20161117a

A Prayer for Harmony and Stability :: Throwback Thursday

By Clement of Rome (fl. 88-99 C.E.)

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” — Luke 1.46-47

Grant us, Lord, to hope on your name, which is the primal source of all creation, and open the eyes of our hearts that we may know you, who alone are highest among the high; you are holy, abiding among the holy.

We ask you, Master, to be our helper and protector. Save those among us who are in distress; have mercy on the humble; raise up the fallen; show yourself to those in need; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who wander; feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners; raise up the weak; comfort the discouraged.

Let all the nations know that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your servant, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.

For through your works have revealed the everlasting structure of the world. You, Lord, created the earth. You are faithful throughout all generations, righteous in your judgments, marvelous in strength and majesty, wise in creating and prudent in establishing what exists, good in all that is observed and faithful to those who trust in you, merciful and compassionate: forgive us our sins and our injustices, our transgressions and our shortcomings.

Give harmony and peace to us and to all who dwell on the earth, just as you did to our ancestors when they reverently called upon you in faith and truth, that we may be saved, while we render obedience to your almighty and most excellent name, and to our rulers and governors on earth.

You, Master, have given them the power of sovereignty through your majestic and inexpressible might, so that we, acknowledging the glory and honor that you have given them, may be subject to them, resisting your will in nothing.

Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony, and stability, so that they may blamelessly administer the government that you have given them. For you, heavenly Master, King of the ages, give to human beings glory and honor and authority over the creatures upon the earth.

Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and pleasing in your sight, so that by devoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority that you have given them they may experience your mercy.

*Abridged from 1 Clement 59.3-61.3.

Today’s Reading
Amos 6 (Listen – 2:13)
Luke 1:39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

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20161115

The Church’s Primary Role

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! — Psalm 150.6

It is easy to forget, in the deluge of political conversations that have consumed the past few months, that although the church’s role in this world necessarily involves politics, it is not itself political.

The book of Psalms spans every possible human emotion, reflects on geopolitics, laments evil, and cries out for godly leadership on earth—yet it concludes with three psalms dedicated entirely to praise.

The psalmist not only calls the Church to worship, but rebukes every earthly system of power and authority that will ultimately prove insufficient to deliver what humankind needs most. N.T. Wright, as he concludes his book Simply Jesus, reflects on how the church can maintain its focus on God’s calling and sovereignty amidst shifting political powers:

We must give full weight to the difficult but important biblical vision of God’s sovereignty over the nations and his determination to shape their fortunes to serve his higher purposes. This belief is so important for any vision of what it means to speak of Jesus’ kingship in the present time that we must spell it out slightly more fully before drawing the threads together.

First… God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. He intends to bring that order to the world through the work, the thought, the planning, and the wisdom of human beings….

Second, even when the rulers are wild or wicked, God can bend their imaginings to serve his purpose…. Third, then, God will in the end call the nations to account….

Yes, God can and does work in all sorts of ways outside the church. There are many movements of thought and energy totally beyond the life of the church in which wise Christians can discern and celebrate God’s sovereign and gracious presence….

But we do not, because of that, lose sight of one of the church’s primary roles: to bear witness to the sovereign rule of Jesus, holding the world to account. And when I say “bear witness,” I mean it in the strong sense I spoke of earlier. Like a witness in a law court, we are not just telling about our private experiences. We are declaring things that, by their declaration, will change the way things are going.

Today’s Reading
Amos 4 (Listen – 2:21)
Psalms 148-150 (Listen – 3:04)

 

20161114

Trust and Self-Giving Love

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. — Psalm 146.3-4

There are two significant benefits to following a devotional reading plan. The first could be called an asynchronous benefit: scheduled reading leads us to places in Scripture we would otherwise not align with daily life (minor prophets, anyone?) and we are exposed to the full light and life of God’s word.

The synchronous benefit of reading Scripture along a pre-determined plan is that we see how often this sacred word collides with daily life. At The Park Forum we read a variant of the historic M’Cheyne Reading Plan—expanding the 19th-century preacher’s one year plan over two years. And today we come to a passage which could not be more timely.

Civilizations throughout history have looked to their leaders to save them—and though modernism has secularized this pursuit, it has not managed to mitigate it. Today the political right celebrates while the left laments—both confess their all-consuming trust in the leaders of our world. In Simply Jesus N.T. Wright reflects:

We treat political leaders as heroes and demigods; they carry our dreams, our fantasies of how things should be. When we find out that they are only human after all, we turn on them, blaming them for the intractable problems that they, like their predecessors, haven’t been able to solve.

Wright then asks the question all too often glossed over in Scripture: “Why did people think that Jesus might be any different?” How is it that Christ offers a better solution?

Could it be that the paradoxical call of servant leadership, demonstrated through the moral character Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, offer a better way—a way in which God can be seen, known, and restore the brokenness of our world? Wright concludes:

When God wants to change the world… he sends the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice, the peacemakers, and so on. Just as God’s whole style—his chosen way of operating—reflects his generous love, sharing his rule with his human creatures, so the way in which those humans then have to behave if they are to be agents of Jesus’ lordship reflects in its turn the same sense of vulnerable gentle, but powerful self-giving love.

Today’s Reading
Amos 3 (Listen – 2:11)
Psalms 146-147 (Listen – 3:09)

 

20161111

Finding Sovereignty :: Weekend Reading List

Prayer is an invitation to unite one’s soul with limitless power, infinite grace, and radical sovereignty. Yet, in the face of everything going on in our world, the call to prayer seems like a passive and feckless response—a cheap excuse to skip out on the hard work of engaging and making a difference.

The residue of modernism continues to reject the reality of transcendence. In other words, our key problem is not about the substance of prayer, but about our orientation to a life of prayer. “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying,” reflected Abraham Joshua Heschel. The rabbi walked arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King—to these men, prayer was action.

In Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity Rabbi Heschel explains:

Prayer must never be a citadel for selfish concerns, but rather a place for deepening concern over other people’s plight. Prayer is a privilege. Unless we learn how to be worthy, we forfeit the right to prayer.

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

The world is aflame with evil and atrocity; the scandal of perpetual desecration of the world cries to high heaven. And we, coming face to face with it, are either involved as callous participants or, at best, remain indifferent onlookers.

The relentless pursuit of our interest makes us oblivious of reality itself. Nothing we experience has value in self; nothing counts unless it can be turned to our advantage, into a means of reserving our self-interests.

Dark is the world to me, for all its cities and stars. If not for my faith that God in His silence still listens to a cry, who could stand such agony?

Prayer will not come by default. It requires education, training, reflection, contemplation. It is not enough to join others; it is necessary to build a sanctuary within, brick by brick, instants of meditation, moments of devotion. this is particularly true in an age when overwhelming forces seem to conspire at destroying our ability to pray.

Every action of grace, justice, and restoration is built on the foundation of prayer. In I Asked for Wonder Heschel concludes, “To pray means to bring God back into the world, to establish His sovereignty for a second at least. God is transcendent, but our worship makes God immanent. To pray means to expand God’s presence.”

Reading List

Today’s Reading
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalms 143 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Amos 1 (Listen – 2:38) Psalms 144 (Listen – 1:56)
Amos 2 (Listen – 2:12) Psalms 145 (Listen – 2:19)

 

20161110

Better Angels :: Throwback Thursday

By Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”  — Psalm 142.5

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right?

If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

*Abridged from Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861.

Today’s Reading
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalms 142 (Listen – 1:01)