Shielded by a Consuming Fire

preached at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff on Sunday, August 21, 2016.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” God tells Jeremiah as he winds up to bestow a difficult call. I hear psalm 139 in this passage, the prayer which extolls God’s intimate knowledge of each person, how fearfully and wonderfully each one of us is made. Indeed, God created Jeremiah to be a prophet even as little Jerry’s bones were still being knit together and made calcified. More than being a determinist proof-text to affirm that no one ever really makes any life decision, we hear here that God cares so deeply for each life created that he dreams up how that person might make the world into God’s kingdom and then plants little seeds of that work right in to our very marrow.

I wonder if it’s something like Michael Phelps.

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Happiness List

Another Friday, another Happiness List!  (the first, second, third...) Keeping our focus and continually remembering good things cultivates gratitude and helps our minds get used to seeing goodness and beauty around us–I’m using these weekly lists to train my mind and heart to see light.

1. Seeing Grandma & Grandpa

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(1a. being in the Twin Cities, 1b. St. Paul having a heat advisory at 78 degrees)

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2. After a long week, a bit of encouragement in Jeremiah 1:7:

“But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.”

Not least evidenced in my post this week on the Covenant Blog…

3. a trip to Lush while in the Cities…

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Since there isn’t a location of my favorite cosmetics store at home in South Carolina, I tried out lots of new products and loaded up…

I fell in love with their solid shampoo when I bought some in Canterbury this summer; so I tried Seanik.  I also grabbed Jungle, a solid conditioner, to try (I’m flying, so I couldn’t get lots of liquids).  Angels on Bare Skin is one of their most popular cleansers, its scent and exfoliating ground almonds were amazing, but I wanted to try something with a little more power, so I got Dark Angels.  It’s intense!  But I haven’t experienced the tightness and itchiness that usually accompanies cleansers that are too powerful (like salicylic acid cleansers–for me at least).

I was unexpectedly taken in by a jasmine scent and decided to try some solid perfume, “Lust“!  In my defense, I thought I wanted “Karma,” because I so love the smell of the Karma Koba, but when I tested the other few solid perfumes, the flowery-yet-grounded jasmine scent did me in.

Sitting Still: Waiting with the Prophets

rock at ConnemaraTuesday morning began The Simple Way Women’s Bible Study at Trinity Cathedral (come and join–7:30am, Tuesdays in Columbia, SC!).  Through 2013, we’re studying Micah, one of the minor prophets, contemporary of Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea.

The church’s season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, happens to coincide with one of the busiest times of the secular calendar–holiday parties, family gatherings, workplace gift exchanges, grabbing up last vacation days, spending out the flexible spending account, pushing through year-end evaluations, enduring exams and final papers (the list never ends).  Advent is meant to be a time focused on waiting; waiting for Jesus to come as a baby on Christmas, waiting for Jesus to come again in the clouds, waiting for Jesus to heal us and make us whole.  Usually, when we’re really focused on waiting for something, we are the opposite of busy.  Waiting for a baby, waiting for a bus, waiting for a medical report, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for water to boil, waiting for Dad to come home–waiting is full of attention, expectation, hyper-awareness.  These are not characteristics we usually associate with ourselves during the month of December.

The opposite-ness of this way of like that God calls us to in Advent makes its practice all the more important.  Christians are supposed to things differently and look strange to people who do not claim Jesus as Lord.  So we sit with the prophets, with Micah, and wait for Jesus to come, just like Micah waited for Jesus thousands of years ago.  While we’re sitting together, us and Micah, we might as well read some of what God revealed to him; perhaps we’ll learn a bit more about this strange God and how it is we can practice being still enough to listen to him.

In the study Tuesday morning, I gave some facts about Micah: from the 8th century, called a “minor prophet” because his book is short, prophesied mostly about Jerusalem and Judah.  He’s referred to in Jeremiah, and perhaps in 1 Kings, too.  Jeremiah 26:18-19 gives a window into how we might interpret and understand the prophecies of the Old Testament, especially the woeful ones.  Jeremiah presents one of Micah’s prophecies, that Zion and Jerusalem would be razed if the people of Judah did not turn to God, and then Jeremiah points out that under Hezekiah, a righteous king, Zion and Jerusalem stood strong–it’s not that Micah was wrong, but that the smallest turn toward God changed the course of history.

Though Micah is one of the “minor” prophets, his words are widely used and remembered.  Do you recognize this one, “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (4:3b)  The same words are found in Isaiah 2:4; the vivid phrase has inspired many artists over the centuries.  Another well-known verse, 6:8, exhorts: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Finally, perhaps Micah’s most famous prophecy, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (5:2) This prophecy is quoted by Matthew (2:6), as well as being inspiration for “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the beloved Christmas carol.

The central message of Micah, which we’ll be studying for the next four weeks, preparing for Christmas, is stated in chapter one, verse three: “the Lord is coming.”  Echoed in I Corinthians 16:22 (“Our Lord, come!”) and Revelation 22:20 (Come, Lord Jesus!”), this is our Advent prayer–“Our Master, come to us, help us to receive you.”  This is the human challenge, to receive the God revealed in Jesus Christ, to be turned toward him and to submit ourselves to his call.

Micah speaks often of the coming judgment which will accompany the Messiah; judgment can stir up anxious images of law courts and accusations, but this isn’t what Jesus brings.  “God never accuses, he convicts” (via a very wise friend last week), reminding me that thoughts I have that sounds like accusations are the sort I ought to banish immediately–accusations and shame are not of God, they are not part of God’s judgment.  “God’s justice is forgiveness” (another very wise friend)–holding on to grudges, counting costs, and eating up our resentment brings judgment onto ourselves, our sin is our own punishment.  As God continuing seeks relationship with each of us, may we undertake habits during Advent which help us to be turned toward God.

The Blood of the Innocent

“34 Your clothing is stained with the blood of the innocent and the poor,
though you didn’t catch them breaking into your houses!
35 And yet you say,
‘I have done nothing wrong.
Surely God isn’t angry with me!’
But now I will punish you severely
because you claim you have not sinned.”

(Jeremiah 2:34-35)

Where were your clothes made?  Who died to provide you with fashions to cover your body?  Whose blood is on the everyday comforts with which you surround yourself?

In the Psalms class this semester, we’ve been struggling with the sometimes-judgmental and sometimes-angry God we seem to be facing in those poem-prayers.  It’s been hard to face up to the fact that the living God is more than a comforting Teddy Bear.  Let us not try to castrate our God, the Almighty Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The first chapters of Jeremiah make clear that God’s wrath is on those who are unrepentant and who lie to themselves, saying they are righteous and faithful when they are full of rotting sin.  2:22, “Though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God.”  (RSV)  We live without intent and without reflection, we trample those who cannot pick themselves up, and we are culpable for our transgression.  It’s not pretty, but is it true.  Would we really even want to worship a God who wasn’t livid at this sort of treatment of the poor and downtrodden?