What's Left But Praise?
2010-11-02 by Guy Kent
Psalm 145: 1-5, 17-21
People who write really good poems are special individuals. But to write a poem in the form of Psalm 145 is beyond my comprehension. We learned in seminary it's an “acrostic” poem with each verse beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet. That's what I learned in seminary, and, to be honest, that's probably the extent of my ability to critically examine this piece of literature.
But my limitations do not take away from the power of the verses. The power of the words only grow with the understanding of the acrostic nature of the psalm.
Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at McAfee School of Theology, in her examination of the psalm quotes Adele Berlin's article Festschrif where she shares, “The poet praises God with everything from A to Z: his praise is all inclusive. More than that, the entire alphabet, the source of all words, is marshaled praise of God. One cannot actually use all of the words in a language, but by using the alphabet one uses all potential words.”
I read this Psalm again and again with that observation in mind. The magnificence of the poem grew within me.
Maybe in our world we have become so jaded, so perplexed at the forces reshaping our society that we cannot control, so confused and seemingly ill-equipped to adequately serve in a world of declining church influence we forget to praise God, to “marshal” our praise of God.
We fill our services with “praise songs” and such, but do we truly praise God, marshal our praise of God?
It is not only the style of poetry that has become lost; the subject matter of the poem has become lost. And when you think about it, when all our arguments are feebly made, when all our sermons are preached, when all the horizons are reached, the only thing we have left is our praise of God.
Words of Life
2010-11-02 by Stephen Schuette
Luke 20:27-38 (or to 40). The first step for me in coming to terms with the meaning of this passage is to be clear about what Jesus did not intend. Viewing it through modern eyes I bring some assumptions to it. Of course, from a modern social point of view it is ridiculous for people to marry again and again based on a levirate injunction (Deut. 25:5-6). Of course, projecting forward beyond this life to marriage in a future life makes no sense. Of course, given our “advanced” sensibilities about individual identity, civil rights, and personal choice in marriage these traditions are all anachronistic. But I don’t think Jesus intended to address the question from a modern, individualistic point of view.
It’s impressive how mired the question is in death. You can imagine seven graves next to each other and finally one more for the woman herself. You can imagine hopes for children that never materialized, perhaps understanding that through couples who struggle with fertility. It’s difficult to picture the mounting marriages being occasions of joy but rather necessities coming from death. Mourning and sorrow virtually drips from every word. Yet the Sadducees offer just a cold and clinical description of the situation, the facts of life, betraying no compassion about it whatsoever.
So it’s not so much the facts of the debate itself that I find of interest. It’s the tone and message that speaks, speaks not only to the human situation but also to the identity of God for the Sadducees and Jesus. That may be the real heart of the matter which Jesus poses back: is your God the God of the dead or the living? It’s clear the Sadducees have no answer for their own question, or perhaps even more important, for the sorrow and grief of the entire situation. That’s where I think Jesus, and the God of Jesus, part company with them.
Jesus’ answer is not to engage in the circumstances of the situation. Nor does he debate the ridiculousness of the rules that led to it. Rather he speaks hope to the despair. And isn’t the God of hope the God that was known and revealed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of both Pharisee and Sadducee?
Perhaps this story is for me and the part of me that is mired in death more than I know and like the Sadducees I am so mired in it I am oblivious to it. So I need to hear again those wonderful words of life. Whether sung or spoken, I need them.
Ask a silly question....?
2010-11-01 by Rina Terry
How many times have I asked God a silly question? If we all pooled our "Silly Questions I've Asked God," we might have a bestseller on our hands.
Though the Sadducees' question seems absurd in our day, perhaps it had more legitimacy in Jesus' day. Yet, back in vs 20, "They watched for their opportunity...in order to catch him in his speech." We can't help but think that this is one more attempt to trip up Jesus. Yet, he gets a bit of affirmation where we least expect it.
Such a premise for a sermon approach opens up lots of opportunity to talk about how we can find moments when we can affirm even those with whom we generally disagree.
Jesus doesn't get sarcastic, he doesn't try to dazzle, he doesn't set out to discredit. Jesus just gives a straightforward answer and some of his hearers admit it was a good answer.
There are times though when I fire God a laundry list of questions on a particular issue.
When I am incensed at the ongoing perversion of justice in our criminal "justice" system, those niggling questions come doing its Tigger bounce in my brain: "God, don't you give a damn that this is happening? Don't you care that we are in desperate need of sentencing reform? Can't you do anything about the blatant racism in the system? Do you truly want developmentally disturbed people executed in the name of justice? How did you let our greed create a prison industrial complex?" I'm not doing a rhetorical tirade here. I really want to know the answer.
The people in the pews must be full of their own extended questions. The old, "There are no silly questions." approach will preach just fine here.
These are my first thoughts as I walk with the gospel into the week.
God Where We Are
2010-10-31 by Guy Kent
The Battle of Opis took place along the Tigris River near present day Baghdad in the year 539 BCE. Cyrus the Great of Persia was the victor over Nabonidus of Babylon. It was a fortuitous day for the Hebrews in captivity in Babylon. Three years later the victorious Cyrus would issue an Edict that allowed the descendants of Abraham to return to their homeland, a place they'd not seen in fifty years.
It's not a difficult task to imagine the clash of personalities, beliefs, priorities, and approaches that confronted this newly re-populated Jerusalem. Here were Jews who had no memory of what Jerusalem “used to be” coming home to be greeted by those left behind who clung to a distant memory of that day when their nation and their God was so prominent.
Halfway through my ministry I took a detour. Actually, it was a couple of detours. For several years a prominent businessman allowed me an executive position in his company. That, in turn, allowed me to recruit, train and employ inner city youth whose prospects for climbing out of poverty were slim. That adventure was followed by almost a decade of serving as the chaplain at a secondary military school. And then my self-imposed exile ended and I returned home.
I was like a lost refugee in search of an identity. Everything had changed. The laity were assisting in the celebration of the Lord's Supper; preachers were wearing golf shirts. I felt not only old-fashioned but down right out of touch in my Sunday best dress suit. There were screens on the walls where the lyrics of the songs were projected. And the songs, oh my, we were not singing The Lily of the Valley anymore. This was a different music.
It was culture shock. And I don't have the foggiest why it should have been. I had found God in the hallways of that business where forgotten youth learned of the God of another chance. I found God among the cadets of many religions in that military academy. It took me a while to get accustomed to the changes from the church I'd left to the one to which I returned. As such I can identify with those Jews Cyrus set free to return to Jerusalem.
So often our lives are caught between where God used to be experienced and where we hope to someday experience God. But our hope lies in the message of Haggai that we find God where we are and not where we wish we could be.
2010-10-30 by Rina Terry
Alan Ginsburg once said of fellow poet Robert Creeley that he saw more with one eye than most of us see with two. For me, the day poet Robert Creeley died was a profoundly personal day of mourning. His work, and that of Emily Dickinson (also in my Saints Hall of Fame), were and remain the two greatest influences on my own writing. For some time, I did pursue a career as a writer and, if the call to ministry had not become so overwhelming, it would have remained my career. Creeley was the first writer-in-residence for the new Creative Writing graduate program I entered some years ago at Temple University. He was the reason I applied. I had the opportunity to sit in single workshops with him, built around his arrival for Readings at the undergraduate level, but the opportunity to spend a whole semester was enough to restrict my two children and I to a Campbell’s soup diet for much of that time and take student loans that took years to repay. The blessing of children who supported me in my educational pursuits has been one of God’s richest blessings in my life.That semester was one of the most prolific of my three years in that Master’s program. I submitted very little during the course of the semester and felt enormous anxiety when the time approached for my individual appointment during which he would evaluate my entire portfolio. I was so in awe of him I’m afraid I had behaved, much of the semester, like a star-struck adolescent. When I look back on this now, I realize that he must have thought I was more than silly; he must have thought I had no ability. I knocked on the office door, went in and sat down. He looked up and said, “You know, you’re good. You have talent. You need to focus on your writing and keep writing—find your voice, speak…” It was such a relief to know that I would not have to drive over the edge of the Ben Franklin Bridge into the river on my way home! I smiled. He asked me if I had any questions. In response, I said that I had asked them during the semester but that I did have a request.Einstein had the correct idea about memorization. If you can look it up, why memorize it. Yet, I had read Creeley’s poem, “The Rain,” so many times that much later, when I went to share a line with someone, I found that I could recite the entire poem. The day of my evaluation, I told Creeley that I simply wanted to hear him read that poem in his own voice. He took the request very seriously.Another student asserted herself and kept knocking until he opened the door. She said it was time for her appointment. He told her she would get her time and closed the door. He ran his fingers through his hair, a very reflexive gesture for him, and began to read the poem. He stopped and said, “No, that’s not right,” and paused a moment, looked out the window, and then began again. It was a sacred moment for me and he seemed to understand that. It wasn’t about me, or him, it was about art—the gift of something larger and more full of spirit than we truly can understand.In that poem, if you listen carefully, you will hear the rhythms of rain—not one kind of rain, but many. You hear the yearning of the human spirit--the desire for connection, the gnawing hunger and craving for love, the consummate happiness that comes with physical and spiritual connection with another human being. I believe we fall short if we do not look for God in all things. I believe God is found wherever God chooses to reveal God’s self. I believe in God and in the words of the poets, especially those of Robert Creeley.
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