holy week

this week brings ordination to the priesthood for two of my dearest friends, a ZTA soul-sister, and my husband.  Last night, Kara Slade was ordained in Oxford, NC. The sermon from the service can be found here: so, so good.  (like many parts of the evening, it made me cry)

Lord willing, on Saturday, Jordan Hylden will be ordained in Fargo, ND…

Bible Study Notes – Isaiah 43

Unable to withstand more judgment yesterday’s cold January evening, the intrepid Monday Night Women’s Bible Study broke rank and jumped to Isaiah 43, just for the evening.  So, now–more reflections on the same chapter as the last (entry), with much more brainpower behind it!

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you” (Is. 43:1)

“Do not fear, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5)

What does it mean to “fear” God?  Isn’t this discordant with God being all love and all goodness?  What do we have to fear in him?

If we’re–with God’s help!–seeking the good and have experienced just a taste of the goodness and perfection of God, then we’re growing in virtue, and, knowing what it is like to be in the presence of real good-ness, we really are (or would be) afraid to behave in a way that takes us away or separates us from the good, and true, and beautiful in life.  Our fear is of being separated from God–we are not afraid of anything else that might come upon us, because if God is with us in whatever trial or event or danger we experience, we have nothing to fear.  God is with us.  This promise he makes in verse 5 is described in v.2–see post below–and this God who promises to be with us no matter what we face is someone you really want on your side (see vs. 11-13).

This talk of “fear” led us to reflect on the difference between fear and anxiety: fear is born of an experience–if we’ve touched a hot stove burner, we are afraid when we are pushed from behind toward a stove that’s on.  Anxiety is from anticipating–dreading!–something that we have never experienced; it’s worry.  We’ll always have fear, it’s just a matter of what we choose and habituate ourselves to be afraid of; anxiety is not something we have to have.

God’s promise to be with us is elucidating in another way; one of our number shared how different she felt when she broke up with her college boyfriend of two years compared to when her father ended up in the hospital for a heart attack–in the case of her father’s illness, the extended family showed up quickly and en force, her immediate family was not alone, and though it was a scary time, they were all together in it, and it was beautiful, she said, because of the love that she felt.  On the other hand, when she and her boyfriend broke up, the despair was engulfing–exactly because she was alone, and the cause of the pain was a declaration of alone-ness.

The discussion of fear and of being alone reminded me of Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace.  They tell the king, “[W]e have no need to present a defense to you in this matter.  If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18).  God is God, and he can save us–but even if he doesn’t, he’s still God.  Actually, here’s a sermon that says all of that much more articulately and beautifully. (The Rev. Dr. Sam Wells)

Nature as a Metaphor

This week, the Daily Office Lectionary (the schedule that takes pray-ers and read-ers through most of the Bible in the course of two years, found in the back of any Book of Common Prayer, and online in various locations, like this) has been taking us through Isaiah.  This prophet’s words are major faves for Messianic imagery and promise–Isaiah’s are the words ones Jesus quotes most during his ministry as recorded in the Gospels.  They’ve been fertilizing my heart the last few weeks (and months–in our women’s Bible Study); here are a few thoughts on two verses from Isaiah 43, part of the Lectionary’s reading in the last week.

“When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

We have, we do, we will face rivers and fires–storms of relationships and financial stability and physical/mental health–there is no promise God ever makes that we will be shielded or that we can avoid trials and pain in our lives.  The promise made to us here is that when we face pain and trials, because we will, we won’t be drowned or choked or suffocated or burned or consumed–we won’t be killed.  When we face pain, we have an opportunity to grow and learn and to become stronger through the trouble we’re encountering.  If we stick stubbornly to God, like a burr on a dog’s coat, our trials become moments that we can learn trust, and we can come out the other side stronger and happier and closer to God than before.IMG_2303

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

We don’t experience much physical wilderness in our day & age–there aren’t any places on the earth that haven’t at least been mapped, if not overrun with people and paths and conveniences (especially in the US)–but perhaps you can imagine what it might be like to stand on the edge of a desert, or at the end of the road leading into the nature preserve (if that’s the closest we can imagine to “wilderness”!), and try to conceive a way through the uncharted space to wherever it is we’re supposed to go.  Even if it’s like a park, and there are paths running through this “wilderness,” such ready-made paths never seem to go quite the right direction.  Though we face areas of wilderness in our lives–relationships that are stuck and have no clear direction out of the mud, medical or financial or other problems that have only walls and uncertainty–God will guide your path (the one for just you–not a pre-made, well-worn path, perhaps).

Bible Study Notes (Isaiah 13:1-16)

On Mondays, a women’s Bible Study meets at my home; we’ve been winding our way through Isaiah this year, taking as much time as we can to turn the Word over in our hearts and dig into this prophet’s message for our own day.  Here are some of our gathered thoughts from this week:

The LORD declares war on the tyrants and oppressors, raising his own army to fight them (v.3,11); God is angry and fierce and full of wrath (v.9).  How does this jibe with the God we know whose “property is always to have mercy”?  (BCP 337)  We know that God is holy (this is one of the main themes of Isaiah), and so to look at this passage through God’s property of holiness, we may find that his “property” is holiness, and when holiness comes into contact–“reacts” (to use chemical jargon)–with sin and evil, the result is anger and wrath.  We throw ourselves on God’s mercy, knowing we are unworthy, depending fervently on Christ’s sacrifice to reconcile us to God.

What of the violent language used?  “war” and “armies” and “tyrants” and “fighting”?  How is this the same God who we know through Jesus Christ, who told us to put down our swords?  A clever woman amongst us (not me!) mused that this was the sort of language, the sort of bluff-calling, that was necessary to communicate effectively with Isaiah’s audience.  The tyrants and oppressors–the kings being addressed–say, “I have great armies and strong bulwarks, no one can touch me!  I am like god!”  God replies to them, “No no no–‘I myself have… summoned my warriors (v.3).’  Don’t be mistaken, there’s only one God, and it’s not you.”  Perhaps God earns respect with the kings by playing tough–speaking the truth in language prideful tyrants will understand.

Isaiah isn’t so cut-and-dry that we see those (pointing fingers) evil tyrants over there, and we are the holy people trusting in God over here.  We’re exempt.  We each have bits of hardness in us, no matter how much we love and trust God.  We’ll never stop being sinners, and we come to God again and again with our hardness and limitations–especially in our weakness and self-deception (which are times when we don’t come to God at all!).

The thing is, we live in America, we (attendees, and probably most readers…) are white and upper-middle class, we are educated and we have voices that “matter.”  We wield a staggering amount of power in our society, mostly because of our socio-economic status and because of our degree of education.  What is it that we’re doing or not doing with our power that may be making us tyrants?