Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker talk about the actions of the Divine who sent the Messiah

Seeker: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”

Preacher: The Lord God hears us where ever we are, and whatever our circumstances are. Whether it is a cry, or a yell, or a cheer – we are heard by the Divine. When we cry out, the response may not what we though it would be, or even when we thought it would be – but the Divine will respond.

Seeker: “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Preacher: I am never surprised that, or when, the Lord God picks us up from the most horrendous places. The Divine is faithful. The world and earthly circumstances may put us in places we may never go of our own volition; or that we would not intentionally put ourselves. On the other hand, humanity has been known to get itself in the most terrible places and circumstances. But my point is, the Lord God will find us. And restore us.

Seeker: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”

Preacher: Fear? If the psalmist means revere the Lord God and be awed by the Divine, yes fear is the correct word. But humanity rarely puts their authentic trust in someone or something they fear. Desperation, though, leads us to desperate actions. To our remorse and shame.

Seeker: “Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.”

Preacher: Ah! There we are. Trusting in the Lord God is the best decision a person can make. And to keep making that decision. Oh yes, we have to keep that decision ongoing.

Seeker: “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.

Preacher: How, humanity, can you decide against the Lord God after having decided for the Lord God. How can humanity go astray? I know we do; from the earliest story of the called and chosen people up to this day, we have turned from the Lord God. But as you say, we can turn back to the Lord God . . . . time and time and time and time and time again.

Seeker: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”

Preacher: It is those of us . . . . who have opened our ear to the Lord God . . . . who should know better than to go astray. And it is to our remorse that we do. How sad and bitter it is to find we have lost ourselves, and then find ourselves apart from the Lord God the Divine. As I reminder to myself, I have a piercing in my ear that I had put in at my graduation from seminary. It does remind me, especially when I need reminding!

Seeker: What does it remind you of, Preacher?

Preacher: “Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

Seeker: What have you been called to do, Preacher?

Preacher: “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”

Seeker: And when you realize you have gone astray, how do you come back to the Lord God? What do you say to the Divine that might wash away the remorse and bitterness you feel?

Preacher: “Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” (Psalm 40:1-11)

Seeker: I think, preacher, the greatest lesson you could teach is that you have gone astray, but have been welcomed back by the Lord.

Preacher: Selah, Seeker, Selah!

Baptism of the Lord, Year A in 2020: Psalm Passage – The Divine above and beyond the “nut shell”

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”

Seeker: The angels on high praise the Lord and know of the Divine’s actions on behalf of the called and chosen people. Humanity does not always remember, however, what the Lord God has done. The actions of the Lord God are hard to discern when humanity is at a distance.

Preacher: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.”

Seeker: It takes faith to worship the Lord. Not only faith that is belief in the Lord God, but assurance that the Lord God is working on humanity’s behalf. The early called and chosen people forgot that over time, and then ascribed their misfortune to the errors, mistakes, and sin in their lives. Who can say if they were right or wrong? But in our modern days we can look to the Messiah, and reorient our lives such that the Lord God is with us, and we can worship the Lord who has called us into relationship.

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.”

Seeker: When looking or traveling great distances, the early called and chosen people saw that “mighty waters” hemmed them in. And imagined that only the might of the Lord God could circumvent with ease the distances. In our modern times humanity flies over the waters easily, and is able to fly over many waters or all waters on the earth through the power and knowledge that humanity has taught itself. Little wonder there is “little wonder” left.

Preacher: “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.”

Seeker: But that does not mean the Lord God is without power or majesty. It is just that humanity finds it easier to ignore. But if society would think back on how it is come so far, and realize that the Lord God has created in humanity the ability to learn and understand, society might see that our greatness is actually a reflection, and a mere reflection at that, of what the Lord God is like and capable of.

Preacher: The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

Seeker: Simply put, the voices of humanity can do nothing like that. If humanity raises its voice in anger, people and things are destroyed. But that is no skill and talent; if taken to extremes, it is sin. The Lord God molded the earth and called creation into being with the Might of the Divine’s voice and will. We need tools fashioned from the elements of the earth and our sinful desire to destroy. That is not a worthy ability. If we create, it is only because the human mind has been designed to learn over time and come to greater understanding. We have, if you will excuse the term, evolved over time. The Lord God is the same as in the past, and remains constant throughout all time. It is humanity that has needed improvement.

Preacher: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29)

Seeker: The Lord God sits above all other things, and dwells above creation: that is, all that humanity has become aware of – the clouds, the sky, the atmosphere surrounding earth, the vacuum of space, the systems and galaxies – everything that human ingenuity and technology has allowed us to see. The Lord God is above all that!

Preacher: Seeker, you have praised the Lord God as ably as the psalmist has. When the psalmist wrote, from his perspective humanity had achieved great things. But Yahweh was above and ruler all of that. With all the advancement that humanity has made, we still have not reached the realm of the Divine. And in many ways, we are much further away from it than society was a generation ago. How, one might wonder, can we be so far away from the Lord God when creation has gained so much? It is not technology nor book learning that will get us closer to the Lord God. And if humanity cannot learn how to enter into a committed and genuine relationship with the Divine, we are destined to drift further and further from the spark that created humans in the first place. May the Lord God watch over and nurture us all!

Seeker: Selah & Amen!

Christmas Season 2019, Year A: The Psalm Passage – Reassurance comes!

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.” (Psalm 98:1 – 3)

Reassurance comes, many times, when we recognize what the Lord God has done for us. Just today (that is the day I wrote this, and not Christmas Day) I received reassurance from the Divine that despite the problems and worries that are before me, I am cared for. It was a very good feeling. The psalmist must have seen something too that reassured him that the Lord God was ever present and involved in the lives of the called and chosen people.

“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.” (Verses 3 – 9)

At Christmas time bells and other musical instruments are used to lift up praise to the Lord God. Even in some of the more “quiet” and traditional faith/worship circles, Christmas is the time of year when joyful sounds are welcomed and encouraged. I remember from my childhood going to Christmas concerts and being overwhelmed with the music and accompaniment. The worship circle of my childhood relied mostly on the sounds of the singing voices in the congregation, and not all were accomplished singers! But praise is praise! So lift up whatever instruments and talents you have, and praise the Lord God! And spread joyful reassurance to all who will offer their ears, hearts, and spirits! Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas 2019, Year A: The Psalm Passage – Singing of joy and reassurance

As I said on an earlier day, the days of this week must do double duty. But, Christmas Day is a good day to set aside time to praise. So let us praise further!

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
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!” (Psalm 148:1 – 4)

I told you yesterday, beloved reader, the story of Jesus birth and the shepherds who came to worship the baby Jesus at the behest of the angelic choirs. I like to think that their song books were much like the praise psalms that the psalmist wrote. Who knows, maybe the psalmist was inspired by angelic choirs and choruses that the Divine placed in his heart.

“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.
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 5 – 10)

I am reminded of the verses from the song “Joy to the world” where is sings “Let heaven and nature sing”. I have long thought that “Joy to the world” is a song that could be applied to other parts of the church year.

“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.
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!” (Verses 11 – 14)

Strictly speaking, the Lord God only came once; and in the form of a Son Jesus Christ. But . . . in a way, the Lord God comes to the called and chosen people quite often. Every call and choosing is like the Lord God coming to each individual person, and at a time when that person may most need the Divine. It is Divine reassurance that the Lord God comes when we call upon the Holy Presence. It is no less a thing when the Lord comes through the Presence of the Holy Spirit than when Jesus came to earth as a baby.

May you, beloved reader, this day celebrate the reassurance of the Lord God coming to the world whenever, wherever, and how ever the Divine is needed! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Psalms Passage – Pleading for reassurance

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1 – 7)

Considering that this was written a good while before Jesus came to Bethlehem, you can imagine that by that time the Hebrews who became Israelites who eventually become Jews under Roman authority were down to their last breathe and bit of strength.

“But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Verses 17 – 19)

I have a good idea of how they might have been feeling. At the time I was writing this, I had gone through some very tough days- tougher days than I have ever had. Or at least up there with the other tough ones! It was hard to think about sitting down and writing on a psalm passage. Thankfully it is a psalm of petition and intercession – just about where I am at now in my own life. I have never shied away much from allowing scripture to inform and reflect on my personal life. After all it is our faith life that gets us through our day to day. That parallels the Divine helping us get through our day to day. And I have been relying on the Divine very heavily in the past few days. However, beloved reader, by the time you read this the worst may be over for me – at least that is my hope and prayer! Selah!

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)