Monday – Holy Week

21 Mar

Good Morning,

This past week my sinuses have brought me misery.  So much so that my teeth ache!  This is a new high, or maybe it is a low for my sinus saga.  Well, there is my whine.

I really wanted to blog through Lent, but now I am determined to a least honor holy week with a little writing.  There are texts assigned to each day of holy week in the New Common Lectionary.  I will pick one and go.

This morning my pick is from Isaiah.  Some people think the prophet was foreshadowing Jesus in some of his writing.  Biblical scholars believe that Isaiah was speaking of Jeremiah (655-570 BCE) [isn’t it wild to have a life span go backwards!].    Jeremiah’s book in the Hebrew Scripture makes interesting reading.

I think if we understanding the writing of Isaiah to be about another prophet of God and also describe Jesus, then maybe we can look at this passage as a “job description” for God leaders.

42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

42:2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;

42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

42:4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

42:5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:

42:6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,

42:7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.

42:9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

And, if this is a job description of the servant (Jeremiah and Jesus) of the Divine Presence, then is it also a description of the church?  I think the church is floundering in what it is suppose to do.  I think it gets caught in the “flash” and forgets about the “substance”.

This is a week of substance;  To focus on the essential nature of God and the servants of God; to know that our life, our work, our death in found within the Divine grace of God.

Peace,

Mary

Prodigal

9 Mar

Good Morning,

I have finished with Romans and feel at lose ends about what to write.  I think I will start the Gospel of Mark after Easter.  I want to spend some time blogging about Holy Week, so I am betwixt and between.

This past Sunday I preached on the Prodigal story.

11-12 Then Jesus said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I have been turning it over in my mind and playing with the word Prodigal; meaning spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.  The younger son certainly fits this description, yet I think that is only the beginning/obvious understanding of prodigal in the story.

The younger son is like many people I have known in my life.  Wasteful, recklessly, not aware of so many blessings they enjoy that are non-existent on much of the planet.  We don’t even need to judge them because it seems as through most people go through the type of life in their twenties.  A very typical human being.

The older son is also like many people I have known; hardworking and unhappy.   They look at what others have enjoyed more than they have.  The older son is correct in his assessment of  the younger sons stupidity, yet he does not see his own hard-hearted bitterness.  Another very typical human being.

Then, of course, their is the father.  prodigal in his love for both sons.  I think that Jesus used the parent/child relationship to talk about the Divine’s extravagant love because it is the closest fit to the Divine’s nature.  It seems natural that a child would be welcomed back by a  parent.  It seems natural for the parent to understand that love is a renewal resource that can be spent recklessly and freely.  It also seems natural that the  parent would go out to the older brother to try to make a bridge to the younger brother.  A parent wanting most of all for all of their children to find a way to love each other as the parent loves them.  A very typical parent, prodigal in their love.

Now, think of our planet.  A family of human beings who do not recognize the depth of our relationship to one another, nor the desire of the Divine Creator for us to live in a healed and whole family.   I believe whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Janus, etc. we all call the Divine creator by different names and emphasis different aspects of its infinite nature.  Hence the reality of the infinitude of God – no one person, no one religion, no one world view – can fully name or comprehend the Divine.

So, we think about parents and children and people we know all to well.  And at the end of the day the only behavior we can hope to change is our own.  I think we are asked to live the prodigal love of God, to open our hearts and pray for our family around the world.  Maybe we wont all hold hands and sing Kum By Ya, but perhaps we can look beyond our own agenda and care for the world that God has entrusted to us.

Peace

Mary

The group who wrote the letter

7 Mar

Good morning,

I never thought I would make it to the end of Romans.  I looked back into my posts and realized I started 8 months ago, not too surprising. The actual surprise was to see that there are many posts that were not viewed by anyone – a 0 next to the little eye icon that says how many people looked at the post.  I always feel that is something I do for God; so I hope the Divine Presence is enjoying it more than me. (I really do not enjoy the process of writing.)

So, this morning as I read the last verses of Romans I realize Paul probably did not like to write either.  This letter was dictated to Tertius, who sends greetings in these verses.  Also, that this letter was written in community.  In addition to the man taking dictation, their is also Gaius, Paul’s host, and Timothy, Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater.  I imagine them all hearing Paul speaking the words and offering comments, corrections, and additions.  I like this idea of the writing coming out of conversation.  Michael Card does a live album of Christian music.  He talks about the music coming out of community.  I think that is where the strength of the message comes from; when we have a group of faithful followers around us offering comments, corrections and additions.

21 And here are some more greetings from our end. Timothy, my partner in this work, Lucius, and my cousins Jason and Sosipater all said to tell you hello.

22 I, Tertius, who wrote this letter at Paul’s dictation, send you my personal greetings.

23 Gaius, who is host here to both me and the whole church, wants to be remembered to you.

Erastus, the city treasurer, and our good friend Quartus send their greetings.

25-26 All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter.

27 All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Yes!

Well, here’s hoping whoever manages to read this enjoyed thinking about how Paul wrote is incredible, transformative letter.

Peace,

Mary

Word to the Wise

5 Mar

Good Morning,

Paul’s final word of instruction are to “use your brain.”   I often wonder at religious groups who encourage people not to think about their faith; “just trust God, never question, God is in control.”  Actually, the last phrase is the one I like the least and is theologically untrue.  The creation story confirms that God does not control; only loves and invites relationship.

I was a United Methodist church in North Carolina.  I wanted to avoid the religious crazy people so I went to a UMC.  The pastor’s sermon was on the evil of theologian who tried to describe the greatness of God because we are to follow and trust without question.  I nearly left in the middle of his diatribe.

17-18 One final word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents.

19-20 And so while there has never been any question about your honesty in these matters—I couldn’t be more proud of you!—I want you also to be smart, making sure every “good” thing is the real thing. Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus!

Paul’s final words are of warning.  People understand and follow the Divine Presence is thousands of ways.  We should us our heart and our mind and our spirit to determine which ways are life giving and in harmony with God and which are seeking division and evil and hatred in God’s name.  John Wesley found the path through interpreting the Scripture in light of tradition, reason and our experience.  (I really love that he added experience to this historical way of doing theology.)

I want to let you know that the next blog will be my last on the book of Romans.  Where should I go next?  Should I keep on blogging?  I have done the psalms, sometimes I have done the lectionary scripture for the week.  I probably wont start a new project until after Easter.  Let me know if you have a preference.

Peace,

Mary

 

Women Friends

4 Mar

Good morning,

So often when people talk about Paul it is about his negative attitude towards women.  If we ever took time to read the last chapter of Romans we would definitely question that attitude.  I have put all the women’s names in bold.  It would seem as through Paul had no problem working with women to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Notice that Junias is an outstanding leader and was also imprisoned for her faith.  The early translators of Paul’s letter change this to the male form of the name because they just couldn’t get their heads around a woman in leadership in the church.

I encourage you to take time to try to read the names.  They we real people who worked along side Paul to give a living witness to the power of the Divine.

16 1-2 Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe in the way of the Master, with all the generous hospitality we Christians are famous for. I heartily endorse both her and her work. She’s a key representative of the church at Cenchrea. Help her out in whatever she asks. She deserves anything you can do for her. She’s helped many a person, including me.

3-5 Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, who have worked hand in hand with me in serving Jesus. They once put their lives on the line for me. And I’m not the only one grateful to them. All the non-Jewish gatherings of believers also owe them plenty, to say nothing of the church that meets in their house.

Hello to my dear friend Epenetus. He was the very first follower of Jesus in the province of Asia.

Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be!

Hello to my cousins Andronicus and Junias. We once shared a jail cell. They were believers in Christ before I was. Both of them are outstanding leaders.

Hello to Ampliatus, my good friend in the family of God.

Hello to Urbanus, our companion in Christ’s work, and my good friend Stachys.

10 Hello to Apelles, a tried-and-true veteran in following Christ.

Hello to the family of Aristobulus.

11 Hello to my cousin Herodion.

Hello to those who belong to the Lord from the family of Narcissus.

12 Hello to Tryphena and Tryphosa—such diligent women in serving the Master.

Hello to Persis, a dear friend and hard worker in Christ.

13 Hello to Rufus—a good choice by the Master!—and his mother. She has also been a dear mother to me.

14 Hello to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and also to all of their families.

15 Hello to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas—and all the followers of Jesus who live with them.

16 Holy embraces all around! All the churches of Christ send their warmest greetings!

I think the other gift of this scripture text is the realization that Paul knew he did not alone.  He knew the strength of community.   We don’t gather on Sunday morning because it is a convenient way for a pastor to give a message to a group of people.  We gather to encourage one another, to know we are not out there on our own trying to live our faith.  We have sisters and brothers in Christ, a part of the body of Christ, giving blessings and strength to one another along the Way.  I hope my writing also lends you strength for the day.

Peace,

Mary

Traveling on

3 Mar

Important Events in Early Church Large Map

Good morning,

This passage from Romans (from The Message) gives Paul future travel plans.  I know I usually read these types of passages and just nod my head with no idea of the geography that is really involved.  The insert map should give you some idea what Paul is planning.  Biblical scholars believe that the letter to the Romans was written in Corinth (center left) and is planning to go to Rome (far left), but first is is going to Jerusalem (bottom right).  He does have the Mediterranean Sea to travel on, but certainly he does not have a cruise ship!

22-24 And that’s why it has taken me so long to finally get around to coming to you. But now that there is no more pioneering work to be done in these parts, and since I have looked forward to seeing you for many years, I’m planning my visit. I’m headed for Spain, and expect to stop off on the way to enjoy a good visit with you, and eventually have you send me off with God’s blessing.

25-29 First, though, I’m going to Jerusalem to deliver a relief offering to the followers of Jesus there. The Greeks—all the way from the Macedonians in the north to the Achaians in the south—decided they wanted to take up a collection for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were happy to do this, but it was also their duty. Seeing that they got in on all the spiritual gifts that flowed out of the Jerusalem community so generously, it is only right that they do what they can to relieve their poverty. As soon as I have done this—personally handed over this “fruit basket”—I’m off to Spain, with a stopover with you in Rome. My hope is that my visit with you is going to be one of Christ’s more extravagant blessings.

Paul’s travel not only brought the grace of God’s message embodied in Jesus Christ, but also relief funds from one part of the church to the other.  This letter is written just 20 to 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection.  The church in Jerusalem was the starting place of the spiritual revolution of the Divine began through Jesus AND the place of greatest persecution in the early church.  So, Paul bring back a donation from the churches that were founded because of the work of the believers in Jerusalem.

So now I think, what am I planning to do to spread the Message of God’s good news?  What are you planning to do?  We could say that we are not missionaries as Paul was. . . or that was a long time ago and we don’t do those sorts of things any more. . .  or that we have other work to do. .  .   Yet, aren’t there people who need to hear good news, or just need  a listening ear, or just need a prayer.

30-33 I have one request, dear friends: Pray for me. Pray strenuously with and for me—to God the Father, through the power of our Master Jesus, through the love of the Spirit—that I will be delivered from the lions’ den of unbelievers in Judea. Pray also that my relief offering to the Jerusalem believers will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given. Then, God willing, I’ll be on my way to you with a light and eager heart, looking forward to being refreshed by your company. God’s peace be with all of you. Oh, yes!

I think Paul is right; praying is the best way through.  Pray strenuously with and for me; that we will continue on the path of living the Good News of God, traveling in the Divine Presence.  St. Frances’ words often come to mind, “Preach the gospel at all time and when necessary use words.”

Blessings on your day,

 

Mary

 

Mission

2 Mar

Good morning,

I wonder where the Christian church would be without Paul.  My New Testament professor at Boston University School of Theology said that every major reformation of the church had come for the writings of Paul.   And certainly he was a force that changed the direction of the early church from a reformation movement within Judaism to an inclusive faith community.  It is sad that we have worked at excluding people; skin color, income level, clothing; sexual orientation.   We find all kinds of reasons.

I identify with Paul in these first couple of verses.  I want to say these things to the people at my churches. You are doing wonderfully, yet I just feel compelled to talk about God, growing in God, sinking into the Divine Presence in each moment – I know I get redundant on the subject.

14-16 Personally, I’ve been completely satisfied with who you are and what you are doing. You seem to me to be well-motivated and well-instructed, quite capable of guiding and advising one another. So, my dear friends, don’t take my rather bold and blunt language as criticism. It’s not criticism. I’m simply underlining how very much I need your help in carrying out this highly focused assignment God gave me, this priestly and gospel work of serving the spiritual needs of the non-Jewish outsiders so they can be presented as an acceptable offering to God, made whole and holy by God’s Holy Spirit.

17-21 Looking back over what has been accomplished and what I have observed, I must say I am most pleased—in the context of Jesus, I’d even say proud, but only in that context. I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders. In such ways I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece. This has all been pioneer work, bringing the Message only into those places where Jesus was not yet known and worshiped. My text has been,

Those who were never told of him—
    they’ll see him!
Those who’ve never heard of him—
    they’ll get the message!

Maybe you think their is no one around you who has not heard the good new of Jesus Christ and God’s love and concern toward all creation.  Then I guess we will just have to live in a holy way and without words convince those around us that there is an answer for their question, healing for their brokenness, hope for tomorrow.

Peace,

Mary

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