Archives for March 2017

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty

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Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

This is a favorite psalm for me. I have loved it as long as I can remember and I began to deepen in my understanding of it when a church choir I once belonged to sang an anthem setting of this text. It was a stunning experience for me. Written by an Armenian American composer named Alan Hovhannes, this short anthem — written for organ, soprano solo and choir — creates exactly the right mood for this plaintive cry. Have a listen:

I’m in the midst of a ‘depth’ season these days, and, once again, I have found these words to be a source of deep comfort. My mama is dying . . . and I was diagnosed with pneumonia late this afternoon, after 4.5 hours at urgent care and lots and lots of tests because of my rather wild medical history. So yes, I feel a bit in the depths tonight. And you know what? God welcomes me, right where I am, frustrations, anxieties, anger . . . all of it.

Yes. This one is perfect for me right.now.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits; and in his word is my hope”

AMEN.

Lord, Thank you for inviting us to bring the full expression of our emotions into your presence. Nothing is excluded, nothing is unwelcome. Thank you for the psalmist who wrote this particular song, thank you for the scribe who preserved it, and thank you for the power of these words and for the promise of them, too. 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Nine

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Isaiah 60:17-22

Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
    instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
    instead of stones, iron.
I will appoint Peace as your overseer
    and Righteousness as your taskmaster.
Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
    devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
    and your gates Praise.

The sun shall no longer be
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
    or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever.
They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands,
    so that I might be glorified.
The least of them shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will accomplish it quickly.

This gorgeous chapter begins with these familiar words: “Arise, shine! For your light has come!”

It fits, doesn’t it? Again, our scripture for the day is talking to us about LIGHT, particularly about the radiant glory of our God. And such a portrait of a very different world to the one we currently inhabit, am I right? “Peace as our overseer, righteousness as our taskmaster?” Walls called, ‘salvation,’ and gates called, ‘praise?’

Oh, yes, please! There are days, even entire seasons when I long for this vision to be reality. I’m in the middle of one of those right now, as we wait for my mother to die. There is still a remnant of light in her face — not as often as there once was, but I see it flashing out from time to time. I’m guessing I always will.

I hope my own children can say the same thing about me when that time comes. What about you?

Lord of Light, Thank you for this picture of a redeemed creation, a new world. Help us to keep that vision in the forefront of our minds as we walk through days of trouble and struggle. Help us to trust that someday . . . someday, that world will be our reality! Thank you!

 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Eight

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Colossians 1:9-14

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Today is my good husband’s 75th birthday. And this prayer is one that I’d like to remember to pray for him every day of however many years we have left together on this earth. Isn’t it glorious?

Every phrase of these seven verses is powerful. As I read it today, I pray it for you as well, dear reader. That you might be ‘made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power. . .” “joyfully giving thanks to the Father.”

Thanks be to God for the powerful ways in which we have been rescued and are continuing to be rescued as we walk this dusty earth. 

Give us eyes to see  your redemption, O Lord. And ears to hear your words of love and affirmation. And help us to offer those words to others, praying with Paul for all those loved ones you’ve placed in our lives. And help us to pray these good words for ourselves, as well. Thank you, Lord.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Seven

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Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem;and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Such a familiar story for those of us who have been following after Jesus for a while. We know this one, inside and out, right?

Read it again. And read it as though you’ve never in your life heard this tale. See what jumps out at you, what surprises, flusters, mystifies, confuses you. Here’s what I see this time around:

That Saul is one determined zealot! And he’s on the road.

Saul is the only one who sees that light, that blinding light. But everyone heard the voice. Now whether or not the others heard the words is not clear — but the voice was audible to everyone.

Ananias has a vision, too. And both Saul and Ananias enter into a conversation with Jesus in the midst of their visions. And both of them are confused by everything, too. Saul is clueless as to the identity of this voice. Ananias knows who it is, but doesn’t much like what he says!

In response to Ananias, Jesus tells him that Saul has been chosen, very specifically, to take the good news to the Gentile world. And that he — Jesus, himself — will teach him how much he will suffer as he moves into that call.

Ananias is obedient, despite his reservations. He goes to the street called Straight, he enters the house, he lays hands on Saul and prays for his healing, the healing happens in a strange way, Saul is baptized and he eats for the first time in three days.

Saul wastes no time in being obedient, either. Immediately, he begins proclaiming who Jesus is in the synagogues of Damascus.

Amazing. So many pieces to this stunning little puzzle of a narrative. The rest of the book of Acts and half of the rest of the New Testament is devoted to this man, to his work, his teaching, his relationship with Jesus, his friendships, his arguments, his troubles and his successes. But here, right here, we meet him for the first time

Quite the introduction, don’t you think?

Lord, I thank you for Saul/Paul. For his energy, devotion, willingness to truly repent (turn around) and his skill and commitment as a disciple and a teacher/leader. He doesn’t do anything perfectly, but he does it all devotedly and he does it all well. Thank you for his life, for his words, for his mission. Thank you most of all that way back then, you saw us. . . these Gentiles of the 21st century . . . and you found someone to take your message of love and hope and salvation in our direction.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Six

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Ephesians 5:8-14

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

We are light! 

Did you catch that? Light. 

This is something I need tattooed across my brain, I think. If I could grasp this truth, truly grab hold of it, I think my life might look spectacularly different than it does. What could we do, who could we be, if we really knew this, at our core? 

The physicists are telling us this truth, too — did you know that? We are made of stardust. Yes, stardust. The cells of our bodies match the molecules we find on our various space jaunts. You and I and our kids and the neighbor down the street — we should be radiant, beams of sunlight, filled to the brim with the beautiful truth that LIGHT is who we are.

So, my friend, go out there and SHINE, okay? “Live as children of light,” reflecting all that is “good and right and true.” 

Try and do that for at least fifteen minutes sometime today, okay? Then come back here and tell me what it was like!

Lord of Light, Light of the World, Our Light — will you remind us who we are, please? Help us to live as light wherever we may find ourselves this day. To shine, to reflect, to reveal, to illuminate, to show up the dark corners, to help navigate . . . to spread sunshine wherever we go. Thank you!

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Five

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Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I find it fascinating and quite wonderful that a piece of the birth narrative finds its way into our Lenten lectionary. Seems like a good time to be reminded how our Savior came into this world in the first place, as we walk through these days of preparation for our formal, liturgical, and deeply personal celebration of how he left it, and then re-entered in newness and magnificence. 

Some of you know that I am teaching confirmation students this year — 7 girls and 4 guys between the ages of 12 and 14. Our second year students are just about the age Mary was when the angel paid that visit. And you now what? Even with the differences in maturation across the intervening centuries, I see a couple of kids in our group who just might be mature enough and committed enough to have made the list of possible mamas-to-be. 

The young girl described in this passage is no flibberty-gibbet, not in the least off-handed or dismissive. She takes this strange visitor and his even stranger words at face value. She asks a logical question and expects to receive an answer. And when she gets it, she humbly bows and accepts the words as ones meant for her and for the son that is to come.

But here’s the sweetest piece of all — the angel slips in a little-known fact to reassure Mary that this seemingly impossible thing is not impossible. At all. No wonder, Mary packs her bag within the week and heads off to check out cousin Elizabeth for herself! 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Four

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Psalm 23, from The Message

God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

I experienced one of the worst mornings of my life last week: I had to take my aging, dementia-consumed mama to the dentist. We thought this was just a regular cleaning, but soon discovered she had broken a tooth, an important tooth — a very back molar that serves as the anchor for a large bridge she must wear to give her about 1/3 of the teeth in her mouth.

This required a great deal of work and she was not ready for it. There was no way she could be made ready — it was simply terrifying to her and she did not and could not understand. My task was to bend over her, speaking words of encouragement, holding her hands down so that she didn’t pull out any of the equipment needed to do the work of cleaning up the damage and creating a new crown.

Can I just tell you how desperately I wanted to say this psalm to her, over and over and over again? Because of her hearing loss and because too many words from me would have been impossible in the midst of all that the dentist and his assistant needed to do, I could not say it aloud. 

But I was thinking it! And a whole lotta, “Lord, have mercy!” as well. These are the words that save our lives, aren’t they? I’ve given them to you in a translation that is likely far less familiar than what you’ve heard so many times in your life. I often find it refreshing to see what Eugene Peterson has to say about familiar passages and I am always surprised and gratified by his choices.

The words that grab me in this translation are these: “True to your word, you let me catch my breath . . .” Yes, I needed an entire weekend to catch my breath after this traumatic event. I am grateful that God is, indeed, my shepherd.

Shepherding God, thank you for your continuing care and concern for us, your wayward and broken-down sheep. Thank you for loving my little mama even more than I do and for helping her (and me) to survive that difficult couple of hours. Remind me to breathe, really, truly
b r e a t h e. Thank you.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Three

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1 Samuel 15:10-21

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night. Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, and Samuel was told, “Saul went to Carmel, where he set up a monument for himself, and on returning he passed on down to Gilgal.” When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?”  Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.”

Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Oh, this is a tough story. No, I don’t like this part of the OT. I don’t like the whole idea of what appears to be an order, direct from God, for Saul and the burgeoning nation of Israel to commit genocide against the Amalekites. But . . . a tiny bit of research shed some interesting light on this old story, light that helps me handle it a little bit better.

This particular people group has been at serious odds with the Israelites since the time of Jacob and Esau. The Amalekites had a history of attacking Israel and trying everything in their power to wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why they’re singled out for Saul, the new king, to take care of, once and for all. 

But Saul doesn’t do it. Even worse, he lies about it to the prophet, Samuel.

And that is the beginning of the end for our man, Saul.

I find Saul fascinating and instructive on multiple levels. We’re told he was what the people thought they wanted — tall, good-looking, strong — and willing to become their king. But surprise, surprise. The tall, good-looking one doesn’t pan out so well. It takes a smaller, ruddy-faced shepherd boy to become a true king for this young nation.

Saul’s days are numbered from this point forward. And that is a hard, hard thing to read. Basically, the man unravels. His insecurities, his moods, his anger — all symptoms of his larger disobedience — lead to his eventual downfall and to the installation of David in his place. 

Sometimes getting what we think we want doesn’t turn out all that well. It surely didn’t turn out well for Saul. 

Lord, there are times when I have pity for this man. And other times when I want to shake him — hard. And I readily admit that there are pieces of Saul in me! I can too easily be led by my insecurities and fears, I can succumb to the temptation to cover up my own weaknesses. I believe that Saul could have been forgiven — even after this egregious fail — but he could never find a spirit of repentance inside. Cultivate true repentance in me during these Lenten days, O Lord. And have mercy on me, Son of David.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Two

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Psalm 81

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Right here, in this 3-stanza song, we have the story of the Old Testament. It begins with beautiful music, moves to a recital of God’s repeated acts of deliverance for his people, and ends with the sad news that those people responded with belligerence and disobedience.

The consequences of that disobedience are long-lasting and terrifying, yet God never wavers in choosing them and promising them safe return . . . if they would only walk in God’s ways. A song that is both beautiful and terribly sad, one that haunts us all from time to time. Our lives are marked by both the consequences of our own wrong choices and the sweetness of God’s restoration. 

Which is exactly why I love the psalms — they speak to real life in ways that nothing else quite does. These songs offer praise, repentance, warning, anger, joy, blessings, lament — the whole gamut of emotion, the truth of this thing called life. Maintaining a steady faith and learning to hold the good and the hard at the same time — these are worthy goals. And not possible to achieve outside of the goodness and grace of our God. 

Thank you, Creator, for giving us songs to sing in the key of life. Thank you, Savior, for singing our song with us as you walked on our soil. Thank you, Spirit, that you keep singing those songs in us and through us as we navigate the rough seas and the calm ones. Help us to sing them true.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-One

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Genesis 29:1-14

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.

Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

Again, with the well! People who live in a desert climate know exactly where to find water. And this one was an unusual one in some ways, wasn’t it? It had a stone over it — a stone so large and unwieldy that it was apparently only moved once a day and shepherds had to wait for everyone to get there before their flocks could be properly watered.

Sometimes we have to wait for others before we can be fully refreshed. Sometimes, we need to do things a little differently to make that happen. Jacob was surprised — he verbally invited them to get their flocks some water and clear out of the place. They refused.

Why? Because not every shepherd had arrived.

Rachel was on her way, you see.

And Rachel is the key to this story. She is the forward movement, the one who catches Jacob’s eye and later his heart. Rachel is the one who sets the course for everything that happens in the rest of the book of Genesis! 

Man, I love the Old Testament narratives. 

Thank you, Lord, for Rachel. For her beauty, her kindness, her willingness to step into the action of the drama you are producing, the one that eventually brings us Jesus. Thank you that we know her name, that we know how much Jacob loved her, that she brought Joseph into the world, and that Joseph provided an Old Testament picture of a future savior. Thank you for the foreshadowing that traces its way through so many of these stories, and for the magnificent way you keep on telling the same story, the story of your everlasting love for us.