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

Waters Shall Break Forth

The promise of Joy

File:Wasserspiele2.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 11, 2016

Year A

The Third Sunday of Advent

There are fragments of memory that stick in your head like a photograph. One of mine is of a young boy on a hot summer day in downtown Detroit, standing under a large fountain with clearly cold water pouring over his shivering and delighted body.

We got the city to block the streets and turn on the fire hydrant outside the church one sticky summer day. And while I remember the great arc of water shooting across the street and the screams and giggles of the young people from our summer program, no one child stands out like that boy under the fountain.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

Some years ago, in the spring following a winter when it had rained there, Death Valley bloomed. That dry and desolate valley filled with the blossoms of plants that had waited years to show forth their glory. I wanted to play hooky to go see it, but it is hard for a pastor to travel at Easter.

But even just writing those words, “Death Valley bloomed,” is delicious. The vale of death has become a valley of life.  It reminds me of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones living. Or his vision of a river flowing from the temple making the Dead Sea live.

It is the truth that underlies all scripture: God is a god of life. God makes Death Valley bloom. God opens a road through the wilderness and fills the land with pools of water. And the people come singing. It is not dust and ashes on the heads of those who suffered the devastations of war, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the years of exile; it is everlasting joy.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Sunday we will hear the prophet’s song of salvation. And we will sing with Mary the song of deliverance. And, in our parish, the children will present again that joyous story of the child in the manger. And for those who read the Gospel, they will hear Jesus answer John’s question “Are you the one?” by pointing at all they have seen: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

Everlasting joy.

The Prayer for December 11, 2016

Gracious God,
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward,
and grant us eyes to see your life giving work,
that your joy may break forth upon us;
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 December 11, 2016

(Because of the children’s participation in our worship this morning presenting the nativity story, our parish will read only the first reading and sing the Magnificat)

First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad.”
– The prophet announces that God will come to save the people in exile in Babylon, making springs abound in the wilderness and establishing a highway through the desert to bring the people home.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 146:5-10, our parish will sing the Magnificat, the prophetic song Mary sings about God’s righting of the world when she greets Elizabeth

Second Reading: James 5:7-10
“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” –
The author of James exhorts the Christian community to steadfastness and hope.

Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
– John sends his followers to Jesus to inquire whether he is the awaited one, and Jesus points him towards the works that have been accomplished among them.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWasserspiele2.jpg By Peng (Own work) [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

Open spaces

Wednesday

Nevada desert roadPsalm 4

1“Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.”

I have been pondering over the recent years why I have come to like the high desert so much. Country that once seemed arid and barren, something to be endured to get from mountains to mountains, has become compellingly beautiful. I find myself looking for excuses to drive the back roads of Nevada and Wyoming. I spent my brief vacation time last summer going to Great Basin National Park. And even when I finally got on the freeway to hurry on to my father’s house, I found myself stopping at every scenic stop to go clamber over the rocks and look out at the austere vistas.

Tree in the Great BasinI suspect that it has something to do with living in an apartment that still has many boxes of unsorted stuff from my previous home.

Neighbors are close. I can hear them sing in the shower and chop whatever they’re chopping in the kitchen. I can hear their telephone calls and the laughter of their parties. I can hear their occasional snoring and someone’s squawking efforts to play “Mary had a Little Lamb” as they learn the clarinet. The noise of leaf blowers, the sound of hammers and construction, the roar of chippers and rug cleaning services, the compressed quality of urban life makes me feel squeezed. Even the demands of work and inevitable gossip in the congregation presses in on me. So the vast emptiness of the desert appeals to my soul. I can breathe. I can sit in the silence. I do not have to negotiate constant traffic. I can drive for hours without seeing another car.

These are the words our psalmist uses in the opening line of his prayer: “You gave me room when I was in distress.” The line sounds odd to us, but the words are related to the feeling of being boxed in and the grace of open spaces.

God delivers him from the constrictions that squeeze him from all sides and leads him into broad open valleys. He has not traveled to the desert; he has entered the expansive realm of prayer, of quiet before God, of the majesty of holiness, of the beauty of divine faithfulness and love.

In prayer God carries him to a new place, a realm of grace and life, of assurance and hope, of tranquility and trust, a realm of wide-open spaces and grand vistas, a world of boundless love where spirit takes flight.

 

Photocredits: dkbonde