Monday, July 30, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: The Boomerang Principle

Preached on Sunday, July 29, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 7; Matthew 7:7-23

As a child I was very confused about what Jesus said: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12) Children can be very practical, and this turned out to be not very practical advice. I thought it meant that if I was nice to other kids, they would be nice to me. But, you know, that doesn’t always work on the playground, or anywhere else for that matter.
Entering California from the north; Mt. Shasta in the clouds

The truth is that, being so practical, I saw doing to others as a kind of bargain. It was (potentially) a way of obligating other people to treat me the way I wanted to be treated. It was a way to get what I wanted.

When that failed, it became my way of being better than other kids. It became my way of earning points with Jesus who told me to do this. Looking at it this way made me both self righteous and unhappy at the same time; which explains so much about so many so-called “religious” people.

It’s a real failing. It’s a great scandal of the church. It requires a lot of insight in order to catch yourself at it, and it takes a lot of well aimed repentance when you do, because it grows like a weed, and it sends roots everywhere.

This is the temptation that hides behind the anger and the confusion of David who may have written this psalm, or the person who wrote this psalm for David’s royal family after him.

The anger revealed in this psalm, by David or one of the kings of the royal family of David, comes from a betrayal of the bargain implied by doing to others what you would have them do to you. There was a tradition that David stood for, and his family (as the royal family) stood for after him. It was a tradition of humble gallantry and generosity to friend and foe alike. They were not always good at the tradition, but it was the bargain they lived by.

David had started out as a simple shepherd boy who drove the predators from his father’s flocks and played his harp and sang to the sheep to calm them. Then he killed the giant Goliath with a sling shot and he became a successful commander of the troops under King Saul, and (at the same time) a sort of musical therapist for King Saul.

Little cinder cone next to Mt. Shasta
The Lord had chosen David to be king in Saul’s place, and David knew this, but he never said anything about it, and he never raised his hand against the king. David loved Saul and Saul’s family. He never bargained for his own importance or power. Sooner or later, it was always given to him.

King Saul grew suspicious of David’s influence even though Saul had given David that influence. Saul tried to kill David, and David ran away, and lived in the wilderness. Other fugitives were drawn to David so that he became the leader of something like a rogue militia; but he never used his men in any kind of resistance against the King. David protected the villages and tribes on the frontiers of the kingdom, and Saul would sometimes take his army out to catch David, and kill him and his men.

David, out in the wilderness, became a kind of Robin Hood who protected the defenseless, and raided the tribes who tried to raid the people of Israel. David had chances to ambush and capture and kill King Saul, but he refused to do that. In the end King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in a war against some of the enemy tribes, and the people made David king, in Saul’s place.

But Saul’s own tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, often played a part in resisting David and the kings who were descended from him. They accused David of treachery, and they treated his family’s claim to the throne as a trick and a fraud.

Sometime; in David’s time, or in the time of the kings who followed, there was a crisis in the kingdom. It was centered in Saul’s tribe, in the tribe of Benjamin. David and his family would have seen this crisis as a betrayal of their heritage of gallantry and generosity toward Saul and his family.

We are told (in the ancient heading of the psalm) that Cush was behind it, but we don’t have any idea who or what “Cush the Benjaminite” was. We don’t know if it was an individual, or some tribal unit of Benjamin. We don’t know what Cush did; only that it was of great danger to David, or his to family, or to the whole kingdom.

What would David have done? David would have reacted out of a sense of betrayal; with outrage and righteous indignation. This is what he would have felt that first time when he lost everything; when (in spite of his ferocious loyalty) his master, Saul, turned against him; when his colleagues in the royal court spoke against him to the king, and conspired against him.

Headed south through Sacramento Valley, northern California
“If I had done this…!” “If I had done this…!

David would have written that, if he had done to others what others were doing to him, he would have deserved the crisis that threatened to destroy him. If he had said about others what others were saying about him, then he would have deserved the crisis that threatened to destroy him.

David would have said this directly to God. He would have made it into a song in which the heart could wring every ounce of fury out of it. Here we have that song and it shows us a kind of miracle in which the personal outrage of David turns into a prayer that prays its way through fury into the strange peace and wisdom that follow. “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness.” (Psalm 7:17)

“O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands – if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me, or without cause have robbed my foe – then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.” (Psalm 7:3-5)

Psalm number seven is a song written for worship. It is a song to sing when the bargain breaks down, when trust is broken, when loyalty and generosity are betrayed, when the hurt goes deep.

David would have sung this song in the wilderness. The kings who ruled in his name would have had this song sung in their behalf in the temple Solomon had built. Jesus grew up singing this song about the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of generosity, and the strange peace and wisdom that follows.

Headed south through San Joaquin Valley, central California
This psalm shows us a kind of life with God that is common to all the psalms, but we are not always able to put it together. The psalms show us a way of life that is much too big for us. It stretches us by giving us more than we know what to do with.

This psalm is both fierce and serene. Some people are drawn to a ferociously intense faith. Other people want something calmer and they are afraid of that fierce faith.

Some people are drawn to a serenity of faith, and there are other people who are afraid of that serenity. They think it is a betrayal of the intensity that exists in God, and which God desires to share with us. How dare we quench God’s “flaming arrows”! ((Psalm 7:13)

Psalm number seven has a special lesson for us here. I was surprised by this. I was reading the comments written by the early Christians in the first few centuries of our faith. They lived ferociously intense lives in a world that was often violently opposed to them. They lived in a world that held them in contempt. Those threatened, endangered Christians saw, in this psalm, a special lesson about the ferocious intensity and the strange serenity and wisdom of the goodness of God.

They see the God whom (the psalm says) “expresses his wrath every day”. “He will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.” (Psalm 7:11-13)

And then, what; what happens? We expect God to thrust with his sword and to release his arrows, and what happens next?

In this psalm the God’s arrow never leaves the bow, but the target falls into a hole he has dug for himself. God’s sword never makes a thrust, but a liar is cut by his own lies. Those who betray the bargain, those who betray the innocence of others and their trust and generosity, betray themselves. “The trouble he causes recoils on himself.” (Psalm 7:16)

Headed into San Bernardino Mts. in southern California
Those who reject graciousness impregnate themselves with their own rejection. “He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment (or lies).” (Psalm 7:14) It is as if they cast a spell upon themselves.

Eugene Peterson has a more vivid way of putting this, in his paraphrase/translation. “Look at that guy! He had sex with sin, he’s pregnant with evil. O, look! He’s having the baby – a Lie-Baby!” And, as Peterson puts it, “That’s what happens, mischief backfires, violence boomerangs.” (Psalm 7:14, 16)

This is the moral and spiritual intensity of God. This is the anger of God. God relentlessly allows us to throw our boomerangs. His righteous sentence is that we will go on throwing these boomerangs of ill will, and anger, and frustration, and selfishness, and lust, and unfaithfulness with the design that these boomerangs will come back upon us.

We are the wrath of God upon ourselves. We see this clearly in other people's lives, and it is true of us, as well.

But the boomerang principle breaks down, because it is not your usual boomerang. When we through this boomerang, it often hits its target before it comes back on us. Those who were going to be hurt by their own intentions and by their own actions had hit David first, and he felt it. He was in pain.

This hurt made him into a volcano that seethed with anger and indignation. It also made him into a volcano with intelligent and trusting eyes that could see God’s wrath as the boomerang. Those who hit him would hit themselves as well.

David saw that the real evil of this world was the evil of the boomerang throwers. David’s thoughts began with the pain of the injuries that others caused him. In the end he saw that the fact of most lasting importance was not the harm that the boomerang throwers did to him, but the harm they did to themselves.

This is not the way we think. God has designed his righteousness and judgment not as a form of punishment, but as a method which allowed the throwers, and their throwing business, to disable themselves. They would make themselves a dying breed.

In the center of this song the whole world gets gathered together by God as a fellowship of boomerang throwers. We will all stand together for the judgment of God.

"Rim of the World" in San Bernardino Mts.
When the writer says, Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness.” He is not claiming to be better than his attackers. He is claiming to be in the right when they have done him this wrong. But David trusts that he will also stand in that fellowship of boomerang throwers.

David knows that God is a God “who searches minds and hearts”. (Psalm 7:9) David knows that his own mind and heart will be searched. David would face more that the working of an impersonal law of the boomerang. He would face his personal responsibility to a personal God.

God is all about relationships. This is what we mean when we say that the God of the Bible is a God of covenants. God covenants and holds relationships with his creations. God, by nature, shields what he has made. God shelters what he has made. This is why David sings about, “My shield is God most high.”  (Psalm 7:10) This is why he sings, O Lord my God, I take refuge in you.”  (Psalm 7:1)

God is angered by the breaking of his shields and the invasion of the shelters he has put around his creatures. But God, in his anger, does not forget the value of those shields and shelters. They are made for people. They are made for souls. God continues to deal with us as people and as souls.

So the psalm tells us that, in this anger God, searches hearts and minds; just as a loving parent searches the heart and soul of a child who has done something wrong. God relates and deals with us as people, even though he rules us “from on high”; from a level we cannot imagine.

In the end, Jesus says that the people who call him “Lord” and who think they have done all kinds of wonderful things for him will have minds and hearts that are unrecognizable to him. Jesus tells us that he will say to them, “I never knew you.” Just as the worst evil in the psalm is the evil that people boomerang upon themselves, so there is an evildoing that makes our minds and our hearts unrecognizable to God in Christ.

The wisdom of Jesus that says, “Do to others what you would have them do to you,” is not a bargain, or a way of earning points, or a way of obligating others, or obligating God.
A bit of freeway near the San Bernardino Mts.

It is the humble gallantry and generosity that imitates the grace of God. It is God’s way of teaching us to live in his grace and to get familiar with it, to get used to it; to do for others what God has done for us. It is really the grace of God in Christ for us.

It is God’s heart and mind. It is what we see when we look at the cross of Jesus. Jesus knows us (he recognizes us) when he sees the way of his cross in us. We take refuge in the Lord when we abandon the boomerang life and trust him to be our shield, when we go forth and live as he says, with gallantry and generosity for others.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Intimate Creation

tomatillo blossom
My God, you are a good Father,
With a loving purpose for me;
Molding me to show your greatness,
Demonstrating all your beauty.
Lord, that I may fulfill your will,
Let me pattern my life with you.

Father, you made in me a mind
To think about you and your plan,
To creatively comprehend
The meaning of where you put me.
That I may grow wise in your light,
Lord, let my thoughts return to you.

My Father, you gave me a tongue
To speak of your wonderful ways,
Of your residence in my world.
I am taught by your justice, Lord,
And your mercy gladly heals me.
Let me be found telling of you.

Father, you gave me flesh and bone
As a doorway to your purpose:
Solid comfort for my neighbor.
Christ lived in his flesh to save me.
Let him live now in my own flesh.
Lord, through me, let others know you.

My God, in each part of my life
You offer me your strong presence.
Father, work in my thought, my word.
Plant your action in my action,
Until I delight in your will.
Lord, let me always enjoy you.

Dennis Evans, November 24, 1975, revised

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: The Battle of Tears

Preached on Sunday, July 22, 2012 

Scripture Readings: Psalm 6; Mark 14:32-42

I remember, about the age of twelve, learning to play a new game. There was no name for this game. You played by hitting another boy in the arm, and he hit you back in your arm. Then you hit him back, harder. Then he hit you back, harder; and the two of you went on like this until one of you quit. It wasn’t a very good game. It was only popular for about one week, and then it disappeared. Everyone went on to play other games.
Pictures at a Nature Preserve Near Long Beach CA

Sometimes a boy would get a tear in his eye right before he quit. I wasn’t one of those. But I did quit first.

That was a boy’s battle against tears. We belong to a culture that fights against tears. Jesus grew up in a different culture where men were not ashamed to weep openly. It is a well known fact that “Jesus wept”. (John 11:35)

Psalm 6 tells us about tears. The heading tells us that this is a “psalm of David” which means that it could have been written by David, who also wept. (2 Samuel 15:30 &18:33)

If it wasn’t written by David himself then it was written for him, or for his family, after him. It was a royal psalm. It would have been sung in the Temple, on behalf of the king, tears and all.

There is a tradition that has led this psalm of tears to be one of the standard daily prayers of the Jewish people. If you are an observant Jew, you probably begin each day, except for the Sabbath, with this psalm.

Think of what shape your life might take if you learned to begin each day with these words. “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love…. I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood by bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (Psalm 6:1-4, 6)

Whether or not it was one of the daily morning prayers, in ancient times, Jesus still grew up singing this song in worship. The Book of Psalms was the hymnbook from which all his neighbors sang.

These words were the words of God, in worship, that shaped the incarnate Son of God; the God who made himself human in Jesus. The battle of tears, in this psalm, defined, in some way, the identity of Jesus. They tell us about the identity of God.

In spite of all the talk, in this psalm, about anger, and wrath, and faintness, and agony, and anguish, and death, and enemies, this psalm is the first psalm that reveals a special pattern. It is a pattern that happens over and over again in the psalms, and in all the scriptures. It is a pattern that revolves around the point of one essential element in the lives of God’s people.

This psalm shows us the pattern of faith, the miracle of faith; and this faith revolves around the one essential element of faith: the unfailing love of God. “Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.”

I couldn’t see this, at first, because, as I studied this psalm, I became obsessed and distracted by everything that obsessed and distracted the writer of the psalm: anger, and wrath, and faintness, and agony, and anguish, and death, and enemies. These things are very important. They are huge things, and we will come to other psalms that shed light upon them all.

What makes the pattern clear (the pattern of the miraculous power of the unfailing love of God), is that this is a prayer in which the dark and agonizing things don’t go away; at least, not all at once. But they drop out of the way, they drop out of importance.

Suddenly the unfailing love of God stands at the center. The person in the middle of this prayer suddenly changes from a desperate person to a confident person; from a person of fear to a person of peace and hope.

We don’t see how the change happens. The psalm doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t explain, how it happens. But this psalm is a prayer, and it is in the middle of the prayer (or at the end of the prayer) that this miracle, this change, appears.

It seems like an awfully short prayer for such a huge change, but it is only the summary of a long, long prayer. This prayer is just the tip of an iceberg of prayer. It is the liner notes of a continuing saga of prayer. “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (Psalm 6:6) “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3)

Here is someone who is almost sick of praying. He is worn out. He sees no answer. He weeps, and weeps, and weeps, and weeps, and he is still praying, and then it changes. He changes: “For the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:8b-9)

We don’t really know where his need for mercy was the greatest. We don’t know, for certain, what the source of his tears was. He mentions foes and enemies, but maybe his enemies were his mistakes and his very real sins.

Maybe he was facing the consequences of bad and selfish decisions he had made. David had to do that.

David did terrible things that destroyed much of his family. He nearly destroyed his kingdom. Maybe his own actions were his enemies, and so he felt the anger of God focused upon him.

The psalm begins where we never think to begin. The person who is praying thinks he might be to blame for the crisis, or the conflict, he feels. Almost the first thing he does is ask for mercy.

Is it me, Lord? Am I the cause of my own grief?

When we are in that place, we cannot ask God to take away our consequences, but our battle of tears with God can be the beginning of a miracle. God may not remove the consequences, but God gives us a new heart to face those consequences, and the life that comes afterward.

In the case of our own guilt, our foes will fall “in disgrace” because we will survive them as transformed people. The old self in us does die under their attack, but there is a new person in our place, because we are new in God’s workmanship. We have peace with God because we have faced the worst in ourselves and we have surrendered to the unfailing love of God.

 The psalm is a prayer for healing. Was it a prayer for the healing of sin, and guilt, and shame? Or was it a prayer for the healing of illness? He tells about the agony in his bones. That is the core and foundation of the body. Everything hangs on the bones. Was he so ill that he ached all over?

At the end of the prayer, he does not tell us that he has been healed by that prayer. He tells us that his enemies (perhaps his illness) will be put to shame and dismayed.

If you are ill, or if you have a condition that you live with that goes on and on, what would it mean for you that, in your future, your illness will be the enemy that is ashamed and dismayed?

What if the source of tears was a real conflict with real enemies? Or maybe there can be conflicts that go on and on without there being people who set themselves up as enemies. They would never think of themselves as enemies, but they seem to always make good things stop happening; at least, so it seems.

Sometimes our frustrations and our conflicts are so big that they make us feel sick. We stop being ourselves. We may even go crazy. Or we worry till our bones ache.

What would it mean to live in such a struggle, or with such frustration, without anger, without fear, without agony and anguish? It would be a victory when you live in the strength of the unfailing love of God. It’s possible that nothing has changed but your own heart. And that can make all the difference in the world.

I would tell you this. This is what I have found. You can fight a battle with tears. You can go somewhere and pray your way through it. You pray through the darkness, and God makes his presence known in the darkness, and God gives you light.

Perhaps your own bed is a good place to go, as the psalm tells us; if you can go there and pray without keeping someone else awake. Go somewhere, and pray your fears, and angers, and doubts, and pains, and weariness to God.

Pray and weep. There is more courage and hope and endurance in doing this than you might think. David did this, and he was a warrior. He was a prayer warrior He was a real fighter with sword, and shield, and arrows and spears. His life of fighting taught him to pray, even with his tears.

The boys’ battles against tears will never work here. Sometimes you have to cross a forbidden line. You have to fight through your tears, and pray though your tears to peace.

Jesus sang this song all his life; this song about the battle of tears; this song of weeping your way to victory. Jesus was not a weeper by nature, or else little children would not have come to him. If Jesus was a weeper, he wouldn’t have been invited by sinners to so many of their parties. But Jesus was not afraid of the battle of tears.

Jesus used this psalm by example. When Jesus faced the cross (as if he were looking down the barrel of a gun) he prayed through his fears and his weeping into victory. He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Mark 14:34) When he prayed through his sorrow he was ready to say, “Let’s go!”

There is a double link between Jesus and his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and with this psalm. Jesus prayed his way through the depths of his agony and sorrow to courage and strength. That was his battle of tears.

Jesus prayed because he was facing enemies. His enemies were the foreseeable pain of his arrest, and his beatings, and the nails in his hands and feet, and the thorns in his head. His enemies were the people who were going to do this to him and laugh at him while they did it.

The enemies of Jesus were our sins; the hurts we cause and the hurts that are done to us. His enemies were the world of pain, and sickness, and death, which we face. His enemies were all that separates us from our neighbors, and all that separates us from ourselves, and all that separates us from God.

Jesus battled his enemies (and ours) through his tears in the garden, as well as through his sacrifice on the cross. Then he rose from the dead.

All the evil in the world could kill him only if he let it; but it couldn’t defeat him. He could rise and say the words that he had sung all his life: “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.” (Psalm 6:10) Our own enemies, whatever they may be, also turn back in disgrace, because of Jesus who fought through tears and rose from the dead.

Jesus made the unfailing love of God become more than the words of a song. He made himself into that song of life for us; that song that takes us through tears to strength and hope. Jesus became the song that makes a miracle happen and we become new again through him.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

All Hallows

Embrace the golden splendor where it breaks
From folds of god-like garments. The shimmering
Harvest of my friends around me ripens in
The light reflected from the light which falls
Upon the broadening crowd. Breathe in reverence!
And whisper wondering, life-awakening words;
Living words inspired by rising beauty.
Contagious witness, praise, ripples the field
Of souls; praise at their glimpse of One enthroned:
“World-Making-Saving-Word”! The unity,
Redemption’s tide, where love and justice meet,
With wounded hands, to bring the ransomed home
Begins the chorus. Sung from one heart,
It spirals to an all-including round,
Resurging, swelling on, in waves of time;
And to the beat of ages echoing.
So, in the Lord’s eternal feast, the share
Of glory, joy, and praise will always grow.

Dennis Evans
1975, 1987

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ministry of Ravens and the Rest of God's Strange Help

Preached on Sunday, July 15, 2012; a revision of a sermon preached July 24, 2011.

Scripture readings: 1 Kings 17:1-9; Mark 2:13-17

Elijah was a prophet in the northern part of Israel. He lived after the great days of King David and King Solomon. The united kingdom of Israel had been divided between the northern and the southern tribes.

A Yucca Tree at the Back of the Family Home 
King Ahab ruled the northern tribes. He had married the princess Jezebel, the daughter of the king of the Phoenician city state of Sidon, in what is now Lebanon. It was a lucky political match, because it gave northern Israel an alliance with the great naval and trading power of the Phoenicians.

But it was an unholy match. Jezebel and her parents looked down on Israel’s worship of such a primitive God as the Lord, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses: the God of smelly shepherds and slaves. How hideous!

Jezebel was determined to spiritually reform Israel to a civilized faith full of the Phoenician designer gods and designer goddesses who were equipped to serve your every need for listed prices. There was a weather god. There was a sex goddess. There was a money god, and much, much more.

The few prophets and priests left who were determined to remain faithful to the Lord had the choice of hiding or being killed. Even though all seemed lost, there were still people who helped them hide at the risk of their own lives.

King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, backed by the money and power of Sidon, seemed to represent the winning side. They were the civilized side, the intelligent side, the cool side, the side of the future.

But God had a different idea, and he put his plan in motion through a peasant dressed in a goat-hair robe (see 2 Kings 1:8) named Elijah. Elijah came up to the king and said, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there will be neither dew nor rain in the years ahead except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)

As it was, Queen Jezebel’s people, and her husband Ahab, had the god Baal on their side. Baal’s specialties were rain and storms. Elijah was defying one of their most impressive gods. Elijah was defying the new order of things. He was defying the future.

More than that, Elijah was making himself a special target. He was claiming to be the Lord’s agent for rain. The king and queen would have to bargain directly with Elijah and meet his terms, or else kill him. Knowing them, they would choose killing.

Who Is That On the Roof?
So God moved to the next part of his plan. We read that: ‘The word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Leave here… and hide!” (1 Kings 17:2-3) Elijah hid in one of the best hiding places in Israel, the Kerith Ravine. It was so good a hiding place that we have no idea where it is today. And, “Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening.” 1 Kings 17:6)

These ravens are important. The Lord took care of Elijah by means of the ravens. In fact, this meeting with the king, and the orders to hide and be fed by ravens, were all a part of God’s plan to train Elijah.

The hiding of Elijah was not wasted time. For Elijah it was his introduction to the providence of God. Providence is the tender loving care (the providing care) of God. What happened in the ravine with the ravens taught Elijah to trust God’s care.

It showed him what God’s care looked like. It showed what God expected of Elijah and of us.

The ravens tell us that God’s care does not isolate us from the world, or from the needs of others. Ravens are carrion eaters. They were labeled as unclean by the Jewish law. They could not be offered to God in sacrifice because, according to the Law of Moses, they were dirty and unfit for the presence of God. They were forbidden as food, and to eat raven meat would make the eater unclean, dirty, and unfit to come into the presence and worship of God.

They were messengers of the presence of weakness, sickness, death, and rot. They reminded Elijah of the starvation and death that was going on around him, even though he could not see it from his hiding place.

Elijah had been commanded by God to denounce the evil of his world, and to speak God’s judgment against it. And then it was the strange help that God gave to Elijah to make him remember the starvation, and sickness, and death of his own people twice a day, when the ravens came.

It is God’s strange help to his people, and to us, to remember the suffering of others. The early Christians interpreted the hiding, and the isolation, and the strange feeding of Elijah as God’s way of teaching him compassion and love for others. The ravens are a message from God to say that we, as Christians, need to remember our connection with the needs of the world around us, even when those needs are out of sight, and even when we have more than others.

Oh It's Me, Cutting Down the Yucca with a Chainsaw!
Every day Elijah was visited by carrion birds. They reminded him of his own danger because, without God’s care, he could have the same fate as so many others of his own people. He could have become raven food.

It wasn’t just the drought and famine that put him in danger. It was Elijah’s faithfulness to God that put him in danger. He would be at risk as long as he served.

Something deep within us tells us that it is not quite safe to listen to God. That is why, when I was a kid, I didn’t want to go into the ministry. Even if you don’t become a pastor or a missionary there is always a risk in serving God. Even if you lead church music, or choose music for others to sing, or teach Sunday school, or work with a youth group, or serve on some church board or committee, there is the danger of standing out. There is the danger of a thankless job that everyone has a better idea of than you do.

There is the danger of you causing actual harm to others because God has made you responsible for others. You are there to help, and you can make mistakes that do the opposite of help. And God has put you in a place where everything you say and do has expectations. People will judge God and they will judge the gospel by what you say and do.

One perfect spring day, I was taking my long walk out by the Snake and Palouse rivers and I found a nice place to sit down. There was some grass and a place to lean back. It was perfect. I drifted into contemplation and from there into sleep.

All of a sudden, I woke to the sound of the flapping of big wings. I jumped out of sleep and saw a big black bird take off, just as startled as I was. I couldn’t tell what kind of bird flew off. I think I was visited by a curious buzzard, but it could have been a crow or a raven.

It is God’s strange help to remind us that we are at some kind of risk when we follow the steps where the Lord’s love and goodness lead us. Elijah read this good and helpful advice from God in the face of those ravens, every day.

If you have livestock out grazing somewhere and you drive or ride out to see them, and you see big black birds circling and descending, you want to see what they are up to. You know you have to go and see whatever there is to see, whether you like it or not.

For the rest of us, we drive along the highway and see the same big dark birds in formation, and then we see the red spot on the road. If we were like Elijah and saw the ravens come to us with gifts of food in their talons, how would we feel about that food?

Most of It Is Down. The Rest Goes Next Year.
The bread and meat in the raven’s claws were not raven food. They were people food. Still we would know where else those claws had been. We would feel a little queasy at the thought of eating that meal.

In Elijah’s world, only rich people ate meat every day. Only the richest people ate meat twice a day. Where would the rich people get their meat in those days when livestock everywhere were dying from the drought? Something in me wonders if the ravens flew twice each day to the royal palace in Samaria where they stole from the king’s and queen’s food and brought it back to Elijah.

I don’t know. Only it seems that Elijah ate like a king while he was in hiding deep in Kerith Ravine.

Even if angels prepared those meals, they were delivered in those awful, stinking claws. Elijah had been raised to hate the sight of ravens but, in the course of time, they became like angels to him. They became the messengers of God and God’s care for him.

Imagine there are people in your world who are like the ravens. Imagine there are people you don’t want to see, or talk to, or have anything to do with. Those may be God’s ravens.

I have ravens who visit me. The ones I see the most often are the people others laugh at or look down on. There is always a person or a family who have some kind of trouble that makes them undesirable to others. There is a neediness of some kind. It might be a financial neediness. More often it is a neediness of the mind or the emotions. Often this neediness makes them difficult to be around, difficult to relate to. Often there is a neediness that never seems to go away, and no amount of patience, and time, and advice, and effort seems to make a difference. These ravens seldom feed me, but they often remind me of my own need for grace.

Some surprising people become ravens. There are perfectly good and innocent people who become ravens so that others avoid the very sight of them. People in nursing homes become ravens, especially if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s. I knew a husband who wouldn’t visit his wife because he hated to see how she had changed. People with cancer become ravens, even though cancer is not contagious. People who have lost their life’s work or even their home become ravens. People in the depth of grief become ravens. Old friends, and even their own families, avoid them, because they don’t know what to say to them. It is hard to know what to say with such people.

Friend and Neighbor Ottis Who Helped So Much
Jesus told a parable about how those people we might try to avoid are his most important representatives. If we claim to have loved him without accepting his ravens, he will say this to us: “Depart from me….For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me….I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

If you read the story of what happened after the brook of Kerith dried up, you will see how Elijah learned this lesson. He went, as the Lord commanded, to the land of Sidon, the land of Queen Jezebel. There in the land of Sidon he found a widow and her son who were starving and preparing their last meal.

The famine and death in Israel had spread to the people of Jezebel the Terrible. This was news that would have made people like Elijah glad. The widow and her son were people who worshiped Jezebel’s gods and knew nothing better.

Elijah moved into their home and took care of them in miraculous ways. (1 Kings 17:7-24) They would have been nothing but ravens to him, and here he found himself becoming part of their family, for a while.

Elijah, in his coat of goat-hair, became their special raven. He brought them gifts from God that kept them alive. And when the boy got sick, and died, Elijah raised him from the dead. (1 Kings 17:17-23)

We really are ravens ourselves. Surely there are people who aren’t glad to see us coming. Let’s pray to be ravens sent by God for them, in spite of ourselves.

Jesus was, and is, the ultimate raven. He was feared and hated by the best people in the world, by the best of the people of God. They crucified him because they found him offensive, and his cross just made him look all the more disgraceful. On the cross, Jesus became dead meat to save a world that is full of the decay of heartlessness.

Wildfowers by the Old Barn
The good people, the religious people didn’t want to get too close to Jesus. They didn’t want to listen to him because Jesus attracted the wrong kind of people. Jesus attracted the people they laughed and or spoke ill of. Jesus attracted the people they wanted to avoid. He even made disciples out of them. It was as if he drew flies; or crows and ravens.

The truth is that Jesus drew to himself the people who knew their own tremendous and desperate need. I hope that includes us.

Through the awful things of his humility, and his suffering and death, grace comes to us in the places of desert and drought in our lives. The inner healing and the comfort of Jesus (for which we yearn and ache) come to us in our isolation and in our hiding places. Through his life, and his cross, and his resurrection Jesus brings us healing, and mercy, and a new life every day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: A Prayer for the Gauntlet

 Preached on Sunday, July 8, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 5; Matthew 23:13-39

Feather River, East of Live Oak CA
In the center of my high school, two hallways joined together to make a “T”. The top of the “T” began at the main door and the school offices. It crossed the upright part of the “T”, and went on to the rear of the building, to the science room, and to the gymnasium. The center of the top of the “T” is where you “ran the gauntlet”.

Our student body could have been called a hierarchy, a “pecking order”, a totem pole, or a “food chain”. The students at the top of the order formed the gauntlet. I should say it was the male members of the top of the order who formed the gauntlet.

You know that “running the gauntlet” is a kind of ordeal. Sometimes it is an initiation into a higher rank of the order. Usually it is a form of punishment or humiliation forced on prisoners, or on defeated enemies, or on losers of some kind by the victors, by the winners, by those at the top of the order.

In a real gauntlet you are forced to run between two lines which are armed with clubs, or with sticks, or hands and fists, and they do with you whatever they want. In our high school it was not a true gauntlet, but the dominant class of boys stood along one side of the hall and made wise cracks, or faces, or just stood there looking superior to everyone who passed by.

Trail by Feather River
You may find this surprising, but I was not a member of the dominant class. I was just one of many who were forced, every day, to run the gauntlet. One member of the dominant class was a boy who was called “Buzz”. Buzz seemed to feel a special calling in life to take a personal interest in harassing me every day.

I remember once, between classes, when I was alone with him and he was taunting me, and giving me a bad time, and I was trying to ignore him. Buzz said, “You hate my guts, don’t you, Evans?”

It took me a second to answer, during which time I thought to myself that I didn’t want to hate him, but I wasn’t sure I was being very successful at it. Then, I said, “I don’t hate you. We’re just different.” That was all I said.

It was a struggle. I wanted to be a good person. I knew that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44) I loved Jesus, and I wanted to do what Jesus wanted. More than that, I knew that Buzz knew this about me, and he had devoted himself to making a mockery of my desire for goodness and my desire to love Jesus.

Buzz was sure that he could prove that I was a phony, and a fake, and a hypocrite. He did everything he could to break down my resistance. I knew in my heart that Buzz was not far from the truth.

I also knew enough about the Bible, even then, to know that there was a lot of talk, in the Bible, about enemies, and the hatred of one’s enemies, and God’s hatred of evil. I knew that Jesus himself could be hot in his anger against the people who seemed to be his enemies; or was he?

There is a lot of talk about enemies and hatred in the Book of Psalms, and this talk had been set to music by the people who wrote them. The Psalms were the hymns of God’s people. They sang these songs during their worship.

Jesus grew up singing these words. “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.” (Psalm 5:4-6) This was one of Jesus’ songs of worship and praise all his life.

But Jesus did say, “Love your enemies.” Here is Jesus speaking for God. And Jesus prayed for his enemies while they were killing him on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Here is Jesus, loving his enemies with the compassion and mercy of the heart of God.

Do you know what it’s like to know, for certain, you have done the work of the Devil? I do. So I have been interested, for a long time, in understanding what it means to hate the enemies of God. I want to know where I stand, and what to expect. I want to know what hope I have.

I am not bloodthirsty, so maybe I am off the hook. After all, the writer of the psalm was talking about “bloodthirsty men”. (5:6)

I was talking to someone about the gospel. I was telling them about sin and our need for the saving love of God in Christ. The response of this person was they were not a sinner; they had not killed anyone. They said, “I’m not a sinner. I haven’t killed anyone.

I was surprised by this. I thought they were setting the standard rather low, and I had the feeling that what they said was misleading. Even if they hadn’t killed anyone, they knew they were a sinner. It was a kind of dishonesty. And doesn’t the psalm here tell us that God will “destroy those who tell lies”? (5:6)

Trail by Feather River
Even the matter of lies is hard. The truth is hard. The truth can hurt.

I knew this girl in college who would often quote the Apostle Paul’s phrase about, “speaking the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) She spoke the truth all the time; and it was not very nice. The truth can be used as a weapon.

What can a perfectly innocent husband say when his wife asks him a question such as, “Do you like this dress on me?” or “Do these pants make my thighs look fat?” Imagine the trouble that an innocent husband can get into; answering such questions. Maybe you can tell the truth in a lovingly redemptive way, “Honey, I love your thighs in those pants.”

I noticed a number of connections between Jesus and the words of this psalm (Psalm 5) One connection comes where Jesus lashes out against his enemies, the Pharisees (this party of people within the Jewish religion of those times who tried to make God’s laws into formal, practical, measurable things). “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27) What an interesting thing, to compare a version of holiness with death.

Jesus hated the way they took the life out of living. They took the spirit out of the life that God had designed for his people. Jesus saw a contagious deadening of the spirit. “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But your have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23)

You see the connection with tombs and graves, because justice, mercy, and faithfulness are living things. They contain more of the feeling and passion of life than setting apart a tenth of everything, even when that tenth part is a gift for God and his work.

The psalm says, “Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.” (5:9) There is a way of talking that creates a death of the spirit.

Tree Trunk by Feather River
The Pharisees were angry with Jesus because he spent time with people they considered to be enemies: collaborators with the Roman invaders, people who were not interested in the ways of God, and the people who knew the law and broke it. They considered these people to be the enemies. Jesus was the friend of their enemies; and the friend of their enemy was their enemy. This is what they thought of when they sang Psalm 5 in worship.

Jesus thought of the Pharisees and their like when he sang this psalm in worship. “Their throat is an open grave.” Their words deadened the passion of the life for which God made us.

C. S. Lewis wrote a novel about an unfallen world; a perfect world, where the first woman (the Eve of that world) was being tempted to do the one thing that was forbidden in her world. The tempter tempted her by telling her stories about the women in our world who broke forbidden boundaries in order to make things better for those who were not brave enough to break those boundaries for themselves. Sometimes the women in the tempter’s stories died because of what they dared to do.

The Eve character in that unfallen world did not understand what death was, and so she asked the tempter, “What is death? Are you trying to teach me death?” And the tempter said, “Yes, I have come that you might have death, and have it abundantly.”

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus was born into our world, and our human life, in order recreate our world and our life. Jesus faced temptation and overcame it. He faced the sins of others and forgave them. He faced hypocrisy and injustice and exposed it. Then he prayed for them on the cross.

He shouldered the sins of the world on the cross. He became the sacrifice that takes away our sins, as we see him and trust in him. He became our new life, and our new world, by rising from the dead. We enter that new life and that new world as we see him and trust in him.

Feather River, East of Live Oak, CA
This mercy and life are a gift that no one can measure, and it requires us to stop measuring ourselves and others. It requires us to live by grace. It requires us to be givers of mercy and life to those around us. It requires us to be builders and not destroyers.

Think of this on a very small scale. I am eight years older than my youngest sister, Nanci. When Nanci was about two or three years old she had very plump cheeks. At that time, there was a TV western called Bonanza, and it was the story of a rancher with three sons. One of those sons was a man with very plump cheeks, who was called “Hoss”. Someone in our family started calling Nanci “Hoss”. It wasn’t my mom, or my sister Kathie. It might have been me. It might have been my dad.

It seemed like an innocent joke or a little teasing, but Nanci remembers it to this day. It was not funny to her. It was a little stab. It was also, really, a lie; a lie that stuck. It drew blood. It was a little work of the Devil. It was a little word of death.

The writer of the psalm mentions the words and the throats of the enemies because words are powerful. Even the people thousands of years ago were more than wise enough to know this.

The world we live in is no better, and since we have a lot more words buzzing around us, with all the news and commentary, and the internet, words are more powerful than ever. It is a good thing that the Bible was designed to speak about this to such an educated and civilized world as ours!

Our words, as well as our actions, stab, in countless ways, the lives of others, and we even do it to ourselves because our brains are self-programming. We take away life when we take away, by our words, what people are supposed to know about themselves as creations of God.

Peach Orchard, East of Live Oak, Irrigation
God hates this. It is the plan of God for this to stop. We know whose side we are on by what side we take; by the side our lives prove that we love.

Even this ancient song knew the secret of the answer of God to this problem in our world, and this problem in our lives. “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies – make straight your way before me.” (5:8)

From my own experience, I find that my enemies are not a threat simply because they are against me. They are threat because I find it so easy to be just like them and take their methods as my own.

I should say that I have no enemies. I always say that I can get along with anyone. The problem is that not everyone can get along with me.

I haven’t changed that much since I was sixteen and running the gauntlet in school. I know what enemies are, even though I think I don’t want to be one; or do I?

The picture of the enemies in the psalms is there for us; not to identify the enemies on the outside. The picture of our enemies is there to warn us not to become the enemy ourselves. Our enemies are so tempting. We would so like to be them, just once or twice. The Bible is designed and inspired to be like a mirror that shows us our own face; what we are, what we might be, what we could be.

The scriptures are also inspired to be the mirror of the Lord’s face in Christ. We need the Lord to lead us; not in our righteousness, but in his righteousness. We need to not find our own way. We need for him to make his way straight (and accessible) for us.

Irrigation District Mowing the Canal East of Live Oak
Jesus grew up singing this song of our need for God’s righteousness to come into our hearts. We need God’s righteousness to save us from becoming the enemy. Jesus grew up singing this song of the prayer that the Lord would it possible for us to walk upon God’s own personal path.

Jesus grew up to bring God’s righteousness into human hearts. Jesus grew up to become “the way”: “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) He came to be with us so that we can live through him. This is what we come back to, over and over again, every day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: A Faith-Based Nation

Preached Sunday, July 1, 2017

Scripture Readings: Psalm 33; James 5:7-11

The Book of the Psalms is basically the prayer book, or the worship book, of the people of Israel, who are the root and the beginning of all the people of God, the beginning of us. There are words and thoughts in the Book of Psalms for anything in the human condition; anything you might feel, or be concerned about; anything you might be angry about, or afraid of; anything you might be happy about, and wanted to express in the presence of God.

A Kildeer on Patrol
This Book of Psalms, this book of prayer and worship, gives us a surprising freedom in how we pray. It allows us to be very bold. Think of the words that begin another Psalm; words of worship at the start of Psalm twenty-two: “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

These are God’s words. They became the words of Jesus on the cross. They are God’s permission for you to say the very same words in your own prayer and worship.

So, the Book of Psalms runs the spectrum of pretty much everything that you could ever need in order to live as an authentic worshiper of God, in this world. To be true worshipers of God, with our roots deep in the prayers of the Book of Psalms, is to be very bold and daring people indeed.

Have you ever thought how bold and daring a thing it is to say words like those that we read in the Psalm this morning: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love?” (Psalm 33:5) These are bold and daring words.

My first thought was that this way of seeing things came from a special kind of faith; a high level of faith, an especially mature faith. But it doesn’t come from a special faith at all. It comes from basic, simple faith. This was our faith when we first became people of faith. The ability to say that the earth is full of the unfailing love of the Lord is simply what faith is. It is how we live as God’s people, when we are living in fellowship with a God we really know.

My copy of the Jewish Study Bible tells me that Psalm 33 is a traditional and standard part of the opening prayers of worship in Jewish synagogues. It is how they begin their regular Sabbath morning service.

So these words define what worship is. They tell us what it means to live, in this world, as worshipers of God. We say: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of this unfailing love.”

These are the thoughts of a simple faith. But they are not necessarily the words of a simplistic faith. They are not the point of view of someone who hasn’t lived or paid attention to the way the world works.

When did the people of Israel ever live through a time when it was possible to think that the world was not a complicated and dangerous place? No, it was always, for them, a bold and daring thing to say: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

When they lived in their own land, when they lived by their own laws (God’s own laws), in the days when these words were written, they were bold and daring words, because, often enough, God’s own people ignored the righteousness of the Lord. They ignored his justice, because they didn’t show that justice themselves. You would not have looked at the people of God and been impressed with how their lives reflected the Lord’s unfailing love.

Killdeer Using Decoy Tactics
They were often not very nice people. And yet they prayed these words. What are we, when we pray these words, ourselves, or read them in worship? Are we worthy to say these words?

Jesus grew up singing these words in the synagogue, in Nazareth. The boy Jesus and the man Jesus sang, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” So he died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to recreate the kingdom of God where this song could be sung from the heart.

Through the change of human hearts, which comes through faith in him, Jesus began a new world. He planted the seeds of a new heaven and earth full of the unfailing love of the God who became Jesus. He plants the seeds of a new heaven and earth in our hearts through faith.

Our calling is to be part of that new kingdom, now. And our calling is also to call other people to that kingdom that is planted in our hearts by faith.

It is natural for such people to want to reproduce that kingdom all around them.  This is what the church is for. This is what our way of life is supposed to be within our families, among our neighbors, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world. Jesus has made it part of our new nature because Jesus lives in us by faith.

There is so much to think about here, but (since we celebrate our Independence Day this week) one point is that this bold and daring faith is one of the sources of the courage behind the American Revolution and the American Experiment. You would think that those who believed that the earth was already full of the Lord’s unfailing love would never have the drive or the gumption to do anything bold and daring. But enough of the citizens of the first colonies had this faith, and it led them to defend themselves against the taking away, and the restriction, of the rights and freedoms they had enjoyed for more than a century, since the original founding of those colonies. Faith made them bold and daring and active.

Because the representatives of the colonies, at the Second Continental Congress, in 1776, believed that the Lord loves righteousness and justice, they approved the Declaration of Independence where it said that they were: “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.” They could make that appeal to God because they believed that God loves righteousness and justice.  Righteousness and justice were what their intentions were all about.

Killdeer Saying, "Look at Me! Look at Me!"
And their declaration said that they were supporting their struggle for independence: “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” They relied on God’s protection and power because they believed that the earth was full of his unfailing love.

They didn’t know what would happen to them on account of their boldness and daring. They didn’t know if they would live to see their cause succeed. They did believe that they loved righteousness and justice, and that they could do what they believed was right and just in a world that was full of the unfailing love of the Lord. They would do what was right and just, even though they might die for it in a world full of the unfailing love of the Lord.

Another bold and daring thing to believe as worshiping people in this world is the faith that says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12)

One of the major forms of entertainment in the colonies up to the time of the Revolution, and afterward, was the Sunday Sermon. Preachers of that time often compared their community or their colony to the stories about people of Israel in the Old Testament.

Preachers would compare the issues and temptations of their day with the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness; or the temptations of Israel to worship false gods, or to mingle with the pagans once they had settled in the Promised Land. And so, the people of the thirteen colonies often thought of themselves as Israel. They often thought of their successes and failures as the results their faithfulness or their unfaithfulness to a covenant with the Lord.

A covenant is like an alliance or a partnership. It is like a contract, but much more than a contract.

A covenant is more like a promise. There are some promises that are so crucial, and so central, to the core of what you are, that, even when you do betray that promise, the relationship based on that promise does not come to an end.

Probably the best way to think of a covenant with God is the covenant of adoption. There is a legal process for breaking an adoption and even for minors seeking emancipation from their parents, and parents legally disowning their children/ But doesn’t that sound awful? Wouldn’t that be an extreme move to make?

The adoption (at least of a baby) is a very one sided promise, like any parenthood. In our heart and mind, parenthood is a relationship that is designed to never come to an end. But it does have its successes and failures, its joys and sufferings.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is a covenant like that. Abraham and his descendants were adopted by a God who never let them go. They could un-choose their faithfulness to God, but they could not un-choose the ties that bound them to the heart of God. They could not un-choose God’s faithfulness to them because faithfulness is God’s nature.

What the Kildeer Is Trying to Keep Me from Finding
God’s people, in the Old Testament, experienced God’s standards of grace that set the bar for what God did in Christ. The people of Israel could choose to be happy with God. They could choose to be unhappy with God. But they couldn’t choose to be happy without God. And they couldn’t choose to be unhappy without God, one way or the other. Whatever your feelings may be about God, God doesn’t go away or stop being himself.

The faithfulness of God is as inescapable as God himself. Paul tells us in Romans: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

Was this a good thing for them? Yes it was good! Difficult but good!

The colonists did not agree on many matters of faith, but many of them, and their forbearers, came to America to be free in following and living their faith. They came, and they lived, with an ambition to be the People of God in their own way. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

They believed that this would be good for them. They also believed that it could be difficult. They might make many mistakes and failures. And they might suffer for these. But that would be good, too, in the end, because: “the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Where, after all, in the Bible, is it ever smooth sailing when your God is the Lord? Ask Moses or David. Ask Peter or Paul.

Our nation was founded to be an experiment of faith in the Lord who loves righteousness and justice. Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian, although he did like Jesus. Jefferson had a strong awareness of the righteousness and justice of God, and it frightened him because he was a slave owner and he was afraid of trying to live without slavery. He knew that slavery was wrong and that it was bad for his country.

He didn’t think he had it in him to give up the way of life that gave him wealth and made him like a member of some kind of nobility, through the owning and working of slaves. He knew his fellow American slave owners seldom even saw anything wrong with their way of life. They were determined to justify their way of life to others.

Jefferson knew that a considerable of the wealth of the southern part of America, in his time, came from a slave based economy. He wrote this about slavery and the Lord who loved righteousness and justice. He wrote: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever….”

We Christians in America seem to forget what it was like for the people of Israel, and for the early Church, to be the people whose God is the Lord. We forget the long story of the ups and downs of living in covenant with God.

When we forget this, we get impatient, and anxious, and fearful, and angry; and we go a little weird and wacky. That is why James counsels patience.

He uses farmers as an example. You seed, and you wait, and you harvest. Then you seed again, and you wait, and then you harvest. Then you seed again, and you wait again, and then you harvest again.

You keep on trusting that the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love. And the special discipline that comes from this is usually an antidote for weirdness and wackiness. It is a discipline of faith. It is a transformation of human nature that comes from the practice of faith combined with patience.

The faith expressed in the Psalm, and the patience in James, are tied together. They are a cure for the weirdness and wackiness that get a hold on us when we get upset with the ups and downs of living with God by faith.

We live in a world and a culture of crisis, and fear, and anger, and pride, and hatred. And yet we believe bold and daring things, like the earth being “full of the unfailing love of the Lord.”

There is a great sanity and a health in this. We forget that the American Revolution was a long, and bleak, and (often) almost hopeless war. There were more defeats than there were victories.

The state of war lasted from 1775 till the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 (and what about the War of 1812?). In those long years our nation was held together most of all by those who held onto faith and patience.
The Mamma Kildeer when She Thinks I Am Not There

The best thing that could happen in our country today would be for more people to become worshiping people who know the health and sanity of living by faith and patience. But how can they do this, until they meet the God who became one of us in Jesus Christ and lived, himself, by faith and patience? How can they live with the sanity and health of people who can live by faith and patience until they meet the God who showed his unfailing love by dying for the sins and evils of the world on the cross? 

And, until Christians themselves show that they know this God themselves and know what it means to fill this world with the same unfailing love that God has for it; how can anyone else know what it means?