Psalm 59 – Victimization Needs a Voice

Oh, my God, deliver me from my enemies;
    put me out of reach from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from evildoers;
    save me from the bloodthirsty.
Look at how they lie in ambush for my life!
    Powerful people are attacking me, Lord—
        but not because of any error or sin of mine.
    They run and take their stand—
        but not because of any fault of mine.

Get up when I cry out to you!
    Look at what’s happening!
You are the Lord God of heavenly forces,
    the God of Israel!
Wake up and punish all the nations!
    Grant no mercy to any wicked traitor!

They come back every evening,
    growling like dogs,
    prowling around the city.
See what they belch out with their mouths:
    swords are between their lips!
        Who can listen to them?
But you, Lord, laugh at them.
    You mock all the nations.
I keep looking for you, my strength,
    because God is my stronghold.
My loving God will come to meet me.
    God will allow me to look down on my enemies.

Don’t kill them, or my people might forget;
    instead, by your power
    shake them up and bring them down,
        you who are our shield and my Lord.
For the sin of their mouths,
    the words that they speak,
    let them be captured in their pride.
For the curses and lies they repeat,
        finish them off in anger;
        finish them off until they are gone!
Then let it be known to the ends of the earth
    that God rules over Jacob.

They come back every evening,
    growling like dogs,
    prowling around the city.
They roam about for food,
    and if they don’t get their fill,
    they stay all night.
But me? I will sing of your strength!
    In the morning I will shout out loud
    about your faithful love
        because you have been my stronghold,
        my shelter when I was distraught.
I will sing praises to you, my strength,
    because God is my stronghold,
    my loving God. (Common English Bible)

David was in a major pickle.

He was wildly successful as a member of King Saul’s court and a captain in his army. David fought Saul’s battles and won major victories. And this put him in the position of being the object of jealousy from Saul. So much so, that the king was ready to snuff out David’s life. David had done everything Saul had asked of him, and he was now about to be repaid by becoming a hunted man.

Today’s psalm was crafted by David in this awkward space between being at home but about to be on the run. It was a time of high anxiety and hypervigilance, of trying to come to grips with what was happening and about to happen.

Honestly, I really don’t like it when people poo-poo and invalidate other people’s emotions.

Every feeling which comes up for us is meant to be acknowledged and paid attention to.

Otherwise, if every feeling is tossed into some internal trash bin, those emotions eventually come out sideways,  looking like the stereotypical uptight and inflexible person who chronically complains and irritates others with their stone-faced tight-lipped sanctimonious policing of another’s feelings.

Such persons are aghast that psalms like today’s are even in the Bible. Biblical scholars identify these psalms as “imprecatory” psalms because they are curses, giving vent to the bitter anger and painful wonderings of the inner person.

A few years back, I was a chaplain in a large care facility. One of the residents was a retired Episcopal priest. He developed a brain tumor and had surgery to remove it. However, getting rid of the tumor damaged his ability to speak.

So, when I came to see him after his return to the nursing home, he labored intensely just to get a simple sentence out. And after each struggle to speak he would swear and utter some expletive, then apologize to me.

Finally, I said to him, “There’s no need to apologize. You have spent your life using words to bless and help others and now that has been robbed of you. You are angry. I am angry. Let’s just sit here and swear together about it.”

We raged together about disease. We swore like sailors about injustice. We cried out to God for vengeance on evil (and I was secretly praying that no one would walk into the room while we were doing this).

Whereas psalms of lament express deep sadness, imprecatory psalms rage with deep-seated anger.

With no cursing of disease, sickness, and death, it comes out sideways in this unkind sort of “snarky-ness” toward each other. In fact, one day I was speaking with someone at work, and she said to me, “Everyone was so mean to each other yesterday that I went home and cried.”

What I am proposing here is that our anger, our rage, even our vengeance needs recognition, just like our sadness does. Our bitterness must have an outlet, not directed toward one another, but toward the evil itself – and even toward God because God is big enough to handle our rage, whereas other humans are not.

Victimization needs a voice, and a bit of raging and cursing is the means to do it.

Giving voice to our deep anger is cathartic and therapeutic. Our speech needs to be congruent with the intensity of our pain because wherever there are no valued words of assault for victims, the risk of hurting each other is much higher.

Despair with no voice and no one to hear will eventually transition to harming others.

Holy One, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but in Jesus bear that pain with us and bless all who suffer at another’s hands. Make our hurting holy! With your cleansing love, bring healing and strength; and by your justice, lift us up so that we may again rejoice in you, through Christ, my Lord. Amen.

Ephesians 2:11-22 – Included

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (New International Version)

There is perhaps no better explanation in the entire New Testament about what the Church truly is than here in today’s lesson.

The redemptive events of Jesus – especially the crucifixion of Christ – has completely changed everything. The cross is the mid-point of history, the fulcrum in which all things in heaven and on earth hinge.

The cross has totally transformed our status from being:

  • in Adam (fallen and separated from God) to being in Christ (now lifted and in union with God)
  • in the flesh (driven by our immoral and unethical impulses) to being in the Spirit (now driven by moral and ethical desires)
  • a Jew or a Gentile (defined by race, ethnicity, etc.) to being one people of God, a new egalitarian society, the community of the redeemed, the Church.

We were once far from God. Now we are brought near through the blood of Christ.

We are included, not excluded; graced and loved, not shamed and shunned.

And our status isn’t based on physical circumcision but on circumcision of the heart, that is, by faith.

There was a time when we were estranged from God, as if we were migrants from another country, or aliens from another world. We were strangers with no visible hope in anything or anyone.

But now, because of Christ’s cross, we have become near to God, gained an inheritance in Christ, and are seated in the heavens as royalty. Everything has mercifully changed. All is incredibly different – a good different.

Jesus Christ himself is our peace. He is the superglue who has bonded us to God and to one another as the one people of God. Because of this gracious union, there is no more anger and malice toward each other. There is, instead, peace.

The Lord Jesus has torn down the walls of separation between people, stripped the armor off of those who used it to keep a distance, and obliterated all obstacles to genuine relational connection – including the obstacle of the Law.

By his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Christ Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the Law. Therefore, the Law of Moses is no longer needed. Those who love one another and carry one another’s burdens are the ones who fulfill the Law of Christ.

The reason for abolishing all the laws and layers of separation is so that Christ could create one new people from the disparate groups – thus making peace through the cross.

Just as two people come together in marriage and create an entirely new relationship – one new person from the two – so Christ has joined Jew and Gentile together and formed an entirely new society of unity and one-ness.

We are, then, on equal footing with one another. One group is no longer privileged over another. There is no such thing as an underprivileged people-group in God’s new society.

The Church is to be the one place on earth where all are privileged, all are included, and none are left behind.

There is reconciliation. The situation isn’t of people simply not fighting with each other, not at one another’s throats and sitting with a grumpy affect and arms folded. Quite the opposite. It is a restored relationship, harmonious interactions, and working together in loving fellowship.

Christianity is distinct from all other religions and all other ethical systems because everything is based, tethered, and moored in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In Christianity, enmity, hate, and rage aren’t managed; they’re put to death – nailed to the cross and done away with.

Unfettered access to God, through Christ and the Spirit, means that we have an open channel to receiving the faith, hope, and love needed to address the darkness of this world and those still stuck in chaos, disconnection, and shame.

Christ himself is the cornerstone to the superstructure of peace and love which has been erected – the very things we have longed for throughout our personal lives and throughout history.

Jesus is the King who brought radical amnesty and hospitality to the entire country by making us all fellow citizens, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereof.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son who welcomed us into God’s family, embracing our adoption and making us full-blooded brothers and sisters, and giving us a prominent place at the Table.

All of these things about Christians and the Church aren’t ideals; they’re reality.

Anytime we are spiteful, ignorant, prejudiced, or unkind, we are not living in reality – we’re living in an old evil world that isn’t ours.

Therefore, we are called to fully live into God’s new society – a community of equals – loving and leading like Jesus, living into his words and ways, embracing our new status as children of God, offering radical mercy and grace because that’s exactly what our Lord did for us.

Creator God, who made us different from one another in myriad ways, yet all made in your image: Fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom so that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – The Sixth Sense of Spirituality

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (New International Version)

Although a lot of people are not religious, I believe every person on planet earth is spiritual. By that I mean we all intuitively know deep in our gut that there are bigger things going on in this world beyond our own existence – that there is a transcendent Someone who is higher than us whom we can connect to and helps us connect with one another as humans.

If our epistemology (the study of how we as humans know things) doesn’t allow for transcendent reality, then it is a deficient and truncated philosophy (the study of truth, knowledge, and conduct); it will not be able to accommodate spiritual realities.

There are times you have no explanation for what is happening – no words to describe the experience you went through. That’s because your five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound), although alert and reliable with taking-in all kinds of sensory data, are simply inadequate to explain the transcendent situation.

I was once talking with an agnostic (a person who denies that ultimate knowledge can be found, or that knowledge can be located ultimately with a god). This particular guy became a father for the first time. He was fresh off the incredible experience of being in the room with his wife when she gave birth to their son. 

Bill (not his real name) was flush with enthusiasm. He took in the sight of his newborn baby boy, held him and touched him for the first time, and joyfully listened to his very first screams of new life in this great big world.  Bill described it all to me with such awe and reverence. 

Then, Bill said something to me that I haven’t forgotten: “I don’t know how to explain it, Tim. Something spiritual happened when my son was born, something I can’t put into words. All I can say is that I experienced something that was not of this world.”

Something not of this world. That was Bill’s way of saying that he had no mental categories from which to draw from to give him any kind of sensory explanation to the awesome reality of being there at childbirth. 

Our five senses are vital, critical, and significant; yet they do not tell the whole story. As important as our ability to taste, see, touch, smell, and hear is, there are other ways of knowing and experiencing life.

Faith and spirituality are the sixth sense which enable us to discern and know things about ourselves, this world, and God – things that we would not know with only our five senses. 

There is a spiritual reality which transcends the physical. The soul, whether we acknowledge we have one or not, is the place of communion with this unseen reality. The inner person is where we meet-up with God and find a vast world of spiritual resources which boggle the five senses. Somehow, we know this is true, even if we have no language to explain it.

Jesus once said that it is the Spirit who gives life; human strength isn’t even a factor (John 6:63). In other words, God is Spirit, and the One who gives meaning, connection, relationship, and even physical life. Human abilities cannot ultimately do this. Yes, we do have biological explanations for human attraction, marriage, and where babies come from; yet this is not the whole story. 

There is a transcendent reality behind it all that gives life meaning and purpose. There are times, once-in-awhile, when the unique, the astonishing, and the beautiful grab us.

Our souls spring to life. We “see” the transcendent and get an awesome glimpse of this place where the physical and the spiritual “touch.”

We “taste” that the Lord is good, and “hear” the call to a deeper experience of recognizing the care and compassion of Christ. 

We take in a deep breath and “smell” the aroma of him who created us in his image and likeness.

Let your senses draw in all the wonderful information it can. And don’t stop there. Allow your soul to drink in the spiritual dimension of wisdom, and feed your inner person with Jesus Christ, who saves us from the sinful and the mundane, and lifts us to the world of the Spirit where there is life, hope, and infinite love.

Holy God, your knowledge of me exceeds what I grasp or see in any moment; you know me better than I know myself. Now, help me to trust in your mercy, to see myself in the light of your holiness, and grant me the grace that I may have true contrition, make an honest confession, and find in you forgiveness and perfect remission. Amen. – A prayer of St. Augustine

Galatians 3:23-29 – A Ministry of Equals

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So, the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (New International Version)

So far, this year…

we have journeyed through Advent to see the Christ child…

followed the light of Epiphany with Jesus as the light of the world…

traveled in Lent to see ourselves in the light of Christ…

experienced Holy Week with the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…

exulted in the spiritual victory of Easter(tide)…

observed the Lord’s ascension to heaven…

and celebrated the incredible giving of the Holy Spirit to us as believers in and followers of Jesus.

Now…

we have entered the longest Christian season of the year: Ordinary Time or Proper Time.

Armed with the redemptive events of Jesus and with the Spirit as our Teacher, Guide, and Advocate, it is the ordinary ministry and proper life of every Christian to utilize our identity and belonging to spiritually grow and mature in Christ – and spread the seeds of the Gospel everywhere we go. This is simply the normative behavior of every Christian.

We are to bring…

faith, hope, and love to a world in need of God’s grace and peace – a world so often characterized by the chaos of hate, conflict, war, and unrest…

connection where there is disconnection, restoration where there is fragmentation, and inclusion wherever there is exclusion.

Ever since…

the fall of humanity, people have had the predilection to organize themselves in groups that keep them distinct from other groups. Whether it is high school peer groups or office politics; whether class warfare or church cliques; there has always existed a tendency to think better about the groups we identify with, and to look down and believe the worst about those we don’t understand or just don’t like.

But Jesus…

is the person who changes it all. Faith in Christ makes each of us equal with each other, whether Jew or a Greek, in bondage or in freedom, a man or a woman. The cross of Christ not only brought deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the work of Jesus Christ ushered-in a new egalitarian society.

I’m not sure the English translations of the Apostle Paul’s phrasing to the Galatian Church truly capture his passion about this issue. For Paul, Christ’s cross has done so much more than bring personal salvation; it has completely eradicated prejudice, discrimination, and division. 

Therefore…

the Church is to be the one place on earth where divisions no longer exist. It is to be a foretaste of heaven. The Church is to be a new society, a community of the redeemed, based in equity, diversity, and inclusion, from every people group, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Together as one, just as God is One, the Church lives the kingdom values of Christ’s words and ways in a fragmented and chaotic world.

Since then…

the ground is level at the cross, we are to live into our Christian unity with humble attitudes and loving actions. To do otherwise is to be immature. We (hopefully) expect kids to be kids and not be like adults. They need teaching, training, and tutoring to learn. When kids grow up and get into adulthood, we then expect them act like an adult. If they continue in childish behavior, they are immature.

Many adult Christians are still stuck in spiritual childhood. The evidence of this is seen in trying to stratify church society into insiders and outsiders, those who have always been in the church and newcomers who haven’t, or the committed servants and the lax pew sitters, or the givers and the takers, or the theological conservatives and theological liberals.

Rather than…

all of that dividing of people, our spiritual energy, powerfully given to us by the Spirit, is to be placed with living into the egalitarian society inaugurated by Jesus (and Paul). Not taking women’s leadership seriously, or avoiding relationships with the poor, or being xenophobic, or excluding gays, all come from a place of immaturity. It is childish behavior. And Jesus expects better.

Embracing an egalitarian society neither means we are all the same nor should act alike. The diverse backgrounds and experiences of people help make a rich mosaic of support for one another in the Body of Christ.

Being egalitarian means…

all people are created in the image and likeness of God – no exceptions. All persons, therefore, deserve morally equal treatment, respect, and justice. A just and good Christian ethic ensures all believers are handled with love, given sound instruction, and are free to explore their gifts and abilities within the church.

Pursuing equality means more than acknowledging our differences and saying we include others. We need the further step of becoming curious about other cultures, ethnicities, races, and peoples of all kinds.

We need curiosity…

about class differences, health disparities, and political views. It is good for us to actively seek to learn about things like gerrymandering and why its so important; or about what white privilege is and why that’s a big deal; or about mental illness or poverty or crime or any issue that impacts the human condition around us.

In other words, we become curious simply because, as Christians, we care about people.

The Church is…

at its heart, is a community of equals. Thus, the Church, as an egalitarian community, must actively reject racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination while purposefully seeking ways to create and maintain a unified community without divisions.

Jesus reached out…

to the misfits and marginalized in society who were suffering from political, cultural, gender, and religious oppression and discrimination. The community of persons Christ formed included people of all ages and backgrounds. Children were welcome. Women sat down with men to learn and became active participants alongside one another.

Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, the parable of the good Samaritan, and the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, all illustrate that ministry is to reach beyond our own familiar group. In short, Jesus practiced a radical hospitality. He loved and welcomed the stranger.

We Christians…

would do well to emulate our Lord, as well as take our cues on ministry from Paul, who grounded both his theory and practice of Christian mission and service in a Trinitarian theology of equals.

Gracious God, you have abolished barriers through the redemption of Christ. Prevent me from erecting walls that would divide and use me to be a bridge so that others may experience equality in Jesus. Amen.