READING: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; and John 12:20-33|
COLLECTFor the Fifth Sunday in Lent (also known as "Judica" Sunday - from "Judica me - Judge me O God...") a prayer for judgement, advocacy and deliverance.
O God, how hard it is for us to approach You. We have lost the sense of grandeur and awe we had about You and replaced it with a chumminess, that in our heart of hearts, sounds awfully phony sometimes. Judge us Lord. You have the right. But judge us with mercy. We ask for the grace of having Jesus stand before you advocating on our behalf. Deliver us Father from deceit and injustice, our own and that of others so that we may indeed be Your people. We ask through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.
Written On The Heart
I have this vision of God's finger writing His Law & His covenant with me on the tablets of my heart; this sense of God endowing my every molecule with a trace of himself. God's law written on my blood cells, on every neuron, on each shaft of hair. God's intimacy on each breath. God's knowing of me and His knowing of each one of us and our knowing of Him in an intimacy so profound it is beyond the "knowing" of a parent the small body of their child. It is beyond the knowing of a lover. It is an infinity of communion.
When I begin to rhapsodize like this, I feel I am on the edge of "knowing" something that will forever alter my perception of who I am. God has done this before with me. Here in this passage of Jeremiah is a hint of what is to come. In this promise is the feast of transformation, the power and potential of being transfigured. Here, under the veil of covenant language, is the shadow of the sacrifice of the Cross and the inherent resurrection. This is how much He loves me - before I call, before I think I need - long before - he has planned for it.
The Divine Lover carves His Word and His promises in my very flesh, brands me as His own and dares me to look at Him and to love Him. For all time. For now, in my sisters and brothers. For later. For always. Blessed be God!
Somewhere I have heard that if you read the psalms on a daily basis, studying them and digesting them, that you will, after many seasons, begin to really understand the rest of the Bible. I think there is a great deal of truth to that. The Psalms are a part of me after many years of imbibing from the fountain of their wisdom. My favourite version of them is the King James Version. I like them in other translations because then they come at me fresh and new and disturbing.
Psalm 51 is so well known that it is sometimes dismissed. It is so uncomfortable that it is sometimes ignored. I think that if you've never needed a Saviour, if you've never needed cleansing, really needed it, then you will have difficulty with this one.
Here I stand, in my meanness, in my nakedness and need, in my keen self knowing, recognizing in my very vulnerability, the hope offered by God's "steadfast love." It is God's love that will hear me and heal me. It is so totally and radically undeserved. It is "amazing grace." And whether He hears me or not, whether He heals me or not, I just want to sing. For I know He loves me, no matter what happens, I will never be outside the love of God. Should He decide to fashion a new heart or leave me where I am, I am His. And that is enough.
Alternate - Psalm 119:9-16
I remember reading these words as a young woman. I remember wanting so much to be His, wanting so much to be faithful, to be wise. As I think about that strong desire today, I recognize the gifts of discernment, affirmation and encouragement I can bring to my role as older woman and mentor. God has planted the hunger and the thirst. We are to nourish that - as a community - in our young. How can they treasure His words if they have not heard? How will we share the promise of the covenant if we do not witness?
These five short verses are so rich! Where does one begin? What does one choose to emphasize? Hmmmmm. In the first two verses, five and six, it says that Jesus was chosen for us by God, like Aaron was, that Jesus is God's Son, and then, that Jesus' priesthood was of a very special nature, "priest forever, according to the order of Melchizidek." [Melchizidek, king of Salem (king of righteousness), blesses Abraham, through whom every family on earth is blessed. Here we have an everlasting priest whose priesthood is pre-eminent to the Aaronic priesthood.] These verses are just background information to what follows.
Gethsemane started at the beginning of Jesus' call to ministry, perhaps even before that. Verse seven presumes an active and ongoing prayer life, a prayer life in which Jesus pursued and wrestled with a radical understanding of God's will and purpose in His life and the lives of those around Him. He prayed and humbly entreated God. It states very clearly that He was heard on account of His reverent submission. Now, there's a thought! Or two. When the answer we seek and desire is denied us, we often speak and act as if we were NOT heard instead. Instead of dealing with the implications of the "no." "Reverent submission" is a foreign concept to liberal western ears. We do not like lords - with the possible exception of being our own lords.
These verses on suffering and obedience are very dear and close to my heart. I am enrolled in the school of suffering, as I labour under a chronic illness with associated pain and fatigue. I have sought, with all my strength and understanding, a way out from under the burden of illness. I tried "believing enough" too - you know, if you just have the right kind and amount of faith, you will be healed. In some ways, this is very much like being or at least, believing in my own god, me, in charge of my own destiny. I find I cannot abide the implications of this theory ("not believing enough to be healed") of my suffering. It's not that I don't believe in God's goodness or in His desire for my wholeness. I do. It's just that I trust Him to decide the when and the how of the healing and the why of now. It says that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered and that he was made perfect. I believe that is so. With all my heart. If it was only just my own experience I would find it suspect but I have the testimony of scripture and the testimony, the vivid witness of those who have suffered before me or with me now to corroborate what my experience is telling me.
Jesus shows an obedience that is above and beyond most of our conceptions of the word. The taint to the word that was given it as a result of the blind obedience of folk in the Nazi era and since in areas of "mankind's inhumanity to mankind" has allowed us to wiggle out of the implications of obedience in our own lives. Jesus' obedience is not blind obedience, seeking a way out of responsibility. His obedience is an obedience worked out and through his prayer life, both His seeking God's will and His listening for it. I am struck over and over again by the relationship of prayer Jesus had with God. It can be mine as well. Through prayerful obedience and obedient prayer, Jesus accomplished God's purpose.
Unless.... Dreaded words. Unless I die, I will not produce fruit. Unless I die to my understanding, my will, my way, I will not live. Jesus' profound understanding of radical selflessness, radical servanthood is a bit of a pill to swallow in this age of consumerism where the focus is intently upon "my" sensual appetites and their fulfillment.
When Jesus talks about dying to self we squirm. The only kind of dying we don't understand. We understand the "right to die." We understand the necessity of giving women control over their own bodies, their own destinies by allowing the abortion (death) of the unwanted fetus. We can rationalize death in other contexts. We are inured to death except as it pertains to our appetites, our wants and needs.
LENTEN THOUGHTS"Burdens or Crosses?"
I have just walked through one tough week and a half. Events have occurred within that time that have highlighted and illuminated my faith for me in a very special way. In the Lenten journey towards the Cross, I have encountered other journeys, other faces. One of those journeys was made by a very brave and special friend just over a week ago. It was her last journey. Another kind of journey is being walked right now by still another friend. The shadow of the Cross has fallen across both these journeys.
These two friends and their journeys have led me to enter more deeply into the meaning of the Cross in my life. Occasionally I hear people talk about the crosses they must bear and put up with. Often this talk is accompanied by significant whining and even gnashing of teeth. There is a problem though. I have to admit that I find it hard to "see" the Cross in such conversations. But I think I know where the problem lies. We are not careful to distinguish between burdens and crosses.
Things that happen in our lives that are difficult and hard to understand and comprehend are burdens that we must bear, or have others help us bear, or we can just collapse under them. They are just that - burdens. Burdens are awful. When I hear the word "burdens," I feel the weight and the tiredness and the weakness that the word implies. It depresses me even further. I feel robbed of hope.
Now here is where our definitions and understandings can get in our way. We think that the burdens that come our way are "crosses thrust upon us." Not so! No cross is thrust upon us. A burden only becomes a "cross" when I choose to pick it up, to carry it - my burden - in a particular way - sacrificially, with much prayer, aware of what I am doing and for who. Otherwise I am not carrying a cross, I am just shouldering or staggering under a burden.
Once a burden is transformed into a cross I willingly choose to embrace then something happens. I have a purpose to fulfill, a goal to attain, a destination to strive for. I have hope that my suffering will not be in vain, will not, despite appearances, be wasted. I carry my cross with dignity even if I sometimes crumble, like Christ did, beneath it. My eyes become fixed on the Author and Finisher of all things instead of on my limited line of sight. My eyes strain beyond the crucifixion and the death, past the darkness and silence of the tomb, into the dawn of an Easter morning. Alleluia! Praise God who gives us the Victory!
As a devotional exercise, try reading and praying through a "Stations of the Cross" I wrote with Richard back in 1994 which was designed to be used at a Good Friday worship service.
copyright - Charlene E. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2000- 2006
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