Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Psalm 85

Click here to read this Sunday's psalm.

In Advent, we get these lessons that often confound us because of our wanting knowledge of the Old Testament.  Perhaps other weeks in the year we can brush past that reading in our worship and hope to catch up either with the epistle lesson or with the Gospel.  In Psalm 85, we see a continuing story in this part of the psalter.  It is a national song, a national lament.

It's difficult for us to think this way in America in 2014.  The only national song that we have is pluralism.  Having been relegated to those of varying levels of talent and sensitivity, our national anthem has even been co-opted as a pre-show song before major events.  Nevertheless, we are a people of differing beliefs and values.  The idea of a people singing a song together doesn't resonate (pardon the pun) with us today.  Even in church, the old model of a church being made up of the same people for generations has gone away.  Today, we are likely to see in our average Lutheran church people from all denominations and backgrounds.  What were once "Lutheran" hymns known by all have to be taught sensitively.

Like most psalms, there is a banner of praise or lament and in some places both.  And, like most psalms, there is a story.  Psalm 80 and 85 are both telling a story of a people, the people of Israel. 

LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
you pardoned all their sin.

The psalm begins with the recounting of what the Lord has done.  Going on, that which isn't found in our lectionary psalm this week:

You withdrew your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us.

Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

The psalmist is asking real questions on behalf of the people.  Notice that.  Pray over that.  What are the real questions that you ask of God?  What are some things that you feel are off limits?  The psalmist shows us the range of emotions in our relationship with God as a people.  How long? is a very important question in the life of a faith community and the psalmist asks it with a sense of urgency and knowing.  Then, he tells the Lord to "show us your steadfast love" and "grant us your salvation." 

After this part of the psalm, which is omitted in our lectionary readings, the psalmist turns the mood.  Looking at the whole of the psalm, what he says here makes more sense:

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
    and will make a path for his steps.
To comment too much would be missing the point.  The imagery speaks for itself.  Perhaps what stands out to you is the same phrase that stands out to me, "righteousness and peace will kiss each other."  What a delightful thought!  The salvation of God can only be described in poetry.  Sure, we believe that St. Paul does a pretty good job describing what salvation of God's people looks like but even at his best, it's poetic.  It confirms a thought that I have been having for years now and while probably cliché it remains that God is in the poetry
What's in a kiss?  We've heard that question before.  A good kiss is gentle and preferring of the other.  It is not a collision of ideas or personal desires but rather a sweet acquiescence to the other.  Righteousness and Peace are giving themselves to each other willingly and softly.  Not only that, but the psalmist sings that faithfulness springing up from the ground and righteousness looking over us is surrounding us on every side.  The Lord will give what is good.  What is good is all around us in the salvation of our God. 
As we continue our Advent pilgrimage, though some may be tempted to ignore while others may be tempted to make it a dour journey, I encourage us to see the beauty of Psalm 85 in our traveling through this season.  We are waiting and we are moving.  Psalm 85 is that beautiful landscape that is in reality all around us, springing up from the ground and looking down from the sky.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Psalm 95: The Lord Is King

"Come let us sing to the LORD,
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
For the LORD is our God
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth,
and the heights of the hills are his also;
the sea is his for he made it
and his hands have molded the dry land.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee
and kneel before the LORD our maker,
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture
and the sheep of his hand."

Psalm 95:1:7

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday.  This psalm isn't used every year for this feast day, but this year it is and we are reminded once again to come and sing to the Lord, the King.

From very early on, Christians have greeted the day with this psalm.  It was St. Athanasius who instructed the faithful followers in this practice and ever since it has been a part of our Morning Prayer liturgy.  The Orthodox church chants this psalm as a part of their Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Contextually, we find it in a chunk of psalms that are very high hymns of praise and acclamation and over and again in these psalms, the psalmist invites us into the singing.

A quick scan of the psalm leads the reader to see why a psalm like this may be used on Christ the King Sunday: For the LORD is our God and a great King above all gods.

I have been writing recently on what it means to be penitential -- that is, to recognize our utter need for God.  I believe that this psalm fits very nicely into this theme.  While it wouldn't be labeled as a "penitential psalm" it does put God and our relationship to/with him in perspective.

As is the custom of the psalmist, he paints a picture of what God has done.

In his hand are the caverns of the earth,
and the heights of the hills are his also;
the sea is his for he made it 
and his hands have molded the dry land.

As the people of God, we believe that God made the earth; that he created all that we see and we ourselves have been formed by him.  In the busyness of this culture, perhaps we need to discipline ourselves more to think about God in this way; but, nevertheless, we can agree that it's a foundation of faith to believe that we are here because God created life.  We also believe that God created humans in his image, thus giving humans dignity and the ability to think and celebrate the good creation.

What is the psalmist's response to these ponderings?

Come, let us bow down and bend the knee
and kneel before the LORD our maker,
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture
and the sheep of his hand.

The psalmist reminds those of us who sing the psalm of who we are in the mix.  We have a real "out of sight, out of mind" challenge in our faith.  We don't see God and we don't look for God, though God is all around us and makes himself known to us in myriad ways.  The funny thing about seeing God, particularly in the way that the psalmist proclaims - through creation, is that the more that you look for God, the more you find God.  If I take the time to look at creation around me and to consider the work of God in the world, I may not come to it easily, but I will begin to see God.

This can also be said of our worshiping community.  God never promised to make sense.  We see this clearly in the person of Jesus.  Jesus is a peasant who was brought up in a back-water town in the ancient middle east.  He develops a clan that dwindles in his short tenure of ministry.  The dwindling of his followers comes to a climax at his own embarrassing and brutal death.  The teacher that proclaimed that the "last shall be first and the first shall be last" is inaugurated as King of the World and Lord of the Universe through this embarrassing Roman tradition of crucifixion and it is in the event of the third day - the resurrection - in which death and life of all humanity and all time are changed forever.  Our worshiping community gathers in the name of this very Jesus every week.

Most people that you see in church look the same.  However, the work of God through these ordinary people is profound.  It is profound on levels that need not be explained in this blog, but the poor are being fed, the friendless are being comforted, those who are empty in spirit are being filled, the last are first and the first are last.  Our wisdom is being confounded by the Lord of this world each day; when we think we have it figured out, paradox strikes again.  The psalmist sees God in creation, as should we, but what is his response when he sees God?

Come, let us bow down.

The response is one of penitence -- recognizing his need for God.  Bowing down is a sign of surrender.  As faithful followers of Jesus, the Lord of this world, we are going to be confused by the "common sense of the kingdom" which is not consistent with the common sense of the world.  Such common sense as utters phrases like: sell all you have and give it to the poor, you must hate your life in order to save it, and deny yourself and take up your cross.  In light of the confusion, our response is one of faith:

Come, let us bow down.

If Jesus, through his death and resurrection, is calling us to the same kind of life, to die and to rise for the life of the world, how does this affect our daily living?  Being reminded that we are to come and to see God in creation, and new creation, we are partners with God in his new creation through Jesus. This dying and rising for the life of the world is just that -- being partners with God in this new creation.  We are called in this way through our baptism.  We are sustained as a people of God through the body and blood of his Son in the eucharist.  Together, each week we proclaim the mystery of this new creation in our gathering around Word and Sacrament.

Come, let us bow down.

If Christ is King and we are to come and bow down, then nothing about life can be the same.  Where does this begin?

Come, let us bow down.

It begins in the waters and is sustained by the bread and wine.  It is sustained by our faithfulness and obedience which is itself a gift of God's grace.

Come, let us bow down.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Psalm 42:1

"As the deer longs for the water-brooks,
so my soul longs for you, O God."

This past week, the choir at the church I serve sang a setting of this psalm.  It wasn't consistent with the lectionary, but it carried the same plea of the lectionary psalm (Psalm 70).

These kinds of psalms are reorienting my thinking of what it means to be penitential.  A pastor colleague shared with me that he was visiting a family in the hospital and while nothing seemed to be going right for this family, his prayer was something like, "God, we get it.  Do something."

These kinds of prayers seem disrespectful, until we read the psalms over and over again and realize that the psalmist's cry was the same.  "God, I need you."  Like the water that makes up nearly 75% of our bodies, we need you, O God.

What does it mean to be penitential?  Does it mean counting your sins and feeling appropriately guilty for them?  Does it mean gritting your teeth and affecting an emotion of sadness and remorse?  Maybe some of these things will come with being penitential, but I think that ultimately penitence is a deep understanding of our need for God. 

There's a word that is probably more familiar that penitence or penitential - repent.  To repent is to realize our deep insecurity, our sin, and to turn to God.  This is recognizing our need for God. 

Recognizing our need for God comes with practice.  Sometimes, for our own sake, we need to fake this.  Trying praying the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," every day in some way or another and repeat it over and over again.  Make this a discipline.  Make it a "go-to" prayer.  This prayer will begin to shape your perception of yourself and your relationship with God.  We fool ourselves if we think we don't need God.  We fool ourselves if we think that we are without sin or insecurity. 

We begin to realize that we must decrease, become less, and pray that God will help us not to make ourselves, our time, our interests the center of the universe.  Longing for God comes with practice.

Speaking of water, I have been on a kick over the last year and it's one that I hope sticks.  I have been trying to drink the amount of water that my body needs, which is about 75 to 100 ounces (which can come through our food as well as in a bottle).  At first, I resisted, wanting something with "taste."  But, the more that I drank and stuck with it, the more I felt the need for it.  I would realize with acute awareness if I hadn't had any water to drink.

So much of our physical and spiritual lives is just nuts and bolts discipline.  God gives us the grace we need to get out of the way of our need for him.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Psalm 90: Autumn Leaves are Falling

Please click HERE to read Psalm 90:1-12

I love autumn.  I love spring.  Winter I get tired of quickly and the heat and humidity can be too much for me in the summer, here in Columbia, SC.  The church that I serve is in a community called "Forest Acres" and for the first year or two that we lived here, I just took main roads to get to church from our home.  Over the last year, however, I have been going through the communities that make up Forest Acres.  This area is just what its name states.  Trees are abundant and in the spring and fall, the colors are vibrant and rich.

Over the last week, there have been a few trees that I have looked at on the rides to and from work (the church).  I have seen green, to yellow, to bright fiery yellow until today when the yellow turns a burnt orange color.  As beautiful as it is, these are the last signs of color and life before the trees are rid of their leaves for the winter months.  Knowing each day that the next day may bring fewer leaves and turning colors, I was saddened today to see that the end is indeed near.

I wrote about Psalm 90 this past February and I was tempted to just submit a "reblog" and be done with it, but I believe that these verses take on another meaning in the fall, particularly in the late fall when leaves are falling, night approaches more quickly and our hearts long for light and warmth.

In these falling leaves we look around and see that our world is changing and is making its annual pilgrimage to the darker months.  In the northern hemisphere, the air is crisper and the night is darker.

In these falling leaves we see the brilliance of color and the dying of beauty.  All things must end.

In these falling leaves we are reminded of the acute brevity of life and often that which we take for granted.

Our rituals are changing.  Perhaps some of us are transitioning from white wines to red.  Maybe you've turned your heat on for the first time on these brisk nights; perhaps you've added that extra blanket.  You come in earlier in the evening.  Or, if you're like me, you want to go to bed at an unreasonably early hour.  We're going from cool and crisp meals to warm and hearty soups.

This is a journey we take each year, but by doing so, we are reminded that life is a series of change and ultimately like the falling leaves, we too will see our end.  We hope that the end is in a period of fiery and captivating, God-given beauty like we see in the trees around us.  But, life is not always so gracious.

Psalm 90, though some scholars term it a lament, is a psalm of hope and promise.  In the falling leaves of the psalm, the psalmist sings of the fleeting nature of life and the certain hope of God as refuge.  While we are daily dying and though some of us may be in the spring or summer of our lives, many we love are in the autumn of our short lives.  There is a promise that holds us all together and that is the sure and certain hope that God is indeed our refuge.  God is our dwelling place, holding us all together; those green leaves full of life and those changing colors to those falling leaves.

Before anything was, God is.  It is God who binds us together from one generation to another.  In Jewish wisdom literature, the preacher talks about the brevity of life and counters it with the necessity of eating and drinking and enjoying all the days that God gives us.  In psalm 90, the impermanence of life is countered by a request to God to "teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."  Jesus says in St. John's gospel that he came not only to give life but to give it abundantly.  Therefore, God calls us to make the most of the time that we have.  Understanding this on a regular basis can come only by the grace of God.

We see in psalm 90 an "ultimate" of wisdom that the psalms can teach us.  It looks at the reality that life is short and not always gracious.  It identifies the unfairness of our days being filled with toil and trouble and just about the time that we're getting used to it, it's over.  Psalm 90 is exactly why the faithful people of God should spend more time with the psalms  --- these are all thoughts that we've had.  We aren't equipped to deal with the reality of life being short and especially of the reality of sudden death.  Somehow, we gain comfort (maybe not today or tomorrow, but at some point) in the fact that God is the common denominator.  From one generation to another, it is God who ties all of this together.  In life, struggle, toil, trouble and ultimately death, it is God's grace that breaks the fall of the descending leaf.  And then, it is God's grace, that though a leaf must fall to the ground every autumn and die, a new bud will break forth as a sign of new life and resurrection.

All of the world shows forth your creation.  All of the world shows forth life and death and resurrection.  May we be faithful in the days you give us.  Comfort us in ways that we need to be comforted and strengthen us in this brief life for the work of your kingdom.  And, when the leaves must fall, by your grace, help us to be received into your loving arms.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Psalm 70: Do We Need God?

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.
Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

Psalm 70

As we look toward Sunday, we see that our psalm is psalm 70.  When I read this, personally, I am drawn to the last few verses.  Last week was Reformation Sunday/Day (10/31) and this past Sunday was All Saints' Sunday.  Because Reformation is the day that we generally remember Martin Luther's legendary "nailing of the 95 Theses" to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, I felt it appropriate to read these 95 Theses.

Without doing an exposition on the 95 Theses, I am struck by how many times Luther refers to the need to be penitent.  Being penitent is more that remembering our sins and wishing to repent.  Being penitent is more than thinking of ourselves as poor and lowly (which, by the way, if we begin to think of ourselves as "lowly" our lowliness vanishes very quickly).  Being penitent, more than anything, is having a deep, ongoing understanding of our need for God.

As I read Psalm 70 this morning, I can't help but think of how we just don't need God today in American Christianity.  For some, the government is savior.  For others, some vague understanding of self-reliance is key.  There is light for darkness, warmth for cold, and knowledge can be gained more easily than ever.  Little stands in the way of us getting exactly what we want in our culture.  If I want a career that makes money, there are steps that I can take, but I must be committed to those steps.  If I want coffee with a certain flavor, there are abundant places to get said coffee.  I don't have to worry about what I eat at night; more often, I worry about what to have that's not repeating what I already had that day or that week.

In a "treat yourself" world, of which I partake far too often, feasting is replaced with gorging, joy is replaced with mania, comfort is replaced with hoarding, faith is replaced with security.

I wrote yesterday on Facebook about how I wish that it wasn't such a dilemma for Christians to vote.  People say to vote your conscience, but what if your conscience isn't on the ballot?  If the Lord executes righteousness and judgement and we are agents of these, how do we vote accordingly if greed and self-promotion serve as cornerstones of a platform?

The same is the case with this psalm.  How do I write about God calling us to a life of poverty and thus blessing it through Jesus ("Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven") when everything in our culture, in our social and political catechesis stands in sharp contrast?  But, nevertheless, God calls us to be poor, to be penitent, and to deny ourselves.  God calls us not to be self-empowered, but to be empowered by the Spirit.  God calls us to deny things and to need him.  God calls us to deny security and embrace uncertainty, through faith.

When the world says more, we say, "But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God."  If we are followers of this God, through Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we have to reorient what is so ingrained in our thinking -- to become poor, to recognize our need for God alone.  This is a little easier when we do this together.  None of us are needy in a vacuum.  God is calling all of us to need him, together.  And, over and over in scripture, this is confirmed and the proud American imagination is scattered and dashed down (to borrow from Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1:46ff).

Because we always read scripture for and against other scripture, this kind of need for God is so clearly confirmed in the words of Jesus in the beatitudes (Matt. 5) and in a verse from Isaiah 66 that I wish to conclude our ruminations on the subject:

Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne
    and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
    and what is my resting place?
All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things are mine,
says the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look,
    to the humble and contrite in spirit,
    who trembles at my word.

Dorothy Day wished to be remembered as one who stood in solidarity with the poor; denying security and making herself poor that she could serve others.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Lord Is Coming to Judge

Psalm 96

As we get ready for Sunday's texts, we notice that we have this lofty hymn of praise for the psalm.  This psalm is prescribed every Christmas Eve (though, can be substituted with 97 or 98) and we see it a few times in our lectionary throughout the three years.

Rather than give a verse by verse, "Wow! Isn't that cool!" look at it, I thought I would lift up something that can be a stumbling block for folks who sing the psalms each week.  But, before we get there, we notice the command in the first verse, "Sing to the LORD a new song."  I choose to think that this is a command based on the language of the psalter everywhere else.  This isn't simply a suggestion or an encouragement, rather it is a "how could you not?" command that affirms the works of the Lord in creation and salvation of his people.

It's too easy for us to come up with excuses not to worship or to participate in worship.  For Lutherans we understand scripture through the lenses of Law and Gospel.  Gospel being good news that we want to hear, that we like to hear.  Too often we are comforted by the Gospel without the challenge of the Law.  While I wouldn't say that this psalm is naturally a "Law" psalm, as it were, I would say that the command to worship, to sing to the Lord a new song, is affirmed by the telling of God's deeds of creation and salvation.  To go a step further, I believe that is our responsibility, or calling (Law and Gospel) to recount these deeds every time we gather together.  The active recounting of these events comes each week in our worship, both in Word and Sacrament.  It is in the reading of scripture for the whole people that we hear the works of the Lord.  It is in the lifting up of the sacrament and our receiving of it that Christ's cross and resurrection are recounted.  Therefore, as we gather each week, weathered by the challenges and chances of life, we are a new people, being reborn each day in the gift of our baptismal covenant coming together as a body of confused human beings setting forth a "new song" through the proclamation of the deeds of our God.  Sing to the Lord a new song?  How could we not?

To address something that tends to trip up folks (including myself) when singing or reading these psalms, I wish to write for a brief moment about the idea of judgment.  This fall, I have taken on a challenge that I won't soon forget.  I have challenged myself to a "scripture surge" (my term).  I wanted to get a perspective of the whole of scripture.  I wanted to understand the Law in light of Jesus without it being close to a year between the reading of the two.  Therefore, I decided to read or listen to 10-15 chapters a day, surging through the scriptures.  I can hear it now, "Gee, I wish I had that kind of time."  It's not about time, I have learned, it's about priority. I have no more or less time that anyone else.  Are there days that I haven't read?  Sure.  But, my goal was to get a picture of the shape of the Bible.  Do I understand everything that I am reading?  No.  Often, I get impatient with a section a take a few days off.  But, this makes for good conversations about how people understand scripture.  Also, I get to see how others interpret a book or the Bible as a whole by reading commentaries to bridge the gaps of my ignorance.

Like worship, every time we approach the Bible, we are different people coming up with different observations.  This go-round, I have noticed that the idea of judgment is not nearly as dark as I have always perceived it.  Even in the psalms, we always hear of judgment as a part of a celebration of what God is doing.  The people of Israel looked to God as judge because they needed someone to make a terribly wrong situation (Egypt, wilderness, battles, exile, return) right.  This is what judgment is: putting things right.  Liberal sensibility is inclined to interpret judgment as all people being treated equally.  Rather, judgment (as N. T. Wright would put it) is all people being treated appropriately.  In this light, we see that all things can be made right.

It seems that God is celebrated as judge often in the same passages that he is celebrated as creator.  Who better to evaluate than the one who creates?  We bristle at the thought of judgment because we ourselves are not capable.  How can we who haven't created, we who haven't given life and who haven't sustained cast any judgment on others?   I think that this is what Jesus meant in the oft quoted passage from Matthew 7, "Judge not, lest you too be judged."  We read the first two words as a command, what is being said however, "Judge if you will, but know that by your own system of evaluation will you be evaluated."  In other words, leave the judgment up to God.

This is probably one of the most freeing realities of the Christian.  Judgment is not necessarily "punishment" is making all things right.  It is through Jesus that God has done this work.  God judges the world through Jesus, through his life-giving death and resurrection.  It is why we pray every Good Friday, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and
our souls, now and in the hour of our death."  Therefore, judgment is something to be celebrated and justice is something to work toward (but that's another entry for another time).

Our ongoing lesson?  Jesus stands at the center both of the new and renewing song and at the judgment of the world.  Celebrate this today.  Celebrate it every day.  The salvation of the world, of the cosmos has Jesus at the center of it.  Let's get ourselves out of the way and sing that new song to the Lord!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Come to the Feast, Psalm 23

Have you memorized Psalm 23?  Probably.  Think about it.  You can probably help yourself through each of the verses by looking at the first word or phrase and before you know it, you have said the psalm from memory.

Why does this particular psalm have so much of an impact on us?  I remember it was one that my grandmother made me memorize as a kid and like most of you who may have been in a similar situation, there was no translation of this particular psalm that captured the spirit quite like the King James Version.

Nevertheless, this psalm comes up a few times each year in the lectionary.  Coming up every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter, it highlights Christ as the Good Shepherd.  This time of year, which is called the time after Pentecost, it comes up with some other readings focused on a great feast.  Here's an excerpt from the Isaiah reading:

"On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of
well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of
well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all 
the sheet that is spread over all 
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he
will take away from all 
the earth,
for the LORD has spoken."

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned when it comes to studying the Bible or trying to understand scripture for a certain context is to study the Bible with the Bible.  For instance, if we read Psalm 23 with this Isaiah text in mind, we get a completely different look at "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies," and "my cup overflows," and the oft referenced "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

In light of this Isaiah reading, our perspective of feasting and of death as it is presented in Psalm 23 is shaken up a little bit.  Notice who Isaiah says is included in the feast that the LORD of hosts (heavenly armies) is throwing -- all peoples.  In case there is any doubt about who is included in this, we see a further unveiling of a shroud that is cast over all peoples that divides all nations -- and this shroud, this sheet will not only be removed, but it will be "destroyed." 

Is psalm 23 this inclusive?  Perhaps.  The psalm says that the table is prepared in the presence of "my enemies."  Now, it's likely that the psalmist could mean that this abundance is a display of victory over our enemies and it is to their everlasting shame that they must watch as we enjoy the spoils of victory, the feast of abundance.  OR, if we look at it in light of our Isaiah reading, could it be that our enemies, in front of whom this victory meal is prepared, are sharing in this feast?  Again, I think that it is contextually irresponsible to interpret this psalm exclusively in this way, but it does give us food for thought (pardon the pun).

Lutherans aren't universalists, though we're not terribly concerned with the fate of individual souls either.  What we do preach and constantly so is the mystery of the cross and resurrection of Jesus that makes all things new.  This being made new includes God, through Jesus, acting as judge making what was wrong right, what was crooked straight, what was dark light.  We call this reconciliation.  When we say that all things are reconciled to God through Jesus, we mean that all things are made new and that through Jesus, the world is judged and the wrong is made right again, as it was intended to be.  This is the feast that we are invited to.  

The feast, as Isaiah puts it, is one that will put an end to division.  Ending division, though we can work toward it, is an act of judgement that only God can bring about.  This is justice.  Perhaps if we look toward the feast, it will affect our understanding of who's at the table.  If we know that there is no division, that our wants are satisfied to overflowing, doesn't that affect the way we look at people today?  If I know that the world is being reconciled through Christ and his cross, if I know that he makes all things new and that all divisions are broken down, then why do I hold a grudge?  Why am I weirded out about people that stand in stark contrast to everything I believe?  Maybe it's because I am the one that's trying to do the reconciling.  "How can they be invited to the feast?"  

It is God that does the reconciling through Jesus and we see that the imagery of the poet, Isaiah, is that the shroud is destroyed.  The feast is ready and all are invited.  How do we behave like all people are invited?  

This even affects our perspective of evil in the world.  How does God reconcile this?  Through Jesus. How could anyone as evil as ____ be invited to the table?  I don't know.  Really, I don't.  But, I believe that God is reconciling all things through the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  (Again with Jesus!)  A practical way of looking at it, to get through the "I just don't understand" part of the challenge is to pray.  I find that when I am angry with the evil or injustice in the world, I pray.  Often these are prayers that can't form words, but there is something profoundly rewarding about pausing and realizing that through God's abundant mercy he is making all things new, making all things right.

Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Psalm 25

Psalm 25 

"To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul."

This psalm is a favorite of the lectionary coming up several times over the course of the three years.  On a walk, I was thinking about what to say about this psalm.  I don't propose to give you anything that is groundbreaking, rather, if you have given 15 seconds more of your day to thinking about the psalm for Sunday, I feel that I have done a good job.

Read the psalm and think of what comes to you.  What verses give you pause?  What stands out to you?  What words make you think?  What verses challenge you?

These are some of the questions that we can ask ourselves.  As we dig deeper, maybe we can discern what certain words mean, their origin and their use in the time that the psalms were written.  Perhaps we can see that there are certain literary forms that the psalms take on like the poetic forms with which we are familiar.  But, for now, as followers of Jesus, or at least enthusiasts of the psalms, we must read and chew on the words we are given.

The word that comes immediately to my attention is "soul."  The original language of the psalms was Hebrew - soul meant something like breath, or any living being with breath - more specifically, it was what defined life; what we may call today our "self."  Such a confusing word this is!  We use it for various purposes and where it gets out of control is the thought of what may happen to it after we die - another blog article for sure!

"To you, O LORD, I lift up my [self]."

To our ears, or eyes, this makes a little more sense with what the psalmist is singing in this psalm.

"To you, O LORD, I lift up [all that makes me a living being]."

I think that we're starting to capture the meaning of the psalm, maybe just a little bit.  The psalmist goes on to praise God for deliverance from his enemies and then to ask God to instruct him in the ways of God.

If the word "soul" came to my attention, so also did the idea of being instructed.  Over the course of the psalm, the idea of teaching and covenant is lifted up ten times.  This is not unusual in the psalm tradition.  Not only would one conceive of pledging one's whole self, but it was the Law, the covenant with God and his people that compelled those singing the psalm to seek to be taught and corrected by this living God of the covenant.

If you have read the books of 1 and 2 Kings, you know that the history of Israel and Judah is spiraling out of control until just about the last minute when King Josiah takes the throne.  At eight years old, he begins to reign and it's not long before someone "stumbles" upon the scrolls of what is believed to be Deuteronomy.  Josiah instructs that it must be read and, upon hearing the words of the Law, rips his clothes for the lawlessness of his people.  With a Law-minded King, the people repent for a short while until his lawless son, Jehoiakim takes the throne without mind of any of his father's decrees.  From then on, it's a few short steps and the people of God are exiled to a foreign land (Babylon) singing their songs (psalms) for an unknown people.

The tension and balance of keeping the covenant is the drama of the Old Testament.  God calls a people, gives them a binding covenant, they obey, rebel, obey, rebel and on and on.  God comes to them even in their wickedness calling for their repentance through the preaching of the prophets and for a while, they repent.  But it isn't long before they are in the dog-house again.

When Josiah's servant found the scroll, he came to him and said something to the effect of "Hey, look what I found in the house of the LORD."  The people of God had lost their way.  They didn't even know what the scroll was in the Temple!  For generations before Josiah, they had been turning away and it was Josiah who brought them back, for a short time, to the ways of the covenant.  They hadn't even been celebrating the Passover!

Lest we give them too hard a time, we are a sinful people just as much as they were.  Psalm 25 calls us to remember the God of the covenant.  Psalm 25 calls us lift our whole selves to this God of the covenant asking for instruction, for teaching and for correction.  This psalm reminds us that God is not a disciplinarian seeking to embarrass his subjects, but rather calls us to covenant through his love, moreover, his steadfast love.

Maybe our prayer should be that God keep us close to his word.  Lutherans have a hymn for this, "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word."  Happy singing!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One Generation Shall Laud Your Works to Another, Psalm 145

Psalm 145 came up in the rotation to read this summer and I remember the day that it came up, I just couldn't get enough of it.  The expansive language and imagery, the vastness of what the psalm requires was just too much for me and yet I kept coming back.  For this week's meditation, rather than walking through the whole psalm, I'd like to take a verse and "chew on it" for our purposes as the Church and as a church.  I encourage you, beyond this one verse, to take time and pray/sing psalm 145 on your own.

One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. (verse 4)

I was telling a family this week after church that I had a low-level "bummed out-ness" over the summer.  I was hesitant to call it a "depression" because this is a very real thing with which many people we know struggle.  I just felt as though I wasn't getting any fulfilment or challenge.  My sense of hope was hanging on a little more loosely than I felt comfortable with.

Then, I had my first children's choir rehearsal of the season.  "Oh, yeah, that's it!"  That's what was missing.  Over the summer, whether teaching adults in sunday school classes or leading them through a discussion on a book that we have read, or working with my adult choir, I work primarily with adults.  I love these folks who are committed to the work of ministry at Good Shepherd (where I serve) but there is something different about working exclusively with people who aren't in elementary school.  We all come to rehearsals, meetings, book groups, with baggage or bias.  It's how we're wired.  As long as it doesn't prevent us from growing, it's probably OK.  Kids, however, are just learning.  They are so fresh and without opinion (the younger they are) and when they do have an opinion, it's not personal, it's very direct.

One of the lessons that I am teaching the First Choir (Kindergarten-2nd grade) is how to use a hymnal.  Some of them have trouble reading and can't count over 100, but we are learning how to use the hymnal nevertheless.  For centuries, hymnals have been central to keeping people on the same page (pardon the pun) in worship.  Therefore, if I can teach them how to use the hymnal at an early age, then hopefully its value and importance will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

The hope is that once they practice this kind of behavior in choir rehearsals, they will go out and in worship pick up the hymnal and try to be engaged in worship.  Nay-saying adults tell me that this is above the level that the kids think on  -- to that I say, "shame on you."

The hope, that kids will pick up the hymnal at least sometimes in worship, is fulfilled from time to time with great delight.  Sunday, my wife was telling me that she saw the youngest member of our choir, a 5 year old who has just started kindergarten, pick up her hymnal after the sermon, attempt to find the hymn that we were singing, fighting off the help of her father and then finally joining the song that the whole assembly was singing.

This isn't all.  A few months ago in a vespers service, I look over to see one of the first graders in my choir singing enthusiastically the psalms with the congregation.  If you watch these guys sing in a context like worship, there is a focus that they have which is unmatched in any adult.  It's not because adults are bad, it's just that we have lost something that children have.  It's a willingness to fully engage in what they are doing.  Up until a certain age (I can't quite tell at this point) kids LOVE to sing  -- then, something happens, and they join the rank of most adults who don't like to sing or feel inadequate doing so.  But, what if we could learn something from the little ones who sing without regard for the opinions or biases of anyone else?

This is what comes to mind when reading this verse.  We often think that the recounting of the works of the Lord in worship, be it through the spoken word or the sung word, is for our individual learning.  Though that might be part of it, the primary reason for the reading of texts and singing of hymns is the very proclamation of the works of the Lord; it is the recounting of the deeds of the God of Israel, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  When we sing, we sing as an assembly of young and old, passing on the song to the young.  It is this pattern of proclamation, this giving of the song, this teaching to recount the deeds of the living God that will preserve the young throughout their days. 

It is our responsiblity to train the young to sing, not to write them off as being young and somehow an exception in worship.  Does this mean that our 5 year olds are going to sit still and hang on every word in worship? Of course not!  But, it does mean that singing with our kids, praying with our kids, listening with our kids will train them in the way that they should participate in the liturgy.  As they get older, setting a standard of participation and engagement in worship will stick with them for the rest of their lives.  What a gift we have to give! 

One middle-schooler who loves to sing and keeps me going!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Psalm 98

I'm sorry to have neglected this blog for so long.  I hope that what you read can be helpful in your approaching the psalms.  The psalter is like a good wine.  You know it's good, artistically and perhaps culturally, but the taste may not be what you're expecting.  Maybe you get something bold when you're looking for something smooth.  Maybe you're challenged when you're looking for comfort.  Either way, there is always something unexpected when we approach the psalter.  And, to carry the metaphor further, like a good wine, the psalter can be an acquired taste, though once acquired, we tend to treasure it and on our best days share what we love with others.

My thoughts kept coming back to Psalm 98 today.  This Sunday is September 14 and for centuries, September 14 has been recognized as Holy Cross Day.  Beginning in the fourth century, it was a day to celebrate what legend has as the finding of the actual Holy Cross.  Tradition, thankfully, has turned it into a day to celebrate the victory of the cross of Christ and the saving work that the cross and resurrection afford.  This psalm is an apt psalm to go with the lessons for Holy Cross Day.

Take a minute to read it by clicking here.

This psalm comes in the middle of a chunk of psalms that are doxological (praise).  These psalms sing over and over the line "sing to the LORD a new song" or "make a joyful noise unto the LORD." They call on all creation to join the song of redemption.  Each of these psalms, beginning from about psalm 93 through psalm 104, praise God in a very direct way and always lifting up his saving work for the people who are called in his name.

Something about the phrase "sing to the LORD a new song" got to me today.  I have been chewing on this phrase in my mind and discerning where to go with it.  So many times, this phrase is used by musicians like me to encourage congregations to be about singing to the Lord a new song; be it a literal new song, or to remember the song by which we're called.  But my thoughts were different today.

When you read about the battles fought in the Old Testament, particularly in the books of the Kings, or when you read about the dedication of Solomon's Temple in both accounts (Kings and Chronicles), you see this phrase over and over again: Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his steadfast love endures for ever.  Even what we know of as the psalter was used in portions of the historical books as the songs that the people would sing upon winning the battle, dedicating the temple, or hearing the law in the assembly.  This is THE song of the Old Testament.  The people of Israel were constantly turning, disobeying and returning to God.  God would say that he would write them off, but constantly, he would come back to them out of his goodness and his steadfast love.

What does this mean when we see the command, the acclamation to sing God a new song?  Perhaps I can illustrate it with a story from my own life.

I got married about five years ago.  When you're finishing up college, you're in the middle of what you think is a temporary identity struggle but what actually turns out to be the entrance to adulthood. Crossroad's Grill was a greasy spoon in my hometown that I went to often.  It was the Wednesday before I was to be married and my dad wanted to treat me to dinner at Crossroads.  This place was great - it had the best hotdogs, fries, onion rings - fill in the fried blank.  It was the place that my friends and I would go to after exams were over.  It was the place my wife and I later deferred to on Friday nights.  But, this evening my dad and I went, a rare and wonderful treat.

We sat there and ate our respective fried goodness, a little of which goes a very long way.  We talked about a lot of things.  We talked about my being almost done with school (I had only a semester to go).  We talked about Christmas coming up in about 10 days or so.  Actually, I am only guessing that we talked about these things based on the context.  The only thing that I really remember is how satisfying that evening was, sitting there, chowing down with my dad on one of the last evenings that I would not be a "grown up" married off with new challenges.  There was a feeling of contentment that was very real and can still be felt today, but only as a memory.  It was as if, though I had been saying "I love you" for years, I wanted to say more.  I wanted to say something that would express the joy of that moment in time that was more that "I love you," that was deeper than "thank you" that was fuller than anything I could think of.

This is what I believe the "new song" is in the verses in and around psalm 98.  For centuries the people of Israel were proclaiming the steadfast love of the LORD.  Though this was still their message, it was almost not enough of a refrain; words couldn't capture the full nature of God's saving help.  All of creation is summoned in the verses of psalm 98 and following to join this song.  The new song is beyond words and in fact, all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God! The psalmist commands trumpets to sound, people to shout, the sea and all that's in it to rejoice, the lands and all who dwell in the lands.  The rivers themselves will clap over the rocks and the hills will break out in joyful singing because it is the Lord Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who comes to judge the world, reconciling all things, making all things right again.  It is the Lord triumphant, riding on the cherubim, surrounded in clouds of darkness and majesty calling all creation to the goodness of his judgment and to the faithfulness of his love.

This is a song, like our God, that can never be contained.  This is a song that will always be new because God's mercies are always new.  This is a song, a new song, that will always be new because even our words are not enough to express the joy and love of God.

My experience with dad was not unlike experiences we all have whether in relationship with others or relationship with nature.  There is a fullness that we can't quite express because we're human.  By nature of this grasping for fullness of expression, we are always looking for that new song and singing with the fullness that we can muster.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Flourishing Flowers of the Field, A Meditation on Psalm 103:15-17


"But the merciful goodness of the LORD endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear him; and his righteousness upon children's children;"  Psalm 103:17 (Coverdale)

This verse has been ringing in my head for months now.  In fact, the psalm like an ear worm has worked it's way into my thinking.  Psalm 103 is so vast and has many layers.  To unpack it, reflect on it and dig for more could fill up a book or more and should be reserved for much better writers and thinkers than I.

Though, I am left with this nagging feeling that I should write something about this psalm.  Let me start with this verse.  The first word is "but," leaving us to read what came immediately before:

"The days of man are but as grass;
for he flourisheth as a flower of the field.
For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone;
and the place thereof shall know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the . . . "

There is something oddly comforting about scripture that openly admits that humans are dying.  Be it psalm 90, or James' writing in the New Testament, or even Jesus telling us not to worry about tomorrow, there is something about confronting the notion of our death that is refreshing.  Think about how much of our lives, in our culture, is viewed as immortal, invincible. We plan for years at a time.  We treat our bodies as if nothing can hurt them.  We're surprised when we look older in pictures.  It's almost as if all of the negative things that come with aging and dying were supposed to happen to someone else.  Sure, they look older because they are getting older, but me? 

Not only is there something comforting about scripture's confrontation with the idea of dying, but also with its tying our dying to the natural process of life.  "As for mortals, their days are like grass;" (NRSV) We are all like the grass that we see come and go every year.  Those leaves that will be changing colors and falling to the ground over the next few months are pictures of our mortality.  At once, we are given youth, energy, time, resources, choices and with the choices we make, we flourish.  We use our time and energy to grow and develop based on how we treat ourselves and our existence.  If that time is used for good, we grow for good; likewise, if we use that time unwisely, then our "flourishing" may be lacking.  Nevertheless, we have this vital resource, most of us, called time and energy and thus we flourish.

But, as soon as we flourish, the wind passes over and we are gone.  Moreover, within a few generations, your unique life, gentle smile, hopeful words are gone and remembered no more.  Even some of the most famous will be forgotten in a hundred years, and certainly in a thousand years.  Death is the great equalizer; it is the same in every generation.  The wind that passes over the flower of the field shows no mercy and just as the flower grew from the soil, so is it returned to the earth.  Perhaps this flower in its death and return to the earth may provide some nourishment to the next generation, but when it is gone, it's gone and sooner or later, remembered no more.  The beauty is replaced by another flower.  The flourishing is the work of another generation.

We do everything we can to resist this notion.  And, why shouldn't we?  It really makes no sense in the context of our lives.  If we're open to it, we are surrounded by such immense beauty that it is, at times, overwhelming.  If we were to take a pause and think of the "flowers" in our lives rather than complaining about the weeds, the beauty would be astounding.  But, this isn't a lesson about looking for the flowers in your life; this is a confrontation with our own mortality, something that is so humbling and startling and that has been on the minds of psalmists and hymn writers for generations.

There is a haunting feeling when we lose someone we love.  Having experienced so many profound moments with someone in life and shared the depth of existing leaves us rebellious to the notion that we or those that we love will be forgotten.  No matter how comforting it may be to think that they are "in a better place," we have to pick up the pieces of their loss and get to know them (for lack of a better phrase) in a different way.  This isn't to mention a serious contemplation of our own dying, a pervasive thought that has kept Woody Allen in business for decades.  This reflection of our own mortality is almost beyond what we're capable of thinking, but the bards of every generation sing the song of our own end.  Natural or unnatural, scary or comforting, the wind passes over and we are gone.


the merciful goodness of the LORD endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear him...

Some translations say "from everlasting to everlasting."  The people of Israel didn't perceive a God that was out to destroy the world like the God we see described from time to time in our own culture.  God was celebrated for creation.  God was blessed for creating and pronouncing it good.  For the psalmist, the merciful goodness of YHWH is a timeless, spaceless banner into which creation is taken.  Over and above the natural processes as we see them (life, death, wind, grass, etc.) God's love is the natural constant, a backdrop that is permanently fixed.  But, even the word "backdrop" is challenging because it is this love, this steadfast love that surrounds the natural on every side. 

Our lives, like a breath, come in and go out.  But, the mercy, the love of God is for ever and for ever.  It's existence is beyond our concept of time and it's motion "forward" is beyond our perception.  Galaxies, stars, planets exist and then are gone.  The world as we know it exists in one way and then it is gone.  Our contribution to the earth will be what it is while we are here, then it is gone, remembered no more.  But, God's mercy endures for ever.  It is this mercy, this constant, that holds all things together.  As Christians, we believe that this love took its shape in Jesus Christ who (to quote St. Paul) is "all and in all," and to quote St. Luke from Acts the one in whom "we live and move and have our being."  This steadfast love of God links all of creation together as a constant.  It is this love that gave birth to creation.  It is this love that sustains and renews creation.  It is this love that draws us into a new (to us) reality of God at our death.

Therefore, if it is this love in which we were created and have our being, in which we are sustained and renewed in Christ, what is our role in our brief existence?  Is it not to live out this love in our own humble and clumsy but fully human way?  If this love is the constant that fills creation, is it our role in our short stay to bring out this love, to highlight its beauty and to show it unabashedly to all?  The flourishing flowers of the field, all rooted in the same soil, all returning to the same soil take their nourishment from the steadfast love of God in which they were created.  This love calls us in many and different ways to to show forth beauty and love to the world.  This is more than doing good for the sake of doing good; it is a radical understanding of the universality of the steadfast love of God filling all things and enduring unto the ages of ages. 

At this, I am humbled and challenged.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Psalm 90

Pardon me for taking a detour from the lectionary, but as I read this psalm last night, I felt that I needed to write a little bit about it to allow myself to process it more and hopefully shed some insight, as clumsy as it may be, on what the psalmist is singing.

If you haven't read it CLICK HERE.

I am very familiar with this psalm.  Actually, I became familiar with it the first time by singing a setting of the text by British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams and then American composer Charles Ives' setting as well.  As I read the verses, I hear what the composers did and how they treated it musically.  I am inclined to discuss it from a musical standpoint, but that's not the intention of this blog.

I get a sense of the expansiveness of our God by reading the first few verses.  In my first grade choir at the church I serve, I asked them about the kingdom of God and what that means.  Of course, they have a much better handle on the word "kingdom" than adults do.  If God rules in his kingdom, then how far does this kingdom reach? I posit that the kingdom is over all of Columbia.  "No!" they say.  "South Carolina?" "NO!" "Okay, the whole earth?" "NOO!" Finally, we settle that God's kingdom is all of creation, the WHOLE universe!  As much as we say these things, we will never come to terms with the expansiveness of God, and his kingdom while we have finite minds.  Nevertheless, over all of creation, from one generation to another, "you are God" the psalmist sings in verse two.

"For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night. You sweet us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass."  And there you have it.  The thing we are denying the most about ourselves--our mortality.  In our minds, most of us cannot conceive of dying or even its possibility, but we can't escape it in others.  People are dying all around us.  They leave their lives having lived well or not well and the wise "like the vain and stupid" all die (psalm 49).  But, what is important is not that we are going to die or that life is short, but the psalmist's response--"So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."  Dying is the reality of life and what life we live is summed up in "toil and labor" (v. 10), but the psalmist's desire is to redeem the time that he has--to make the most of each day.   Our years pass by and we grumble and observe that time is flying but the psalmist urges God to prosper his work, the work of his hands.

God is so expansive, his kingdom is for a thousand generations and will never die, but we in our flesh will die.  We will return to the sacred earth from which God formed us.  But, our lives are time to be redeemed and the work of our hands is our investment into eternity.  The older we get, the more we hope that we're doing something worthwhile.

Prosper our work, Lord.  Prosper the work of our hands and teach us to redeem our days, for we are in your keeping.  Amen.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Psalm 15, The Law

In my limited reading about psalm 15 this week, there are a few things that pop out to me.  My mind went to what Lutheran's tend to think of as "Law and Gospel."  If one were to categorize this psalm into one of the two of these, it would likely be "Law."  Law is not a bad thing.  It is not as if it is "Bad New and Good News," rather we are made free through the law, but how so?

The first verse is a question: Lord, who may enter your tent?  Who, indeed?  The answer is a decologue of commands or admonitions directing the way of the one who wishes to enter the tent.  Let's list them out, for fun:

1- Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right
2- Those who speak the truth from their heart
3- Those who don't slander
4- Those who don't do bad things to their friends
5- Those who don't stir up beef with their neighbors
6- Those who despise the wicked
7- Those who honor people who fear God
8- Those who keep their word, even when it hurts
9- Those who don't lend money with interest
10- Those who don't bribe or deceive the innocent

There are ten.  Good number.  Sound familiar?  When we sing this psalm, we sing these commands and who among us can sing this without being guilty of not being the kind of person who can enter the tabernacle?  Being a part of community, being the "chosen" of God comes with dire responsibility.  It is enough that God has called his people, but they must listen to this calling and this involves sacrifice.  His people have been given a law as salvation and much of that law concerns our relationship with the community.

Think about the list and consider how many of these concern our relationship with others.  That alone is enough argument for a deeper sense of who we are as a community.  We are a broken community.  How do we enter the tent of God if we cannot abide by the law that God gives us?  


Jesus is our once and for all sacrifice for sin and in him is the fulfillment of the law.  This makes sense with the I Corinthians reading for this week.  In his own litany of questions, St. Paul lifts up our salvation as being through the cross and the one who boasts, boasts in the Lord.

As Luther would call us to do, we see Christ at the center of this psalm.  He is evident in the law, its fulfillment and the grace of God outpoured in the cross.  Ponder and search this great mystery that the God of all would give us such grace.  May we be so bold as to give others grace this week and to be renewed in our calling through the cross in this life of grace.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Psalm 40 and a "New Thing"

Psalm 40 (Click HERE to read)

After a conversation with some good friends, we put it this way: if life were a test, we'd all fail.  Look at verse 13.  The psalmist asserts the same conclusion here.  His sins are more than he can fathom, more than the hairs on his head.  And, like the hairs on our head, for a while (I know this well, now) hair will grow back when some has fallen out.  The hope of being removed from our sins seems bleak--but we back up and read the rest of the psalm.

I love verse two--"He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure."  When we are "in our sins," for lack of a better phrase, our hope does indeed seem dismal, but it is present nonetheless.  The psalmist confirms right away that his hope is in the LORD, the holy one who has lifted him up.  Only later does he refer to the pit of his sin from which he has been lifted up and even then his eyes are lifted up to God --"O LORD, make hasted to help me."

We have failed the test of life.  We cannot be removed from sin on our own effort.  I rather like to look at psalms like this in the light of the New Testament, particularly what St. Paul says in II Corinthians 5 - "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away and all things are made new."  We can even consider last week's Old Testament reading from Isaiah, the famous passage "See, I am doing a new thing."

God is doing a new thing, and you are part of it whether you are aware or not.  The answer to the level of your engagement in this "new thing" is given for us in verse 17 of the psalm we're considering: "Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad;  let those who love your salvation continually say 'Great is the LORD!'"  and follow that with verse 18, "Though I am poor and afflicted, the lord will have regard for me."

The Lord is your helper today and all days.  Seek him and you will find him.  Look for him and he will be made known to you.  Once you see him, share Jesus in your actions and in your love and quest for love.  He makes all things new and you are part of that.  Get on board!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Psalm 29, Theophany

Psalm 29

Take a second to click on the link above and read this psalm.  Let the imagery wash over you.  Read a couple of times and pray through it.  What is God saying to you through this psalm?

Some sources say that this is a psalm not original to the people of Israel.  This is of no concern to us.  It is typical in the historical tradition of a faith to adopt practices from religious "neighbors" and make them our own.

Let's learn a new word in considering this psalm: Theophany.  Theophany means "physical manifestation of a deity."  This is a theophany psalm.  The imagery proclaims a God visibly at work and audible.  Cedars are broken, flames of fire, the wilderness shaking all make for glorious imagery--oh, and that too, the people of God crying "Glory!"

Rather than delve too much into how this psalm fits in the Israelite culture, something that I am hardly qualified to do, I would like for us to think about this psalm in terms of its liturgical significance this Sunday.  This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.  The gospel writers paint the picture of the Theophany--Jesus, the son being baptized, the Father proclaiming Jesus, the Christ and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove.  God is made visible in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The baptism of Jesus is in part, the inauguration of his ministry here on earth.

This psalm sings of the voice of the Lord over the waters.  It is over these waters in which Jesus is set apart for ministry.  It is over these waters that the voice of God proclaims Jesus as his son in whom he is well pleased.  These waters seal Jesus with the Holy Spirit, just like you and me.  And, just like you and me, these waters are a covenant binding us with God and making us responsible for the work to be done in a creation that God was well pleased to create.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters, ordaining Jesus, proclaiming his work and sanctifying him of the work ahead.  Without getting into too much baptismal theology (a task that I will gladly reserve for those more qualified), I do want to say that in Jesus' baptism we see a model for living and a pattern that begins with giving.  Jesus gives himself in the waters, "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," to the work of his Father.  This work is the reconciliation of all things completed in the cross and resurrection.  Just like Jesus, we are set apart in baptism and called to work toward the reconciliation of all things to the Father.  This begins with worship and is extended to the world seeking peace where ever possible and actively engaging in the work of justice and reconciliation.

The voice of the Lord has called you.  This voice is a voice of great power.  Worship him.  This voice melts the earth (psalm 46), it makes the oaks writhe.  Listen to the call.