March 31, 2018

Holy Saturday

Ah, holy Jesus, how has thou offended?

The Promise of the Broad Place

Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. v He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. 

Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
—Psalm 18:7-28

I love the image of the broad place that's mentioned in Psalm 18:19 (the exact same verse is found in 2 Samuel 22:20), and also used in two other psalms as well as the Book of Job. The broad place represents both safety and freedom. It's been argued that this is where the human psyche is most at home, since our species evolved on the African savannah. 

For example, Yuval Noah Harari author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, said, "Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with over-stuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah." And Johann Hari, in Lost Connections, argues that our mental health benefits from communing with nature, and seems to respond best to a landscape similar to the one in Africa where the human species originated.

So it's not surprising that in the Bible, the broad place represents well-being, and that I still respond positively to that image 3000 years later. In today's psalm, the earth is in tumult, wickedness seems to be prevailing, the waters of chaos have overtaken the psalmist, but through it all, there is the promise of the broad place, the place of safety, the place of belonging. And it is to this broad place that God delivers the faithful.

There's a reminder at the end of today's portion of Psalm 18 that the arrogant cannot appreciate this. Could it be that the prouder we are, the farther we try to distance ourselves from our origins as creatures of God?

O God, when I wander in the shadows, seemingly far from where I need to be, light up my darkness, and deliver me to the broad place where I know I belong to you, to my community, and to the earth that you have given us all to share. Amen.

March 30, 2018

Song of Samwise in the Orc Tower

In western lands beneath the sun the flowers may rise in spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run, the merry finches sing,
or there maybe 'tis cloudless night and swaying beeches bear
the evening stars as jewels white amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey's end I lie, In darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the sun and stars forever dwell:
I will not say the day is done nor bid the stars farewell.
—J.R.R. Tolkien

Go Cards!

My Alma Mater, which is going through a bit of a rough patch these days: But our women's basketball team plays in the NCAA Final Four tonight! Go Cards!

Good Friday

O Sacred Head in English & Japanese

Death Confronted Me

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
—Psalm 18:1-6

The psalms teach us to pray. Even the psalms that pray for revenge are a lesson for us not to hide our feelings from God—the sentiments in those psalms sometimes seem unrighteous, but in none of them does the psalmist take matters into her or his own hands, leaving vengeance to God's.

But today's psalm is especially poignant and is a vivid reminder to turn to God in dire straits. That this prayer is prayed on Good Friday is especially meaningful: I was being bound by death, flooded by damnation, entangled in

March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday

This song has been removed from just about every church's current hymnal, for some reason.

Defined by a Maundy

We think of Maundy Thursday as the night during Holy Week when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper—when he shared the bread and the wine, and said, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.”

And if that is the main emphasis, then of course the word Maundy—which is used only in reference to this holy day—must have something to do with the sacrament most of us call Holy Communion.

But it doesn’t. The word Maundy is an old English corruption of the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment.

Though our kneejerk reaction was to think of this mandatum as our Lord’s commandment to “do this in remembrance of me”—

My Small Dog Brewster Meese

He's 11

Apple of the Eye

Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.
They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.
They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush.
Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
from mortals—by your hand, O Lord—from mortals whose portion in life is in this world. May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them; may their children have more than enough; may they leave something over to their little ones.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
—Psalm 17:8-15
As I think about Psalm 17:14, which prays for deliverance from people "whose portion in life is in this world," I am in the middle of reading Johann Hari's Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions. The scriptures repeatedly emphasize some of the same themes Hari addresses—that material values are inferior to spiritual ones; that doing things out of extrinsic motives has no true lasting result—and yet I live in a country where conservative Christians are perhaps the main reason the status quo is what it is: material wealth, coërcive protection, and loss of real community are promoted from the highest levels of church and government.

Lord, make my values your values. Teach me to place my trust in you and to seek community among those who value not things, but people; relationships with those who love your Name more than they desire impressing the shallow. May I understand that to be the apple of your eye—to be loved and blessed by you—is not to have more things, but to find deeper satisfaction in things of eternal worth. Amen.

March 28, 2018

Holy Wednesday

Psalm 22: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

The New Religion

A faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament.
—Michael Gerson

My Feet Have Not Slipped

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
—Psalm 17:5-7
The psalmist doesn't see the crowd mentality as an excuse. Having integrity means acting according to my own moral compass. Living in a violent society does not mean I have to live by violence. Just because everyone around me is armed to the teeth does not dictate that I need to keep weapons at hand. God's steadfast love is a better defense than a handgun.

May my actions, words, and thoughts be filled with your shalom, O God. Amen.

March 27, 2018

Holy Tuesday

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. I very much prefer Rockingham to Hamburg

Fulness of Joy

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
—Psalm 16:7-11

Calmly to rejoice is the lot of none but of them who have learned to place their confidence in God alone, and to commit their lives and safety to his protection.
—John Calvin (Commentary on Psalm 16:9)

What I consider to be my blessings, O God, are more often temptations to turn my eyes from you and seek my security in that which is not you. Dare I therefore pray, "Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil of material possessions?" At least I will pray for the grace that I may pray aright; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

March 26, 2018

Holy Monday

Based on the Seven Last Words of Christ, here is a traditional Hungarian hymn called Paradicsomnak te szép élő fája (O thou beautiful living tree of Paradise). There's an English version (employing a totally different tune) based loosely of this Hungarian hymn, entitled There in God's Garden. This video is just the first stanza, but I like it very much.

My Chosen Portion

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
—Psalm 16:1-6
The boundary lines have indeed fallen for me in pleasant places. As a western Christian, I know little of the suffering and uncertainty of so many others, and so I have all the more reason to turn to God for refuge, for God has indeed insulated me from so much of what ails the world. And yet, the witness of believers in other parts of the world—places where food is scarce and water is scarcer, where there is war, where Christians are persecuted—is so much more faithful than my own.

In reading the opening of the 16th Psalm, I am especially reminded of this poem written from a Nazi prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer shortly before his execution:

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear.
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good, and so beloved, a hand.

Yet when again, in this same world, you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

March 25, 2018

Today is not just Palm Sunday...

It's also the Feast of the Annunciation. So here's a song about the Annunciation by Sting.

Should the Rocks Need to Take Our Place

I really wonder sometimes what sort of people were in the Palm Sunday crowd that greeted Jesus as he made his entrance into Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark aren’t particularly specific when they refer to the crowd—indeed they make the crowd seem like random people from the city. But Luke and John are more precise. John says that the people that welcomed Jesus to the Holy City were the very ones who’d watched him raise Lazarus from the dead. And Luke, whose version of the story was read earlier, calls them a multitude, but says they’re the “multitude of the disciples.“

Today Is Palm Sunday

This is a very nice orchestral medley of St. Theodulph & Ellacombe.


O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.
—Psalm 15
Where is God's holy hill? At the time this was written, it was Mount Zion in Jerusalem. There was the dwelling place of God on earth. In the Christian era, Zion refers not to a place, but to a people. For all the elect are collectively the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is the temple—God's earthly dwelling place.

So who may dwell in Zion, which is quite the same as asking in whom God may dwell (since Zion is now a people)? The standards mentioned are no less important today than they were then. First, walking blamelessly (or its parallel, doing what is right). What follows are not additions to the list, but the way the psalmist defines what it means to walk blamelessly/do what is right:
  • Tell the truth, not just outwardly but within—in other words don't just act right for appearances' sake, but have integrity.
  • Don't gossip.
  • Don't do hurtful things to friends or neighbors.
  • Despise the doings of wicked people.
  • Honor those who love God.
  • Keep one's word, no matter the cost.
  • Don't take advantage of the poor.
  • Don't pervert justice.
Sticking to these standards is like a rock to cling to in turbulent times. 

What's interesting here is that the standards set by so many Christians today don't include any of the things on this list. They're all about marriage and homosexuality and abortion and birth control and transgender people. One can stick to the standards of "evangelical" Christians and literally do none of the things listed in Psalm 15. So sometimes the old time religion is best, and those who claim to have a monopoly on it couldn't be further from it.

Help me to have high standards, O God, and thank you for showing me what those might look like. Thus may your word be my guide, and not the shouts of those around me. The shouts may be wrong; your word will not. Amen.

March 24, 2018

Waschbär is German for Raccoon

Their Refuge

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?
There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
—Psalm 14

I'm inclined to think of an atheist as a person who doesn't believe in God. But I think the kind of atheist the psalms talk about—especially Psalm 14—is the person who truly lives their life as though there is no God to be accountable to. Those who say they're non-believers may yet live ethical lives, and even work for peace and justice in the world. I can respect such people. But what of the person who says they're a believer and yet amasses great wealth and stockpiles of weapons, who promotes inequality and warfare, and who says vile things about those they disagree with?

Our country is currently being run by an extreme group of atheists who use the word "god" to make their horrible deeds acceptable to the masses. But just as the psalmist didn't despair, so I should have hope, too. This atheistic dictatorship won't last forever. However, deliverance won't come from human schemes, but from Zion. And the Christian interpretation of the concept of Zion is that it is the church—not the so-called "evangelicals" who support injustice and immorality, but all those who are truly called of God and have God's love in their hearts, for to love God is to work for justice and promote peace.

Give me a spirit of discernment, O God, that I might tell the difference between those who speak your Name in vain and those who truly love it. And help me not to despair when the former holds sway, but to believe in my heart that you will act on behalf of those who need you; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

March 23, 2018

If You Have an Enemy

A naturalist, who has reared several bear-cubs, says, "If you have an enemy, give him a bear-cub. His punishment will be adequate, no matter what his offense." But the young farmer and his wife did not think so, and as for the baby who was now learning to walk, "Bar-Bar," as he called the young bruin, was a never-ending source of delight.
—from Black Bruin (1908) by Clarence Hawkes

I Trusted

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
—Psalm 13:5

As is so often the case in the scripture, the 13th Psalm is an example of one of the faithful looking ahead confidently to deliverance even while in the midst of pain. Doubt is natural, and it's hard to avoid it. But I don't need to nurse it.

I know that you have brought me through the hard times in the past, Lord. Give me faith that you are even at this moment bringing me through the difficulties that I'm now facing. Amen.

March 22, 2018

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

You may think you're safe,
but octopi can and will find you!

Promises of the Lord

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own—who is our master?” 

“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the Lord; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

You, O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind.
—Psalm 12:5-6

I don't know much about refining silver, but I can't help but imagine that the "furnace on the ground" makes the silver extremely hot in order to burn away all the impurities. Maybe that's what's happening right now. Things look bad. The greedy are publicly groaning with pleasure as they despoil the poor and the sick and the downtrodden. But God's promises are no less pure than they were when the 12th Psalm was written. There is a refuge of safety for those who are now vulnerable. And because it is not gilded and garishly labeled with the name of the rich and famous, the powerful won't go there. Whatever happens to them, they will have chosen their lot, for simplicity was as repugnant to them as was the proximity of those who were not like them.

Lord, may I in this life choose service to others and the safety of your love over fame and fortune and power and ease; in Jesus' Name. Amen. 

March 21, 2018

One Day At A Time: Porter & Dolly

Flee Like a Bird

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
—Psalm 11

What is the foundation of my world? Is it what I own? my politics? my job? my family or friends? Any of these things can be diminished, taken away, or even destroyed. Will that then leave me without hope?

In the 11th Psalm, the writer's world is called into question by others. The response? Well, I guess it's what inspired Robert Browning to write, "God's in his heaven—all's right with the world!" It's a reminder that my foundation doesn't lie beneath me, but above me, for my foundation is God. When discouragement comes, the person of faith may acknowledge a cause for discouragement, but need not give in. Faithfulness leads to hope, and hope leads to acts of love and justice.

Help me not to be dejected, Lord, but instead to place my trust in you. May my faith lead me from discouragement to hope, and from hope to courage, in Jesus' Name. Amen.

March 20, 2018

Here I Pause in My Sojourning

Here I pause  in my sojourning,  giving thanks  for having come, 
come to trust, at every turning, God will guide me safely home.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (New Century Hymnal version)

Justice for the Orphan

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.  
—Psalm 10:17-18

The Law of God repeatedly protects the poor. The prophets condemn those who transgress that Law. The apostles command that the poor be ministered to. And Christ himself lives a life of poverty, calling others to become poor for the sake of his gospel. But nowhere is God's love for the least among us more evident than in the psalms. Here we see not only God's love for them, but God's promise that their mistreatment will not be tolerated forever. 

In this new reality in which we find ourselves, where the rich not only openly rob the poor, but rape the very earth they depend on for their future, it is difficult to believe that the psalmist could be right—that God's justice will come. But God's answer is found not only in words on a page, but in the Word made flesh. In Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, we see not only God's love for the downtrodden, but a new reality in which God's chosen cannot be defeated by the powers of manipulation, greed, or hatred.

Strengthen the hearts of your little ones, O God. Listen to their prayers, bring about justice for the orphan and the oppressed, and take away from them the terror of those whose gains come at the expense of the creation given for the nurture and benefit of all; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

March 19, 2018

Christ Is in the Ship

There is one thing we are lacking: to believe that the Almighty God is our Father and our Lord. To believe that for God, our greatest cares are like the worries of small children in their parents’ eyes; that God can turn things around and dispose of them in no time at all; for God it’s easy, not hard at all. We must believe that a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day [Ps. 90:4], that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts [Isa. 55:8–9], that God is with us in spite of everything. Let us receive the call of the church once again: You of little faith, why are you so fearful? In the midst of the storm, Christ is in the ship. Away with you, Fear! Let us see you, Lord Jesus, strong helper, Savior!
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let Them Be Caught

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.  
—Psalm 10:1-3

Thousands of years later and the wicked still arrogantly persecute the poor. Large corporations have packed all three branches of government with their own and those who will do their bidding. The laws and regulations that once protected the downtrodden, the environment, and those who have no access to the halls of power are being dismantled with amazing speed. It's hard not to pray with the psalmist, "Let them be caught in the schemes they have devised." 

What's worse, is that while "the wicked boast," those who claim to be followers of Christ look on approvingly, giving their blessing to injustice, immorality, and oppression. While proudly proclaiming the Lord's Name with their voices, they renounce God with their actions and attitudes. 

Give me faith, O God, to believe, though the wrong seem oft so strong, that this world still belongs to you, that you are the Ruler yet, and that my actions must still conform to your coming Kingdom—not to the evil that surrounds me; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

March 18, 2018

Two Answered Prayers: Yes and No

The Poor Shall Not Be Always Forgotten

The collusion between religious leaders and the rich who laugh at
the poor  will soon  fall apart  like a house  of cards  in a hurricane.

For the poor shall not be always forgotten: the hope of the afflicted shall not perish forever.  
—Psalm 9:18

Rich secularists have always paid little heed to the poor. And when they do, it seems to be in order to use them for their own purposes. But when people calling themselves Christians lose sight of who they are and Whose they are, when they forget that Jesus' ministry was with, among, and for the poor—that Jesus himself was poor!—then how can we not get discouraged? Where is the hope of the poor, if those who are called to identify with them instead ignore them—or even scoff at them?

But the promise of the 9th Psalm is the promise of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection: Though it may seem that the hope of the downtrodden has finally surrendered to despair, that the life of the suffering has ended in death, and that the light of justice has in the end been snuffed out, Look! a new morning dawns: Hope is alive! God has not forgotten!

The promise of Easter is not a new suit and a glorious worship service. It is the promise that the coming Kingdom is at hand, that the tables will soon be turned, and that the collusion between religious leaders and the rich who laugh at the poor will soon fall apart like a house of cards in a hurricane.

Of course I pray that I never forget the poor, O God. But dare I pray for poverty itself—that I actually live like the One whose Name I have taken on myself? In his Name, help me to pray aright. Amen.

March 17, 2018

Irish Blessing

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Psalm 9:7-10

But the Lord sits enthroned forever, he has established his throne for judgment.
He judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Psalm 9:7-10 

I always find it interesting that nonbelievers often use the suffering of others as their excuse for not believing in God. But those who are doing the actual suffering are the ones who are most likely to put their faith in God. 

I pray not to avoid the troubles of the world, O God, but rather for the faith to place my trust in you when they come. Amen.

March 16, 2018

What Are Human Beings?

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  
—Psalm 8:3-4
The universe that the psalmist knew was far smaller than ours, and yet she or he recognized that, when compared to its vastness, human beings were just a speck in they eye of God. Too often, today's people believe all things must serve human life—especially those who call themselves pro-life—for they care nothing for the lives of non-humans or the planet we live on, let alone the galaxies that exist beyond the reach of human power.

Psalm 8 should teach us humility, for truly we are miniscule creatures. But once we have acknowledged this, the same psalm can teach us dignity, for the vastness of God has chosen us to receive love and grace beyond description.  

I acknowledge to you, Lord, my smallness in the scheme of things. Who am I that I dare bother you with my prayers or ask you to take notice of me? And yet, you ask me to come to you, and you do listen. Thank you for your greatness and thank you for your kindness; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

March 15, 2018


Famous INFP's

Mischief Returns

Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
—Psalm 7:16

Karma is a relatively common theme in the Bible, exemplified by Psalm 7. The psalmist takes refuge in God, but from what? From the violent who would do her or him harm. Those who take refuge in God can expect safety, but the arrogant who would do anything to get ahead will meet the same end that they have meted out to others.

It's easy to blame others for my predicament, of course, but it's harder to see that sometimes I'm the one who gets ahead at another's expense. That's why I need not only to count my blessings, but also to think about where that blessing came from, whom besides God I should thank, and what it might have cost another person or group of people to provide something that makes my life better or easier.

As I count my blessings, O God, help me to be thankful for the hands and the lives of those who make my life easier. Help me to work for a more just society where the labor of the poor is appreciated as much as wealth, and where all are rewarded for their work. Amen.

March 14, 2018

π in the Ski

Happy π Day!

Psalm 7:1-11

O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause,
then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust.

Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high.
The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
Psalm 7:1-11 

All I can say is, "Thank God for grace." For can I really pray with the psalmist that I be judged for my integrity—I, whose heart is so divided between God's

March 13, 2018

Turn, O Lord

Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you.  
—Psalm 6:4-5a

If my greatest happiness is found in God, then my profoundest hope is that, in Christ, death has been destroyed. For in death, there is no knowledge of God, and there would be no happiness beyond life as we know it.  Therefore I pray with Augustine: 

Everlasting God, in whom I live and move and have my being: You have made me for yourself, and my heart is restless until it find rest in you. Visit my heart and make there a dwelling for yourself that you may live in me and I in you, forever and ever. Amen.
Augustine of Hippo

The Monkey

Just 'cause you got the monkey off your back
doesn't mean the circus has left town.
—George Carlin

March 11, 2018

Capital Plaza Tower

This building, located in Frankfort, Kentucky, was demolished today.

Pastoral Prayer

Third Sunday in Lent

We thank you, God, for all the blessings of life:
The air we breathe, fresh, clean water to drink,
the food on our table, and the roof over our heads.
We pray for those whose air is dirtied
and who do not have access to clean water,
even as we pray for the grace
to share our food with the hungry,
and to help provide homes for the homeless.

We thank you, God, for the blessing of health
and our access to the best healthcare known to humanity.
Yet we pray for the millions who are sick:
May your Holy Spirit be to them
a Spirit of healing and strength; and for the many millions more
whose access to healthcare is limited or nonexistent:
May we strive for equal rights for all your children.

We thank you, God, for freedom,
and all those who sacrificed that we may enjoy it.
And yet even as we thank you for our own freedom,
we do so in a land that imprisons more of its people than any other,
and whose children are held hostage
by the fear of the weaponry of which we boast.
Help us to see our hypocrisy, free us from a lust for revenge,
and help us to respond positively
to policies that educate and rehabilitate
instead of punishing and incarcerating.

And finally, O God, we thank you for your church and our place in it.
Give us grace to offer one another Christ,
and empower us by your Spirit to offer Christ to the world around us,
that in all that we say and do, Christ may be lifted up.

These things we pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Sovereign,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, both now and forever. Amen.
—©2018 Sam L. Greening, Jr.


A 1967 hit by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood.

The Serpent in the Wilderness

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
—John 3:14
Introduction: The First Antidote

There are lots of strange stories in the Bible—several of which I wish hadn’t been included. Near the top of that list is the story of the serpent in the wilderness. On the one hand, I don’t like what it says about the wrath of God: The people complained, and God punished them by sending poisonous snakes to kill them. The problem was solved not by removing the snakes, but by fashioning a snake on a pole that people could look at and be healed of their snakebites. So the original antidote wasn’t a potion of some sort that people drank, it was simply a snake on a pole for them to gaze upon.

That word antidote is an interesting one. It’s composed of two parts—anti, which means against, and dote, which means, not poison, but give. So an antidote is something given against something else.

March 4, 2018

On Selling Ourselves Out

...A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent.

Text: Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple.
—John 2:15a

The temple was the religious center of the Hebrew universe. And here we see that it had become its commercial center as well. You see, the faithful were required to offer sacrifices at certain times of year, and the temple in Jerusalem was the only place where such sacrifices were allowed. So those who traveled from afar could not bring the animals that were needed over such a long distance. But some enterprising individuals began to conveniently sell sacrificial animals in the temple courtyard—at a tidy profit to themselves, of course.

And there was also a temple tax required of the faithful, but it had to be made in the local currency. [1] Meaning that people who came from places using other currency had to exchange money once they got to Jerusalem. So other enterprising individuals set up money changing stalls in the temple courtyard—and of course they charged a fee to enrich themselves. [2]

Jesus obviously didn’t approve of using God’s house as a shopping mall or counting house.

And neither should we, of course.