March 30, 2014

Psalm 34 as Instruction for Life

Last week we took a look at how we can offer thanksgiving to God even in the wilderness times and how we learn to let go of control and let Jesus drive our bike. Verses 11-14 of Psalm 34 are a series of instructions for life. Rather like Proverbs, they are some guides to living a Holy Life. Recently I heard mediations on Love as Living in Relationship to God and to Each Other (Holy Lent Through Love Retreat in Albuquerque-read about the retreat and see videos of the message here). Bishop Vono talked about Romans 12:9-16 as ingredients for living a life of Love.

When we look at the 2 citations, we find similarities in David’s admonitions and in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Let’s take a quick look at the them. Romans says, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” (Romans 12:9-16)

The Psalm has similar things to say. “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” (Ps. 34:11-14)

St. Paul, according to Bishop Vono at the retreat, admonishes us to have genuine love, or as Eugene Peterson translates verse 9: “love from the center of who you are, don’t fake it.” Love discerns and holds onto what is good.  David, in Psalm 34 says “come, o children…I will teach you the fear of the Lord”. He says we should desire “life…and many days to enjoy good.” Enjoying life and God involves Love from God to us and from us to each other.

Vono noted that the Love referred to is brotherly (philos) affection for each other for we are all born of the same womb-of God and Christ. Love strives to show honor. Like an athlete who works to get better and better at a sport, we should strive to offer honor to one another. David calls us to “keep your tongue from evil and…speaking deceit.” Brotherly love and honor of one another’s similarities and differences help us to As Toby Mac sings, “Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted; Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope, You speak love…You speak Life”. (Speak Life by Toby Mac)

The Bishop continued by stating Love is enthusiastic and aglow with a spirit of service. Love is generous in contributing to needs. Love gets involved and is sympathetic to each other. Love lives in harmony by loving others as we love ourselves. Love has humility and is not haughty or conceited. David tells us that as we live a life in fear (awe) of the Lord, we “depart from evil, and do good, seek peace, and pursue it.” Peace and doing good flow from the Love we take in and the Love we breathe out to each other. The more we learn to love ourselves as Beloved of God, the more we can be channels of God’s love and peace and joy to those around us.

Jesus said “A new commandment I give, Love one another I as I have loved you” (John 13:34) and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) The verses from Romans and from Psalm 34 give us a roadmap of how to do that. Toby Mac has it right. He sings, “Some days, life feels perfect. Other days it just ain't workin. The good, the bad, the right, the wrong And everything in between.”

Loving my neighbor starts with loving myself. That isn’t always easy. We need to Speak Life to our own souls. When we do that, then we can “Lift your head a little higher, Spread the love like fire, Hope will fall like rain, When you speak life with the words you say….Use your words to inspire”…[yourself] even in what feels like the “deadest darkest night.”

What can you do today to Speak Life to yourself or to someone who is in need of a word of love?  

March 23, 2014

Psalm 34 as Thanksgiving

David in the wilderness turns to God in Adoration and then Confesses his need for the Holy One of Israel in Psalm 34, which we are looking at this Lent. Then he continues with thanksgiving for all that God does.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
 happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
 for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
 but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

David proclaims, “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” That’s a pretty extravagant promise from a man on the run for his life. However, it is a true statement. God does provide us with all that we need. It may not be what we THINK we need or what we WANT at that moment. Sometimes it’s only looking back that we see that God did indeed provide what we need.
In Lent we hear many sermons on taking time to be in the wilderness and exploring our spiritual connection to God. We don’t hear as many sermons about being thankful to God for those wilderness times. It’s an odd paradox that sometimes it is the very wilderness times, when we think we are far from God, we turn around and realize that God is just behind us. God is walking through our wildernesses with you and me.

There are many metaphors for God’s protection for us in the wilderness. I like the image of a child learning to ride a bike. We may start out using training wheels, or maybe not. Either way, Mom and Dad are right there helping and watchfully encouraging us to pedal and holding onto the seat to help us balance. Then one day we discover we are pedaling and balancing all on our own with Mom running down the road behind us, still ready to catch us, and to pick us up when we skid on gravel. God’s like that. We think we are pedaling alone and really we are not alone.
In fact, years ago I was given a poem about Jesus that presents another vision of bike riding with Jesus. (Sorry I don’t know who wrote the poem-there’s not any acknowledgement on any of the websites that have this poem.)

When I first met Christ
It seemed as though life was rather like a bike ride,
But it was a tandem bike,
And I noticed that Christ
Was in the back helping me pedal.

I don't know just when it was that
He suggested we change places,
But life has not been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way,
It was rather boring, but predictable...
It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts,
Up mountains, and through rocky places,
At breakneck speeds,
It was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, "Pedal"

I worried and was anxious and asked,
"Where are you taking me?"
He laughed and didn't answer,
And I started to learn to trust.

I forgot my boring life
And entered into the adventure.
And when I'd say, "I'm scared,"
He'd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed.
Gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy.
He said, "Give the gifts away;
They're extra baggage, too much weight."

So I did, I gave them to the people we met,
And I
found that in giving I received,
And still our burden was light

I did not trust Him, at first, In control of my life.
I thought He'd wreck it;
But He knows bike secrets,
Knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
Knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
Knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

I am learning to shut up
and pedal in the strangest places
And I'm beginning to enjoy the view
And the cool breeze on my face
With my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.

And when I'm sure I just can't do anymore,
He just smiles and says...

When we are pedaling through the wildernesses, and the joyful times, of our lives we can be thankful that our God loves us enough to ride along with us. God ensures that we “Taste and see that the Lord is good…[for] those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” when we turn over control. We learn, gradually or quickly, that God loves us so much that God is with us in all things! And that’s something to be thankful for. When we allow Jesus to take over the steering, we’ll find even more surprises in store. Are you ready to let Jesus steer and to just ‘pedal’?
Next time we’ll look at what the Psalm says about Intercession

March 16, 2014

Psalm 34, Confession

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
   so your
* faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
   around those who fear him, and delivers them. (Ps. 34:4-7)

The second section of Psalm 34, is a Confession of the soul seeking God. Remember David is on the run, an outlaw from the court of Saul of Israel and also from Achish of Canaan. In the midst of his troubles, he realizes that the Lord is present. Despite the fact that he is roaming the wilderness of Judah, he knows he is not alone, for the "angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers him."
Recently I heard a couple of sermons about Jesus in the wilderness. It was noted that we need the wilderness times in our lives to refocus ourselves. When everything is going well, we can forget that we are not in control. Then we are sent into the wilderness of some difficulty (illness, loss, etc.) We find ourselves at a loss and turn to God. We can also choose to take a ‘wilderness time’ and step away from the busy-ness of the world to attend a retreat or quiet day. Either way, we are taking time to confess that we need God, that we are not as self-sufficient as we would like to pretend, and that only God can help us. We turn away from trying to do it 'our way' and confess that we are helpless and needy, that we have 'sinned and fallen short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23)

Wilderness can be of our own making. It can be formed of our doubts and fears, our desires and bitterness. For David the wilderness was both literal and formed of his (legitimate) fear of King Saul and King Achish. Yet David says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (verse 4).
Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness after his baptism. He was offered the power to make bread from stones, to have authority over all the world, and to demonstrate his power by jumping from the top of the Temple. Yet Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:8)

How do you and I answer the temptations and fears in our lives?
Are there fears in your life today that are forming a wilderness? Recently I read Psalm 125. Verse 2 jumped out at me. “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and evermore.” I had never really thought about Jerusalem being in the midst of mountains, but if you look at pictures and maps of the Holy Land, it is true. If our God is around us like the mountains around Jerusalem, then we are pretty secure. We can say with David, “I sought the Lord [and he] delivered me from all my fears”. We can echo our Lord, “I will worship and serve only God.”

Next time we'll look at the joy that comes when we turn to our Lord with Thanksgiving.

And because there are no coincidences with God, I have to add this meditation for d365 for Friday.

God’s grace is about reeling us back in and drawing us into the very heart of the One who created and formed us and knows every hair on our heads. Grace is about reclaiming for us a new life marked by love, generosity, faithfulness, and peace.
So whatever you find yourself wrestling in the wilderness, remember that grace abounds. Grace will meet you where you are and return you to where you ought to be.
Grier Booker Richards

March 9, 2014

Lent I, Psalm 34: Adoration

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. We are reminded of our mortality in the words “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The words look back to Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” During the 40 days of Lent, we hope to turn our hearts more fully toward the will of God. That may take the form of ‘giving up’ something or ‘taking on’ a new discipline. Sometimes Lent becomes a marathon of trying to make ourselves ‘holy’. By Easter we are tired, and maybe guilty, if we haven’t kept up with our grand resolutions to improve our faith lives.

During Lent, we’ll be looking at Psalm 34 as one way to move from Ash Wednesday to Easter. In Hebrew Psalm 34 is an acrostic (but I haven’t been able to find out what the Hebrew letters would spell). It is also noted as being a Psalm for deliverance “of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.”(If you look in 1 Samuel 21:10-22:1 you’ll see that the king’s name was Achish. Abimelech, according to commentators, seems to be a royal title, like king or prince, used by Philistine royalty.)
We’ll look at the Psalm in sections, because I see a pattern in the psalm similar to the ACTS prayer. Come along on this exploration and see if you agree that you could identify verses of the prayer as Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-(Intercesssion)-Supplication.

We start out with verses 1-3. Keeping in mind that David is fleeing for his life both from Saul and perhaps from danger in the Philistine court, it is interesting that the Psalm opens with words of Adoration. David says:
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
   his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
   and let us exalt his name together.
How much easier would it have been to start ranting at God? I probably would have been saying, “Why me? I never asked for any of this. I was happy as a shepherd in Bethlehem. Now I’m an exile and cannot even go home!” Or maybe blaming God…”It’s all Your fault. If Samuel hadn’t come and poured that oil on me, I’d still be happy at home with my parents, a wife, and babies. Now I’m running for my life, like a dog.”
David, though, starts out with words of Adoration, praise and blessing. He calls us to “exalt His name together.”

Lent isn’t necessarily a time when we think of Adoration. That’s kind of a Christmas feeling, isn’t it? “Come let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord.” It’s easy to adore when there’s a sweet, ‘adorable’ infant. It’s a little harder when things go wrong. In Lent, we look down the road to Jerusalem. Jesus knew where he was going and what awaited, but he ‘set his face to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51). Let us, then, with our Lord look toward the difficulties in our lives by turning to God in Adoration.

Paul reminds us in Romans 8:31-39: “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

Because we have God on our side, we can say with David, “his praise shall continually be in my mouth”. Let’s start our Lent journey with Adoration!
Next week, we will consider what part Confession plays in our journey and in David’s psalm.  

March 2, 2014

Shrove Tuesday

This Wednesday, March 5, is the start of Lent. Many parts of the world have extravagant celebrations preparing for Lent. Whether it’s called Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fastnacht, Fettisdagsbulle, Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday the day is devoted to getting rid of all the fun in life before entering the penitential season of Lent.

Originally the day was set aside to use up all the fat and eggs in the house in preparation for fasting in Lent. One traditional way to use up all the goodies is pancakes, of course. That’s why many of us have pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesday.

The word ‘shrove’ is from the old word ‘shrive’ meaning to prescribe (as in prescribe a cure or penance) or to write. (I’m reminded of Moses’ prayer in Exodus 32:32: “But now, please forgive their sin--but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written”). Like we clean out the pantry of butter and sugar and eggs, we clean our souls by confessing and leaving the sins behind for Lent. Of course, the partying that goes on is a way of getting all the ‘sins’ out of the way before Lent! If you don’t do confession on Shrove Tuesday, you might want to consider a time of confession and absolution sometime during Lent.

So, full of pancakes and shriven of our sins, we come to Lent when we are supposed to ‘give up’ something. A friend recently sent me this story, “I was in San Francisco, and our priest was Nedi Rivera-Moore, who is now the bishop of the northwest states.  She was giving a class during Lent which was attended mainly by women.  She asked us to think of the one thing we did that put us into overload. Then she said that's what we were to give up for Lent.” (Thanks Johanna!)

Alternatively, emphasis has been on ‘taking on’ a new spiritual discipline during Lent instead of just giving up chocolate or smoking. Certainly there are lots of Lent devotionals around, available online and in stores and from your church. An interesting list of ideas for things to do for Lent can be found on the Busted Halo website includes things like ‘make a commitment to read the Sunday readings before Mass’, ‘turn off your car radio during your commute’, ’fast from cruel comments’, etc.

Below is a short list of some online resources that you might find helpful during Lent.

Daily devotions:
Forward Movement publications for Lent:
Forward movement daily devotions:
Lent Madness:

Feel free to comment and add your own ideas and resources you find useful to help us all along. As we prepare for Lent, here is the concluding prayer of the Great Litany from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of those who ask in thy Son's Name: We beseech thee mercifully to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we have asked faithfully according to thy will, may be obtained effectually, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

During Lent we will consider what Psalm 34 can teach us about preparing our hearts for Easter.