Someone once asked, “After the resurrection, what do you do for an encore?” The season of Easter extends until Pentecost (May 20 this year), but there is no doubt there’s a let down after Easter Sunday – not just in worship attendance, but a kind of spiritual let down as well. Where do we go from here?
The New Testament is all about what it means to live in a post-resurrection world. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead wasn’t the end of the story; it was just the beginning. We write the conclusion to the story with our lives. One of my favorite quotes about the resurrection of Jesus is from Clarence Jordan, who wrote, “The proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a rolled away stone, but a carried away church!”
Are we “carried away” enough to risk some discomfort for the sake of others’ comfort? Are we “carried away” enough to speak up when we hear a racist or sexist comment or “joke?” Are we “carried away” enough to trust in the goodwill of others and not assume the worst about them? Are we “carried away” enough to risk abuse ourselves by standing with those who are victimized by prejudice and hatred? Are we “carried away” enough to walk toward those with whom we disagree and build bridges of understanding rather than walls of separation?
You don’t have to be a Christian to do these things, but Christians ought to be among those who lead the way.
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
O God, as we approach Holy Week, open to us the gates of righteousness, that we may enter into the holy space of your mercy and love. We bring only ourselves, and the desire to truly know what it means to live a thankful life. We follow One who was rejected by the world, but has become the way to life with you, life for others. As we follow him in these final days, prepare our hearts to receive the wonder of your love so full that it bursts the tombs of hate and fear. Amen.
King David was a big time sinner. Taken by Bathsheba’s beauty, he wanted her for himself, so he had her husband Uriah sent to the front lines of battle where he would likely be killed. He was, and David took Bathsheba as his own. To Nathan, the house prophet, it was pretty clear what happened here. He told David a story that sent David into a righteous rage at the character in the story who took advantage of a vulnerable person. Nathan confronted David with his own sin: “You are the man!” He had David dead to rights. There were no more excuses or rationalizations for what he had done. It’s thought that this Psalm may be connected to that event. If not, it certainly applies.
Now David had to deal with himself. For starters, there was nothing he could do but pray and ask for mercy: Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love. It comes with an admission that God has every right not to do so: I know my transgressions, and my sin is every before me . . . thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. From there David’s prayer poured forth. He needed an entire makeover – a clean heart, and a new and right spirit. All of this was required if he was to be restored to the joy of thy salvation.
Repentance is a lot more than feeling sorry for getting caught at something. It’s about a cleansing within, and a change of direction without. Bringing ourselves to the seat of mercy requires honesty on our part, and we can count on the steadfast love of God to meet us there. Then the work of restoration begins, but with the burden of guilt and shame lifted, it is joyful work.
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
The Psalmist declares that there is a constancy and faithfulness in God’s relationship to us. He calls it God’s “steadfast love.” It is a love that heals and saves us from destruction. It is always there for us. Though God’s love toward us is steadfast, it strikes me that my attention is not so constant. Do we notice the “wonderful works” of God for what they are? What about the people God has given us to love? What about those whose work provides for our daily needs and pleasures? What about the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground we walk on?
How many of our troubles stem from our lack of attention to the love in which we are held, our failure to recognize the God who always recognizes us? If we focused less on our “troubles” and more on the One who saves and delivers us from trouble, we’d find ourselves more thankful and more joyful, more eager to “tell of his deeds with songs of joy.”
Psalm 19 is one of the best known and beloved of the Psalms. It is preserved in one of the musical world’s great choral anthems, Haydn’s “The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God.” The Psalm has a twist on how we ordinarily think of creation inspiring in us our belief in God. It is not that the writer of the Psalm sees something in nature, but that all of creation is preaching to us: the heavens are telling God’s praise and are doing so everywhere in all creation, and in every kind of language there is on earth. The writer of the Psalm wants to be connected to the loving power behind and within the height and breadth of all that is, and at the depths of the most secret of human thoughts. He is connected to a deeper source of truth and righteousness than he could possibly live out by his own moral and ethical strength. He is connected to the Lord, who is Rock and Redeemer of all, and maker of the law which keeps the entire universe running. So the law is to be desired more than “much fine gold.”
May this awesome God touch your heart this day. May you find your way in concert with heaven’s song. May your path be lightened and your spirits lifted by the word of freedom and joy that lay beneath and soars above every other word.
I don’t know what eternal life is like, and I’ve always resisted efforts to describe it, because no one knows – and any attempts to do so make it sound eternally boring. I remember hearing about the Anglican Bishop who said that he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to heaven because he heard there was no debating there! The psalmist who praises the God who is above time, and active within it, doesn’t speculate about these things. It is about promise and blessing: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; (and) those who seek him shall praise the Lord.” That’s the promise, and we have a hand in it. Meeting the needs of the poor, and longing to be in God’s presence, leads to praise. The blessing follows – “May your hearts live forever.” Those who extend their hearts to others, and give their hearts to God, know something already of eternity. In scripture the “heart” is the core of who we are, and the love of God, whose heart breaks for us, will never let us go.
I love the quote from the Catholic writer on spirituality, John Shea, who in one of his poems wrote: “The struggle is the goal; the search is what we know. All the rest is heaven.”
Yet another school shooting, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 dead, maybe more. The same old words don’t suffice, but the tears and the agony are as heart-felt and gut-wrenching as always. We shall see if the political will is there to do what the vast majority of the American people support - common sense gun laws that include background checks for anyone purchasing a gun, and the outlawing of automatic weapons that have only the purpose of killing enemy combatants in war. I encourage you all to make this known to our elected representatives. Ours is the only nation where this happens; we are better than this. It has been noted, with tragic irony, that this slaughter happened on Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love. It was also Ash Wednesday, when we acknowledge our brokenness and our mortality. At our Ash Wednesday service yesterday, before the imposition of ashes, we prayed: Gracious God, you have formed us from the dust; dust we are, and to dust we shall all return. May these ashes be a reminder that our lives are always in your hands; and that though we will die, yet shall we live. Let this be our prayer for these ashen days, and for the families, teachers and students who grieve.
During Lent I am offering a weekly blog based on the Psalm designated for each Sunday.
Here is week 1 -
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O Lord! Psalm 25:7
If you are of a certain age, you remember – with regret, perhaps even remorse - “the sins of (your) youth.” Maybe these memories come at night, when you can’t sleep, or they surprise you like a painful bee sting that comes out of the blue. We all have such memories, and they are difficult to shake; it’s tough to let them go. The psalmist prays that the Lord “not remember” them. Instead, the psalmist asks, “remember me, for your goodness sake.” It’s a change of focus - from our sins and transgressions, to the Lord, who in his goodness, remembers not the sins but the sinner. A prayer of Soren Kierkegaard that we sometimes use as an assurance of pardon following our prayer of confession in Sunday worship says: “Lord, do not hold our sins against us, but hold us up against our sins, so that the thought of thee when it wakens in our souls should remind us not of what we have done, but of what we have been forgiven, not of how we have gone astray, but of how you have saved us.”
Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church
5299 Jamesville Road
DeWitt, NY 13214
Office hours: Temporary Hours due to COVID
Wednesday: 8:30 am - 12:30 pm
Thur, Fri: Closed
Sunday Schedule - Temporary
10:00 a.m. - Online Worship Service