Psalm 121 is read at graveside services even though it would seem help from the hills is a little late in arriving. But then funerals are for the living not the dead. It is the living who struggle to hold onto to “my help comes from the Lord” in the sight of loved ones laid to rest, even when death is a welcome release. To speak of our God who neither slumbers nor sleeps In the face of life’s inevitable end denies death the last word for the deceased as well as those who mourn. There are times, of course, when the ancient words alone fail to help, when desperate prayer is spoken into deafening silence, when the Lord awake seems absent. It is for those trying times that God gifts us with help closer to home than the hills. Speaking the ancient words of faith together, even with weeping eye and through clenched teeth, keeps us from the evil of hopelessness and in the life of the community our lives are kept. All of which remembers the help that came from the holy hill of Calvary when the Lord who neither slumbers nor sleeps slept in death and three days later rose again so that our final “going out” would be our forever “coming in”.
Monday, March 10, 2014
This is the story of ultimate faith, though to be fair I imagine the opportunity for advancement was limited for Semitic septuagenarians in the land of the Chaldeans. Even so it took a leap of faith for Abram to go home and tell Sari to pack the bags and load the camel because God told him he was destined for favored nation status in a “God only knows where” land. So while it is the promised pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that makes the offer tempting it is ultimately Abraham’s trust that God can deliver the goods that gets him to leave the center of civilization to wander in the wilderness. Whether Abraham knew it or not God blessed him to be a blessing (even with the caveat about the cursed) since “all peoples will be blessed” would not be “all” without everyone being included. When you read the rest of the Abraham story his trust was less than trustworthy and he did as much maneuvering as faithful following. Of course we do the same and before leaving country, people and home we generally “trust but verify”. In the very end Abraham put his trust where his heart was when with the seed of the promise on the altar of sacrifice and his hand raised to do the unthinkable God intervened and spared the only son. For us it is not a ram but the God of promises who is caught like a ram in the thicket on Calvary’s hill and the only Son not spared is cursed so that we might be blessed to be a blessing.
Friday, March 7, 2014
It is right after Jesus’ baptism when The Voice from heaven declared “You are my beloved Son” that the Spirit led him into the wilderness for the time of testing. Famished after fasting, the tempter’s first attempt appeals to Jesus’ stomach. “Turn theses stones into bread” is an appetizing option after forty days and nights without food. But Jesus is well fed on the word of God and trusting The Voice that declared him The Beloved he is not as hungry as the devil thought. The consummate con man changes tactics and using “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” tempts Jesus to give a demonstration of his trust. This temptation is trickier than it appears because proof negates trust but Jesus knows that testing The Voice denies the truth that he is The Beloved. Believing the third time’s the charm the devil goes back to the basics and uses the temptation that worked so well in the garden. It is a temptation to take power from The Voice who called him The Beloved, even though it appears in bowing down Jesus would have to give power away. But the devil is offering an option, a discount if you will. Bow down on a high mountain or climb a hill to the place called the skull. It’s your choice, Jesus, and don’t let some Voice tell you different. To which Jesus replied, “Nice try.” And the devil said, “damn you” and left knowing he’d have to meet Jesus on the hill and there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to fool the Beloved there. And the angels came smiling, laughing, rejoicing, as Jesus breathed a sigh of relief and rested in their arms.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
“But the free gift is not like the trespass.” If we take that statement and run with it then the trespass is not nearly as universal as is the free gift of grace. That is not explicitly stated, but (and granted this is a big but) if the free gift is greater than the one trespass by which “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) then “how much more” must mean just that. The effect of the “one act obedience” means the free gift is greater than the trespass as God in Christ was “reconciling the world to himself not counting people’s sins against them…” (2 Corinthians 5:19) Of course some argue that the one act of obedience only makes up for the one act of disobedience (original sin) and that everything else that you or I have done or left undone still has a “payment due” attached to it. That’s not such a free gift good deal if you ask me and so I going to trust that in the end God is going to pick up my tab. Does that mean we party hardy and order a round of sin for everyone? Of course not. Have you ever received a free gift you know you didn't deserve and couldn't possibly pay for even if you wanted to? The only thing you can do when that happens is hug the one who gave you the free gift and say thank you, thank you, thank you and then try to live in the light of such an act of unconditional love. Oh, yes, and there’s usually crying involved but it’s not required.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The Lord’s hand “heavy upon me” day and night is a blessing and not a curse for we are more adept at self-deceit than we care to admit. It is a sad truth that our strength to bear our sin silently often has to be dried up as by the heat of summer as the body of our reasonable rationalizations has to waste away until someone hears (or sees) our day and night groaning and invites us to “fess up.” When we finally give voice to the inner monologue and truthfully tell another the burdens we bear silently the “happy are those” is experienced like a breath of fresh air in the stale rooms of our lives. It would be nice if “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” could happen without a third party but silent confession is still… well, silent. So find someone you trust and spill your guts because silence is never golden when it comes to what’s good for the soul.