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Song of Songs 6:4-12: The Charms of the Beloved

Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Tirzah Valley

Tirzah is a probable reference to the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel and most likely means pleasantThe following descriptions use pastoral allusions, creating images that would certainly be pleasant to the people in the first century before Christ.  The other marriage imagery is familiar to New Testament readers who are accustomed to hearing Christ describe his own union with us, his church, his bride, his beloved.  Footnotes send us to Matthew 9:15; 25:1-13; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-32 and Revelation 19:7; 21:9.  The portion of the Song of Songs we focus on today is a description of the charming characteristics of the groom’s beloved – – – a description of us, the bride.

We see here that Christ is centered on wooing us, drawing us into his ways.  Do we consider Christ to be the center of our own lives?

We read here that Christ seeks us out no matter where we are.  Do we seek Christ in the same way?

We reflect on the fact that Christ sacrifices all he has – himself – for his beloved.  Do we sacrifice all that we are and have in the same way for Christ?

This is how we acquire the charming inner beauty of the Beloved we read about today: through our constancy, preparedness, fidelity, and trust.  This inner beauty radiates outward, calling to the groom, echoing his own faithful love.  Nothing else matters.  No other union is more real.  No other love is more secure.

This Song is accredited to Solomon yet was most likely written at the end of the Exile (around 538 B.C.E.).  It describes the intimacy of a conjugal relationship; the same relationship we are to have with Christ.  In such a close bond there in nothing hidden, there is no illusion, no deception.  We must put all of that aside if we are to find the happiness we seek.

In this sublime description of abiding, ardent and even passionate love, we find the meaning otherwise hidden from us by a material life full of itself with its alluring deceits, waywardness and trickery.  If we are to be both serene and passionate in our love for God, if we are to find peace that holds us faithful, we must put all worldly ways aside because . . . my lover belongs to me and I to him . . . Before I know it, my heart makes me the blessed one of my kinswoman.

Pomegranate Trees

The invitation to union with the beloved is open to each of us.  So let us go down to the garden to look at the fresh growth of the valley, to see if the vines are in bloom, if the pomegranates have blossomed . . . let us set a little time apart each day . . . for it is in this serene and peace-filled place that we encounter a love we have only otherwise imagined . . . the love of Christ.


A re-post from May 26, 2012. Originally written on April 21, 2009 and posted today as a Favorite.

For a Bible Walk through the Tirzah Valley click on the image above or go to: http://www.biblewalks.com/sites/Makhruk.html

For some interesting history, and a few tips on how to eat a pomegranate, click on the fruit image or go to: http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2009/10/how-to_eat_a_pomegranate.html

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Isaiah 55: An Invitation to Grace

Saturday, June 8, 2019

All you who are thirsty, come to the waters . . .

We are told in the story of the Revelation (7:16) that those who thirst will find true water which quenches forever.

I will renew you with the everlasting covenant . . .

We are told by the prophets Jeremiah (23:4) and Ezekiel (34:16) that the true Shepherd has promised to bring all of his sheep home from all the places to which the false shepherds have scattered them so that none of them shall be missing.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near . . .

We are told in the Gospels to knock, ask, and seek (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9) while the bridegroom lives among us (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34, John 3:29).

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord . . .

We are told in the first letter to the Corinthians (13:1) that our childish ways are not the childlike ways in which God asks us to walk; and in Ephesians (2:2) that the ways of the world are not God’s ways.

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

We are told in Ezekiel (37:27) that God will dwell among his people; and we are told by Jesus in the Gospel of John (10:34-38) that he was sent among us to call his faithful home, and that these faithful live in him just as he lives in the father.

Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back . . .

We are told in Jeremiah (29:11) and throughout the Psalms, but especially in 126, that God has plans in mind for us which are plans for joy rather than sorrow.

This shall be the Lord’s renown, an everlasting imperishable sign . . .

We are told in the Gospel of John (4:10) that God offers us the gift of everlasting life, of true water which quenches forever.

All of scripture is Christ, is God’s word to us, God’s expression of love to us.  And all of this scripture cries out to us that we are invited to the feast of the bridegroom as the beloved bride.  In the album Speechless by Steven Curtis Chapman there is a song entitled The Invitation which tells us all we need to hear about the love the father holds for us. It reminds us that we are bride to a constant, faithful, ardent lover, the true prince of peace who leaves nothing lacking, who will not rest until he holds us closely.  This is our invitation to blessing.  This is our invitation to beatitude.  This is our invitation to grace.  This is our invitation to love.


A re-post from May 25, 2012.

Images from: http://www.parisianevents.com/parisianparty/what-to-wear-to-a-wedding-in-france/ and http://matttullos.com/grace-is-on-a-family-tree/

To listen to Steven Curtis Chapman sing “The Invitation” click here.   

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Matthew 11:25-30: Gentleness

Friday, June 7, 2019

Come to me, all you who labor and are weary . . .

We can use these words of encouragement as we approach at any number of times in our lives for we are frequently wearied by life’s turmoil.  We have seen the Easter story play out and we have full knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We also know that Christ’s story is also our story.  We know that the dead rise, the weary rejoice, and the impossible becomes possible; yet despite this knowing we need support in order to move forward.  We dread the suffering we know is part of our existence . . . and we anticipate eagerly the happiness in store for us.  The Eastertide always presents us with both the terrible and wonderful as we remember Christ’s pain and joy.

In the paradox which is Christ, we see strength come from his gentleness, compassion from his understanding, empathy from his justice, love from his constancy.  In turn, we draw upon his storehouse of strength and wisdom.

When we continue to grapple with the obstacles in our lives, Jesus calls us to him to ask us if we want to be healed.  We have the choice to go to him or remain stuck in our illness.

When we are so burdened that we struggle to lift our eyes to look to the light, Jesus is there in his gentle understanding.  We have the choice to enter into a conversation with him or not.

When we are lost in the fog of turnings and wanderings that characterize our lives, Jesus offers to cure and heal.  We have the choice to continue to mourn our losses or to rejoice in our gains.

In today’s reading, gentleness has become the weapon against unchecked power; and the child-like are rewarded, for to them does God reveal himself.  Those who are “no account”, who are marginalized and who suffer know God far more intimately than do those who live in comfort and ease.  The invitation God extends through his son to the weary and to the burden-laden is an open invitation to all, but especially to those who are broken in body, spirit and heart.

Today’s message is an invitation and it is written out to us in the name of Gentleness.  Love is meek rather than submissive, peace-seeking rather than manipulative, kind rather than self-serving.  Love is gentle, just as St Paul reminds us 1 Corinthians.

When we reach the limit of our resources yet look up to see that we have miles still to go, we might lean on the gentle Jesus . . . for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.


For more thoughts on Gentleness and for a resource of encouraging verses, click on the image above or go to: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/bible-verses-about-gentleness-10-encouraging-scriptures/

A re-post from May 24, 2012.

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Hosea 6: The Broken-Hearted

Thursday, June 6, 2019

We frequently look at this prophecy written by one betrayed in the most intimate of ways.  We will need this lesson because in our lives we will often find suffering at the hands of those we trust.  This prophet speaks to us from the depths of sorrow in authenticity about his own intense suffering as a result of the infidelity of his wife, the harlot Gomer.

Chapter 6 begins with a verse that stands out to us because it speaks to our broken-ness as people: broken covenants, broken vows, broken oaths, broken words, broken spirits, broken hearts.  But the beauty of this prophecy and of this first verse is this: for as much as we are broken, we might heal others . . . and in so carrying and living out Christ’s message, we might ourselves be healed.

In the morning reading in Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, we find an important reading: Mark 3:13-19.  Jesus has cured many people of their physical broken-ness and now the throngs are pressing in upon him in such a way that He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.  This is where we come into the story.  Jesus ascends a mountain – usually a sign of moving toward God in scripture – and then he calls forth those whom he wanted.  And these came to him.  He appoints them as apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  Among these twelve is the Iscariot . . . Judas.  Even God allows betrayers to enter his camp, knowing that they will break his heart.

What an amazing God is this who comes to live among us to suffer as we do; yet this is exactly the good news that we have yearned to hear.  How will our broken hearts be mended?  How will broken oaths be healed and broken friendships fixed?  We step forward, called out of the crowd as apostles, to be sent into the world with God’s authority to drive out demons and to heal.  And how do we obtain this authority?  By participating – with Christ – in his suffering and death upon the cross.  This is what Hosea comes to understand through his own agony as he watches his wife dangle herself before any man who will take her.  This is what we can understand as we suffer at the hands of those we thought we knew . . . those in whom we trusted . . . those with whom we shared our inmost thoughts, desires and fears.

When we look at some of the images in Hosea 6 we see the depth of betrayal.  Verse 4: Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away.  Verse 9: As brigands ambush a man, so do bands of priests slay on the way to Shechem, committing monstrous crimes. 

And so we pray that broken hearts be healed, that we become messengers of the good news that Christ has come to heal.  We ask for the gift of willingness to enter God’s vineyard, that we allow our suffering to be converted into the authority of an apostle . . . so that we might in turn drive out demons in Christ’s name.

Good and gracious God the Creator, God the Saver, God the Holy Spirit that lives within us:  Keep us close to you in all we suffer that we might be with you as your apostles.  Teach us your way of love that we might go forth as your apostles.  Continue to speak to us of your story that we might preach it as your apostles.  Grant us the patience to rest in your word that it might give us authority as your apostles.  Give us the power to drive out and away all the demons that settle into us without our knowing.  We ask this in Christ’s name.  Amen.


A re-post from May 23, 2012.

Image from: http://www.officialpsds.com/Glass-Shatered-From-A-Broken-Heart-PSD59964.html

Tickle, Phyllis.  THE DIVINE HOURS: PRAYERS FOR SPRINGTIME. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

Rewritten from May 3, 2009 Noontime Reflection. 

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Esther 5:9-14: Retribution

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Esther

I love this story for its crystalline message: The measure that we measure with is measured out to us.  (Luke 6:38).  We need to hear this story today because lately we have been reflecting on convolutions and betrayals big and small, on expiatory sacrifices, on our complaints, on making a proper response to the call we hear from God, and on forming the alliances we will need to see us through our journey in this life.  All of these themes are present in the story of Esther . . . and they can weigh heavily on us in this season when we want to participate in Easter joy.

Often we are exhausted from the many lessons of discipleship which we must learn.  Often we grow weary of hearing the message that only God can pass judgment and exact retribution.  Often we spend ourselves down to the bottom of our resources keeping up with both listening for the call and by managing our human desire to ask for revenge.  Often our personal well runs dry after we drink from it more times than we replenish it.

Today offers us an opportunity to fill the well, to re-stock the granary, to rest a bit and to recoup.  There are many psalms and stories in scripture in which humans petition retribution and violent revenge on their enemies who appear to skate through life unscathed by the wreckage they leave in their wake.  What today’s story tells us is this:  These enemies drown in their own wake. 

Yes, we reply, we hear this . . . but when will we see it . . . and why does it happen . . . and how do we survive?

We can never visit this story often enough.  We help ourselves if we read it several times a year because it has so much to offer and speaks to the basic human desire to judge and to enact our own retribution.  Various Bibles order the inserts differently and the introductory commentary and the accompanying footnotes will explain the reasons for the jumbled structure of this book which ought to be important to each of.  It is through this story that we are reminded of how our enemies fall.  It is through this story that we remember that we doom ourselves by not answering the call we hear.  It is through this story that we can assure ourselves that our reward will be certain, definite . . . and will flow from our own hands.  It is also from this story we learn that our own actions wash back on us if we enter into the world of envy, fear, obsession and hate.

Rembrandt: Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Today we read about how Haman is content and happy with the plot he is weaving.  We see how he flatters himself and gets lost in his own distorted view of life.  We cannot miss how Haman’s friends and wife misdirect him.  These are such important lessons for us to read.  We cannot hear them enough.  These are lessons we must see and live because . . . in the living of these events, we become more like God.  We respond to the call of our potential.  We enter Christ’s Mystical Body.  This is how we survive.

And so we pray:  Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we are weary from learning the lessons of life: Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we tire from seeking and waiting and searching: Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we become lost in the webs we and others weave: Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we are exhausted from living on the edge:  Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

Amen. 


A re-post from May 21, 2012 .

Images from: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/rembrandt/haman-begging-esther-for-mercy and http://christianrep.com/blog/2010/08/08/let-your-life-speak/

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Acts 18:23-28: Re-Visitation

Monday, June 3, 2019

Aquila and Priscilla

Just when we think we have arrived at a safe plateau, we feel the ground beneath us tremble.  Just as we gain new confidence in the journey, we realize that a new chapter into unknown territory is about to open.  Just as soon as we find a safe place to stand, we realize that we must move on.  Life is a series of treks between oases; it is a process, a journey.  We are never fully complete.  We are never without new horizons.  And when we believe that we have settled a part of ourselves once and for all, we are quickly shown that the lesson we believe we have learned can be honed anew.  God always finds ways to make us better.

In today’s Noontime we read of how Paul returns to a people of whom he is particularly fond, the people of Ephesus.  It is to them that he writes the beautiful letter about the dynamism of our human experience, about how we are to arm ourselves with the armor of Christ, and of how our lives are a special journey of collaboration with one another and our creator.  Just when we think we know all we need to know about who we are and what we must do, God shuffles are circumstances just enough to keep us learning.  We ought not balk at this.

Paul does not consider his work done once he delivers his message and moves on.  He returns, he sends letters, he reconsiders, re-states.  Just when we believe that our faith cannot be stronger, our hope bigger and our love more merciful, a new experience calls us to new depths and heights.

Today we read of how Priscilla and Aquila re-instruct Apollos to bring him to a more accurate understanding of The Way so that he can give great assistance to those who have come to believe through grace.

My Dad used to say: You never know what you can do until you do it.  When we believe we are too lost, when we believe we know it all, when we believe there is no hope, when we believe that nothing can harm us, when we believe that there is no love, when we believe that we have seen the limits of love . . . in all of these we are mistaken.  For God can take us to new heights, new depths, new breadths of ourselves.  And with each new revelation we grow closer to him, we gain a more accurate understanding of The Way . . . so that we can give great assistance to those who have come to believe through grace. 

There is no greater gift than the opportunity to re-investigate who we are, what we do, and why we do it.  As we read of how the first followers of Christ re-visited places, relationships and ideas, let us also be unafraid to re-visit old territory with a new eye.  We may find joy in people and places we thought were lost to us.


For more on Aquila. Priscilla and Apollos click on the image above or go to: http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/feast-of-aquila-priscilla-and-apollos-february-13/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-2

A re-post from May 20, 2012.

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Mark 6:30-33: Return of the Disciples

Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019

The Gospel of Mark is intense and to the point – and this citation is no exception.  Today we reflect on the return of the disciples to Jesus after they had been sent forth with his Word to heal and free the oppressed and suffering.  Looking at this chapter as a whole, we read of how Jesus appears on the world stage, preaching in synagogues on Sabbaths, answering the many questions put to him, and also challenging his listeners with questions of his own.  He makes a circuit of the villages.  He sends forth the twelve in twos, giving them power over unclean spirits, instructing them to take nothing for their journey but their trust in the Lord.  He schools them in how they are to enter a house and offer peace – and that if this peace comes back to them they are to shake the dust of this place from their sandals and move on.

Sandwiched between the departure and return of these disciples, we have the story of how John the Baptist is executed to serve the silly jealousy of a corrupt family.  This serves as a clear instruction to us, Jesus’ 21st Century apostles, that while following the Master is a glorious and rewarding journey, it is a path hemmed in by dangers of all kinds.  Following the return of these workers, we see Jesus feed five thousand followers from five loaves and two fish.  Then Jesus walks on water and performs other miracles.  This is a chapter packed with energy and wonder.

This is what I like most about Mark, his clean presentation of the lightning bolt effect Jesus has had on our physical and spiritual worlds.  There is so much going on that when we to pause to meditate on just a few verses we see well beyond the words . . . we understand stories recorded in our collective experience.  Who among us has not at some time done something we never thought possible?  Who has not reached the safety of a refuge after a rewarding but difficult day of working in God’s vineyard to collapse into the sureness of God’s love?  Who has not desired to draw apart for a little while and found that the very people we were escaping have met us on the shore?

Today we reflect on how these disciples blunder along behind Jesus, are sent by him and return to him in awe of the sign of Christ’s love for them . . . the gift of healing they have been given to share.  We see them pile into their fishing crafts to withdraw and rest in a desert place . . . to be met by a mass of people who have anticipated their landing and who have hurried to meet them.  These people hunger for the words of life which Jesus offers them, and so these weary apostles gird themselves, put off their own search for quiet and peace, and do as Jesus tells them.  They trust in their Teacher.  Their rest will have to happen later.

And so we pause to pray, we who seek to draw apart a while into the desert and rest, but who are met by the mass of demands of our life of apostleship:

Jesus, friend of all, we return to you weary from the life of work which we have done in your name: Give us refuge and strength.

Jesus, master of all, we return to you with the fruits of our journey, the signs of our love for you: Give us food and drink.

Jesus, lover of all, we follow you into the next life where we wish to dwell in the house of the Lord: Give us insight and compassion.

Jesus, brother of all, we bring ourselves to you, a gift given and now returned: Give us peace and joy. 

Amen.


A re-post from May 19, 2012.

Image from: http://www.gil-bailie.com/2012_01_01_archive.html

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Psalm 15: Fearlessness

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Whoever acts like this will not be shaken.

Again today we hear the theme of standing firm in faith and refusing to succumb to panic.  Most of the errors we commit we commit in fear – fear of discovery, fear of not surviving, fear of loss, fear of pain.  If we wish to live as Jesus does, we must learn to place all of our terrors in his capable hands.  This frees us to do the work we are called to do as we build the kingdom.

This psalm is brief yet it contains an easy litany we might repeat when our vision is fogged.

Walk without blame . . .

Do what is right . . .

Speak truth from the heart . . .

Do not slander another . . .

Do no harm . . .

Do not defame . . .

Stay away from the wicked . . .

Remain with those who stand in awe of the Lord . . .

Keep all promises despite the cost . . .

Lend no money at interest . . .

Accept no bribes against the innocent . . .

This is a short but demanding list, and it requires that we place all of our trust and hope in God.  It asks us to be fearless in Christ.  When we feel our energy ebbing, when our resources are low, we might turn back to Paul’s words to the Thessalonians to pray them as we read Psalm 15 . . .

Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Test everything.  Hold onto what is good.

Do not be shaken out of your minds or alarmed.  Let no one deceive you in any way.  Stand firm and hold fast to the true traditions that you were taught.

And may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. 

Amen. 


A re-post from May 18, 2012.

For more on 2 Thessalonians see the Lawlessness page on this blog.

Image from: http://www.aliveinthefire.com/2010/11/focus-forward-friday-be-fearless.html

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Daniel 5:1-4: Humility or Revenge
Friday, May 31, 2019

Pietro Dandini: The Banquet of Belshazzar

From the HARPERCOLLINS COMMENTARY, we find a comment that speaks to the horror any Jewish servant present in this scene must have felt when Belshazzar called for the gold and silver vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple to be used at his own banquet table.  The scene is set in vv. 1- 4, which introduce the bawdy Belshazzar, arrogant with his thousand lords, his wives, and his concubines.  To the horror of the readers, he orders his servants to bring out the sacred vessels stolen by Nebuchadnezzar, “his father”, from the Temple in Jerusalem; with him he and his lords toast the diverse idols of Babylon.  (Mays 628)

The feeling of revenge must have seized the Jews who had been carted off to serve in this pagan court.  The desire to strike back and to bring the enemy down must have been so strong as to be tangible.  Yet it is this prophecy, it is this vision of Daniel which predicts the coming of the Son of Man, the one who will turn things on their head and who will free forever, restore with justice, and heal with mercy and compassion.  Daniel foretells that the act of taking revenge will be replaced by the New Law of Love.  Love of friends . . . and of enemies.

How often does something happen to ourselves or to some one or some thing we love that we must struggle with these same feelings?  And what do we do when we wish to tear down what has raised up?  Do we confide in God and petition the destruction of those who do harm, or do we intercede on behalf of these perceived enemies?  Do we remember that we are all one?  Do we call to this renegade, maverick part of the whole to return to the sheepfold?  Do we ask God, the Blessed Mother and all the angels and saints to convert stony hearts, to bend stiff necks, to smooth rough tongues and calm shrill voices?  Do we ask for a conversion of those who would plot, steal, manipulate and destroy?  Do we humble ourselves and our own petty wishes and go in search of Christ’s lost sheep?


Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 628. Print.

Adapted from a refelction written on May 17, 2012 .

Image from: http://www.kunst-fuer-alle.de/english/fine-art/artist/poster/pietro-dandini/17270/1/115631/the-banquet-of-belshazzar/index.htm

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