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!

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 – Bloom forth with praise and thanksgiving . . . . that is suited to who you are and what you praise the Divine for

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah” (Psalm 66:1 – 4)

I continue to try to discern what it is about some psalm passages that, well, just leave me cold. Or maybe it has more to do with the mood that I am in than the words of the psalm. Right now I am craving quiet alone time. And this psalm just busts and bursts out with noise, loud wind instruments and many, many people being noisy. Could we just turn down the volume a little?

“Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah” (Verses 5 – 7)

Loud praise passages tend to draw on stories and lessons of long ago, and ones that do not resonant with my experiences. My times of praise and wonder have come in spaces and places of holy silence, or whispers of insight and understanding.

“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Verses 8 – 12)

There are times, I will admit, that praising the Lord for the success of triumphing over the trials and tribulations that have been part of others’ lives, when we are celebrating with them. Or when a group or a community has emerged victorious from a time of testing. But it is hard to take on the joy and celebration of another when their path has not been your path. Even more difficult to use the words of praise and celebration of one individual or group when it does not fit your own experience.

I talked yesterday of group of ten lepers who were healed but only one came back to thank and praise Jesus Christ. And he was not of the same faith circle as Jesus and the other nine. But his praise and worship of Jesus and God deemed acceptable and worthy of recognition. So I do not feel I am erring here.

The psalmist primary exhortation is to praise the Lord God the Divine. All that follows is particular and specific to the agenda and celebration that the psalmist has in mind at the time of his writing. Praise the Lord God, beloved reader, for the blessings and mercies that have been given to you. And let you praise mingle with the words of praise from generations past and the generations to come. In this way there will be an endless chorus of praise lifted up to the Divine, which is actually the way it should be! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Praising from the edges

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)

Recently, say the last few weeks, I have been thinking about my faith journey in a different way. I have been considering how the ebb and flow of my strength and health is impacting my faith life and journey. Not that I am losing faith in the Lord God – but that I feel the ebb and flow in my own strength and ability to hold firm and keep moving forward. I find myself “resting” more in the Lord than surging forth. Some days I drag myself to the keyboard and summing the energy to write and say something meaningful. I tell you truly – more often than not – I am not sure where the conviction and impact comes from in what I write. It all just sort of flows out of me, and I am not even sure it originated in me.

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” (Verse 3)

I think one of the main reasons I keep writing in spite of the fatigued and weakness is that I need that strength in my life to keep me going. I need the energy and conviction that comes when I write so that I have the energy and conviction to keep going.

“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 4 – 6)

I tell the Divine, daily, about my fatigue and fears. I ask for help in getting through the day, and praise the Lord when I felt the Divine’s presence. Lately I have taken up the spiritual disciple of the spiritual examen. For those who do not know, that is a practice of thinking over the day and seeing where the Divine has been a presence and when the time or times were that you felt at a distance from the Divine. Other terms are consolation/desolation, joy/sadness and such positive and negative impacts. It is not to reveal the mistakes you make but to find ways to live more wisely and fully in the light of 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. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Verses 7 – 8)

“Do not forsake the work of your hands.” The psalmist gets it absolutely correct when he make this petition. The Lord God may may not have intended, and I firmly believe did not plan, for me to develop all the illnesses and conditions that I have. But the Divine to create me to have an inquiring and pondering mind, and to seek out the Divine Self. As I am sure the psalmist was created. So our plea is that the Lord God would keep us within the Divine purpose – despite and in spite of whatever might befall us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Moving forward in one’s faith and spiritual life . . . . but not always an easy path

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” (Psalm 52:1 – 4)

Sometimes the psalms praise and celebrate not only the Divine, but those who follow the way of the Divine. Psalm 52, as the RCL uses it, a warning and caution perhaps to those who were warned in Amos chapter eight of what will happen to them if they defy the Lord God.

“But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah. The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the psalmist contrasts those who have failed to trust in the Lord God to himself, the psalmist and what has he has gained by his devotion to the Divine.

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And for those like Abraham, who have never veered away from the Divine, the reward is also great.

“O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)

From this you would imagine that following the Divine is simply a matter of devotion and observances that results in wonderful rewards and a blessed life. Well, beloved reader, the psalmist paints a wonderful picture; but the reality is a little more tense and strained than what is “advertised”.

This world is not an easy one; I could point out all the troubles and turmoil that the biblical figures we know well went through. I could talk about some of the modern saints and what they endured. I could even talk about what I have endured!

It would be easy to throw up one’s hands in despair and say “What is the use in the struggle?” Many have. The things that come in this life, come regardless of what our faith and spiritual life is. Yes, some are blessed by the Lord God. For some life is easy. But the faithful and the unfaithful alike suffer in this world. The point is, the Divine never meant for us (humanity) to suffer alone. We may not be able to find the good in suffering – maybe there is none. But there is refuge in the Lord God. And a faithful community around us that upholds us. Remember too some of the psalms the psalmist wrote; he was no stranger to suffering and hard times. Yet the Lord God upheld him through all things. It is promise we can count on that the Lord God will do the same for us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Praising the Divine for the clear instructions of the Lord God and then benefit of heeding them

As I shared early in the week, when I use both Old Testament passages there is a plethora of psalm passage verses; one passage from Psalm 82 and one from Psalm 25:1-10. It will take some thought as to how to proceed.

Psalm 82 connect to the passage from Amos where is was sent to tell the king of Israel Jeroboam how he had failed at ruling the people and what the consequences would be of that failure. The passage from the Old Testament in that section is not precisely clear who would suffer the most – the king or the men who advised him poorly. It was a surety that none of them would fare well.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Psalm 82:1 – 5)

As you can read, beloved reader, the psalmist does pretty good also at lambasting those how have falter in leadership in the Divine’s sight.

“I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Verses 6 – 8)

Psalm 25:1-10 connects to the portion from Deuteronomy; all things considered, that passage was gentle and encouraging in its content. And this passage from Psalm 25 is also heartening, and a praise response to instructions found in Deuteronomy.

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” (Psalm 25: 1 – 5)

As you may remember, Deuteronomy 30 verses 9 – 14 outlined the benefits of following the Divine’s commandments and a reminder that at its heart the commandments of the Lord God are not hard to follow and the Lord God is close by. The psalmist seems to be reminding the Divine of the promises that were made to the called and chosen people.

“Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (Verses 6 – 10)

I think all that is needed here it is a 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)