Romans 15:1-2 (NRSV) 15 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.
Don’t you hate it when Scripture hauls you up short? It’s as if you’re going a particular direction full speed, and something jerks you back, like someone pulling on a rope you have tied around your waist. This Scripture tugs hard on American Christians today. Let me explain. America was built on rugged individualism: we Americans go our own way and we’re tough. We don’t suffer fools gladly. John Wayne (the famous tough guy icon and actor in many westerns) didn’t, either on screen or in real life. Advertisers encourage us to live for ourselves. This Scripture says just the opposite. We Christians should help others weaker than ourselves, even if they are foolish. We should try to build up our fellow Americans, especially those nearest to us. That’s the theory. What’s that in real life? Well, all of us are weak in some way. None of us are perfect. That means all of us, if we’re strong in a particular area, should be helpful to those who aren’t. that means all of us should be on both sides of this Scripture, giving and receiving. The command Paul gives to help is the key. We don’t live for ourselves, we live for others. Happy Independence Day!
Lord God, help us to help others, and bear one another’s weakness and failings. Amen.
Joel 2:12-13 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
The prophet Joel struggled to find meaning from a locust plaque that had hit Israel. He believed God brought the plague because Israel had strayed from God. We are dealing with a plague of a different sort in this country. I don’t believe God brought this sickness upon us. But I believe we are dealing with the results of our own sinfulness during this outbreak. The possibility of dealing with COVID-19 long term has sapped much of our collective energy. I suspect many of us are inclined to be less patient than normal, and that many of the problems we have in this country have been made worse by this general malaise. Right now, many doctors are working furiously at ways to stem the rising tide of cases, and to pursue a vaccine. Some of the rest of us are working hard at essential services. Some of us are not working. For those who have the time, we need to work on ourselves. Such introspective spiritual work can only make our collective situation better. How can we repent of the evil we have done?
Loving God, we know you grieve with us at our sinfulness. Help us repent and renew our spiritual strength so we can follow you more closely. Amen.
Psalm 122 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” 2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. 3 Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together.
Ancient Israel and its capital, Jerusalem, was more than just a country and its most important city. In Israel, religion and state were all wrapped up in one package. The country was bound together by its common heritage and its religion, its belief in the one true God. It is a powerful bond. This last Sunday, we gathered together for worship for the first time in several months. It was a joyful experience. Though there was social distancing, there was a bond there, like that ancient Israel had among its people. The bonds of a Christians cannot be broken by distance, but close together, it is easier to feel those bonds. When we can once again worship in our building, we will be glad to say, ”Let’s go to worship!”
God of Israel and Us, thank you for the joy we feel when we think of gathering as your church. Make our worship time awesome! Amen.
Psalm 121 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Assurance of God’s Protection A Song of Ascents. 1 I lift up my
eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
This psalm is one of my favorites, and with the exception of the 23rd Psalm, is the most common psalm read at funerals. I picture a person surrounded by troubles: enemies on all sides. No help in sight, so eyesight is lifted to the hills to find help SOMEWHERE. In a flash it comes. Help for ancient Israelites (and us Christians) comes from the Lord. This is not just any ordinary help. Help from God means great power to help- the greatest, in fact. The rest of the psalm talks about what kind of help will come. This help is beyond any human help, and beyond our understanding. We don’t know how God works, how God has such power, but God certainly does. It is at the craziest times of life when we lift up our eyes to heavens and cry for support and relief. And it comes.
God of All Power, help us when we are most desperate. We believe you will help us in ways we cannot comprehend. Amen.
Psalm 85:9-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Lately it doesn’t seem like God’s glory is dwelling in America. The Psalmist describes God’s glory in the land as a time of love, faithfulness to God, righteousness and peace. Today it seems like there is more hate than love in America, and America is anything but peaceful.
But the Psalmist is not talking about where the land of Israel was at that moment, but rather what Israel could be if people fear (respect) God. The same is true for America. We could change as a nation. If Americans respected God, what would America look like?
What might that look like? Police officers able to talk to people and persuade them to stop wrong actions, even persuading them to get in the police car without force. Better yet, fewer police because crimes are seldom, if ever committed.
People able to demonstrate in the streets without violence or being shut down by police. Better yet, no need for demonstrations because there is truly “justice for all.” People listening quietly and thoughtfully to others with a different political viewpoint. Can you see Jesus acting as the worst of the police or the worst of the protestors acted recently?
Much would be possible if Americans truly respected God by respecting God’s highest creation (people) as much as they claim to respect God. Perhaps it would truly turn this nation into a society where all people loved God, and loved each other. That’s something we can all pray for.
Peaceful God, bring peace and justice to our country. Help our county’s people to be more righteous. Amen.
Psalm 120:3-4 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 3 What shall be given to you? And what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? 4 A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!
Here is a lament about people who are lying to the Psalmist, or perhaps lying about the Psalmist. The psalmist is not afraid of anger. He or she is convinced that God will punish the liar in ways that we find horrible, but were perhaps more commonplace back then. Times change.
This Psalm is also seen by scholars as a “song of ascent.” The temple in Jerusalem is on the highest point of the city. A song of ascent was what the people of Israel used to sing on their way up the hill to worship in the temple.
What the Psalmist does is wise. The Psalmist tries to get all anger out, so the focus in the temple can be on God.
I hope none of us have liars in our lives. I hope we wouldn’t wish evil on anyone. But I think the basic idea of a “song of ascent” is a good one, all these centuries later. What song about your life would you sing driving to worship, so that when you get to worship, you can focus on God?
Lord, help me to clear out all the distractions in my head, so that when I pray and worship, I can focus on you, not my problems. Amen.
New Revised Standard Version
49 Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. 50 This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.
As a chaplain, there was a once a family in the ICU who asked me to pray with them as a group. I don’t even remember what was wrong with their loved one. But I remember the family was STRESSED. The fear and the anxiety in that room was palpable. As we prayed, a wave of relief washed over the room. A family member remarked with amazement, “That really made a difference, didn’t it?” and that prayer did. Stress alone can kill.
There are times in this life when things are going just horribly. The random nature of events means an earthquake of events can rock our personal worlds. Everyone I know has a had a stretch of time, one year or another, when catastrophes happen in quick succession. Illness, injury, death, economic hardship. Sometimes these horrible events happen all at once.
It is the Psalmist connection to God, and it’s a lifeline, that makes a difference to the Psalmist at such times, in the midst of tragedy. The Word of God, the promises of God, can be literally life-giving. Without the promise that God wants to be and is connected to us, we probably would never test our lifeline. Thanks be to God’s Word!
Creator God, you give us life and you sustain our lives. Remind us daily of the lifeline you have given us, so we may feel your power protecting us. Amen. Amen.