Category: Spirituality

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

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

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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

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

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 24[29]) – The Old Testament Passage: Discerning the ways of the Lord God

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7)
It would seem that by the time Job has suffered from loss and illness, poor counsel from some of his friends, and words of instruction from someone younger than him – Job is a mess. He has gotten himself convinced that he has been wronged by God and that God has without good cause subjected him to abuse. God speaks out of the storm to set him straight, and to found out how he/Job became so knowledgeable about Divine things.
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?” (Verses 34 – 41)
It perplexes me though, if the Lord God gave Satan permission to do all this to Job, why was the Lord God so surprised that Job would feel God has picked up the Divine? Now granted that Job did not know why he had been so abused, did not know that the Divine was holding up Job as an exampled of devotion and godly behavior. But Job did believe that all things come from the Lord and are moved and motivated by the Lord. The book of Job can be a perplexing one. I first remember reading Job when I was working my first job as a nanny and housekeeper for found children under the age of 6 – two of them being 4 month old infants. It seemed apropos at the time to read a book about struggling under overwhelming odds when I was struggling myself.
The aspect of the Lord God in the book of Job seems to be a very human one – bragging about a believer and being defensive about slights, not to mention other less than stellar behavior. The Lord God, the Divine, is right to question Job when Job questions the Lord. But this aspect of the Lord God is not one that invites and seems open to comforting those who struggle and are oppressed. At the time when I first read it as a young adult, I think I read it because I felt much akin to Job. But I much prefer the Lord God that is presented in the other Old Testament passage.

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:4-12)
In the Job passage the Lord God is peeved (again, can the Divine really be peeved?) that the God-self’s might and will is being questioned. In the Isaiah passage, there is illness, abuse, and oppression – but it is heaped upon an “unnamed person” who has taken upon himself the burden of sin and transgression. We assume this unnamed person is the Messiah, and the prophecy is not far wrong from what actually happened. And that the Lord God and the Messiah had planned that the Messiah would be the salvation of humanity. Two very different views of the Divine. That is not to say they are mutually exclusive. And the aspect of the Lord God shown in Job may not be the complete understanding of the Lord. But all we have in scripture and the guidance of the Spirit to reveal the Lord God, the Divine, to us. As the week unfolds let us see what other views of the Lord God are presented to us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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

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

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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

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

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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

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

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Old Testament Passages: Sickness of body and spirit, and the interactions & results

At a certain point in the story of Job, several (three to be exact) acquaintances of Job came by to check in on him and give him their “sage” advice; although Job does not receive it very well. If it is hard to know what to say in the face of another’s suffering, two of these “friends” illustrate that very well. Biblical commentators could probably say more clearly what was wrong and distorted about their advice. The third friend, the youngest of the three, seems to have a better handle on Job’s situation. This is Job’s response to one of the two friends’ attempted words of comfort.
“Then Job answered:
“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” (Job 23:1-9)
When I think about Job’s two friends and their visit to him, it occurs to me it is like visiting someone in the who is very ill and speaking not to their physical ailment and suffering but giving “goodly/Godly” advice that would make the ill person instantly better if they would only follow the advise.
“God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!” (Verses 16 – 17)
But to my way of thinking, Job does not need advice but recognition of his situation and illness.
The other Old Testament passage is a section from the book of the prophet Amos. Prophets, amongst other things, gave advice . . . . and warnings. It is interesting to think about sinfulness as being an illness that prevents one from being in relationship to God. I wonder if we thought about sin as an illness, would the words of the prophet be as welcome?
“Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground! . . . . They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.” (Amos 5:6 – 7, 10 – 13)
The sin that Amos is speaking of is the actions of those who are higher up in society or more established and affluent in their circumstances. Do you think, beloved reader, that the selfish and callous actions of other is the result of some illness or deficiency in one’s being? Well, actually, if it is I don’t there is any medication or medical treatment that will cure such things.
“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Verses 14 – 15)
Illness of the heart and soul – that what it is. The inability to sustain compassion, and the deficiency of caring. Job was not afflicted in this way, but may-hap his so-called friends were. Job’s friends might well have seen Job’s illness as a manifestation of the “sickness” of his inner spirit. (Again, biblical commentators might have a better grasp on understanding Job’s friends and their comments.) According to Amos’ assessment Job should be a well and healthy man. And if you skip ahead in Job’s story you will find out that health and well-being was returned to him.
On of the things that Job says is that he feels God has abandoned him – “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” Job said. Amos says live well and the God of hosts will be with you. It may take a week to reconcile these two perspectives. Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 22[27]) – The Gospel Passage: Coming to the crux of the marital situation

“Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:2 – 9)
I want you to think back, beloved reader, to the Old Testament passage where we read about Job and his skin condition, and where read about Eve created from a part of Adam’s side. Then consider which image of marriage Jesus’ teaching reflects. Job’s wife apparently had no problem with Job cursing God and dying, if we are to take that statement as a factual reflection of her sentiments. Then there is Adam recognizing Eve as a vital part of himself.
But remember also, beloved reader, that marriages in Job’s time were a simple “renting out” of one’s daughter to a suitable male in one’s town or village. Maybe there was a reason Job’s wife was so callous. Clearly the image that Jesus gives of marriage is not one that the society that Job grew up in practiced. And I venture to say that in Jesus’ time marriage was not as reciprocal either. It must have been a surprise to the people who were listening to Jesus.
“Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Verses 10 – 12)
When I was growing up, divorce was a pretty “hot” topic. In my faith tradition it was not something that was highly endorsed. It was not condemned, exactly. But it was viewed with suspicion and unease. I learned that first hand because my mother was divorced from my father. And as a young person growing up in the church, it was hard to wrap my young mind around the implication of this verse. I suppose I would have struggled more if it hadn’t have been for the fact that the man my mother remarried was such a strong pillar of my home church that I came to believe these verses had to have a meaning that were not being correctly discerned. I could go on and explain to you how/where my understanding of these verses took me. But I think more telling is what the writer of the book of Mark said in the next group of verses.
“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (Verse 13 – 16)
The words of Jesus were harsh to the ears of his disciples; they were being told that it was the hardheartedness of their forebearers that gave leeway to women being abandoned to an uncertain fate. And that the consequences were dire. But in the same way that women were seen as inconsequential disposable property, children were often viewed in the same way. Unimportant and a nuisance when “important things” needed to be done. To Jesus, however, it was more important to welcome, bless, and embrace the children than to push them aside. In the same way, Jesus’ harsh words were a warning not to push aside a wife who became – for whatever reason – unwanted.
At the beginning of the week I set the passages from Genesis and Job side by side. Then I took Job to task for his dismissal of his wife as a “foolish woman.” But it is also true his wife did not seem to be the supportive partner that Jesus says husbands and wives should be to each other. That while they may come from different backgrounds and experiences, once joined together in marriage their differences come together to make a new entity. Eve was a part of Adam, and Adam was the source of Eve – joined by common flesh. One is not considered without the other.
When a marriage dissolves however, that unity is broken. And what had been one flesh is now divided into the separate entities. As a single entity, partnering with another is wrong. But when the entity reforms into two separate parts, the relationship is broken and the bond is no longer there. Did Job’s dismissal of his wife mean their bond was broken? Did Job’s wife callous comment mean that the one flesh had become two again, and Job’s flesh was no longer binding on her? The bible does not say.
In our modern world where partners come together and part in such short periods of time, and so many times, it is refreshing to think about a solid partnership that does not break under pressure or stress. Now, I have not made mention of whether marital partnerships are to be exclusively male and female. I do not want to get into that type of a discussion. BUT let me say that with the impermanence of today’s marriages, ANY couple that vows to be life partners should be given every opportunity to do so! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 21[26]) – The Psalm Passage: Is it a good time for you to praise?

“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say — if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters.” (Psalm 124:1 – 5)

This is probably not the best day and time to comment on this passage. In my corner of the world the sports team I was cheering for this day did not do well. In Florence, South Carolina they know personally the devastation of flooding. And I am sure in other parts of the global community there is loss and destruction. So, you may ask, why is this not a good time and day for this passage? Because – does this mean the Lord was not on our side? I mean, the tide turned against my favored team, the Carolinas have been subject some of the most destructive forces of nature; and what of others who have or who are suffering right now? Does that mean the Divine was not on their side?
“Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Verses 6 – 8)
Words and psalms that give thanks and praise for escaping disaster . . . are comforting only IF you have ESCAPED disaster. Does no good to say to those who are suffering – I/we avoided such disaster and we believe it is because the Lord was on our side.
It is, again beloved reader, an instance of praise and thanksgiving when there is little to praise and give thanks. And you know, really, when things are going well we may not know how close we had come to being swallowed up alive.
I know and concede that fact that this psalm passage is connected to the passage from the New Testament, where Queen Esther and the Jews from that time/place were saved from being swallowed up by their enemies. I am sure in close calls like that it is good and natural to praise. And if one can, it is good to join in with those who are rejoicing that they have been saved. I know the opposing team that played against my team is rejoicing. I know that those who escaped from the ferocity of the hurricanes are rejoicing. I am sure that others in the global community have reason to rejoice.
I am not against rejoicing when it is the good and proper time. Truth to tell, by the time you read this, beloved reader, I may have something to rejoice about. One last point and then I will get off my soap box. The Divine is as much among us when we suffer as when we rejoice. We need to the Divine more when we suffer than we rejoice. In fact I think the Divine is more with us when we suffer than when we rejoice. So, let us rejoice as we can in that fact. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 21[26]) – The Gospel Passage: Trying to find a way to continuously live a good Christian life

“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38 – 40)
I have to stop and wondered what John meant by “not following us.” If someone is using Jesus’ name or the name of the Lord God, it is a pretty clear sign that even if they do not profess as Christians, they would include themselves in the family of God. That is what I think it means to be not against, but for the body of people who call themselves Christians. I have known people who do not profess Christianity but have the same compassionate and gentle nature as Christians; and, to look back at previous weeks, have the same gentle and Sophia wisdom.
“For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” (Verse 41)
If this kindness is to be rewarded however, it must be done because of compassionate love that comes from belief in the Lord God. This is not just a “for or against.” The kindness MUST come because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart. But, a gesture as small as offering cold water is worthy of a reward. How hard is it to offer such a small gesture because the heart is moved? We often think that large “saintly” things must be done in order to win salvation. But truly small acts of Christian compassion are just as worthy as large ones.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” (Verses 42 – 48)
The writer of the gospel of Mark seems to be in a mood to pass along teachings on the Christian life. And teachings that are slightly disconnected. One perspective on the gospel of Mark is that it is an oral recitation of the gospel that was at sometime committed to paper. It is not so much a story or teachings on a continuum but remembrances of what Jesus said and did. As such, the disconnected nature is understandable.
“For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Verse 49)
I cannot tell you, beloved reader, what the meaning or reason for verse 49 is because the biblical commentators I consulted said it defies even their exegesis. The best guess is that in everyone’s life there will be temptations and missteps. So let us move on.
“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Verse 50)
And here we are at disconnection again – that is, not firm flow or connection to what has been said before. The gospel of Mark can sometimes be that way. It reminds me of trying to make sense of notes from a lecture that a college student has taken. It may remind the note taker of what had been said, but does little for someone who is trying to find out what the lecture was about. I remember in college going back over notes I had made of classes and lectures. Sometimes I did a good job of summing up the information presented, and other times it was a jumble of words and phrases that might have alluded to a wide range of topics. Such random and haphazard notes made it more difficult to learn what my professors were trying to teach.
Therefore it is so important, beloved reader, to have the Holy Spirit in your life and guiding you. To fill in the gaps and blanks of your understanding of living a Christian life. That is why preaching in the name of the Lord makes you part of the Christian faith tradition, because obviously the Holy Spirit is active in the preacher. That is why Jesus said that small compassionate acts are worthy only if prompted by the movement of the Spirit that leads to true Christian love. That is why it is an egress sin to mislead young believers for fear that they will not welcome in or recognize the full impact of the Holy Spirit. That is why if a part of your body is contrary to Christian belief and faith it is better to be without it. By allowing the Spirit in, we ensure that our missteps will not take us too far away from the Lord God. If we lose that Spirit-filled edge, we will be as worthless as salt that has lost its saltiness.
Thus ends my best efforts to present this passage to you. May the Holy Spirit help you glean the important parts, and continuously teach you to live an authentic Christian life. Selah!
 

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 21[26]) – The Epistles Passage: The divide between the health of the soul/spirit and the health of the body/psyche

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. “ (James 5:13)
Why is it that sometimes the best advice also sounds like the most trite and shallow advise? Indeed if someone is suffering, prayer is a good thing. But prayer does not always relieve suffering. It is not like a bandage that suddenly turns the suffering into “everything being okay.” It is not that simple. And what makes the first piece of advice son “flighty” is the admonition that those who are cheerful should “sing songs of praise.” It just seems like superficial advise.
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” (Verses 14 – 15)
And if the “prayer of faith” does not “save” them – does not heal them? Then what? And why is forgiveness of sins tied in with being sick? I am suspicious that Old Testament thinking about the body is behind some of the writer of James’ suggestions. Being one who has physical ailments, and is educated in ailments of the mind & the spirit/soul, I dislike very much improper and harmful cause-and-effect theories concerning all three.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (Verse 16)
I consulted with the commentary by Albert Barnes, and as usual his careful discussion and analysis helped me see this passage from a different perspective. Perhaps Barnes’ analysis is not exactly what the writer of the book of James meant; but I am not questioning that. What Barnes helped me see is that it is very possible that the writer of the book of James is giving a quick reminder to his readers who would have understand his brief exhortations are under girded with a much longer preaching at another time/in another place. The writer of the book of James lightly touches on what has a much broader and deeper consideration behind it.
“Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.” (Verses 17 – 18)
If one compares the admonition to pray, praise, and confess with Elijah’s devotion and depth of faith, it comes much closer to what I would have expected in the first place.

“My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Verses 19 – 20)
If then illness comes from having a sinful nature or by what ever means falling into sin where previously there was no sin, then the turning back from that will be an event for great rejoicing. And if we are to bundle together sin and ill health, then the saving from sin will also return one to health. It is, however, bile on my tongue to lump the two together. I would rather commend the concerned believer who leads a fellow believer back from the edge of sin; or extol a believer who has turned someone from a sinful life to a being a true believer. It makes me uncomfortable to intermingle health and faith belief. Perhaps in that far off (or not so far off) day when I have a chance to discuss such theological issues, I can better see what thinking went into such passages. Or maybe, having been informed of the divide that there is, biblical writers might revise their theology. For now, beloved reader, let us work towards health in both spheres of human experience. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 20[25]) – The Psalm Passage: The results of living your life according to Godly & Sophia Wisdom

“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:1 – 2)
It is with delight that I tell you, beloved reader, that this psalm passage was paired with the passage from Proverbs that describes “a good wife” – Proverbs 31:10 – 31. I am not going to cite it because it is a fairly long passage. I used to not like the passage describing a good wife, until I realized that the passage is describing a woman who is equal to her husband in owning property and conducting business. It really is a complimentary passage to women. So I am also delighted to consider the next as describing Christian women.
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (Verse 3)
But just like men, women can walk in the path of sin, evil, and wickedness.
“The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Verses 4 – 6)
If women are to be considered as equal to men, they have to be held as accountable by the Divine as men are. Not more accountable or less accountable, but being held to the same level of accountability. When we talk of Godly wisdom, I say again we do not mean the wisdom that comes from books or education. And remember too that in the Old Testament wisdom was named “Sophia” and was female. Finally, it is said that most women chose the path of gentleness which is commended in yesterday’s Gospel passage.
So let this be my exhortation to learn Godly wisdom – that is both stern and demanding as “Sophia” can be but is also gentle wisdom that our Lord God Jesus Christ modeled for us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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

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

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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