Psalm 33:Love’s Design

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 28, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33, a song of praise calling the people to rejoice in God’s justice and kindness.

In its attitude of trust and freedom, the Psalm might remind us of Robert Browning’s verse:

God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.

But neither in the psalmist’s time, nor in Browning’s, was everything really “all right” with the world. Things are never really “all right” with the world. There is always war, crime, hunger, disease, natural disasters, and a slew of other troubles brewing somewhere.

So how can the psalmist or any other preacher invite us to trust, believe, and rejoice like this?

Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.


Keywords in this verse give us a clue: those who are just and upright will see the pattern of God’s mercy which lies deeper than the troubles of this world. They will trust and be comforted by God’s transcendent faithfulness to us in all things. Their faith and joy in the face of suffering will confound the faithless.


Calling us to the full meaning of Christ’s sacrificial love, Paul reiterates this mysteriously contradictory truth in our first reading :

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

For Christians, the Cross is the ultimate symbol of this profound wisdom and strength. It is a mystery too deep for our understanding, but by faith we may slowly become immersed in its Truth.


The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 18

As we pray with Psalm 33 today, let us be aware of the cause of our joy – a holy joy deeply rooted in God, trusting God’s Will for our salvation in the pattern of Jesus Christ.


For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all God’s works are trustworthy.
The LORD loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.


Poetry: Primary Wonder – Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Music: Your Cross Changes Everything – Matt Redman

Psalm 34: Praying with Angels

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this special feast, we pray with Psalm 34.  

David sings. Sheep listens.

This psalm has the most delightful introduction:

Of David, when he feigned madness before the King, who drove him out and he went away.

The Psalm refers to a time when young David was fleeing from Saul who was jealous of David’s impending takeover as king. David seeks harbor with King Achish, but later realizes that was a mistake. Fearing the King, David pretends for be insane in order to be dismissed as harmless.


Serious as the situation is, picturing it makes me smile. Have you ever wanted to get away from someone who had hijacked you into a one-sided conversation? You might pretend you had an appointment, or medical necessity, or anything just to get away.


Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison by Pieter de Hooch

Peter, in our first reading, doesn’t need pretense to escape the wrathful imprisonment of King Herod. All he needs is the angel which God has sent him.

Thus, Psalm 34 is a most appropriate choice for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is the first psalm in which an angel is mentioned and here, as in Acts, she is a rescuer.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear the LORD, and delivers them.

Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the one who takes refuge in God.


I’ll be honest, I neglect my angels. I believe in them. I trust them. But basically I forget about them unless I’m scared out of my mind about something. In those situations, I call out loudly to them to make sure their “encampment” around me is still intact!

I think it would be a lot better to get to know our angels, and let them get to know us. Inviting them to accompany us in prayer might be a good way to start. And, of course, remember that prayer so many of our parents taught us. We never grow too “mature” to whisper it at night. Maybe even Peter said something like it in that dark prison long ago.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this night be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.
Amen


St. Peter And The Angel
 - Denise Levertov

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained--

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening--
out!
     And along a long street's
majestic emptiness under the moon:

one hand on the angel's shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed...

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel's feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy. 

Music:  Gloria in Excelcis Deo – J.S. Bach
(I thought one of the angels’ greatest hits, first recorded over the hills of Bethlehem, might be appropriate today)

Take My Hand

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 29, 2020

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festus
Window in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne – Paul Pleads His Case (Festus in yellow)

Today, in Mercy, Paul’s case goes before Festus and King Herod Agrippa. Just in case you are confused, like I was, about just who this particular Herod is, this family tree from Wikipedia helped:

chart

This King Agrippa was Marcus Julius Agrippa II (A.D. 27-100), son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-23). 

I offer these facts for no real spiritual reason, but they remind me that these biblical characters were real people, like us, engaging (or not) a real life of faith. (Also, I thought it was fun to see how uncreative they were in naming their babies 🙂


In our Gospel, Jesus once again prepares Peter for his tremendous responsibility in the building of that faith. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”. By the third interrogation, Peter’s answer sounds a little intense:

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Hearing this response, Jesus lays the full burden of Peter’s life upon his shoulders. Not only must Peter “feed” the faith of Jesus’s followers, he must do so by giving over all control to God:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”

hand

Like Peter,
we too are given the gift and responsibility
of living a faithful life.
Like Peter, we all learn through the years,
that life comes to us in unexpected ways.
In reality, life often chooses us
rather than the other way around.

As we pray with these passages, we might want to look back over our lives for those points where life challenged or unbalanced us. What unexpected blessings came from those surprises/shocks? When God’s plan contradicted our own, how were we eventually blessed with courage, hope and insight?

We are the person we are today because of how we responded to God’s mysterious plan for our lives. Did we reach out our hand and let God lead us? Do we still need to do some letting go in order to enjoy that kind of freedom?

Music:  Precious Lord, Take My Hand – written by Thomas A. Dorsey, sung here by the Great Mahalia Jackson

When my way groweth drear

Precious Lord, linger near-ear

When my li-ight is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my ha-and lest I fa-all

Take my hand, precious Lor-ord

Lead me on

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me sta-and

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me home

When my work is all done

And my race here is are you-un

Let me see-ee by the light

Thou hast shown

That fair city so bright

Where the lantern is the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me on

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me sta-and

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me home

Weepers

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 27, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus and Paul continue their heart-wrenching farewell addresses.

We’ve become accustomed to the passages and may read them without much emotional investment, but honestly they are real “weepers” – like movies where you have to bite the edge of your popcorn cup to keep from sobbing out loud.


paul-s-farewell-to-ephesian-elders-sacred-biblical-history-old-new-testament-two-hundred-forty-images-ed-st-69560609
St. Paul Bids Farewell to the Ephesians

Look at Acts, for example, and put yourself in the scene:

When Paul had finished speaking
he knelt down and prayed with them all.
They were all weeping loudly
as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him,
for they were deeply distressed that he had said
that they would never see his face again.
Then they escorted him to the ship.


blessing

 

The verses from John are not quite so emotional, but picture yourself being prayed over like this. You sense that this is really a final blessing. You know these may be some of Christ’s last words you will ever hear.

Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.


As we pray with today’s scriptures, we are reminded that goodbyes are awfully hard. We need to mourn them within a community of faith lest our hearts break from their weight. 

 


So many of us, in these sorrowful times, feel that deep longing. We need to tell one another the stories of our loved ones, to sing together our belief in eternal life, to prove that we can still laugh with old memories, to cry at the sight of one another’s tears.

But in an atmosphere of overwhelming loss, the pandemic has denied us this kind of faith-supported mourning.

Jn17_11 keep

Someday, we will gather as we once did. Together, we will pick up the fabric of our common life and finger the places where it has thinned with the passings of our beloveds.

Until then, let us take great hope in the core of Jesus’s message today:

Father, now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world

so that those you have given me
may share my joy completely.

All that we love, and may seem to have lost, is preserved and transformed – complete and joyful – in the infinite love of God. 

We too can be there in our prayer. We may be shaken by loss, but we are confident in faith. We know and believe that we are all kept in God’s Name.

Music: Aaronic Benediction – Misha and Marty Goetz

Our Beloved Communities

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

May 26, 2020

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given me

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the first part of his Ephesian farewell address which he will complete in tomorrow’s reading.

Paul really loved the Ephesian community. He lived with them for three years and poured his heart and soul into teaching them. He doesn’t say it outright, but like all ministers, he must have learned from them as well – from their faith, compassion, and openness to his teaching.

Now Paul begins the last journey back to Jerusalem, a passage which will mirror Christ’s own journey to that sacred city. But before he departs, Paul tells the Ephesians how much he loves and expects from them. And he blesses them.

In tomorrow’s continuation, Paul will say:

And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

In our Gospel today, as Jesus commences his own final journey, he blesses his listeners as well:

Father, I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours


Today as we pray, whether we are at the beginning or late parts of our journey, we might take time to pray for the ones God “has given” us in our lives. Like Paul who shared life with the Ephesians, and like Jesus and his beloved disciples, God has given us communities to love and form us on our journey.

These extraordinary pandemic days have reminded us all of what’s most cherished in our lives. It’s such a perfect time to show our own beloved communities how much they mean to us. It doesn’t have to be a long address or a profound speech. My young nephew and his dear wife did it yesterday with a simple and delightfully surprising phone call just before they journeyed on a small vacation.

Just little phrases between us, passed over a thousand mile telephone signal, carried a much bigger message of love and gratitude:

  • just wanted to check on you
  • are you feeling well
  • do you have what you need
  • enjoy your time away
  • travel safely
  • thanks for thinking of me
  • I love you
  • God bless you

Today, as we read the orations of Jesus and Paul, we may not see the same exact phrases, but the message is the same. Jesus and Paul knew it was important to their communities to put that loving message into words. It’s important for our communities too.

familyThanks Jimmy and Kristin. Thank you all my dear family and friends. I am so blessed to have these kinds of conversations with all of you. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Like Paul,
I commend each one of you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

On this, and all your life journeys, travel safely and know you are deeply loved.

Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter

Paul’s Great Sermon

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives a magnificent oration at the Areopagus in Athens. It was a big deal billing!

V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)
St. Paul at the Areopagus by Raphael (c.1515)

Areopagus, earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place.

In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate. Like the Senate, its membership was restricted to those who had held high public office.

The Areopagus, like most city-state institutions, continued to function in Roman times, and it was from this location, drawing from the potential significance of the Athenian altar to the Unknown God that Paul is said to have delivered the famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Wikipedia)


diamonds
The sermon has so many beautiful lines, like glorious diamonds that can be turned over and over in prayer. Here are a few that glistened for me:


God … does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands
(Instead, God dwells within us)


God is not served by human hands because God needs nothing.
(Instead, our everything comes from God)


God made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth.
(We are all connected in the One Creation)


God 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.
(We do grope, sometimes in darkness.)


God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent…
(Without Christ, we were in shadows of unknowing. With Christ, we are in Light.)


And my favorite:

Acts17_24 everything

What is the “everything” that God is giving you today? What is the abundance of grace, or hope, or longing in your heart as you pray today? Let God’s fullness embrace any emptiness as you offer God your silence and waiting.

Music: Everything – Lauren Daigle

Lydia, Shaded in Purple

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul ventures for the first time into the area which is now modern Europe. He settles for a while in Philippi, the city which gives its name to my favorite epistle.

Pauls journeys

One morning, Paul, Silas and Timothy went down by the river to pray. There they met Lydia, one of the most influential yet mysterious women of the New Testament.

Lydia

Today’s verses are the only time she is mentioned in the scriptures, and there is no historical documentation about her. Yet, by her support and hospitality, she is likely responsible for the establishment of the Church in Europe and is considered its first convert.


Despite the parcity of information about Lydia, Richard Ascough was able to write a book about her: Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess

excerpt


Lydia, like many of our foremothers in faith, is hidden in the shadows of a patriarchal history. Sunlight briefly falls on Lydia in this engaging reading from Acts today.

I like to pray with this reading by imagining myself as one of Lydia’s companions, listening to her conversation with Paul, imagining her life as it unfolds into Christian leadership.

As we pray with Lydia today, let’s ask God to lead the Church to a clearer and more committed use of women’s gifts in Church life. Even Pope John Paul II made some small attempts in this direction:

“In this vast domain of service, the Church’s two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the ‘genius of woman’; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.” 
John Paul II – “Letter to Women”

But our Church and its women need more than what has been. Let’s ask for women to be welcomed out of the shadows of ecclesial life into an appropriate equity in ministry.

Music: Patterns of Sun and Shade – Kathryn Kaye

Everything!

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts some of the challenges Paul and Barnabas met as they continued spreading the Gospel. With such a reading, we see the beginnings of theological arguments in the unfolding teaching of the Church.

One might wonder what turned yesterday’s Jewish and Gentile listeners into a stone-throwing mob. One wonders it today regarding some of the acrimonious factions within the Church.

It is one thing to receive the Gospel with one’s heart and spirit. It is another thing to receive it with one’s mind. As human beings, we resist mystery; we long for logic. We are more comfortable with a problem we can solve than with a Truth beyond our comprehension. Rather than Infinite Surprise, I think most of us prefer predictability and control.


 

Jn14_26 Everything

The Gospel can be fearsome. It asks that we let go of our limited human “geometry”; that we entrust everything to the Inclusive Love who is Jesus Christ. It asks us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit who, ultimately, will “teach us EVERYTHING”.


question

In our recent readings, we’ve seen Thomas, Philip, and today, Jude trying to reach this level of spiritual trust. It’s hard because such trust is more than human. It is a trust bred of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a trust born of living fully in Peace with that Presence.

 


It is a trust described like this in tomorrow’s Gospel reading:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

Let us pray for trust and peace in ourselves, our Church, and world.


Music:  Wonderful Peace – an old Gospel song by Warren Cornell and William Cooper (1899), sung here by Don Moen 

Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Ah, soul! are you here without comfort and rest,
Marching down the rough pathway of time?
Make Jesus your Friend ere the shadows grow dark;
O accept of this peace so sublime!

What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of my soul,
So secure that no power can mine it away,
While the years of eternity roll!

I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul!

And I think when I rise to that city of peace,
Where the Anchor of peace I shall see,
That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing
In that heavenly kingdom will be:

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

The Power of the Name

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul and Barnabas make a final grand effort to speak to the hearts of the Jews in Antioch. The outcome is both bad news and good news.

The Jewish community resists the Word. But the Gentiles receive it with an open heart and the Gospel ignites “through the whole region”. The catechesis was so successful that resisters mounted the persecution and expulsion of the disciples from the neighborhood.

Then reminiscent of Jesus’s advice in Matthew 10:14:

dust

So they shook the dust from their feet
in protest against them
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.


acts3_6 Name_Original

In our Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples that He and the Father are one:

“If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”


Philip
Philip, like Thomas in yesterday’s Gospel, says he needs a little more to go on than that simple statement:

“Master, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus once again patiently reminds Philip and the others that all that they have experienced in Him is a revelation of the Father. He further tells them that they themselves are to be that ongoing revelation for the world:

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”


As Christians, we believe that we too are commissioned in the Name of Christ to be his Presence in the world. Jesus tells us that whatever we ask in his Name will be accomplished.

That doesn’t mean that the name of Jesus is a magic formula to get what we want.

Instead, within the Holy Name, we come to trust the mercy, love, and abiding accompaniment of God. Such trust allows us to see the slow working of God’s loving Will in all things – just as Jesus did through his faithful life, heartbreaking death, and ultimately triumphant Resurrection.

Let us gently repeat that beloved Name in our prayer, asking that its sweet grace enlighten and transform us.

Music: In the Name of the Lord – Gloria Gaithersburg, Phil McHugh, and Sandi Patti

A Map?

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul nearly completes his sermon in Pisidian Antioch.  In this section, he is very clear about the failure of “those in Jerusalem” to recognize the Messiah when He finally came.

280px-V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)
Paul Preaches by Raphael

Paul points out, however, that this very failure was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

…by condemning him
they fulfilled the oracles of the prophets

that are read sabbath after sabbath.

These resistant religious leaders had spent their entire lives sifting through the Law and the Prophets looking for their savior. But when he finally stood in their midst, they were blind to him. Where had they gone wrong?


Thomas
Thomas has his doubts answered (16th C. icon)

In our Gospel, we have Thomas who is a little blinded himself. We know from other passages that Thomas is someone who likes to see for himself. Faith comes a bit hard for him. In today’s Gospel, Thomas tells Jesus he needs a map in order to follow him.

Can’t you just see Jesus looking at him, a little dumbfounded. Thomas has been with Jesus through it all – the sermons, the loaves and fishes, the walking on water, the raising of Lazarus. But he still doesn’t see with that comfortable trust which frees the heart to give itself completely to God.

Hey, I get it, don’t you! Jesus is prepping his disciples for the coming days of his Passion and Death. This is going to be the hardest time of all their lives. Fear, uncertainty, and impending danger hang in the air like a steel fog. Thomas is scared and confused.

We’ve all been there. Maybe we’re there right now.

John14_6 Way

Jesus is saying the same thing to us as he said to Thomas:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is the Way. Let us find him in our daily prayer, scripture reading, and acts of mercy. Let us give him any fear, confusion or doubt blocking us from moving forward in faith.

Music: Jesus Is the Way – written by Walter Hawkins, sung here by the Morgan State Choir (lyrics below). 

(The Morgan State University Choir is one of the nation’s most prestigious university choral ensembles and was led for more than three decades by the late Dr. Nathan Carter, celebrated conductor, composer, and arranger. While classical, gospel, and contemporary popular music comprise the majority of the choir’s repertoire, the choir is noted for its emphasis on preserving the heritage of the spiritual, especially in the historic practices of performance.)

Jesus Christ Is The Way

When I think about the hour
Then I know what I must do
When I think about, what God, has done for me
Then I will open up my heart
To everyone I see, and say
Jesus Christ is the way!

No one knows the day nor the hour
Maybe morn, night or noon
But just rest assured
Time will be no more
He is coming (I know he’s coming) soon
Coming soon

And I will open up my heart
To everyone I see
And say
Jesus Christ is the way
Then I will open up my heart
To everyone I see
And say
Jesus Christ is the way
And say
Jesus Christ is the way