Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 – The Beauty in Brokenness

The Almighty God, the Lord, speaks;
    he calls to the whole earth from east to west.
God shines from Zion,
    the city perfect in its beauty.

Our God is coming, but not in silence;
    a raging fire is in front of him,
    a furious storm around him.
He calls heaven and earth as witnesses
    to see him judge his people.
He says, “Gather my faithful people to me,
    those who made a covenant with me by offering a sacrifice.”
The heavens proclaim that God is righteous,
    that he himself is judge.

“Listen, my people, and I will speak;
    I will testify against you, Israel.
    I am God, your God.
I do not reprimand you because of your sacrifices
    and the burnt offerings you always bring me….

“Listen to this, you that ignore me,
    or I will destroy you,
    and there will be no one to save you.
Giving thanks is the sacrifice that honors me,
    and I will surely save all who obey me.” (Good News Translation)

In the beginning, all of creation was a vessel filled with divine light. Then, it broke, and the shards of holiness were strewn across the earth. Those broken pieces are all around us. Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, we don’t see them because of our own darkness.

Ever since, the Lord has been on a mission, bending down, carefully looking for the broken shards, finding them, and picking them up. From east to west, God has been gathering together everyone on earth – the broken yet divinely lighted humans.

A major theme throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture is that God is reaching all kinds of people all over the world. Indeed, the Bible is a long unfolding drama of redemption in which the Lord does whatever it takes to restore a fundamentally broken world.

“Kintsugi” (literally, in English, “golden joinery”) is a centuries-old Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with gold. Instead of rejoining broken ceramic pieces with a clear camouflaged adhesive, the kintsugi technique uses a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold. After restoration, beautiful seams of gold glint in the obvious cracks of the ceramic vessel. This also means that every restored ceramic piece has a unique appearance; no two of them are the same.

The Lord is presently in the divine workshop, putting broken shards of humanity together. And God isn’t trying to hide or disguise the cracks and flaws; it’s just the opposite: God celebrates the artifact by emphasizing it’s fractures and breaks. As it turns out, the restoration which the Lord employs brings the vessel to even greater beauty than it originally enjoyed. It’s the transformation of a new existence from the old.

The deepest yearning in every human soul is to become whole again, to return to their spiritual source, to experience belonging and union with the Beloved.

Amidst the human pain all around us, and within us, we can observe the sacred light, and turn in the direction of beauty. We can hear the call of God to respond with gratitude and thanksgiving, instead of relying upon some physical or monetary sacrifice to suffice our spiritual obligations.

We are here to participate with God in redeeming that which is broken. The sacrificial activity that honors the Lord, and gathers the strewn shards, is a grateful heart with lips that speak thankfulness. Humanity can only see the power of God to save and restore, whenever us jars of clay practice gratitude and obedience to the Lord.

The world’s observation of a perfect vessel is not what draws anyone to faith. Rather, it is seeing an imperfect vessel, put together with a divine glue of gold, the cracks visible and showing for all to notice. Perfectionism is repellent to most folk; it smacks of others attempting to appear something they are not; it’s disingenuous and insincere.

Imperfection, however, speaks of being genuine and real; it brings solidarity with others; it relates and seeks to connect. Observing broken pieces put back together through God’s kintsugi communicates that suffering can be changed into beauty.

Today’s psalm is a reminder for us to stay optimistic when things fall apart and to celebrate the flaws and missteps of life. It teaches us that, when God breaks and destroys, this is not necessarily a mark of judgment. It lets us know that we can be calm when all falls apart. It reminds us that the fragility of humanity is not ugly but beautiful. It reminds us that amidst so much complexity, there is simple beauty all around us, if we will but seek and see.

In a world that has a hard time accepting all the breaks, scars, and imperfections of life, there is a God who is undisturbed by it all. The Lord gently, patiently, and skillfully puts us back together again so that a beautiful transformation of heart and life results.

The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)

Grant us, O God, not to be anxious about earthly things but to love things heavenly and, even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Psalm 60 – A Prayer for Deliverance

You have rejected us, God, and defeated us;
    you have been angry with us—but now turn back to us.
You have made the land tremble, and you have cut it open;
    now heal its wounds, because it is falling apart.
You have made your people suffer greatly;
    we stagger around as though we were drunk.
You have warned those who have reverence for you,
    so that they might escape destruction.
Save us by your might; answer our prayer,
    so that the people you love may be rescued.

From his sanctuary God has said,
    “In triumph I will divide Shechem
    and distribute Sukkoth Valley to my people.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh too;
    Ephraim is my helmet
    and Judah my royal scepter.
But I will use Moab as my washbowl,
    and I will throw my sandals on Edom,
    as a sign that I own it.
Did the Philistines think they would shout in triumph over me?”

Who, O God, will take me into the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you really rejected us?
    Aren’t you going to march out with our armies?
Help us against the enemy;
    human help is worthless.
With God on our side we will win;
    he will defeat our enemies. (Good News Translation)

When you are distressed, what do you do?

For the psalmist, David, a time of distress is always a time for prayer to God.

And whenever David prayed, it was real gut level prayer, sometimes raw, and always genuine.

Far too many religious folk seem to tip-toe around God, as if they fear raising the Lord’s ire about something. That’s not a healthy view of God, feeling like you’re walking on spiritual eggshells. In contrast, the God of the Psalms is a God big enough to take any sort of prayer – and David knew that.

The psalmist was not afraid to express his feelings of abandonment from God, as well as his heartfelt sense of trust in God. And in all things, David had a continual sense of utter dependence upon the Lord.

The perspective of the psalms is that any belief in an independent livelihood apart from God is flat-out delusional – not to mention the source of much human wickedness.

The God we have in today’s psalm, and throughout the psalter, is accessible to humans. God is even open to argumentation, accountability, and rebuke. This is astounding, considering that we are the puny creatures and God is the immensely huge Creator.

It’s high time we wisely discern that we can talk to God about anything; we can express any emotion to the Lord, without fear of retribution. Conversely, ignoring God altogether, and pursuing other gods, is the inaction likely to bring out divine disappointment and anger.

Despite the fact that God is the absolute Sovereign over all humanity, the Lord responds to our needs and shows solidarity with us. This, however, does not mean that God is always at our beck and call – which is why the psalmists sometimes complain and lament over divine silence in the face of trouble.

God is not a genie. Prayer is not rubbing a lamp and getting our wishes fulfilled. God is both absent and engaged according to divine purposes, not ours. Yet, the Lord is continually attentive, with full awareness of what’s going on.

If we need deliverance, we need deliverance. And just because God may not show up according to our timetable (now!) doesn’t mean the Lord is aloof or uncaring. It just means the deliverance is likely to come in a way we aren’t expecting. Whatever happens, we will make it to the strong walled City of God.

So, we must persevere in prayer. And the psalms help us voice those prayers for deliverance. Sometimes, when we are distressed and exhausted, the words of prayer simply don’t come. In those times, the psalms become our prayers, as well….

Look at my suffering and deliver me
    because I haven’t forgotten your Instruction.
Argue my case and redeem me.
    Make me live again by your word. (Psalm 119:153-154, CEB)

I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Rise up, O Lord!
    Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
    may your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3:6-8, NRSV)

I am in deep distress.
    How long will it be?

Turn and come to my rescue.
Show your wonderful love
    and save me, Lord.
If I die, I cannot praise you
    or even remember you. (Psalm 6:3-5, CEV)

But you, Lord, my Lord!—
    act on my behalf for the sake of your name;
    deliver me because your faithful love is so good;
    because I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is broken. (Psalm 109:21-22, CEB)

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me. (Psalm 31:1-3, NIV)

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
    At an acceptable time, O God,
    in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me
    or the deep swallow me up
    or the Pit close its mouth over me. (Psalm 69:13-15, NRSV)

Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people. (Psalm 82:3-4, NLT)

I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.

This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy! (Psalm 34:4-8, CEB)

These prayers are for us to use, over and over again. Say them aloud, often, with flavor.

May the God of life strengthen you for this day, and protect you through the coming night, through Jesus Christ our Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 8:22-25 – Where Is Your Faith?

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So, they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (New International Version)

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

The opposite of faith isn’t little to no faith – it’s fear.

Fear, at its core, is being afraid of getting hurt. Fear is an emotion which alerts us to some danger that may break my heart or my body.

Being afraid, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It’s more about why fear bubbles up for us.

So, what makes you afraid? Why? How does fear influence your life?

Fear is often at the root of unhealthy behaviors such as:

  • Vilifying another, afraid that others I don’t know or who are different from me might harm me, my family, or my community.
  • Hiding my emotions, afraid my weaknesses or failures will be exposed or exploited.
  • Serving others, afraid that I won’t have worth, meaning, or purpose without helping.
  • Achieving or winning, afraid that I will be irrelevant or unwanted.
  • Smiling and being upbeat, afraid of facing and feeling the deep sadness within me.
  • Procrastinating projects, tasks, or conversations, afraid of being disliked or rejected.

Today’s Gospel story has Jesus at the center of the storm. The wind and the waves, the storm, is not the central element of the story. Jesus is. And that’s an important distinction, because whenever we put outside circumstances as the central elements of our own stories, anxious fear is the inevitable result.

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

The disciples were surprised that even the wind and the waves obey him! They were afraid because of the furious storm. Yet, Jesus was sleeping, not the least bit fearful. The disciples woke him, and in shallow breathed words of anxiety stated they all were going to drown because of the extreme conditions.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine Jesus slowly awaking and lazily rising from his slumber, simply rebuking the wind and waves, with neither any anxiety nor any hurry, and then chiding the disciples for their inability to place their faith in him.

Jesus Calms the Storm by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The disciples’ expectations of and faith in Jesus were way too low! That’s what fear does. It diminishes faith. Like Chicken Little, who thought the sky was falling and all was ruined, we become chickens of little faith.

Many people believe God hears and answers prayer. Yet sometimes, our faith can be so small that, when God answers those prayers in ways far superior to our expectations, we are slack-jawed and astonished by it. Luke’s Gospel records several instances of people being surprised by Jesus: 

Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:47, NIV)

They were astounded at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!”

Then the demon, throwing the man down before them, came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all astounded and kept saying to one another, “What kind of word is this, that with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out?” (Luke 4:32-36, NRSV)

I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

The man immediately stood up in front of them and picked up the stretcher he had been lying on. Praising God, he went home.

Everyone was amazed and praised God. They were filled with awe and said, “We’ve seen things today we can hardly believe!” (Luke 5:24-26, GW)

Jesus was driving out a demon that could not talk; and when the demon went out, the man began to talk. The crowds were amazed. (Luke 11:14, GNT)

Jesus is more marvelous, wonderful, powerful, and awesome than we know. Jesus will take care of us; he will not let his people be destroyed. And, what’s more, he has the power and authority to heal us.

Whenever we truly grasp who Jesus is, and how much he loves us, there is no room for fear, only faith. 

Even though the disciples’ faith was small, Jesus still responded to it with grace because even small faith is faith. Grace is undeserved help. Our Lord helps anyone who approaches him, whether with little faith or big. Our small faith is no obstacle for Jesus in delivering us from the storms of life.

You might be presently experiencing a violent storm in your life. Please know that Jesus can bring peace.

Perhaps you have a besetting sin that dogs you every day. Jesus can deliver you.

It could be that depression follows you like a lost kitten wherever you go. Jesus can bring new life and fresh joy to your life.

Maybe there is an estranged relationship you have lost hope over. Jesus can restore it.

Perchance you think your neighbor, co-worker, or family member is too far from God to ever know Jesus. By now you know the response….

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of Jesus calming the storm

Our expectations of Jesus are much too small! We can pray big prayers because we serve a big and powerful God who has the authority to command even the wind and the waves!

The Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as the ultimate authority over everything, including powerful storms. Christ uses that authority to bestow grace, even in the face of the smallest of faith in his followers. Jesus cares about people and seeks to deliver them from the dominion of darkness.  

So, may we participate with Jesus in his agenda for this world.

May we submit to his rule and authority.

May we exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people as Jesus does.

May we find our faith, especially amidst the worst of situations.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I believe all things are possible through you; help my unbelief! Take my small and seemingly insignificant faith and use it to calm the storms in my life and demonstrate your authority even over the wind and the waves. Amen.

Acts 2:22-36 – From Flake to Fearless

Statue of St. Peter in Rome

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’

“Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (New International Version)

Throughout my ministerial life, there have been individuals who have come to me a bit discouraged because they have not experienced a changed life. After trying, time and again, to be different, they say to me, “Nobody ever really changes. We’re basically the same people throughout our whole lives.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

In the New Testament Gospels, the Apostle Peter was a flake. He sometimes was discerning and got it, and sometimes didn’t. 

Peter could understand Jesus was Messiah, but then turn around and refuse that Christ had to die on a cross. He would get bold and walk on water, but then also end up afraid, needing help from drowning. Peter stood tall for Jesus, ready to take on the world, and then turn around and deny the Lord three successive times.

However, when we come to biblical book of Acts, Peter is a completely changed man. Peter gets it. He is brave and fearless. He boldly confesses Christ. And all the while he does not falter, flinch, or back down. 

So, what in heaven’s name, happened and made the difference for Peter between the Gospels and Acts? 

The Holy Spirit, that’s what, or rather, who.

God’s Spirit comes upon Peter, and he is never the same again. He is a changed man. Peter goes from flake, to fearless.

Everything falls into place for Peter, who preaches with such boldness and effectiveness that thousands turn from their previous ways of thinking and living and turn to Jesus as the hope of the world. They changed, too.

Peter was all-in with a simple and straightforward message of good news, that God raised Jesus from death. He went on to insist, without wavering and with firm conviction, that this was so, because it was not possible for the Son of God to be held by anything, even death. The proof being the resurrection.

If it was impossible for death to keep a grip on Jesus, then there is absolutely nothing that can deter Jesus or hold him back from accomplishing what he wants to accomplish. 

Flaky believers are not going to frustrate Jesus or upset his plans; he’ll just send the Holy Spirit. 

We may too often imprison ourselves in self-made spiritual jail cells. Like the pre-Pentecostal Peter, we flake and flip-flop in the Christian life. Once-in-a-while we are spot-on, but cannot really explain why, like a golfer who hits an amazing shot but can’t reproduce it no matter how hard he tries. 

The truth is that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell. By faith, we have forgiveness of sins in him, and have the way opened to a new life in the Spirit. It isn’t a secret; it’s a new reality.

At the front end of the Christian season of Ordinary Time, we are reminded that God’s Holy Spirit is with us. We remember what good old Peter said so long ago, which is still relevant for us today:

We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. (2 Peter 1:3-4, CEV)

The message Peter proclaimed was powerful, not only because it was inherently potent, but also that the gospel dwelled mightily in Peter and inhabited a central place within him.

We, too, have that same opportunity and privilege.

Loving Lord Jesus, I confess my faults, shortcomings, sins, and rebellious acts, and ask you to forgive me. I embrace you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for your atoning death on the cross in obedience to your Father’s will to put away my sins. Be in charge of every part of my life. Indwell and empower me with your Holy Spirit, so that I may live as your faithful follower, now and forever. Amen.