means!” I can still hear my Greek from seminary saying that with special emphasis. Paul has a habit of asking absurd questions, like this one to make a point – should we sin in order to know and get more grace? And answers it with another question asking how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin! (Picture your favorite image of Paul being horrified!)

He goes on to strengthen his point . . .


“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Therefore it is unimaginable, according to Paul, that we would sin just so we can get the grace that was already promised and given to us. Not unlike shooting your nose to spit your face – another saying tossed around. Paul has more to say . . .

“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 11)

According to Paul those who believe in Christ and have put away and repented all sin, should never again sin nor seek to sin. And that we no longer need will suffer because of the sin we did in the past. So, let’s pose that question again – how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin? Or maybe the more appropriate question is “why?”

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Gospel Passage – Searching for answers and living wisely in the light of the wisdom of the Divine

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25)

It is good to remind one’s self every once in a while that Jesus was in a human body, and did have some human feelings and emotions – perhaps the highest and best of human feelings and emotions. After all, Jesus was God, and humans were made in the image of God. So when Jesus tells his disciples that the way he is maligned, they will be maligned too may be a result of him feeling the sting of the censure placed on him.

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (Verse 26)

But that does not mean one should shy aware from living for Jesus and God; but instead speak about it openly and often.

“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Verses 27 – 28)

While Jesus alludes to it in vague terms, I tell you openly beloved reader – the only one who can harm you is the one who threatens you eternal life, the life and world after this one. The Lord God knows, and Jesus Christ knows, that there are things to fear in this world. But we should not let that fear dissuade us from the Christian life we know we ought to live.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Verses 29 – 33)

We live in trying times beloved reader. And each seems that with each year that passes and each event that comes upon us leaves us more bewildered and confused. My own denomination is trying to sort out the implications of our present, and how they should respond to it. Good people are divided over what is best to do. And no one can claim that there way is best. For that, we must look to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. And hope & pray that we can interpret correctly the example laid down for us.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Verses 33 – 39)

As much as we love family and friends, as much as we are devoted to church and our faith group, as much as we believe in whichever political ideology we espouse to – it cannot and should not dissuade us from the faith journey we are called to. And yet, how can we claim one faith journey is more valid than the other? It is an unsolvable question that we optimistically hope we can find an answer to. But I believe as long as we remain open to search for the best possible answer, we will not go to far astray. Selah!