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Set Me Down

I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” Psalm 4:8

Yesterday, Robert Alter’s new (2018) translation of the Hebrew Bible came up in the midst of a delightful conversation. Several decades in the making, this one-man translation project is an artistic wonder. If I had a bunch of free time (any free time?) I would sit down and read it cover to cover, all three volumes. For now, I mostly read it to view the lectionary texts in a different light. Alter seeks to maintain the Hebrew Bible’s literary beauty and capture its rhythms and metaphors in English. Alter succeeds.

So, in Alter’s hands the final verse of this Sunday’s psalm becomes, “In peace, all whole, let me lie down and sleep. For You, Lord, alone, do set me down safely.”

Two things stand out. First, we lie down “whole.” The day claws away at us with its demands and trials, but God keeps us whole, and whole do we lie down. Second, and to me even more powerful, the Lord promises to “set me down safely.” The nuance here is powerful and comforting. We don’t simply lie down. We, who have lived the day in the Lord’s hands, are by the Lord set down.

Images rush in, memories of holding a child gently before bed. Just as, beyond the reach of memory, we were once held before being placed, lovingly, into our beds. Today’s been going well so far, and I have no reason to imagine that will change. But whatever the next few hours bring, God will keep me whole; God will set me down to my rest.

Tomorrow, God will pick me up again. God will do the same for you.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God, keep us holy and keep us whole. Hold us close until you set us down tonight; even then, keep watch over us and all your children. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Anders, age four, asleep.

A Liberating Feast

“With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.” Ezra 6:22

I love the Moravian Daily Texts as a devotional guide, as evidenced by my frequent use of them in this space. One thing that confounds me, however, is that verses are often reduced for unnecessary reasons. For example, today. The Old Testament passage was noted as Ezra 6:22 but only included a snippet the text: “the Lord had made them joyful.” I’m glad the Lord made them joyful, but I didn’t know what was going on. Why did the Lord make them joyful? How?

So, I looked up the whole verse and shared it above. What’s going on? What’s going on is that the people are celebrating the first Passover since their return from exile in Babylon. Back home in Jerusalem, a newly liberated people are able to eat the feast of liberation. As from Egypt, so from Babylon. God is the God who delivers. Eat and rejoice!

As we continue in this time of Easter, we rejoice in the liberation give to us through the crucified and risen Christ. No longer are we enslaved by sin. No longer are we exiled in death. Christ is alive! Alleluia! Rejoice!

I’ve written about joy lately, and I’ve written about its lack. We do not always feel joyful in and of ourselves, and that’s perfectly fine. But the Lord has made us joyful, and the Lord will do so again.

This morning, I shared the feast of the Lord’s Supper with four members of Grace. The five of us gathered in the sanctuary at Grace and heard God’s Word of deliverance and promise, of comfort and hope. We were few, but Christ was present. Alleluia! Rejoice!

If you’re looking for a way to receive Holy Communion, sign up for a Wednesday morning service. We gather at 9:00, and attendance is limited to 25 (it’s 100 on Sundays at 11:00). The feast is ready. God has delivered us. Rejoice!

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of joy, you come to us in our sorrow and grief, again and again. For those who sit in darkness, give a glimmer of hope. Keep the flame of joy alive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: A feast. My last meal in Poland, August 23, 2019. That was a good meal.

Repentant Fruit

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Luke 3:8a

Spring is in the air! This morning, my office has been blessed with the sun streaming through my east-facing windows. The windows are open, letting air into my office; air with just a hint of crisp. Looking out, growth is everywhere to behold.

Growth is an image of the Kingdom of God, apt for Easter. The risen Christ could not be contained in death’s tomb. He is on the loose. The Spirit, outpoured, floods creation. God is willing new life to emerge from all corners of creation, signs of the future consummation of all things. We see, feel, sense Christ at work in our hearts, our lives. Alleluia!

Today’s New Testament passage from the Daily Texts places us at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; indeed, just before it starts. His cousin John speaks to the crowds. “Bear fruits,” he says, but doesn’t stop there. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” We are not meant simply to grow, but to grow away from where we’ve been. If we are called to grow in love, we are called to grow away from hate, violence, oppression, and injustice. If we are called to life, we are called away from death.

The killing of Daunte Wright reminds us of how far we have to go. We, friends, are Easter people. We witness to and work for life, even and especially in the face of death. Bear fruit, friends. Grow toward life.

Black Lives Matter.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of growth, even out of barrenness and brokenness, you create life. May that life be shared with equity by all as we trust that the abundance of Jesus is enough for all of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Apple Tree with Red Fruit, Paul Ranson, 1902 (public domain).

The Blood Cries Out

“And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!'” Genesis 4:10

Ten miles from where the trial of Derek Chauvin is taking place, Daunte Wright was shot and killed yesterday by police during a traffic stop. Lord, have mercy.

I am currently reading Esau McCaulley’s Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. Dr. McCaulley does excellent exegetical work exploring the New Testament and a theology of policing. Throughout, he speaks of his respect for police officers, acknowledging the inherent difficulties and challenges of their vocation. But he also speaks of his fear:

Now we come to the heart of it. Black hope for policing is not that complicated. Paul articulates that hope quite plainly in Romans 13:4. We want to live free of fear. When I am pulled over for a traffic stop, I am afraid precisely because the police have been a source of terror in my own life and the lives of my people. This terror trickled down from a national government that often viewed our skin as dangerous (p. 40).

We must acknowledge the sins within the systems in which we live, and the sin without our own hearts, too. We must stop creating a world built upon fear and oppression. We must repent. We are called to do so. The Easter proclamation is one that calls us out of fear. May we follow the risen Christ in creating a world in which fear, especially fear created to perpetuate racism, has no place.

I can think of no good reason for Daunte Wright to be dead today. None whatsoever.

Black Lives Matter.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God, you are the Lord of life. We continue to deal in the ways of death. Forgive us, and help us to overcome our sin to create a world without fear.

No picture today.

Thomas

“Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” John 20:28

Poor Thomas gets such a bad rap. He was the only one brave enough to leave  that locked room. How was he to know that not only was Jesus alive, but that their Lord would appear while he was away? While I don’t blame him for doubting, he did. Jesus? Alive? Not until I see him for myself, not until I touch his wounds, would I believe such a story.

The next week, Jesus returns. Note how he chooses not to shame Thomas. Instead, he gives Thomas exactly what Thomas needs. See my hands; touch my side. Have peace. Believe.

We do not get to experience what Thomas experienced, just as Thomas did not the experience of his friends. But Jesus continues to appear to us, to you and to me, in exactly the ways we need. In the midst of fear and violence, Jesus speaks peace. In the midst of sin and shame, Jesus speaks forgiveness and welcome. In the midst of our woundedness, Jesus joins himself to us that we would find healing and life.

God does not shame you for your doubt. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is a yearning to see more clearly. May you see Jesus in your life today, for he died and lives for you. With Thomas we remember that not only is Jesus the Lord and Godhe is our Lord and God.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God, the doors we lock cannot keep you out of our lives. Break open our hearts and fill us with the presence of your Son, our Savior. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Doubting Thomas, Guercino, 17th century (public domain).