May 27, 2012

Pentecost and Abandonment

This is Memorial Day weekend. Sunday is Pentecost, which has been called the "birthday of the church."  It is when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples as Jesus had promised. He said, "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) So they "devoted themselves to prayer" while waiting for this promise. I wonder if they discussed what this 'promise' would be and if they had any comprehension of the many changes that would happen to them. I think that is true to anyone who is open to the work of the Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)
Many people have said that the Holy Spirit is the least mentioned member of the Trinity. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know my finite mind has difficulty comprehending the Power that must have been present in that upper room in Jerusalem 2000 years ago!
Even though that is true, we can still allow that Power and Love to enter and transform our lives too this Pentecost Sunday and beyond. The Galilean fishermen and others gathered in that upper room went out into Jerusalem inspired by the Holy Spirit and their witness ‘turned the world upside down.’ The Holy Spirit was given to the first apostles and which gave them and us the courage to proclaim the greatness of our God in our lives.
You may not have had an experience where the wind and fire of the Spirit surrounded you. Like the people with Moses at the holy mountain, who said ‘you intercede for us,’ we mostly prefer to stay safely away from God’s smoke and fire. But don’t we feel just a bit jealous of those who have stood by a burning bush or in the flash of God’s lightening been blinded like Moses and Paul. In truth we don't have to be afraid of the power of God, though.
Our lives will be changed, without a doubt if we let the Holy Spirit act. Unconditionally offering ourselves to God can seem dangerous. Just look how the lives of Moses and Paul and the disciples changed. However, maybe being fully abandoned to God might just be the way to live fully. Charles de Foucauld calls us to just such giving of self in his “Prayer of Abandonment.”

Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.

John Michael Talbot sings his version of this prayer here.
During the next few weeks let’s look together at what that type of abandonment might mean to our part of the world and to our lives and ministries. How would you and I be changed if we truly surrendered to God, knowing that God’s Spirit will be with us?

May 20, 2012

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
 The final verse of Psalm 100 recalls the beginning. ‘Make a joyful noise’ says the first stanza and at the end we are encouraged to ‘give thanks to him’, to ‘bless his name’. The Psalmist reminds us that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever-‘to all generations.’
I love the term ‘steadfast love’ in reference to God. ‘Chesed’ is the Hebrew word translated as steadfast love or loving-kindness, but it is deeper than that. Chesed is unmerited and unmotivated love. That means we cannot force it to happen, like grace, it is a free gift from God! We can share chesed with others in the way we live. 1 John 4:7 advises, “Beloved, let us love on another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.” This is chesed in action. John says we are to become part of the Love of God and share it with those around us.
Not an easy calling, to be sure. And we will fail again and again. However, “in this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Even when we fail, we know that God doesn’t give up on us. We have second and third and fourth and infinite chances to start over because “his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Like this tiny child cradled by her mother, God upholds us-when we are sweet and dependent and when we are defiant and turn our backs. God's love does not fail! Thanks be to God!
Living a life of love and faithfulness based on Psalm 100 is what we’ve been considering since the Sunday after Easter. We’ve considered Who we are celebrating in a life of joyful worship and how that might make a change in who we are by looking at the words of the psalm.
What has the Psalm taught us? Let me share some of the insights I gathered from this psalm:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
            Despite any circumstance, we each have some reason to be joyful and say thank you to God. Sometimes it is resting in God’s peace, at others we may want to shout ‘yippee!’

Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
            Worship has to do with being aware that God is God and that we are safe in God’s arms, no matter what. Therefore, we can sing and be glad.

Know that the Lord is God.
            Recognizing that God is essentially ‘Love’ gives us the serenity to trust that ‘all will be well’, as Julian of Norwich said.

It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
            Despite being like sheep that wander off and want to do our own thing, God doesn’t give up on us. Rather he seeks us out, even if it means hanging off a cliff-or on a cross-to rescue us.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
            Nothing can keep us from God’s love. It surrounds us and opens the way to see God’s face. That’s certainly a call to be thankful!

Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
            So we return full circle to the beginning with a deeper understanding of WHY we are able to joyfully worship our God who is Love-a love that seeks us out and surrounds and upholds us.
Certainly living into Psalm 100 gives us more than enough reason to “Make a joyful noise…and give thanks to him!”

Perhaps you have gained different insights. If so, feel free to share them in a comment.

Next Sunday is not just the middle of Memorial Day weekend-it is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the first apostles and which gave them and us the courage to proclaim the greatness of our God in our lives. It is a special day in the life of the church.

May 13, 2012

Enter his gates with Thanksgiving

Our cities no longer have gates and neither do our churches, so this phrase in Psalm 100 may not resonate as clearly as it did with people say 1000 years ago. City gates were a defense against marauders. In ancient times, when city gates were flung wide open it was a sign that there was peace and people could enter and leave at will. It was a time of joy because the lord of the castle or city was strong enough to defeat all enemies so you were safe.
In many churches in the middle ages (and in some places until quite recently) there was something called ‘rood screen’. This was an, often ornately carved, divider between the altar and the congregation. A rood screen kept every day folks from getting too close to the “Holy stuff” going on at the altar. It also kept roaming animals from getting near the altar, but that’s another story. In the ancient Jewish temple there was a curtain between the worshipers in the Temple and the Holy of Holies. People could enter the outer courts of the Temple, but only the Chief Priest entered the Holy of Holies and then only once a year on Yom Kippur.
The phrase in verse 4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” gives us a picture of time when all is well. There is peace so you can come through the gates and continue directly to the place of worship. There is nothing between you and God. That is true for us in the Easter season, and all through our lives. We no longer need a wall between us and God. Both Matthew 27:51 and Mark 15:38 say that when Jesus died, “the veil of the Temple was torn.” The thing that kept ordinary people from drawing close to God was taken away!
Ephesians 2:14-16 says, “[Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” Paul is talking about reconciling Gentiles and Jews, but the same applies to all divisions-Christ calls us to come together and come to God.
We may not have gates on our cities any longer or screens between but we do have walls around the things we consider precious. I think it is a sad commentary on our society that we have bars on our windows and gates on our neighborhoods. Even more destructive and divisive are the walls around our hearts. Love has a better way as Edwin Markham remarks in Outwitted:
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!
Let us, with the psalmist, remember that we have reason to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” We have all the reasons we need to ‘draw a circle’ and include those who want to shut us out. Ephesians explains we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.” (Ephesians 4:19-22)
Because we are within God’s circle of Love, we need to draw that circle big enough to encompass everyone else. What can you do today to further that Kingdom goal?
Next time we will look at the final verse of Psalm 100.

May 6, 2012

It is He that Made Us

Last time we looked at the first part of verse 3 of Psalm 100-“Know that the Lord is God.” Today, in the second half of the verse we learn one reason to trust that the Lord is God: “It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
A long time ago, when I was learning about the many religions of the world, I told my father, “I’d rather be a sheep than a sacred cow.” That was based more on the fact that sheep are fuzzy and soft looking while cows aren’t that soft and cuddly. Sheep, on the other hand, need more care than cows so they don’t get in trouble.
Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10). A shepherd has to watch out for his flock all the time. Sheep will wander off and fall off a cliff or drown in a stream if the shepherd isn’t watchful. (Last Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday, so these readings are probably fresh in your minds.)
Like sheep, we tend to prefer to wander off. Isaiah reminds us “we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6). We like to look for greener pastures than the one set in front of us by our Shepherd. Along the way, we can fall off a cliff or drown in a stream, too. Like the story in the Gospel, the shepherd has to “leave the 99 in the wilderness, to seek the one that is lost.” This image of the Good Shepherd (by Alfred Soord) always touches me with a reminder of how far the Shepherd, our Lord, must sometimes go to rescue us. He is hanging over a cliff to retrieve the lost sheep.
Slowly, over our lives, we may just learn to listen to the voice of our Shepherd above the siren calls of the world. More often, out of love, the Shepherd has to come and find us and bring us home to safety.
God made us to be individuals and not puppets, so we have the free will to wander off. God made us as ‘his people, the sheep of his pasture.’ We are in his care, even (maybe especially) when we wander afield. We have the promise that God will seek and save us from our wanderings. That is one way we can ‘know that the Lord is God.’ Feeling safe in our Shepherd’s care is certainly a reason to ‘make a joyful noise’ as verse one says. It also leads us into verse 4 where we are encouraged to ‘enter his courts with thanksgiving…’

You can read another Good Shepherd meditation from last Sunday here. Next time we will consider what it means to 'enter his courts with thanksgiving...!'