Sunday, March 23, 2014

Guidance Along the Pilgrim Way; Psalm 25, Isaiah 54:4-10, Zephaniah 3:14-20

Last week we looked at Psalm 121, a psalm for those setting out on the pilgrim journey and reminding us of God’s protection all the way from beginning to end. Today’s psalm is a modified acrostic wisdom psalm. It is a prayer for guidance along the pilgrim way. Our psalm begins, “Unto You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul,” or my life. The lifting of one’s soul is an invitation for God to teach. It is an openness to God. If we want God to guide us, we must surrender ourselves to God. Are you teachable? Are you open to God? Then there are several petitions in the psalm for God to teach God’s path and to show God’s ways. God’s ways and paths aren’t so much about decisions that we are to make as it is about knowing what is right and true by God’s definition. God’s way is characterized by love and faithfulness along with truth and righteousness. Truth must always be accompanied by love. God’s way is about how we are to relate to God and to one another. Four times in the psalm, the word, “ashamed” is used—three in verses 2-3 and again at the end. Shame can be paralyzing, and in some cultures is more significant than a wrong act itself. Is there something for which you still feel ashamed even though you know you have been forgiven? Shame allows our enemies to triumph, but our enemies can be defeated. Enemies are those who distract you from the Way. Who or what distracts you from following the Lord? Don’t let enemies distract you from the way. The good news is that Jesus died for our shame as well as for our sins. He didn’t just take away the penalty of sin but the effects of sin in our lives and on the lives of others. Yes, sin still has consequences, but we do not have to be bound by destructive feelings. Listen to what God promises about taking away our shame: READ Isaiah 54:4-10 and Zephaniah 3:14-20. In Jesus, we have a new identity free of shame. If our hope is in God, we cannot be put to shame. The pilgrim way involves recognition and confession of sin. Willingness to admit our faults and failures is an indication of our ability to be taught. We must recognize our tendency to be rebellious against the Way, and we must rely on God’s mercy to bring us back to the Way. David asks for forgiveness of various types of sin: he mentions, “the sins of my youth,” transgressions, which is the breaking of God’s laws, iniquity, which is deliberate wrong-doing, and sins in general—the ways we fall short of God’s standards through wrong things we do or through not doing the right thing. He is honest about the scope of his sin. We too need to be honest about the scope of our sin. The good news is that though we are rebellious, God instructs humble sinners. Note that David wrote in this psalm, “God instructs sinners in the Way,” not “God instructs the righteous in the Way.” The humble person admits that he or she needs to be instructed, and instruction is granted. If we already think we know it all, we leave no room for God to teach us. The basis for humility before the Lord is the fear of the Lord. Psalm 25 says that God confides in those who fear the Lord and they will dwell in prosperity and their descendants will inherit the earth. Fear of the Lord acknowledges God’s sovereignty, power, holiness, and utter transcendence. Too often we forget about how awesome God is. We acknowledge God’s grace but we gloss over how much we really need it, which actually trivializes grace. We have forgotten that God is holy and demands holiness, and although we cannot be holy without the Lord’s work in our lives, we seem to have lost our passion for holiness. The humble person realizes that God requires holiness even as he or she admits failure to live into holiness. But God will grant the spirit of holiness to the humble soul. Lent is a great time for examination. At the pancake supper, I gave an example of a pattern for a daily examination of conscience. But it is not only about being honest in regard to the wrong things we’ve done, but also recognizing the good things God has done in and through us. The pilgrim offers praise and prayer for God’s covenant mercies. God remembers God’s covenant with us yet forgets our sins! Too often we are the opposite—we forget and neglect the vows and promises we make and yet keenly remember every wrong done to us. How wonderful to have a God who remembers the good and forgets the bad. We can pray with confidence for the forgiveness of sins, for mercy, and for guidance because God is faithful and true to the promises God has made. Part of the journey is waiting. There are periods in our lives when we are called to stop moving and to be still. God wants us to rest as well as learn from the “in-between times” as Reverend Doctors George & Beverly Thompson like to call them. Bernhard W. Anderson says, we wait “for the time when the reality of God’s presence and the sovereignty of God’s purpose in the world will once again be clear.” To wait on the Lord is to depend on God for vindication. The Scriptures equivocate waiting on and trusting in the Lord to loving the Lord. Isaiah 64:4 says, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Psalm 31:19 says, “Oh, how great Your goodness which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You.” When the apostle Paul quotes these verses in I Corinthians 2:9, he uses the Septuagint translation, which says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” To wait on God is to love God. And if we lovingly wait on the Lord, God has amazing things in store for us, so much so that we can’t even imagine them! I believe Paul equates waiting with love because waiting is difficult. If we want to be proper pilgrims, we need to know the way to go. Praying this psalm helps orient us to the Way. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.” Jesus is the Way. We must not only be guided by but live in Jesus. The last verse of this psalm doesn’t fit the acrostic, and goes beyond personal prayer to intercede for the community. The pilgrim on the Way remembers that there are other pilgrims on the Way and asks God to intervene on their behalf as well. Rev. Richard Burkey notes that guidance has within it the word “dance”. If we let God lead the dance and we follow, we will move gracefully in the Lord’s path.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Traveling Mercy; Psalm 121

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Fast God Chooses; Isaiah 58

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Glory of Christ; Psalm 99, Exodus 34:29-35, II Corinthians 3:4-4:6, Luke 9:28-36

Today is Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday. We, along with Peter, James, and John get to see Jesus in the glory He had before the incarnation and that He has now. This is the last glorious picture of Christ before the resurrection. Yes, Palm Sunday is triumphant, but the people really did not understand who Jesus was. He was not the Messiah they were expecting. But in the Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed to these chosen witnesses as the Divine King of Glory. This incident occurred during the last Feast of Tabernacles before Jesus’s death. This would have been during the fall of Jesus’s last year on earth. The Feast of Tabernacles is important because it symbolizes the dwelling of God with man. This is who Jesus is. He is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus had said, “I am the Light of the World.” Peter, James, and John get to see Jesus literally in light as light. This is light that comes from Christ Himself. It is that visible shekinah glory that Moses had seen on the mountain. The glory of Christ was displayed as pure, white fiery light. Glory is often thought of as light, but it is much more than that. Glory is splendor, brightness, amazing might, greatness, magnificence, excellence, honor, wealth, renown, character, fame, reputation, genuineness, power. Glory is the essence of who one is, the worth of something; it is the fullness of the divine nature. In John 1:14, John describes his experience with Jesus’s glory, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, testifies to Christ as the fulfillment of all things. God the Father also testifies to the divinity of Christ in the form of a thick, thunderous cloud, from which He roars, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” When God says, “Listen!”, God means, “Obey!” In the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John, and we too are reminded that Jesus is far greater than we think. He is limitless. He is powerful. He is a close friend, but He is far more than a friend—He is the Lord of the Universe. He does not fit into a box. Glory is also connected with opinion, with what one thinks, specifically judgment. I think this is why fear is the initial response to the glory of Christ. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments, the Israelites were afraid to come near to him because his face shone, so he put a veil over his face. Peter, James, and John were terrified at the transfiguration. The Torah was given as the basis of judgment. The transfiguration anticipates Christ’s return as Righteous Judge. Jesus will come back in all His fullness. There is fear too in seeing Jesus exalted because the more of Jesus we come to see and know, the more we realize how much we don’t know—how unfathomable God is and how ungodly we really are. And yet, Jesus invites us again and again to come into His presence. We see this tension in our psalm reading as well. There is excitement about seeing God on His holy mountain and a desire to worship Him, but there is trembling. God is forgiving, but also punishes His children. In the transfiguration the glory that was rightly Christ’s from the beginning is restored to Him and is witnessed by the inner three along with Moses and Elijah who testify to the fullness of Christ. Christ is the glory of God. Jesus doesn’t simply reveal, reflect or radiate God. He is God visibly. The glory of the Law was fleeting—it had an end. It was fading glory. The glory of Christ is permanent, it always was and always will be His except for the brief period in which He surrendered it during His life on earth. The transfiguration was Jesus’s true, exalted state. It is the state He has even now. As the people who belong to Jesus, we reflect His glory. Moses covered his face because the people couldn’t look at him. They couldn’t pay attention because they couldn’t see beyond the glow to the end. They couldn’t see the meaning of what Moses was saying or the true meaning of the Torah. They couldn’t see that the law pointed to Jesus, who is the end of all things. Moses hid his face because the people didn’t “get it.” There are people today who are also blind to the glory of Christ. Without the Holy Spirit people are blinded to truth and power of the gospel. Whenever the gospel is preached or the Scriptures read, the veil is over their hearts. But the time for hiding the light is over. The fact that some hearts are blinded did not stop Paul from preaching boldly and openly as one unveiled. We ought to do the same. It is God who blinds and God who allows the veil to be taken away. It is our job to proclaim clearly the glorious gospel of Christ. The process of repentance, which begins with the Holy Spirit, allows one to hear, understand, and be changed by the gospel. We too were once veiled to the gospel. We were darkness, but now in the Lord we are light. God shines in our hearts through Christ. Are you hiding the glory of Christ? Moses is mentioned in all of our readings this morning. Moses’s face revealed the glory of God. The shine on his face further validated that the Torah he carried came from God. This was the second time that Moses received the Torah, even though this time he had to carve it instead of God’s finger carving it. Still, his transformation proved that this was indeed the law of God, not something Moses created. The glorification of Jesus validated the Scriptures and the gospels as well as the fact that He not only came from God, He was God. Paul’s life and teachings and that of the apostles revealed the glory of Christ through the gospel. Moses was transformed from being in God’s presence. His face glowed. We too are transformed when we spend time in God’s presence. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured as they were gathered with Jesus to pray. In prayer we discover more and more who Jesus is. The more see Jesus and spend time with Jesus, the more we become like Jesus. Paul says we are changed from glory to glory in Christ. We become more and more like Jesus. As we become more and more like Jesus, we are to act more and more like Jesus. We are saved and glorified to serve, to be the voice and feet and hands of Jesus. From our Exodus reading, it sounds like the glory on Moses’s face was renewed every time he went into the Tabernacle to meet with God. We too are re-energized as we spend in the presence of God. When we do not spend time in God’s presence the glory can fade. Can others see the glory of Christ in you? Now before you wonder too much, Moses didn’t know at first that he was glowing. But others should be able to tell that you have encountered Jesus. We ought to be different from being with Jesus. If Jesus doesn’t change us, have we really been with Him? Do we really know Him? The change that occurs as a result of being with God is physical as well as moral and ethical. Just as Moses’s face shone, we too will be changed. When Christ returns, our bodies will be changed to incorruptible, spiritual bodies. Holiness is another characteristic of Jesus revealed in glory. Jesus was uniquely set apart—the definition of holy—in the Transfiguration. It was clear that Jesus was different. Our psalm today is divided into three stanzas, each ending with the phrase, “He is holy.” The “holy, holy, holy” reminds us of the angels’ proclamations of God in Isaiah and Revelation. It reminds us of the Trinity, and it tells us that the King is holy and the King is God. Jesus, the Divine King, is set apart and above all. Unlike Christ, whose glory is His own, the glory we are given is reflected glory. We only have it because of Christ. We reflect Christ to the world. But Paul also describes us as beholding ourselves in a mirror. In other words, in this reflected glory, we are able to see ourselves as Jesus sees us. This means we learn to identify ourselves by Christ and not by external things. The glory we share with Christ in Christ emboldens us to tell and live the gospel, enables us to renounce shame and to be open and honest. It empowers us to stop hiding who we are. The glory of Christ in us calls us to be set apart from the world as well. And the glory of Christ also gives us strength and perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution. The glory of Jesus lights our way forward through our Lenten season. Though many think of Lent as a time of darkness, let it be for us a time that we draw closer to Jesus and walk in the light of His glory and grace. I hope that you will experience the glory of Christ in more and more powerful ways not only during Lent, but in every season of your lives.