Category: Spirituality

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – The importance of the body and caring for the body

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Corinthians 12:12 – 17)
I am truly trying to work with this passage. This has been a very tough day (the day I sat down to write this), and my fear is that it is just the beginning of some very tough days – by current count (that is, again, as of the day I am writing this) at least 22 more. I am not sure if I have said, precisely, what my most current health issue is. I have skin cancer in the form of a tumor, and am currently undergoing radiation therapy. When you read this, there will be 15 more days until the end of my treatment. I have treatment each week day, so other than Saturdays each day I write, I have had a treatment. I started treatment the later part of December but it was not until the New Year that the side effects started to catch up to me. The last two weeks have been heck!
When I read the passage for this date, I quaked a bit as to how I was going to talk about the metaphor of the body. I mean my body and its members have been failing me left and right! How was I going to say something helpful and inspiring?! But I dug deep. And realized that in this instance it is not my entire body that has failed me – in fact it is a foreign and unnatural growth that has caused this problem. It took healthy tissue and corrupted it, and now the corruption has to be eradicated. And my entire body and all its members – my entire physiology – is suffering.
To dig deeper, if my entire body consisted only of my, say, right face cheek then I would be in deep trouble. But my right face cheek is only a portion of my body, and only a portion of the member of my body that is my face. Paul is talking about all of the parts of the body working together in unity. And it is actually the unity of the members of my body that have helped me cope thus far.
“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,. . . “ (Verses 17 – 22)
While the tumor needs to be eradicated, that does not mean that part of my face is going to disappear; only the comparatively small portion that is diseased will be made to leave. Or more precisely, shrink and melt away. The hope is that the major portion will stay, and in time heal from the radiation. I could not, and do not hate that portion of my cheek. In fact, I am doing all I can to protect it and nurture it so that the damage is at a minimum, and that in time healing will take place.
“ . . . and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. “ (Verses 23 – 25)
Radiation therapy may be directed at only one small portion of the body, but the effects are felt throughout the body. I learned this in only a matter of hours. I went from feeling quite well after treatment to feeling very weak and ill. I have learned how important self-care is – even more so than I ever realized.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.” (Verses 26 – 31a)
It is starting with verse 26, however, where my experience and use of the metaphor of the body parts ways with Paul’s. Not to say either of us is right or wrong. But Paul’s purpose is to use the body and its members as a metaphor for the church and all the roles that members of the church provide to each other. My purpose is to help you see, beloved reader, that care for the body is a holy act. That just because one part of the body may not be doing well does not mean the entire body becomes useless. Paul touches on this in verses 22 to 26. He moves on to talk about the church as the body and the members, well, members. Each with their own calling and role. Perhaps my purpose is also to exhort you to be gentle and caring for members of you faith circle who are struggling. To do good “self-care” in your faith circle as you would for your own body.
It has always, always been my hope that whatever experience I go through in my life might be used in helping others. It is the way I hope and pray that as a member of the body of Christ I might be supportive of the wider church and faith community. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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Third Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Coming upon new knowledge

“. . . all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. . . . . He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. . . . Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. . . . So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8)
I have from time to time been harsh on commentators . . . especially on those who bring modern interpretations and foreknowledge that the writers of the time may or may not have known. I find that more often when reading commentaries on Old Testament passages than New Testament; and heaped on that interpretations that come from a very obvious subset of Christian beliefs. So my first thought and response was that the interpretation given to the people gathered before the Water Gate MUST have been free from bias because it would have been just the Torah or the laws that the Lord God gave to the Hebrews after the exodus from Egypt. But then I thought, maybe I cannot and should not assume that! And I was sad.
Where and how might bias slip in? How do we prevent it from happening? Is it fair to scripture to read it with the lens of bias of the times? Anyone who reads anything brings their own experience to the reading. One hopes that the discernment of the Spirit inspires the reading, the understanding, and the interpretation. But that is not a given.
The sense in the book of Nehemiah was that the people who were gathered had not background or understanding of the text that was being read to them because they were so far removed from the faith life of their ancestors and forebearers. This was in essence new to them. So of course they needed guidance and interpretation. That is why I first assumed there would be no bias.
“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Verses 9 – 10)
I got to thinking though, and asked myself why were they weeping? So, I decided to consult some commentators. And as I thought, the weeping and sorrow was because they were made aware of the sins they had committed – unknowing sins because they had not heard the law. But sins nonetheless. So I had to wonder, did Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Levites, present the law in such a way that the people were “convicted” and “condemned” for their sins? Ie, bias? Or was it because (as one commentator said) they were tenderhearted to having erred?
And then I thought further, could it be universal that all new believers (whatever their faith traditions) weep and are tenderhearted seeing how they past steps have been missteps? I remember myself at a young age feeling sorrow and remorse that I had not lived a more accountable life. New faith does not always know grace . . . yet. That comes with time.
May you, beloved reader, come to new and renewed knowledge with joy and thankful – acknowledging your missteps but celebrating new understanding. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistles Passage – Being inspired and gifted by the Divine Lord God

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:1 – 3)
Words can have power – when spoken from the heart. It is easy to speak any number of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs etc when you are not speaking with meaning or intent but are merely “flapping your gums”! The writer of I Corinthians wants his readers to understand that. I hope you do too, beloved reader. Think of all the people you know, beloved reader, who speak only to hear the sound of their own voice. Do you sincerely believe that they say? On the important matters of life then, only listen to those who speak sincerely and from their heart and soul.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (Verses 4 – 11 [Emphasis mine])
I really need not say more. Just as in the first section the writer of I Corinthians cautioned his readers to discern who was able to say what in praise or curse of Jesus the Christ, so too the gifts of the Spirit are for everyone’s good; and not for the adoration and adulation of the spiritual “performer”. Those who are authentic in the Spirit use their gifts for the uplifting and aid of others. Those who do it for the “wow” factor may not be sincere in the practice.
In the youth group I was a part of we had several natural leaders, those of our age group that we looked up to and wished to emulate. Their commit to their faith and to those they lead was inspiring. The most inspirational though was when two of them made a mistake and confessed their mistake publicly to our group. Their honesty and transparency actually set a better example then the “saintliness” that they tried to portray to the younger members of the group. I wish I could tell them how their courage in the face of “sin” meant to me. I believe that even in their supposedly “sinful state” they had a great lesson to teach.
May you beloved reader have people within your faith circle that show forth the best gifts and attributes of authentic believers, and may they teach you a great deal. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle Passage – Naming gifts and blessings that are bestowed by the Lord God the Divine

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)
It seems like a straightforward passage. The people who were preached to in Samaria believed and professed faith in Jesus the Messiah. In order to assure them of full faith that would not be shaken, Peter and John when down (Samaria being south of Jerusalem) to pray with them and lay hands on them. But what does it mean to “receive the Holy Spirit” as opposed to being baptized in “the name of Lord Jesus.” All Christian believers at some point are baptized as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (as opposed to the apostle/disciple John). My favorite biblical commentator Albert Barnes says it was not conversion because this happened upon profession of belief. It was not sanctification because (he says) this is progressive work. It was not then salvation, redemption, or forgiveness of sin. Or a changing in the way one lives their life. Barnes says it was “those “extraordinary” influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel – the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc.” In other words, it was something outside of what most of us experience in our Christian faith. Or is it?
In the New Testament people saw evidence of the Holy Spirit by “signs and wonders” that were tangible – speaking in a language that was not known by others, someone getting better/healthier/healed when traditional understanding said they should still be sick, or other anomalies to ordinary life. As Christian faith progressed (or became the experience of a larger part of the population) this understanding changed. It came to be more inner signs than outer manifestations. Think Desert Fathers/Mothers who lived different lives apart from settled areas; people who exhibited extraordinary faith and compassion; people who gave up comfort and wealth for service to others. We all can probably think of believers in our faith circle who just seem to live an authentic Christian life, and whose faith seems to never be shaken. This too is the baptism of the Holy Spirit – biblical commentator Barnes notwithstanding.
You, beloved reader, may have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It is an inner realization. And if you do not think you have, pray that you might be. And then see what new blessings arise in your life! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – Paul, messenger to “others”

“This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. “ (Ephesians 3:1 – 4)
Jesus preached not only to his fellow Jews but to others who lived in the area of Galilee. Several times his disciples were astonished that he cared and preached to non-Jews. There acceptance of “others” who were not them/like them is mirrored very much in our current society. The fact that Jesus was for not only the Jews, but Gentiles (read non-believers) is a fact that our current society needs to be reminded of. The stranger and foreigner is to be as welcomed as those who are more familiar to us. In fact, the Jews historically the Jews were to welcome foreigners also, as they themselves were once foreigners in a strange land. Paul puts in gently . . . .
“In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Verses 5 – 6)
What had been the “called and chosen people” (as I have named them) are now called from all nations and all ethnicities. It is “jostling” to me that this mystery was only now made known. The Hebrews/Israelites were to be a light to the nations. However, thinking and looking back over the history of the Israelites and Judahites I can see where the light might have dimmed a little.
“Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” (Verses 7 – 12)
It is one of the ironies of the Divine that a man so determined to uphold Jewish standards that he would plan and carry out the killing of those who grated against and defied his belief system – would now be given the calling and mission to carry and preach the news of Jesus to those completely outside his historical faith circle. If the Magi were the first hint that Jesus the Christ was for all people, then Paul is the crowning confirmation of that fact.
Yesterday I asked the question and set forth the challenge as to what you will be doing this year, beloved reader, and whether they will be positive things. One positive thing would be to spread the new of Jesus, and spread it to all who express interest. Of an even more positive nature would be to accept other people, no matter they faith beliefs and ethnicity. You know, the way Jesus did. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Holy Name of Jesus Day & New Year’s Day 2019: The Psalm Passage, the Epistle Passage, & the Old Testament Passage

“O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. 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? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. 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.
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)
I know that in light of some of my posts where I give voice to my discomfort at times with the psalms, it may seem odd that I am using the psalm passage designated for Holy Name of Jesus day. But I think is equally odd is that psalm that is written in praise of Jesus/the Lord God/the Divine’s name seems to make frequent mention of humanity. Does the psalmist mean that the Lord’s name is majestic because of what the Divine has done in creating humanity & nature? If that is so, maybe my latest posted position on the psalms is not so left/right field. (See The template for praising the Lord God for a discussion on the two main categories of praise psalms) The other reason this psalm does not grate on me is because there is not command or exhortation to praise – I can appreciate the psalmist sentiments without feeling like I am being pushed to my knees for a praise that I may not necessarily feel in my heart/soul/spirit.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
In the same way Paul is (gently) drawing our attention to an important piece of theology concerning the name of Jesus the Christ. It gives good evidence why Jesus the Christ’s name should be honored, but it gives the reader/listener room to respond in a way that is real and authentic for them. As I am pondering on this, I am coming to see where some psalms passages can be for me a little too much at times. It is good to praise the Lord God the Divine; and I am coming to believe that each person should do praise to the Lord God the Divine in a way that is genuine and true to them as a believer. A good resolution to have. Which reminds me, this day, January 1st has another name and other attributes. Ironically though, they share Psalm 8 as the psalms passage. Let us see what other passages the RCL has chosen for New Year’s Day.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 8)
What will you do in this new year beloved reader? What will you use your time for? In the past year, I am guessing, there have been times of doing, being, seeing, hearing and experiencing all that the writer of Ecclesiastes mentions. I would hope that some of the negative things you have not seen or heard of; but you probably have. I would fervently hoped that you have not done some of the negative things. May God’s mercy and forgiveness be with you if you have. And so in light of that, I ask again, what will you be doing this year?
“What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.( 9 – 13)
In light of this past year, I think a few more qualifications need to be set along side the writer of Ecclesiastes’ words. I could list them out . . . . but maybe it would be a good exercise and starting point for New Year’s resolutions if you did that yourself beloved reader. If you need a little guidance and parameters, I would refer you back to the passage of Philippians above. Consider obedience as Jesus the Christ exhibited it. And Jesus’ adherence to the spirit (Spirit) and intent of God’s commandments.
In summary beloved reader, may you have a blessed New Year; and as the year unfolds may you bring honor to the name of Jesus and your faith traditions. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: The Psalm Passage – The template for praising the Lord God

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.” (Psalm 148:1-5)
I have read descriptions of heaven where hosts and choirs of angels are continually raising and singing praises to the Lord God, the Divine. I wouldn’t wonder if those songs and praises sound a lot like the psalm passages. And before I understood that humans who have passed from this life to eternal life do NOT become angels, I thought it must be awful boring to be a part of the angel choir that sings praises . . . . . continually.
I know, beloved reader, that must sound very strange and not a little eerie that I would not want to praise God constantly. Maybe you wonder about the depth and breadth of my faith. It’s not that I don’t believe in praising God, and I do not believe that God is praise worthy; it’s just that there is so much more to the Christian life than just praising.
Most psalm and praise passages commemorate one of two things; who the Divine is and what the Divine has done. Large categories. Important categories.
“He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 6 – 10)
The subcategories (broadly defined) of what the Divine has done are creation and salvation; and the two are not exclusive. I am sure somewhere some psalm talks about creation being saved and salvation coming about through creation – or some intermingling there. As to who the Divine is that’s praise worthy – well it would take more room than the entire internet has to list all of that. I mean that truly!
“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.” (Verses 11 – 13)
So maybe the Divine’s praises need to be sung continually by every heavenly voice that is available, in order to cover all the praiseworthiness of the Lord God.
“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)
And I appreciate the psalmist for writing and creating all of the psalms we have in the bible. And others in more modern times who have add to the body of praise writing. And when one stops to consider the salvation aspect and that the Divine the Lord God gave to us Jesus in order that salvation might be accomplished, that alone is worth a couple of eternities of praise.
But as for me, to just and only praise is not nearly enough. Because as I realized when my faith and personal theology developed, praising God is to be such a small slice of what we are called to do. We are to take the example of our praise worthy Lord and to the best of our human abilities live out that holiness and praise worthiness. If the angels and heavenly hosts sing praises to God – we are to be the conduits of the love and compassion, care and care-taking that makes the Lord God praise worthy. How will people who do not know the Lord God know the Divine is worthy of praise if the children of God do not show them?!
Christmas has come and gone for the year. Now is the time to continue our Christian journey. And to beacons of hope, mercy and compassion in the world. So that someone might be moved to say, “Praise God for what the Lord has told you to do for me!” Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: The Gospel Passage – The template for being a member of God’s family

“Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.” (Luke 2:41 – 43)
Bring yourself before the Lord often and regularly. Observe the important days in your faith journey but do not confine yourself to only festival and high holy days. Everyday is special when walking with the Lord.
“Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Verses 44 – 46)
Your place of learning faith & belief, worship, and meditation is your home – not your “home away from home” nor your second home, but your primary home. It is the place you journey out from and come back to.
“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.” (Verses 47 – 50)
Your faith journey is your own. There may be people who are also on a faith journey, and for a time you may travel with them, learn with them and learn from them – but your faith journey is your own and your Lord God the Divine will guide you.
“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Verses 51 – 52)
I was very pleased to see that this passage came soon after Christmas. We last saw Jesus as a new born baby in a manager, and glory and honor being according to him. But after the shepherds and the wise men, the escape to and return from Egypt Jesus, Mary, and Joseph settled down to build a live together. You can tell from the passage that large groups of people made regular journeys to Jerusalem; it was not just Jesus and his family. I imagine the events of Jesus’ birth faded into the background and Jesus was just a boy going up. It was events like this (apocryphal scripture has other stories of Jesus’ growing up years; but those are not as verifiable) that probably reminded Mary and Joseph that Jesus was not your “run of the mill” boy. Mary being a ponderer remembered these things and turned them over in her mind. I know how that goes. Day to day activities take up time and thought but in idle moments you think back over things and wonder what their place has in one’s life, and what place they should have in one’s life.
As to my comments interspersed amongst the verses, I wrote them with straight-forth intent. We talk about Jesus as our model and exemplar. The choices Jesus made in his life are choices we can make also. We may not be able to perform miracles as he did, but we can have an active faith life; attending worship services, studying scripture, praying, learning with and teaching others, caring for others, and seeking the Lord God are things we can do with the same devotion that Jesus had. It does not take special skill or abilities. It does, however,k take dedication to a faith-filled life. And a desire to be a child of God. As we move into this new lectionary year, may we chose well. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season of Christmas 2018 Year C – Christmas Eve & Christmas Day; Endings, New Beginning & Celebrations

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
This Advent season we have been hearing how the people of Israel and Judah, who were the Divine’s first called and chosen people, desired to be saved and redeemed by Yahweh. They felt lost and forsaken, swept up by the power and politics of the countries and nations surrounding them. They searched for the Divine’s direction and guidance, catching hold of it for a time and then losing it again. They expected the Lord God to swoop down and rescue them, vindicate them for all they had suffered, and punish those who were set against them. But it did not happen that way.
Yes, there were small victories and times of peace that stretched out a generation or two, but never the eternity nor complete shalom they pined for. They felt and believed that there would come a person – no, more than a person, a Messiah – who would straighten things out. Who would smooth out all the rough spots in their faith and make plain how they were to live and worship. And with the Messiah would come the light of understanding and wisdom.
“He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (Verses 2 – 5)
But when it came, some did not recognize it. It was not what they thought it would be, or should be. Even when it was presented and explained to them, they did not realize that a new beginning was dawning.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (Verses 6 – 9)
The Advent season has been leading up to the birth of the Messiah; a man, but not just a man. Something more. Something that would not come into fruition immediately but would exist along side, until the right time. Advent is about waiting, and waiting for that right time. Not on humanity’s time, but on God’s time. The time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah had ended. Just like the end of Advent has come.
But like so many things, the ending of one thing and the beginning of another is not necessarily back to back. Not necessarily immediate. We know and understand that the birth of Jesus was the beginning; but it was a quiet beginning. Or at least a relatively quite beginning. Just like the birth of any child has its fanfare and celebration, Jesus’ birth burst across the firmament, blazoned across the heavens. And then there was quiet.
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Verses 10 – 14)
Have you taken note, beloved reader, that the hopes of the Jewish people dwindled down and there were fewer and fewer writings and prophets leading up to the time the Jews were placed under the rule of Roman? By the time of Jesus’ birth the writings of generations before had passed from being “new” to being the long ago history of the people of God.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” ( Isaiah 9:2-7)
We celebrate now what was unknown then. We use scripture, recasting it to reflect the understanding that the Jews hoped for, wished for, and waited for. It is my hope we honor their steadfastness and learned from their mistakes and missteps.
“O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” (Psalm 96)
May we continue the tradition of keeping hope alive, writing about our faith and our faith journey, and celebrating the joyous times in our Christian journey!
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Psalm Passage – How the Divine’s called and chosen people have, and have not, kept faith (A Preacher and Seeker presentation)

Seeker:“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!”
Preacher: Pay attention to us, O Lord God! Hear us when we cry out to you! We know you are mighty and all powerful! We know you reign over all things!
Seeker: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Preacher: Divine Lord God, look down on us and see where we are. You know our needs. You know our hearts. Divine Lord God, reach down to us and save us!
Seeker: “O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?”
Preacher: Have we angered you Lord God? Have you lost patience with us because for so long we have gone the wrong way and done the wrong thing?
Seeker: “You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.”
Preacher: We weep, Lord God, we weep. All is lost and empty. There is no solace or comfort to be found.
Seeker:You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Preacher: It seems like everywhere we turn lately, someone is complaining about something. Humanity is turning on it self; neighbor against neighbor, friends turning on each other. Believer shuns believer. And all around us the enemy seems to be closing in.
Seeker: Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-7)
Preacher: Lord God, from all over the globe I hear laments such as this. From the time you called Abraham out from his home land your called and chosen people have called on you. Prophets, philosophers, poets, and the common people have lifted their tales of sorrow, claiming they have been abandoned. And maybe they did feel that way. But the birth of Christ Jesus proves that you have heard the weeping and lamenting of your people. You have tried time and time to reach out to them; but they have brushed away the Spirit of the Lord, instead yearning for a more physical interaction with the Divine. So you sent Jesus, Your Divine Face to live amongst Your called and chosen people. And when Jesus returned to you, the Holy Spirit was sent to live among us. Forgive us, O Lord God, if we too have brushed away the Spirit. Forgive us for falling into the same laments as our forebearers did. The words of Jesus have come down to us; the Holy Spirit has instructed us in their meaning. Grant O Lord God that we would learn how to listen to Your Divine Voice! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Gospel Passage – How biblical women keep faith

“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)
I have often wondered if Mary knew that Elizabeth was with child or just wanted to visit with her (maybe) favorite relative. And I wonder if Mary knew that it was a child who would become John the Baptist. From Elizabeth’s greeting you can get the sense of the sort of person she was. Steeped in faith and aware of biology. A good housekeeper and wife. A strong confident person. But gentle and yielding with those who are fragile and unsure. I really do not think this was the first time that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist may have been destined to be who he was, the herald of Jesus the Messiah. And maybe John’s father had influence over him as he grew to manhood. But it must have been his mother, Elizabeth, who prepared him to take on the mantle of evangelist. It was good, very good that Mary was with her, learning about pregnancy and child birth. Learning how to manage a household, and learning how to grow into being a woman of God.
“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)
Over the years I have seen the question posted on many Facebook pages, “If you could, who from history would you most like to meet and talk to?” I rarely have an answer. But after reading these passages, I would be equally pleased to talk to Elizabeth or Mary.
I have long looked up to and admired Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a woman who pondered things deeply. And kept many things to herself. And if Elizabeth raised up John to be a preacher, Mary raised a Savior. Now you may say it must not have been hard, since Jesus was “hard wired”, in a sense, to be the Messiah. And that is not what I am saying. The Divine looked into Mary’s heart and saw that she was prepared and equipped to be an earthly mother of Jesus. Or the Divine formed her in that way; no, it was not sheer coincidence that Mary was chosen. It was her destiny. If Jesus was foreordain to be the Messiah, then Mary was also predestined to be his mother. I admire Mary both for what she did and who she was. Nurturer and Jesus’ first disciple.
As I age, I have also developed an appreciation for Elizabeth. Mary was young, a young woman the scriptures say. Elizabeth was seasoned with age and wisdom. And in my older years I yearn for that also. So yes, I would be just as pleased to visit with Elizabeth. In fact, I think my sit-down with Paul may have to wait an eternity or two while I talk to Mary and Elizabeth. We women of God need to share our stories and praise the Lord. May you, beloved reader, find people to talk to that aid your Christian journey – especially in this season of Advent. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Keeping faith in the most authentic way

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” (Hebrews 10:5 – 6)
During the second week of Advent the scriptures for that week seemed (at least to me) to point to a group salvation and redemption. According to some of the prophets redemption would be because of Israel/Judah as a nation following Yahweh closely. Additionally redemption would come because of proper worship and sacrifice. When Jesus came he broke that mold and expectation – amongst others. In a sense though, Jesus did fill that very expectation – just not the way it was expected. Jesus called not a nation as a whole, but each individual person who would – with their fellow believers – form a new nation. And proper worship was not burnt offerings and sin offerings but a contrite and confessional spirit that desired to follow the Divine. And Jesus was the exemplar of this.
“Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (Verses 7 – 9)
Remember, beloved reader, that in Hebrews Paul was setting establishing the case for Jesus being the High Priest that endures for eternity and puts to rest the need for any other high priest. This is even more true if sacrifices and offerings placed on a physical altar are no longer necessary, or even desired. The only sacrifice now needed is for our to sacrifice our human will and follow God’s will. Which, when you think about it was probably the intent all along.
“And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verse 10)
We take a great deal on faith that Paul knew what he was talking about. I am not saying he was wrong. I may take issue with some of the ideas Paul had for proper worship in fellowship settings (think the place of women in worship services) but when it comes to knowing the heart of the Divine, Paul is on the right course. May we be as steadfast and devoted in our faith. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Keeping hope and faith kindled

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)
I like little towns. I did most of my formative growing up years in a little town. I like thinking that the most unlikely of things can come from the most unlikely of places. Give me the underdog, the forgotten and pushed aside. And I will champion it with all that I have.
“Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” (Verse 3)
Not only, says the writer of Micah, will the unexpected come from a small and insignificant place but it will seem like forever until the expected comes forth. This reminds me of Jesus’ prophecies that many things will come to pass before the judgment day. Often in the past two hundred years (maybe more) there have been predictions and prophecies that the end times are near at hand. The “signs” and “portents” seemed to point to it. But the writer of Micah says it will seem like the Divine has given up the called and chosen people, so long will it be until the unexpected comes forth.
Now I do not think the “she” is a specific or designated woman, but rather the analogy of the birthing of a child taking so long and being so arduous. Of course, some commentators are quite attached to the notion that their hindsight of how the Messiah was conceived and born should attributed and given to the prophets as foresight. I am really pretty persistent in my feeling that there is something not quite right in that.
“And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Verses 4 – 5a)
What do you tell a people who are yearning for hope and shaking with uncertainty? You tell them that things will get better. That hope may not be seen now, or the soon after now; but in the time that is to come, there will be reason for hope. That past glories may have become dust but out of the dust will come greatness again. And that in the smallest and most forgotten places may be the very place that newness will spring forth. Was the writer of Micah inspired and given foreknowledge? I do not know. I am not in the business of squashing hope nor nay saying that improbable predictions will not come true.
It is nice to think that there are still people who nurture hope and hear the whispers of the Divine telling them to spread the good news. I strongly believe, however, that good news and messages of hope do not have to hitch themselves to blazing once in a lifetime events. Hope is kindled and nurtured best in peaceful corners of the heart and soul, warming the spirit and keeping one serene and at peace. I grew up in a small town where friendship, camaraderie, and faith got one through the toughest of times. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you have such places and people. Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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