Thursday, October 24

Psalm 150

Let everything that breathes praise the LORD (v. 6a). Why does the book of Psalms end there? Why does this liturgical book that remembers and reflects, confronts and heals, celebrates and laments the story of God’s people conclude with this line? 

The Psalter engages us in every prayerful way imaginable, so why are the last six poems psalms of praise? These are not petitions or preparations; they are not words of comfort or confession. The Psalms take us into every nook and cranny of our hearts, surveying every experience of our lives. But after doing all that, this worship book clearly guides us back to intentional praise.

In worship we deal with, pray about, preach on, and make many kinds of commitments, which is good. But the Psalter leads us back to praise because, in the end, worship is about God. The beautiful poetry of Psalm 150 makes that perfectly clear. 

Throughout the ages, many confessions of faith have proclaimed that glorifying God is the chief end and primary purpose of any human life. Some wonder if praise is something God needs, as if the Almighty is a megalomaniac. But God is not needy—we are. 

We are self-focused creatures, and our daily demands keep us in that state. We need the practice of turning again and again to God with thankful hearts. Praise returns us to a proper disposition about who we are and what our place is in the world. All creation manifests God’s being. Everything that has breath expresses the reality of God’s glory. Remembering that together on a Sunday helps us manifest our part on Monday. 

Consider

Why is praising God essential to your life? 

Pray

God, guide me to use my daily breath in praise of you. Amen.

Wednesday, October 23

2 Samuel 6:20-23

Yesterday we sought to understand Michal’s bitterness, noting that David took her from her marriage to serve his political purposes. She hates this king. We understand and despise with her the injustice and cultural oppression that led to her pain. We do not blame her for David’s sin and are sympathetic when she lashes out at him in today’s verses. But we hope that in some way Saul’s daughter knew more than bitterness for the rest of her life. Scripture, however, offers a subtle, disheartening postscript to her story: And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death (v. 23).

Contemplative teacher Richard Rohr often reminds us, “If we don’t transform our pain we will transmit it.” Everyone carries some of this fallen world’s pain and consequence. Some carry more than their fair share. All that is held and hidden hurts us; often it hurts those around us. All brokenness or sin has consequences in the world. It all ripples. It’s all transmitted until it’s transformed, healed. 

The central saving belief in the Christian faith is that God comes into the midst of life to redeem life. In Christ, God asserts that all things might be healed. This prominent teaching from first-century theologians was the way they first understood God’s incarnation and our salvation. Gregory of Nazianzus insisted, “The unsummed is the unredeemed.” In Christ, who came and lived and died in a vulnerable human body, God heals us and the world.

But we can’t ignore human agency. When injustice and evil cause our pain, when no forgiveness has been sought and no reconciliation attempted, it’s hard to consent to God’s healing. Bitterness appears to be Michal’s only option, but she deserves to dance too.

Consider

What is the relationship between healing and forgiveness? What does it take to transform the world’s pain? 

Pray

God who heals, teach us how to bring our pain to you so that you can make us strong in our brokenness. Amen.

Tuesday, October 22

2 Samuel 6:12-19

When David brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, Michal, one of David’s wives, does not join the others for the parade. She watches from the window, despising David. “Well, that’s not very nice,” we first think. “She’s certainly not supporting her husband.” Then we discover her story. In 2 Samuel 3 David takes Michal, who is Saul’s daughter, from her husband Paltiel to solidify David’s hold on the throne. Paltiel follows her, weeping as he walks behind her, surrounded by the king’s entourage, until he is ordered to leave Michal and return home (3:16).

Using women in this political way was typical. We hurt with her and understand why she won’t take part in the significant festivities below her window. When David dances in his undergarments, she despised him in her heart (v. 16). His joy comes at the expense of her sorrow.

David, unaware of Michal’s anger, continues to share the love he feels, giving cake to each household that is present. Everyone is in on the party except Michal, who hates it all. 

We find this narrative’s dynamic and dilemma familiar. Something similar still plays out in communities when our stories unfold in all their complexity. Good things happen. Excellent celebrations take place that include many in the victory, the windfall, the benefits, and the joy. When the ark arrives, the whole town seems happy. But we must read the footnote, too, and hear of the suffering linked to this celebration. 

Life is complex, and there’s usually more to a narrative than first meets the eye. The disposition of someone’s heart has everything to do with their story. When we read the story, we need to take the time to see the full picture. Celebration is an essential part of life, and parades are important. But some aren’t able to take part and we need to realize why.

Consider

When have you realized that your joy came at the expense of another’s sorrow? Whose stories make you more compassionate and understanding of their response to life?

Pray

God, make me slow to judge and quick to care for anyone in the story. Amen.

Monday, October 21

2 Samuel 6:1-5 

Not only does David have good military instincts, his intuition covers politics and liturgy, too. He demonstrates this by deciding to transport the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is already known as the city of David, but he’s ready for it to also be known as the city of God. So David organizes the ark’s journey to be a cross between a military parade and a holy procession.

This time of celebration and fulfillment contrasts with the reality of Israel’s violent military conquests and ancient religious perception. The account is sandwiched between a story where God gives David intel on how to strike down the Philistines (5:25) and one in which God strikes dead an Israelite who steadies the ark when an oxen pulling the ark stumbled (6:7), which sours David’s enthusiasm considerably. 

But in between these hard, strange scenes, we find David, along with all the young men of Israel, marching and dancing behind the ark, celebrating with all their might (v. 5). 

In spite of all that surrounds it, this is a happy and joyful moment. And it’s a needed reminder that as we make the journeys God calls us to make, we must engage all parts of ourselves, all of who we are. We need these moments that involve our bodies and our souls. 

We need a harp in our hands. A joyfully resounding cymbal can be important to our spiritual well-being, especially when our faith has soured somewhat and we’re not sure what to do next. That’s a moment to reach for a castanet…or a garden hoe or a trusted recipe book or a yoga mat. We don’t often think our way back into well-being. We use all of who we are, especially the physical, sensual, material, and communal. Sing something. Join a parade. Dance like David. 

Consider

Identify the ways you intentionally celebrate. How have certain activities that may not be obviously spiritual helped restore and re-center you?

Pray

God, help us learn to love you with all of our might. Help us celebrate you with mind and heart, as well as body and soul. Amen.

Sunday, October 20

2 Samuel 5:1-5 

Honest souls wrestle with biblical texts. This is especially true as we carefully make our way through the Hebrew Scriptures. Violence fills many of these pages, making lots of their stories NSFFG (not suitable for flannelgraph). So we never heard them in Sunday school, nor, tellingly, in our lectionary readings. 

Our Scripture this week in 2 Samuel describes the fruition and fulfillment of God’s work and promise, but ugly, violent stories surround these texts, begging the question, “How is all this horrible stuff happening right beside all of the holy stuff?” The chapters before David’s anointing in chapter 5 would make the Godfather blush. Yet, in the midst of this mess, the Scripture writers, and the community that has held onto these stories, invite us to see God at work. Can we? Let’s try.

In today’s reading, David is anointed (v. 3). This is only a reaffirmation for David and those of us reading along; we remember that he was anointed as a shepherd boy. He has carried this identity long before it is outwardly confirmed. David has a long journey to make before being inaugurated, a long journey that is made in the midst of intense political calculation and injustice, involving paranoia and hiding, killing and dealmaking, compromise and more killing. Yet, even as he navigates all of this, David faithfully trusts in something higher and holy. 

Day by day, we seek to live more fully into our kingdom callings within the messy imperfections of a fallen world. But even in the midst of all that we must navigate, we too can trust in something holy. 

Consider

What makes being a disciple a “messy” process for you these days? What glimpses of the holy do you see along your way? 

Pray

God, help us stay faithful to your call to follow. When life is most challenging, may your light guide us to stay the course. Amen.

Saturday, October 19

Mark 3:31-35

In P. D. Eastman’s beloved children’s book Are You My Mother? a tiny bird hatches out of his shell while his mother is away from her nest. The story follows the plucky hatchling’s search for his mother and his identity. Predictably, this search takes him to all the wrong places. 

Twice, Mark opens a section of his Gospel with the comment that Jesus returns home to Capernaum, where he is met by multitudes (2:1; 3:19-21). The crowds are so great and the stories so astonishing that Jesus’ family comes to pull him away from the ruckus, fearing for his sanity. When his family can’t get to him, the multitude informs Jesus: Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you (v. 32). Jesus scandalizes the crowd by responding: Who are my mother and my brothers? (v. 33) Perhaps this validates his family’s worst fears: Jesus doesn’t know who he is. He’s lost his mind. 

But this interaction becomes a teaching moment. Jesus turns to the crowd, saying: Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (v. 35). Jesus redefines our identity in terms of our relationship to God, his Father, and turns the expectations of his world and ours completely upside down. Jesus is establishing a new family for his followers, a new identity in which they are brothers and sisters with him in the family of God. Jesus knows who he is. He is his Father’s son. Jesus, and only Jesus, is truly and fully whole. We are the confused ones, not who God intends us to be. Until, like the bird in Eastman’s story, Jesus gathers us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Mt 23:37b). Then we become more truly and deeply ourselves, doing the will of God, who is our Father.

Consider

What does being a brother or sister to Jesus mean to you? Does the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ” mean that same thing? 

Pray

Creator God, we confess that we don’t always want to be brothers and sisters to everyone around us. We want to be first, favored, privileged. Forgive us and gather us all to your breast. Amen.

Friday, October 18

Ruth 1:22

For millions, Jerusalem is the center of the world. This is the city David built, for which the Jews mourned in exile. Jesus prayed and wept over Jerusalem. The prophet Ezekiel reimagined this city as the place where God’s divine glory would be displayed among the nations (Ezek 47). Yet in spite of this, the little village of Bethlehem could make its own legitimate claim to be the true center of the world. In the humble, hidden ways of God, the lives of four women who were ancestors of Jesus point to Bethlehem as the place where all of our stories find their center.

Matthew’s Gospel lists Ruth, Tamar (Gen 38), Rahab (Josh 2) and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) among forty-two generations of Jesus’ ancestors. Including women in this recorded genealogy of Israel’s Messiah was unheard of, and including these women was stunning. Ruth the Moabite, Rahab the Canaanite, Bathsheba the Hittite, and perhaps Tamar, are not Jews. Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba are widows with unusual relationships with their children’s fathers. Rahab is a prostitute. How do these women connect us all to Bethlehem? 

They prepare us for the irregularity of Jesus’ birth and the scandalous inclusiveness of Jesus’ message. These unlikely women, their children, and their stories lead us to the stories of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the magi who make their way to meet Jesus in Bethlehem. Jesus is born outside the norm. He lived among Gentiles in Egypt and probably worked alongside Gentiles at Sepphoris, the new Roman city near Nazareth. 

Ultimately, Jesus welcomes outcasts, touches untouchables, invites children into his arms, and leads sinners to his table. Irregulars, outsiders, and outcasts fully share in God’s redemptive plan. While we await the New Jerusalem, we celebrate God’s hidden glory, which shines from Bethlehem upon all us irregulars.

Consider

Why does God love and use so many who are considered outsiders?

Pray

God, thank you for loving, forgiving, and including us all. Amen.

Thursday, October 17

Ruth 1:19-21

A decade can go by in a blink, and ten years can feel like a lifetime. For Naomi and her former neighbors, ten years must seem like the latter. When the women last saw Naomi, she was a wife with young sons. Now she is widowed, childless, and returning with her Moabite daughter-in-law. Moabites were particularly despised enemies of the Israelites. Their women were accused of seducing Israelite men into Baal worship, representing sins against God as well as the community. 

Age, loss, and life in a foreign land have changed Elimelech’s widow. “Could this be Naomi?” the women ask. She responds, “Naomi means pleasant. Don’t call me that. Call me Mara, my name is Bitter.” She explains, The Almighty has dealt bitterly with me and has brought calamity upon me (vv. 20-21). 

Naomi continues, “YHWH has brought me back empty… YHWH has dealt harshly with me” (v. 21). In a world where wealth and sons are signs of God’s favor, why has Naomi suffered such losses? The book of Ruth provides no answer to that question.

As Katherine Doob Sakenfeld notes, in Ruth, “God does not have a speaking role.” People talk about and pray to God, but God is silent. The silence of God is what’s so difficult for us to understand. Why did Naomi suffer so? Why the Crucifixion? Why the Holocaust? Nevertheless, God is not completely hidden. We read that “YHWH had considered his people and given them food” (1:6). And in the end, YHWH made the barren Moabite Ruth “conceive, and she bore a son” (4:13). God’s action may not satisfy our fevered questions, but when seen through eyes of faith, God’s action assures us that God sees and hears our anguish. 

Consider

Where were you ten years ago? Are you where you expected to be by now? Where will you be in the next ten? Will friends and family recognize you? 

Pray

Risen Lord, Lamb of God, you know the bitterness of God’s silence. Be with us in our darkest nights. Hold us close until dawn comes at last. Amen.

Wednesday, October 16

Ruth 1:15-18

What are the conversations like in Naomi’s household as resources and hopes dwindle? What do they say as they consider leaving Moab? What’s discussed when the jungle looms before them? At Naomi’s second urging, Orpah changes her mind, kisses Naomi goodbye, and trudges back up the path into Moab. After watching her go, Ruth stands her ground, and makes a vow: Do not press me to leave you…Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God (v. 16). When we hear this vow in wedding ceremonies many don’t realize it was first made by a non-Israelite daughter-in-law to her husband’s mother. 

The relationships between mothers and daughters-in-law are almost universally regarded as difficult. In some cultures, a daughter-in-law is in actual servitude to her husband’s mother until the older woman’s death. It’s reasonable to believe that Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law is highly unusual. 

Probably all of us have made some type of vow—intentional or not. I won’t ever do that to my children! When I grow up I’ll never treat them like my parents treated me. As Daniel Bagby once pointed out, our lives may be shaped by vows we’re not even aware of having made. A boy who heard his father teased about driving an old car vowed to himself that he would never be embarrassed by his automobile. He becomes an adult who keeps trading cars because he’s never satisfied with the one he has.

Ruth makes an utterly unexpected vow of loyalty to Naomi, Naomi’s people, and Naomi’s God. What a risky commitment she makes. But what a difference it makes as well.

Consider

To whom or what are you most loyal? What vows, spoken or unspoken, control your life? What vow do you still need to make?

Pray

God, help us believe that our first loyalty should be to you. Help us in the hard work of being faithful. May our trust in you deepen as we live in such a way that others want to know the God we serve. Amen.

Tuesday, October 15

Ruth 1:10-14

Naomi has set her face to the west. She is going home to Bethlehem, widowed and childless after more than a decade in a foreign land. She has no idea whether she will be welcomed or rejected. The road home is a footpath through the jungle-filled wilderness of the Jordan River Valley. Stopping on the path, she pleads with her daughters-in-law, repeating the words, Turn back, my daughters, and voicing her belief that the hand of the Lord has turned against me (vv. 11-13).

Naomi has no future in Moab. With no family to supply husbands for her daughters-in-law, she is the end of her line and at the end of her rope. While the future for Orpah and Ruth is bleak, it is not hopeless. They have families to return to in Moab. Yet they have a decision to make, too. Surprisingly, both Orpah and Ruth want to go with their mother-in-law. 

What about Naomi makes them cling to her despite her destitution? What about their past experiences make them reluctant to go back home? Scripture makes no judgment on Orpah’s decision to return. For a moment this family holds one another, caught between the graveyard behind them and the jungle before them. 

At some point in our lives, and maybe more than once, we come to a place where we lament with Naomi, the Lord has turned against me. We, too, are caught between a graveyard and a jungle. Like Naomi, we must leave our losses in Moab. We must set our face toward the jungle and walk through it one step at a time. As it turns out, Naomi’s story will be a prelude to the story of Jesus’ birth. Because we know that story, we can trust that God is still working to redeem us, and our world. 

Consider

When in your life have you walked through the jungle? How has God been at work in subtle or hidden ways?

Pray

God, we are so often afraid. Help us continue to walk in faith even when the path is tangled and hard to see. Amen.