Psalm 143

persons raising hands
Photo by Luis Dalvan on Pexels.com

The Old Testament Psalms are the Church’s prayer book.  For this reason, the Revised Common Lectionary includes a psalm for each daily reading.  What’s more, the lectionary typically repeats the psalm for three consecutive days.  This is to emphasize both the need to internalize biblical prayers as well as to allow us to linger with the problems, feelings, grief, praise, and situation within the psalm.  This allows us to not jump to hasty solutions and to act with careful and deliberate spiritual resolve.

Psalm 143 was crafted by David during a difficult time in his life.  David never was one to shy away from giving vent to God about his complaint; and, in equal measure, his confidence in God to handle the situation.

Since psalms are meant to be slowly imbibed, I began a practice several years ago of translating many of them for my own devotional purposes.*  For today’s translation, I am taking a few liberties with the text by deliberately changing the pronouns from singular to plural; and, naming the mentioned enemy specifically as COVID-19 so that this becomes a communal prayer for a specific circumstance:

Listen to our prayer, Lord!
Because of your faithfulness, bend your gracious ear to our requests for mercy!
Out of the vast storehouse of your righteousness, answer us!
Please don’t bring your people to judgment,
because, compared to you, not one person on the face of the earth is righteous before you.

You full well know that COVID-19 is hunting us down,
crushing life in the dirt,
forcing us to live sequestered
as if we are already in the grave.
Our spirits are growing weary—
our minds are a desert.

We remember the days when we were free of this scourge;
we chatted You up to others about all your awesome deeds;
we would talk about Your divine action in the world.
We did not hesitate to lift holy hands in prayer;
we were like dry earth, soaking up Your presence.

Answer us, Lord—and make it quick! Our fortitude needs to get bolstered.
Don’t hide your face from us
or that will be the end of us, for sure! We’ll die of the virus!

When we wake up in the morning, assure us of Your faithful love

because we’ve pinned our full trust on You.
Show us the next steps we need to take,
because we are looking up to You.
Deliver us from COVID-19, Lord!
We seek protection from you.
Teach us what we’re supposed to learn, what pleases you,
because you are our God.
Guide us by your good spirit
into good green pastures.
Give us life, Lord, for Your name’s sake.
Bring us out of this intense stress because of Your righteousness.
Wipe out COVID-19 because of your faithful love.
Destroy every germ which attacks us,
because we are Your people.

Amen.

We are truly in this together.  Click “Oh My Soul” by Casting Crowns to be reminded that we are not alone; and, that there is a God who listens.

 

*The translation of the psalm is based on an understanding of the Hebrew text and not a transliteration from English.

Matthew 9:18-34 – Faith

Jesus healing the blind
Jesus Healing the Blind by Johann Heinrich Stöver, 1861

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” (NRSV)

In these days of staring into the face of pandemic, I often find myself uttering the ancient prayer of the Church: “Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy and grant us your peace.”  For me, the COVID-19 virus is getting real, real fast.  I feel the heaviness of hospital staff, and of families experiencing the weight of concern for loved ones with the virus.

It is in such topsy-turvy times as these that I come back again and again to deep spiritual convictions which inform what I do each day.  One of those underlying creeds is this:

Jesus is trustworthy, no matter whether my faith or the faith of others is small or great.

In our Gospel lesson for today, two blind men were healed according to their faith in Jesus.  The diverse healing accounts of Jesus in the New Testament, whether the faith was large or small in those healed, leads me to the conclusion that:

It isn’t faith itself that heals, saves, or transforms – it is Jesus.

What the healing accounts have in common in the Gospels is that they are directed to Jesus as the object of faith.  It isn’t about the level of faith, but about where the faith is placed.  For the Christian, faith itself doesn’t mean much if it isn’t in Jesus.  If I place a large and sincere faith in an inanimate object such as money; in a position of power; or, even in my own independence, my faith isn’t worth much.  If I have a huge faith in a doctor or a psychiatrist to heal my body or my mind, I will quickly discover there are limits to their abilities.  If I have a confident faith that my family will meet all my needs, my faith will eventually run into failure when they let me down.  That’s because the ultimate object of my faith is Jesus.  If all my faith eggs are in the church basket, my faith will eventually face a crisis because it is a misplaced faith.  Furthermore, the answer I provide for others is not simply getting them to attend church or to adopt my moral code. I believe Jesus heals, transforms, and delivers people from sickness, sin, trouble, and overwhelming circumstances in his own good time.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

We know with certainty that circumstances change, as everyday seems to bring new levels and permutations of unprecedented alterations to our lives – and through it all, Jesus remains as the ever-present Savior, seated at the right hand of God ceaselessly interceding on behalf of those who offer even the slightest mustard seed of faith.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

Responding to COVID-19

CDC-stop-spread-of-germs_english

I encounter many different people in my daily workaday world as both a church pastor and hospital chaplain.  Perhaps it goes without saying that this rapidly changing environment of taking precautions with the COVID-19 virus has us all stressed, me included.  From my vantage of daily spiritual ministry with both parishioners and patients, it is important and necessary to take the coronavirus seriously without panicking.  Here’s what I see works and what doesn’t work when it comes to the pandemic.

What works is taking the situation seriously.  Last year 32 million people contracted the flu in this country.  Yes, every year people die from the flu.  What’s different about COVID-19 is that, thus far, 1% of everyone who has the virus died.  Stick with me here.  If there were no precautions, no social distancing, and business as usual, it is likely that tens of millions of people would get the virus.  With a 1% death rate, 320,000 Americans would die.  Ignorance really does kill people.

  • Getting your information from reputable sources works.  It is available.  Use it.  The Center for Disease Control keeps its website updated with an abundance of helpful information.  And, if you think you may have symptoms of the virus or have been exposed, please, don’t go to your local hospital’s ED.  Call the COVID-19 HOTLINE at 866-443-2584.  You will likely need to wait, so, please, be patient.
  • Social distancing works.  If I can stop the spread of the virus through canceling church services for a while and speaking with patients on the phone instead of in person, then I’ll do it.  If my actions prevent the immunocompromised people I love and even the ones I will never meet to live, then this is not even a question about whether I’ll practice social distancing, or not.
  • Practicing self-care works.  It does neither me nor anyone else any good if we constantly give without receiving. Healthy relationships have a healthy rhythm of both giving and receiving.  Taking the time to do what makes your soul happy is vital.  I am presently being stretched in new and different ways.  Handling two jobs isn’t easy to begin with.  Under these present conditions, it could be a crushing load – that is, if I neglect caring for myself.

What doesn’t work is being in panic mode.  80% of the people who contract the virus will be just fine, if they care for themselves, stay home, and get better.  Yes, we don’t have a choice whether to go to the gym or eat out at a restaurant.  There are things we can’t do, whether it is going to our jobs or our schools.  The pandemic is straining our economy and personal finances.  That doesn’t mean the sky is falling.

  • Practicing the age-old sin of avarice through hoarding doesn’t work.  Folks panicking through inordinate stocking of meds, goods and services are needlessly and wantonly stretching the healthcare and service systems which are trying to help.  We do not live in a culture of scarcity.  Hoarding helps no one.
  • Brazenly telling people to get a grip doesn’t work.  Within the same conversation I have heard individuals express things like “It’s all a conspiracy,” to the other extreme of “What are you even doing here? Trying to get me sick?” and overreacting in fear.  If I am honest with myself, I sometimes do the same thing in my own head.  One minute I want to enter patient rooms and parishioner homes, wanting to help any way I can in a precautions-be-damned sort of mode.  The next minute I’m pondering going full Grizzly Adams, secluding myself in the Northwoods and befriending a bear – all in the concern for not passing on the virus to people I care about.  All these words and thoughts are windows into people’s grief over the significant losses and changes thrust upon them.  They need to express their grief without flippantly being told they need to get a hold of themselves.  This is a time for patient listening and basic kindness toward our fellow humanity so that we all get through this experience. It doesn’t work to frame the situation as God’s judgment or people’s lack of faith.  Even if that were so, we still need to exercise grace and compassion in a time of need.  I invite you to interpret another’s complaining and/or quarreling as a window into their grief of the changes they are experiencing.
  • Making a joke of the current COVID-19 doesn’t work.  Although wise and well-timed levity and laughter can aid in coping within all the brevity, misplaced humor can be cruel and damaging.  Those who know me expect funny stuff from me.  Yet, there’s nothing funny about a virus going around that could do some real harm to the immunocompromised people that I love and care for.  I would suggest this rule of thumb: If making jokes is a way of avoiding your own emotions and feeling the sadness and heaviness of the circumstance, then don’t make jokes; and, if the meme or joke is thoughtful and could lighten people’s load a bit, then, yes, thank you of thinking of others.

There is for us a unique opportunity in this season of Lent.  For many Christians, each year during these weeks becomes a focus on solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, spiritual reading, repentance and other disciplines of faith.  We seek to journey with Jesus in the desert, following him in his ways.  Whether we like it, or not, solitude has been forced upon us.  We have the chance to come face to face with our own inner selves; to check-in on our elderly neighbors; to connect with our family; to creatively find new green pastures; to pay attention to the values which are most important to us.  We can bless small business owners with our patronage.  We can find ways to bless the world.

May the Lord bless you and protect you.

May the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord lift-up his face to you and grant you peace.  Amen.