Archives for posts with tag: Lent

Right sacrificespraying in pew                                                                           

“then you will delight in right sacrifices,”

– Psalm 51:19a

The closing verse of Psalm 51 feels like a U-turn.   After saying in verse 16  For you have no delight in sacrifice,  the writer seems to take the opposite tack to describe a time when God will not only welcome, but delight in sacrifices.   For some scholars, this is one of the indications that verses 18 and 19 were later additions to the psalm.

While noting that real possibility, there’s another interpretation that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman suggests we might want to consider.  Might it be the case that once the psalmist approached God for mercy, once he acknowledged the stains on his life, once he sought to be cleansed, and once he offered a contrite heart — perhaps it was only then that the sacrifices that he offered were acceptable and pleasing to God.

We may have made some sacrifices during these weeks of Lent as we sought to follow our Lord to the cross. They may have included fasting, doing an extra service for others, or maybe foregoing some favorite food or other comfort.   Whatever it has been, I pray that along the way we have become just a bit more attuned to God’s mercy, just a bit more mindful of the rough or broken edges in our own lives, and a bit more grateful for the gift that awaits us at weeks’ end.

 

Prayer

Dear God,

We pray that you will accept our efforts to worship you , to serve you, and to serve those around us who are in need.   Nurture in us an even greater devotion and commitment to you and the gospel of our Lord and Savior.

Amen

 

Advertisements

Rebuild the walls34a.  Build

“. . . rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

– Psalm 51:17b

Our psalm has turned to a note of hope as we step into Holy Week.  The writer calls upon God in verse 17 to  “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

If this verse is a later addition to the psalm, then the circumstances of this verse is that Jerusalem is in ruins.   Her walls, the security of cities of the day, had been reduced to heaps of rubble during the Babylonian conquest.  The city, such as it was, was defenseless.

In just a few days now we will gather to commemorate that last supper in the upper room on Maundy Thursday; and then we’ll confront the darkness of Good Friday.   Imagining that the rock of our salvation, the cornerstone of our faith is going toward the cross and to his death is sorrowful and depressing.   On this side of the cross, the prospect that our Lord is preparing to suffer and die may leave us feeling like that Jerusalem of centuries ago — battered, in disarray, and defenseless.

And that’s the way it will be for a few days.

 

Prayer

Dear Lord,

Help us to walk with you as we make our way through this week.   As we go, we may need to step around the debris of our world and our lives.  There is too much brokenness around us and in us.  But thankfully your predictions of your passion also come with an assurance of your resurrection — a time of renewal and rebuilding.

Amen

 

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

 

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