Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Grace and protection during Lent

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (Psalm 27:1 – 3)

Many years ago I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life. Getting through some days was hard enough. But relaxing and trying to get to sleep at night was nigh on impossible sometimes. And I needed to sleep and be rested to get through the days. That is when I remember an old technique called “swaddling”. It is mostly done with infants; you tuck a blanket around their body securely. It mimics being held closely safe and secure. What I did was take a second top sheet and fold it into thirds and then tucked it under the other to sheet. And night I open it up and slid my body into the folded over section. Then I repeat to myself “Nothing can get in here except for my Lord God, and what I bring. I can choice what I bring into this protected place. And I can choice what stays out.” Then I focus on the warmth and comfort of being safe and rest in the Lord. It has worked for over 20 years. Most nights I sleep very well.

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.” (Verses 4 – 6)

I also have a Sherpa/pseudo lamb’s wool blanket that I tuck around me and sometimes over my head. Besides having some night time anxiety I also have problems keeping warm when I am trying to fall asleep. One side of the blanket is the Sherpa material, and the other side is a silky velour type of material. Softness, warmth, and secure embraces help me to relax and sleep. But all of these would mean nothing if I were not able to rest in the Lord.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I do not know if the psalmist did the same thing; wrap himself tightly in a soft cloak and cover his head for warmth. But it seems clear that the psalmist did cry out to the Lord and sought solace and comfort in the Lord’s presence.

During those early difficult years I did sometimes feel that the Lord had “abandoned” me. Or at least that was my perception when the tough times came. What I eventually realized was the Lord was actually inviting me to closer communion with the Divine against those things that I felt were assailing me.

Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (Verses 9 – 12)

I have written at times that Lent is a time of testing. Our Lord God Jesus Christ was tested – tested by the devil with temptations that the evil one imagined that Jesus would give into. Tested by the Pharisees who thought to trip him up with questions and ominous warnings. And tested by the disciples who did not always see what Jesus was trying to show them. And though we may feel tested, we can always find the answer with Jesus Christ and our Lord God.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Verses 13 – 14)

Whether this season of Lent be a time of testing for you beloved reader, or a time of learning – may you seek out the Divine and receive grace and protection. Selah!

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First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Psalm Passage – Being sheltered during Lent

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1 – 2)

A few days ago I made “confession” that I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed over something. I was going to let it rest for three days before I decided what to do, and more importantly, not to stress over it. Well, the situation has not resolved – that is, it is still present. But I am not obsessing over it, and I came up with a plan to handle it. And most importantly, I commended it to the Divine, and now I am at peace. So I can say with the psalmist “My refuge and fortress is in the Lord.” As a result . . . .

“Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” (Verses 9 – 13)

I also said last time we met over scripture that Jesus’ temptations were specific to Jesus. The psalmist does offer protection for those are the subject of the preaching/teaching. But I think the psalmist’s offer of protection for feet is more metaphorical than literal. At least that is my assumption. I base it first on hyperbole of scripture. And second, you can bet that the Devil will twist the words of scripture to its own purposes and devices.

“Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Lastly, but not least, we need to think of the saints and spiritual forebearers who have gone before us and paid with their lives for their faithfulness and steadfastness to the Divine. Can we say that the Lord God “rescued them” if they were put to death? Did that live long lives if they were cut down in their young adulthood? Yes, they were answered when they called on the Lord. The Lord was with them in troubled times and honored them. And they knew salvation. But there is no guarantee in the Christian life of safety. At least not bodily safety. And that is the falsehood that the Devil tried to sell Jesus. He did not fall for it, and neither should we.

The refuge and fortress of the Divine does not promise earthly human safety. Granted, many are saved. But it is not a promise that can be used to protect us and excuse us from reckless behavior, nor the troubled times and misfortune we have in life. In fact the season of Lent can be a time of being tested. Tested in many ways; perhaps our own temptations as we talked about yesterday. Or trouble that comes our way even within the Christian life.

Beloved reader, how I wish I could sit down with you and hear about your Christian journey. And share with you mine. Exchanging stories from our faith lives helps us to better understand the challenges and temptations, and the promises that the Divine gives us. I hope and pray during this season of Lent you do find someone to share with. Read scripture with, and pray with. Often times the refuge and fortress of the Lord is made manifest through being in community with others. And we in turn offer them a refuge and fortress that comes about because of our relationship with the Divine. The season of Lent can be an arduous one, but not one that we journey on along. Praise the Lord, and Selah!

Ash Wednesday 2019: The Old Testament, New Testament and Psalm Passages – A combined reflection

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1 – 2)

Ash Wednesday. I remember them from my days at seminary. One of the few places where it was quite natural for everyone to wear a gray smudge on their forehead on this day. I miss living in that type of community where so many things were done according to the lectionary and liturgy. At the time I did not appreciate the framework of living in a liturgical community. Somehow I had the idea that it would just continue once I got to the “outside world.” I was mistaken in that.

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?” (Verses 12 – 14)

Other things have taken the place of that liturgical framework. One large part has been doing these blog posts for . . . . over ten years now. It shapes my days and weeks. It reminds me to turn my heart inward and listen to the Divine. It shapes me!

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 15 – 17)

When I am in the “outside world” I need to be my own “priest” and “minister” as opposed to seminary where we ministered to each other. Encountering scripture on a daily basis has prepared me to both minister to myself and extend ministry to others.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1 – 6)

When I first started writing commentaries – before I started having a blog – one series I did was for a church newsletter. Actually it was more of a monthly reflection. I called “From my Prayer Closet” and it was in part inspired by this passage from Matthew.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Thinking about it, one of the drawbacks of living in a lectionary liturgical community was that was easy to know what another person’s faith life was like; or at least the broad sketches because when you worship with someone just about every day, talk to them during and outside of classes, and know their back story – you get to know them quite well. It is interesting then that Jesus exhorts his disciples, followers, and believers to partly shield their faith practices from other’s eyes.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Verses 19 – 21)

My true treasure is my faith life. It has supported me and under girded me. It has trained me to handle everything that life has thrown at me. And helped me make sense of the events in my life. The coming of the seasons of the church year – the familiar cycles both yearly and in the lectionary every three years – remind me of the tasks that need to be done for me to grow in the Lord. And finally, it leads me to prayer.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ( Psalm 51:1-17)

 

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Psalm Passage – Not questioning the Divine

The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:1 – 3)

I am pleased to say that I am doing better. The tough days as a result of my radiation treatment are over, and I am slowly healing. Being in a better space and frame of mind, the psalm passages do not hit me as hard. And this psalm passage does not ask me to follow a pre-ordained and prescribed pattern of praise, so I am fine listening to the psalmist. It is good to be at peace like this.

“Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!” (Verses 4 – 5)

And the psalmist is doing a good job of describing the Lord God who has helped me through this journey. Of course my approval (or disapproval for that matter) does not change a whit of the truth that is being told nor does it change who and what the Divine is and has done.

“Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.” (Verses 7 – 9)

And then comes the part where this touches on Transfiguration Sunday – the harking back to Moses. And then appearance on the holy mountain of of Moses and Elijah (who strangely enough is not mentioned by the psalmist). Elijah lived his life according to the decrees and statutes of the Lord God. That is why he was a colleague of Moses and a support of Jesus at this moment in his ministry. Furthermore, in the transfiguration we have the confirmation again of Jesus being the son of and part of the Lord God.

As one who believes deeply in the triune nature of the Lord God Jesus Christ who inspires the Holy Spirit – I do not question at all the Divine. Yes, sometimes I struggle in my life and in my faith life. But question? No. Selah!

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – The unfathomable ways of Christian living, Part II – cease fretting and worrying

Okay, this Psalms passage I need.

“Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.” (Psalm 37: 1 – 3)

My “wicked” and “wrongdoers” right now are the lingering side effects of radiation treatment. I know, not your typical “foes.” But for me, they have been “smiting” me mightily, ruining my mood, and souring my predisposition. Who knows, maybe even causing me to “sin”. Or at lest not trusting in the Lord very much!

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” (Verses 4 – 6)

I know I have been a little difficult to live with lately – if for no other reason than I cause my family to worry about me. And there has been a lack of joy of living. These treatments were supposed to save my life; and instead it has caused me to focus on the dreariness of life. I certainly do not feel “vindication”, have not felt “shiny”, nor do I feel there is justice for me. I hold out hope that will change.

“Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Verses 7 – 9)

I have not been still and patient. I have been fretting – not over the wicked fortunately. But fretting nonetheless. And, to my shame, I have been doubting that those who oversee my treatment have been keeping my best good in mind. If I envision the tumor that necessitated this treatment as “the wicked [who] shall be cut off” – that would be a good and positive image.

“Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Verses 10 -11)

Actually, I could wish that I had that image in my mind during treatment. But it is not to let to let that image be my rallying thought. Part of the reason I am still “suffering” from these ill effects is because the radiation treatment, while actively over, is still working on killing off the tumor. So I need to hold these thought from the psalmist in my mind.

What things do you have in your mind and in your life that is warping your outlook and stealing your joy, beloved reader? Does the psalmist perhaps speak for you as well?

“The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Verses 39 – 40)

What I have been doing is taking refuge in the Lord. At times pleading to the Lord to help and deliver me. At other times to heal me. And at other times to help me endure. One of the things I have learned to value from the psalms is to allow them to speak to my fears and disheartening times. There was a book that I came across, must have been a year ago, that spoke about using the psalms to lament and weep. I worked my way through it slowly, absorbing the lessons. I think that might be part of the reason that at times I grew impatient with the “cheery” psalms. I was not at that part of my life at the time. But with God’s grace I came through to the point I am now.

Where are you, beloved reader, in your journey? Are there things, people, events, and issues that are causing you to fret? I cannot promise you that they will be resolved. But I can recommend you to bring those frets to the Lord. To allow these words of the psalmist to ease your times. And to rely on the Divine to see you through! Selah!

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Kudos to the psalmist for reminding us of how to live a good Christian life

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1:1 – 3)

I get stuck on the word “happy” beloved reader. What does the psalmist mean by “happy”? The NIV says “blessed” and I find that word goes down easier. In fact in other translations the word “blessed” is used more often. And that eases my discontent. Because right now I am not “happy” but I do feel blessed. As of this writing I am healing from the radiation treatment but it feels like I have a long way to go. But I feel blessed that I got through the treatment, and that healing will come – just not sure of the pace and course of healing. But . . . . the psalmist is not talking about physicality but the state of one’s soul and spirituality. And that beloved reader is still intact.

Yesterday I talked about heeding the lessons that Jesus set out for his disciples and those within his hearing. And we who have head it across the years and generations should pay heed also. The psalmist does well in anticipating what Jesus would say in the “Sermon on the Plain.”

“The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Verses 4 – 6)

You may say to me, heed these words yourself Carole! And I do, and tuck them in my heart placing my hopes in and on them; “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.” So even if I feel down and not “happy” I can keep hope alive in me and anticipate better days. I can take comfort in being blessed, and wait until being “happy” is more possible. I am trying beloved reader, I am trying! Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Saying thank you to the Lord God

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.” (Psalm 138:1 – 2)

On the day you read this, beloved reader, I will have completed all of my radiation therapy, and will be focusing on healing and waiting to find out if the radiation therapy worked. Through this time I have depended on the Lord for a great deal, and I give thanks to the Divine for seeing me throughout. Much of my strength has come from writing these commentaries, wrestling with the themes and messages, and yes, wrestling with praising the Lord God when I have been under great strain, stress, and illness.

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” (Verses 3 – 6)

It occurred to me some time back (maybe I have said this before) that I did not use imaging that many cancer patients do, imaging and imaging that the treatment is targeting the cancer cells and destroying them. But what I did do was focusing on doing self care – using creams that would heal my skin and prescriptions that would heal my mouth. I was gentle with myself, as gentle as I imaged and imagined the Lord God would be with me. And I prayed – oh how I prayed! And the Divine heard me! At each step one I did not feel I could go on, the Lord provided encouragement through the people around me, through encounters with music and scripture, and through medications that eased my pain and helped to heal my body. I will be forever grateful that the Lord blessed me in these ways.

After treatment is completed will come a time of waiting to see if the treatment was successful. And during that time I will continue praying and placing my faith in the Lord God the Divine.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.” (Verse 7)

On of the ironies of this disease, this cancer, is that it is my own body that has grown these cancerous cells that have endangered my life. They must be killed off, at the risk of also killing off healthy cells which has caused radiation burns both on my outer skin and in my mouth. Such a paradox to kill off part of myself in order to save myself. And yet isn’t that what we do when we embark on the Christian life? Kill off our misguided and sinful human impulses to save our life?

“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Verse 8)

We, humanity, were made in the image of the Lord God. But we are flawed and imperfect. That flaw and imperfection must be taken out, irradiated if you will, so that I better selves under the Divine can grow and flourish. The teaching and guidance of the Lord have been spoken of as a refinery’s fire. Radiation, then, is not such an unusual metaphor.

Whether or not this treatment works, I do know that through the course of this past month and a half I have learned a great deal about myself; and I have come to see even more clearly that the Lord has not ever forsaken me. Praise the Lord! Selah!