Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lenten Devotional 08: Fasting in the Real Presence

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Scripture reading: Luke 4:1-30

In our Lenten journey, we remember our baptism in accordance with the word of the scriptures and the Word who is Christ; we live in God’s work of baptism and fasting with Christ, as we journey to the cross with Christ. Much like Holy Communion is the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ, Lent is the real presence of the Holy Spirit as we experience forty days of fasting.

Jesus was baptized by water and Spirit (3:21-22) and we are baptized in water and Spirit, by the work of God alone. Jesus lived incarnate – fully God and fully man – connected to the beginning of creation with the first human (Hb: adam; 3:23-38). Like Jesus, we are human (as C. S. Lewis would say, “Sons and Daughters of Adam”).

Our Lenten journey with Christ continues with forty days of fasting, we live in this by the Spirit and Word of Christ. In the wilderness for forty days, Christ is tempted by the devil; as the Spirit was with Christ, so the Spirit is with us. As Christ fasted in the wilderness for forty days, the people of Israel were in the wilderness famished and tested for a period of forty years (Lk. 4:1-4; Deut. 8:2-4, 29:5-6). We are not alone.

We fast (like we eat and drink in the Eucharist) in the Real Presence of Christ, our Lord. We are tempted and tested by the things of deception (as Christ was tempted by the devil and Israel was tested in the wilderness). We live in the Real Presence of Christ through history with the people of God, in the present through Word and Sacrament, and in the future return of Christ. We endure the wilderness and we fast remembering the work of our God, but we are not alone. This is the promise of the cross.

Lord, God, you’ve gone before us, your Spirit is with us, and you’ll return for us – this is resurrection’s hope that the work of God has been done, continues to be done, and will one day be fully revealed – you are the Lord, our God. Thanks be to God. In the name of the Holy and Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lenten Devotional 07: Unbearable

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Scripture reading: Lamentations 1:1-20

Jerusalem has fallen; naked and despised she turns her face away (586 BC/BCE). The author of the book of Lamentations evokes the pain of the people of Judah. This biblical poetry captures the grief of death, unlike most things I’ve ever seen.

As I read this text, I imagined death, imprisonment, rape, desolation, humiliation, self-loathing, and the greatest of sorrow. I felt the primal urge to cry out in a mix of terror and rage. Why the intensity? I’m not a Jew, it wasn’t my holy city that was destroyed, I’ve read worse, I’ve seen worse, I’ve experienced nothing of that magnitude, and I’m (at most) two thousand five hundred ninety eight years removed from Jerusalem’s exile into Babylon. What’s the big deal?

The poetic stanzas of our pericope are as raw and gritty as the worst parts of life; indeed, the pain it expresses is at the heart of all human sorrow. I hate piety and I hate sin (in the sense that I’d rather pretend it wasn’t real) but then people die, love turns to hate, people suffer, and no one seems to care about anyone more than they care for themselves. Some people look at the world and say, “God’s not real,” and/or, “there’s no such thing as sin.” The primal emotion that I feel as I read this passage of scripture (which I admittedly don’t like feeling) is twofold.

First, if one has ever felt, like life just kicked their world out from under them, they will know what I felt reading Lamentations 1:1-20. One who’s had to experience the death of one (or many) loved ones knows what it is to lament. Nothing feels right, no words sound right, everyone looks at you differently, and your sorrow is not received well. And, if you’re like me in those seasons, you can’t bear looking at God without questions; nor, can you look at yourself because you don’t like what you see and what you feel.

Second, how, is this not a reason to lament? How is this anything but the result of brokenness? I’m not the holy saint telling sinners to get their act together; I’m the sinner telling the sinners: this is why redemption is real, this is why we need the grace of a loving God, this is why we repent, this is why we are baptized, and this is why we eat and drink at the Lord’s table. We are prisoners to the sin nature (v. 14). The emptiness, bitterness, self-loathing, and grief are incomprehensible. We are like bums, tossed a dime, left to rot; stripped of our self-importance. We are like Jerusalem, fallen into the control of Babylon; prisoners, slaves, paid laborers – the system owns us – this is the hegemony of the human will. Only the work of God can restore us from brokenness.   

Lord, God, we confess we are sinners, broken, and desolated, like the people of Judah. We rely on your promise to restore us. Forgive us, O Lord, of this brokenness we call sin, the pain we call reality, and the self-destruction we call the happenings of life – which make us cry out! Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and deliver us from evil. For you are Lord and you alone do the work of redemption. In the name of the one and only God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lenten Devotional 06: Prostitutes Called, "Children of the Living God"

Monday, February 27, 2012
Scripture reading: Hosea 1:1-11

Don’t you just love it when God calls people whores? If you haven’t read the selected text, I bet you will now. Forget the marriage imagery (v. 2) there’s more to this story than prophets marrying prostitutes.

The Northern kingdom of Israel is about to fall (vv. 4-6). King Jeroboam II (meaning, “the people will contend”) has led the people of Israel to contend the Lordship of God. This is a violation of the Lord’s covenant with the people of God (Deut. 6:4-5). Hosea (meaning, “salvation”) is told to marry the prostitute Gomer (meaning, “complete”). Recap, we’ve got a king whose name has a meaning of contention, a prophet whose name means salvation, and a whore whose name means complete. What’s going on here?

What happens next is even better! Hosea and Gomer have kids: first, Jezreel (“God sows”); second, Lo-ruhamah (“no mercy”); third, Lo-ammi (“not my people”). The fate of these three carries a heavy message. The Israelites (under their king) have contended against YHWH. Blood will be shed, no mercy will be given, and the people have lost their God (vv.4-9). There are consequences to breaching a contract and breaking the law. Enter, the divine curveball, those heavy sentences are met with a promise – reconciliation.

YHWH makes it clear that the broken covenant should mean total and lasting destruction, but the fallen people will hear the words, “Children of the living God,” as they are reconciled with God and the people of Judah (vv. 10-11).

There is hope in this story. My friends, we are the prostitutes, we have contended against the Lord, we have shed the blood of the complete (I’m getting to the hope, I promise) as people we violate God’s covenant because it’s in our nature, but the nature of God is grace. Where our sin is great, where we invite no mercy, where God has a covenantal right to deny us, and all of this might be fair expectation – God keeps the covenant – and grace fulfills the expectations. This is the hope of the book of Hosea, this is the hope of Israel, and this is the hope of all God’s people.

Lord, God, as your grace is justice over condemnation, so may we show grace to the people who wrong us. May your scriptures teach us that retribution is not the final word and that you reconcile the fallen, the prostitutes, the idolaters, the sinners, the betrayers, the cheaters, the liars, and all humans through your grace. Lord, give us the courage, the wisdom, and the strength to give grace to all the people we harbor ill feelings for; just as you have given grace to them and to us. In the name of the Holy Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.    

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lenten Devotional 05: Life Happens

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Scripture reading: Ecclesiastes 2:24-3:15

Qoheleth (the Teacher) drops somewhat of a bomb on the wisdom texts of the Old Testament, by delivering an alternate form of wisdom literature. The poetry of our text today is a popular pericope within scripture (due in part to the song “There is a season; Turn, Turn, Turn,” by The Byrds). For our reading I have included the blocks of text before and after the poem.

The Teacher isn’t delivering the practical wisdom of Proverbs (cause and effect). Instead, Ecclesiastes tells the reader that “life happens.” There is no avoiding the seasons of life, this is, “chasing after wind.” For Qoheleth, life is cause and effect and wisdom is balance: “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil” (2:26, NRSV).

In every step we take and every move we make, there is a season. Some days, life will feel meaningless and vain (1:2). In life, remember your joy and remember the Lord; remember to hope in the Lord and know that the Lord is with you in all seasons. Eccl. 2:24-3:15 has a message for all people: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (3:1) or as I like to put it, “life happens.” In response to the seasons of life, “…it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in their toil” (3:13).

The work of the Lord contains mystery for us because it is God alone who does the work (3:11, 14-15). Sometimes it’s hard not to have answers (I’d be the pot calling the kettle black if I said otherwise). Sometimes doubts arise, sometimes they fade, sometimes life doesn’t seem fair, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes we don’t meet people well in their respective seasons, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed, sometimes we love, sometimes we find it hard to love, and when “life happens” we must live it.

Remember, the Lord alone is our God. Seasons come and go; we live and die, all in the work of God alone.

Lord, God, it is your grace that saves us; in your grace there is no vanity. You did the work through the cross. You cover us in grace and that alone is enough. Your work of grace has justified us and continues to sanctify us, pointing our eyes to you, as we kneel at the foot of your cross – in awe of the work you have done and in reverence of the God that you are – thanks to you Lord. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.      

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lenten Devotional 04: YHWH Alone

Saturday, February 25, 2012
Scripture reading: Deuteronomy 6:1-25

For the Yahwhist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, priestly writers and final redactors of the Primary History (Genesis-Kings) the text of Deuteronomy is the centerpiece. The core of the book of Deuteronomy is in these words, “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (6:4, NRSV).

Why does the passage revere YHWH as God alone? The Lord has rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and will fulfill the promise made to their ancestors; by bringing them into the land of promise. In the same way, Christ is God alone, having rescued all of humanity from the bondage of deception’s curse on our will, and has fulfilled the law. All are given the grace of God’s promise (by way of the cross, in the death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) many will receive it, some will reject it, and the rest is a mystery of God.

“The LORD is our God, the Lord alone.” Only by the work of God, are the promises of God fulfilled.

In YHWH alone we receive the land of promise; one of milk and honey (vv.1-3).
YHWH alone, we love; by YHWH alone, we do all things (vv. 4-9).
YHWH alone, gave us everything, and YHWH alone we shall not forget (vv. 10-15).
The promise of YHWH alone, we shall remember, and not challenge (vv. 16-19).
The covenant of YHWH alone is, “our lasting good” – YHWH alone, we revere –
And, by YHWH alone we are justified (vv. 20-25).

Lord, you are God alone, “hallowed be your name;” for, you are the LORD alone. All thanks be to you for the promise you made and kept for the Israelites. All thanks be to you for the promise you made for us (through the cross event) that has been fulfilled in death and resurrection. We remain in the hope of Christ’s resurrection; for, resurrection is our promise, by the work of the LORD alone. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Devotional 03: The Justice of Mercy

Friday, February 24, 2012
Scripture reading: Leviticus19:9-18

In this Lenten season we prepare ourselves for the death and resurrection of Christ, remembering our sinful nature, and repenting of the mindset it creates. At the end of Lent we will experience hope through God’s grace in the cross event. The sin nature is not our focus, but the reality of God’s grace that redeems sinful humanity.

Today, we look at the laws of holiness and how they play a part in our Lenten journey. Personally, I hate talking about sin and the law, but it’s important to know how these things lead us to the grace and mercy of the Lord.

 Prior to today’s pericope, we have a very controversial passage (Lev. 18) about sexual practice (or sexual idolatry theories, but that’s another conversation). The following chapter (Lev. 20) is a similar account. Amidst all this talk about the Canaanite god Molech, idolatry, and more sex than I know what to do with we have our passage concerning neighbors.

The Lord wants the people of God to be just and merciful to the people around us: sharing with the poor (vv. 9-10), honest in our business (vv. 11-14), balanced in our justice (vv. 15-16), reasoning, and loving to our neighbor (17-18). For the Israelites, this meant showing mercy to their persecutors, which may have been different than they were treated. This was true for Israelites dealing with Canaanite idolatry and for those in Babylonian captivity. This is true for us.

As we sacrifice things through temporary fasts, remembering the real sacrifice of Christ, may we recall the scriptures and know that it’sall about God – the work God has done and continues to do – and deception’scurse (that bonded our will to sin) has been met with the mercy of a just Lord.

Lord, God, you sent your son to atone for the fact that we are sinners, but the fact that we are sinners pales in comparison to the just mercy of your grace; you are the Lord our God. May your grace do what the law and our piety fails to do and point our eyes to your cross. May the words of the scriptures be a reminder that you are God and only through your work of the cross are we justified. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lenten Devotional 02: Deception's Curse

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Scripture Reading: Genesis 3

In yesterday’s reading, we remembered that it’s all about God and today we look at the metanarrative of creation’s fall away from God. God creates the heavens and the earth (Ch. 1-2). After the humans are banished from the Garden of Eden, we have the story of Cain and Able. The story of Creation and Fall portray the beginning of all life, all brokenness, and the journey through history that would lead to the cross event (death and resurrection).

All people share in the consequence of Original Sin and the condition that bonds us to death and separation from God; this is what makes redemption necessary. How did this come to be our reality? In the second creation account (Gen. 2:5-25) we are told that eating from the tree of knowledge (both good and evil) cuts us off from the tree of life (2:17). Genesis 3 illustrates the tale of how we became sinners (3:1-7).

The cunning serpent stands in contrast to naked innocence (Robert Alter, Genesis). The snake deceives the woman and the man does not try to resist. They are lured into a lust for knowledge (both good and evil). Once the snake successfully deceives the humans, they hide from the LORD God (3:7-10). God’s response, “Who told you that you were naked” (3:11) reveals some intriguing possibilities for the Genesis metanarrative.

Looking at the story of Genesis 3:1-24, from the perspective of Yahwist writers and redactors, during the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE) it’s not hard to see the serpent as parallel to the sea dragon Tiamat of the Ancient Babylonian creation story the Enuma Elish (Simpson, IBC). What makes this parallel important? The Primeval and Primary History (Genesis-2 Chronicles) repeatedly displays the challenge of remaining devoted to Yahweh in a henotheistic culture. The deception of the snake conceives sin: which brings forth blame, hardship, subordination of women, deviation, and separation from God (3:12-24). This was not God’s desire for us.

Original Sin causes individual sins, making it a greater alienation between us and God. In our innocence, humanity was once free and had an equal share in everlasting life. Now that we have been infected by Original Sin, our will is bonded and we have equality in being sinners. Humanity was not meant to have the knowledge of good and evil, like God (3:22-23). Therefore, the deception of our sin condition is what separates us from God and only God can restore the connection to life that Original Sin has broken.

Lord, God, “for dust [we] are and to dust shall [we] return.” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Lord, you are God and we are broken people because we were deceived to think otherwise. May we kneel at your cross and repent and may the work of Christ reconcile us through the grace of a loving God. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.