Musings on the Lectionary Readings

Trinity Sunday June 7, 2009 Musings on the Lectionary Readings by Philip W. Gilman
(Symbols: ^Scripture^; * =footnote; _italics_) "[W]here did we learn to be so guilty?"
Isa. 6: 1--8
Last week, Ezekiel dreamed he was in a vast crowd of dry bones; today, Isaiah dreams that he is alone before ^The LORD of Hosts^ (3), except for a bunch of seraphs. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Pharaoh and his servants had dreams; Balaam, Daniel and many others had dreams. Joseph, Zechariah and Mary had dreams (day-dreams count), as did the Magi and Pilate's wife. And in most-- if not all-- of these dreams, God spoke or transmitted some direction or truth to the individual. The Bible provides ample instances of God's use of dreams. Peter recites: ^Your sons and daughters shall prophesy; Your old men shall dream dreams, And your young men shall see visions.^ (Joel 3: 1; Acts 2: 17) Prophecy, dreams, visions: three related phenomena. What place do they occupy in Christian theology and doctrine? From all I have heard or read, they are usually down-played or simply dismissed. Is this the wise course? Has the Church disconnected itself from one of God's lines of communication? Are dreams-- and their interpretation-- an issue which the Church needs to reconsider? ^Then one of the seraphs flew over to me with a live coal.... He touched it to my lips and declared, "Now that this has touched your lips, Your guilt shall depart*1 And your sin be purged away."^ (6-7) Is not the ^glowing coal^ (REB) which had been ^taken from the altar^*2 a "glowing" representation of Christ on the cross? If so, then there is a correspondence between the coal's touching Isaiah's lips (the source of his uncleanness (5)) and Jesus' blood by which God cleanses us of all unrighteousness. I believe (not just think) that this is God's Word to me, to you, the world. In God's dream message, there is Good News: ^'now your iniquity is removed and your sin is wiped out.'^ (7, REB) The verb "is" not only indicates "is and has been" but also "is and continues to be". This is the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus, friends. Do you believe it? Accept it as a "done deal"? Or do you steadfastly cling to Church tradition and dogma? Listen to (heed) God's Word about the Church: ^"Go, say to that people: 'Hear, indeed, but do not understand; See, indeed, but do not grasp.'"^ (9) The Church's deafness and blindness, like Pharaoh's, are self-inflicted. ^The LORD of Hosts^ describes the effect of their stubbornness: ^"Lest, seeing with its eyes And hearing with its ears, It also grasp with its mind, And repent and save itself."^ (10) Therefore Jesus was sent into the world of God's people Israel-- the Church-- and began with this message: ^'The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent, and believe the gospel.'^ (Mk. 1: 15) Open your eyes; the Lord has a vision of grace, mercy and peace for you to see, accept and embrace, to live and proclaim. Psa. 29 ^Ascribe to the LORD the glory of [God's] name; bow down to the LORD, majestic in holiness.^ (2) Who is your God? Does your God measure up to the Psalmist's vision? Does the thought of your God shake you to your bones? Or is your God too small? ^The voice of the LORD is power; the voice of the LORD is majesty^ (4). What voice do you listen to? Which is truer, which has more power and majesty: Church doctrine and tradition or God's Word? ^The LORD sat enthroned at the Flood; the LORD sits enthroned, king forever.^ (10) Whether a few thousand or several billion years, that covers a long time. Where, and what, will you be in a mere hundred years? Where, and what, will your concept of God be then? Is it adequate now? Will your concept of God endure? Does it matter? ^May the LORD grant strength to [God's] people; may the LORD bestow on [God's] people wellbeing.^ (11) The Psalmist's prayer has been heard, and answered. Have you received the gift God sent you at Bethlehem? Have you accepted the gift God gave you at Calvary? Now that Easter is ending, are you truly happy, free, at peace? ^"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world [or Church] gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."^ (Jn. 14: 27, NAB)
Rom. 8: 12--17 [and beyond]
^For all who are led by the Spirit of God are [children] of God. The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of slavery, leading you back into a life of fear, but a Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry '[Daddy]! [Mommy]!'^ (14-15) So why are so many still enslaved to Church doctrine and tradition? Are you? ^With all this in mind, what are we to say? If God is on our side, who is against us? [God] did not spare [Jesus the] Son, but gave him up for us all;^ [so] ^how can [God] fail to lavish every other gift on us? Who will bring a charge against those whom God has chosen? Not God, who acquits! Who will pronounce judgement? Not Christ, who died, or rather rose again*3; not Christ, who is at God's right hand and pleads our cause! Then what can separate us from the love of Christ?^ (8: 31-35) Church dogma? The literal (mis)reading of metaphor? What do you preach? Does it matter? ^For I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths-- nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.^ (8: 38-39) Nothing, that is, except unexamined tradition and false teaching. I am in good company, I have recently discovered. The following is borrowed from a sermon by Jack McKinney, June 4, 2000:
  • Myron Smithwick was kind enough to show me an old sermon he had of Carlyle Marney's, called "Not to Condemn Us". The great Baptist preacher stressed over and over that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Still, Marney noted, we continually get that mixed up. Listen to his description of how our self-perception got so twisted: "If God sent not the fruit of Mary's womb to condemn us, where did we learn to be so guilty? From the Saints, and the Theologians, and Pastors, and the opportunistic manipulative Evangelists, from our first teachers, and our neighbors, and our playmates, and all our companions of the long drawn-out confusion. From our Culture of Expectations and the poverty of our Anglo-Saxon, and Mediterranean forebears, from Madison Avenue, and The Media, and Courts and Law and Mores...."
But not, apparently, from the Bible....
John 3: 1--17
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ^member of the Jewish Council^ (1) is an apt representation of the Church, blinded and deafened by age-old doctrine and tradition. Yet he sought out Jesus, for his heart and mind sensed something was wrong, something was mixed up, something was missing. Jesus tried to teach him that the "wrong" was not something "missing", but something "misunderstood". John depicts the struggle Nicodemus was enduring, but fails to tell us whether or not he "saw the light". The Gospel leaves us with a Nicodemus-- a Church-- still in a quandary, still questing, still deaf to ^the voice of the LORD.^ Paul (thank-you, Lord!) finally "got it"; the effect was as if scales had fallen from his eyes, the blinding scales of revered tradition and teaching. And what prophecy, dream, vision did he finally "see"? ^'It was not to judge the world that God sent [Jesus the] Son into the world, but that through him the world might be saved. No one who puts his [or her] faith in [Christ] comes under judgement'^ (17-18). At least, not from God our Savior. ^No one^. Believe it, my friends, ^No one^. ^No one^. Christ has set us free indeed! "Repent; save yourself," God's Prophet urgently calls. _You_ have to do it. "Repent; save yourself." The Church calls it heresy, blind and deaf to God. Church doctrine is wrong! Isaiah proclaimed God's Word: You must save yourself. You can't save yourself, the Church says. But hear Jesus: "Repent, and believe."*4 Footnotes:
  1. This and the next verb express God's will and purpose; effectually accomplished in the act.
  2. Remember where this scene is set, and ponder its significance.
  3. ^Christ, who died, or rather rose again^ gives the impression that Paul considered the Resurrection more important than the Crucifixion.
  4. Haiku poems by Phil Gilman. Please feel free to utilize anything by me; Ascribe to the LORD the glory of [God's] name; and give me whatever credit may be due.
(Comments to Phil at