Saturday, October 31, 2009
This psalm begins with a double dose of praise and rightly so. While the plans of princes perish with them the Lord is forever. That is good news for those who would never make it on the palace guest list. The oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner, the blind, those bowed down, the stranger, the widow and the orphan are the ones God seeks and saves. So why is it that the plans of princes and power appeal to us? After all this is not the only scripture that reveals God as opposed to the proud and favorable towards paupers. It should be even more obvious when we tell the story of Jesus the prince of peace born into poverty who calls fisher folk to follow. So what does it mean for us? First of all we might look to find ourselves on the guest list and even if we can't say that justice has literally been denied us we do experience oppression and hunger and captivity. And knowing that God provides for our need we might be more willing to work for those who really are denied justice. We might remember that people living all around us depend on the kindness of others for daily bread. We might remember that visiting the prisoner is in some way freeing for them and us. And when our plans look more like God's and less like the plans of princes our lives will echo the psalm. Praise the Lord.
This always reminds me of one of those fairy tale fables where the poor farmer shares his last meal with a stranger who turns out to be an enchanted prince who then rewards the farmer for his generosity. I suppose this story is just as surprising in that the widow is a foreigner who owes no allegiance to the Jewish prophet Elijah. She has accepted the grim reality that awaits her and her son and is convinced they both will die of starvation. But in Elijah's "Do not be afraid..." she hears something to convince her that giving away the little she has will not simply hasten the inevitable. While we are not facing starvation we do experience times of famine and resigned to our fate give up any hope that help will come in time. A loss of employment, or health, or relationships or struggling with more bills at the end of the month than income at the beginning we find ourselves in need of those same words, "Do not be afraid..." I'm not suggesting there is a magic pot that won't run out of whatever it is we need but there is a place where courage and strength to overcome can be found, a place where the cup is never empty and the plate is always full and it is never too late to hope in the promise of God. When we come to the table of grace, the meal of mercy, there is refreshment for weary and weak souls if only in the sharing.
I've just come in from running the country lanes around LaGrange, TX where Intern Ellen and I are attending an internship conference. It was a crisp morning and I fell into the rhythm of running quickly. With Patty Loveless singing Mr. Man in the Moon in my headset and the sun rising on my right and the harvest moon setting on my left I experienced one of those refreshing moments like a widow's jar that can't be emptied. I think there are moments like that in our everyday and not all of them require physical exercise though it can't hurt. :) My prayer is that your day would include such a moment.
Friday, October 30, 2009
The lesson picks up the story at the point where Mary, the one who was commended for sitting at Jesus feet while Martha took care of the catering, comes to accuse Jesus of not acting in a timely manner. "If you had been here my brother would not have died" is how she greets the One at whose feet she previously had sat in adoration. Truth is she sent word two days earlier and Jesus took his time. So she is right. If he had come when called Lazarus would not have died. Martha on the other hand, despite all the needs of funeral arrangements, met Jesus as he arrived to tell him God would do whatever he would ask. Such is the nature of grief. It changes us. Martha previously intent on serving is compelled to seek and Mary previously intent on seeking withdraws. In the end Mary and Martha's grief is met by the change in Jesus. Jesus wept. That is the Gospel in two words for up to this point the Jesus of John's Gospel is God incarnate who is more Word than flesh. But grief changes us and no more so than when Jesus weeps for when God weeps for the pain we endure we like Lazarus are revived.
I know people have written a lot of scary things based on the Book of Revelation and rightly so when one considers it was written to people who were enduring things that were more than scary. But the truth of the book is good news not bad and in the end I believe it is for more people than those who may be left behind. It is good news for those who weep. God will wipe away your tears. It is good news for those who mourn. God will comfort you. It is good news for those in pain. God will relieve your suffering. It is good news for the lonely. God will dwell with you. It is good news to those who are thirsty. Your thirst will be satisfied. The best news is that all things will be made new which means all the things that might lead us to read the Book of Revelation as bad news for the vast majority of people who have ever lived might not be what God had in mind after all.
The psalm might proclaim the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it but we live as if it belongs to us. I'm not talking about living green and being good stewards of the portion of the earth we inhabit, as important as that is. As the old confession goes we have sinned against the Lord of the earth in thought word and deed by what we have done and left undone. Our hands are unclean, our hearts impure and deceit comes naturally to us. And so the hill of the Lord we ascend is a hill called Calvary where the One whose clean hands were pierced for our sake. The blessing of the Lord we receive is the answer to the prayer of another psalm. Create in us clean hearts, O Lord, and renew in us a right spirit. Such is the company of those who seek the Lord. Not those who are pure in their own right but those who have been vindicated by the God of their salvation and that is good company indeed.
The feast envisioned by Isaiah is a feast of rich food and fine wines for all people. These words must have seemed like a dream to those who first heard them. They were captives in Babylon and the memories of Jerusalem were bitter sweet. A sumptuous banquet on the holy mountain of God which they would have understood as Jerusalem was the farthest thing from the reality of their day to day in Babylon. It might seem the same for us in our day to day captivity to fear or depression, addiction, pride, envy, sorrow, jealousy, lust or whatever it is that has you bound. It is hard to imagine a feast in the midst of our famine but the promise is that God is going to sit down to dine as well. The sheet that covers the nations like a shroud is death and is on God's menu and God will lick the plate clean. The promise to captives gave them the will to endure as it does to all who wait for the final banquet, the feast of victory. God will dine on death and we will have a culinary experience that defies description.