Category: Discipleship

Season After Pentecost (Proper 24[29]) – The Gospel Passage: Undertaking the ways of the Lord God Jesus Christ

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” ( Mark 10:35 – 37)
I can imagine Jesus slightly taken aback by the disciples’ statement, wondering just what was it they thought Jesus should do for them. Now Jesus would do ANYTHING for them as long as it was in their best interests. And I imagine maybe he was a little amused. But mostly wanting to set them straight.
“But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Verses 38 – 40)
There was a time I thought long and hard about who would sit at Jesus’ right hand or left hand. Especially when it is also said that Jesus sits at the right hand of God, which means that one of Jesus’ sides is already taken, unless Jesus and God are the same Deity in which case James and John just asked to be seated beside the Lord God the Divine. And if there is only one right hand of the Divine and one left hand of the Divine that means that out of all human existence only two people would be the ones “prepared.” AND considering what that “preparation” might entail, I am not sure that there would be only two people out of all of human existence that would be worthy.
“When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.” (Verse 41)
If this situation were not bizarre enough, the other ten got peeved because they thought James and John were “budging” in line and they – meaning the other ten – should also be in contention for this honor. However, beloved reader, do not let this have you think less of the disciples. Between this point and Jesus ascending into heaven, the disciples got a crash course in what it means to be followers of the Divine. And that some honors come with too high a price tag.
“So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Verses 42 – 45)
You know, beloved reader, I really have to think and believe that Jesus Christ would not seek to be seated at the right hand or the left hand side of himself – if that was the honor. What I mean is that Jesus did not seek honors or prestige. He IS honored and glorified because he is Divine from the Lord God. But that was not Jesus’ agenda when he was on the earth. Jesus the SERVANT King – not a king that demands to be at the head of the line, but someone who is content to be at the every end of the line making sure that everyone else has what he or she needs for this life and the life to come. And furthermore, those two people who are seated to the right and left of Jesus will probably be the two people that everyone else thinks is lest likely to be there. I for one am looking forward to seeing which two lest likely people they are. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 24[29]) – The Epistles Passage: Understanding the ways of High Priests

[Somehow I did a cut and paste of the incorrect Epistle passage last week. And now I am faced with writing something “quick fast” so it is ready to post posthaste. It reminds me of the days in college, and once in a while in seminary, that I had a paper due and needed to somehow complete in a short amount of time. I actually write quite well under pressure. But I have not had to for a good many years! So here I go! ]
“Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.” (Hebrews 5:1 – 3)
What strikes me here is the human-ness of the high priests. Sometimes the high priests are as fallible as the people they serve and sacrifice for. I am reminded of Eli who Samuel reminded what it was like to be called by the Lord God. And Samuel himself who thought that a king appointed by the Lord God would like strong and “kingly.” John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, who was struck numb when he doubted that he would have a son. And then there were the high priests of Jesus’ time who cared more for politics than faith. Paul seems to have a kinder view of high priests. In our own time there have been good ministers and not so good ministers. So we know what Paul is talking about.
“And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” (Verse 4)
That could be why some of the high priests who presided over the Hebrews were hit and miss – many times such an honor was passed down through family lines and not an individual calling by the Lord God the Divine.
“So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Verses 5 – 7)
Not, Paul seems to being saying, because he was the Son of God but because he comported himself as a child of God. We can do that too, beloved reader!
“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Verses 8 – 10)
Next week the Epistle passage speaks to the proofs of Jesus Christ being the perfect High Priest. I should know, because as I said earlier, I cut and pasted the wrong passage and ended up writing on next week’s Epistle passage instead of the one for this week. I am still trying to figure how that happened and feel a little loopy having set down such a strong case for Jesus as the perfect High Priest, and now having to back track to an earlier point in Paul’s argument. Knowing where he is heading, it is challenging to write the prequel! I guess it just goes to prove Paul’s point – human-ness can be a heavy load to bear, and allowances should be made! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Psalms Passage: Crying out to the Lord God in sickness and fear – A Preacher and Seeker recitation

Seeker: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”
Preacher: Our Lord God has not forsaken us, not by any means! The despair of our days and the loneliness of nights is but a reflection of our own fears. If we could but see as the Lord sees, that hope and comfort is close at hand, we could dry our tears and calm our fears.
Seeker: “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.”
Preacher: Yes, the Presence of the Lord is steady and sure. Our spiritual forebearers knew that even the bleakest times could be turned around by the Lord. And that the strength of the Lord can course through us.
Seeker: “But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; . . “
Preacher: Do not let those scoffers and naysayers shake your faith. Yes, they mock you with their “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” But the Divine DOES delight in you and WILL rescue you. It is their lack of belief that will cause them to tremble and fear in times to come.
Seeker: “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”
Preacher: Do you believe that the Lord will safe you? Have you truly put your faith in the Lord? Are you blinded by your own fears and trapped by your own human shortcomings?
Seeker: “Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:1-15)
Preacher: Seeker, learn to say, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” You fear many things. They rise up like specters in the dark, and haunt your days. You are like Job, who is for a time afflicted, but had let human fears and the whisperings of others convince him that his cause was lost.
Seeker: I cry out, “Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
Preacher: Seeker, your prayer should also be, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands– O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:12-17)
Seeker: It is hard to pray when my hands tremble with fear. It is hard to pray when my body trembles with illness. How do I pray in such times? How can I draw my faith around me?
Preacher: The Lord God, the Divine, has not left us alone. A Comforter has been sent to us and the Holy Presence surrounds us. If you can not pray because of fear and illness, let the Holy Presence that is sent from the throne of the Lord pray for you. The Divine, the Lord God, has compassion for you and does not wish you to be afraid. This life has great peril and great illness. But these things cannot withstand or overturn the power of the Lord. Your Lord God holds your trembling self in the Divine hand. This is what Job learned, and what you can learn too. Just a little bit of faith can turn the tide. All things will be well in the end through the grace and peace of the Lord God. Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Gospel Passage: When the path of our lives need to change, up to and including our health and well-being

“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:17 – 18)
Eternal life – in one respect that almost sounds like a life without illness. I know, I know . . . . I am pressing the point because it fits with my theme of this week. And I have to admit the Gospel passage does not seem to fit well in the parameters of illness. Not even if we talk about sin as an illness. What then might this young man be yearning after?
“You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”” (Verse 19 – 20)
The young man is stating (I may go as far as saying he is “proclaiming) that he is “good” – maybe not the Divine type of good. But he is a man who has lived a morally upright life according to the Jewish/Ten Commandments.
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Verses 21 – 22)
If we can stretch the boundaries and say some types of sins are an illness, it is a lessor stretch to say the train of avarice and affluence is also an illness. NOT that it is an illness to have wealth and resources, but that the desire and characteristic to continue accumulating wealth and possession beyond your life’s need can be.
“Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Verses 23 – 25)
One understanding of this passage says that Jesus meant not the eye of a sewing needle but the narrow passage way into Jerusalem. A camel, it is said, could only pass through it if it hunched down and had not cargo on its back. In other words, in order to enter into the kingdom of God you need to be stripped down to only the barest of essentials – say perhaps one’s soul/spirit and belief in the Divine.
“They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” (Verse 26)
Again, I have heard this statement explained as such; the disciples’ understanding of life was that those who are rich have been blessed by God, and being blessed by God surely means you would have easy entry to heaven.
“Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Verse 27)
Jesus directs the understanding towards this truth – earthly actions and abilities will not win you entry into heaven nor the kingdom of God. At other points Jesus talks about the need to believe in him as the Messiah and the Lord God as the sender of Jesus. But here this point is not dwelt upon. However, the writer of the gospel of Mark has more to relate about this incident. And I suspect will take us in a new direction and lead us to new considerations.
“Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Verses 28 – 31)
Peter, being Peter, is very blunt and point blank. He says that the disciples have nothing to their name, no possessions or resources stored up. They have given up everything that was in their lives in order to follow Jesus. And now Jesus is telling them that there may be no provision for them in the days to come?!
Let me tell you a brief story, a story from my past, and perhaps help you understand my perspective on the themes I have been referring to this week. In 2005 I had graduated from seminary one year ago, and I was looking at finding a ministerial position. There were several possibilities and I was testing out where I might best find a church or ministry to join. My husband, however, had gotten a job offer from a university out west and it was a very good position for him. And we both felt it was the right thing for him and our family. So instead of finding a position in the area where I had gone to seminary and was known, we moved out to Oregon where I knew no one and had not base or foundation to be involved in any type of ministry. I wondered what would ever become of me and my calling to the ministry. I have up everything, and had to trust that the Lord would open up a way for me. It was a great step of faith for me. But that move forced me out of my “comfort zone” and possibilities opened up beyond what I could ever imagine. And as the years went on and things developed in my life, I realized that this move was the best thing that could have happened.
The disciples could not see much into the future – much as I could not. But I stepped out in faith. Jesus is telling the disciples to step out in faith also, and that faith would be rewarded a hundredfold. Now, let me add one more aspect to my story. Soon after our move out west, my health started to take a downward turn. It turns out I could not have continued in ministry the way I thought I would. The path that was set before me by the Lord was a much better path than the one I thought I should be on. And my ill health has actually opened up doors to ministering to people that I would have never found otherwise. And it is my firm belief that it will continue to.
Illness and health – these terms are really very relative to the situation we are in. Did the rich young man have the affliction of affluence – unhealthy attachment to things? Did the disciples put more belief in the security of resources and stability than in their faith in Jesus? Did some the Jews during Jesus’ lifetime put more energy and effort in the political and social life than in their faith life? And what about Job and his friends – did they measure their holiness and “goodness” by their health and position in their society? Furthermore, does our current modern life do any of these same things? Finally, beloved reader, are you reluctant to step out and try new things, release your hold on possessions and security, and answer new callings because you are not sure how it will turn out? These are challenging things to ponder, but pondering them is a very important step in our faith life. Shalom as you ponder!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Epistle Passage: The gospel according to Paul in the book of Hebrews, from a medical/theological standpoint

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Yesterday I floated the idea that sinfulness might be seen as a type of illness – perhaps the type of illness that Amos the prophet saw in some of the Jewish people of his time. Or the type of illness that Job’s friends thought he had – a punishment for not living a holy and Godly enough life. Paul, being a Jew, saw a divide between the soul – that is the body life and existence – from the spirit – the immortal and everlasting which remains after physical death and which we define as soul. Illness would directly impact the Jewish concept of soul, the living force that makes our body function. To a lessor extent illness might affect the spirit, what Jesus came to save through his crucifixion. Sin would more directly affect the spirit as the Jews would see it, but they also believed that sin could affect the soul, that is the physical body. It is much easier in our modern times when we believe the body and soul are vitally connected. However, that makes the “word of God” much sharper than even as Paul presents it. Paul continues.
“And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (Verse 13)
When we talk about the physical body and illness, we are placing our understanding of how our brain – our intellect – affects our body. Paul may not have had that nuanced understanding. However, his statement still holds true; the Divine does see all the connections and interconnections of our total body and the God-breathed-in life force that continues after our body ceases. And what ever your understanding, beloved reader, of the body/soul/spirit, each of us must account for how and what we did with all that we are. [The verses that follow seem to move us away from the discussion of sinfulness and illness, but let us seen where it might pop up.]
“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Verses 14 – 16)
Did Jesus ever get physically ill? We know Jesus never sinned; but did his body come down with a fever? Did he ever get a headache? Did he ever have an upset stomach? We are not told. We ARE told that Jesus was tested as we are. And if physical illness tests us, might it have tested Jesus?
Maybe my tenacity in trying to hold to the theme I started the week with is leading me down thought paths that seem new and unique. Or maybe my own health struggles are providing me with a different type of lens to see scripture. All I know is that I am coming up with more ponderings than sureties. Paul assumes that our needs are to do with not sinning and living faithfully. But the human experience is more than that. Our bodies provide us with temptations and weaknesses, and Paul would readily agree to that. But we cannot always control what our body does – how it reacts to a contagion or illness. What we do when the human body is ill and not under our psyche’s control. Jesus, during his ministry on earth, healed the people who he encountered that were ill – especially when the illness resulted in deviate behavior. So if “ no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare” to the eyes of the Divine, that might not necessarily be a scary thing. I love believing that the Divine sees my illnesses and has mercy on me, forgiving me where my weaknesses have left me vulnerable. It is a hope that I know others who are gravely ill hope for. And I do not see the Divine withholding that from us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 22[27]) – The Old Testament Passage: Marital harmony in the Bible

It is decision time again beloved reader – which Old Testament passage should I use? Job 1:1, 2:1-10 or Genesis 2:18-24? If I am asking the question, however, you can pretty much guess that I know the answer already.
In Genesis we read about the Divine creating woman/Eve from Adam’s rib. I am struck by the verse that says “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept . . “ (Chapter 2, verse 21b) I never before considered that it was a deep sleep such that surgeons use when they operate.
But that is not the verse that propels my thinking today. Verses 23 & 24 say, “Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This was God’s intention because verse 18 says, “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” And I contrast that with the passage from Job that says, “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.“ (Job 2:9 – 10)
Now call it my unusual sense of scripture interweaving and comparison, but it seems to me these two scripture citations are in argument and direct contrast. Adam saw his wife/Eve as the completing part of him. That is, Eve was the counterpart to his existence and without her at his side there was something in his life missing. And Job sees his wife as a foolish woman who does not understand what is at stake in his relationship to the Divine. Furthermore, if Eve (as Adam states it) is very good for him then what happened in the lives of Job and his wife that she is not part of the “good” that was given to him? I am not sure if the fault lays with Job’s wife or Job or the stress of the situation he is in. Were Job and his wife not “one flesh” or had they fallen victim to biblical thinking that a wife is just the possession of her husband and not a valued partner? And if that is the case, what happened between the Garden of Eden and the time that Job lived in?
Now I know you might say the answer is that sin came into the world via (yes, I know!) that Eve succumbed to the temptation of the serpent. And yes, Adam probably thought his life partner would lead him astray. And yes, yes! Job’s wife does seem to be leading him astray by encouraging him to curse God and die. Can we say “dysfunctional marriage”! But it takes both spouses to allow the relationship between them to become sour. You know, I don’t recall Adam calling Eve foolish. Both of them were equally punished. And maybe Job’s wife suffered too; after all it was her children who were killed, her household that suffered loss, and in her household that illness came into. Maybe she wanted to curl up and die too.
I have to admit, beloved reader, I am pulling these passages in some directions that some might have never thought of. And I will give you a foreshadowing – this is not the only time this week the RCL touches on marital relationships. That is, I am not thinking about this in a vacuum. But let us see how the week unwinds, and where the direction that I have started takes us. Shalom for your week!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 20[25]) – The Gospel Passage: Rating your life with New Testament Wisdom

“They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again. But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:30 – 32)
“They . . . were afraid to ask . . .” The evening that I sat down to write this posting, I had a lot of emotions swirling around in me. And I suspect even when you read this, beloved reader, I will still have the same emotions swirling. There is, to put it mildly, a lot going on in my life.
There was also a lot going on in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. We know from the gist of Jesus’ conversation that the final entry into Jerusalem was near at hand. And if that is true, then large changes in the disciples’ lives was coming soon. But . . . they did not want to ask about it.
“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.” (Verses 33 – 34)
Was it not that long ago that Jesus asked them who people were saying he was? Yes, it was just last week and in the previous chapter of Mark that Peter correctly identified Jesus. And that was exactly the crux of the matter – they were arguing about who would have the favored position at Jesus right hand – who obviously would be at the right hand of the Divine. Imagine that! One space removed from the right hand of the Divine! What a coveted position!!
“He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Verses 35 – 37)
You see, they did not stop to think what would to be done in order to have a coveted and prestige seat next to the Divine. Because, you see, they did not ask what Jesus meant that he would be dying. They did not want to know the tough stuff, the suffering stuff, the sorrowful stuff, the demeaning stuff – the part where they would be last.
Have you ever been last, beloved reader? At the end of the line, and missing out on the perks? In many jobs and business you have start at the bottom and work your way up. It is as true in general life as in the business/job world. You have to pay your dues. But in the Christian life, you have to pay your “dues” for your entire life. And the perks do not come until the very end – or more precisely, beyond the end. Suffice to say, the Christian life is harder than any job or career in the business/job world.
That is at it should be, actually. Because the Christian life is more important than any job or career. All other considerations should pale in comparison to living a Christian life. Are you beloved reader ready, willing, and able to your life being in last place? Would be welcoming to whoever and whatever comes into your life? Large questions that are answered over a lifetime. May you find the answers, according to the wisdom of the Divine. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 20[25]) – The Epistle Passage: Conducting your life with New Testament wisdom

“Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13a)
It is a trick question, beloved reader.
“Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” (Verse 13b)
I have been saying for the past week or two that Godly wisdom is not like earthly wisdom – the wisdom of education and intellect. I also said, if you remember, that the personification of wisdom is tough and stern and does not tolerate or mollycoddle fools at all. In this instance “gentleness” means being calm and composed, sure of one’s self and tolerate of others. The writer of the book of James contrasts this with other types of behavior.
“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (Verses 14 – 16)
I guess in addition to being calm and composed, sure and accepting, I should have said satisfied with what he/she has in life. At least that seems to be the anti-thesis to what the writer of the book of James is describing. It is helpful to realize that the writer of the book of James is talking about preachers and teacher. Being selfish and conducting one’s self according to worldly ambition does not bespeak someone of wisdom and understanding. The writer of the book of James explains more about wisdom as the writer understands it.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (Verses 17 – 18)
This does not sound like the “Sophia” wisdom we encountered last week (Tuesday it was). But wisdom in the New Testament is not like wisdom in the Old Testament. In the New Testament wisdom comes from being like Jesus and following in the path of the Risen Lord. Gentleness, mildness, and humility were some of the hallmarks of his ministry. And it is from this example that the writings of the New Testament draw their traits and characteristics of correct Christian living from.
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. . . . Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (Chapter 4, verses 1 – 3, 7- 8)
The conversation seems to have moved from targeting those who would be teachers and preacher to the general assembly of the faithful. So I guess that means that we “common” folk need to be pay heed to it. And that really is how it should be. We teach unawares as we go about our days and our lives. Those who do not know about Christianity or those who wish to learn – learn from those profess and claim Christianity as their faith tradition. What are you teaching them, beloved reader? And what I am teaching those I am in contact with? And, what does Godly wisdom teach you? Important questions for us all. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 19[24]) – The Psalm Passage: The Personification of Wisdom

“For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 – 8:1)
The Wisdom of Solomon is not part of the canonical bible – that is, the “official” bible as it is known. It is part of some faith traditions holy readings, and the Revised Common Lectionary occasionally dips into the source of writings. As I have said on other occasions, I like writings that extol religious/faith traditions wisdom. So you can imagine that I like these portion of the RCL lectionary very much. It does not hurt that I like the pronoun as it is translated from the Greek. Wisdom was often often personified as being female. Not that wisdom was attributed to very often human females. Wisdom was most likely personified as females to show it was a helpmate to mankind (yes, I very intentionally used that word for humanity).
Perhaps beloved reader you will find more delight in it if you simply exchange the pronoun “she” for the term “wisdom” or “holy insight”. Then imagine that you have such holy insight. What would it mean to your life, your interactions with others, and your relationship to the Divine if you had such an understanding? And if find that a delightful prospect, then as King Solomon did, as the Lord God for the gift of wisdom. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 19[24]) – The Gospel Passage: The Retaining of Wisdom

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.” (Mark 8:27 – 30)
Peter got it right. He saw through all of the “cover stories” of who Jesus was. That is, that Jesus was the return of one of the wise and worthy people from the past. But Peter saw that Jesus was something different – someone that had never been on earth before. It may have been Peter’s own wisdom and insight that told him this. Or it may have been the prompting of the Spirit.
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Verses 31 – 33)
Then Peter got it all wrong. How human! But very forgivable. As humans we “get” things right and wrong. We have the wisdom to understand the insights that the Spirit blesses us with. We study and come to under scripture and theology. We learn about preaching and teaching, counseling and guiding. We learn how to discern the movement of the Spirit, and how to tap into the plans of the Divine. But we also get things wrong. We misinterpret scripture. We pursue ideologies that are not Christian based and are not spiritually authentic. We cause the innocent to “stumble”. We make missteps leading ourselves and others into sin. We both retain and lose Christian wisdom.
“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Verses 34 – 37)
Christianity can have a very contrary nature – what is lost and let go will be found and returned. Paul says he does those very things he does not want to do, and does not do what he should. How then can we hold on to the right things in this life? How can we retain the wisdom that is given to us by the Spirit? How can we do those things we should, and release the wants, needs, and agenda of that world that just drag us down? The best way, beloved reader, is to remind ourselves often of what Jesus said and did. Peter saw clearly that Jesus was something new and different. But then let old agendas and understandings distort that wisdom. It does not good to hide from the truth as revealed by the Divine. Neither does it do us any good to hold on to false wisdom – what the world tells us is true and authentic.
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Verse 38)
I pray beloved reader, for both you and myself, that we may hold on to the wisdom that the Spirit blesses us with and use it daily. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 19[24]) – The Epistle Passage: The Tongue of Wisdom

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)
When I at first set up this post and read the first verse, I was not sure if I should be offended or not, on behalf of teachers of the gospel of every type both then and now. And when I sat down to actually write my comments and reflections, I decided that I was a little bit offended – on my own behalf and the behalf of others. Being “judged with greater strictness” has never deterred me from teaching and counseling with others. I know I have opened myself to greater strictness.
If that was not made apparent to me when I first started seminary, it was made clear when I first signed up for spiritual guidance class. I had gone to one of the church leaders at the church I was attending at the time, and told her that I was enrolling in the class. And that I would be letting fellow church attenders know I was looking for spiritual directees to work and counsel with. After asking me how things were in my life, she told me she could not endorse me for being a spiritual director in her congregation. I did not realize at the time her “innocent” asking of how I was doing was actually assessing where she thought I was in my life.
So I told my seminary professor and my fellow classmates at the time that without the endorsement and without what I called “clearness” (using a Quaker terminology meaning that the church body felt that the course of action proposed by one of them had merit and appropriateness) I could not continue in the class nor train at that time to be a spiritual director. To say I felt a profound sadness would be an understatement. The seminary profession commended me for my integrity. The next year, having decided the church I was attending at the time was not meeting my needs, I had started going to a different church. And after a year’s time I felt much more sure of myself, and I was endorsed and welcomed to offer my services there as a spiritual director. Ever since that time I have been well aware that those who teach/preach/speak are especially scrutinized.
“For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.” (Verse 2)
However, as the writer of the epistle of James says, no one is perfect. Being perfect in speaking (or at least as perfect as humanly possible) means that one has control over one’s body, thoughts, and actions. Or at least according to the writer of the epistle of James. He goes on to make some interesting analogies.
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (Verses 3 – 8)
I would take this to mean that if the tongue is NOT an unruly beast, it means the soul and spirit are under control. And I think that is what the writer of James means also. But I would give that a qualified assessment. It may mean only that someone has learned to tame their tongue but my still have a soul and spirit more likened to the fires of hell. The trait of duplicity may not be one that the writer of the James epistle is aware of. Still, he does make a strong argument for the ability to judge actions of the tongue.
“With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.” (Verses 9 – 12)
A surprising thing happened just a few days after I had to drop the spiritual guidance class. A fellow seminary student came to me and asked me if I would be willing to be a her spiritual counselor. I told her in all honesty that I was not taking a class on spiritual counseling and so could not offer her the assurance that I would be accountable to anyone if I counseled with her. That is one of the expectations of being a counselor – you have someone mentoring you as well. But she said that would not deter her, and she wanted to met with me on a regular basis. So we did. It was interesting the way that worked out. One the one hand I received a “no” from someone in being “clear” to do counseling. One the other hand I received a strong affirmation to be a counselor. Her willingness to trust me caused me to be especially careful and conscientious in working with her. I think my counsel was all the better for me being careful in each of our meetings. I probably judged myself with greater strictness than any supervisor would have. And when I did take the class the following year, I was a better counselor for the purposes of the class than I would have been others.
The writer of the epistle of James is correct – we are judged with greater strictness. Often it is we who judge ourselves so closely. And if we are guided by the Spirit, we will do just fine! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Life and Love, In Progress

Perhaps it’s an utterly ordinary affliction of mid-life, but I find myself wondering often these days about what it means to make progress along the journey of life, whether this progress is physical, relational, professional, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above. It’s fairly normal, I suppose, to reach a certain stage of life and ask questions like, “Ok, how am I doing? Have I gotten any better at anything? Am I more disciplined now than I was at twenty-three? Am I more certain about certain convictions? Is my faith stronger? Are my relationships healthier? Am I more confident in my vocation? Have I become a better husband, a more devoted father, a more faithful friend? Am I progressing on anything like a more hopeful arc in these important domains of life?
It is, as I said, probably pretty normal to wonder along these lines. Mid-life is when you become more acutely aware that the proverbial clock is ticking and if the maturity needle hasn’t moved appreciably over the first four decades of life it’s natural to wonder how much it will in the time that remains. It’s also, I suspect, pretty normal to be disappointed by the results thus far. We still struggle with the same issues, the same temptations, the same frustrations. We still wander blindly down the same dead ends. We don’t feel particularly confident or faithful or healthy. We’re not failing, exactly, we’re just kind of limping along, playing the game, but not exactly hitting it out of the park. Very often it can feel like we’re surviving but not really thriving in this life that we’ve been given.
Maybe it’s a question of expectations. Maybe some of us are just perversely wired to be perpetually dissatisfied and to ignore the real signs of goodness and hope that exist for those with eyes and ears to see and hear. Maybe our expectations are all wrong and we should just learn to accept ourselves with all of our messy contradictions. Yes, there is probably truth in this. But I can’t shake this idea that I should be growing in wisdom and patience and resilience and resourcefulness and I walk this journey of life. I should be better at some things now than I was then. Shouldn’t I?
What does real maturity look like? What’s the purpose of something as big and beautiful as a life? What does it mean to become a fully human being? These are of course very old questions that have occupied philosophers and theologians for as long as people have been around to philosophize and theologize about such things. And while libraries could be (and have been) filled in response to these questions, for my own journey the answer could be summed up in one primary movement—a movement away from the imperative to be right and toward the invitation to love.
I have always wanted to be right. The truth of the matter—any matter, really—matters to me. More than it probably should. This is what drove me into the study of philosophy in university, what had me poring through systematic theologies in grad school, what inflects and infects pretty much all the writing I have done for the last decade and a half (on this blog and elsewhere). It flogs me into unproductive and often unwise conversations on social media and keeps me rehearsing responses to real or imaginary interlocutors in my head long past any reasonable point of utility. It opens my mouth when said mouth should remain resolutely closed in the domains of marriage and parenting. It can shrink my faith into a sterile cognitive exercise, as if God’s main interest in granting me a handful of decades on this planet was to ensure that I was right about enough things to pass the cosmic test.
I don’t think Jesus has any particular interest in me being wrong. The truth of the matter—whether of the human predicament and task or the purpose of the universe—is not some incidental detail. I think God cares about what I think. But the older I get, the more I am convinced that God cares a fair bit more about what and how I love. The movement of maturity, of wisdom, of spiritual growth is, for me, very much a movement away from being right and toward learning how to love. I can be right—even about God!—and still be a complete ass. I know this because I’m rather good at it. I can also be wrong but loving. I can be kind and merciful and sensitive, even when it turns out I was misguided about this or that idea or issue. I have less experience with this, I grant, but I’m getting there. I still have some growing up to do.
I know how this might sound, at least to some of my readers. Ah, you see, he’s going soft—taking refuge in fuzzy platitudes about love and neglecting the truth. I know how this sounds because there was a time in my life when I probably would have rendered the same judgment. But loving well is actually quite a bit harder than being right. It is for me, at any rate. I’ve learned a lot of stuff in four decades or so on the planet. I’ve picked up a few degrees, I’ve clogged up an entire little corner of the Internet with my writings, I’ve made real progress, I think, in understanding some of the complex issues that are part and parcel of life in the twenty-first century. I’ve probably even been right a time or two. It’s not that hard.
But to grow in love (I mean, real love, not the innumerable feeble imitations that lay claim to the word but know little of what it means)? The kind of love that Christ taught and modeled? The kind of love that sacrifices and keeps no record of wrongs and always protects and perseveres? The kind of love that lays down its own prerogatives and seeks the good of the other? The kind of love that finds its way into the cracks and seams of all that hurts and is broken? The kind of love that doesn’t need to be right? The kind of love that is willing to die that others might live? Here, I fear, my progress has been a bit more fitful and less impressive. Love is hard. But love is, more than anything, what I want for the remaining chapters in my own story, for my kids, for the church, for all that God has made. I would be willing to be wrong about a lot of things if it meant that I would finally grow in love.
The Christian conviction is that the separation between what is true and what is loving is somewhat artificially construed. It’s a distinction that occurs to fragile and fallen human beings because we struggle to imagine things could be other than our many binary distinctions. But of course, it is in Christ that we see the good, the true, and the beautiful coalesce into a glorious singularity. In Christ, the question, “Should we seek to be right or to be loving?” makes little sense because his life embodied (and embodies) a single word in reply: “Yes.”
But in the meantime, for those of us who are still some distance away from Christ-like living and thinking and being, we should probably start with love. My sense is that Jesus would say to all of us seekers: “Why don’t you try to love as I have loved you? And in so doing, you will come to see that you are right.”
——
The image above is taken from the 2017-18 Christian Seasons Calendar. It is by Elaine Roemen and is called, simply, “Disciple.”

Syndicated from Rumblings

Season After Pentecost (Proper 19[24]) – The Old Testament Passage: The Voice of Wisdom

“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:20 – 22)
“Wisdom” – that is, true wisdom and not the book knowledge that suffices in the minds of many – is not sweet and nice. It is hard and unyielding. It holds up a mirror to the folly of this world and shows it the consequences of unwise and foolish actions. No one, that is no one! (Not even me!) No one is immune to committing acts of folly and being reprimanded by wisdom!
“Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.” (Verses 23 – 27)
Now let me hasten to say several things. First, the writer(s) of the book(s) of Proverbs did not know about panic/anxiety attacks. Those severe attacks do not come because of lack of wisdom and folly. They come for other sources, and it is those types of “demon” attacks that Jesus healed. And it is actually wisdom with her gentle words that calms those attacks – not with discipline, education, and reproof but with comfort and consolation. Wisdom says you are not alone, and that these shades and shadows will pass. It is those who have been shown the correct way but consciously take the wrong way that wisdom holds up to ridicule.

“Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.” (Verses 28 – 31)
The date that this post appears is the date seventeen years ago that the folly of many was rained down on the innocent. For several years I have not given credence and notice to this anniversary. I have wanted desperately for it to become just another day in autumn. We do no service to those who suffered and died by pointing out the faults and shortcomings of others. Nor do we honor them by parading out military might and political ideologies.
“For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Verses 32 – 33)
I would pray, beloved reader, that you would be wise. That gentleness and the concern for others would inform you of what is best to do. And that the example of our Lord God Jesus Christ would instruct you in all situations. May you be wise, beloved reader, and may shalom be your watch word. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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