Changing direction

Watching for Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

File:Spoilt for Choice^ - geograph.org.uk - 640101.jpgAsh Wednesday takes us into territory that we, as Americans, don’t travel much. It is a season of repentance. We have a hard time acknowledging our sins, much less feeling bad about it. Nor do we like to think about our mortality and the frailty of life. But there is no wisdom without these.

Our instinctive national answer to the tragedy in the Middle East is to blame and send more troops, not to ask how we ended up here and whether there is another path we should take. We do not like to consider whether there are stains on our hands.

There is something to be said for the forward view of American culture. We are a people who do not feel bound by the past. Its blessing is our inventiveness. Its curse is that we do not learn well from the past.

We do not have time for navel-gazing; there are things to do. We do not believe in abstinence; the economy depends upon impulse purchases. Even Santa, after all, we now know, ditches his sleigh for the much more pleasurable experiences of delivering present in his bright red Mercedes.

Ash Wednesday tells us to be still. To remember we are mortal. To consider the realm of the spirit. To let go of some generally simple pleasures (that we imagine we cannot live without) and turn our attention to those who are in need of life’s most basic necessities like food and shelter. Or friendship. Or kindness. Or a listening ear.

So Wednesday we will hear the traditional texts from Joel calling us to return to the LORD, and the David’s psalm crying out to God after being confronted with the abuse of his royal power to take Bathsheba and rob Uriah of his life. We will hear Paul urge us to be reconciled with God. And we will hear Jesus talk about the difference between acts of public piety and a life that embodies the mercy of God.

Forty days is much to long to feel sad about our sins. But both the Greek and Hebrew words translated as repentance mean changing our direction, not feeling guilty.

We need occasionally to stop, and look, and turn away from the well-worn path into that other path that is true life.

We call it Lent.

It takes us to Easter.

The Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, Holy and Immortal,
who knows the secrets of every heart
and brings all things to the light of your grace.
Root us ever in your promised mercy
that, freed from every sin and shame,
we may walk the paths of your truth and love.

The Texts for Ash Wednesday

First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” – Facing a terrible plague of locusts, the prophet calls for the people to turn to God, marking themselves with dust and ashes and rent hearts that God may see their desperate plight and come to their aid.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” – In our parish, we use the appointed Psalm 51 (the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba ) in the confession at the beginning of our liturgy. When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 (Appointed: 5:20b-6:10)
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– Paul calls his troubled congregation to live within the reconciling work of God in Christ.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that, in order to enter into God’s dawning reign, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees were known. Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

 

Image: John Bennett [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Centered in God

File:Desert Rose Labyrinth.jpg

Friday

Luke 9:28-36

29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Prayer is given a central place by Luke in his Gospel. He begins his Gospel with an answer to Zechariah’s prayer. Anna spends her time in the temple with fasting and prayer night and day.” The Spirit comes upon Jesus after his baptism when he is praying. Jesus withdraws from the community to pray. Jesus spends the night in prayer before choosing the twelve. He is praying alone when he asks his disciples the fateful question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He goes up to the Mount of Transfiguration in order to pray and is in prayer when “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

It is because the disciples see him in prayer that they ask Jesus to teach them to pray – in answer to which we get the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray always and not lose heart. And Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is so intense that Luke tells us the sweat dripped off him like large drops of blood.

The 120 believers are gathered in prayer after the resurrection. They pray for boldness when they are threatened to silence – and their prayer is answered immediately. There is prayer for the Spirit, and prayer of intercession and prayer before healing.

Saul is in prayer after his encounter with Jesus on the road top Damascus left him blind. Cornelius is in prayer when the angel visits him, and Peter is in prayer at the house of Simon the Tanner when he has his vision of the net where no one is unclean.

Paul and Barnabas are sent on their mission after a period of prayer and fasting, and with prayer and fasting they, in turn, appoint elders in the churches they found.

What happens to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration happens in prayer. This is not just pious talk for Luke. He understands that deep and significant things happen in prayer – things that have much less to do with obtaining divine favors and much more to do with being guided and empowered.

And that’s what happens on the Mount of Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his coming “departure’ (in Greek, ‘exodus’), the road that awaits him in Jerusalem.

There is a kind of prayer that intercedes for others, that asks for God to do something. But at its core, prayer is a deep listening, a communing, a syncing of our hearts with the heart of God.

We can see it on the face of others when they are troubled within. We can also see it when they are centered in God.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADesert_Rose_Labyrinth.jpg. By AliveFreeHappy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember the holy

Clouds and light

Thursday

Luke 9:28-36

A cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

One of my brothers got married some years ago, when my girls were young, at a place I presume, now, was in the Oakland hills. It was then – and is still – unfamiliar territory to me. I should ask my brother where this was.

I only know that after we left the wedding reception late that night, the road rose up along the edge of the grass covered hills and we were unexpectedly engulfed in a thick, thick fog. Suddenly there were no stars, no city lights, no horizon and no other cars. It was profoundly disorienting. We were in this ethereal white cocoon unable to see to the side of the road. It was also scary; we were traveling a mountain road and I could not see where the road went.

I have sympathy for Peter, James and John, an all night prayer vigil makes anyone’s head droop. They are alone up there, away from the safety and security of the village (this is not a world in which people went camping!), when suddenly they are startled awake by two men talking with Jesus. There before them are the holy figures of Moses and Elijah, radiant with the glory of the celestial realm. And then they are enveloped in a cloud – a cloud they know can only mean the divine presence. Like Moses and Elijah on Sinai, they are in the presence of the Holy One – these decidedly unholy fishermen.

Disorienting. Fearful. And then the voice. No wonder they kept silent about what they had seen.

We are a first name culture. We are a society in which everyone’s photos and thoughts are public. Here is me with my buds. Here is me on vacation. Here is me at dinner.   Here is the sunset I see, or the blossoming daffodils. (Yes, I know that grammatically it should be “Here am I”, but somehow the repetition of the word “me” seems more appropriate.) We post our favs and show our videos. Grieving families do the morning news. Not much is hidden.

It is hard to appreciate what Peter, James and John felt in the presence of the holy. But I felt a piece of it that night in the fog when I could see nothing familiar. When the world seemed to dissolve around me. When I was confronted with something I had never experienced before.

There is something good in that part of Christian faith that recognizes the intimacy of our relationship with God. Jesus, after all, dared call God “Father” and bid us do the same. But there is also a time to remember the holy, the otherness, the majesty and mystery of God. There is a time to be weak in the knees. There is a time to know the awe.

 

Photo: dkbonde

The LORD reigns

File:Chora Christ south coupole.jpg

Wednesday

Psalm 99

1The LORD is king;
let the peoples tremble!

I’m not sure why some translators render this line as “The LORD is king” while others as “The LORD reigns.” I do not know whether there is some evidence for that decision or it is purely a stylistic choice. The Hebrew text is pointed as a verb, though that pointing was added centuries later.

I prefer the translation “The LORD reigns.” That God is king seems like a static notion. I do not much care who sits on the throne; I care very much indeed who is doing the governing.

It is important to declare that God is king. The world’s turmoil and trouble seems rooted in the notion that we are the masters of the world – a notion that leaves many bodies in the earth and few fish in the sea. If we were mindful that God is king we might act with a little more humility, a little less warring, a little more care of the neighbor and care of the earth.

But, as I said, sitting in the White House is one thing; running the country is something else.

I need to hear that God is actually reigning. I need to hear it proclaimed to me that we are not living in a lawless and godforsaken fringe of the empire. I need the voice of God in the scriptures to declare that there is some accountability happening in this world for those who murder young girls or shoot up a holiday party. I need to be assured that the breath of God is blowing through our affairs to frustrate the plans of the wicked and stir up the compassion of the righteous.

I need the promise that God will reign in me.

I know the psalm has its origin in some great public liturgy where God is acclaimed as king in Israel. But the psalm is also now word of God. It is now not just praise but proclamation. It is a word for us that God does indeed reign.

 

Image: Chora church in Istanbul.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChora_Christ_south_coupole.jpg.  By No machine-readable author provided. Neuceu assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Radiant with Heaven’s glory

File:Alexandr Ivanov 015 - variation.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 7, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Transfiguration

As we stand at the threshold of Lent and its journey to Jerusalem and the cross and resurrection, this final Sunday after Epiphany takes us to the Mount of Transfiguration. There, the chosen one of God, anointed with the Spirit, and declared God’s “Son” at his baptism, is made radiant by the presence of God. It is a story sandwiched between two passion predictions. Jesus is pointing his followers to his destiny: he will suffer and die and on the third day be raised.

This teaching is beyond anyone’s comprehension. No one has imagined such a destiny for the Messiah. The disciples don’t understand. We don’t understand. God should fix things not suffer them, right wrongs not endure them. God should vanquish enemies, not be their victim.

This is why, if you read the extended version of the appointed text, you will hear Jesus say: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” (And if you are reading the extended version, you should go all the way through their incomprehension in verse 45.)

Jesus is the crowning revelation of God. Like Moses at Sinai and Elijah in the cleft of the rock, Jesus climbs up the mountain into the cloud of God’s presence. But Moses and Elijah appear not as Jesus’ equals, but to bear witness to him. They discuss his “departure”, his coming death and resurrection (literally his “exodus”), and in the end Jesus stands alone and the voice of God declares to the sleepy-but-startled-into-wakefulness, terrified-in-the-presence-of-God disciples: “This is my Son (a royal title), my Chosen; listen to him.”

Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. And yet it is for the weary and heavy laden. It is demanding, yet full of grace. It promises life, but asks us to lay ours down. It forgives, but requires us to forgive. It loves, but requires us to love. It shows Jesus mighty against the demonic realm but helpless upon the cross. But even on the cross exercising kingly mercy.

It’s no wonder the disciples are confused. This is not the kind of Messiah for whom they have hoped. The Romans are forgiven not judged, enemies to be loved not conquered. Hundreds of years of foreign oppression goes unavenged, replaced by a mission to gather them all into the wide net of God’s mercy and grace. How can it be?

So here, in Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus bathed in the light of God’s presence. And here, with Peter, James and John on the mountain, God summons us to attend, to listen, to hear, to devour Jesus’ teaching and understand his deeds.

It is a vision meant to sustain us through Good Friday so that we are still in Jerusalem on Easter morn, ready to witness the eighth day, the day of new creation.

The Prayer for February 7, 2016

Holy and Gracious God,
wrapped in mystery, yet revealed in your Son Jesus.
Renew us by the radiant vision of your Son;
make us ever attentive to his voice and worthy of your service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 7, 2016

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
“As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” – Moses’ face shines from the radiance of God’s presence.

Psalmody: Psalm 99 (Psalm 2 is the appointed psalm; Psalm 99 the option)
“The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!”
– The psalmist sings of God as ruler of all, and of Moses and Aaron with whom God spoke.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
“We act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.” – Paul, writing to defend his ministry and to be reconciled with the Corinthian congregation, uses the image of Moses covering his shining face as a metaphor of the fading glory of the covenant at Sinai compared to the more glorious covenant in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36 (Optional: Luke 9:28-43)
“Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
– In a narrative rich with imagery from Moses on Mt. Sinai, three disciples see Jesus radiant with the Glory of God and consulting with Moses and Elijah. They hear God’s voice declare again that Jesus is “my Son”, bidding them to listen to him.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAlexandr_Ivanov_015_-_variation.jpg by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The touch of God’s mercy

File:Woman praying at the Western Wall.jpg

Sunday Evening

Psalm 71:1-6

2In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

There was a woman at the altar rail deep in prayer as I came with the bread of Holy Communion. We are set up so that the altar rail surrounds three sides of the altar and the servers can walk in a continuous circle around the altar, serving each person – with the spaces emptying and filling again by the time we come around again.

We have kneeling pads so people can kneel if they wish. And occasionally someone is in prayer when I come with the bread. But the prayers are usually brief – or they become aware of my presence and open their hands. Today this woman didn’t look up.

Open hands are a symbol that a person wishes to receive. Hands closed together are a sign that a person wishes only to receive the blessing. But were these closed hands or folded hands? Was she awaiting a blessing or deep in prayer and not yet ready for the bread?

I have asked people before whether they wished to receive – especially on those times when their hands were not really open but not completely closed. These are often visitors not aware of the routine we follow in this place. And I have waited for people to finish praying. But this person was deep in prayer.

Part of my brain was trying to decide what to do. But my heart was with this woman’s cry to God. And before my brain made up its mind what to do, my hand reached out to give her a blessing. Whether she wanted to receive communion or not, she seemed to need the touch of a human hand making the sign of the cross on her forehead, reminding her that she belonged to a gracious God.

The bread does that too, and more. Much more. But there is something about the touch of another and the sign of the cross that has great power.

We need more than words in worship. We need to hear music. We need to taste the bread and smell the wine. We need the handshake that goes with the word of peace. We need to stand and sit and kneel. We need even to dance – though Lutherans don’t do that much, you can occasionally catch them swaying. It is more than our minds that need to feel the touch of God’s mercy.

 

Woman praying at the Western Wall.  Photo: By Shoshanah (Flickr: 2008-06-25 00212) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“I am only a boy!”

File:Christ the King Church, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico00.jpg

Malachi, Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah. Christ the King Church, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Saturday

Jeremiah 1:4-10

6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

We have history with certain texts. When an angel greets Gideon with the familiar words “The LORD is with you,” Gideon responds, “Pray, sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” I remember that text from when I was eighteen and the pastor read it at my brother’s funeral. The text never quite escapes that moment in time. And the promise lingers: though we do not see it, God is with us.

There is a text from the Gospel of Mark that my high school youth group advisors wrote in a small Bible they gave me as I went off to college. It had a profound, almost haunting, influence on my life. There is a text in Psalm 11 that prompted me to risk accepting a call to inner city ministry in Detroit. There is a text in Romans 8 with which I struggled mightily for a paper for my Romans class in Seminary. In that struggle the secret of understanding the scriptures was revealed to me. And then there is this text in Sunday’s reading that was given to me as I headed off to a summer mission in Taiwan after my senior year in High School.

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.

All through the scriptures people try to avoid the task God lays before them. Moses claims he cannot speak. Isaiah is “a man of unclean lips.” Saul demurs that he is from the least clan of the smallest tribe. Gideon is the youngest in his family. Jonah simply refuses and flees. Jeremiah claims no one will listen to a mere youth.

But it is the message that matters, not the messenger. It is about the word God speaks, not the vessel God chooses. God’s words can irritate us like a shutter banging in the wind, or haunt us like the wind through a poorly sealed window. They can sustain us like foundation stones or connect us like a bridge over troubled water. They can be a polished mirror of self-discovery or a whispered shame. They can raise up and cast down nations. And they will do these things no matter who speaks the words. It was a sermon from the most inept preacher I have ever heard that had the greatest impact on my life. It is the message that matters, not the messenger.

The word that Jeremiah speaks is not his own. It lives in him and through him but it is not his own. These are not the words of his passion or rage at corruption of his time. These are not the hopes and desires of his own spirit – there are others who are skilled in speaking in God’s name exactly what their audience wants to hear. The word Jeremiah is commissioned to speak is from beyond him. It is rooted in the tradition and springs forth from the Spirit. His task is to hear and to speak what he hears.

Such words are routinely dismissed – sometimes for some defect we find in the messenger – or simply because we don’t like what we hear. King Jehoiakim takes a knife, calmly slices every few columns from the scroll of God’s words through Jeremiah that is being read to him, and tosses it into the fire. But there is power in those words. They will do their work. They judge and condemn. They will also heal and forgive.

Jeremiah’s age matters not. What matters is hearing truly and speaking faithfully. For the power is not in the speaker; it is in the Word God sends us to speak.

 

Image: By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca (www.flickr.com/photos/eltb/6221310983) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChrist_the_King_Church%2C_Monterrey%2C_Nuevo_Leon%2C_Mexico00.jpg

Lynching: A hometown response to Jesus

File:Angry mob of four.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 31, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4:21-30

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

Jesus has dared to suggest that the grace and mercy of God are not the possession of God’s people but are God’s gift to all. It nearly gets him killed. We take our religion pretty seriously. We want to hear that God is on our side, that God’s wants us to be happy, healthy and wise, that God will protect us in the day of famine or disease and not someone from our hated enemies.

Jesus’ problem is twofold. First, he acts like a prophet when he is just a construction worker. He’s too big for his britches. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” is just a snarky way to say “Who does he think he is?!” and to begin the process of cutting him down to size. This is what leads to the second accusation: “What does he think he’s doing spreading God’s gifts around! Charity begins at home. He should be doing his healing here among his own people, not wasting them on people from other towns and villages.” And so we are into the argument and Jesus is confronting them with reminders about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Namaan the Syrian.

Jesus seems pretty rude in this exchange. But he is exposing the poison in their hearts. He is lancing the boil. He is provoking them to reveal their hardness of heart. And they oblige – wanting to throw him from the brow of the hill.

This story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry foreshadows the end – the cross and resurrection. For they will indeed kill Jesus, but he will “pass through their midst.”

So Sunday we hear of corrupt religion and the violence it can engender. And we hear that God’s work is not stopped by it. And we will hear of Jeremiah’s call to preach God’s message – for which he will be afflicted, but God’s word will do its work. And we hear the psalmist cry out for protection against enemies. And in the background of all this embattled preaching is Paul singing about faith, hope and love enduring forever – and the greatest of these is love. This is the life to which these followers of Christ have been brought. Here we are invited into the dawning of that new age that Jesus has told us is fulfilled in himself.

The Prayer for January 31, 2016

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 31, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angry_mob_of_four.jpg by Robert Couse-Baker (Flickr: angry mob) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Like a bridegroom

File:SunFromClouds.jpg

Friday

Psalm 19

4 In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

The image of the bridegroom bursting forth from his tent may not speak as easily to us as the strong man running his course in joy. We have all seen the victors in an Olympic race grab their national flag and lap the field in exultation and joy, or our favorite team charge onto the field of battle amidst thundering music and fireworks, gesturing to the crowd to get them roaring louder.

The bridegroom coming out “from his wedding canopy” – is this image the canopy held over the bridal couple during their vows? Is the equivalent modern image the bridal couple beaming as they come down the aisle? Or is it the groom coming forth from the bridal chamber, fresh and triumphant from the arms of his beloved? Ancient mythology imagined the sun-god spending the night with his lover and rising vigorous to run his race across the heavens.

It’s a far cry from our usual groan as the alarm goes off on Monday morning and we rise to face the day. We who are wearied by the changes and chances of life do not normally bound out of bed. If the news media and pharmaceutical industry ads are to be believed, we are perennially tired, depressed, or afflicted.

It is refreshing to imagine the sun bursting into the day like an athlete onto the field, a celestial celebration with arms raised in joy and exaltation. The Biblical writers see the trees clapping, the mountains singing, the waves resounding in praise. We are diminished when the song of the meadowlark is not heard as a song of praise but merely a territorial claim and an attempted intimidation of rivals. We are diminished when the whisper of the Aspen is just wind and not the forest asong or in prayer.   We are diminished when the sun is just a nearby star and not a bridegroom filled with love and joy.

Life is hard. But it is made harder when we do not see the beauty around us – and when we do not understand that all the beauty and song of the natural world praises the life-giving, merciful, and steadfast love at the heart of all existence.

Perhaps we would greet the day more kindly if we remembered that “the heavens are telling the glory of God…”

 

Image: By Bartosz Kosiorek [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Words we do not mean

File:Germinating seedling.jpg

Thursday

Psalm 19

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

I asked the question yesterday whether we will mean it on Sunday when we say, while reading this psalm, that God’s Word, God’s commands, are “more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.” But we don’t have to mean it on Sunday; we have to say it.

We don’t have to mean these words and others like them; we have to say them. We have to say them again and again. We have to say these words so they can nestle down into some corner of our souls so that, in the day when wealth fails us – for surely it will. Wealth is fickle, and frail, and cannot sustain us in the face of life’s sorrows. No one yearns on their death beds to be reconciled with neglected bank accounts or visited by lost possessions – we say these words so that, in the day that wealth fails us, these words will be there, ready to fill the empty space left by our failed hope in money’s power to bless.

The church is routinely criticized for saying words we do not live. Those criticisms are fair; they just don’t understand the nature of the words we speak. None of us are saints yet (in the common understanding of that term). We are all far from the fullness of the kingdom. We do not love as we ought to love. We do not trust in God as we ought to trust. We are frail human beings limping toward the promised land. So we say words we do not mean, or do not mean perfectly, because we are planting those words in our souls that they may sprout and grow and – in the days when all the other things in which we hope and trust fail us – carry us into the presence of God.

Our parents made us practice saying “Thank you” when we received a gift from Aunt Sarah for which we were not thankful, and to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling we have punched when we were not at all sorry. They were not teaching us to practice insincerity. They were teaching us such words in hopes that thankfulness and compassion would find root and grow in us.

A day will come when God’s promise to me will be more important than the largest lottery prize, but I am not ready for that test yet. There is a reason the devil offered Jesus all the wealth and power of the world. Thankfully, Jesus chose God’s word.

So Sunday we will read aloud the words of Psalm 19, we will sing songs of praise we may not feel, we will pray prayers and hear stories we may not believe in. Not yet. Or not completely. But we will come that the word may be planted in us and bear its fruit in its season.

 

Image: By Dbxsoul (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons