20170120

Kuyper on God’s Sovereignty in Politics

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

― David, Psalm 20.7

Scripture: Genesis 21.22

At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do.”

Reflection: Kuyper on God’s Sovereignty in Politics
By Steven Dilla

In the fall of 1880 Abraham Kuyper delivered a lecture simply, if perplexingly, titled “Sovereignty in its Circle.” In some ways the pluralistic ontology he presented could have only been conceptualized by someone like Kuyper—who would spend his life as a journalist, a theologian, and a politician. (Kuyper served as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands in the first few years of the 20th century.)

Kuyper, throughout all his works, responded to the rising nationalism in his own day, as well as to religious pluralism and—though he thought it a fad that would quickly pass—modernism’s structural reorganization of Christian orthodoxy.

In order to confront these seismic trends, Kuyper believed we must identify the different spheres of our world, and the powers that rule over each:

Just as we speak of a moral world,” a scientific world,” a business world,” the world of art,” so we can more properly speak of a sphere” of morality, of the family, of social life, each with its own domain. And because each comprises its own domain, each has its own Sovereign within its bounds.

As he moved to the sphere of politics, the future statesman observed:

The various spheres of life cannot do without the State sphere, for just as one space can limit another, so one sphere can limit another—unless the State fixes their boundaries by law. The State is the sphere of spheres, which encircles the whole extent of human life.

At the heart of every sphere there smolders and smokes the flame of passion, whence the sparks of sin fly upward. That unholy blaze undermines the moral vitality of life, weakens resiliency, and finally bends the strongest stave. In any successful attack on freedom the state can only be an accomplice. The chief culprit is the citizen who forgets his duty, wastes away his strength in the sleep of sin and sensual pleasure, and so loses the power of his own initiative.

Though Kuyper readily admitted that, “Sin threatens freedom within each sphere just as strongly as State-power does at the boundary,” he did not lose hope:

To possess wisdom is a divine trait in our being…. Ideas shape public opinion; that opinion, the sense of justice; and that sense, the thawing or congealing of spiritual life. Therefore, whoever expects his principles to exert influence cannot simply float about in feelings, does not advance by fancy, and even with his (religious/theological) confession comes only halfway. He gains a hold on the public only if he has also attained power in the world of thought, if he can transfer his inner urge, the “Deus in nobis” [God inside us], from what he senses to what he knows.

No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”

Prayer: The Refrain

Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59)
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01) Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)
Genesis 23 (Listen – 2:34) Matthew 22 (Listen – 4:56)

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20170119

Purity of Heart

Abraham is an eternal pattern of faith. To be a stranger and in exile is the peculiar suffering of faith.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Genesis 20.9

Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.”

Reflection: Purity of Heart
By Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Purity of heart: it is a figure of speech that compares the heart to the sea, and why just to this? Simply for the reason that the depth of the sea determines its purity, and its purity determines its transparency.

Since the sea is pure only when it is deep, and is transparent only when it is pure, as soon as it is impure it is no longer deep but only surface water, and as soon as it is only surface water it is not transparent.

When, on the contrary, it is deeply and transparently pure, then it is all of one consistency, no matter how long one looks at it. Then its purity is this constancy in depth and transparency.

On this account we compare the heart with the sea, because the purity of the sea lies in its constancy of depth and transparency. No storm may perturb it. No sudden gust of wind may stir its surface, no drowsy fog may sprawl out over it. No doubtful movement may stir within it; no swift-moving cloud may darken it. Rather it must lie calm, transparent to its depths.

If you should see it so, and contemplate the purity of the sea, you would be drawn upwards. As the sea, when it lies calm and deeply transparent, yearns for heaven, so may the pure heart, when it is calm and deeply transparent, yearn for the Good.

As the sea is made pure by yearning for heaven alone, so may the heart become pure by yearning only for the Good. As the sea mirrors the elevation of heaven in its pure depths, so may the heart when it is calm and deeply transparent mirror the divine elevation of the Good in its pure depths.

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 20 (Listen – 2:39)
Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)

 

20170118

The Edge of Emptiness

The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.

― Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Scripture: Genesis 18.32

Then [Abraham] said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” [The Lord] answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Reflection: The Edge of Emptiness
By Steven Dilla

Abraham was a Father of the faith whose prayer for Sodom was overruled. Zachariah a priest who was ignored by God for the overwhelming majority of his career (only when he was an old man did God invite him into his presence). Even Jesus—the Son of God himself—did not receive what he earnestly begged for in prayer.

To be holy, it would seem, is something significant, but it is not to live a life of uninterrupted answers to prayer.

Typically at this point, when writing about prayer, you switch gears and redefine the nature of how we are to understand prayer. Kierkegaard once explained:

The earthly minded person thinks and imagines that when he prays, the important thing, the thing he must concentrate upon, is that God should hear what he is praying for. And yet in the true, eternal sense it is just the reverse: the true relation in prayer is not when God hears what is prayed for, but when the person praying continues to pray until he is the one who hears, who hears what God is asking for.

But changing the definition of prayer may let us off the hook too easily. There is a deeper step that we are afraid to speak of.

“Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness,” observes rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Perhaps this is really why it is so difficult for the modern mind to find itself captivated in prayer—the cost of entry is our greatest fear.

Emptiness in a relationship only comes through trust. Emptiness forfeits its perceived future in order to discover a new reality in relationship. Emptiness never results in greater status, in admiration or accolade. But, while emptiness is the first step, it is not the end goal.

Abraham, Zachariah, and Christ were all filled with something greater than what they had before. Their unanswered prayers were not the end, but the beginning.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145:19

Excerpt From: Phyllis Tickle. “The Divine Hours (Volume Two): Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime.” iBooks.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 19 (Listen – 5:33)
Matthew 18 (Listen – 4:25)

 

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)

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)