Season After Pentecost (Proper 24[29]) – The Psalm Passage: The Pictorial Ways of the Lord God Jesus Christ

Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

 

You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Praise the LORD! “ ( Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c)

 

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 24[29]) – The Old Testament Passage: Discerning the ways of the Lord God

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7)

It would seem that by the time Job has suffered from loss and illness, poor counsel from some of his friends, and words of instruction from someone younger than him – Job is a mess. He has gotten himself convinced that he has been wronged by God and that God has without good cause subjected him to abuse. God speaks out of the storm to set him straight, and to found out how he/Job became so knowledgeable about Divine things.

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?” (Verses 34 – 41)

It perplexes me though, if the Lord God gave Satan permission to do all this to Job, why was the Lord God so surprised that Job would feel God has picked up the Divine? Now granted that Job did not know why he had been so abused, did not know that the Divine was holding up Job as an exampled of devotion and godly behavior. But Job did believe that all things come from the Lord and are moved and motivated by the Lord. The book of Job can be a perplexing one. I first remember reading Job when I was working my first job as a nanny and housekeeper for found children under the age of 6 – two of them being 4 month old infants. It seemed apropos at the time to read a book about struggling under overwhelming odds when I was struggling myself.

The aspect of the Lord God in the book of Job seems to be a very human one – bragging about a believer and being defensive about slights, not to mention other less than stellar behavior. The Lord God, the Divine, is right to question Job when Job questions the Lord. But this aspect of the Lord God is not one that invites and seems open to comforting those who struggle and are oppressed. At the time when I first read it as a young adult, I think I read it because I felt much akin to Job. But I much prefer the Lord God that is presented in the other Old Testament passage.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:4-12)

In the Job passage the Lord God is peeved (again, can the Divine really be peeved?) that the God-self’s might and will is being questioned. In the Isaiah passage, there is illness, abuse, and oppression – but it is heaped upon an “unnamed person” who has taken upon himself the burden of sin and transgression. We assume this unnamed person is the Messiah, and the prophecy is not far wrong from what actually happened. And that the Lord God and the Messiah had planned that the Messiah would be the salvation of humanity. Two very different views of the Divine. That is not to say they are mutually exclusive. And the aspect of the Lord God shown in Job may not be the complete understanding of the Lord. But all we have in scripture and the guidance of the Spirit to reveal the Lord God, the Divine, to us. As the week unfolds let us see what other views of the Lord God are presented to us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 17[22]) – The Old Testament Passage: Being the beloved of the Lord God

The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.” (Song of Solomon 2:8 – 9)

I have a choice of two different Old Testament passage this week, from different parts of the bible. But when you look at their foundational elements they are very much the same.

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1 – 2)

We know the occasion of this second passage from Deuteronomy – the Hebrews were being readied to cross over into the lands that Yahweh had promised them. Moses was telling them to use due diligence and to be faithful to the Lord God and to the commandments and teachings the Lord God have given to them. The faithful was being ordered and commanded of them because . . . . well, because that was the type of relationship that the Hebrews expected to have with their Lord God.

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2: 10 – 13)

But what if the Lord God spoke as a lover inviting the beloved to come and dwell with the Divine. What if the plea for faithfulness was spoken as the fidelity that is between two lovers? What if the desire for exclusiveness was born of intense love and unwillingness to let anyone else be loved and love as deeply as the Divine? Do you think the Hebrews would have strayed?

Instead, they heard this . . .

You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children–” (Deuteronomy 4:6-9)

It should surprise no one that the bible commentators (for the most part) see the Song of Solomon through (as I have come to call it) the lens of the New Testament. Of course (they say) it means Christ as the lover and we the church & believers as the beloved. And quite honestly for my purposes here, that works. Other times I may emphasis the romantic passionate nature of the Song of Solomon. But then the Divine that I believe in is a romantic passion God. So what if the Lord God at the crossing over to the promised land spoke with passion and deep sentiment of love? Would the story of Israel and Judah be different?

How does the Lord speak to you, beloved reader? With authority and command? Or with love and passion? Does it make a difference in how you would respond and act? Ponder this. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 16[21]) – The Psalm Passage: Praising what the Lord has “built”

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.
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.” (Psalm 84:1 – 3)

This is sort of an unusual image, beloved reader, that birds would find a home at altars. Unusual because the altars of the Old Testament are normally places where an offering is burnt to sacrifice it. I cannot imagine birds building nests, and safe nests at that, near a burning altar. Some altars were for burning a sacrifice, and some altars were for burning incense on. Still, not a safe place to linger at. I also read that in the Old Testament altars are not to be near trees, a safety precaution I guess. But that also makes it unlikely that a bird would nest near an altar.

The altar of the Lord must be different than conventional altars. And so it is – the true altar of the Lord is in heaven. And there nothing is burnt or sacrificed. It is not a place of destruction but a place of restoration. Read on to see what else the psalmist has to say.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
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 4 – 7)

Here we also see that the altar of the Lord must be in the House of the Lord – not a house built by human hands but a heavenly home where there is peace and tranquility. It is the home of the Divine – no human eye has seen it that can say what it is like. Many metaphors have been used to describe; but we can only understand it dimly and from a great distance.

“O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The question arises – who or what is this shield? Turns out it is not a shield of human device but a shield that the Divine has put in place to protect us. The request of the psalmist is for the Lord to look upon him and the people he represents with kindness and favor. And the best place to receive that blessing is within the house of the Lord God.

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” (Verses 10 – 12)

It does sound like a most wonderful place, the house of the Lord. One can see and understand why it would be the preferred place to be. And all that we need will be available to us. Does the psalmist mean that outside of this place there will be struggle and hardship? The commentators I read write from a perspective that holds and uses the New Testament as a filter to understand the Old Testament. Therefore what struggle we might have in this world is a “good thing” and prepares us, or teaches us something. But I really believe that the psalmist meant that it is the heavenly house of the Lord that the light and protection of the Lord, and that favor and honor for a good life will bestowed in heaven.

The reason, though, that the New Testament as a filter and lens works is not because “suffering”and “struggle” is good for us, because when Jesus came to earth he brought the shalom of heaven to earth. And the Holy Spirit continues to be a conduit from heaven to earth.

Let us re-think then praising the Lord for what awaits us in heaven; and thank the Lord for what was brought from heaven to earth. The shalom that is felt on the earth is not from earth, generated by earth or humanity, nor is dependent on earth or humanity. The “heaven on earth” that we know is because of the Holy Spirit’s presence on earth and mediated through humanity. The altar of sacrifice has been satisfied once and for all. Now the altars on earth, as are the altars in heaven, are for worshiping the Lord and gathering around for worship. And, beloved reader, that is worthy of praise and thanksgiving!

Out of the love that is the Lord came heaven, and from heaven came Jesus. Jesus brought the peace that is heaven, and the Holy Spirit pins it to heart of humanity where and when humanity accepts it. That’s pretty praiseworthy too actually!

May you, beloved reader, find “heaven on earth” where it has been established. And may you allow the Spirit to establish “heaven on earth” in your heart and in your life! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 15[20]) – The Psalms Passage: Praising the Lord with good sense and judgment . . . and wisdom

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” (Psalm 111:1 – 4)

I don’t want you to think beloved reader, just because I am extending a theme in the titles I chose that I believe this psalm to be any better (or any worse for that matter) at praising the Lord. The Divine is worthy and deserving of any and all positive attributes that we would ascribe to the Lord God.

He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” (Verses 5 – 8)

One strong reason that I do like this psalm passage is that it is based (so far) on the attributes of the Lord God apart from what the Divine might or might not do for any particular individual. It is praise that all peoples can get behind and join in, whatever their circumstance, situation and geographical and historical location.

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.” (Verses 9 – 10)

Lastly, it gives us all the opportunity to be wise. However you understand “the fear of the Lord” and however you understand and describe “wisdom” – this psalm has something that all worshipers and followers of the Divine can relate to.

O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.” (Psalm 34:9)

The other psalms passage for this week also under girds the pursuit of wisdom and understanding. This one being the passage that is paired to the description of wisdom calling out, and has the same sort of theme – the pursuit of wisdom, with a little more definition of what wisdom (according to the Divine) might be like.

“The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” (Verses 10 – 14)

But it is definitely a themed wisdom for this world and not the world to come. We do not read here of the eternal life that the epistle and gospel passage highlight. Good living, wise living is for this world. How then should we branch wisdom shown in this world to the world to come? Can we? There is only brief mention of redemption in verse 9 of Psalms 111. It comes from the Lord as part of a covenant. Paul would tell us it is part of the old covenant, which in the light of Jesus Christ has been updated. Maybe that should be (and is) an important part of the praise refrain, that our surety for the world and life to come is not dependent on our merits but on the faithfulness of the Lord God. Praise on, beloved reader! Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Old Testament Passage: Temptations and sins of all shapes and sizes

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place – in the Old Testament passage where King David’s story is being told, we hear about David bringing Bathsheba into the palace, her giving birth to a son, and then David being confronted by the prophet Nathan concerning his sin against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. The other Old Testament passage is where “the whole congregation of the Israelites” were upset with Moses and Aaron. Now, beloved reader, who would you rather be confronted by? A prophet of God, or the disgruntled Israelites in the desert who had no food and very little drink. Me personally, I don’t think I would want to face down either one!

Now, King David knew he was in the wrong; the prophet Nathan told an allegory about David taking Uriah’s wife. When David heard it he was inflamed . . .

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (II Samuel 12:5 – 6)

And when confronted with the realization that it was he was guilty,

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (Verse 13a)

Now you have to understand, beloved reader, the prophet Nathan had a tremendous tirade against King David, basically saying that David as a king and as a man will be disgraced somewhere down the road.

I have been thinking about David a lot; and a great deal about David being a man after God’s own heart. Maybe the correct direction was David constantly seeking God, rather than God always approving of David. But, let us not leave Moses and Aaron hanging.

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2 – 3)

You know, compared to the Israelites, David is looking pretty good. I mean, they would rather have died in captivity and slavery than to be free and able to live out their lives as they chose? I guess the Divine was practicing patience long before King David came along.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. . . The LORD spoke to Moses and said,”I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” (Verses 4, 9 – 12)

These were the Lord God’s called and chosen people. From the time forward, from the Exodus to the coming of Jesus, the people of God were reminded of how much God had done for them. Yet each generation forgot, or neglected to pass on to the next generation the appreciation and adoration that was due to the Lord. Yes, I know that I have professed some reluctance to praise on demand. But I have not lodged complaints against Lord because I have found myself in dire situations. Nor have I taken advantage of my position in life to abscond with another’s possessions.

Oh I have committed sin in my life – don’t think I am a saint. Each of us has our weak points – temptations that appear before us that we cannot and do not deny ourselves, or fleshpots and conveniences that we place more importance on than we should. And when our weak points become pitfalls we often need the reminder of what we have done and what we should do better.

May you, beloved reader, overcome your weak points and remain strong against sin and temptation. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 12[17]) – The Psalm Passage: Considering the “pressure” to praise the Lord

All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” (Psalm 145: 10 – 12)

In reality the Lord God does not our praise – not really. The Divine was sufficient unto Itself before creation. The Lord God did not start creation because the Divine was in need of praise. We, creation, were created with the inborn need to find something out in the universe to connect to. It was a need created within us. And if we were created in the image of the Divine, maybe the Divine felt the desire to connect also. Not to be praised, but to be in relationship. To express the love and commitment that fuels the Divine. So why do we praise the Lord God. Why does all of the works of the Lord give thanks? Why does the works of the Lord speak of the glory of the kingdom of the Lord?

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.” (Verses 13)

The faithfulness of the Lord; yes, that is praiseworthy. When creation went so astray from the garden, and that continued to go astray after being called and chosen people, the Divine being faithful after all that is worthy of creation praising.

“The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” (Verse 14)

When creation falls flat on its face, and is in need, the Lord comes and rescues us in small ways and in large eternal ways.

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Verses 15 – 16)

While there are many who are in need and know want, there is also abundance and sufficiency. That our governments and economies are not able to distribute the resources that the world was first given should not be laid at the feet of the Divine. In a ideal and charitable world there would be no want. Remember too the Old Testament passage and the Gospel passage where a small amount of food was multiplied to feed many.

“The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Verses 17 – 18)

Do you get the sense, beloved reader, that the psalmist is speaking of a Lord God who is not quite the vengeful and punishing Lord that you read about in some parts of the New Testament? The Lord of the psalmist does sound worthy of praise. And moreover, a Lord God that one would want to connect to and be in relationship to.

May you, beloved reader, find a myriad of reasons to praise the Lord God and a multitude of times to raise up adoration. Selah!