Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Hearing, and Not Hearing the Lord God

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” (Psalm 68:1 – 3)

It is not an overstatement to say that the church designates certain Sundays as “celebration” Sundays. During those weeks the psalm passage are usually very praising and celebratory. And the first section of verse one fits in very well with the Ascension of the Lord theme. So let’s celebrate!


“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Part of celebrating is recounting and remembering when and how the Lord was faithful.

“O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Even though the fate and circumstances of the Lord’s called people may vary and change, surge forth and ebb away, the Lord is faithful. At least that’s what we tell ourselves and each other.

I cannot turn a blind eye, beloved reader, to the times and places that the called people of God have cried out, “My God, where are you?!” Our exemplar and Lord Jesus Christ did the same thing. Yes, there are times God goes out before us – marching, making the earth quake and water pour down, and generally making the Divine Presence known. But there are also times when we fill like we are out there all alone when the earth quakes and the waters pour, and we are shivering and shaking in the dark.

A large part of the stories in the Old Testament are of both noteworthy and common every day people who were having a hard time fulfilling the call they were supposed to have had from the Lord God. And seemingly not getting it right! And it also seemed like the Lord God was set against them and teaching them lessons that successive generations had to re-learn.

To tell you the honest truth, beloved reader, I am not sure how the people of the Old Testament messed ups, or even if they did mess up. A lot of the politics of the time swept the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews along with it, and the people suffered. They said it was because the Lord deserted them, as a consequence of their behavior. To read the Old Testament prophets (both major and minor) that’s the impression you get. What I do know is that at some point the Lord God said to the God-self, “Humanity does not seem to be getting the message. It’s time for a different plan.” So Jesus was sent. And things started to get a bit better.

So do not think that just because the Lord is not out there booming the big Divine drum that God has forsaken humanity. God is right there beside us, standing with us on the rolling shaking landscape and getting wet too! And now we know this. What we know further is that just because Jesus is in heaven, we are not alone down here. Yes, we will mess up, in ways we cannot count, fathom, or begin to know. But, we are not alone.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Verses 32 – 35)

Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Holding close the words of the Apostle Peter in times of dispute

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

Many Christian throughout the history of Christianity have felt they have been tested because of their faith. Some fell away from faith under that pressure. Others held up against it, and in that they were victorious. That would be a good thing to praise and rejoice over . . . except . . . there have come to be so many strains and types of Christianity, and each of them has been tested in one way or another.

It used to be said there is only one type of Christianity; one belief system and one foundation upon which it rest. All the tenets and beliefs came from that one system and one foundation. However, there are Christian beliefs out that clash with one another; yes, you read me correctly. Various Christian faiths are at odds with other Christian faiths. Between denominations and within denominations, believers look at issues from different sides and perspectives. It used to be a mild things, and known/noticed only by a few. In the last decade it has become more pronounced and more obvious. That saddens me greatly. And as I mourn that reality, it occurs to me, that phenomenon may be another “fiery ordeal”.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Chapter 5, Verses 6 – 8)

If I can set aside for a moment by disbelief in an actual persona of “the Devil”, I might be tempted to say that it is the Devil that is causing chasms in a united Christian faith. But doing so would be giving the Devil more power and recognition that I feel comfortable, AND casting some Christian beliefs held by sincere and devoted Christian believers as evil. And I do not want to do that. In a word, I deny the Devil the power to “devour” me.

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Being steadfast in one’s faith does not mean holding to beliefs that are harmful and divisive. Yes, Christians of good and sincere faith can differ on some issues; and no, I will not list the possibilities. It is allowing a different perspective on issues to cause divisions between believers that causes the most hurt and damage. Denominations and faith traditions have been known to fracture and fall apart because of divisions that cannot be healed. In the last few decades denominations have met together and set about the important business of healing the broken relationships. Not so that they become one faith, but that they respect the other to practice their faith differently, and look for common ground. At the same time, between and within denominations intolerance is springing up, and the work of reconciliation in one year can easily be undone in the next. In fact, on some issues there may be no common ground. But there should at least be respect and tolerance, that rests on a common foundation of compassion and care for one another, and a reverence for the Divine. If I may be so bold as to say, I think it is what the apostles would hope for. Selah!

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – A time for pondering and a time for acting

I know a secret. This week is the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. It is a minor big deal in the life of the church. Not quite Pentecost, but right up there – as it were. The time after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension is the interval of time when Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples. Some of the gospels chronicle that time, and others quickly move to Jesus being taken up to heaven.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:6 – 9)

I have spoken/written on numerous occasions about the expectations of the disciples concerning Jesus’ return. That they way they lived and the way the early church was set up was based on this expectation. And how the early church changed to accommodate the “wait time” for Jesus’ return. I have also talked about what we, as authentic Christians, ought to do while we wait.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Do you, beloved reader, gaze up into the sky wondering when Jesus will return in the same way as he went into heaven? No, I don’t think you do. Because we as a called people of the Lord have learned that our mission and calling is here amongst humanity. That Jesus’ Spirit and Presence is here in ways we only understand in part. Prayer is good – prayer is essential! But prayer is not all there is to living out a Christian life. There is acting as Jesus acted. Caring as the Lord cares for us. Teaching and guiding as Jesus taught and guided his disciples. And, continuing to learn about the Lord and Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a busy time, this waiting for Jesus to return. Set aside some time to gaze into the sky, and communion with the Lord. Then return to the work you are called to. Selah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Jesus gives some final instructions

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14: 1 – 4)

Jesus leaves himself wide open in a couple of places here. I imagine here, at the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus was feeling pang of leaving his disciples. They in turn were becoming more fearful concerning Jesus’ talking about what would come next.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (Verses 5 – 7)

It reminds me a bit of a parent trying to explain to a child (of any age) why they will be apart for a time, and what to expect. Oh the patience Jesus must have had with his disciples as they struggle to understand.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Verses 8 – 9)

Even Christians/believers of great maturity and understanding falter at incorporating into their faith that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. Distinct and for the time that Jesus was on earth, two separate Entities/Deities, yet one and the same.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (Verses 10 – 11)

It is hard for us, beloved reader, who have only known our Lord God and Jesus “from a distance.” But then, maybe for the disciples it was even more confusing because they knew Jesus as flesh, as they were flesh. They knew because they had lived with Jesus in the flesh for three years (according to some of the gospels). Eating and sleeping, and all that is part of being human flesh. How, they must have thought, can Jesus be otherwise? And if so, what does this say about the God that Jesus called Father/Parent?

But they saw what Jesus had done, and it could not be denied that Jesus had done more than any other human could have done – more miracles and more compassion. If they could not understand theologically what Jesus meant, at least they could see for themselves that Jesus was something other than just merely human.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Verse 12)

And then, Jesus surprises them again. I have several times puzzled at these words – how can humans do more than Jesus? Maybe it is just rhetoric, something to make the disciples feel better. Or some reason that the writer of the gospel of John had. But I checked in with my “friend” Albert Barnes. He explained it this way – it is not that the disciples (or us for that matter) will do something more miraculous than Jesus. But what the disciples will do (did) is going to have a more far-reaching impact that what Jesus did, considering that Jesus was local; and those who are called, believe in, and act according to Jesus and the Lord God will (and have) spread the word further than when Jesus was alive. But it was not done on the strength of the human abilities of the disciples.

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Now, it was not that the disciple (or us) can ask for ANYTHING but those things that align with the guidance and directive of the Divine. And brings glory to the Divine. This rests on the notion of “smart sheep” that I put forth last week.

It is good that the Revised Common Lectionary places these verses after Jesus’ death and resurrection – although it comes in the story before Jesus’ crucifixion. So much is better understood after Jesus was/is revealed as the Risen Lord. The disciples understood better what Jesus meant after it was revealed to them that Jesus was Divine; of course, they had the Holy Spirit given to them to help this understanding. But, beloved reader, we have the Holy Spirit too!

May you, beloved reader, understand what Jesus has to say to you. And may you act upon so that glory is brought to the Divine. Selah!