Monday, March 6
|Sound your alarm and||Return to me,|
|tremble||with all your heart—|
|I am the black cloud||Fasting|
|And dark—and||Within you|
|Powerful.||your people, and|
|I am the Lord.||Gather.|
|My day is near.||The Lord may|
|Leave a blessing|
|instead of a curse.|
|For he is gracious and merciful, slow|
|To anger||Abbounding in steadfast love|
|Blow the trumpet||sanctify a fast.|
|Return to the Lord|
When we fail, and when we fall, remind us we are yours.
When we forget, and when we despair, remind us we are yours.
And when all seems beyond thinking, doing, or being,
Remind us, that we are yours.
You will not abandon us.
We are yours.
You are the Lord.
Tuesday, March 7
What happens to Eve and Adam in the garden when they bite from that fruit? What is the change that happens? I was recently talking with a UBC student in Behavioural Sciences, who explained the distinction between humans and every other animal on earth as the ability to ask ‘why?’ I have known many intelligent animals over the years, but they are distinctly different from humans. My border collie is brilliant, but she doesn’t ever ask why. She will simply do something, not do something or ask to do something. Occasionally she stands there tilting her head attempting to look like she’s trying to understand me when she really just wants me to get up and find the ball (which she’s left in the other room) for her. She will also accept the authority of whoever is playing with her, no matter who it is, and generally respects commands and boundaries . . . still, she never asks why.
Initially Eve doesn’t ask why, either. She operates under simple logic, not critical thinking skills. She’s drawn to food, beauty, relationship, and understands the simple concept of consequences given by those in authority – if she eats from the tree, she will die. But because she also acknowledges the serpent’s authority, she is later delighted to learn that the fruit from the tree will not harm her, and she needs no further encouragement to eat and share!
The first words out of Adam’s mouth come after their eyes are opened by the fruit: God asks Adam, Where are you? His reply rests completely on the question, Why: ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’” From this time forward, they will never be able to resist asking this question and analyzing the things they do and say. It is deeply human . . . and they were in no way prepared for it.
‘Why’ is a blessing and a curse. Life is awfully stale without the depth of meaning that comes from asking that question in God’s presence. But we can also ask the question too much and use it to distance from God. Sometimes just what we need is to take a stroll in the garden with God and not think about anything.
God, help us to rely on Your wisdom and Yours alone. Amen.
Wednesday, March 8
The devil, you say?
Jesus has this interesting dialog with the devil, or Satan as in some references in the Hebrew Scriptures. The two of them are trading quips.
"Hungry? Turn the stones into bread." "One doesn't live by bread alone.”
“Jump off the tower!” “Do not put the Lord to a test.”
“Fall down and worship me and I’ll give you everything you can see.” “Serve only the Lord!”
And then the devil leaves and angels appear. God’s messengers. Satan is vanquished. All is well.
The devil doesn’t appear all that often in the Bible. A couple of references I Chronicles, Job (the Lord asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”), Zechariah, and quite a few references in the Gospels and Acts, including this story in Matthew. The devil seems to be the source of evil, or just temptation. Is the devil a person in the Bible? Or a fallen angel, kicked out of heaven for bad behaviour?
For me, when we pray “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil”, that’s the devil in all of us. The tiny voice that says “No one will notice if I take the last cookie”, or “Do I really have to declare the income from my basement suite?” Temptation is ever present, but the strength of Jesus’ example is that we have the ability to rise to a higher level, and to model the faithfulness that God expects from us. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
This we can do.
Lord, be with us as we encounter all things. Make the right path clear and open, and ease our confusion and temptation. Amen
Thursday, March 9
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is considered his definitive work—a work in which his full theological understanding of what God has accomplished in Jesus the Christ is expressed for the nurture, guidance, and sustenance of the gathered disciples in Rome. This letter would have been eagerly received, read, and shared.
For disciples today, the language and rhetoric that Paul uses can be a stumbling block, barring rather than enabling access to what he has to say. For those who persevere, however, the letter has spoken volumes to disciples over the centuries and millennia. Romans is the favoured book of one of Jameson’s favourite bands, Twenty-One Pilots. The 20th century American lawyer and theologian, William Stringfellow, would have the youth he worked with read, and reread, and reread Paul’s letter to the Romans, until they would start to ask questions about it, at which point he knew they had begun to engage with what Paul was saying. Tom Wright wrote a very accessible commentary on Romans, entitled Paul for Everyone (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) in which he argues that the writings of the early Christians were never meant for a religious elite—they were meant for everyone, as is the good news of Christ.
And it is always the time for good news—in the past, in the present, and in the future. At the beginning of this text from Romans, Paul is charting the situation we have found ourselves in. It is a grim picture. The disobedience of Adam, “a type of the one who was to come” [read “Jesus”] has caught all humanity since in a web of intransigent sin, from which we cannot escape ourselves. All we do is tarnished with brokenness, separation from God, and death. The law, a gift from God, has brought this into even sharper focus. The foreseeable future is an equation whose sum is always sin, multiplying unchecked until we are all crushed beneath the weight of it.
Last year, gravitational waves were detected from an event that happened over a billion years ago, long before humans even existed on the Earth. Two black holes, each much heavier than our sun, collided, causing the waves. Before they dramatically merged, these two black holes were orbiting each other 100 times per second. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can barely wrap my head around that. I think, like the sizes, distances, and speeds present in our galaxy and universe, it is difficult for us to fathom the love God has for Creation, including for us human beings.
Into the mess of sin and death, God enters and acts. Not just to right the balance, but to throw the scale like a catapult into the realm of life and joy and freedom. As Nicholas Lash, a theologian from Britain has stated, “the life God gives is nothing other, nothing less, than God’s own self. Life is God, given.” And so we read some amazing statements in verses 15 to 17. Adhering to Walter Brueggemann’s advice to “stick close to the text,” we can notice that in these three verses, the term “free gift” appears five times and “grace” three times. Paul is right to point out to us that we can boast only in God. There is nothing we can or could do to earn this gift of grace. Can we hear the overwhelming generosity in verse 19? “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
Jesus restores right relationship between God and us, between one another, and between us and the rest of Creation. To be righteous is to be in right relationship, which is the longing in the hearts of us all and in the rest of Creation. This is justification, the free gift accomplished once and for all by Christ. Humility is all that is needed to “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness”. We are Christians not because we are better than others, but because are humbly and poignantly aware of our need for God.
Sanctification, the journey that follows justification—when the Spirit makes us over in the image of Christ—appears to me more of a zig zag process. It proceeds better the more control I give over to God, which I do sometimes in protest, kicking and screaming, like Ananias sent to the newly converted Saul. It is, perhaps, why I find a connection with the lyrics of Robert Robinson’s hymn, “Come, O Fount of Every Blessing”: “Prone to wander, I can feel it, wander from the love I’ve known: here’s my heart, O, take and seal it, seal it for your very own.” I was reminded of this recently, when I realized that I have been making an idol of my beloved son, who begs not to be the centre of my attention, and to be given the chance to make his own mistakes. A meeting mediated by one of his teachers, a woman who inspires me with her honesty, her self-giving, her love of God, removes the scales from my eyes—scales of expectations and judgement predicated on pleasing family and strangers alike, even as I rail against such things. Grounded now once more in humility and in Christ—the only proper centre for my attention—I am freed once more to love, as God has so loved us.
In the garden of the Community of the Transfiguration, located in Roslin, a village just outside of Edinburgh, there is a sculpture of the two Adams, fallen Adam and Jesus. They are kneeling, embracing one another, each with his head resting on the shoulder of the other, the nail prints in Jesus’ hands the only distinguishing feature between the two.
God of Unbounded Love, Thank you for your love that makes us whole. May your love flood us, connecting us together, with you as our Centre. Amen.
Friday, March 10
Terah was 205 when he died. God said to Terah’s son Abram, go from your father’s house in Ur to a land I will show you.
Many of us read this brief text and marvel at Abram’s faith in God to go, when God says go.
Yes it takes faith to go when God says go, however, God is making promises to Abram.
1) You will become a great nation
2) You will be blest
3) Your name will be great
4) You will be a blessing
5) I will bless those who bless you
6) I will curse those who curse you.
Six wonderful gifts, OK so the last one isn’t so wonderful, that said, God would bring to Abram and his family many gifts if he would just pack up and go.
Still it takes courage not only to go when God calls, but be listening when God speaks.
Then it came to me, why did I get this particular text? A person who lives a few miles from where they were raised and works even closer to the home of their birth. Often, with a little cheek, saying to folk I have recently met “I haven’t gone far in life.” To top it off, at 65 not willing to retire from my current employment after more than 22 years of service. A person who doesn’t get a move on, one who isn’t easy to get going.
Am I the right person to listen to, wrestle with and speak able picking up and going when God calls? Abram was seventy-five when asked to pack up and go so there is time for one such as myself to get a move on, so to speak.
More important for us at Uhill, is what is God saying to us at this time in our shared faith life? Be ready, willing and able to step out of your comfort zone. Wait, listen, and focus on the one who gathers us into community. Live in the knowledge that each of us has been blest by a man called Abram and a woman called Sarai who were called to move with God into an unknowable future.
Thank you God for the gift of Abram and Sarai so many years ago. This world has been blessed by You through their shared faithfulness in You. In the end as it was in the beginning, it is always You who speaks first and last. It is always You who loves first and best. You, we should be listening to. Amen
Saturday, March 11
What is it to be born from above?
Walking through Lent is perhaps a time when we renew our vision. When we put on new glasses and through new lenses try to find the direction in our ordinary world, and to find out what it is to be born from above. I guess that this is what Nicodemus is trying to find out when he visits Jesus late in the evening. I think that we are blessed and lucky, both in Canada and Sweden, since we can find out our path of faith in broad daylight and at public gatherings in church, or in other places. But we have to keep our sisters and brothers in Christ in our prayers, especially those in other parts of the world, so that they can continue walking in faith. It is certainly fearsome and hard to be a Christian in oppressing surroundings, but I also quite often find it difficult and troublesome to be a Christian in my own society, despite religious freedom being one of the core values in the law. This is something to ponder during Lent as well. What does it mean in my life that I am born of water and Spirit? How do I show it in my daily life? Should it show?
The baptism in the name of the Trinity is the one sacrament that all Christians all over the world share. We are not only baptized in to our worshiping congregation but also in to the Body of Christ. I read the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus as a reminder to us that are members of this Body of Christ to take care of each other, to look out for each other and to pray for each other. But I think that there is more to it to be born by water and Spirit. The Baptism is a sign of God’s love for us and for the Creation. By water and the Spirit, we are called, claimed, and commissioned: we are called God’s own, welcomed as children of God; we are claimed by Christ, united with Christ, united with one another and the Christian community of every time and place; we are commissioned to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit for the work of the church in the world http://www.united-church.ca/sites/default/files/handbook_sacraments-elders.pdf. As I understand this it gives us all a special role in the world: the role to serve. And to serve all people that God send in our way regardless of their faith. As the Archbishop of Sweden, Antje Jackelén said: “We do not help people because they are Christians, instead we help people because we are Christians.”
Gracious and Holy God, we bless you for the gift of life, and, within it, the gift of water. Over its unshaped promise your Spirit hovered at creation. By water, comes the growth of the earth. Through water, you led the children of Israel to freedom. In the waters of the Jordan your Child Jesus was baptized. Now may your Spirit be upon us and what we do, that we may be a sign for all of new life in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sunday, March 12
I looked at four different versions of Psalm 121 because it was a short Psalm and I was interested in how different the versions might be. The first thing that I noticed was that the King James version of the first line does not ask a question, but states that, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” By contrast, other versions frame the statement as a question (e.g., New Revised Standard Version – “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?”, the Message – “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?”, and Today’s English – “I look to the mountains; where will my help come from?”) Gerald Hobbs told Trenor and me over the weekend that the question versions are more accurate. The people asking the question would have been contrasting our relationship with one God with the worship sites of the many ancient gods that were situated on the neighbouring hills. This raises an interesting parallel for me in our modern world where the gods of consumerism and what I might call hyper communication have replaced genuine human-to-human and human-to-divine connection for some people.
I am reassured because in all cases, the answer to the question is clear—our help comes from God who is named as “The Lord”, or “Guardian God” (The Message) and whose credentials include making heaven, earth, and mountains. Those rate as high credentials to me, even in our modern world.
The portions of the Psalm where God will also not let us stumble nor let our feet be “moved” remind me of my daily walking and our St. Cuthbert’s Way Pilgrimage trip where footing can be uneven and care is/was always required. At the same time, we do have times in our lives where we “fall”, so clearly God does not keep us wrapped in a permanent “bubble”, but leaves us to make our way in this world as followers of The Way.
I am comforted when the nature of God is revealed as not sleeping and keeping watch by guarding us on our right hand: that was the hand that most people used in ancient times for their weapons. The main enemy seemed to be the sun and the moon, and I saw the sun and moon as metaphors for dangers which could come by day and by night. In our modern world, dangers seem to be around us at all times, so God’s watchkeeping is truly significant.
Finally, we are reminded that God will keep us from all evil and preserve our going out and coming in now and forevermore. I thought initially of our daily movements to and from home in the ordinary run of life. As I further pondered where we are “going out” and “coming in”, I was touched when Gerald recounted a last visit with an ill and aged friend who took great solace in this Psalm and punctuated the ending of a recitation of it with the word “Absolutely”. What a gift we have when we can count on God to watch for us daily in both the small and big movements of our life.
As I prepared this meditation, I thought often of the hymn “Unto the Hills” with words written by John Campbell in 1877, to the haunting SANDON melody by Charles H. Purday in 1860 (Voices United 842). I borrow the last verse as my prayer for us all during this Lenten season:From every evil shall God keep thy soul, from every sin:
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in.
Above thee watching, God whom we adore
shall keep thee henceforth, yea, for evermore. Amen
Barbara Fraser Tilley