Category: Discipleship

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – How to live in response to the Divine: One lesson for Ordinary Time

“Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:23 – 24)
The Jewish faith, as practiced in Paul’s times and among his peers, seems like an unusual faith indeed. Ruled by laws that dictated one’s habits from rising in the morning to going to bed at night. Many of the rules outlined relationships between fellow believers and relationships with non-believers. Compassion and charity were highly praised attributes. There were also laws dictating what to eat, wear, how to spend one’s time. And if looked at objectively, seemed to be designed more for surviving one’s environment. There was a challenge to the two sets of laws. The first set, relationship guidelines, were hard to do because at times it seemed to run contrary to human will and impulse – being nice, kind, and generous. Not everyone was able to do that. The second set, dietary and daily tasks of living, were also difficult to do – but in a different way. Tedious and exacting at times. It took time and resources to follow them. Dietary laws keep the people safe from harmful foods. Daily tasks of living were probably to keep the people safe from germs etc. Disregarding them had consequences. So did, actually, the relationship laws – different consequences though. The prophets were more likely to chastise the people ofr violating the relationship laws.
Now as I said (and some of this is my own theory) some sects of Jewish believers did not strictly practice the dietary and daily tasks of living. And they lived unhealthy lives, or died, because of those consequences. Interestingly in our modern times some of these dietary laws are no longer needed but practiced to show faithfulness and adherence to the Jewish faith. But what I am intrigued with is this; the Pharisees and Sadducees adhered to the dietary laws with exacting precision, and based their faithfulness and piety on following them. But as for the relationship laws, they were too hard – too much personal cost – and so they chucked them out the window. And Jesus chastised them for that! When Paul was writing to the new area churches, the dietary laws were the ones that were left in the past and the law of love and compassion was put to the forefront – as Jesus exemplified. It was a result of faith in Jesus and the Divine, and the gift/blessing that Jesus was that prompted the response.
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Verses 25 – 29)
The dietary laws (and tasks for daily living laws) might have kept the called and chosen people of God safe for this life, but it was the relationship laws that made that life pleasant to live and carried lasting consequences. (As modern practices evolved some to the dietary and tasks fro daily living laws become outmoded or irrelevant, but as I said before adhered to for tradition’s sake.) And if was the relationship laws that formed the basis of the faith life that Paul speaks of. No longer “clean” or “unclean” but everyone united in love – love for the Divine and love from the Divine – for a common faith. The apex of relationship laws. And in relationship to the Divine and governed by those expectations now. Because of that intimate family relationship with the Divine, we who believe and have faith are heirs to all that the Divine has in mind for us. How then, beloved reader, will we live in response to that? Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Starting the journey of Ordinary Time

The Sundays after Pentecost have numbers, and each successive Sunday brings us closer to Thanksgiving and the end of this lectionary year. That they span over summer and well into fall will tell you there are many of them. The number of the Sunday indicates only which passages are for that week. If I told you this was Proper 7(12) it would tell you a great deal. So I will not enumerate the Sundays. I could also tell you that now there are two sets of Old Testament and Psalm passages each week, and each matching of Old Testament and Psalm passage have a connection point – that may or may not make sense. I will try to illuminate that connection. So here we are, at the first Sunday of the long Ordinary Time.

“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels; who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long.” (Isaiah 65:1 – 5)
As to why I may choose one Old Testament passage over another, I cannot tell you. If it is one that I have not spoken to before I am more likely to choose it. Or if one is more “unfathomable” I may (or may not actually) pass on it. If I feel a flame of intrigue and passion, I will most definitely choose it! (That is how I have gotten myself sucked into some Psalm passages that vex me!)
As to this passage, the Lord God the Divine is chastising the called and chosen people for being so much less than the Divine expects of them. Not, mind you, all of them but enough that they leave a foul stench in the Nose of the Divine. Some of the commentators say of this passage . . . it is sometimes people who have gone so far astray from the Lord God who perceive themselves to be the more holy and religious. Meaning, I guess, that they have fallen into such false worship that it is so unworldly as to be mysterious and mystical. The “holy” part is not the authentic belief in the Divine, but worldly/earthly spiritually imbued that could send shivers down one’s spine. Think deep and dark evil!
“See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.” (Verses 6 – 7)
Now it is more than just a matter of worshiping in the wrong place, beloved reader. The Lord God the Divine is worshiped on flat open plains where one’s actions and attitudes are seen, and where one is amongst like minded believers. Up in the hills and mountains are the evil things, hidden dark things, idols that are not the true Yahweh. So abundant were they that it was more than just caution that would keep the true worshipper in the correct place. Giving heed to unholy (or perverted) deities was tantamount to damning one’s soul and spirit.
“Thus says the LORD: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.” (Verses 8 – 9)
But, says the Divine, wandering off to wild places does not necessarily mean one’s spirit and soul is condemned. And there may be good and true worshipers who see their peril before it is too late, or succeeding generations who do not follow their ancestors. For their sake, says the Divine, I will not destroy all of them called and chosen people.
That is important to remember, beloved reader, at those times we have gone astray. As I said previously, Ordinary Time is a long time – many miles to travel. We could get temporarily lost, wander off the good path, or slip up somewhere. If there is still good in us – as verse 8 says, blessing in some of harvests of the fruits – the Divine give us opportunities to mend our ways. Perhaps, beloved reader, something you read here in the coming weeks and months will help. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Trinity Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker discuss our relationship to the Divine

Seeker: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Preacher: Back in the time of the psalmist not much was known about the that was above the tallest mountains. That was considered the space of the birds, and above even that was Yahweh the Divine lived. Know we now that above the clouds the sky/atmosphere thins out and life as humanity knows it does not exist. That does not mean the Divine does not live in a dimension in that space that is not visible to human eyes. Humanity considers that even the Divine must have some sort of physical/tangible existence some where.
Seeker: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”
Preacher: It may very well seem like questioning such things is an antithesis of the Divine. But we do ourselves no favor if we insisting on understanding the Lord God according to human terms.
Seeker: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
Preacher: And the Divine does care of humanity. In fact humanity is the focus of the Divine’s efforts and energy. Jesus came to earth because of humanity. The Spirit of Truth was sent because of humanity.
Seeker: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”
Preacher: Creation was sent in motion to give humanity a place to live, a place to learn, and a place to grow in wisdom and understanding.
Seeker: “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Preacher: Sometimes, I think, we have not tended to creation as the Divine would have wanted us to. But that is a question to be discussed and debated amongst humanity. How we treat our fellow member of humanity, that is a question that Jesus’ life was to settle. And even with that, we debate and disagree as to what the proper answer it. We are encouraged to look to scripture for the answers. But studying and searching scripture without the inspiration of the Spirit of Truth has resulted in a large amount of conflicting information. But then who is to say who has the best understanding of what the Spirit of Truth has to say! So, we muddle along, trying to do the best we can, and hope that others are doing the same. We all live under the same Divine. And the same Divine looks over us. Let us hope and pray that we do not go too far astray and not do too much damage to ourselves, others, and creation. We have been given a wide latitude of freedom by a Divine who loves us unconditionally.
Seeker: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Trinity Sunday, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – The Divine revealed in parts and pieces

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)
If one might feel “left out” and “left behind” because one did not experience the actual physical presence of Jesus (I admit at times I feel like “one”), the compensation is that all that Jesus and the Divine had to say has been said to us through the Holy Spirit, scripture, and testimony of the saints and those than have gone before us. We can, in short, bear the things that the Divine has to say to us.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Verse 13)
What must it have felt like to know that your Lord and Teacher had things to tell you, but you were not deemed ready yet. I remember experiences from when I was young, and I knew that some thing – some type of information – was being kept from me. It was like an itch I could not scratch. Do you think, beloved reader, that is how the disciples felt?
“He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Verses 14 – 15)
All that the Lord God Creator has/had Jesus also had/has. And the Spirit of Truth has that to impart to us. And it is a theological fact, beloved reader, that the Divine will discern when (and if) we are ready to hear it. Or, more precisely, understand it. To give you the best example that I can – I have some hearing loss. I hear most things, but some of it I hear only as sound and not distinguishable/discernible words. We MAY hear all the Spirit of Truth has to say, but it may be to our ears/spirit/soul just sound/noise and NOT anything that we can make sense of. Or maybe we do not hear it correctly and misinterpret it. We may beg and plead with the Spirit of Truth to quicken our understanding; but it does not happen. And worst of all, beloved reader, we may not even realize that we are only hearing/perceiving/understanding just a portion of the Divine Truth.
I can only wish, hope, and pray for you what I pray for myself – the ability to know fully and completely! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Day of Pentecost, 2019 Year C : Epistle Passage – All of the Divine under the Divine

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (John 14:8 – 11)
Creator and Redeemer – yes they are one. It really could not be presented any clearer. I do and can understand though, if Philip and has fellow disciples had in mind a Yahweh that was very much different then Jesus, then maybe it would not seem logical and streamline that Jesus and the Divine who sent Jesus were one and the same. After all we have so many passages in the Old Testament that talk about “the One to come” but only in hindsight can be it realized that Jesus is “the One.” And, as I have repeatedly said the passages that are predictive of Jesus were not necessarily written in the context of the Messiah. Or at least not the Messiah that they were expecting according to the Adonai who they knew, or thought they knew.
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Verse 12)
I admit I am not sure what that verse means, so I consulted Albert Barnes, and there found the answer I sought. It is not the depth or magnitude of “works” that the disciples will do, but the effect over time and geography. As Barnes said, Jesus was “confined” to one geographic area and a limited span of time on earth. The disciples/apostles will carry forth the word of God and the stories of the works of Jesus Christ across distances and down through time. Of course this happened (or will happen) because Jesus is returning to heaven and the Holy Spirit will be sent down to the disciples.
“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Verses 13 – 17)
The flow of grace and power – the Creator who loved humanity so much that Jesus was sent, and Jesus taught in real-time ways what the Creator was like, and then the Holy Spirit was sent to be a reminder through time and generations of what the Creator and Jesus Christ the Redeemer were about. This is why I and others believe in a triune Divine.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (Verses 25 – 27)
I was thinking recently about the places that scripture said Jesus opened up the scriptures and helped the disciples to understand it. And I was reminded how my seminary professors did the same; and that their professors taught them. Stretching back generation upon generation there have been teachers and students. My hope is that that like stretches back to the original disciples/apostles. And it humbles me more than I can say or write that I might in some small way stand in the line of teachers and students. But let me tuck that thought away, and return to my theme – that under the title that I use “The Divine” dwells all the aspects of the Lord God as that God-self is understood by all believers. Shalom and Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Day of Pentecost, 2019 Year C : Epistle Passage – All of us coming together under the Divine

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
Who or what is the Spirit of God? What or who came down at Pentecost? If we believe absolutely that it was the Holy Presence that came from the Lord God the Divine, then we have to live in harmony with those who profess authentic belief in the Lord God the Divine. Now, can we judge who is an authentic Christian? That is, whose belief in authentic? We may claim we are able to according to what Paul would call fruits of the Spirit. But who quantifies those qualities? Seems to me if we claim the right to judge, we are on awfully shaky ground.
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” (Verse 15a)
The fear that verse 15a talks about is not fear of anyone but being subject to the strict Jewish laws that threatened to condemn at every turn. Instead the believer is a beloved child of the Lord God, and will be welcomed back each time he/she goes astray.
“When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Verses 15b – 17)
I wish, I dearly wish that I could say this adoption covers all of humanity; the Lord God would like it to cover all of humanity, for that is who Jesus Christ was sent for. If we could discern the soul of each person precisely, and know whether or not they profess to be a child of God – or whether at some point in their life they will come to be a child of God – would could say “aye” or “nay” whether they should be accepted and treated by us as a member in good standing in the family of the Lord God. As for me? I would rather treat them, all of humanity, as a part of the family of the Lord God then to dismiss them and incur the rather of the Divine Parent who desires all to be gathered under the Protection and Benevolence of the Divine. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Day of Pentecost, 2019 Year C : Substituted Acts Passage – Trying to come together

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1 – 4)
We forget, beloved reader, that one of the aspects of Pentecost was gifting of languages that connected people. While the Holy Spirit come to rest upon them, it was to the discerning and divining of theologies and philosophies but a bringing together of languages. And it caught the attention of people who were gathered there.
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (Verses 5 – 11)
The Genesis passage that is cited for this day talks about the possible dividing and diversifying of languages. While the reason that this was done by the Divine may be difficult to understand, here and now with the coming of the Holy Spirit the rift in languages is temporarily erased.
“And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:6 – 9)
If I was to champion the cause of the Divine in this event, I would say (and do say) that while the feat of building a tower that reached the skies would have been tremendous, it was only one building for one purpose and did not advance the lives and livelihoods of the people gathered there. But when the large group was divided and set off on various paths, they ultimately accomplished more and greater things than they would have as on group. And it set the stage for a more momentous event than those early builders could have ever imagined.

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Acts chapter 2, Verses 12 – 21)

That it was momentous does not mean it was clear and understandable. In fact, based on Peter’s oration to the crowd, there emerges some continuing confusion. That is, confusion to our modern understanding. We know from our own existence and hind sight that the days following Pentecost were not the last days. Yes, the Spirit was poured out over all people. Do not let statement be given a shred less importance, beloved reader – ALL PEOPLE! It is the timing and the portents that come under questioning. As I have said on other occasions, whatever has happened over the years that seems like signs . . . “in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” . . . was not the sign of “the Lord’s great and glorious day.” We are still waiting for that. In fact (again), we may be at the “Babel” of our modern times. The factions and divisions we see in humanity, while breaking down compassion and caring as exemplified by Jesus Christ, are scattering us one from another and causing great confusion. Why? I do not know that beloved reader. What I do know is when we hear the common speech of authentic Christianity from people and places that we do not expect it from, we sit up and take notice.
After Pentecost we enter into “Ordinary Time” – a time where we live out ordinary days and hone our Christian living skills until the next Holy Days of the Church come along. May we in that time discern what the Lord God the Divine is doing in our lives, and may we listening with sensitive ears for the messages that come to us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

You Give Them Something to Eat

I spent part of this morning packaging and delivering bread. Every three years, the Mennonite-ish churches in our area pool their time, talent, and resources to organize a relief sale for MCC (the relief and development arm of our denominations). And every three years, a friend in our church uses our church kitchen to bake bread for the sale. Like, a lot of bread. Like, three hundred and fifty loaves of bread. He arrives at 4:30 in the morning, turns on CBC radio, and works until late afternoon. Sourdough, whole wheat, muesli, raisin, white… The list goes on and on. He told me that this year he’s been doing push ups for three months to prepare for the physical toll of kneading and rolling dough. It had never occurred to me that you might need to train to bake bread. But then it would never occur to me to bake three hundred and fifty loaves, either.
I didn’t have a sermon to write this week and my Friday was proceedingly rather quietly. Also, the smell of fresh bread wafting up from the basement through the register in my office was driving me crazy. So, I went downstairs to chat or see if my friend needed any help. He told me I could put the bread in bags and deliver it to the sale. Sure, that sounded like a job that even I couldn’t screw up. So, I set aside the books and the laptop, and the emails still needed to be dealt with, and I went to work.
It was great fun. The simplicity and repetitiveness of the task was almost therapeutic. No complex arguments to understand, no intractable personal problems, no classes or sermons to prepare, no fires to put out. Just simple work where you can see the results in real time. Take a loaf of bread, put it in the bag, twist, tie, and into the box. And repeat. And repeat. And when it was all done, put the boxes in the car, drive to the sale, put them on the table. And repeat. And repeat. There was something very satisfying about the task of delivering bread somewhere where you know that it will either feed actual people in need or, more likely, where the proceeds from its sale will go to fund the work of peace, justice, refugee work, and development around the world.
There’s a well-known scene in each of the three synoptic gospels where Jesus is teaching the crowds and the end of a long day draws nigh. The disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away so they can find food and lodging. Jesus responds enigmatically, as Jesus so often does: “You give them something to eat.” The disciples default, as most of us would, to the scarcity of the situation—”We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” It’s a comically inadequate amount for a crowd that size. It’s the equivalent of trying to feed an arena full of sports fans with a bag and a half of popcorn and a few hot dogs. The disciples see the absurdity of the situation and they’re hoping Jesus does, too.
But, no, Jesus doesn’t seem to. You give them something to eat. You give them bread.
And so, they do. They probably even grumbled as they did it. They gave what they had. And Jesus gave what he had. And all were fed, all were satisfied. There was even bread to spare.
That’s probably not a bad metaphor for the work of MCC or the work of faith more broadly. We offer what we can and watch to see how it will merge with what Jesus brings to the table. We don’t stay stuck in scarcity, in not-enoughness. We bake bread, we write sermons, we visit the sick, we offer friendship, we extend hospitality, we open our hearts to people who are well-acquainted with rejection. We tend, we plant, we paint, we play, we pray. We extend mercy, we pursue justice, we speak the truth, as best we are able. We forgive, and forgive, and forgive again.
We give. Jesus gives. And the hungry are fed. If we’re doing it well, there may even be a few loaves left over.
——
The image above is of my friend, on about his sixth hour of bread-baking this morning. Used without permission. If you’re in southern Alberta, the relief sale goes tonight and all day tomorrow. You should drop in and buy some bread.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, Year C 2019: The Gospel, Old Testament, and Psalm Passages – In Praise of Godly Women

“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39 – 45)
It is a tenet of the New Testament that older women are to teach the younger women what is good and proper. Although I am not sure they (meaning the proponents of this type of teaching) had in mind blessing each other, giving forth praise for what is happening to them, and passing on teachings of theology! It is a type of revolutionary action that I like though!
“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Verses 46 – 55)
And imagine what Elizabeth might have been teaching Mary while she was there. No not fret however, beloved reader – as if you were/would! The Lord God the Divine I am sure intended Mary to learn how to raise a Godly man from Elizabeth who herself was the wife of a high priest and raised John to the John the Baptist.
“And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.” (Verses 56 – 57)
And there is, beloved reader, precedent for Godly women to be the inspiration for Godly men – not only in raising them but in teaching them. Let us listen to Hannah.
“Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
So let us celebrate these women and their accomplishments. They have proved themselves worthy of the place in scripture. And let us praise the Lord also who has called people of all genders, times, and geographies to be in service of the Divine, moving forward the Lord God’s plan for humanity.
“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 113)
 

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

The Filthy and Excessive Gospel

In a world where deep reading is becoming the exception to the rule of skimming and grazing our way through the endless media that comes at us every day and from every angle, headlines are becoming increasingly important. If the headline doesn’t grab us, we won’t read on. There are just too many words out there and not enough time or attention to bother with them all. Poor headlines! They have to do a disproportionate amount of the work for a piece to even get a hearing! This is more of a confession than an indictment (although I suppose it could be both). I am the chief of sinners on this score.
At any rate, a headline (ahem) caught my attention a few days ago. It was a piece written by philosopher Thomas White for Aeon and it was called “Philosophy should care about the filthy, excessive and unclean.” I did read beyond the headline, you’ll be relieved to know, and came across an interesting discussion of the challenge of the “unclean” to Plato’s world of ideal forms and Slavoj Žižek’s use of this category in analyzing the degradation of political discourse. But my thoughts kept returning to the headline. Actually, narrower still, to a single word from the headline: should. “Philosophy should care about the filthy…” The implication being that it normally doesn’t, that it has more important matters to ponder.
I thought about that headline as I made my way to the jail on Monday morning. I thought about it as I considered those from our church who would be making their way to the soup kitchen yesterday morning. I thought about it as I watched people making preparations for the MCC Relief sale that our town will host this weekend, which funds relief and development in some of the neediest parts of the world. I thought about it as I considered the many people connected to our one small church who are invested in communities like L’Arche and other organizations that walk alongside people with disabilities. I thought about it as I pondered recent visits to people in pretty desperate (and sometimes disgusting) situations whether due to age, illness, or catastrophes of their own making.
I thought about how the headline would sound if we substituted “Christianity” for “philosophy.” “Christianity should care for the filthy, excessive and unclean.” Perhaps the headline still pops a bit—our attention is always grabbed by words like “filthy” and “excessive,” after all, or at the very least, by anything presuming to be a moral imperative. But I’m guessing the headline also seems a bit redundant with this substitution. The idea that Christianity should have something to say in and for the ugly and the easily ignored parts of the world, the parts that don’t fit neatly into ethical systems or metaphysical schematics seems obvious. These are the very places that people assume Christianity should be present. Even people who know almost nothing about Christianity often have a dim awareness that Christians are the ones who are supposed to follow Jesus to the bottom.
For Christianity, the imperative to care about the filthy and unclean and excessive is sort of built into the package. Anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with the gospels, knows that Jesus called “blessed” those who mourn, those who are poor, those who suffer and are persecuted. We know that Jesus flouted social and religious norms by touching lepers, the lame, the dead, the dying. We know that Jesus frequently found himself in “excessive” company, that he was labeled a “friend of sinners,” a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus lived among and for the filthy, the unclean and the excessive. Jesus believed, evidently, that there was inherent worth, dignity, and value in each human life, no matter how outwardly unimpressive.
And so have his followers down through the ages. Not perfectly, of course. Not consistently or always admirably. But across the Christian spectrum, from the hyper-conservative fundamentalist to the hyper-liberal social justice warrior, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t at least pay lip service to the truth that Christianity should care for the filthy, excessive and unclean. Even when we’re failing miserably at it, we know that we shouldn’t be. We know that Jesus didn’t come for the healthy, but the sick. Sometimes we even remember that this includes us.
And Christians, at our best, don’t just do all of this because Jesus told us to. That’s perhaps a decent place to start, but it goes much deeper than that. Christians believe that the nature of God is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ, who not only deigned to minister to the filthy and unclean from time to time, but who entered into this experience himself. Christians have sanitized and abstracted the idea of Jesus hanging on a godforsaken cross, turning it into a “doctrine” or a soteriological mechanism or whatever else. But at the time, God-on-a-cross would have been unthinkable, offensive, filthy, unclean, and excessive… pick your unsavoury adjective. Cursed is anyone who hangs upon a tree, and all that. Jesus goes straight to the bottom and says, “This, this is what God is like and this is where God is to be found. This is where love is grown, where forgiveness is extended, and where the kingdom of God takes root. This is the good news.”
I listened to part of an episode of the Liturgists podcast the other day. I used to listen to it more regularly, but the genre of ex-evangelicals frolicking in the pastures of enlightenment and heaping scorn upon their benighted conservative brethren gets old after a while. At any rate, in this episode William Matthews was trying to convince one of the hosts, Mark Gungor, who has evidently left Christianity behind, to become a Christian again. Matthews presented the gospel as liberation and good news for the oppressed. Gungor mostly liked that but couldn’t get past the problem of evil and God’s rather poor performance in world-supervision. Round and round they went.
Part way through the discussion, Gungor left metaphysics behind and took a more pragmatic turn. Christianity just doesn’t work very well, he said. It doesn’t produce “enlightened” people who can live freely in the present like Hinduism or other forms of Eastern mysticism do. I think I laughed out loud. Is that what you think Christianity is supposed to do? I said (again, probably audibly, and probably louder than I ought to have). Produce “enlightened” people? That’s the metric you’re using to evaluate things? I turned the podcast off.
Christianity may produce “enlightened” people, or it may not. As always, so much depends on how we define our terms. But I honestly couldn’t care much less about enlightenment; I’m far more interested in whether or not Christianity produces people (including me!) who are being grown in love, who are being conformed to the image of Christ, and who are willing to follow him to the bottom, where God is waiting.
——
The image above is a creation of Charles McCollough and is taken from the 2009-10 Christian Seasons Calendar. It’s called “The Return of the Prodigal” and beautifully portrays a father embracing his filthy, unclean, excessive son and welcoming him home.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Following closely and connecting the dots between the Divine, Jesus Christ, and us

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20 – 21)
There is, I am discovering, an inherent bias in biblical commentary. I should not be surprised, however, that it is present. The bias is that compassion and kindness will be seen as coming from a heavenly divine source, and such a source will be/can be/can only be from the Lord God who sent Jesus Christ. The following is but one commentary on verse 21 as it is understood from the proceeding verse. To quote Elliot’s Commentary for English Readers: “The result of the union of believers with God, and therefore with each other, will be that the world will see in it a proof of the divine origin of Christianity, and will believe that the Father sent the Son into the world.” My point of contention is NOT that unity and fellowship of believers does not come through a common belief in Jesus Christ the Lord God and the Divine. But that others, not knowing of/about the Lord God will say, “Oh, they must be believers in an ultimately Divine God.” No, what is says is that the compassion and care believers have can be traced back to a common source. The “leap” – if you will – is that the common source is the Lord God. And that Jesus was sent from the Lord God.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Verses 22 – 23)
It is my believe that this prayer by Jesus is for the benefit of his disciples. To encourage them, to mold them, to solidify them in purpose and intent. If, beloved reader, the intent was that evangelism and conversion to Christianity was to happen because of the close alignment between Jesus and believers AND the unity and oneness amongst believers – then in our modern society that is not happening. There is so much dissension and division amongst Christian believers that it is hard to fathom all of the coming from the same source and Source.
Would that it was true that unity amongst believers would point to the Lord God, and that such unity would result in conversion to Christianity. It used to be that way, or at least it was that way in my childhood. But my childhood is a long distance away. It is almost as if, beloved reader, we (that is the Christian faith) is starting again in identifying what is true and authentic faith. Each person or group has their own definition. But there is no unity of faith or theology. Viewing it from the inside out, I see the cracks and disunity that has come about in the face of difficult issues. I cannot even imagine what it looks like from the outside. But I shudder at the possible images.

“Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Verses 24 – 26)
There is supposed to be unity!! There is supposed to be a cohesion of thought and action. That is why I say this prayer was for the benefit of Jesus’ disciples. This prayer is a teaching as much as a petition; perhaps even more of a teaching than a petition. I want to end with another quote from another biblical commentator – one whose thinking so often parallels mine. Albert Barnes said, “It is worthy of remark here how entirely the union of his people occupied the mind of Jesus as he drew near to death. He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide his followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and he saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.” Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substitute Acts Passage – Exciting times, and not so exciting

“One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.” (Acts 16:16)
I became aware, beloved reader, of a change in perspective of the writer of the book of Acts. At first the perspective was “they” and “them” and at some point it changed to “we” and “us”, as the writer joined the journey along the way – which I think actually he did. What took me off guard was the the change just . . . . happened. No foreshadowing or announcement that he joined Paul. The shift happened in the midst of the telling of Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia asking for someone to come; this happened after they went down to Troas. But rather than lingering on this point, let us catch up to Paul and company.
“While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” (Verses 17 – 18)
I did have to wonder why this slave girl annoyed Paul. While she spoke the truth, after a fashion, it was not testimony born of free will and knowledge of the Lord but the mischief of the Evil One that dogs the steps of God’s ministers. That, if you cannot tell, was a pretty good paraphrase of what the biblical commentators said. My take on it was that Paul saw her captivity to the demon and the profit that her owners were making off her distress and possession, and decided to put an end to it.
“But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” (Verses 19 – 21)
I could give again a biblical commentator’s observation on this, but . . . . that is a way of thinking that I just cannot call my own. Paul’s action was borne of compassion for the slave girl and a desire to free her soul and spirit. The slave girl’s owner’s response was borne of greed and callousness to another human being. It is fits in line with Paul’s preaching of salvation and freedom from sin. The consequences of Paul’s actions also fits into the broader theme of the disciples and apostles of Jesus being threatened, oppressed, and punished for preaching. And by the end of the story, the resilience and determination of Paul and his company, and the protection that was afforded them.
“The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.” (Verses 22 – 27)
Some comments and commentary need to be interjected here. First, remember that the writer of the book of Acts wanted his audience, Theophilus, to know what was going on with the apostles and disciples after Jesus returned to heaven. And for Theophilus to understand these things, and perhaps the reason, rationale, and message that the disciples and apostles shared to others. So if it seems that every little turn in the road is described and narrated, it is because the writer of the book of Acts wanted to make sure that all was told – no detail or circumstance left out.
Second, that the jailer was responsible for his prisoners; not to tend to them carefully and compassionately. But to ensure that the desires and demands of the Roman state in punishing the prisoners was met and carried out. A jail break would mean the jailer would pay painfully with his life.
“But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Verses 28 – 30)
There is quite a leap here, and not well narrated so that the average reader might understand the circumstances. Paul and Silas saved the jailer’s life by assuring him there was no reason for the Roman state to exact any punishment. AND that the power that Paul and Silas had outweighed what the Roman state could do. What I think the jailer was asking was how he could be protected and redeemed by the protection that Paul and Silas had.
“They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” (Verses 31 – 34)
How many of you, beloved reader, have had as much action and drama in your Christian lives? If you are like me, these “high moments” are far and few between. It would almost seem that our tame and normal lives do not carry the impact that Paul and his companions had on their world. Have we ever saved someone from slavery and demon possession? No. Have we had our beliefs and convictions tested? No. Has the Divine’s power and strength been exerted so visibly on our behalf? Probably not. It tempts me to drop all that I am doing and rush out to live a life that makes such a powerful statement. The mundane and minutiae of my life peeks at me from around the corner, and I know rather than go off on a wild trajectory I will follow the worn path that I have tread before. My life is not a New Testament story. But it is a story lived out in light of God given truths. And I guess for now that will have to suffice. Shalom.

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praise Mode

Preacher: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah”
Seeker: The blessings of the Lord are not withheld from us. Although our circumstances may not be ideal according to this world, we are sustained by the Divine and we continue to testify to the Lord God’s love and compassion.
Preacher: “. . . that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.”
Seeker: If we were protected from every mishap and downfall that the earthly life is filled with, how would the Divine’s support and guidance be made known? It is in our weakness and our need that the Lord’s mighty hand is seen.
Preacher: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.”
Seeker: We raise up praise not for the times that we have failed but that our failure does not separate us from the Divine’s love. Whether we have brought about our own strife, or that the world has brought strife to our doorstep – the Lord God does not abandon us. We are able to move forward despite what comes up against because the Divine is on our side.
Preacher: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah”
Seeker: When I was young and untutored, I thought that when good happened in the world it was because the Lord’s favor was received. Now I know that the favor of the Lord does not ebb and flow with the seasons and circumstances; but that the Lord’s love is ever with us. I praise the Lord not because I am lucky; and when times are hard I do not curse the Lord. I praise the Lord God because the Divine has given me the power to endure, in good and in bad.
Preacher: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.”
Seeker: My voice of praise joins with other voices, spanning time and place. Those who have gone before me and those who are yet to come praise the Lord in their own way, and from their own lives. Many voices of praise become one. And all of us are blessed.
Preacher & Seeker: “May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.”

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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