Inspired – Entering our story with God

Tales of adventure, deception and redemption; histories of kings and battles; paradoxes and parables; struggles and joys in a new community; poetry and all of it part of a deep love story.   This is the gift our ancestors gave us in writing down their story as a people and community in relationship to God continues to speak to us, drawing us ever closer to Godself and to living together on this earth with love and neighbor and all creation.   This is the Bible.  To some daunting, to some beloved guide, it is our story.

The late Rachel Held Evans wrote in her last book, Inspired:

Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.

The Bible is Living Word through which we encounter God individually and in community, this latter so important.  In the Bible we seek the truth together.  The Bible “study” deepest to my heart is a wrestling and striving together to meet God at God’s deepest truth.   Even when I read the Bible on my own, I seek out the communion of saints in earlier or present commentaries in books, blogs and regular conversations.  

Each Thursday morning at Christ Church, we come together to grope for the truth, if you will, to seek, search, debate, question and wrestle with it as Jacob wrestled with God.   The Gropers was the informal name of a favorite Bible study I facilitated.  This name came from Paul in Acts 17: 26-27.  

He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us.

I invite each of you to join me this Lent and possibly beyond to seek, wrestle and read together Rachel’s book, Inspired.  I propose gathering in person Sundays at 11:45 or Thursdays at 7 or in an online group via Zoom, exact time to be determined. Please read, join in, and seek together encountering the Living Word and Evans’s journey with it. 

Evans wrestles with scripture, reads and explores through doubt, imagining, re-imagining and debating Scripture. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.*

Elizabeth

*with thanks to Goodreads blurb

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – Now in a life of integrity and humility

Having celebrated the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple on February 2, we missed hearing the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. 

These are not to be missed and so today I reflect on two of them, the existing blessing of being poor in spirit or persecuted, which most of the time we do not consider a blessed state of being. 

First, let’s look at the word “blessed,”  and the joy of word study.   Thanks to Kenneth Bailey* we learn that what we often translate into English as blessed is grounded in the Greek makarios which describes a current state of being rather than a wished for state of being, eulogeo.   So, as Bailey says, blessed is Jane a she will inherit the family farm; she is blessed now thanks to a future or present state.  

Now that we recognize Jesus is talking about the here and now of a person, let’s look at two states of being which yield the Kingdom of Heaven:  poverty of spirit and persecution.   

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Mt 5:3

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Mt 5:10

The poor in spirit are those who recognize they need God’s grace now and always.  They approach life with humility rather than pride and trusting in themselves.   By living now in constant reliance on God and in humility which recognizes one’s own strengths and weaknesses and those of others, a person is able to see and experience God at work each day.   Those who live in trust and humility already live in The Kingdom of Heaven!  God’s reign is here and now and in the not yet. Hallelujah.

The persecuted for righteousness’s sake know they live in the presence of God and God’s actions, and importantly, they act, speak and serve to maintain a deep relationship with God.   These are the ones who speak the truth in love and value the way of God above all others ways of living, especially above giving one’s soul over to the ambitions of this world for power and greed.  Those who value the way of God above all other paths and speak the truth of their conscience live in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Happy/ blessed am I to have had a mother who spoke her conscience whether it was unpopular or not.  She lived the Phillips Brooks prayer for “the joy of conscious integrity” which no one can take away.   Whatever one’s own views, we can rejoice in those with responsibility of government who have spoken their conscience and their faith as in Amb. Marie Yovanovitch and Senator Mitt Romney and others you may name and know.   We rejoice in Presiding Bishop Curry who calls us to the Way of Jesus.

How happy and blessed are we who come to rely on God’s grace with humility, who seek righteousness with courage and speak up for the Truth in our hearts no matter the consequences.   For ours is the Kingdom of Heaven.

*with thanks to Sarah Bessey who introduced me to the work of Kenneth Bailey

A Pilgrim's Longing

Psalms are prayers that touch the full range of ourselves, and Psalm 84 expresses deep longing for God in body, and soul.  Each of us is born with a longing for God, or as some say, a hole in our souls which is filled only by God.  Speaking or singing Psalm 84 we enter into the pilgrim’s longing for intimacy with God.  The psalmist wishes to be a sparrow nesting in the stone walls of the Temple, knowing the covering of a crevice in the rocks and resting in the Divine.

The intimacy is like a lover’s longing for the beloved, or the real physical pain one senses in longing for home when one is away.   St. Teresa of Avila experienced ecstasy in the presence of the living God, and as for myself I sensed longing to be with God and excitement at drawing closer when meditating on St. John of the Cross’s drawing of Jesus on the Cross.

Psalm 84 (see below) draws us to a space of deep feeling and yearning.   That yearning leads to a seeking through valleys and from rampart to rampart as in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, an outward space where God dwells.  Yet God lives as well in the heart and is to be found in the highways taking us deeper into our true selves, the resting place of God. (v 6)

Why would we go on a pilgrimage into self and the sacred world?  Would it not be easier to live unaware?   Dr. Steven Cook asked a similar question preaching at my ordination: why?  My own response is:  Happy are those who dwell in your house whose strength is in You (v. 6) and happy the one who trusts in You (v. 13)   Whatever living on the surface of life brings in avoiding the efforts of a deep search within and beyond, it cannot compare to even standing on the threshold of a space filled with God.  For the surface of self and life is empty while the depths and breadth of God’s dwelling-place are filled with grace.

Psalm 84

1. How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!*
            My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
            my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
 
2. The sparrow has found her a house, and the swallow a nest where she     may lay her young;*
            by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
 
3. Happy are they who dwell in your house!*
            they will always be praising you.
 
4. Happy are the people whose strength is in you!*
            whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
 
5. Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of   springs,*
            for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
 
6. They will climb from height to height,*
            and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
 
7. Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;*
            hearken, O God of Ja-cob.
 
8. Behold our defender, O God;*
            and look upon the face of your a- nointed.
 
9. For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,*
            and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
            than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
 
10. For the Lord God is both sun and shield:*
            he will give grace and glory;
 
11. No good thing will the Lord with-hold*
            from those who walk with in- tegrity.
 
12. O Lord of hosts,*
            happy are they who put their trust in you!

In God's Light There is No Fear

Psalms are songs and prayers of our fellow humans sent to God.  Traditionally they are used in worship to praise, to lament, or some combination of both.  The Psalmist, whether David or another, speaks frankly to God, and in the Psalms we find a full range of human emotions, including one in which the psalmist sees no redemption at all. 

In the year ahead, we are studying Psalms closely in Bible study, and I encourage each of us to pray or study the psalms in the year 2020 as each of us seeks healing for our broken world.   We may disagree but we know our brokenness and know the world is changing before us in many ways. 

Approaching the year ahead with a God perspective of hope, love and connection, we can without fear go forward into whatever happens.  Today I offer Psalm 27 which has been a source of hope for me and a reminder of the trust and care God offers to each one of us.  Please read it whenever fear or despair seems to be sneaking in and stay tuned for a deeper study. 

Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
    you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will take me up.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they are breathing out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!