Blessings

File:Harvest (13429504924).jpg

Saturday

Psalm 67

1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

We all want God to bless us. We want God to bless our homes and our children. We want God to bless our tables and our jobs. We want God to grant us prosperity and peace. We want God to protect us from all evil.

And when we are generous, we want God to bless every table – though the truth is we are more concerned with our own than those neighbors far away.

We think blessing is an end in itself, that it is good to be blessed, that it is good to have safety and security and abundance. We have a much harder time thinking of blessing as a means to an end. God intends to accomplish something through it. God is not just giving us an overflowing pantry. God is giving such a pantry that others might know God’s grace and power.

And it’s not this strange American perversion: “Look at me. I’m rich because of God. You can be rich, too.”   It’s rather, “Look at the abundance of God that there is plenty to share.”

There are two types of wealth in scripture. There is the wealth that comes from rich fields and timely rains. And there is the wealth that comes from profiting at the expense of others. The first is regarded as God’s blessing; the second as “unrighteous mammon”. But the wealth that comes from the fortune of good weather and land – wealth that is gift from God – is meant to be shared. If my fields prosper, I have the obligation to aid those whose fields did not. This is the failure of man in the parable of the rich fool. When his barns overflowed, he thought only of himself and not his obligation to his neighbors. He was at ease, but no one else. This is also the problem of the rich man with Lazarus at his gate.

So the psalm is a harvest song, calling upon all creation to recognize God’s goodness, God’s abundant generosity. The harvest is meant to bring joy to all – and give rise to praise from all. God’s blessing has a purpose: “that your way [God’s generosity and goodness and care for all] may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.”

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Free to do the right thing

File:Bartholomeus Breenbergh - Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath - WGA3154.jpg

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath

Thursday

1 Kings 17:8-16

10When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”

It seems like such a simple little request. But it is during a three-year drought. Water itself is scarce. Who knows whether Zarephath still had easy access to fresh water? Dry sticks, on the other hand, are sure to be available.

The prophet is in foreign territory. The widow refers to the LORD as “your god.” Her god – or, at least, the god of her people – is the god Ba’al. The worship of Ba’al is the source of all this trouble. He is the Canaanite storm god. The bringing of the winter rains. The source of water for the community and for the fields. The source of prosperity and abundance. Israel has adopted the worship of Ba’al. They have become part of the modern world. Tyre and Sidon are great cosmopolitan cities. They are the home not just of foreign trade and the rich abundance of this world’s goods; they are the home of art and culture. It is from Tyre that Solomon hires workmen to build him a temple – though Solomon at lead dedicated his temple to the LORD.

The king of Israel has married the daughter of the King of Sidon. She has come and brought modern sensibility to this backward nation in the hill country. They have built a temple to Ba’al and she has brought with her 450 prophets of Ba’al (and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah).

She has also tried to stamp out the backward religion of this God of the desert who commands justice for all.

Few girls are named Jezebel today.

Jezebel is the one who schooled king Ahab in the use of ruthless power, taking Naboth’s vineyard – land God gave to Naboth’s family that now belongs to the king even as Naboth now lies in the grave.

So here is the prophet in the homeland of the queen. And he has asked for a drink. The widow shows hospitality to this stranger and goes to get him some water.

And then he asks for a bit of bread.

A bit is all she has. Her last handful of meal. Enough for one last small cake to enjoy with her son, and then nothing awaits her but death. It is why she is gathering sticks. Fuel for the fire to bake the one last small bit of bread.

The woman is faced with a challenge. Hospitality is the supreme value of the age. To feed the hungry is not only noble, but the one true thing. But this is her last bread. This her final meal.

She protests. She explains to this foreign prophet what she intends to do. “That’s fine,” he replies. “But first make some for me.”

First do the right thing.

And to this he adds an incredible promise: the jar of meal will not fail until the drought is over.

She is a hero of the faith. She dares to trust the promise of a foreign prophet and his strange desert God. She dares to do the right thing though it costs her everything. And she is sustained. She and her son and the prophet live from that small bit of never failing daily bread.  The gods of prosperity have failed her; the LORD, the God of justice and mercy has not.

It is a story like the manna in the wilderness: enough for today, trusting God for tomorrow.  It may seem like a hard way to live. But it is actually quite liberating. Let God worry about tomorrow. Let us be free to do the right thing today.

Image: Bartholomeus Breenbergh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like rain on a newly mown field

Wednesday

Psalm 72

Photo credit: dkbonde

Photo credit: dkbonde

6 He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth.

You do not want the rains to come until the harvest has been gathered.  But after the reaping and threshing and winnowing and storing, after the poor and landless have come to glean, after the offerings are made and the bounty of God celebrated, as the farmer looks over the land and the beauty of the mown field, the winter rains come as the crown of blessing to soak the land in preparation for the year to come.

The thirsty fields drink in the rain.  The hills green.  The watercourses run.  The wells are renewed.  The cisterns fill.  Prosperity abounds.  Everything is right with the world.

When a just king rules, when rulers govern with God’s righteousness and faithfulness, when the poor are protected, when truth is spoken, when the lawless are restrained, when the needy are delivered, when justice reigns, all is right with the world – like the winter rains watering the mown fields.

The psalm is both prayer and proclamation.  It arises as a prayer for the new king, that he may rule with justice and righteousness.  But it is also a promise that such a king shall come.  So one translator says, “May he rule…” and another says, “He will rule…  He will deliver…  He will take pity…”

It is easy to see in this psalm the hyperbole of court musicians fawning praise on their masters.  But the words are preserved through the generations because they are heard as promise.  The just king shall come, the good shepherd, the righteous one.  And the destiny of Abraham’s descendants shall be fulfilled, for all nations will come to honor such justice.  They will bring their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.  They will bow down.  And the Spirit of God shall reign in every land.

Before this promise the human heart trembles.  We know the world’s brokenness.  We can imagine a world set right.  And we who confess the name of Jesus proclaim that he is the one in whom that reign of faithfulness has begun.  The hungry are fed.  Debts forgiven.  Communities restored.  Evil spirits driven away.  The grave opened.

So with the magi we bow, and we offer our prayer, “May the just king’s righteous reign be made manifest in me.”

Fruit

Thursday

Deuteronomy 30

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona,...

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil.

This is one of those places where it is important to read the scriptures carefully, especially those of us living in the United States where we worship prosperity and use it as a measure of success.

The prosperity God promises is fruit: fruit of the body, livestock and soil – to which I think we should also add the fruit of the Spirit.

If my fields yield an abundant harvest, no one else in the human community has lost anything.  It is not gained by cleverness in business.  It is not gained by taking advantage of anyone’s need.   A rich harvest is not gained by pushing wages down and moving jobs overseas.  It is not gained by creating obscure derivatives and paying others to rate them highly.  It is not gained by underselling the competition until I have a monopoly.  It is not gained by taking advantage of insider information or manipulating the market.  The Biblical image of divine blessing is rooted in the natural world, not the socio-economic one.

This is not an attack on capitalism, only a caution.  We slip so easily into the worship of wealth and power that we can lose sight of Biblical values.  It’s not good business to leave the margins of your fields unharvested – but it is good for the poor.  It’s not good business to leave your fields ungleaned – but it is good for those in need.  It is not good business to give away the first tenth of your harvest – but it is good for the human community.  It is not good business to pick up a beaten man at the side of the road and provide him free health care (unless you can get good media attention from it) – but it is good for the human spirit.

The market does not care about the well-being of my neighbor.  But God expects me to do so.

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1, our second reading for Sunday)