Do good for ZionDavid's towers

“Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;”

– Psalm 51:17a

Most scholars believe that Psalm 51 originally ended at verse 16 and that verses 17 and 18 were later additions.   As a consequence, the lectionary reading  for Psalm 51 ends at verse 16.

Scholars suggest that verses 17 and 18 were added during the so-called Persian era, when the Judeans who were exile in Babylon were returning to the ruins of Jerusalem with the hope and intent of rebuilding the temple and the city.  “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure” is a plea for God’s blessings upon the city.

Do we pray for our cities today?  The mayoral elections for the City of Raytown are on April 7th — please vote if you’re a  Raytown resident!  I would ask God to guide both candidates and the voters as we approach that decision.   There are also elections in Kansas City and the surrounding communities in April.

There is so much to pray for.  For our schools and the teachers who open so many doors to our children and help mold them in these early years.   For our police, fire and other first responders who place their own lives at risk to protect and serve us in times of need.  For our government officials who can advance policies of fairness and inclusion as well as promote the economic well-being of our communities.   For the business leaders who are able to create opportunities for work that support families and  provide needed products and services.   For the churches and other faith communities that help guide people toward God and service to one another.

In the midst of this Lenten season it’s useful to remember that Jesus went to the cross not simply for us    individually, but for us as a society, as communities, and for the entire world.  Most of his  teachings are offered in the plural ‘you.’  We lose sight of this because English, unlike many other languages, doesn’t distinguish between the singular and plural 2nd person.   “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that those who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life”  (John 3:16)

Prayer

Dear Lord,

We pray for Raytown, Kansas City, Blue Springs, Independence, Lee’s Summit, Grandview, Leawood, Overland Park and all the other communities around the KC metro.  Do good to them in your good pleasure.

Amen

 

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Contrite heart33a.  Contrite heart

“. . . a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

– Psalm 51:17b

Where do you place the word “contrite”?    I mean, where do you most often hear that word being used?   For me, I think of the courtroom.  I imagine a news report that reads something like “The convicted defendant faced the jury with a steely countenance;  she showed no contrition for what she had done.”  Or perhaps “The defendant was contrite and, weeping, apologized to the victim and their family from the stand.”

My online dictionary search gives a definition for contrite as:   feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt.   Interestingly, the definition is then immediately followed by a citation from today’s verse, “a broken and contrite heart.”

Let us remember where we’ve come in verses 16 and 17 —   “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”   This invites us to ponder the nature of insincere worship (both corporate and individual)  and then the authentic baring of one’s soul to God.  Does our Sunday worship give us the opportunity to do this?   Do we do this on our own time?

Unlike my imagined courtroom scenes, we stand before a different judge.  We step into the witness stand, our Lord presiding, and we have the opportunity to either (a) try to talk our way out of something or (b) open our heart.   Thankfully, this judge is our ever- loving God.  Isaiah 57:15 portrays God’s outlook upon us   beautifully:  For this is what the high and lofty One says– he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Jesus of course continued this mission of reviving the spirit of the lowly and those with contrite hearts.  He told a crowd on the hillside:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.   Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:1-5).

33b.Prayer 

Precious Lord,

Take our hand.  Help us to come before you and, without guile or pretense, honestly offer our lives to you.  Help us to be both contrite and trusting in the one whose love endures forever.

Amen

 

A broken spirit  32c.  Broken Spirit

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; ”

– Psalm 51:17a

Our psalm continues to re-think the use of sacrifice.   In verse 16, the psalmist had declared For you [God] have no delight in sacrifice.”   Now, the writer turns to identify what IS an appropriate sacrifice — “a broken spirit.”

That may seem odd.  In other times in scripture, such as Psalm 34, the Lord seeks to rescue those who are broken:   The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

The prophet Isaiah raises the same call:  “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3).   That seems a great distance from Psalm 51:17.

Perhaps this verse is more about our willfulness, our head-strong determination to do-what-we-want-when-we-want-to-do-it!   It makes me think of how ranchers use the term of “breaking” a horse.  Prior to such a “breaking,” wild horses are unrideable.   They won’t accept a bit, let alone a saddle or person in the saddle.  But there comes a 32a.  Broken Spirittime when the horse submits in what is hopefully a humane process.   Some horses are more of a challenge than others, which has led to the acclaim of the so-called “horse whisperers” — people who have a touch with the animals.

This verse makes me think of the whisper of God in our lives.  The gentle, ever present calling for us to set aside our ego, our plans, our priorities — and to submit to God.

Prayer

Almighty God,

We may resist your call upon our lives.   We may canter off to the farthest fields, and buck every attempt you make to place a hand upon us and direct our path.  But we pray that you will be patient with us and  continue to call, until we come, willingly, and give you the reins of our lives.

Amen

 

Burnt offering31.  Burnt offerings

“. . .  if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not  be pleased.”       – Psalm 51:16b

I would sit at the edge of the fire pit and poke at the logs and embers  as they cracked in the night.  You could watch as bits of ash and other scorched debris lifted into the night sky, following the updraft of the column of smoke.

In biblical times, the ritual of giving a burnt offering is established under Noah and then directed in Numbers 28:3 —  ‘This is the food offering you are to present to the LORD: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day.’   These rituals were central to the early worshipping practices of the people of Israel.

The term “burnt offering” is derived from the Hebrew noun olah, which has the meaning of “that which went up [in smoke].”   It is drawn from the verb alah meaning “to ascend.”  In later years, it was translated, eerily for our modern consciousness, into the term “holocaust.”    So while the NRSV translates Exodus 18:12 as  “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God;” this same passage is rendered by the New American Bible as “Then Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, brought a holocaust and other sacrifices to God.”

One of the most wrenching stories in the Old Testament comes as Abraham takes his son Isaac up a mountain with the intent, per the Lord’s instructions, of giving his son as a burnt offering to God.  Only at the last moment is the boy spared as the ram appears in the thicket.

Our verse fragment today from Psalm 51 follows yesterday’s “Part A” of verse 16 that  “For you have no delight in sacrifice”.  Part B, per usual, expands on the Part A —  “. . . if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not  be pleased.”    The psalmist understands that the Lord wants something else, something different, something more than these ritualistic burnt offerings — and that will be explored in the next verse on Thursday and Friday.

But sitting as we are on the doorstep of Holy Week, we cannot help but to consider the sacrifice that is just in the offing.  The death on Calvary will not include fire.  But in the dark days that follow, it will involve a  lifting up, an ascent.

Prayer

Holy God,

As we stand before you today, help us to discern the ways that we can dedicate our lives to you.   And we thank you for the sacrificial gift of your son, whom you raised, to set us all free.

Amen

 

No delight  30.  No delight

“For you have no delight in sacrifice;”

– Psalm 51:16a

Perhaps you are among the 1.35 billion people around the world who actively use Facebook each month.  You may even be one of the 890 million people who use it every day.   (Don’t think this is a youth-only phenomenon — 31% of U.S. seniors are on Facebook!)   If you are one of these Facebook users, then you may be familiar with the concept of “liking” something that you see on Facebook by clicking on that little thumbs up icon or “Like.”   You can choose to Like almost anything on Facebook.   You may have even received messages from friends (or strangers) asking you to Like their page or a particular event.   Why, if you see the notice of this devotional on BRPC’s Facebook page, you could Like it too!

Ever wonder what earlier times in history would have been like if they had access to social media?  Could you imagine if Moses had a Twitter account?  (“People whining AGAIN today, want cheesy #manna.”)   According to our writer of Psalm 51, if those who promoted ritual sacrifice had a Facebook page, the Lord would not Like it.   There are several places in scripture, such as the passage below in Isaiah, where the Lord expresses dislike of sacrifices, wanting instead for people to dedicate their entire lives to God.              

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies . . . They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.   When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;  wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.   (Isaiah 1:13-17)

In other words, the Lord calls upon us to move beyond the merely symbolic and DO acts of love and mercy.  So you could Like this entry from God on Isaiah’s Facebook page.  But better yet, you could click on The Lord’s Twitter page where there’s another button you can click on — you can Follow.

 

Prayer

Dear God,

Draw us to you in reverence.  Hear us in our prayers.   Help us to meditate upon your holy Word.  But then stir us to get up and witness to you so that we embody and enact our faith in the world.

Amen

30a.  Like button

 

 

 

Declare your praise 29.  Declare your praise

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

– Psalm 51:14

There’s something very elemental about this verse that is vital to how we live our lives.   It has to do with sequence.  The psalmist asks the Lord to open his lips and then his mouth will declare God’s praise.   Everything begins with God.

So I’d like to invite you to interrupt this reading of this devotion and sit back for a moment and reflect for a moment on all that’s before you in your life.  What are all your to-dos?  What are the biggest challenges that are before you?  What is sapping your energy because it’s just too big, too much of a hassle, too difficult, or for whatever reason daunting for you?   Whatever that is, take a break for a couple moments and just lay it before God.  Ask for guidance, for strength, for understanding, for compassion, for courage, for patience.  And then meet me back in the next paragraph.

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I pray that God will open your lips, your mind, your heart or whatever is needed as you go forward in this day that has been given to us.

Another aspect of this verse which is so valuable is the simple idea of praise.  When do you praise someone?  Usually it’s when they’ve done a good job for something.  How often is it that we praise God in-between       Sundays?   How often do we praise the Lord for just this opportunity to be alive — whatever the challenges?   The psalms themselves are full of praise.  Even the so-called “psalms of lament” often conclude with a word of praise.   Psalm 22 contains the most famous lament from the Bible which is remembered by our Lord from the cross (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?).   But even this psalm will say:   “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you . . .  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.”     Let everything that lives and breathes praise the Lord.

 

Prayer

Praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD, O my soul.

I will praise the LORD all my life;

I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.   (Psalm 146:1-2)

Amen

 

My tongue will sing 28.  My tongue will sing

“. . .  and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.”

– Psalm 51:14b

Just yesterday I said something that I wish I hadn’t.   How about you?   How far do you have to go back to think of something that you wish you had phrased differently or perhaps didn’t utter at all?

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day and he told me about a book he was reading titled “The Power of Words.”   Are we mindful of the impact that our speech can have?  Of course the old adage of “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” is nonsense.   I have experienced the blunt impact of words myself on occasion; and I have witnessed or been told countless times of instances where words have been hurled with as much force as any stick or stone.   I bet you can remember a hurtful phrase spoken to you at some point in the past.   As the book of Proverbs observes,  Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing(Proverbs 12:18).

Perhaps the most stinging critique of our use of the tongue comes from the book of James:

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.   The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,   but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. (James 3:4-10)

I wonder if anyone reading this column has by chance taken a Lenten pledge to abstain from issuing any insults or even subtle slights.  Has anyone chosen to forego any mean-spirited criticism or spiteful gossip?   How might our daily interactions — from our conversations with family members to exchanges with total strangers at the supermarket — how would they be affected if we sought with great intention to speak at ALL times with charity, love, patience and humility?   James levels a further comment that might rebuke us all:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless”  (James 1:26).

Prayer

Dear Lord,

You have given us the beautiful gift of speech.  With it, we can share words of grace such as “I love you,”  “I’m sorry,”  “I forgive you,” or “wow, that was just great!”  The writer of psalm 51, upon being delivered from bloodshed by God, pledged to use their tongue “to sing aloud of your deliverance.”   Help us Lord, regardless of our immediate circumstances and regardless of the words spoken to us, help us to always use our tongues in a way that glorifies you and reflects our gratitude for your grace.

Amen