Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Looking at praising in a new way (for me at least)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1)

I am trying imagine and image the psalmist, and what the occasion might have been for which he penned this psalm. Or maybe it was not a special occasion but an outburst of joy and satisfaction in life. It does not seem to be the writings of someone who is busy in life nor tied up with complications and details. In fact, if I were honest, it sounds like the writings of someone who has set aside worry and concern about the nitty-gritty worries and details of life and is taking it easy. A place in life I would like to be, but am not. And there is about an honest an answer you can get about why praise passages like this rub me the wrong way.

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Verses 2 – 6)

This easy-going psalmist first considers the sky above him, and all that is there and praise worthy. Then he turns his attention to the land where he and all of humanity live. There are many who take for granted the earth and the resources we find there. When it come down to it, no matter where we live, and how above and beyond nature the infrastructure that surrounds us, we need earth and land to live.

“Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 7 – 10)

And we need nature, intact and thriving, so that we might live, thrive, and grow.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Verses 11 – 13)

And we do not live in isolation, but in community. We need relationships and connections. We need organizations and systems, the input and cooperation of others, to make our way through life. And others need us; we are at our strongest with we are intertwined with others. We are at our weakest when the connections to humanity are frayed and broken; and at our most vulnerable when we are destroying the people and the world around us.

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)

It is at this last verse, however, that we must pause and stop. The Divine knows what our wants and needs are, when and under what conditions we are at our best – as well as when and under what conditions we are at our worst. The “Horn” that has been raised up is Jesus Christ who the Divine sent to us so that we might know how to live. As well as knowing how, when, and what to praise.

We, as the people of the Divine, need to set time aside to consider ourselves and our world. The mess we may be in, and how to redeem ourselves and our world. Praise God that there have been those we came before us that can teach us. Selah!

Advertisements

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Snaps from my life embedded in Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He leads me in right
paths for his name’s sake.    

  

 

 

 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. (Psalm 23)

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine in the midst of our personal stories

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30: 1 – 5)

This psalm reminds me, beloved reader, of the time I was getting radiation for my skin cancer. At the peak of its worst (end of January 2019) I was in the hospital for several days trying to recover from the affects of the radiation. From the perspective of receiving the news that my latest CT scan was clear of any tumor/skin cancer, I can say that the “foe” of skin cancer did not “rejoice” over me, and that I was brought up from “Sheol” and restored to life! I did weep for many nights, but joy eventually came!

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

Before the cancer, I had thought nothing worse could happen to me than the diagnoses I already had – I was wrong. For a time I was literally fighting for my health and life! It is tempting to believe that the worst is behind me. But I cannot say for a certainty that is true. I thought I have had hard times in years past, but the future always brought more unpleasant surprise and bad news. I know now that I can be shaken, and moved. Each experience teaches me again not to put my faith in my own ability, power or strength – but to look to and depend on the Divine.

“By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Verses 7 – 9)

Actually, to my way of thinking I don’t value myself so greatly that my demise will cease praise of the Lord or tell of the Divine’s faithfulness. And more to the point, I my life shows praise and faithfulness to the Lord, my actions in the face of demise will be a greater testimony than my successes. But still, it is good to continue and endure.

“Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Maybe if I was THE psalmist I would consider my successes in life and overcoming of obstacles and difficulties as strong praise and testimony. But what effect does my small voice have? The Lord God knows of my gratitude to the Divine for seeing me through so much. And as you have been reading my postings, you know too beloved reader. Does that small testimony into the largeness of all the world really reverberate? To be honest, I do not know. And actually and honestly I do not need to know. It is enough that I know, and that I speak/write of it.

As the days and weeks of Easter pass by, may you speak in your own way of what the Lord God the Divine has done for you. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – And we carry the story with joy and thanksgiving!

Seeker: “Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!”
Preacher: May the Lord be praised sending Jesus to us, and for giving us a way to be in closer communion and obedience to the Divine.
Seeker: “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!”

Preacher: The Divine undertook for us, regarding us with compassion and love. Not being content to be so far from us, the Lord God bridged the gap between our humanness and the Divinity of the Almighty.
Seeker: “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!”

Preacher: From that time until the present time the Divine has dwelt among us in many and special ways. When we are in despair and all around us is darkness, the Lord God brings light. When we consider and think upon what the Lord God has done for us, we raise our voices. And when we come to the end of our earthly days, we are not alone.
Seeker: “Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!”
Preacher: We journey forward from the day that Jesus arose. We journey the same path, but now we are not alone. What we feared can not withstand the power, might, and authority of the Divine.
Seeker: “Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”
Preacher:
We are commissioned to go out and tell all that we met about our Lord God, and to live out the example that Jesus Christ set for us.
Seeker & Preacher: “Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” ( Psalm 150)

Holy Week – Easter Sunday: Gospel and Psalm Passages – Now the story is ours to continue

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24:1 – 3)

Funeral practices vary from culture to culture, generation to generation, era to era – well, you get the picture. Ordinarily the body would have been prepared before burial, but time grew short before the Sabbath and expediency ruled. Now they had time, and wanted to prepare Jesus’ body properly. But as Jesus tried to tell them, he was bringing changes.

“While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (Verses 4 – 9)

Other than some brief appearances and final words, really, Jesus’ time on the earth was over. All that reminded was to prepare and commission the disciples and Jesus’ followers.

“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Not that it was a simple task to prepare them and raise them up as apostles and missionaries for the Word of God. The work ahead was more of that of the Spirit than the flesh and blood man that Jesus had been.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18 )

The books of the bible that follow the gospels tell of what happened after Jesus returned to the Divine. The letters that the apostles wrote and the accounts of faith and works that they record have been a guide to believers for, well, countless generations. The lessons were learn from those letters we apply to our lives in the best way we can. Not necessarily the most effective and correct ways, but the best we can. I become more and more aware of that as the years go by.

Preacher: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
Seeker: “Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalms 118:1 – 2)

From the first books of the bible where the story of creation is given, through the calling of the first people of the Divine and their “wandering” story, to the formation of the Hebrews/Israelites/Judahites/Jews, and then to the prophets of the Lord God – there are lessons to be learned from the accounts and chronicles there. We take from them what our own intellect tells us and what the Divine inspires us to.

Preacher: “The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
Seeker: “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly; the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
Preacher: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.”
Seeker: “The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.” (Verses 14 – 18)

The New Testament turns a corner and what was guessed it is more clearly explained to the reader. But still it with the hands, pen, and understanding of humanity that it is told. The Spirit inspires, but we discern. Do we discern correctly? Oh beloved reader, I have asked that a thousand times. Have we and do we discern correctly?

Preacher: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
Seeker: “This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.”
Preacher: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
Seeker & Preacher: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Verses 19 – 24)

When I was a youngster things were clear and absolute. As I grew to adulthood I became less sure, but more determined to discern and discover. I am still discerning and discovering. Easter Sunday, however, is one of the times when things are the most clear. Jesus has risen! And reigns for ever more! What we do with that news . . . . is up to us. Selah!

Holy Week – Monday: The Old Testament, Epistle, & Psalm Passage – Looking at the story in a different way

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)

Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus and Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, preparing him as he said for the day of his burial. The Gospel story says it is six days before Passover – I am not sure that is directly parrallel to the first day of Holy Week. However, I have not included the Gospel passage here, so I wanted to orient you to that.

As you may well know, it is my contention that the Old Testament passages had existence and meaning before they were attributed to Jesus and the story of his presence on earth. But as you also know, during the high seasons of the church I see the wisdom of using these passages to inform our understanding,

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Verses 5 – 7)

When a person is called by the Divine and answers that call with affirmation, diligence, commitment and authenticity it calls them to a greater plane and a higher status. The prophets of the Old Testament were such people. But by the time the Israelites/Jews had come under the authority of the Romans such prophets were hard to find and did not come along very often. So when Jesus came along, he was a reminder of the prophets from the past. It is no wonder he reminded his disciples of them. He was like a prophet, and welcomed as one – but he was more than that. And that “more-ness” imbued the passages that described the prophets of old with an even higher status and moved the writings of those prophets to prophecy for the one who did come – or would come, when you retroactively apply the passages.

“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 8 – 9)

If biblical commentators seem to retroactively apply passages to Jesus, it started a long time ago, by a man named Paul.

“But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” ( Hebrews 9:11 – 14)

I read an interesting comment from a former biblical professor from my college years; he said, “If Jesus is saying killing an animal is not God’s way of achieving reconciliation, how can we justify the belief that God violated God’s own declarations by offering a human sacrifice in order to forgive us?” The Old Testament prophets wrote strongly that sacrifice was not to be the “agent of reconciliation” but “a celebration once the restoration had been experienced.” He also notes that by the time of Paul (the first century) sacrifice was the official method to restore one’s relationship to the Divine. (“Let’s let Jesus speak for himself”. The Mennonite April 2019, Vol 22, No. 4 pg. 32)

“For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (Verses 15)

For me, reading this on the cusp of writing about Holy Week calls into question a lot of the assumptions concerning salvation as a result of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Blosser (that is my former biblical professor) says that the important action for salvation is believe and obedience to Christ and his teachings. It was because of his teachings, beloved reader, that I came to see Paul in a different light than when I was a young child. Granted, as I matured I realized that Paul was a product of his time, and for his time he was revolutionary bringing a completely new type of message of belief in the Divine. I suspect it was also the influence of Blosser’s teachings (as I think on this) that lead me to have strong feelings about respecting the context in which the Old Testament prophets and writers wrote. Read the Psalms passage, keeping in mind the exhortation to hold to the teachings of the Divine.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and
your salvation to the upright of heart! Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Psalm 36:5-11)

Adherence to the statutes of the Lord God is what is required. Celebrating the love that the Lord God has bestowed on us, and modeling that love by caring about and for others. As we move through Holy Week I want to be aware of these ideas and perspectives that speak to a different of considering the story of Easter. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Passion: The Psalm Passage – Even when things are “bad” they are still “good”

After Palm Sunday we enter into Holy Week. For me and writing of this blog, it means there is something to write on each day – at least each day of Holy Week. And I full the compulsion and obligation to write something each day of Holy Week. Even if it is in the midst of other events, and (more importantly) I write this the week BEFORE Holy Week as I write one week ahead. It is at times a mad scramble to keep events and obligations in line and moving along.

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
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.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many– terror all around!– as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.” (Psalm 31:9 – 13)

Even “Preacher” feels a bit pressed upon and rushed. Surely if she had the time she would sit with “Seeker” and the two of the might reflect on this passage. But the minutes and hours tick by too quickly. Or, time moves by slowly and too little accomplished in that time. Rushing about and moving slowly towards the goal seem to be the only two speeds. No time to reflect or rest in the Lord. The only solace, as the psalmist recognizes, is this . . .

“But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Verses 14 – 16)