20170117

Divine Intervention

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Scripture: Genesis 18.20-21

Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

Reflection: Divine Intervention
By Steven Dilla

God always hears the cry of the suffering. Here, in Genesis, we first see the Hebrew word for cry, zaqah, that God will use concerning Israel throughout the Exodus narrative. It is a technical word, theologian Christopher Wright explains, “for the cries of those who are suffering from oppression, cruelty and injustice.”

The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel use zaqah to describe the people’s wailing following innocent bloodshed and the hopeless ache of the marginalized as society embraces comfort and stability, turning its back on the sacrifice needed to help those in need. Zaqah is a cry for intervention—if there is a God, surely he will act now.

And yet, God’s response is not limited to the circumstance at hand—extending to the great glory he desires for all humankind. Dr. Wright concludes:

The portrayal of God in such a context, therefore, is significantly not merely that he is in sovereign control, as much in Mesopotamia, as in Canaan, as in Egypt, but also that he is a God of redemptive purpose, whose ultimate goal is the blessing of all nations.

In initiating his special relationship with a people of his own creation and possession, God actually has in mind the best interests of the nations. The promise of blessing for the seed of Abraham is a promise of blessing for the nations.

God’s justice is a rebuke of the mindset that if the marginalized are redeemed the established will suffer. God’s heart moves our hearts and sacrificial service toward the refugee, toward the single mother on welfare, toward the un-insured, toward sexual minorities—for the way he has chosen to bless those on the margins is through his people.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 18 (Listen – 4:59)
Matthew 17 (Listen – 3:46)

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20170116

When the Dream becomes a Nightmare

By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C. and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had—and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.

I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty.

I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil.

Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.…

I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.

With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

*Abridged from A Christmas Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — audio on YouTube (29:52)

Prayer: The Cry of the Church

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 17 (Listen – 4:02)
Matthew 16 (Listen – 3:43)

20170113

Unfathomable Love

The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.

― Elisabeth Elliot

Scripture: Hebrews 7.17

For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Reflection: Unfathomable Love
By Thomas Jacombe (1622-1687)

We are more apprehensive of the love of the Son, than we are of the love of the Father. I would not speak any thing to diminish the love of the Son; God forbid! It was wonderful, superlative love! Only I would heighten your apprehensions of the Father’s love in the great work of our redemption.

Admire the love of the Father. 

Redemption was not only brought about only by Christ, the Father had a great hand in it. God set his thoughts on work for wretched man, struck up a covenant with his Son, and therein laid the foundation for man’s recovery. Let angels and men and all creatures adore God’s love. That you would return love for love—return your drop for God’s ocean! We must “honor the Son, even as we honor the Father;” and we must love the Father, as we love the Son.

And then admire the love of the Son too.

He is willing to engage in this covenant. He knew the terms of it; what the redemption of man would cost him—even his life and precious blood: yet, for all this, he willingly and freely binds himself to redeem poor sinners, whatever it cost him.

Oh, the heights, depths, breadths of this love! Blessed Jesus, that you should “lay down your life for” me, to wash away my sins in your own blood, to give your “soul as an offering for sin,” upon this encouragement and motive—that you might see such a poor worm as I brought in to God; that you should set yourself as a screen between God’s wrath and my poor soul, and do and suffer ten thousand times more than what tongue can express or heart conceive.

What shall I, what can I, say to all this? I may only fall down, and wonder at that love which can never be fathomed!

*Excerpted and languages updated from Thomas Jacombe’s sermon, “The Covenant of Redemption Opened.”

The Request for Presence 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 14 (Listen – 4:04)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 15 (Listen – 2:53) Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)
Genesis 16 (Listen – 2:18) Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

 

20170112

Striving for What’s Promised

In his preoccupation with comparisons, the worried person finally forgets altogether that he is a human being. He despair­ingly thinks of himself as being so different from others that he even believes he is different in his very humanity.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Genesis 13.10

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. — Genesis 13.10

Reflection: Striving for What’s Promised
By Steven Dilla

The voice in Genesis 13.10 breaks from that of the narrator, writes Biblical scholar Robert Alter, revealing the thoughts of Lot as he surveys the land. Far beyond an opportunistic play for better land, Lot seeks to return to “the garden of the Lord”—to Eden itself, where God and humankind walked together.

This desire is, of course, woven into Lot’s nature as a human. It is a longing which Scripture says will one day be fulfilled. But not like this. Not as the fruit of argument (Lot and Abram’s herdsmen were in conflict) and the effect of grasping for more.

The temptation Christ faced in the wilderness was similar, at least in substance. After wandering  through the barren land for weeks, the offer was made: quench your material longings by your own ability. Sustenance, validation, and power—all within reach. All rightfully his. Jesus’ reply? In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings.

Jesus saw past receiving what was promised, looking to the relationship from which he was supposed to draw all his needs. Lot found a way to satisfy his longings through his own power. Pastor Timothy Keller observes:

That’s hyperbolic language, Robert Alter says, but it is spiritually significant… [Lot] wants the garden of the Lord without the Lord! How can you have the garden of the Lord without the Lord? How can you have that kind of satisfaction, how can you have that kind of contentment, and how can you have that kind of sense of success without him?

We have so many appetites—find a way to fulfill them on your own and you’ll still be hungry.

The Concluding Prayer of the Church

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

 

20170111

The Mission of God

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.

― Dallas Willard

Scripture: Genesis 12.2

[God said to Abraham], “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Reflection: The Mission of God
By Christopher Wright

God chose not to abandon or destroy his creation, but to redeem it. And he chose to do so within history through persons and events that run from the call of Abraham to the return of Christ.

While every part of this great story has its particular contribution to the whole, we do need to see this whole section of the line as a fundamental unity – the single great saving act of God. I think the unity between the Old and New Testament sections of this part of the biblical story of redemption is why Revelation pictures the redeemed humanity in the new creation singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

This will save us from the common misunderstanding that the Old Testament is Salvation Plan A (failed), and the New Testament is Salvation Plan B (success). That is a severe distortion of the story.”

By the time the story has reached Genesis 11, the human race faced two huge problems: the sinfulness of every human heart, and the fracturing and confusion of the nations of humanity.

The Old Testament continues through the prophets to point forward and to insist that God would keep his promise to bring blessing to the nations and salvation to the whole world, and that he would do so through Israel.

The New Testament presents to us the answer that the prophets point towards: the One who would embody Israel as their Messiah, who would be faithful where they had been rebellious, who would be obedient unto death, and through his death and resurrection would bring about not only the restoration of Israel but also the promised salvation to the ends of the earth.

The return of Christ will not only bring to its grand finale that section of the Bible story line that we have called redemption in history, it will also inaugurate the ultimate fulfillment of the whole point of the story—namely, the redemption and renewal of God’s whole creation.

*Abridged from The Mission of God’s People by Christopher Wright.

The Call to Prayer

Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 12 (Listen – 2:51)
Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)