Week of March 2–8, 2015 – Wisdom without Words by Bill Dockery
Read Psalm 19:1–6
Meditation: One evening a few years ago, I took my children to a remote farm, away from the noise and lights of Knoxville. A farmer had created a maze in one of his cornfields and was charging school kids and parents for the fun of getting lost in it. The youngsters quickly disappeared into the raspy rows of cornstalks. I stepped away to a pasture where the cars were parked.
The faint glow of twilight outlined the horizon. A thin husk of moon hung in the sky, punctuated by the brightness of the evening star. Suddenly as I gazed, the blue-black sky gained depth, and I sensed the whirling of planets and moon through space, speeding me on unimaginable paths. Terror gripped me. Like a kid on a runaway merry-go-round, I felt I might be flung into that inky sky. Instinctively, I wanted to flatten myself against the earth to keep from being hurled into the void. I knew immediately that I was in the presence of the Holy. I became aware of my true place in the world.
That overwhelming awe, tinged with terror, is what the psalmist celebrates in the first verses of Psalm 19. “How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!” (TEV) Accustomed to a desert sky unobscured by human activity, the psalmist can readily grasp the universe as the incarnation of the Creator. Yet, the psalmist tells us, “No speech or words are used, no sound is heard” (TEV).
Though words are needed to sing of the experience, the psalmist wisely celebrates the wordlessness of the sacred wisdom that emanates from God’s universe.
God of creation, h elp us see behind our words to your deeper wisdom. Amen.
Week of March 9–15, 2015 – Struggling in Today’s Wilderness by Charlene Kammerer
Read Numbers 21:4–9
Meditation: The Israelites go overboard in complaining to God again about their fate. They start living in the past, wanting to go back to Egypt, wishing for leaders other than Moses and Aaron, fearing death in the wilderness, spewing anger at the lack of food and water of their choosing. They start reliving their negative history of not fully trusting God to be their sole Guide and Protector.
And so God allows them to encounter poisonous snakes that overrun them and kill some of their company. The people begin to repent and name their sins. Once again, God’s merciful hand intervenes and saves them from the deadly snakes. Moses follows God’s instruction to make a serpent. He creates one out of bronze and places it high on a pole so the people can see it. The bronze serpent represents both death and life. When the people look up and remember what God has done for them, trusting and obeying God again, they are saved from the snakes’ poison.
How often do we as a people forget that God is in charge? How often do we in the church complain that “if only” we were bigger, had more money, more children and youth, a nicer building, a good preacher, then we would be growing and multiplying our numbers and ministries. How often do we act like we want to go back to the past instead of moving forward to God’s Canaan for us? To what do we look to regain our trust in God?
Ever-patient God, stop us in our tracks when we complain incessantly about everything that is wrong in our lives and world. Turn our hearts to you in whom we find strength and joy for the journey of discipleship. Amen.
Week of March 16–22, 2015 – New Venues of Obedience by M. Thomas Thangaraj
Read Jeremiah 31:31–34
Meditation: Do you realize that this is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where the phrase “new covenant” appears? Ezekiel talks about God’s planting a new heart and a new spirit in us (Ezek. 18:31) and mentions how God can “remove the heart of stone” and replace it with “a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19). But Jeremiah offers us a “new covenant” that God promises to make with God’s people. The Holy One made an earlier covenant with the people of Israel when delivering them from bondage in Egypt. They broke that covenant and went after a golden calf in the desert and other idols around them. Now Jeremiah announces the days when God will make a “new covenant” with the people.
Why does God offer a new covenant instead of abandoning the people to their disobedience? Here is the clue. God says, “I was their husband.” The bond between marriage partners in biblical times was a permanent and unchanging covenant. God’s abiding covenant with the people of God cannot be totally broken; it can be made anew.
Even in our disobedience, a new covenant is possible, and God takes the initiative, living into the relationship in “steadfast love.” The psalmist rightly proclaims again and again that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Lent offers a time of accounting for our disobedience and learning to obey. God is willing to make a new covenant with us even now.
O Holy One, give me the courage to accept your offer of a new covenant and the strength to keep it in total obedience to your will. Amen.
Week of March 23–29, 2015 – Love Has Us Surrounded by Paul L. Escamilla
Read Psalm 118:1–2, 19–29
Meditation: Palm/Passion week is one like no other—fraught with triumph and tragedy, festivity and forsakenness, virtue and vice, all woven in a tight weave. In such a context, Psalm 118 is a gift of undergirding, a song of assurance that come what may, nothing will separate us or the world from God’s abiding love.
The structure of the psalm reflects the structure of the week in which the psalm presents itself in the lectionary. The first and final verses are identical: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” We could say they represent Palm Sunday on one end and Easter on the other. Between the two, the psalm, as with the week, presents us with distress, hatred, rejection, even thorns, all bookended by these enduring words of encouragement.
This bookending framework is more than mere poetic license; it is theological affirmation, akin to another we know from Revelation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the first and the last (1:8). God is good, all the time and forever; and the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. This latter phrase evokes the plaintive tones of Lamentations, in which the prophet Jeremiah, deeply distraught with the many burdens of both his work and his world, still affirms, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22–23).
The blessing of bookends is their ability to hold us steady during the unsteady time between the times; in other words, to reassure us that come what may, love has us surrounded.
Eternal God, hold us steady with the assurance that your steadfast love never ceases. Amen.
Week of March 30–April 5, 2015 – Trusting in God’s Presence by Claire McKeever-Burgett
Read Psalm 36:5–11
Meditation: the psalmist speaks truth yet again. For who on this Holy Monday, after Jesus enters Jerusalem, after Mary publicly prepares Jesus’ body for burial and for death, who does not need a reminder of the protective, present love of God?
We know where the road to Jerusalem leads. We know that the hosanna shouts and palm-branch waves quickly fade into the background. We know the authorities meet in secret, making deals, sacrificing lives. We know Judas betrays and Peter denies. We know what lies ahead. It was a long week then, and it is a long week now.
Which is why the psalmist’s words sing in our hearts, offering us hope, offering us love, offering us light.
Biblical scholars tell us Psalm 36 is a hymn of rejoicing in the Temple. The Israelite people were a people of pain. They knew their share of heartache and betrayal, yet they also knew how to testify to God’s love and to celebrate Yahweh’s victory.
The ancient songwriters, much like the poets of today, looked to the mountains and the sky, to the sea and to the forest, to the birds of the air and the animals of the land, trusting that in all things God was present with them.
The psalmist trusts in the strength of God’s love and the vastness of God’s protection and turns to the natural world to tell the love story of God.
Is it any wonder that Jesus quoted the Psalms so often? Is it any wonder that Psalm 36 is part of our reading for this Monday of Holy Week?
Today, help us, O God, to trust in your vast love. May we follow the way of Jesus—the way of salvation, trust, and life.. Amen.