Psalm 131 Mash Up

20130925-095507.jpgHebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NRSV)

Psalm 131 is a prayer, describing the thing we’re urged to do in this passage from Hebrews, “lay aside every weight.”  This psalm ought to be read, I think, as a plea to God for the truth of the words being uttered–it’s more prophecy than observation of present circumstances.

(1) O Lord, I am not proud, I have no haughty looks.

(2) I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me.

(3) But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.

(4) O Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth for evermore.

(via the Book of Common Prayer)

Jesus came because our sin is too heavy for us, because He can and does carry it himself.  Our propensity to turn away from God is too great to overcome ourselves, we must, in humility, lay aside the weight of making our own salvation happen again and again.  All to Jesus I surrender.

Through that laying down, through truly letting go of trying to control or to work ourselves into righteousness, our souls become quiet, our souls and our selves thereby inhabit the place we’re made for–we’re rightly out of the driver’s seat, listening, and being quiet.  We’re being, or practicing being, the humans that we are.

We Gentile Christians are grafted into Israel because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and just as people have waited on God for centuries–thousands of years, even–our occupation is to wait upon the Lord.

A Psalm 131 Rewrite:

Lord, keep us from being proud, and from looking down our noses.

Help us to remember that You are God, You are almighty, and we only need to be servants.

Quiet our hearts before You, drown out voices of worry and despair; relax our frazzled minds into trust in You, let us feel your hands holding us up.

Throughout all time, O Master, your servants have listened to your directions.  We now join with your witnesses from all time, waiting for Your coming again.

In the name of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Quotation of the Day

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Psalm 37 knocked me off my feet this morning.

do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.” – today’s memory verse (v.9b, BCP)

I’ve been reflecting on my worry-wort habits recently, and keep resolving to find some verse to refocus my mind when it wanders toward the worry-wasteland. the resolutions have fallen flat till now–I have a verse!  Therefore, today will be completely different (no, not really. today may be a little better, and tomorrow may be a little worse. we just keep trying, bringing our minds and spirits and intentions back again, and again, and again).

Christmas Day – Joy to the World! – The Church of St. Michael & St. George

“The hills are alive with the sound of music!”

Perhaps that’s not the song you came to church to hear today, but that’s what we just sang in the psalm together.  “Let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord.”

What is joy?  When do we experience joy in our daily lives?  Novelist Zadie Smith argues in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books that though we humans often experience pleasure—perhaps over a great tumbler of whiskey or a dog’s sweet companionship, joy is a much more rare and complicated emotion that is necessarily overwhelming and entangled with fear.  It is the sort of thing that we could not bear to experience often, but when we do, we laugh and cry and can’t catch our breath and whether or not the event or its results are sustained, our lives are forever different for having experienced it.

What a miracle happened on Christmas!  As we glimpse the enormity of this moment—just as when the shepherds saw the whole sky filled with bright angels—we burst forth with shouts of joy.  In this moment, a joyful song we’ve sung before doesn’t fit—we need a whole new way of communicating to try to express this new age of God’s rule.  This marvelous thing so unlike anything that’s happened before, we need a new song, a fresh account of God’s deliverance.  Even the past looks different now that we know that God is here, in this place.  Now.

There’s little else we can do with our joy but to sing, even the hills and seas are alive with the Promise that God fulfilled in becoming human on Christmas Day.  After centuries of oppression, exile, and dispersion, The Promise has come to fruition.  God has come to earth, he’s come into the middle of the mass of humanity and become human himself.  God has made himself as close to us as he possibly can.  It’s like how doctors treat pre-mature babies in the hospital—they’re administered skin-to-skin contact from their parents as if it was medicine.  Resting on their father’s chest, or feeling their mother’s hands on their back, is as powerful as any manufactured pharmaceutical we have devised.  God’s touch, his own hand and arm, as the psalm tells us, brought forth this miracle for our sake.  God came in Jesus to heal us.

God has made good on his Promise now—today—Christmas.  We are so precious to God that, given the choice to exist in peace and quiet and perfection for eternity, which, after Christmas morning with little kids, might sound pretty good, or to exist with and among humanity, he chose us.  God has chosen never to be except to be in relationship with us.

Joy isn’t the only thing we feel today, nor is it the only thing that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and others at Jesus’ birth felt.  Just as they had questions about what life would mean and look like in light of this new reality, we do too.  God’s companionship is the only answer to all the questions.  Why can’t a brother and sister acknowledge the brokenness between them and reconcile on Christmas?  Why can’t parents and grandparents set aside their pride and stubbornness and entrust their son and grandson to God’s capable hands?  Why are children shot and spouses beaten and people starving?  Our only answer to evil is that despite its presence in the world, God’s presence is with us too, and God’s love is more powerful than brokenness and death and destruction.  The Promise God made to Abraham and to his descendants, the Israelites, is the same promise we can now claim as humans, because Jesus came as a human to save all people.  God gave us Jesus out of his love, and Jesus is the touch that allows us to survive.  He is the image of the invisible God.  Jesus is God-with-us.

This truth, this joy that is revealed to us in Christ’s birth, this is the steadfast love that God is showing us.  God has remembered his mercy and truth toward the house of Israel, he’s fulfilled his promise this morning.  We sing a new song because a new thing has happened—something incomparable to all other experiences we’ve ever had.  God reaches out and touches us.

To offer back to God our joy and thanksgiving at this marvelous gift, we gather together our harps, our trumpets, our organs, and pianos, and violins, and flutes.  But even with these and with our own voices, the effort is paltry in comparison to the new thing God has done.  Let us gather up the noise of the whole world—the roaring sea with its clapping waves and the ringing music of the mountains—all oriented to shout praise to God for this great gift he has given to humanity and to all creation.

Joy to the world!