Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Psalm Passage – Hope comes to those who pray

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.” (Psalms 72:1 – 7)

During Advent and Christmas, so often, many scripture passages are used in furtherance of the season. Verses that would ordinarily, or during Ordinary Time, be used in the context that they were written are appropriated and applied to the season of Jesus’ birth or his ministry. These verses, according to historical exegesis, were written on the occasion of Solomon becoming king. But slipped in the notion that it might point to the Messiah. And the usage during the season of Advent confirms that thinking. However, if you read these verses they do not point to an Eternal King but a king of human origin. It grates just a little on my nerves that so often commentators imbue the passages with forward-looking prophecy instead of real time concerns and pleas. It is a pray/praise after all, and not a foreshadowing to the future. Remember too, the image and view of the Messiah was far different from what Jesus was actually like.

“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.” (Verses 18 – 19)

Regardless, though, those who pray find hope established and renewed. If the prayer petitions for someone or Someone to lead with righteousness and compassion, or celebrates the gift of good or Godly Leadership – it brings peace and calm to the soul and spirit. In fact, I would say prayer (and praise) is one of the best ways to bring hope and peace to the world.

May you, beloved reader, pray the things that will fill your deepest needs and praise the Divine when those needs are met. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Psalm Passage – Time to raise up songs of praise

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.” (Psalm 122:1 – 5)

My thinking lingers on the verse “Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.” I am pretty sure that verse described King David’s perspective. It might be that Psalm 122 is one that David wrote. I also think and remember how Jerusalem and the Israelites had problems in the years and generations following King David. The surrounding nations conquered and made captive of many Israelites and Judahites. Lamentations were raised, and prophets both major and minor attempted to raise and bolster the hopes of the Israelites.

It is interesting to me that when the fate of Israel (and Judah) reversed, it was blamed on the withdrawal of the Lord’s favor and protection because the people of Israel and Judah were no longer faithfully following Yahweh. Why is it, I wonder, that when bad things happen fault needs to be placed? Why might it not be just “bad luck” or events and circumstances that have nothing to do with those who find themselves at the receiving end. Grim thoughts, I know, for a praise passage.

But here is my take-away on this – praise the Lord no matter the circumstances.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” (Verses 6 – 9)

When the city of Jerusalem and the temple, the house of worship of the Lord, were in ruins – not one stone on top of another – did the people still left up praise to the Lord? I wonder. It seems that worship was not “true worship” unless it was done in the “proper” place and in the “proper” way. It seems be true, according to some. But not, beloved reader, according to the Divine. True worship is true when the True Lord is worshiped.

How, you might ask, does this relate to Advent? Again several thoughts occur to me. First, Advent and Christmas are traditionally a time when worship services get quite “colorful” and elaborate. I want to let you know that is okay. There are some who think that during Advent there should be a slow build up of color and pageantry in worship – I am not of that way of thinking. Remember if worship is directed to the Divine, it is good. Second, during the season it behooves all of us to set aside whatever theological differences we have, and come together as called and chosen children of God. Third, let the joy of the season lift your spirits no matter what your circumstances are. This is not only the season of joy but of hope as well.

One of the most powerful Christmas songs I have heard is “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”. If you do not know the background of this Christmas music I encourage you to look it up. Such a mingling of joy and hope amidst turmoil and destruction. Listen to it – I think you will be “glad” that you did! Selah and shalom!

Thanksgiving Day: 2019 Year C – Giving Thanks . . . . Again!

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 3)

I knew, as I looked over these verses, they sounded very very familiar. And I knew I had ponder on and written about them not that long ago – relatively speaking. Factually, they are the same verses from Canadian Thanksgiving. And, as it always does, Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings evoke strong memories from my past and my childhood. Reading this verses in preparation for Nov 28th brought to mind the same thoughts and emotion that I talked about Oct 10th. I am not sure I can think any differently about them.

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Since I moved to the United States in 1980, thinking about Thanksgiving has become a prelude to thinking about and planning for Advent and Christmas. When my children were younger we would start planning and decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. When I started to write spiritual/faith blogs and commentaries Thanksgiving marked the time I started planning my Advent devotions. Furthermore, Thanksgiving became the signal to start shopping for Christmas. It is that very rush from one to the other that made me think back to the wonderful separateness that my Canadian upbringing schooled me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. How I miss the chance and ability to give separate focus to those two important holidays and celebrations that are not and should not be mirrors to one another.

The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The calendars rules though, and the Lectionary gives little help in making a large divide. Funny, I had never considered before the seeming favor that the Lectionary gives to the U.S. marking of time. When I lived in Canada it was never part of my experience to plan worship in any meaningful way. Maybe if I had, I could parse out the experience of having time between the two holidays.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Really, in the church year there are many occasions to give thanks to the Lord God the Divine. And it does not have to be a special occasion marked on the calendar; it can be an occasion marked in our hearts, spirits, and life experiences. The Divine, I believe, cares just as much about the occasions that may seem minor to others but are important to us. And I believe we should mark those occasions by special remembrances and of course thanksgiving. Whether those occasions are positive or negative, they are important because the Lord God is with us.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

After this day, Thanksgiving Day, we are poised to start Advent. We will be plunged into another season of waiting and rushing – both are part of the Advent/Christmas season. So let us pause and send up a pray of thanks for the occasions and blessing that have been given to us thus far, and what is yet to come. Selah!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – How good believers will praise and give thanks when the good news comes to pass

The consequence of using both Old Testament passages is that you have to consider both passages are the accompanying psalm passages. The Isaiah passage actually has another Isaiah passage that it is matched to. But the passage from Malachi is matched to a passage from the book of Psalms.

Malachi, if you remember, promised retribution for those who arrogant and evildoers. But those who are true believers will bask in sunlight and righteousness. The Psalm passage echoes those happy promises, and gives instructions on how to celebrate.

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98)

The Isaiah passage, Isaiah 65, also held promises of the blessings and new living conditions that true believers will enjoy. And the Isaiah passage that is matched to it also has instructions for returning thanks.

You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12)

I did question as to just when these wonderful would come to pass. And while I did not pose the question then, I pose it now – how long will those good things last? A careful read (or even a casual read) of the Old Testament shows that the Israelites and Judahites did not bask in the glorious living conditions for long, if their living conditions rose to fulfill the promises that Malachi and Isaiah listed. If we followed logical reasoning, why would we/one praise God for a way of life that has not come about? The short answer is – one wouldn’t.

The longer answer is that the life and way of life the prophets Malachi and Isaiah were predicting come not in this life that we know, but in the life to come. I know – that is sort of a sobering fact. But then, if we do not expect this world to be the “heaven on earth” that was written about, it makes us (or at least me and those who think like me) grit our teeth and settle ourselves to live as best and most perfectly that we can in anticipation and hope for the world to come. Because what the Old Testament prophesies do not make clear enough is that we are not alone in the world. Or at least not in the world post Jesus Christ the Messiah.

As some of you may know and/or remember, I am a survivor skin cancer. I also have a host of other diagnoses that could give pause. Even I ask myself from time to time, how can I survive and endure all of this? If it was just me, on my own, I could not. But from a very young age I have commended my life and living over to the Divine. It is not me that is able to withstand all of it, but the Lord God with me. What I have to endure now, I will not have to endure forever. And what I have endured has brought me closer to the Lord God and has strengthened my relationship to the Divine. The good news is that I am not alone in my struggle. The better news is that some day the struggle will be over and I will be with my Lord God. I praise the Lord God now . . . . for what will come in the future.

May you, beloved reader, hold firm to the good news that the Divine has given to you. And may you praise in this world for what will surely come in the world that follows. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Declaring unshakable faith

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)

I hear Job, and I “hear” him. That is, I cry out the same thing sometimes. Hear me Lord God! I have not done anything to deserve this, but still I am pressed upon and in travail.

“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)

Job and I, our words are true. We are not trying to fool anyone, least of the Divine! Job & I, we are not talking about being sin-free. What we are saying is that anything we might have done in our lives and in our past, does not rise to the stress and problems that are before us.

“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Maybe Job & I are deluding ourselves; maybe we are not as guilt-free as we presume. But if we are not the best of all of the Divine’s creation, we are not the worst.

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.” (Verses 6 – 9)

I am aware, beloved reader, that it is not Job who has penned these words. It is the psalmist; whether it be King David, who certainly knew the pressure of kingship and leading the people of Israel; or another who felt pressed upon and cried out to the Lord, I know the sort of pressure and pain that these words speak to. But I also know the sweet respite when the Lord God undertakes for one’s cause, and when the Lord God answers prayer. Even in the hardest of times, I know that I am not alone. And that the comfort of the Divine is only a whispered prayer away.

It is my hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you know also the the comfort and calm that the Divine brings. And that your faith in it is unshakable. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – When times are no longer tough . . . . that is, when we are in heaven

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1 – 2)

I was trying to find the perfect mood music to write on this psalms passage; I kept going from album to album in my playlists, but nothing seemed to be write. I had to wonder of the psalmist tried also to find the perfect tune and words to praise the Divine. Maybe for both him and I, only the choirs of heaven would provide the correct background. I do not know what tune the psalmist imagined for his words. I just know I had trouble finding background music for my writing.

As you might imagine, I have a pretty extensive music library of Christian worship music. I have spent close 25 years collecting it. And I am still adding to it. It may not be as extensive as the book of psalms – but from reading the words in the bible it appears that the psalmist might have re-used a tune or two.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Verse 3)

It is through music that many people bring themselves before the Divine. Whether it be repeated praise choruses or multiply versed hymns, lifting one’s singing voice is a well established way to worship. There was a time that I thought I might collaborate with someone to write Christian songs. There was also a time I myself I used singing as a worship tool. But as the years have gone by, writing prose seemed to be a medium that was better suited to me.

“Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah” (Verse 4)

When I arrive in heaven – whenever and whatever that experience might be for me – I imagine that praise will just flow out of me, without my having to think or consciously compose it. I am also hoping that praise is not the only experience in heaven; oh yes, there are many spiritual forebearers that I hope to seek out. But as the psalmist says, there will be overwhelming happiness.

“Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” (Verses 5 – 7)

I have to admit I do not often think of what it will be like in heaven. Or at least not as often as I used to. The reason is that as my relationship with the Divine has grown stronger and more intimate, I feel the Lord God’s presence in my life more and more. I do not feel the pull to heaven to be with the Divine because I feel that the Divine is here on earth with me.

I had a friend in seminary who used to say of me, she longs to be in the house of the Lord. And that was very true. I do long to be in the house of the Lord, but I have also felt, heard, and heeded the call to minister to people here on earth – wherever I am. And to shepherd them in their relationship with the Lord God.

There are many tough times in this life; times when the burden seems so overwhelming that one can hardly bear it. And heaven seems like a blissful place of sweet release. But we can feel relief here on earth, amongst fellow believers and in the spiritual presence of the Divine. Heaven will be there, waiting for us. While we are here, beloved reader, let us do whatever we can to bring even just a small peace of heaven to earth. Selah!