Psalm 6 – Independence Day Celebration or Mourning?

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
    while you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
    deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who can give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
    they shall turn back and in a moment be put to shame. (New Revised Standard Version)

Methinks we Americans, especially on this our national Independence Day, must remember that this has not always been, nor currently is, a day of celebration for a sizable chunk of people in the United States.

Now before you begin offering some mental pushback that I am pouring cold water on a time-honored holiday, or begin believing I’m not a true patriot, I will simply point out that not only is today’s psalm lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary a lament, but also that I’m a guy with two academic degrees in American history.

If we only look at Independence Day from the perspective of white Northern European heritage persons, then it will seem that, speaking like this, I am not grateful for the blessings of being in this incredible country of my birth and the place I’ve lived my entire life.

But I am not looking from that angle today. I choose to acknowledge that on this day, every year for the past 246 years, today’s psalm has been the lived experience and expression of others who looked to the heavens and asked, “How long, O Lord!?”

A true people of compassion are able to suffer with those who suffer. The people of God really ought to be at the forefront of exhibiting empathy and standing in solidarity with suffering folk.

A patriot is one who acknowledges and affirms all it’s citizens, and not only the ones who look like me, talk like me, and act like me. After all, the original documents of the United States made room for this to be so. Empathy, compassion, and solidarity are intentionally built into our nation’s grand experiment of democracy and government.

“We the people of the Unites States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Preamble of the United States Constitution

The very fact that the previous quotation is true for some, and not for everyone, is a telling testament to the reality that we need to keep striving to live into our heritage as Americans and ensure that welfare for the common good of all citizens is continually sought, even if done so imperfectly.

Grieving, tears, and lament was the response of the former slave Frederick Douglass.

“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your [white] fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me [a black man]. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” (An oration on July 4, 1852)

Mourning and weeping was and continues to be the experience of many Native American peoples.

“While the United States and its settlers claimed its independence from Great Britain, this came at a cost of others, including this land’s Indigenous Peoples that were stolen from their own homelands. This patriotic holiday is nothing to celebrate because freedom cannot come at the cost of another’s freedom. America’s Independence Day is a celebration of imperialism, genocide, and American exceptionalism, and there is no pride in genocide.”

Daisee Francour (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin)

We cannot change history, but we can work towards a better future where all of our rights are respected and we all experience freedom and independence equally. Those with non-European ancestry who today in our nation experience racism and anti-ethnic aggression need to be acknowledged and affirmed as Americans with equal standing and an equal voice alongside the white population.

So, I would argue that both celebration and weeping ought to occur on this day. We should weep for the dreams and lives of indigenous peoples who were destroyed through westward expansion, and even today experience the ongoing effects of cultural genocide.

We ought to acknowledge not only our nation’s blessings, but also our curses which are still seen in exploiting others through envy, greed, sloth, pride, lust, and gluttony.

We, the people of the United States of America, ought to actively seek to live in more simple and less harmful ways. We should offer our voices, not in violent speech and language, but with creative and healing words.

On this American Independence Day, the Church should reaffirm her allegiance and citizenship to Christ and God’s Kingdom and renounce any nationalistic, economic, ethnic, and political divisions which are contrary to the words and ways of Jesus.

All of the citizens of the earth should seek to embrace non-violent, self-sacrificial love on behalf of everyone. Today is an opportunity to affirm that Christ is the Friend of all people, not just some.

No one ought to be wasting away in their grief and languishing in their tears when we have the means to acknowledge their suffering and to do something about it.

Our Father who is in heaven,

uphold the holiness of your name.

Bring in your kingdom

so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.

Give us the bread we need for today.

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,

just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.

And don’t lead us into temptation,

but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13, CEB)

2 Chronicles 34:20-33 – Renew Your Faith

He [King Josiah] gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant:“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”

Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’”

So, they took her answer back to the king.

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.

Then he had everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin pledge themselves to it; the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their ancestors.

Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors. (New International Version)

Sadness transformed to joy is a beautiful thing. However, joy that turns into an “Uh, oh!” is an altogether different thing.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has both sadness and joy, at the same time. God’s temple was undergoing repairs. And the Book of the Law was found. It’s sad that the Law was even lost, at all. Somewhere along the line a king, a priest, some people, they all just plain forgot about God’s Word to them. 

Yet, what’s joyful is that King Josiah had God’s Word read to him. He and his officials responded with promising to be faithful to what they heard, and to carefully follow God and God’s instructions for them as God’s people. What’s more, Josiah asked the Israelites to make that same promise.

It’s likely that you are reading this because you are a person committed to listening to God’s Word. Also, it’s likely you don’t need to go on an archaeological dig inside your own house, just to find an old dusty Bible to read. 

Maybe, however, you need to take the next step, like Josiah of old, to not only listen and obey yourself, but to ask and invite others to make the same promise.

You and I know that straightforward Bible reading often does not take place within the homes and even the churches of many confessing believers in Jesus. So, take the next step. Invite others to read with you. Ask fellow Christians to read Scripture, make observations about it, apply it to their lives, and base prayers upon it. 

Ask them to make the same promise that you have made to God: To listen to God’s Word, and then, do what it says.

This is how renewal happens.

Patient God, you continue to wait for people to read your Word and obey it. May I not simply attend to your laws in isolation from others, but freely ask others to make the same promise I have: To obey Jesus Christ, my Lord, by living and loving like him, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acts 5:17-26 – How to Handle Jealousy

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So, they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. (New International Version)

Celebration and success have their own challenges. Whenever things are going well, there are inevitably others who become jealous. And when jealousy takes root in a person or a group of people, it can result in harming and hurting others.

Indeed, persecution broke out against the apostles. Their ministry was flourishing. Thousands of people were being added to the Church. Miraculous healings abounded. And, standing in the shadows, were a group of jealous religious leaders. Since their power was diminishing, the ruling council had the apostles arrested – seeking to contain their influence and stop the spread of the Church.

Jealousy is one of the places we go whenever we play the comparison game with others. Whereas envy is wanting something that someone else has, jealousy is a deep-seated fear of losing someone or a group of people.

The reason jealousy can be so damaging and insidious is because of the anger and sadness behind it. In the case of the religious leaders, they saw the success of the apostles, the popularity of the burgeoning church, and the attention being diverted from themselves onto the apostles – and they were angry. The loss of religious power was just too much for them, so they became jealous.

Jealousy, much like anger, is neither good nor bad. It is an emotion. It’s what we do with the feeling that matters. In our anger we might turn it inward on ourselves, direct it onto another with verbal or even physical violence, or just get downright snarky and passive-aggressive. Also, with jealousy, it too often gets worked out on others by attacking them in some way.

God feels both anger and jealousy. Yet, those divine emotions are used to bring justice, establish what is right, and help the disadvantaged. God as a jealous God means that the Lord is saddened and hurt by people trying to find satisfaction in all the wrong places through idolatry.

Israel soon became fat and unruly;
    the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed!
Then they abandoned the God who had made them;
    they made light of the Rock of their salvation.
They stirred up his jealousy by worshiping foreign gods;
    they provoked his fury with detestable deeds.
They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God,
    to gods they had not known before,
to new gods only recently arrived,
    to gods their ancestors had never feared. (Deuteronomy 32:15-17, NLT)

God desires that people discover healthy ways of coping and acknowledge their jealous feelings. The Apostle Paul did just that:

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NIV)

The feeling of jealousy is meant to tell us something. Instead of pushing it aside, listen to what it has to say. Perhaps it is leading us to acknowledge our grief and lament our loss. It could be alerting us to our great loneliness or deep sadness.

For whatever reason the jealousy arises, stuffing it or pushing it aside may cause harm to ourselves or others. A profound lack of self-awareness will always come back to bite us in the behind.

So, how do I handle those feelings of jealousy when they come?

  • Seek to understand. Trace the feeling back to its true source. Whether the jealousy stems from insecurity, fear, or past relationship patterns, knowing more about the causes can help us figure out how to confront it and deal with it.

An understanding heart seeks knowledge; but fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:14, CEB)

  • Talk to someone. Give voice to your concern. Discuss the feelings of jealousy with a trusted friend, family member, or faith leader.

Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NET)

  • Express your grief. With jealousy there is a loss or a worry of losing someone or something. Prayer is a good idea when we are losing someone.

God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. (Psalm 102:1, MSG)

  • View another perspective. Try and take a big picture approach and consider other angles to the situation which is producing the jealousy.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. (Isaiah 55:8, NLT)

  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for the people, circumstances, and things you have in your life right now. Thankfulness is often a powerful antidote to strong feelings of jealousy.

Tell the Lord how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful. (Psalm 118:29, CEV)

  • Explore underlying issues. Sometimes jealousy has to do with insecurity or low self-worth. Addressing your value as a person and the unique contribution to others you bring to the world has the effect of kicking jealousy to the curb.

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27, CEB)

  • Be patient. Give it time. Most people don’t get over their jealous feelings overnight. It’s a process. So be kind to yourself and stick with acknowledging and discovering what jealousy has to teach you.

Be patient when you have troubles. (Romans 12:12, ERV)

May you find satisfaction, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 32 – Don’t Waste Away

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Therefore, let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart! (New International Version)

Depression is downright awful. It is the leading cause of disability in the Unites States among people ages 15-45. More sobering is the fact that two-thirds of all persons with depression have not yet sought help.

The psalmist was once one of those persons. When he kept silent, it was as if his bones went limp and wasted away inside him. The emotional pain of such an experience transcends our language.

David, the psalmist, had every reason to feel deeply about the circumstances of his life. He had been both the victim and even the perpetrator in all kinds of very troubling situations. Yet, as the king of Israel and Judah, he kept the stiff-upper-lip of stubbornly holding everything inside. 

The very word “depression” literally means to depress or stuff the emotions down inside and keep them tightly held within, not allowing them to see the light of day. Deep inside, those feelings don’t just go away. Instead, they sit, not going anywhere, and eventually rot the soul.

“It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling — that really hollowed-out feeling.”

J. K. Rowling

There was a time in my past in which I was so good at stuffing my feelings that one night when my neighbor had a blow-out of a party at two o’clock in the morning, I actually felt no anger. Just so you know: That’s not healthy. I had an anger problem. Not the kind where you explode, but just the opposite – the kind where you stuff every unwanted feeling in the book.

Recovery, for me, meant first recognizing that I was depressed and had a lot to be angry about. Next, I began to let myself feel the past situations of my life. And I need to tell you that what was inside me wasn’t at all pretty. 

Like a wound that needs peroxide, dealing with depression hurt like hell. But I couldn’t heal without it. I couldn’t go around it or avoid it; I had to go through it. 

Finally, I learned to not only identify my feelings, but take charge of them. I discovered I could choose to say how I feel without apology, and I could say it all in a way that helped others, as well as myself. Like David of old, I had to get what was inside on the outside.

The Christian season of Lent is an appropriate time to do this sort of internal work. This is no time to sit on neglected feelings or stuff emotions. It may seem as if opening up will cause internal shame, outward regret, or judgment from others.

But that would be a lie.

Shame cannot survive the light of day; regret typically happens when we fail to do something; and millions of others are struggling with the very same sort of things you are.

What’s more, God is patiently awaiting for us to break our silence and tell what’s troubling us. With the Lord, there is bountiful grace, unconditional forgiveness, and emotional healing.

I don’t believe depression is a sin which needs to be confessed but rather a terrible condition of the spirit that must be named and dealt with. So, if you are experiencing:

  • Feelings of sadness or a depressed mood that lingers for weeks, even months
  • A loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • A loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • An increase in useless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Then, it is high time to get help. A place to start can be with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov

It is also wise to speak with a trusted family member or friend about the need for help and support, as well as a safe faith leader, pastor, or chaplain. There is no reason for anyone to have to live with crushing emotional and/or spiritual pain day after day.

Gracious God, your stamp of approval is on the penitent – those who are brutally honest with the inner self and receive your mercy. I will not keep silent. I will declare to you the current state of my life and not run away from the ugliness within. Through the gracious Name of Jesus, I pray with thanksgiving. Amen.