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Psalm 49: Self-Rescue


Psalm 49: Self-Rescue

Sunday, August 28, 2016psa-49-15-ww-stock-9x

Yesterday we heard from Peter about sloppy living; today we hear the psalmist’ words on the foolishness of trusting in wealth. Today we pray Psalm 49 using THE MESSAGE translation and we open ourselves to the understanding that God alone saves, God alone transforms, God alone gives us the gift of eternal life.

The psalmist prepares us to hear words that save.

Listen, everyone, listen—
    earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
    and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

The psalmist delivers words that calm.

So why should I fear in bad times,
    hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
    demeaned by the arrogant rich?

The psalmist sings verses that reveal.

Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
    pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
    and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
    against the Black Hole.

The psalmist speaks verses that ring true.

Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
    wiped out right along with fools and dunces.
They leave all their prowess behind,
    move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
    And to think they named counties after themselves!

The psalmist declares truths that are evident.

So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
    and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
    fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
    and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
    where they’ll never see sunshine again.

The psalmist proclaims words we will want to sing out together as we give thanks for God’s gifts of assurance, redemption, and rescue.

Listen, everyone, listen—
    earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
    and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

Compare this translation with others to better understand the psalmist’s message.


1 Peter 1:17-21: Sloppy Living

Saturday, August 27, 2016o-WRAPPED-GIFT-facebook

As the leader of Christ’s nascent church, Peter laid out a simple plan to avoid what he called sloppy living. Let there be doubt, he tells us, each of us has the gift of life from one who loves us dearly; and each day of our journey brings us another opportunity to unfold this gift.

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. 

Peter is clear, the sacrifice freely given by Christ deserves our best response. And this response cannot be languid or superficial. It must be authentic and deep.

As the leader who continues to lead us on our journey, Peter challenges us to live up to the promise placed in us. He urges us to return the compassion and kindness so lovingly and intentionally given. He implores us to trust God consciously and always.

God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.

When we use the scripture link and drop-down menus to compare THE MESSAGE version of these verses with other translations, we are given the opportunity to explore our own lives to look for traces of sloppy living.

Tomorrow, the foolishness of trusting in riches. 


Deuteronomy 32:3-12: A Straight-Arrow God

Friday, August 26, 2016unity

When we look upon the world that surrounds us we may well wonder why so many of us throw so many sticks and stones at those who do not measure up to our standards; yet God believes in all of us still.

His messed-up, mixed-up children, his non-children,
throw mud at him but none of it sticks.

When we criticize and gossip, pass on rumors and make innuendo, we might be making more of a statement about ourselves than others; yet God is patient with us still.

Don’t you realize it is God you are treating like this?
This is crazy; don’t you have any sense of reverence?

When we forget our own shortcomings but are critical of others, when we ignore well-advised words, we signal how much confidence we lack by the false confidence we feign; yet God places hope in us still.

Read up on what happened before you were born;
dig into the past, understand your roots.
    Ask your parents what it was like before you were born;
ask the old-ones, they’ll tell you a thing or two.

When we look for a model, search for wisdom, cry out for peace, we open ourselves to this straight-as-an-arrow God who abides, steers and protects; and despite our efforts to leave God behind, God loves us still.

  A God you can depend upon, no exceptions,
a straight-arrow God.

When we use the scripture link and drop-down menus to explore other translations of these verses, we discover more than we have imagined about our God who consoles, remains and encourages us still.


Sirach 8: 1-14: Perplexity

Thursday, August 25, 2016perplexity-20301609

Last year we took a look at Sirach 18 and 19 to focus on the idea of living within our spiritual means much like we strive to stay with our financial means or our physical limitations. We reflected on the idea of having high expectations of ourselves without stressing ourselves beyond our capacity.  As the ancient Eastern proverb says, All things in moderation.  As my Dad used to say, All things, even if they are good things, become bad things when we take them too far.  And that brings us to today, when we ponder this: When human beings have finished they are just beginning, and when they stop, they are still perplexed. The writer Jesus ben Sirach also gives us this to think about: What are human beings, and of what use are they?  What is good in them, and what is evil?  We are also told: The Lord has patience with us because he sees that we are miserable. 

We may or may not agree with these ideas.  We may or may not like the idea that we spend much of our human existence being perplexed.  In communion with our God, we may wish to have more answers, to be more prepared, to receive more information . . . but this is not what our maker expects.  God expects that we go to him when we are in difficult places in our lives – as small children go to their parents – to place their trust in God’s providence.

I have spent my prayer time this weekend with Sirach and today I open scripture to arrive again at a seminal idea in this book: That we are created to love and to be loved, and that God asks us to walk with him, trusting that he knows how and where we are in every moment of our existence.

Being perplexed is not a bad thing when we take our confusion to God before anyone else.  We can remind ourselves of this each time we feel at sea, each moment we experience negative feelings, each hour we spend in grief.

Being perplexed is not a bad thing when we remember that we are children of God . . . and that this God wishes us every good.

A Favorite from August 31, 2009.


Sirach 32: 1 -13At the Table

Tuesday, August 23, 2016heavenly banquet

I continue to love the words of this writer – they are so to the point and true!  Knowing that the table where meals are shared is an important part of both ancient and modern life, the images here of people sharing food are as apt today as they were when they were written.  Food, one of the most basic of life’s necessities, is such an essential part of living that we put down our animosities regarding one another in order to bring in the harvest, and to share space and time in one another’s company.  Today’s Noontime gives us the opportunity to reflect on the most sacred of all meals – the Eucharist.  What a great and wonderful gift is this that Christ comes to us to share his physical presence with us and to sustain us in our journey here on earth.  Jesus Ben Sirach tells us how we are to come to the table, how we are to behave, what we might expect.

Take care of guests before sitting down yourself . . .

Temper your wisdom when you speak, do not be too puffed up and self-important . . .

Be aware of how much wine you are drinking and its effects upon you . . .

Be brief and be concise when speaking; observe and listen more than you speak . . .

Leave when it is time to go being certain to not out-stay your welcome . . .

As I reflect on all of this I realize that this is how we ought to come to every gathering.  We need to take ourselves seriously – but not overly so.  We need to enjoy ourselves – but not overly so.  We need to recognize ourselves in one other without losing our own identity.  We must remember always that just as we are temples of the living God, so is everyone else around the table.

communionEarly humans must have always been on the hunt for food; mealtimes where memories, songs, jokes and profound ideas might be shared were surely a luxury.  How blessed are we to have the gift of leisure that we can spend an hour or two each day with family, friends and colleagues to bare our souls, share concerns, to laugh, to question, even to cry, as we share a meal.  How blessed are we to have a God who wishes to share a banquet with us daily as he delivers the gift of himself for us to use as we will.

I have always cherished the time spent at the table with those I love.  What is more difficult is to sit at the table with those who have announced that they are our enemies and yet when we truly believe that Christ is present when we come together, what is there to fear?  If we can come together to celebrate the Eucharist – the gift of Christ himself to us – then let us also come together in amity to journey through our days together helping, abiding, remaining in Christ before all else.  When Christ is seated at the table, no weapons or defense or offense are needed.  We only need bring ourselves and our own humble gifts.

A Favorite from August 25, 2009.


John 11The Death of Lazarus

Wednesday, August 24, 2016Lazarus

A Favorite from August 28, 2009.

This is a bittersweet story if we believe in the resurrection.  Each time I read it, I linger over verse 35: Jesus wept.  As a child I believed that the Christ wept because his good friend had died.  As I grew older I believed he mourned the fact that he knew he was calling this friend back from a beatific place.  Now when I read this verse it seems to me that Christ cries out of his humanity; he cries at the tragedy of our human fragility.  As I continue to grow I am guessing that I will have other perspectives, other reasons for Jesus’ tears.  This is what is so wonderful about the message of the Messiah: each time we read it, we come away with something new, something surprising, something healing.  This is why, I believe, God came to walk among us . . . so that we might number our sorrows with his.  When we cry out to God, he can honestly tell us that he experiences our pain.

There is another point which always intrigues me about this story.  Hard on its heels arrives the story of the plot to kill Jesus.  I am always struck with the vigor of the jealousy and venom of his enemies.  Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council and said, “What are we to do?  This man is performing miracles, many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the holy place and our nation”.  This narrative continues to verses 53 and 54: So from that day on they planned to put him to death.  Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews.  And this chapter ends with . . . Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him. 

When I put myself into this story, I wonder where I would fall.  Am I among the Pharisees, the priests, the followers who report Jesus?  Am I one who succumbs to jealousy and revenge?  Am I one who believes and follows?  Do I understand that the “death” of Lazarus is really the initiation rite of his new life?  Am I willing to enter into the hope God offers us when he frees us in the person of Jesus?  Do I comprehend the joy I might experience when I unite with the Holy Spirit to carry the message of freedom to others?  Am I willing to accept surprise in my life?  Am I willing to hand myself over to a belief in something I cannot see?  Am I ready to accept a new way of living?

There is much newness to think about as we read this old story.  What appears to be death might actually be life.  What seems to the end of a story, may actually be the beginning.  What is apparently a handing over of self in obedience can be a surprising release into a full liberty of expression.  We will only know when we choose to follow.


Isaiah 57:14-21: The Restless Sea

Monday, August 22, 2016restless seas

In days when political and civic leaders grapple with the realities of our common world, Isaiah reminds us that the wicked are always with us, obscuring truth, engendering deceit.

The wicked are storm-battered seas that can’t quiet down. The waves stir up garbage and mud. (THE MESSAGE)

In times when religious and community leaders struggle to bring light to a present darkness, Isaiah reminds us that evil relies on chaotic upheaval and unpredictable alliances.

Evil people are like the restless sea, whose waves never stop rolling in, bringing filth and muck. (GOOD NEWS TRANSLATION)

In the hour of darkness when friends and family clash over how to move forward for the good of all, Isaiah tells us that God’s promise of healing and restoration is authentic.

But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud. (NRSV)

In the moment of fear and division when anxiety and confusion threaten our relationship with God, Isaiah tells us that there is one person, one person, one bond that calms all fear and quiets all anxiety. Isaiah reminds us that there is a voice that persists as it calls out: Let my people return to me. Remove every obstacle from their path! Build the road and make it ready!

Help and healing, humility and repentance, confidence and hope, eternal promise and love. Isaiah comforts us as he has done for millennia. Isaiah reminds us that God waits eternally for those who look to move from mourning to joy.

When we use the scripture link and the drop-down menus to explore various translations of these verses, we discover how we might all survive the restless seas.

Visit http://www.spiritualwarbiblestudies.com/index.php?topic=112.0 for a post exploring Isaiah 57:14-21. 

 


Sirach 33:7-15: Differences

Sunday, August 21, 2016Birds

If we ever wonder about the diversity of God’s creation, we might look at this chapter of Sirach.

Why is one day more important than another, when all the daylight in the year is from the sun?

When we believe that some of us are better than others of us, we might remember these words.

By the Lord’s wisdom they were distinguished, and he appointed the different seasons and festivals. Some days God exalted and hallowed, and some God made ordinary days.

meadow2When we use our ears and eyes, we understand God’s desire for variety.

All human beings come from the ground, and humankind was created out of the dust. In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them and appointed their different ways.

When we open our hearts and minds, we see God’s great gift of diversity.

Like clay in the hand of the potter, to be molded as God pleases, so all are in the hand of their Maker, to be given whatever God decides.

When we observe humankind and nature honestly, we discover God’s marvelous inclusivity of many formed into one.

crowdLook at all the works of the Most High; they come in pairs, one the opposite of the other.

When we enter into the mystery of God’s creation, we witness to the marvelous differences found in God’s love.

When we compare differing translations of these verses, we open ourselves to the wisdom of God’s marvelous differences.

Click on the image of the birds above to learn more about the importance of diversity in nature

Click on the crowd image to learn about the broad diversity found in the Mexican genome

Job 40: Fear


behemoth

A depiction of the mythical Behemoth

Job 40: Fear

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chapter 40 of Job is sandwiched between the threat of Satan and the promise of restoration, bringing home to us the marvel of God’s immense love for us.

When we focus on 40:15 we see the Behemoth who sneezes, sending forth light flashes. Sparks fly from his mouth, his breath lights fires, his heart is hard as stone, the mighty fear him, nothing frightens him.  This monster – who later appears in Revelation – is drawn so vividly that we tremble before him.  What does he represent?  Perhaps he signifies all the fear we have ever felt about all things, both little and large.

We know that we must fight back the fear but the task is daunting.  When we spend time with Job we understand that when we allow God to be God, we enter into God’s love.

The Gospels tell us that when the Sea of Galilee is whipped by a storm, endangering the apostles in their tiny boat, we find Jesus walking on the water to calm both the turbulent waves and his followers.  Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid! (Matthew 14:22-36Mark 6:45-56John 6:16-24) Just as the apostles follow Christ, so must we.

In the New Testament letters, John writes eloquently in his soaring verses to tell of the awesome enormity of the love God brings to us, the same love to which God calls us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! (1 John 1:1-4) Just as John encourages us to believe, so must we encourage one another.

When the behemoth of fear stalks us, waits at the next corner, rides home with us in the back seat of the car, springs from under the bed . . . we must turn to Christ and to his colossal, freely-given love.

So let us perfect this love which God plants in each of us.  Let us revel in it.  Let us share it, speak of it, spend time with it.

And let us pray: Let us put fear aside.

When loved ones betray or disappoint us . . . Let us put fear aside.

When we find the day too arduous and the night too long . . . Let us put fear aside.

When the behemoth springs from nowhere to instill us with foreboding . . . Let us put fear aside.

When we are anxious and tired and do not have the strength to summons the courage we so desperately seek . . . Let us put fear aside.

When we find ourselves separate from you . . . Let us put fear aside.

When we seek punishment instead of love . . . Let us put fear aside.

Amen. 

I there is time today, spend time with John’s letters, and let God’s awesome love chase away the behemoth of fear.

Adapted from a Favorite written on January 7, 2009.

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