Archive | May, 2013

What shall I do??

26 May

I come to psalm like #83 and I wonder why I decided to blog on the psalms.  There is a neurotic part of me that will not let me skip a psalm.  Also, I basically decided I would blog for a year, but now I am in the middle of the psalms.  I am not sure what to do.  Should I continue past the year to finish the psalms?  Again, a neurotic part of me feels like I need to finish what I start.

My life is fairly settled at this point.  I am going to stay at my little church in Smithsburg.  Mom and Dad remain about the same – I think they get a little weaker over time.  Life ebbs and flows with appointments and meetings and I find God waiting for me at every turn with grace and joy to share.

I think I have written all of this to avoid writing about psalm 83.   From what I can tell, the psalmist is calling out to God to get rid of God’s enemies.  The psalmist says these enemies are trying to get rid of God’s people.  I know in the early days of our faith story, we were a tribal people.  Let’s face it; the people of God started as an extended family created by Jacob with four different women.  So, this tribe wanted to make sure they survived over and against other tribes.  If you can get through the names of those other tribes, you are a better person than me.

1-5 God, don’t shut me out;
don’t give me the silent treatment, O God.
Your enemies are out there whooping it up,
the God-haters are living it up;
They’re plotting to do your people in,
conspiring to rob you of your precious ones.
“Let’s wipe this nation from the face of the earth,”
they say; “scratch Israel’s name off the books.”
And now they’re putting their heads together,
making plans to get rid of you.

6-8 Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,
Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia and the Tyrians,
And now Assyria has joined up,
Giving muscle to the gang of Lot.

9-12 Do to them what you did to Midian,
to Sisera and Jabin at Kishon Brook;
They came to a bad end at Endor,
nothing but dung for the garden.
Cut down their leaders as you did Oreb and Zeeb,
their princes to nothings like Zebah and Zalmunna,
With their empty brags, “We’re grabbing it all,
grabbing God’s gardens for ourselves.”

The last stanza is the one I like the least; a call for God to “blow those people away.”  I understand the “us against them” mentality of these tribal people.  I think what upsets me is that there is evidence that we have not grown past this kind of thinking.  I pray that we can find ways of peace.  I pray we can see the divine spark in each human being.  I pray as we see the suffering that our natural environment is unleashing of our planet, we will work at not adding to the pain.

13-18 My God! I’ve had it with them!
Blow them away!
Tumbleweeds in the desert waste,
charred sticks in the burned-over ground.
Knock the breath right out of them, so they’re gasping
for breath, gasping, “God.”
Bring them to the end of their rope,
and leave them there dangling, helpless.
Then they’ll learn your name: “God,”
the one and only High God on earth.

Pray for peace, work for peace with justice; God will be there to lead us forward.

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God’s Concern for the Powerless

25 May

Reading through psalm 82 brought Gustavo Gutierrez to mind.  Gutierrez is considered the founder of liberation theology.  In the 1960s, a Catholic priest teaching in Peru.  He was aware the the majority of the population lived in poverty and the Catholic Church’s theology did not address the pain and devastation of poverty.   He began the theological movement which did not just think about the nature of God, but who God is in the midst of the people and their reality.

Psalm 82 speaks to the disfranchised of Israel and brings into judgement those who abuse their power over the powerless.  They are under greater judgement since it was their job to defend them.

God calls the judges into his courtroom,

he puts all the judges in the dock.

2-4 “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough,
you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.
You’re here to defend the defenseless,
to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
and prosecute all those who exploit them.”

Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!
They haven’t a clue to what’s going on.
And now everything’s falling apart,
the world’s coming unglued.

6-7 “I commissioned you judges, each one of you,
deputies of the High God,
But you’ve betrayed your commission
and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted.”

O God, give them their just deserts!
You’ve got the whole world in your hands!

I think we forget how often God speaks for the poor and against the politics that oppose the powerless.  I hope we find ourselves on God’s side.

Listening for God’s voice

21 May

Often, as I think about blogging, I realize that I have nothing profound to say.  That is true again today, but I go for it anyway.

Psalm 81 is an interesting poem to God.  The psalm praises God for what God has done for Israel.  This recitation of the salvation story, delivery from Egypt, is repeated over and over again.  I wonder how often we repeat what God has done in our lives?

1-5 A song to our strong God!
a shout to the God of Jacob!
Anthems from the choir, music from the band,
sweet sounds from lute and harp,
Trumpets and trombones and horns:
it’s festival day, a feast to God!
A day decreed by God,
solemnly ordered by the God of Jacob.
He commanded Joseph to keep this day
so we’d never forget what he did in Egypt.

I love this line in the psalm.   The New Revised Standard Version just says, “I heard a voice I had not known.”  I like Eugene Peterson’s version so much more.  I have heard this gentle whisper before in my life.  In the quiet of prayer I have felt, more than heard, that gentle whisper.  The psalmist tells us what they have heard from God.  God has lighten the load, relieved the pain, and quenched their thirst.

I hear this most gentle whisper from One
I never guessed would speak to me:

6-7 “I took the world off your shoulders,
freed you from a life of hard labor.
You called to me in your pain;
I got you out of a bad place.
I answered you from where the thunder hides,
I proved you at Meribah Fountain.

After God speaks about who God has provided for us, God continues to give instruction.  God says, “don’t worship other gods, or take up with the latest god.”   Do you think that because we do not have the kinds of gods that ancient Egypt had, that we are not in danger of worshiping other gods?  I think we have all kinds of people and things that we care about more than God and therefore our worship is divided.  Think about where you spend your time, your money, your energy, or your love; is there something that has your attention or devotion; perhaps you have a god of worship.  I  think God tell us to not take up with other gods because the God knows we will not find life or healing or strength for the journey apart from God.

8-10 “Listen, dear ones—get this straight;
O Israel, don’t take this lightly.
Don’t take up with strange gods,
don’t worship the latest in gods.
I’m God, your God, the very God
who rescued you from doom in Egypt,
Then fed you all you could eat,
filled your hungry stomachs.

11-12 “But my people didn’t listen,
Israel paid no attention;
So I let go of the reins and told them, ‘Run!
Do it your own way!’

The writer says clearly that God will not force us to listen to God.  When we insist on our own way, and will not pay attention, God says, “Run! Do it your own way!”  God does not want puppets or slaves or mindless followers; God wants human beings who will choose to love God above all else and love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.

13-16 “Oh, dear people, will you listen to me now?
Israel, will you follow my map?
I’ll make short work of your enemies,
give your foes the back of my hand.
I’ll send the God-haters cringing like dogs,
never to be heard from again.
You’ll feast on my fresh-baked bread
spread with butter and rock-pure honey.”

God is with us, knowing us and loving us, why should we feast on God fresh-baked bread spread with butter and rock-pure honey.

Feeling God’s Absence

18 May

I have just enjoyed the morning at a small town parade, but the psalm is not so happy.

Psalm 80 is reflection of the people feeling God’s absence and pleading with God to return to caring for God’s people.    The psalm again speaks in literary images.  God is Israel’s Shepherd and the people of God are a vine that God has planted.  Obviously, the psalmists is never concerned with mixed metaphors.

The Psalm begins by telling God to get out of bed and start moving.  As a mother of two sons, I know what the psalmist is talking about; it is hard to get some people going.  Of course, the psalmist is trying to get God in gear.  The psalmist wants God to give a smile of blessing; that will be all the salvation needed.

1-2 Listen, Shepherd, Israel’s Shepherd—
get all your Joseph sheep together.
Throw beams of light
from your dazzling throne
So Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh
can see where they’re going.
Get out of bed—you’ve slept long enough!
Come on the run before it’s too late.

God, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation.

The request for God’s smile is repeated in a refrain throughout the psalm.  This second stanza is lays on the guilt for God’s slowness to respond to the tears of God’s people.  I wonder if there is the freedom in our understand to talk this frankly to God?

4-6 God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
how long will you smolder like a sleeping volcano
while your people call for fire and brimstone?
You put us on a diet of tears,
bucket after bucket of salty tears to drink.
You make us look ridiculous to our friends;
our enemies poke fun day after day.

God-of-the-Angel-Armies, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation.

In this next stanza, he writer continues to pour on the guilt by reminding God that God has a crop that needs tending.  Read through this metaphor about the people of Israel and this about how you would describe your church.  I think I would describe my little church a plant that had survived a long drought, only to be hit by a brush fire.  It is good news that the flames have been quenched and we are starting to re-grow the church.  We too are looking for the smile of God.

8-18 Remember how you brought a young vine from Egypt,
cleared out the brambles and briers
and planted your very own vineyard?
You prepared the good earth,
you planted her roots deep;
the vineyard filled the land.
Your vine soared high and shaded the mountains,
even dwarfing the giant cedars.
Your vine ranged west to the Sea,
east to the River.
So why do you no longer protect your vine?
Trespassers pick its grapes at will;
Wild pigs crash through and crush it,
and the mice nibble away at what’s left.
God-of-the-Angel-Armies, turn our way!
Take a good look at what’s happened
and attend to this vine.
Care for what you once tenderly planted—
the vine you raised from a shoot.
And those who dared to set it on fire—
give them a look that will kill!
Then take the hand of your once-favorite child,
the child you raised to adulthood.
We will never turn our back on you;
breathe life into our lungs so we can shout your name!

19 God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation.

I pray this day you experience the blessing smile of God.  It is certainly our hope and salvation

I really dislike platitudes. . maybe everyone does

17 May

There’s the thing; many people will say phrases like, “God has a reason”, “it was meant to be” or “God never gives us more than we can handle”.  None of these platitudes are biblical and I don’t think they are very kind either.  We can never really feel another pain  and we only know our own experience.  I just finished reading, “Winter of the World” by Ken Follett.  It is a fictional account of those who lived through WWII in Berlin, Moscow, and London.  I became painfully aware of how gentle life has been on me.

The Hebrew scripture also helps to remind us of how difficult life can be.  Life is often not what God would want.  God’s creature do not live according to God’s priorities.   In Psalm 79 God’s people have experienced the violation of their Holy Temple.  The temple of Jerusalem was destroyed on a couple of occasions.  This time the psalmist is calling out to God for help.  As you read through the first part of the psalm, open yourself to experience their grief.

1-4 God! Barbarians have broken into your home,
violated your holy temple,
left Jerusalem a pile of rubble!
They’ve served up the corpses of your servants
as carrion food for birds of prey,
Threw the bones of your holy people
out to the wild animals to gnaw on.
They dumped out their blood
like buckets of water.
All around Jerusalem, their bodies
were left to rot, unburied.
We’re nothing but a joke to our neighbors,
graffiti scrawled on the city walls.

5-7 How long do we have to put up with this, God?
Do you have it in for us for good?
Will your smoldering rage never cool down?
If you’re going to be angry, be angry
with the pagans who care nothing about you,
or your rival kingdoms who ignore you.
They’re the ones who ruined Jacob,
who wrecked and looted the place where he lived.

The writer trying to find a reason for what has happened to the temple and to God’s people, asks God to not hold them responsible for their parents sins.  This theological understanding of God has long ago gone out of fashion, but the affirmation that God is famous for helping has not.

8-10 Don’t blame us for the sins of our parents.
Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope.
You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break.
Your reputation is on the line.
Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins—
do what you’re famous for doing!
Don’t let the heathen get by with their sneers:
“Where’s your God? Is he out to lunch?”
Go public and show the godless world
that they can’t kill your servants and get by with it.

11-13 Give groaning prisoners a hearing;
pardon those on death row from their doom—you can do it!
Give our jeering neighbors what they’ve got coming to them;
let their God-taunts boomerang and knock them flat.
Then we, your people, the ones you love and care for,
will thank you over and over and over.
We’ll tell everyone we meet
how wonderful you are, how praiseworthy you are!

Ultimately, the writer wants God to avenge them.  And even though I have not experienced their reality, I cannot believe that God’s revenge is the way to go.  We can seek God’s help to make our life better and hopefully make life better for others.

Life is a complicated, complex, and mysterious journey.  I have never found any of it simple or easy to understand.  I don’t believe anything is “meant to be”.  I do believe that God is with us through every step of the journey and can bring a depth of meaning IF we will humble ourselves and listen for God’s leading.

I am still here

16 May

Hi friends, It has been awhile since my last post (I feel like I am in a confessional, “it’s been a month since my last confession. . “) I am well and staying busy. My little church has a few more people than when we began. I have been teaching 3 youth in a confirmation class. You will not be surprised to hear that I am making it up as I go along and I am having a great time.
My parents are about the same. Dad and I went to see “42” today and we both enjoyed it very much. Baseball is awesome.
I should clarify that it is not little church and my parents are not really responsible for keeping me from my blogging. I must confess that I am addicted to Candy Crush (forgive me for I have sinned). It is very addictive for me; so a I have few folks who are wiling to play me in scrabble, i move around little candy pieces with a passion.

So, now, back to the Psalms . .and, ,it’s a long one. Psalm 78
The reason that the psalm is so long is because it recounts the faith history of God’s people in order to convince the people to trust and love God.

1-4 Listen, dear friends, to God’s truth,
bend your ears to what I tell you.
I’m chewing on the morsel of a proverb;
I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths,
Stories we heard from our fathers,
counsel we learned at our mother’s knee.
We’re not keeping this to ourselves,
we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,
the marvelous things he has done.

I always enjoy the images that the writers of the psalm use to tell well know stories of God. God plants and commands God’s people, but there are still those who do not listen to God.

5-8 He planted a witness in Jacob,
set his Word firmly in Israel,
Then commanded our parents
to teach it to their children
So the next generation would know,
and all the generations to come—
Know the truth and tell the stories
so their children can trust in God,
Never forget the works of God
but keep his commands to the letter.
Heaven forbid they should be like their parents,
bullheaded and bad,
A fickle and faithless bunch
who never stayed true to God.

The rest of the psalm is the salvation history of God’s people written in poetic language. When I read these passages of the Hebrew scripture with the writers willing to reinterpret the stories of faith in a way that highlights different parts of the story, I wonder about people who see the scripture as inerrant. I see the scripture as fluid and used to praise God who always loves us. This psalm does it by looking with new eyes at what God has done for God’s people.

Enjoy this day with God, and the rest of the psalm
9-16 The Ephraimites, armed to the teeth,
ran off when the battle began.
They were cowards to God’s Covenant,
refused to walk by his Word.
They forgot what he had done—
marvels he’d done right before their eyes.
He performed miracles in plain sight of their parents
in Egypt, out on the fields of Zoan.
He split the Sea and they walked right through it;
he piled the waters to the right and the left.
He led them by day with a cloud,
led them all the night long with a fiery torch.
He split rocks in the wilderness,
gave them all they could drink from underground springs;
He made creeks flow out from sheer rock,
and water pour out like a river.
17-20 All they did was sin even more,
rebel in the desert against the High God.
They tried to get their own way with God,
clamored for favors, for special attention.
They whined like spoiled children,
“Why can’t God give us a decent meal in this desert?
Sure, he struck the rock and the water flowed,
creeks cascaded from the rock.
But how about some fresh-baked bread?
How about a nice cut of meat?”
21-31 When God heard that, he was furious—
his anger flared against Jacob,
he lost his temper with Israel.
It was clear they didn’t believe God,
had no intention of trusting in his help.
But God helped them anyway, commanded the clouds
and gave orders that opened the gates of heaven.
He rained down showers of manna to eat,
he gave them the Bread of Heaven.
They ate the bread of the mighty angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
He let East Wind break loose from the skies,
gave a strong push to South Wind.
This time it was birds that rained down—
succulent birds, an abundance of birds.
He aimed them right for the center of their camp;
all round their tents there were birds.
They ate and had their fill;
he handed them everything they craved on a platter.
But their greed knew no bounds;
they stuffed their mouths with more and more.
Finally, God was fed up, his anger erupted—
he cut down their brightest and best,
he laid low Israel’s finest young men.
32-37 And—can you believe it?—they kept right on sinning;
all those wonders and they still wouldn’t believe!
So their lives dribbled off to nothing—
nothing to show for their lives but a ghost town.
When he cut them down, they came running for help;
they turned and pled for mercy.
They gave witness that God was their rock,
that High God was their redeemer,
But they didn’t mean a word of it;
they lied through their teeth the whole time.
They could not have cared less about him,
wanted nothing to do with his Covenant.
38-55 And God? Compassionate!
Forgave the sin! Didn’t destroy!
Over and over he reined in his anger,
restrained his considerable wrath.
He knew what they were made of;
he knew there wasn’t much to them,
How often in the desert they had spurned him,
tried his patience in those wilderness years.
Time and again they pushed him to the limit,
provoked Israel’s Holy God.
How quickly they forgot what he’d done,
forgot their day of rescue from the enemy,
When he did miracles in Egypt,
wonders on the plain of Zoan.
He turned the River and its streams to blood—
not a drop of water fit to drink.
He sent flies, which ate them alive,
and frogs, which bedeviled them.
He turned their harvest over to caterpillars,
everything they had worked for to the locusts.
He flattened their grapevines with hail;
a killing frost ruined their orchards.
He pounded their cattle with hail,
let thunderbolts loose on their herds.
His anger flared,
a wild firestorm of havoc,
An advance guard of disease-carrying angels
to clear the ground, preparing the way before him.
He didn’t spare those people,
he let the plague rage through their lives.
He killed all the Egyptian firstborns,
lusty infants, offspring of Ham’s virility.
Then he led his people out like sheep,
took his flock safely through the wilderness.
He took good care of them; they had nothing to fear.
The Sea took care of their enemies for good.
He brought them into his holy land,
this mountain he claimed for his own.
He scattered everyone who got in their way;
he staked out an inheritance for them—
the tribes of Israel all had their own places.
56-64 But they kept on giving him a hard time,
rebelled against God, the High God,
refused to do anything he told them.
They were worse, if that’s possible, than their parents:
traitors—crooked as a corkscrew.
Their pagan orgies provoked God’s anger,
their obscene idolatries broke his heart.
When God heard their carryings-on, he was furious;
he posted a huge No over Israel.
He walked off and left Shiloh empty,
abandoned the shrine where he had met with Israel.
He let his pride and joy go to the dogs,
turned his back on the pride of his life.
He turned them loose on fields of battle;
angry, he let them fend for themselves.
Their young men went to war and never came back;
their young women waited in vain.
Their priests were massacred,
and their widows never shed a tear.
65-72 Suddenly the Lord was up on his feet
like someone roused from deep sleep,
shouting like a drunken warrior.
He hit his enemies hard, sent them running,
yelping, not daring to look back.
He disqualified Joseph as leader,
told Ephraim he didn’t have what it takes,
And chose the Tribe of Judah instead,
Mount Zion, which he loves so much.
He built his sanctuary there, resplendent,
solid and lasting as the earth itself.
Then he chose David, his servant,
handpicked him from his work in the sheep pens.
One day he was caring for the ewes and their lambs,
the next day God had him shepherding Jacob,
his people Israel, his prize possession.
His good heart made him a good shepherd;
he guided the people wisely and well.