Psalm 24: Vanity, Vanity

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Thursday, September 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 24 which encourages us to be sinless, pure of heart, and humble. And that’s hard!

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.


Do you remember the song “You’re So Vain”? Here is a reminder.

The song expresses a common understanding of the word “vanity”:

excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievement


We all know people who seem to think they’re hot stuff. Maybe we’re even one of them! But I think that often a person behaving vainly really is quite unsure of himself.

The apparent vanity is a veneer to hide the emptiness inside. It is a veiled fear that, rather than being “all that”, one is really “not enough”.

The word vanity comes from the Latin root vanus which means empty – not “empty” with a readiness to be filled. Instead it connotes an emptiness that rattles with accumulated pretenses and falsehoods. It is a place of loud but lonely echoes.


Paul addresses this kind of emptiness when he writes to the Corinthians. He tells them not to get caught up in the contest of human vanity because we already are sufficient in God’s love and grace. Everything important is already ours in Christ, in God.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas,
or the world or life or death,
or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.


Psalm 24 assures us that to participate in this blessing, to be embraced by God’s favor only this is sufficient:

Who can stand in God’s holy place?
The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who have not given their soul to useless things,
to what is vain.
They will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from their saving God.


Poetry: Vanity by George Herbert

The fleet astronomer can bore 
And thread the spheres with his quick-piercing mind: 
He views their stations, walks from door to door, 
         Surveys, as if he had designed 
To make a purchase there; he sees their dances, 
                   And knoweth long before 
Both their full-eyes aspècts, and secret glances. 
         
         The nimble diver with his side 
Cuts through the working waves, that he may fetch 
His dearly-earnèd pearl, which God did hide 
         On purpose from the venturous wretch; 
That he might save his life, and also hers 
                   Who with excessive pride 
Her own destruction and his danger wears. 
         
         The subtle chymic can divest 
And strip the creature naked, till he find 
The callow principles within their nest: 
         There he imparts to them his mind, 
Admitted to their bed-chamber, before 
                   They appear trim and dressed 
To ordinary suitors at the door. 
         
       What hath not man sought out and found, 
But his dear God? who yet his glorious law 
Embosoms in us, mellowing the ground 
         With showers and frosts, with love and awe, 
So that we need not say, “Where’s this command?” 
                   Poor man, thou searchest round 
To find out death, but missest life at hand.

Song: As We Seek Your Face – Divine Hymns

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

A New Day Awaits

Sunday, March 31, 2019

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1 Cor new creation

Today, in Mercy,  halfway through Lent, we see in our readings glimpses of new life.

The captivity in Egypt had been TOUGH on Israel. During those many decades, they had appeared to be abandoned and forgotten by God.  It was a harsh reckoning for them … hard to be forgotten. Even then, when they thought they had found freedom, they still wandered for forty years in the desert.

But now Israel stands at a new horizon.  Moses has died and Joshua has become Israel’s leader.  God tells him that it is a new day:

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

In our second reading, Paul tells us:

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

And in our revered Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us:

This beloved child of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
was lost, and has been found.

All of these passages speak to us in our Lenten journey, and in our Life journey.  We have experienced our own “Egypts”, times when we felt disconnected, even abandoned, by God.  We have sometimes felt we were journeying aimlessly toward an unknown goal. We have at times wandered, like the prodigal son, from the path of God’s love. We have darknesses in our memories that still long for Light.

This poem from Mary Oliver might capture the feeling for us:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~ Mary Oliver ~

In today’s readings, God is reminding us that the Light awaits us. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new energy and grace are the gifts of Easter – the gifts where we must keep our eyes focused as we journey.

So let us do as e.e.cummings encourages us in this poem:

Let It Go – e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love


Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd
(Lyrics below)

Remember not the things of the past;
now I do something new,
do you not see it?
Now I do something new, says the Lord.

In our distress God has grasped us by the hand,
opened a path in the sea, and we shall pass over,
we shall pass over, free at last.

In our parched land of hypocrisy and hate,
God makes a river spring forth,
a river of mercy, truth and compassion; come and drink.

And who among us is sinless in God’s sight?
Then who will cast the first stone, when he who was sinless
carried our failings to the cross?

Pressing ahead, letting go what lies behind,
may we be found in the Lord, and sharing his dying,
share in his rising from the dead.

Got Troubles? Try These!

Sunday, February  17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, hidden in our readings, are three challenges.

Where do we put our

faith

and

hope

How do we

love

?


In our Jeremiah reading, an unfortunate person has placed faith in an untrustworthy “friend”, and the results – typical of Jeremiah – are dire. But the prophet goes on to say that the one who puts trust and faith in the Lord will flourish like a tree near running water.

Jer17_7 tree

In the reading from Corinthians, Paul has some strong words about hope:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

That sentence is powerful! It can be a life-long meditation.

In other words, where is our hope focused? Do we hope for comfort, success, healing, peace only for this earthly life? If so, we are missing the point, Paul says. Our one true hope is to be united with God in eternal life and our choices should lead to that fulfillment.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how to love by placing before us the “least ones” whom he loves best. We too are to love and comfort those who are poor, hungry, bereaved and despised by the heartless.

Today’s readings invite us to look at our life. Is it blossoming with joy, grace and spiritual vitality? Or are we struggling with all the doubts, worries, dramas and depression that come from a self-absorbed life?

Maybe, like me, you sometimes look at a person carrying great difficulty in their lives and wonder at their joy. How can they maintain that trust and joy in the midst of their challenges? These readings offer an answer. They have put their faith and hope in the right place. They have learned to love like God.

Music: Faith, Hope and Love ~ David Ogden ( Lyrics below.)

Faith, hope, and love: let these remain among you.
Faith, hope, and love: the greatest of these is love.

The love of Christ has gathered us together; let us rejoice and be glad in him.
Let us fear and love the living God, and love each other from the depths of the heart.

When we are together, we should not be divided in mind;
Let there be an end to bitterness and quarrels, and in our midst be Christ our God.

In company with the blessed, may we see your face in glory,
pure and unbounded joy for ever and ever.

I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.
Faith, hope, and love, let these remain among you.
Faith, hope and love; the greatest of these is love.