Category: Discipleship

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Third Sunday: The Epistle Passage – What should we do in return?

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Thinking about this, beloved reader, it occurs to me that another thing has changed from the concept of “group” rescue and redemption to individual rescue and salvation. Now we are assured of grace and mercy, and are being asked to respond to the Lord God’s grace and mercy. In the past, that is in the “group” motif, proper behavior and worship was expected FIRST, then salvation would come. Now isn’t that interesting. Of course my supposition is not a hard and fast rule; and some level, understanding, acceptance, and belief was expected. But in the early Christian church new believers learned what it meant to live this new life. The Hebrews/Israelites/Judahites/Jews were expected to know, accept, and practice right living before Yahweh’s blessing would be bestowed.
Could it be that the disciples were gentler task masters of correct Christian living and belief than the Old Testament prophets, preachers, and scribes? You know what the difference was – the disciples learned directly from Jesus Christ the Lord God. The Old Testament leaders went on their own assumptions of what the Almighty Lord would want. I am not saying they distorted God’s message. Maybe the Lord God, the Mighty Divine of the Old Testament was a tough task master. Scholars have puzzled for generations about the change, and I have yet to hear an explanation that allows the two Divine Differing Dynamics to be united. Maybe that is just me.
But it seems to me, beloved reader, if we put aside that perplexing question and just focus on what we learn from the New Testament by way of Paul and the other apostles, there is very good reason to rejoice. And especially during Advent, that is very good thing to do! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Epistle Passage – A Corporate Christian Identity

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3 – 6)
Paul did not usually write to individuals – well, he wrote to Timothy. But that letter was much more of a “behind the scenes” Paul writing to a fellow minister and contemporary as opposed to writing to a circle of believers. So the “you” in this passage is the plural “you” – which is denoted by the “all of you” comment, as well as the “among you” comment. Now, in some letters Paul will take an individual to task, but still the letter is to a group and not an individual. Paul will also sent greetings to an individual but asks the group as a whole to pass on his greeting.
“It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Verses 7 – 11)
Paul also brags about some faith circles that have shown care and compassion – as a group – to other faith circles. In fact Paul at one point motivates one faith circle by bragging about another, exhorting each gathering of believers to emulate the other. Paul did not set out to convert individuals one by one, but sought to set up churches that would support and encourage each other. Then he sent group letters to those churches, continuing to give guidance and discipline to the corporate group. In reality, when Paul talks about living an authentic Christian life, he is talking about living it out in a group context. Remember too that the early churches supported each other, each member contributing to the group as a whole so no one had want or need. The early church did not have any individual (that is, single person) consciousness. The early Christian churches were very much interdependent. And if that reminds you of the Jewish faith, there might be good reason!
I promise you however, beloved reader, we will look at individual faith. But again here, we seem to be looking at scripture with an eye towards a group mentality. Revel in the fellowship of others, and support each other in the journey through this world. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Putting on and taking off a national identity

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” (Baruch 8:1 – 4)
A brief search concerning the book of Baruch will quickly show you that there is much controversy about the book. Who wrote it? When was it written? What time period was it written about? But I do not care much about figuring out the answers. What intrigues me is the concept of putting on a new national identity. The writer of the book of Baruch (who ever and whenever that person might be) talking not about individuals being re-cast but a whole nation. Jerusalem was comprised of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people who for the most part professed the same type of perspective and outlook. Judaism had long ago established an exclusiveness that kept the national identity from changing much. What was the lot of one person was probably the lot of that person’s neighbor. Remember too that Judaism was based on the twelve descendants of Jacob and those families carried on the traditions from each succeeding generation. So for the Jewish nation to change as a nation from sorrow and affliction to splendor, righteousness, peace and Godliness would mean a remaking of every person in Jerusalem. It was a promise and prediction of . . . . biblical proportions!
“Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.” (Verses 5 – 8)
Not only is writer of Baruch foretelling that the nation of Jerusalem will be remade, but those who were taken from families and neighborhoods will be returned. At least that is the overt promise. But as I said above, it is not the individual persons who will be returned and remade. It is the nation of Jerusalem, the re-establishment of the identity of the Israel nation. It is, beloved reader, a group identity rather than a collection of individuals. Moreover, it the group identity that is washed clean and presented as unsullied and unmarred.
“For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.” (Verse 9)
Our modern society is so taken up with individuals, and each individual’s identity recognized and honored. I am not saying that is a wrong or bad thing. But the writer of Baruch is in essence saying, do not mourn the individuals that were lost. Have hope because the nation of Jerusalem and Israel will at some time in the future be re-established and be better than ever.
According to the understandings of Israel’s and Judah’s demise, it was their inability and unwillingness to follow Yahweh’s laws and guidance. Presumably, according to the writer of the book of Baruch, this will be remedied by the work of the Divine. What once was will be changed; not by the actions of any one person, or even by a group, nor even by the actions of the whole nation. The Lord God will just do it, and all of Jerusalem and Israel will be changed.
What I am trying to say, beloved reader, but am reluctant to say forthright – is that the personality of a nation will be changed. Think of Russia during the Cold War years. Think of Germany during WWII. Think of England/Britain in the 1800’s. Think of India/China/Japan in the previous century. It is the same thing concerning Africa. All of these “personalities” were not based on individuals but on the group identity – for right or wrong. Can you, beloved reader, think of nations that have taken on a corporate/national personality? For right or for wrong?
Now, with the concept of the changing of the personality of a nation, let us look at the other Old Testament passage for this week.
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”( Malachi 3:1-4)
When we think about the refiner’s fire, we may picture individuals being tested and recast as something better. But it is more likely in these passages that the Lord God as the refiner will remold a whole group – the descendants of Levi who were the priestly tribe. Then the purified priestly tribe will be sanctified to offer up sacrifices for the nation and usher in the change on a national level. Our focus on the individual does not always fit in with the way scripture was written. But that is not to say that focusing on the individual is wrong, nor that we have misinterpret New Testament theology. I hope at some later point speak to that change. But this week, beloved reader, it would seem that our focus needs to be on large groups and not the individual. So let us stick together, holding one another in our thoughts and prayers. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Look Up

The season of Advent approaches and with it the ever-present temptation to dwell in the saccharine, the safe, the sanitized—harmless images of God’s coming that trouble us far less than they ought to. I feel this temptation every year. It’s easy to prepare for the coming of a harmless child that is with us but demands little of us. It was and is all too easy for earth receive her king poorly.
To guard against these temptations, I conscript Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be my Advent companion each year. His little book of Advent devotionals called God is in the Manger is a welcome antidote to all of the ways that I might reduce Advent to less than it ought to be. This reflection is called, “Look Up, Your Redemption is Drawing Near”:

Let’s not deceive ourselves. “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28), whether we know it or not, and the only question is: Are we going to let it come to us too, or are we going to resist it? Are we going to join this movement that comes down from heaven to earth, or are we going to close ourselves off? Christmas is coming—whether it is with us or without us depends on each and every one of us.
Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and… who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who are burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Season After Pentecost (Proper 29[34]) – The Epistle Passage: The Writer of the Book of Revelation reflects

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.(Revelation 1:4b – 6)
“To him who” – it is a strange little phrase. It might seem out of place, until one considers that it might just be a toast to the Divine! Not so out of place when you remember that the writer of the book of Revelation (John he calls himself) visualized the kingdom and the city of Jerusalem as a bride come down to be united with her bridegroom. Maybe thinking along those lines, a toast is not so out of place. And toasts at weddings are often compiled recollection of the bride or the groom, and are followed by a sort of blessing or celebration of that person and the event. Keeping that in mind, the phrase “to him who” is quite appropriate. Paul uses that phrase in his prayers, and it mostly usually means the Divine that Paul prayed to.
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Verses 7 – 8)
Everything from A to Z. That is what the Greek (language) is telling us. The Divine is all things, or in all things. And concerned with all things. I had framed this commentary as the writer of Revelation reflecting on the end times, and many predictions of the future take their context and details from Revelation. But suppose we would just think of the book as the writer reflecting on issues of faith and they should be lived out, and the consequences of that. After all, John has specific messages for seven of the churches in existence at the time of his writing this book.
However, it has not always been helpful or fruitful to try to apply those messages to our modern times. On the other hand, there is a consistency of human nature throughout the history of humanity. Maybe some messages could be passed from that generation to this one.
I have at times had an uneasy relationship with the book of Revelation. And so for me, it is helpful to think of this book of the bible that way. Perhaps, beloved reader, that would be helpful for you too. May you reflect, beloved readers, and may your reflections lead to greater understandings and a deep faith. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28[33]) – The Epistle Passage: Reflecting further on Jesus Christ as the Perfect High Priest

“And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10: 11 – 14)
I think you know already, beloved reader, that I am feeling that Paul is reiterating on a theme that I feel has already been well examined and described. It could be that Paul is being/just being over thorough. Or it could be that his audience really was a “tough sell”. I want to give that allowance because I know there are people who have heard the gospel many times but still do not embrace it as a model for their lives. So maybe Paul does need to speak at great expanse on this topic.
“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Verses 15 – 16)
As I think about Paul’s efforts to distill and present the gospel (as he understands it) to his readers, I am reminded of a modern-day occupation that is much like this – a technical writer. That is someone who writes at great length and detail as to how an object works or operates. I have at times in my life included technical writing or instruction book/manual writing in my job. And it is a long tedious process. You have to understand each step and sub-step, test out for yourself that it does/will work that way, and describe each step and movement in a clear and precise way. It can be maddening.
“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Verses 19 – 25)
I can imagine Paul looking at each step and increment of faith in Jesus Christ, examining it from the perspective of his listening/reading audience, and striving to be sure he has covered every aspect and possible question. I imagine it was quite maddening for him too, going over and over each step and aspect of faith to make sure he had in correct and had placed in within the context of his reader so it would be understandable. And then sending it off with every hope and prayerful confidence that it would be received well. It seems to me, beloved reader, that if Paul took such time and effort to write this, I (and you) should take the time to read it and study it. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Gospel Passage: What will you provide to the Lord?

“As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” ( Mark 12:38 – 40)
Jesus often accused the scribes, Jewish leaders, Pharisees, and Sadducees of hypocrisy. But such people were not, and are not now, just in the time of Jesus. The mismatch of professed faith and lived action is something that has been around since humanity first succumbed to taking advantage of others. Those who demand honor for themselves should be sure they are worthy of the honor. Such a paradox that those who demand respect treat others with little or no respect. Their appearance does not match what they are truly like. Long prayers that reflect no true devotion to the Divine, combined with taking advantage of others who are in position to defend themselves, is a sure way to be condemned. I have little patient for people who live like that. I think the same could be said of Jesus.
“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Verses 41 – 44)
Jesus was an avid observer of people. I like that in a Messiah! The widow, who may well have been a victim of the so called religious leaders, balanced her livelihood against the giving to the treasury. And in her wisdom she gave all that she had so that the mission of the synagogue could continue. She did not give because she sought stature but because it was the right thing to do. The rich on the other hand, gave much because it made them look good. The reality was the amount they gave was just a pittance compared to what they had in reserve.
Set this against the early Christian church whose members contributed all they had to those in need so that no one person had more than another, and everyone had what they needed. I suspect much of that attitude and giving started in the lessons such as this that Jesus taught.
The deeper point is that Jesus knew exactly what the widow gave up in giving her little bit. And he also knew exactly how much the rich scribes did not give up. Each person should give according to their means, and how their heart and spirit moves them. Just as important is to make sure the faith you like to make others believe you have matches how you conduct your life. Remember beloved reader, the eyes of the Divine are upon you! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Epistle Passage: The Lord provides!

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:24-28)
Paul was working very hard, and was really “working it”, in writing to the Hebrews about Jesus position and attributes as the Christ/ the Messiah. Until reading this long series of excerpts from the book of Hebrews I did not realize how long/much Paul wrote on this theme. Of course it may be that because the excerpts from Hebrews in the lectionary are spaced out over several weeks it seems like a long time. Sometimes it seems like Paul gets so few kudos from me, I will account it to his diligence in conveying his message.
The question pops into my mind – what does this mean for us?
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands . . . “ This means that the redemption, forgiveness, grace, mercy etc that comes from the Lord God Jesus Christ is not confined to any one religion or faith tradition, but is available to all who believe in it and the Divine.
“. . . but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf . . .” This means that Jesus did not just do this as a “mere” mortal but as a gesture undertaken and completed by the Divine.
“ Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own . . . “ In many faith traditions it is customary to confess and ask for forgiveness over and over; sometimes because the tenets of faith dictate it and sometimes because we need forgiveness anew and again. But Christ completed it for us for all times because of the purity of his sacrifice. WE may need to “confess, repent, repeat” but Christ accomplished it first time out – so actually, now that I think of it, we can “confess, repent, repeat”!
“And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Now here Paul gets theological (if he has not already that is!) and rules out some possible faith beliefs. No reincarnation. Each of us will face our judgment day after our earthly life is over. The return of the Lord God Jesus Christ will signal the end of the age – not, make note, to judge. But together up those who still live and believe. In this passage Paul is silent about those who still live but do not believe. Personally I find that lack of comment ominous! Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 27[32]) – The Old Testament Passage: The Lord provides(?)

“Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (I King 17:8 – 9)
Editorial decision – I decided to go with the other Old Testament passage rather than continuing on with the story of Naomi and Ruth. I sort of gave away the ending of the story. I suppose, beloved reader, you already knew how the story ended. The Lord God looked down on Naomi and provided for her as well as for her daughter in law Ruth. That same theme is also found in this passage. But in this instance it is/was Elijah who was provided for, and the widow in Zarephath who found herself and her son under the protection of Elijah’s God.
“So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.” (Verses 10 – 13)
It might be very much outside of our experience, beloved reader, (at least I know it is outside mine) to have such a shortage of food that a last morsel might be all that is left and starvation is imminent. I have known lean times, both as a child and as an adult, but never lean enough that I would starve to death. On the face of it, Elijah’s instructions to the woman seem rather harsh – take care of me before yourself and your son! I thought so, until I went back and read that the Lord God had already designated this woman and her son to survive the famine. Which, incidentally, Elijah started as a lesson to King Ahab. This widow and her son were not the only ones whose very life was endanger. But they were designed to be saved.
“For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.” (Verses 14 – 16)
I said above that I have known lean times. There was a time our family was on the WIC program, where nursing mothers and young children are provided with the means to buy healthy food – fruits, meat, grains, dairy products. It is not the same thing as food stamps which provide a broad range of grocery items. But because I had young children they and I were eligible. It helped during a very rough time in our children’s growing up years. Thankfully better times came along, and now we know no want or need.
It is also humbling to be in such a position. And thinking about that, maybe Elijah’s gruffness in his demands covered and offset the woman’s despair. For the benefit of this prophet of God, she and her household were saved. She did not have to feel that charity was done to her, but expedient need was given for the benefit of the Divine’s prophet. I disliked receiving charity on the state’s dime, and was not treated with the dignity that I expected. I was very grateful that better times came. And actually, as I look back on it, the Lord’s hand supported and under girded us so that I need never threatened our lives.
In our day and age, starvation is a reality for many. Those who study such things say that if the distribution of resources was more fairly and equitably divided, starvation could be eliminated. I do not know if that is true. It is unnerving to think that our abundance is at the cost of another’s life. And maybe in the face of that, it is hard to belief that the Lord God the Divine provides. The truth of the matter – the bottom ground-level truth is that the Lord provides through the actions of others. And if others do not act, then there is overwhelming and life threatening need.
May you, beloved reader, wherever and whenever possible, let your umbrella of sufficiency (or if I dare say abundance) shelter and provide for others. Shalom and Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 26[31]) – The Gospel Passage: The value of asking the best questions, and acknowledging the best answer

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28)
It does not matter much to us who live in these modern times – but to a scribe in Jesus’ time his being able to hold his own in theological discussion meant a great deal. We are not so surprised because we know and understand at the Divine Son of God Jesus knew of the theological nuances and ins & outs. This scribe however was impressed and asked not to trip Jesus up (as others had) but asked because he valued Jesus’ opinion. That is the first thing this scribe did correctly.
“Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Verses 29 – 31)
Jesus, being knowledgeable and Divine, answered him citing the nucleus of the scriptures and commandments. Knowing the Lord God as the Divine that the Godself is. Secondly, extending the same care, concern, treatment etc to others that you desire for yourself.
“Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ –this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Verses 32 – 33)
The second correct thing the scribe did was recognize and acknowledge the wisdom that was in Jesus’ answer. And to paraphrase it correctly, giving it the prominence that it deserved. Now, the scribe might have thought that Jesus was very knowledgeable for one not trained in Jewish tradition and theology. The scribe, according to the commentators I read, honored Jesus by calling by the title “teacher” meaning someone who has understanding enough to instruct another. But what the scribe probably did not fully appreciate was Jesus’ response to him.
“When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.” (Verse 34)
But we know. It is one thing for a fellow believer to say, “You have a good grasp of theology, religious, and spiritual matters” – it is quite another for the Divine to say it. Did the scribe appreciate what was said to him and who said it? I do not know. Scripture tells us that no further questions were asked of Jesus.
Now, what of us? What OF us?
It is not for me to say concerning you, beloved reader, who has understanding and knowledge of theology and faith issues. Each person in the privacy of their own study and thoughts needs to discern that answer. But (and this is important!) this discerning must be done through the Spirit, which sets up a conundrum and a paradox. If one is so in tuned to the Spirit of God that such discern is lead by the Spirit, then it seems obvious there is some level of adeptness. If, however, the discernment is NOT Spirit lead, then any answer is probably not reliable. There is the possibility of another doing such a discernment; that is actually one of the important values of seminary education. It is also the value of spiritual direction. As a spiritual director I made such discernment; but only after meeting with a person several times. And only because the person who said that of me had proved to others that their discernment was trustworthy. It is like that scribe, in training and teaching others, passed along Jesus’ commendation. That sort of teaching comes down to us today.
I hope and pray that you, beloved reader, have people in your life who teach and instruct you. And that you pass that teaching and instruction to others. May you be in the tradition of the scribe who received Jesus’ recognition and blessing. Selah and Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 25[30]) – The Gospel Passage: Jesus Christ does not abandon or pass by those who call out to him

“They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:46-48)
I have on more than one occasion talked about my own health issues, and how I organize my beliefs of faith and healing. This has been tested several times when my health has been challenged and decreased. But right now, at this writing, it is been challenging more than it has ever been before. And I find myself asking for a miracle the depth and breadth I have never asked before. (Yes, that serious.) It is hard for me, however, to put my own needs and health at the forefront of my reflections on scripture. My health may inform and influence my interpretations and understandings of scripture. But there is a line of self-identification and disclosure I am loath to cross. So let me side step for a short time.
Two of the things you need to understand about this passage, beloved reader, is that the blind man called out with every confidence that Jesus could and would heal him. And that being blind was not a misfortune of genetics or physiology, but in this culture it was a blatant sign of undisclosed or unknown sin. Remember that the disciples has asked Jesus in the gospel of John what sin a blind man or his family were guilty of that caused the man to be blind. For the same reason (I think) this blind man in the gospel of Mark was shushed because the “Rabbi” could not and should not be bothered by someone so obviously inveigled in sin.
“Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Just last week we read that James and John wanted Jesus to do whatever they wanted him to. That led to their being embarrassed when Jesus used their request to be seated on his left/right side as an object of how to be humble. But here Jesus opens himself up to the blind man potentially making any sort of request of him – although Jesus probably knew what was in his heart already.
Jesus knows what is in my heart. The Lord God the Divine knows what I am hoping and wishing for. And what outcome I am hoping for. I have never asked, as the blind man here asked, for the Divine to make me well again. It is not that I doubt that the Divine is capable of healing. Up to this point my failing health has never shaken my faith. It is not really shaken now. However neither has my health ever been so compromised as it is now. And it has gotten me wondering how best to navigate this new development in my life.
I have prayed on the behalf of others so that they might be well. And my prayers, along with others, has been answered. I have also had the sense (perhaps a God-given sense) of whether prayers of healing should be the resumption of health and the reversal of illness; or whether healing of the physical body was not possible but healing of the situation was. Sometimes that means that the physical body passed away but that comfort was given to those who grieved. And sometimes it means that they physical body continues at its present level of health and that the Divine aids the person in coping with that level. That is what has been my experience over the last 17 years.
“Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Verse 52)
You know, I am not even sure I know what that means, one’s faith making you well. But, I have to admit that may be I am afraid that the answer will be “no” if I ask the Lord God to heal me of what I have now. And maybe I am afraid that my faith may not be “sufficient” to heal me. How can one know if one’s faith is that sufficient?
What I keep coming back to though, beloved reader, is that the blind man called out in faith. Was it the faith that Jesus was the Son of God? Was it faith that his sight would be restored? I have so often carried on despite my health; been faithful despite the challenges before me. And been faithful because the Divine has seen me through so much. And then I ask myself, is the faith I have had for all my life (and especially in the last 17 years) sufficient to see me through this? I want the answer to be yes. Let’s face it – I need the answer to be yes. That may be exactly where my challenge is right now, for the answer to continue being yes. To call out in faith, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 25[30]) – The Epistles Passage: Our rescuer the Lord God Jesus Christ

“Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23 – 25)
The writer of the book of Hebrews (scholars are not sure it was Paul) wrote to persuade his audience that Jesus was worthy of the role of Messiah. In this section he makes his argument that Jesus Christ the Messiah makes a better high priest than the priests who served the Jewish people down through time. The writer of the book of Hebrews carefully lays out an argument as to why Jesus was better. The first point made is that there is little continuity in the line and lineage of high priests. Yes, they may have been in one line from stemming back to Levi but the skills and abilities of those in the line of Levi varied greatly.
“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (Verses 26 – 28)
While there was variation in commitment and skill, each of the high priests had the same fault – they were sinners. And in order to offer a sacrifice to sanctify the congregation, the high priests had to first sanctify themselves – over and over again.
Quite honestly beloved reader, in our modern times, it is a superfluous argument. Firstly, we no longer make sacrifices, or at least not ones that are burnt on an altar. Yes, we offer up ourselves and our personal human agenda in order to accept the calling Christianity and the life it requires. But the concept of a “high priest” is one we do not necessarily ascribe to.
It may be true that Catholicism does hold on to that hierarchy; however, the flaws in that system are quite evident. In fact . . . . as I think about it, there is a line of commonality between Judaism and Catholicism in that regard. Which is quite ironic since the Roman Catholic faith and the Jewish faith many times are at odds. Set aside for a moment that the Roman Catholic church is based on the believe in Jesus Christ and the Lord God. In both faith traditions there is one person who heads up the circle of faith – the Pope/the High Priest. Then there are levels of priests/Levites & Jewish leaders. All of these people (okay, let’s admit the reality, they are all men) are sinners and before they can atone for the sins of their congregations, they need to appease for their own sins. Protestant and other non-Catholic faith traditions (I am thinking of my own faith system, Anabaptist) do not have such leadership . . . per se.
Maybe I was too quick to disavow the whole “high priest” concept for our modern times. But my point still stands – we do not rest our salvation and sanctity on the shoulders of another human being. How ever we make our way up the chain of faith, the Lord God Jesus Christ is on the upper most level. And to the Divine we submit our pleas for confession, forgiveness, salvation, and restoration (to name just a few of the supplications to the Lord God).
I feel like I have traveled a good bit from where this passage had is starting point and the bulk of its content. The point that was being made was that Jesus Christ is best suited to absolve our sins and to be the means of forgiveness and appeasement. And that no matter what attributes and characteristics that our religious leaders (and other types of leaders) might have, they fall far short of being the means of redemption. Maybe that is a good thing to remember in our modern day. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

On Getting Your House in Order

Most people recognize that to be a human being is to be on a lifelong journey in pursuit of two broad goals: to become the best version of ourselves that we can be and to contribute something of worth to the world around us. We don’t all do this very well or very consistently, but we generally realize that the idea is to try to leave the world a better place than we found it and to become a better person along the way.
Of course, as always, the question of how this is done is complicated. Do we start at home and get ourselves in tip-top moral shape before heading out to fix the world? Or do we start “out there” and then assume that personal improvement will be a by-product of all of our heroic good deeds for others? Richard Beck wrote an interesting piece a while back suggesting that it’s more the former than the latter. He anchors his reflection in the order of events in Jesus’ own story. Jesus was baptized first (identifying with sinful humanity) and only then went out to proclaim, embody, and enact the kingdom of God. The personal charge precedes the theo-political agenda, as it were.
Beck reflects thus:

I find this ordering important. First, new human beings, and then the kingdom. Because, can you create and establish the kingdom without new human beings? I don’t think so. We’d reject or hate the kingdom. Thus the need for repentance as a prerequisite for the kingdom. “Repent,” Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”
I’m intrigued by all this because it suggests that the most vital and necessary political work that we can be doing right now is becoming human beings. But given the political chaos in our country we keep trying to bring the kingdom first. And we’re failing miserably. Could it be that we’ve gotten the order wrong? Could it be that you can’t bring a new kingdom unless you have the new human beings in place to create and welcome it?

My first instinct was to enthusiastically agree with Beck’s assessment. In a context where we are so inundated with people screaming their religious, political, and ideological agendas at each other and condemning all who don’t share it, we could surely do with a bit more determination to begin the moralizing at home. Perhaps if more people were willing to analyze their own hearts and minds, to ponder the (in)congruence between their message and their mode of delivering it and living it—to repent, to borrow the language of the New Testament—the kingdom might inch a little closer to coming. God knows we can all think of people who are passionately devoted to some cause or another who are insufferable to talk to or be around. Most of us can think of someone who is so busy trying to implement their vision of the kingdom that their personal lives are an absolute mess. We are perhaps often tempted to say (or at least think), “Maybe you should get your own house in order before you presume to go save the world.”
But the more I thought about this, the more it seemed to me that reality resists this kind of straightforward linear analysis. It makes a lot of intuitive sense to say that new humans will be better suited to welcome and advance the kingdom. It seems logical that people who have done the hard inner work of repentance and have made at least a bit of progress in maturity, humility, and grace would be a prerequisite for creating meaningful change in the world. It would be really great if the kingdom of God and our role in its coming could be plotted like a formula: First, produce the new humans and then watch those new humans march out and change the world.
But of course, that’s not exactly how things work, at least not all the time. Sometimes people who are a conflicted mess inside end up playing instrumental roles in the advancing of peace and justice in the world. Sometimes people who are all cleaned up, whose own house is in order, never really get around to making much of a difference in the neighbourhood. And, of course, there is the well-populated terrain in between these two poles where most of us live. We all live in this in-between stage where we pray “Thy kingdom come” even while we realize that we sinners are always at times preventing and at times portending this same kingdom’s coming (sometimes in the same day!).
I enthusiastically affirm Richard Beck’s call to start with ourselves before we presume to go out there and save the world. Particularly in our polarized political climate where his trenchant advice could surely be profitably heeded:

Maybe ignoring Washington to focus on becoming a human being is the most subversive and necessary political work we can be doing right now.

Yes, we could surely do with a more disciplined commitment to pay sustained attention to the log in our own eye before we set to the task of rooting out all the specks in the eyes of our foolish, misguided, quite possibly evil neighbours. This work truly is both subversive and necessary.
But I’m actually pretty thankful that new humans aren’t necessary for the kingdom of God to make its way in the world if for the simple reason that this would rule me out of the proceedings. Despite all my my new human-ish efforts thus far, a sinner, regrettably, I remain. For some reason, from his first disciples right down to the present, Jesus saw (and sees) fit to work through human beings who are always in moral and spiritual transit. I’m profoundly thankful for this. A kingdom that depends on human beings for its coming sounds like something less than the kingdom of God which can only be received as a grace and gift.

Syndicated from Rumblings

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