Wednesday, May 31, 2023

May & Spring 2023

Month of May blog header with pomegranate flowers, breakfast, and street scene
• Pomegranate flowers in Los Angeles
• Al fresco breakfast in Big Bear
• Big Bear neighbor's yard d├ęcor, "Street Scene"

March Highlights

April Overview

City Paradise / Urban Wilderness May 2023

Festical of Homiletics banner
• My church sprung for my virtual registration for this year's Festival of Homiletics! "Preaching Hope to a Weary World" was this year's theme. Amazingly – except for concluding worship – virtual was more than okay. Other than opening and closing worship, participants had to choose between venues, which in the end also wasn't so bad because one of the best features is we have digital access to everything for the next year, so I'll pick up what I missed and revisit a couple of others.
Big Bear lilacs and Trees
Big Bear Trees
• For the long Memorial Day weekend, Roxy and I went to Big Bear again!
May Fest entry way flowers
• May Fest / Mai Fest on Sunday afternoon didn't have as many vendors and activities as I'd hoped, but you never know unless you check something out. These flowers were part the entryway display.

• No illustrations of the perfectly presented, mostly red white and blue, Sunday Night Fireworks because I decided to concentrate on enjoying them instead of picturing them.
Memorial Day Service
• My hosts and I attended the Monday Memorial Service and enjoyed a patriotic holiday lunch afterwards.
Alpine Zoo Sign and tree
• Monday afternoon featured the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, Saving Wildlife Since 1969. No critter pics, because all the animals were safely behind glass or screens.
Big Bear Trees
• Another pair of verdant scenes out of a couple dozen.
Living Local 2023
California Golden Poppies

Friday, May 26, 2023

Five Minute Friday :: Owe

Five Minute Friday Owe Love
Five Minute Friday :: Owe Linkup

Romans 13:8,10 Owe no one anything else except to love one another,
for anyone who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Love does no evil to a neighbor;
therefore love fulfills the law.

The apostle Paul insists we owe, we "ought" the love of Christ to every one another. He compares love for others to a debt, an ought that we owe them.

Whether we can do it on traditional times of Saturday or Sunday, or if our schedule requires we find another day or extended time during the week, keeping sabbath helps us experience life as gift and not as a chore, however pleasing some employment actually may be at times. We all know the human necessity of working at something and contributing to the greater good so we can earn our keep by getting legal tender in return or possibly receiving "in kind" food or shelter. And honestly, many times that exchange feels very good. It stokes our sense of well-being and worthiness. It *even* sets an example to imitate.

The Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant line out how to love one another, clarify ways our lives together don't start as sweet heartfelt emotion, but as caring concern for each other. Love that insists everyone receives the justice of food, shelter, and consistent connection with community. Love that appropriately calls out violations of another's rights and dignity. Jesus of Nazareth summed it up with love God, neighbor, and self.

When we love our neighbor as God loves us, they begin to know existence as graced rather than as a tough to navigate chore. Do we owe them? Yes. Do they owe us? Yes. Love fulfills the law. Love is all in all.

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Friday, May 19, 2023

Five Minute Friday :: Chapter

books on shelves with chapters
Five Minute Friday :: Chapter Linkup


Thanks to my church springing for the registration, this past week I had the amazing privilege of virtually attending Festival of Homiletics 2023; Preaching Hope for a Weary World was this year's theme. Despite all those years of all those zoom and other distance meetings, I was surprised that being there online was quite satisfying. I'd compare it to something like no-fat salad dressing—did you know Kraft Raspberry Vinaigrette Fat Free is surprisingly good? I don't know that any ultra-low fat anything quite approaches a high calorie counterpart, but the good ones are more than adequate because you save so many calories. Sermons, lectures, short worship services at the preaching conference all came through just fine. However, closing worship via electronic screen and sound was so not enough.

Preacher for concluding worship Barbara Lundblad doesn't have her own website, though you can find her on Day1, Working Preacher, Amazon and other places. It was the last event of the 4-day conference, but… it wasn't over. It's not over. There's more! She pointed out how John 20:30 sounds like The End as it announces, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book," but it's not over because you turn the page and there's a chapter 21 that starts: "After these things…" Although 21 turns out to be the real last chapter of John in our bibles, according to verse 25, "there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." So the last part of the last-written gospel account reminds us our lives are open ended as we travel with Jesus.

Chapters and Seasons

Our host Kate wrote about her daughter finishing high school; an occasion or event like graduation clearly ends a chapter, but everyone expects several more interesting and probably complicated ones will follow. Although any chapter unfolds alongside other chapters in the life of an individual, family, or community, as months and years go by, parallel chapters eventually will end, others open. I don't know how many times I've written about each of us having recognizable seasons that are similar to meteorological and astronomical ones. Sometimes we cycle through them like the planet does; sometimes we never experience a particular season again.

You probably realize scripture originally wasn't divided into chapters and verses. The Wycliffe Bible probably was the first Bible published with chapters, the Geneva Bible first with verses. I'd need to confirm it with a reliable source, but I think even the Reformers had only chapter divisions and not yet individual verses in the bibles they used. Our scriptures may not have started out with chapters, but all of us in developed countries expect discrete and overlapping chapters of adventure, change, disappointment, and surprise.

The worldwide pandemic officially is over, yet like almost everyone as Covid continues, as many have done across the decades, and as I've had to do more than I'd anticipated, I hope to turn the page into a new life chapter very soon. I'm excited to see what the next one brings.


Do you write your story in journals or notebooks with months, days, and years, in chapters or page numbers? Do you blog or instagram or facebook photos or drawings? Or do mostly your memories store your narrative?

Back in elementary school, writing a story or a paragraph to a picture the teacher provided was one of my favorite assignments. Today's header illustrates books that collectively contain hundreds of chapters on various topics. (It's also a photograph I've enjoyed editing a few dozen times.) The life chapter of those books ended eons ago, but many of the books have played a part in most of the chapters that followed. By the way, almost none of the books were or even now are as thoroughly read and almost tattered as they look. That's photoshop filters and other effects! Did I say edited a few times?

Some of the books, quite a few memories, even some hopes from back in those days have made it into succeeding chapters. The next chapter? All I know is God has gone ahead of me. I'm still weary, but I'll walk safely and surely in resurrection hope.

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many books on shelves with chapter word
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Saturday, May 13, 2023

Five Miute Friday :: Deliberate

house in spring colors
Five Minute Friday :: Deliberate Linkup

Deliberate the adjective, deliberate a verb. Deliberate is almost the opposite of last week's soon prompt.

In Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, speaking for the unanimous SCOTUS decision that separate is inherently not equal, Chief Justice Earl Warren instructed states to desegregate schools "with all deliberate speed." Whatever the historical source of all deliberate speed, and even taking a retrospective assessment of the near countless negative ways "move slowly" affected actual implementation of integrating schools and other public facilities, in many situations deliberate is a much better option than thoughtless haste.

Whether it's morally necessary for everyone's wellbeing and safety, or because of shifting tastes and preferences, change happens most thoroughly and stays put longest when it happens in society's mainstream. New ideas and behaviors usually start at the edges, or at the edges' edges (also known as fringes) with a small number of individuals. Likewise, not all that many offer extreme resistance to change.

I'm writing about change because when a person or group deliberates (together!) and then acts, it's almost always thoughtful action coupled with a sense of purpose and resolve.

I love our FMF host Kate's request:

As we move into another week soon, let's consider: In what ways might you need to be more deliberate this week in the ways you interact with others?

Purpose. Resolve. Mindfulness. And possibly some change from our usual, hasty, ways?

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Thursday, May 11, 2023

Sermon on 07 May

bright flowers bouquet
On the Fifth Sunday of Easter I guest preached again. They follow the Narrative Lectionary that follows the autumn through spring academic year and gives the formal lectionary a summertime vacation. This is Matthew's year in both NL and RCL, thus my references to Matthew. They plan to study more of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount during the summer.

Instead of interpreting for the current context, I decided to introduce Romans; enthusiastic feedback confirmed that was the best decision. As before, this is more notes than it is actual preached words (because I still use notes when I need a prompt).

Romans 1:1-17

• Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, firstborn from the dead and the first fruits of the new creation. Amen!

Today we're celebrating live and we're celebrating virtual on Easter five! Easter isn't only a single glorious celebration, it's a fifty-day long season that occupies about one-seventh of the year. Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter, day 29.

We've been studying Matthew's gospel, but today we start several weeks in the letter or epistle to the church at Rome. These weeks will increase our understanding of Matthew when we return to the Sermon on the Mount during summer.

Letters or epistles in the NT were sent to various churches, often in a round robin style where content and comments got added before being sent to the next place. Unlike the gospels that mostly reflect on Jesus' life and ministry, epistles tend toward teaching and doctrines that the OT and Jesus' life reveal. The letters then in turn help clarify Jesus' teachings. Technically an epistles is a sent communication.

Paul/Saul of Tarsus wrote his epistles considerably earlier than the gospels were composed. I always need to remind myself these letters were so much earlier than the gospels, yet they also reflect upon and interpret Jesus of Nazareth's ministry. The NT includes seven Paul wrote for sure; a few others bear his name as author, but weren't written by him. Back then they didn't have copyright concerns, and to attribute what you wrote to a famous person was a compliment that also would get you more readers. The NT also contains letters written quite a while later by other authors. Those would include Titus and Timothy (both attributed to Paul), Peter, James…

Letters or epistles tend toward teachings and doctrines derived from God's activity in the world, from the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ that other sections of scripture narrate.

Romans is the latest of Paul's letters. Today I'll talk about only chapter 1 that reveals some about the rest of the book. Romans includes theology of creation, redemption, and sanctification, along with words about the church. Theology about the Triune God! You could say Romans is Saint Paul's systematic theology. Systematics is the philosophical theology that outlines and structures its topics in logical ways. Among many others, Saint Augustine, John Calvin, and Karl Barth all wrote famous systematic theologies.

Although Romans' literary format is not a gospel, Paul uses the word gospel. Gospel means good news. Maybe you've seen the stage play musical, film, or TV show Godspell? That's gospel in Old English. In the Roman imperial context, gospel already was a known concept. They referred to the birth of the future emperor a gospel. Gospel most frequently described the returning conquering general's announcement of annihilating his enemies. Just as Christianity subverts, turns upside down, and redefines many existing concepts and practices, the Christian gospel is the Good News of God's redemption in Jesus Christ. Not only is it life rather than death; the gospel of Jesus Christ is the annihilation of death and the reign of life.

As Christians we usually say the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet Paul refers to the gospel of God, so this isn't something new. The good news for creation of redemption and renewal is the way God always has acted. In verse 16 Paul says the gospel is "God's saving power." Because of this, we can follow many gospeled threads through the Hebrew scriptures.

Reading the New Testament, we find different nuances and emphases of Gospel. For Paul in particular the gospel is death and resurrection. The word evangelical is gospel in Greek! As people baptized into Jesus Christ, we are a gospeled community.

Romans 1:16-17 is huge in the history of the church. These verses were a kind of hinge between the church prior to the Reformation in the 16th century and the church after that. Since Martin Luther's excitedly zeroing in on these verses, church and academy sometimes have said we only need to trust or have faith in God, that the medieval Roman branch of the church was mistaken when it claimed or works or behaviors could reconcile or make us right with God. As we study this letter and when we return to Matthew, it's important to remember that Paul never separates faith or trust from obedience or works (our actions). Neither did Jesus. Neither does any of the Old Testament.

Paul calls himself an apostle, but we know he wasn't one of Jesus' original twelve followers. In scripture an apostle is someone who has seen the risen Christ. You may remember in the book of Acts when they're voting to find a twelfth to join the remaining ones after Judas of Iscariot's betrayal, they insisted it had to be a "witness to the resurrection," someone who had met Jesus crucified, Christ risen face to face: Acts 1:21-26 You've probably read the account of Paul's Conversion (also in Acts, chapter 9) when the risen Christ encounters Paul along the road? That event gave Paul apostolic qualification, just as our encounters with the Risen One make us apostles.

Paul introduces himself as an apostle, yet insists it's about BOTH being disciples or followers who learn from the teaching of the earthly Jesus AND about being apostles or sent people of the risen Christ. We've been in Matthew's gospel, where Matthew's Jesus is the ultimate teacher or rabbi. Jesus wants us, his followers to be the ultimate students or disciples, "taught persons." Disciple or apostle, it's a gift of God's grace.

An epistle is a sent communication; an apostle is a sent person.

We'll soon celebrate the day of Pentecost and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit we receive in baptism that enables us to follow Jesus as disciples and apostles.

I hope our study of Romans will broaden, deepen, and enhance our understanding of Jesus' teaching when we return to Matthew's gospel during the summer.

To God Alone Be Glory.

Wilshire Blvd Los Angeles near Westwood Blvd

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Five Minute Friday :: Soon

Five Minute Friday :: Soon Linkup

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

"Please, Aslan… what do you call soon?" "I call all times soon," said Aslan.
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Soon. Expected – or wanted – before much longer in calendar time. Most of us want whatever it is sooner rather than later. Desiring something yesterday! is commonplace. Like a little kid who thinks they want to be a teenager, sometimes we don't consider preparation, people, and other necessary inputs for an event or experience to happen.

Are you willing to settle for a lesser one because you can have it sooner? Or is it worth the longer wait for a better one?

We often think of God outside of time as we know it, and God indeed is eternal and transcendent. But in Jesus' incarnation God spent days, years, minutes, and hours like ours. Because God beyond time and space became close at hand immanent within measurable time and space in a body like ours, God knew our longing to have needs fulfilled and wants met as soon as possible.

My header photo glows in late afternoon, late autumn southland sun. It's the golden hour, and I want to go home soon to a place like that. It seems as if I've settled for lesser work, living, and participation options because I could have them sooner. My endless longing and searching for home that still hasn't happened is old stuff, and best guess it will happen a lot sooner if/when I try to find something similar to those few things that actually have worked well. I've already done the longer wait for one that's so much better than the sooner one. So jump in!

PS: In formal theological terms, with God all times are soon, but we need to live in ways that accommodate our earthbound reality.

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
Revelation 22:21-22

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