or Psalm 119:9-16
I love the John Lennon song, “Imagine.” You might think that as a Christian I would take umbrage at John’s attitude toward religion, but I totally get it. A lot of bad stuff has been done in the name of faith — and Christianity has more than just the blood of the lamb on its hands. But rather than imagine a world with “no religion, too”, I’d rather imagine what the world would be like if we would no longer “say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me.” That would truly be the “healing and restoration of the world” that our vision statement challenges us to participate in.
Our Old Testament readings give us a choice between Psalms 51 and 119. Reading both offers a marked contrast in how one goes about “knowing the Lord.” While Psalm 51 is a commendable exercise in groveling self-deprecation (we could all use some humility, if not humiliation). Psalm 119 is the song of one who truly has God’s law “written in their heart” — and it offers us a clear take on the difference between us and Jesus — the difference between beseeching the Lord’s forgiveness, and what the reading in Hebrews refers to as “reverent submission.”
As the Son of Man — in “the days of his flesh” — Jesus certainly cried to the Lord with all the imagined fervor of Psalm 51. But, although like the rest of us sinners he would have preferred that the cup pass from his lips, “he learned obedience through what he suffered”… and was made perfect. That kind of reverent submission is not easily imagined, let alone emulated. It’s much easier to imagine there are no countries.
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“God is my shield and defense; he is the savior of the true in heart.” – Psalm 7:11
When I was writing my Senior Seminar paper in college, my subject was Celtic Christianity with a focus on how the Celtic saints like St. Patrick converted Ireland from paganism. One of the more fun legends I read about centered around his conversion of the pagan king Leoghaire. According to legend, the king sent henchmen to try and kill Patrick who was on his way to Slane to meet with Leoghaire, but the henchmen failed because Patrick passed by them in the form of a deer.
Why does this fit in with the verse I quoted above? Well, the prayer he allegedly prayed while avoiding these henchmen is called the “Breastplate of St. Patrick”, also known as “The Cry of the Deer”. (The full version can be found here.)
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
Bonus: There is a beautiful hymn based on the prayer which can be found below.
John’s passage tells of a chaotic scene where Jesus rebukes people in Jerusalem. Although some pushed for Jesus’ arrest after the public uproar, the Scripture passage says no one touched Jesus, for “His hour had not yet come.”
This passage strikes me to my core. When will my hour come? When will yours? Does this thought empower you or cause you to fear? Do you live a little more or a little less when you think of your mortality?
O God, you have given us the Good News of your abounding love in your Son Jesus Christ: So fill our hearts with thankfulness that we may rejoice to proclaim the good tidings we have received; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Israel screwed up.
Moses was up on the mountain speaking with the Lord and receiving the Ten Commandments, which left Israel in the hands of Aaron, and Aaron jumped the gun. The people asked him to make gods for them to worship because Moses was still up on the mountain and they had no idea if he was ever coming down. Aaron lacked a spine and allowed it, so a golden calf was made and the people worshipped it.
Given that the first two commandments Moses received were about not having any gods but the God of Israel and not to bow down to idols, Israel was in deep trouble. The Lord was all ready to consume them and blot them out for this, choosing to make a nation of Moses’s descendants.
Moses does something quite amazing: he tells the Lord off for this and brings up the promise made to Abraham and Isaac and Israel to multiply their descendants like the stars in the sky. The Lord changes course and chooses not to blot out the nation of Israel.
The Exodus passage is a reminder to me of both the folly of making hasty decisions (making the golden calf because they did not know when/if Moses was coming back down) and the folly of making decisions when angry (blotting out the nation). Some of the worst decisions in my life have been ones when I have been forced to decide without ample time to think it over, or when I am angry enough that I jump the gun and make a decision that does not need to be made. There is wisdom to be found in praying things over and discerning a reasonable path forward.
Help us, O Lord, to weigh our choices and to seek your will in what we do, lest we make a decision in haste that is not in our best interest.
“And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up.”
When I was a kid, my family went backpacking for vacation. We backpacked all over the mountains in California from Sequoia National Forest to Klamath National Forest. We used to go out for two weeks every summer, logging as many as 100 miles in a single trip.
I discovered early in my life that being out in the splendor of the wilderness feeds my soul and helps me to put things in perspective. Now, I backpack with Douglas and the Boy Scouts from Troop 4100. I look forward to every opportunity to be out in nature, to unplug and unwind.
“You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”
In our collect for today, we pray to God, who “sustained your ancient people in the wilderness with bread from heaven”. We ask that God “Feed now your pilgrim flock with the food that endures to everlasting life…”. Lent is about pausing to reflect and feeding your soul. How do you feed your soul? Take a hike!
Gracious God, thank you for the grandeur and majesty of creation, and the reminder that we are but a small part of it. Thank you for the generosity with which you shower us daily. Help us to see and appreciate all that we have and make us mindful of the needs of others. Amen.
My twin brother and I were born the day after Mount St. Helens erupted, and it is the family joke that the eruption of the mountain coincided with my mother’s water breaking. My parents paid a visit to the mountain in 2005, right after my twenty-fifth birthday, and got ashes from the volcano for my twin brother and me.
Documentaries on the eruption bring to mind the power of God and how that power is played out in the natural world. The psalmist speaks of such power in today’s psalm as they describe “the earth [being] moved, and … the mountains [being] toppled into the depths of the sea; its waters [raging] and [foaming], and … mountains [trembling] at its tumult.” (verses 2-3) I have experienced large earthquakes and been out on the ocean in stormy seas. It never fails to amaze me that the face of the earth can change so much so quickly.
We face many things in our country that cause us to be fearful. As I read the latest headline on Skagit Breaking or see the latest tweet from Donald Trump, it is easy to lose hope. At these times, I recall psalms like this one and take comfort that God can work amid all these things in our upside-down world. If God can change the face of a mountain as happened in May of 1980, how small are the worries that I have in comparison?
How wonderful to be loved by a God described as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!” (verse 1)
Lord, you manifest your power so amazingly in the natural world. Help us to remember that You love us and want to be our refuge when we face adversity.
“Go, your son will live.”
I really want to believe that the father’s encounter with Jesus was that simple. Maybe it was. Maybe our knowledge and experience get in our way when it comes to Bible stories. I can imagine the societal power dynamic between the royal official and the son of a carpenter from a small town. We don’t know much about the father. We do know that he loved his son and was willing to do anything to save his life. It’s a dynamic that parents can relate to.
When Jesus told him to go, he left. The desperate father of a deathly ill son departed from what may have been his last hope for the boy’s survival. Why?
When I first laid eyes on Helen, God spoke to me: “That’s the woman you’re going to marry”. I knew that the words were true with utter certainty (a knowledge that caused some problems early in our courtship, but that’s a story for another time). Despite all the college-trained knowledge in my head, despite my life experience that pointed out the absurdity of that knowledge, I knew Truth. I imagine that was the father’s experience with Jesus, too. Perhaps that’s the learning. We have access to a form of wisdom that is deeper than knowledge. We know the voice of God.
Lord, help us to hear your voice and give us the courage to walk the path that you have laid out for us. Amen.
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
John 3:16 is one of the best-known Gospel passages. And for good reason – what a statement! God loved us so much that He His ultimate gift and sacrificed His Only Son, Jesus Christ, for us! Everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. We just have to accept it. Note that the qualification is “everyone who believes in Him” – that’s our responsibility. Each of us needs to make a personal decision to believe in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 says further: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Although I grew up in a mainline Protestant church, I don’t recall talk of any responsibility on my part. That is until my 3rd-grade Sunday School teacher took me aside one day & asked if I would like to accept Jesus as my Savior. We prayed right then, and I came to know Jesus.
Did my life go on without problems? Hardly. Being problem-free is not part of God’s promise. In fact, it wasn’t long afterward that my father died unexpectedly, we moved to another state, and my whole world seemed to fall apart. But God didn’t leave. We had quite a few significant conversations with my asking the questions (Why?”) and God waiting patiently to reassure me that He had a good plan for the rest of my life. He did!
Lord, we give our thanks for your gift of your Son. Thank you for providing a way for each of us to know you during this life and in life after death.
“The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit, A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” – Psalm 51:18
Many years ago, I had done something I could not forgive myself for. It was a heavy weight, and I was miserable. I was working in a Catholic school at the time, and one day I slipped into the chapel to once again talk to God about this. And once again I asked God for forgiveness. This time, however, I heard, “Penny, I LOVE you.” That was God’s answer. Not, “you are forgiven”, or “bless you, my child”, as I would have expected. God’s answer was so personal, so to the point. The bottom line was that God loved me. God did not despise my broken and contrite heart.
That seems to be the eternal message that God has been trying to get across all these years. God loves us. That is the bottom line, the basis for all else in life. God loves us.
Help us, O God, to daily remember that you are Love. You love us beyond our imagination or understanding. Help us to return that love to you and to all whom you have created. Amen.
Hosea is a tough book to read. It starts out with the Lord telling Hosea to take a wife who is a prostitute and have children with her, all named things relating to God not being with the people. The book continues in this vein with the Lord calling Israel out on all the “infidelity” it committed by worshipping other gods. I have friends who cannot read it because their significant others have cheated on them in various relationships.
This specific chapter begs Israel to return to the Lord and talks about all the healing that can happen if they do. Forgiveness will be granted, their lands will bear fruit, and all shall be well. It stuns me how much grace the Lord is offering to Israel even after all the infidelity that occurred.
As I ponder these promises of healing, I cannot help but think of my practice of taking part in the sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent every year if I can. I do truly believe that God forgives my sins when I confess them in prayer but confessing to a priest using one of the rites in the Book of Common Prayer gives me emotional and mental benefits. It does truly help to get it into my head that my sins are forgiven, and God is faithful in this way.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.