With glad cries of deliverance

File:Esprit nomade.JPG

Saturday

Psalm 32

7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

It’s a sweet verse, a memory verse, the kind you might keep in your pocket through the day or find inscribed in a cross-stitch on the wall. It’s the kind of promise added to photos of mountains and sunsets and sent around the Internet or posted on the overhead screen at church. We need such verses. We need the promise. We need the reminder. “You surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”

But the verse doesn’t stand alone in this psalm. The author has just finished describing his distress, declaring that: “Day and night [God’s] hand was heavy upon me.” The poet’s life had become arid and brittle: “my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer”.

Though he now finds himself surrounded by joy, he has seen affliction. He has walked those paths where the life of the Spirit withers. Where some bitterness, anger or sorrow occupies the heart, where some hidden sin or open defiance pushes us away, where misfortune darkens the spirit, or where the ordinary burdens of life suck us dry.

The poet finds the root of his particular spiritual wasteland in himself. He is the one who has closed himself from God. He is the one in whom some unacknowledged defect of character or fault of conduct has robbed him of life’s goodness and joy. But he exults that the God of mercy has brought him back. So he sings and sings rightly that God surrounds him with deliverance.

It is important to keep in mind the whole of this psalm and not just the one verse of triumph. The American adoration of success often makes it seem like the Christian life should be an endless stream of victories, but the journey of life is a complicated one. Things happen. Sometimes terrible things. Sometimes we bring these upon ourselves. Sometimes not, as Job knows so well.

We live entangled in a fallen world, but the poet reminds us not to be swallowed by it. These great and precious promises of deliverance stand side by side with the acknowledgment of arid days. They do not judge us when we fail; they call us toward the light. And they remind us that even the driest days and months and years are yet surrounded by the joyful cries of creation’s first light and the empty tomb.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEsprit_nomade.JPG By Hamdanmourad (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Temptation

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Watching for the Morning of March 5, 2017

The First Sunday in Lent

Good and evil. Beauty and ugliness. Nobility and degradation. The words have a wide range of meaning in Hebrew. Harmony and disorder. We always envision the serpent entwined in that tree, enticing the first humans to reach out their hands and pluck for themselves rather than trust God’s vision for their life in that garden. All the trees in the garden were open to them. Even the tree of life. But life’s evils and sorrows God did not want us to have to endure. But we did. And God did, beneath the whips and spit of Roman soldiers and the excruciating pain of the nails into the wood that became for us another tree of life.

This wasn’t a test of their obedience; it was a test of their trust in God. Would they trust that this tree meant sorrow and death? Would they trust that God meant for them joy and life? But the serpent’s question sowed doubt. Instead living inside God’s promise they became observers and critics of that promise. “Did God say…?” And suddenly, their hearts are turned inward and their hands stretch outward to pluck that deadly fruit.

Who shall be our hope when we persistently break faith with God? Who shall be our hope when humanity becomes tower builders, empire builders, weapons makers, revenge seekers? Who shall be our hope when humanity becomes masters and slaves, thieves and victims, deceivers and deceived? Who shall be our hope?

And now stands Jesus in the wilderness, weak with hunger but mighty in prayer. And that insidious voice begins to speak. Those round rocks look just like bread. Why should you go hungry, Jesus? One little word and you can fill your belly.

It is not the story of one man; it is a story in which the fate of all humanity hangs in the balance. Is there hope for us? Is there one who will be the faithful son?

Sunday is the first of the Sundays in Lent, a time of spiritual renewal, of fasting and prayer and care of others. A season that begins with the story of the testing of Adam and Eve, and the testing of Jesus. Our first parents fail. We fail. But our elder brother remains true. So this season may be sober sometimes, the shadow of the cross is serious, but it is a season of joy.

“Our Father”

During Lent each year our parish focuses upon one portion of the catechism – this year, the Lord’s Prayer. Over these coming Sundays we will talk about the meaning of that remarkable prayer, beginning this Sunday with the significance of the beginning: “Our Father.” It is worth pondering that we are taught to speak to God as members of a single human family. Our Ash Wednesday sermon began this series talking about the uniqueness of Jesus’ way of prayer. It can be found here at on our blog site that also contains our brief Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 5, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Faithful,
who guided Israel in the wilderness
and sustained Jesus in the days of his testing,
uphold us in our times of trial.
Strengthen us by your Word
and empower us with your Spirit
that, standing in Christ,
we may share in his perfect faithfulness;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 5, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”’?” – With his question, the serpent disrupts the simple trust Adam and Eve had in God, and they seek to be “like God” knowing what is noble and what is not.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” – The poet celebrates the forgiveness of God, describing the corrosive power of unacknowledged sin and the liberating power of God’s mercy.

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
– Paul contrasts Adam and Christ. Through Adam sin entered the world and with sin death. In Christ, grace now governs and with grace, life.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” – Having been honored by God’s declaration that he is God’s beloved son, the demonic spirits test that claim, trying to show Jesus unworthy of the acclaim. But Jesus shows himself the faithful son. Where Israel showed themselves faithless in the wilderness, Jesus remains faithful.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eva_tentando_a_Adam.JPG By seraphyn, the olod Latinoamerican´s (de mi autoría.Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fumbling at fig leaves: of rupture and rapture

Saturday

(One final look at last Sunday’s texts.  A thought from Saturday I was unable to finish then.)

Genesis 3

File:Adam and Eve. Downfall.jpg

Downfall, by Andrey Mironov

7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

We began to hide from one another that first day.  We sought to be like God and found shame.

I remember my little sister escaping from the bathroom after her bath and running through the house naked.  We were laughing; mother was chasing her with a towel; she was delighting in the chase, not thinking about her nakedness – or perhaps reveling in it because it evoked the chase.

It was not just innocence that our first parents enjoyed in the garden.  It was like the joy of play, the bliss of love, or losing yourself in the act of creating: an utter lack of self-consciousness.

The Greek word is ekstasis: to stand outside oneself.  From it we get the word ecstasy.  We mimic it now chemically.  Too few of us know how to lose ourselves in play or love or prayer; self-consciousness has become our normal state.

We hide not just with clothes to cover our nakedness, not just with attire designed to hide our worst features and accent our best, not simply with makeup and hair products, the trappings of power, the titles of office, or the symbols of success, but with all manner or social niceties: “How are you?” “Fine, and you?” “Great!”  We wear the masks of daily life and respect the masks others wear.  But, in truth, we are fumbling at fig leaves.  It is hard to hide – except that we all agree to respect our privacy and not challenge the polite fictions that we are “Great!”

The rupture between God and ourselves is profound; it has left us feeling exposed and vulnerable.  We don’t even recognize, anymore, that our shame has these deep spiritual roots.  But this is the power of religious ecstasy – in prayer, in mediation, in speaking in tongues, dance, or music there is a moment when barriers between self and God come down and we experience reconciliation with the divine, overwhelming love, complete forgiveness: a taste of our lost innocence.

We cannot hold on to that state of being – it is, in the end, gift not possession – but we remember.  And the enduring memory of those moments shapes our lives.

The experiences of altered consciousness induced by drugs and alcohol and the frenzy of dance clubs, stadiums or mobs are pale and often dangerous imitations.  But our desire for them reveals that deep within there is a hunger for that reunion with the Divine, a hunger for our lost innocence.

God feels it, too.

Gardeners and gardening

Friday

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

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A Mute Swan has built a nest using plastic garbage

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

The image behind this narrative is a royal garden.  We have seen these vast and exquisite gardens at Versailles and palaces throughout the world – though the problem with those images is the contrast between the luxury of the palace and the poverty in which most people lived.  In the creation story, all humanity is placed in God’s royal garden.

A Google image search of “royal gardens” reveals a wondrous collection of beautiful, groomed gardens – and also a smoking lump of lava in a “Royal Gardens” subdivision.  It’s a strange intrusion into the panorama of quiet and peaceful luxury.  Further down are yet more images of the lava flow through this area, including one of the twisted and burnt wrecks carried to the end of the lava flow.

Those images remind us that all is not peaceful with the world.  And as unsettling as images of natural disasters may be, the truly disturbing images are what we have done to God’s garden.  Try a Google image search of “pollution”.  Or try “poverty”.

We are Heaven’s royal gardeners, caretakers of the God’s estate, given permission to eat from any tree of the garden but one – and choosing the one forbidden.

It was forbidden to us not as some “forbidden pleasure” – that’s the lie the serpent told – it was forbidden in the same way that a parent says, “Don’t touch the plate; it’s hot.”  Drinking Clorox was forbidden in our house (though I did that by accident) and turpentine, too (also, by accident – I didn’t make Mother’s life easy).  Actually, neither were expressly forbidden, for who would have even considered it?!  But after having my stomach pumped a few times, I didn’t drink anything I didn’t put in the cup myself.  Why should we want to know evil?  What should we want to know life’s sorrows?  Why should we want to have our stomachs pumped?  God was not hiding pleasures from us – he had given a garden of pleasures.  He was warning us of pain and grief.

But we didn’t want to be God’s gardeners; we wanted to be gods!   And we have reaped sorrow.

4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

We are still wrestling with this commission to be God’s gardeners, caretakers of the earth and caretakers of one another.  The scandal of Cain’s remark, “Am I my brothers keeper?” is precisely that he was his brother’s keeper.

It is a calling we are still fleeing.  But God keeps coming in search of us.

A new creation

Watching for the morning of March 9

Year A

The First Sunday in Lent

Creation stained glassAdam and Jesus.  The old Adam and the new.  Failure and faithfulness.  Death and Life.  The First Sunday in Lent each year takes us to the narrative about the testing of Jesus in the wilderness.  In the background of that great struggle to tear down the one God had declared his “Beloved Son” stands the narrative of our first parents who blithely abandoned the tree of life, trusting the word of the serpent rather than the voice of God.

And so death entered the world.  Humanity reached for divinity and grasped mortality.  Our access to the tree of life was closed by angels bearing flaming swords.  With the door shut behind us, the path before becomes one of fratricide and murderous revenge; labor in childbirth and sweat in the fields.  Life comes to hang on the thin thread of crops and the eternal struggle with weeds.  The relationship between men and women is distorted.  Angelic beings sleep with human women, crossing boundaries that ought not be crossed.  And suddenly the floodgates of heaven are opened to wash the world clean.

But it is not made clean.  Humanity resists God’s call and command.  They build a tower rather than go forth to tend and people the world.  Empires rise and, with empires, slavery.  Hunger drives the Egyptians to sell all their lands to the crown – and clever Joseph’s descendants who came as honored guests are turned to slaves.  Humanity created in the image of God become beasts of burden and beastly overlords.

God help us.

And so there is Moses and Sinai and the prophets speaking of a new path.  And then there is faithful David who one day lets others do the fighting and stays home to steal a wife (and hide it with murder).  It is downhill from David.  Assyria.  Babylon.  Persia.  Greece.  Rome.  Empire after empire claiming the faith and allegiance of the people, taking their sons and daughters and lands and crops.  And the world becomes sweatshops and death camps and slavery and human carnage.  East of Eden.

Until that child is born.  Until that man walks out into the wilderness and the devil cannot defeat him.  His trust in God is not broken.  He remains faithful.  The new Adam/ the new Man – the truly human one.  Ever united to the will of God.  Ever governed by the Spirit of God.  Whom empire would crush but cannot crush, for God opens the grave.  He is the beloved one.  He is the rebirth of humanity.  He is the dawning reign of God.

15For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  (Romans 5)

It is why we journey towards Easter, why we seek to live into Easter, why “if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.”

The Prayer for March 9, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and Faithful,
who guided Israel in the wilderness,
and sustained Jesus in the days of his testing:
uphold us in our times of trial.
Strengthen us by your Word
and empower us with your Spirit
that, standing in Christ,
we may share in his perfect faithfulness

The Texts for March 9, 2014

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” – With his question, the serpent disrupts the simple trust Adam and Eve had in God, and they seek to be “like God” knowing what is noble and what is not.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” – The poet celebrates the forgiveness of God, describing the corrosive power of unacknowledged sin – and the liberating power of God’s mercy.

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
– Paul contrasts Adam and Christ.  Through Adam sin entered the world and with sin death.  In Christ, grace now governs and with grace, life.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” – Having been honored by God’s declaration that he is God’s beloved son, the demonic spirits test that claim, trying to show Jesus unworthy of the acclaim.  But Jesus shows himself the faithful son.  Where Israel showed themselves faithless in the wilderness, Jesus remains faithful.