The Spirit of God

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Last Sunday, the festival of Pentecost, we talked about the Holy Spirit. Our series that reflects on how the Biblical narrative points ultimately to the sacrificial love of God manifest in the cross and resurrection stepped away from Genesis to talk about the work of the Spirit.

So far we have talked about the Biblical vision of a God who, by his word, called forth a good and beautiful world (week 1: Creation), and breathed into the first humans his breath/spirit (week 2: Garden), endured their broken relationship yet continued to protect and care for them (week 3: Fall) and continued toIS call to his creation in the narrative of Cain (week 4: Violence).

Cain chose revenge over reconciliation, and violence continued to spread over the world. In contrast to the spirit of power and revenge manifest so profoundly in Lamech’s boast, is the Spirit of God that brings beauty and life to the world.

Below are the pictures and text from the booklet we handed out following worship last Sunday. This coming Sunday, takes us back to Genesis and the narrative accounts of the flood.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AZugliget_templom_tet%C5%91ablak.JPG By Solymári (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Acts 2:1-21


The Biblical story begins
with the wind/spirit/breath of God


File:Breaking waves (13286850323).jpg

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

The ancient idea of the Spirit connects to the power in the moving of air. It is the breath of life, the breath of speech, the breath of God in the wind, the breath of God that moves prophets and inspires warriors. With Pentecost it is the breath of God that empowers the love, faithfulness and witness of the followers of Jesus. It is the sign of the reigning presence of God and foretaste of a world made new.

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breaking_waves_(13286850323).jpg By Archangel12 (Breaking waves) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in us


File:Gott Vater haucht Adam den Odem ein Hann Münden.jpg

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

In the ancient story of Genesis 2 God forms the first human (the ‘adam’) from the earth (the ‘adamah’) and breathes into him the breath of life. Our life breath is from God. It is the breath of God that makes us living beings. It is the Spirit that gives life.

Photo: God breathes into Adam the breath of life
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGott_Vater_haucht_Adam_den_Odem_ein_Hann_M%C3%BCnden.jpg By Clemensfranz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in all things


File:Whales - Banderas Bay, Mexico - panoramio.jpg

24How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number –
living things both large and small.
26There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things
29When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:24-30)

The life breath of all things is the breath/spirit of God. The Spirit of God is creative, empowering, life-giving, life-renewing presence of God. It lifts the fallen, heals the wounded, restores the separated. It raises from death to life.

Whales – Banderas Bay, Mexico
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whales_-_Banderas_Bay,_Mexico_-_panoramio.jpg  Steve Hedin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The words that are used to describe the Spirit
are like those used for water


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The Spirit is “poured out” upon people. It “fills” them.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing in the temple, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” (John 7:37-39)

Fulmer Falls, Childs Recreation Area in the Pocono Mountains
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fulmer_Falls_Top_1_3264px.jpg Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Self-photographed) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Like wind and water,
the Spirit is a power to accomplish things



The Spirit of God gives insight and understanding


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The Spirit of God grants Joseph wisdom to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.

38Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:38-40)

Illustration by Owen Jones from “The History of Joseph and His Brethren” (Day & Son, 1869)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pharaoh%27s_dream.JPG Owen Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants skill to work beauty in the world


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Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts– 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. (Exodus 31:1-5 NIV)

The ceiling of a vault at the Shah Cheragh shrine at Shiraz, Fars province, Iran
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flower_of_heaven.jpg By http://www.flickr.com/people/ dynamosquito/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants courage and strength


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Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. (Judges 14:5-6NIV)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samson_Fighting_the_Lion_(18th_c.,_Kargopol_style).jpg By Anonymous Russian icon painter (before 1917) Public domain image (according to PD-RusEmpire) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


and empowers people to lead


File:Dura Synagogue WC3 David anointed by Samuel.jpg

The Spirit of God raises David from tending sheep to guiding the nation.

13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:13)

Dura Europos Synagogue, panel WC3 : David anointed king by Samuel
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dura_Synagogue_WC3_David_anointed_by_Samuel.jpg By reworked by Marsyas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord inspires people to declare God’s message


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The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_-_Great_Deesis_with_Prophets_-_Walters_37625.jpg By Anonymous (Russia) (Walters Art Museum: Home page Info about artwork) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The prophets promise a day when all things are made new
and the Spirit of God is poured out on all people


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But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you in the womb and will help you:
Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring. (Isaiah 44:1-3)

26 A new heart I will give you,
and a new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put my spirit within you,
and make you follow my statutes
and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern part of Sealand, Denmark
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grib_skov.jpg By Malene Thyssen (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-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Jesus brings the dawn of that new age (God’s kingdom)


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15RSV)


John declared Jesus would drench the world with the Spirit


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“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

Gullfoss waterfall (Iceland)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGullfoss_rainbow.JPG By Laurent Deschodt (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


The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost
represents the dawning fulfillment of the promised Spirit


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17“In the last days it will be,” God declares,
“that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.”
(Acts 2:17-18 where Peter quotes Joel 2:28-29 to explain the wonder of Pentecost Day)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_006.jpg El Greco [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is the gift of the risen Lord


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19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_Maesta_detail2.jpg Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is a gift God is eager to give


11“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)


The Spirit is the gift of being joined with Christ in Baptism


File:Greven Gimbte - Alter Fährweg - St. Johannes Baptist in 23 ies.jpg

36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:36-39)

The word ‘repent’ means to change sides, to participate in and show allegiance to the new creation dawning in Christ.

St. Johannes Baptist, Alter Fährweg in Gimbte, Greven
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreven_Gimbte_-_Alter_F%C3%A4hrweg_-_St._Johannes_Baptist_in_23_ies.jpg By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit anoints us with the gifts of the age to come


7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)


The Spirit of the Lord bears the fruit of God’s reign in our lives


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The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Detail of a statue at St Bartholomew’s Church in Orford
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2004_orford_03.JPG By Ziko-C (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Biblical text: New Revised Standard Version
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

A beacon in the dark

Sunday Evening

2 Corinthians 3

File:Peggys Cove Lighthouse (3).jpg17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Jesus is fully human. This is a very bold declaration of the Christian tradition. What he is able to do he does by the power of God working through him – not by his own power. What he is able to see in the hearts of others he sees by the power of God working in him – not by his own power. What he is able to see in the future he sees by the power of God working in him – not by his own power. The sins he forgives, the bread he breaks, the water upon which he walks – it is all the power of God working in and through him. Jesus is not a fundamentally different creature than we are. He is just better at it. He is a better human being. He is a human being in whom the link between God and himself is never broken. His trust in God does not fail.

The Transfiguration of Jesus doesn’t belie what is to come; it sustains us through it. Jesus is not Superman, letting Peter, James and John peek behind his Clark Kent suit. He is not revealing himself as the Lord of Glory as though the suffering that is to come were but a minor detour. We look at Jesus through the lens of the centuries and the doctrine of the Trinity and we tend to think that Jesus was God in a way that denies his full humanity.

But Jesus is not a divine being hiding in human form. He is not omniscient and omnipotent pretending to be limited by time and space. He is fully human. And the works that we see in him are done by faith, by his perfect trust in God. Jesus mediates the blessing and wonders of God. Technically, Jesus is not healing the sick and casting our demons, he is bringing into these places the healing power of God. He is God’s anointed, God’s Christ, God’s agent to dispense the gifts of God, to bring God’s reign of grace and life.

What happens on the mountain is not a sign of Jesus’ divinity, but a witness to Jesus’ authority – that Jesus is, in fact, God’s beloved son.

Peter, James and John need to hear God make this declaration because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And ignoble end is coming. A rejection. A suffering. An accursedness. The apparent failure of the promise. The apparent triumph of Rome.

The customary response to the crucifixion of a hoped for Messiah (assuming any followers survive the purge) is to go home disillusioned. We were wrong. We hoped, but we must have been mistaken. This is what the disciples on the road to Emmaus say: “We thought he was the one.” … Apparently not.

In the face of those moments in life that seem to belie the grace and power and love of God, we need to remember that God spoke with Jesus face to face. We need to remember that God has designated Jesus as the beloved son. We need to remember that Moses and Elijah came and bore witness that in Jesus the reign of God is dawning. Even when we lose sight of it.

The Transfiguration stands as a beacon in a dark world. It is one in a chain of lighthouses that mark the coastline and sustain us in the storms: the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism; the voice from heaven and the heavenly visitors at the Transfiguration; the angelic witness at the empty tomb. Again and again God bears witness that Jesus is the one in whom earth and heaven are reconciled, in whom the new world is born, in whom we are born of God.

For a long time I didn’t understand or appreciate the importance of this story. I kept thinking it was Jesus who shines when, in fact, it is God who shines upon Jesus. Jesus is radiant because he is the perfect mirror of God.

Would that there were more in the world who glowed with the radiance that comes from true faithfulness to God and one another. Would that there were more in the world who were clothed in Christ as a daily garment.

 

By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Acts of courage

Saturday

Psalm 111

File:Auguste Bigand - Visage capuchonné.jpg

Auguste Bigand, Visage capuchonné (A cloaked figure)

1 Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

It’s not the most creative of the psalms. One study Bible I possess describes it as rather pedantic, as if it were a student’s exercise to write a brief acrostic that he then fills with conventional aphorisms. It doesn’t have the majesty of Psalm 145 or the indomitable will of the 176 verses of Psalm 119. It doesn’t have the passionate intensity of the acrostic poems of Lamentations or the imagery of Psalm 34.

And yet…

Artur Weiser, normally quite generous with his praise of the depth of faith in the psalms, describes the verses as “a string of unmatched pearls, in the form of general propositions, and without any very systematic arrangement.” (The Psalms: A Commentary, OTL, Philadelphia:Westminster, 1962, p. 698) He blames the form as “not conducive to a consistent thought-sequence.” But the problem is not the form.  Other poets – like the author of Lamentations – have mastered it brilliantly.

This is not brilliant. Any yet…

There are times that platitudes are no more than platitudes, cheap and easy slogans that require no effort and challenge little. But there are also times that such platitudes are the thin handholds of the desperate. “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” is a cheap knock-off when spoken by the well fed and well heeled. But it is a rock in a weary land to those who are at life’s edge.

So I will not dismiss this psalm so easily. I do not know whether the poet sat in a classroom or at the edge of desperation. I do know that simple phrases like “Praise the Lord!” are words not always easily spoken. They are, at times, acts of great courage.

 

Auguste Bigand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Arise, shine”

Wednesday

Isaiah 60

winter sunrise copy

Winter Sunrise, Anna Bonde, ca. 1996

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

I hear the words to arise and shine, but I do not really hear them. They reach out to embrace me. They draw me into their sweetness. I slump into them as into the arms of a friend when troubles abound. What I hear is “the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,” and this seems a perfect embrace.

There is no want of darkness in the world, no want of cruelty, no want of evil men and women and even children, on occasion. The divide between whites and blacks in America is so profound that few can hear the other when they speak. I assume it is the same between Shia and Sunni in some parts of the world or they would not blow up each other’s sacred spaces or their children. And certainly there are other such divides. Men and Women. China and Japan, at least so I’ve read, the font if not the legacy of a brutal war.

The assaults on human dignity and freedom and life seem to lie all around me. So when I hear, “Arise, shine; for your light has come,” it sweeps my heart up in its grand arms.

But beyond the wonderful word that light has come are these two little commands to arise and to shine. Is the poet saying no more than “Get up, get up” in joy and excitement of God’s advent? Or is there a call to stand, though the forces around us would beat us down? Is there a call to stand tall and firm at the lunch counter, though milkshakes and mockery and hate and dumped upon your head? Is there a call to stand tall though a spouse or teacher or coach degrade you? Is there a call to stand, though adversity besets you?

And when the prophet says, “shine,” is this just the shining face, alive with excitement, bright eyes joyous at the present laden tree? Or is there a call to shine forth love and compassion into a world often lacking in both?

The voice of God that presents itself to us through the prophet, speaks a wonderful grace. But it also calls us to come stand in that grace. To come live that grace. To shine forth as a bright moon reflecting the sun’s light. To shine forth as Jonathon’s weary eyes are made bright by the taste of honey. To shine forth as one who knows the true heart of the universe is an imperishable and unconquerable love.

This is not something we can simply be commanded to do. A candle doesn’t light because you tell it to burn brightly; it shines when touched by the flame. We are meant to burn brightly. We are meant to be touched by the flame. We are meant for heaven’s exquisite embrace. We are meant to bring to our mouths the sweetness that is God’s dawning light, God’s wondrous glory, God’s unfathomable love.

And so to shine.

Into your hands

Wednesday

Psalm 31

File:Stoning of Saint Stephen from Sant Joan de Boí - Google Art Project.jpg

Stoning of Saint Stephen from Sant Joan de Boí, circa 1100

“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”

When Jesus quotes this psalm from the cross (Luke 24:46) the verse doesn’t stand alone. Those who hear the story hear the whole psalm, in the same way that someone might say, “A bird in the hand” without needing to complete the proverb, or the way “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” evokes the entire Declaration of Independence and the vision at the heart of the American experiment.

Psalm 31 is a lament. The author cries out in anguish,

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many–
terror all around!–
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”

“Into your hands I commend my spirit” is not an expression of pious faith; it is a confession wrought in struggle and agony.

It is not a simple thing to trust God. We confess that “God is love.” We see that Jesus is a healing presence in the world: opening blind eyes, driving out demons, feeding the hungry, giving life to the perishing. We know the Biblical story of slaves set free, of the Red Sea opened, of manna from heaven, of angels entertained unawares.

But this is a faith hard won. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly sentenced to rot in the dungeon, forgotten by those he helped. Israel was 430 years in Egypt. Abraham was 100 when the promise of a son was fulfilled.

The path God bids us walk often trails across stony ground. Our journey travels the wilderness. Jesus is 40 days in the barrens of Judah assaulted by the evil one. There are days of precious sweetness in life, for some even years of goodness – though too often they go untreasured, envied by those whose path is more challenging.

When Jesus expresses this profound trust in God from the cross, it is with the words of one who has been broken by life. There is no minimizing the physical torment of the cross – or the spiritual torment of his apparent abandonment.

But Jesus remains faithful.

This psalm that cries out in despair begins and ends in deep and enduring trust. Whatever that middle path may be, it begins and ends in the faithfulness of God.

And so the psalmist concludes with an exhortation to others:

23 Love the Lord, all you his saints…
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.

This is the abiding exhortation of the crucified one, the faithful son, who bids us – even from the cross – take courage and trust in God. In that strange and wonderful duality of scripture, Jesus declares that though some of us are martyred, “not a hair of your head will perish.” Our destiny is life. God’s work is resurrection. God shall reign. Easter is God’s ultimate word.

And so Stephen, as the stones rain down, sees the living, reigning Christ and – like Jesus before him – declares his trust: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Stephen is not quoting the psalm; he is following Jesus. Christ is living in him. He is living the faithfulness of Jesus. This is the witness of the martyrs. This is why we hold them ever in memory. They did not lose faith. They were Christ to the world. They are Christ for us. And they become our encouragement.

The psalmist may say, “my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” But these are not his last words. Nor will they be ours.

Strength of soul

Saturday

Psalm 138

Con el menos fuerte al hombro. / David Ostlund...

Con el menos fuerte al hombro. / David Ostlund – a strength athlete from the USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

 “You increased my strength of soul.”  The Tanakh translation published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1985 says: “you inspired me with courage.”  The New International Version originally said: “you made me bold and stouthearted,” and has revised it to read: “you greatly emboldened me.”  The challenge is the word here translated “increased.”  It’s hard to know for sure the meaning of a rare word used in poetry.

But strength of soul we understand.  When God breathed into the first human being he became a ‘soul,’ a living being.  There are times in life when that life force within us seems worn and weary, when we are tossed by events rather than riding high, when we are tentative, unsure, unwilling to assert ourselves, unwilling to stand for what we know is right, when we have lost the energy to fight the good fight – when we are uninspired, un-spirited.

Perhaps David sings this psalm in response to some battlefield victory, acclaiming the God who “inspired [him] with courage,” made him “bold and stouthearted” – a battlefield victory that makes all the kings of the earth take note of the God of Israel, the God who looks upon lowly David and lifts him up for God’s purpose.  But the battlefield is not the only field of battle, victory over kings not the only victory we seek – and placed now in the psalter it is no longer David’s prayer; it is our prayer.

Most of our prayers are for strength in time of trial, help in trouble, healing in sickness, protection when vulnerable – for us or for others – but, as for David, the gift in every prayer is strength of soul.

We use our friends and family this way.  When trying to make a decision, when trying to build up the courage for what is right, when facing a challenge, we turn to them and “borrow” some of their psychic energy.  We use their strength to bolster our own to do what needs to be done.

This is one of the liabilities of living alone, and the sorrow of a family when the partners diminish each other rather than support and call out the best of each other – we lose that opportunity to borrow “strength of soul.”  It is what parents most need to give their children as they grow, to help them build their own strength of soul.  Our strength gives them strength to learn to do the right thing, especially when it is hard.

In prayer we are not asking God to solve our problems; we are asking God to lend us his strength of soul in the midst of them.  We are asking God to inspire us, encourage us, strengthen us, sustain us and guide us in doing whatever needs to be done.

Our hearts often want God to make the problem go away – and God is not beyond the occasional wonder.  But mostly God is in this business of lending us his Spirit, for this is his true delight for us: that we would be filled with his Spirit.