December 15, 2017- Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy – Psalm 126

joy reaping

 

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations,  “The Lord has done great things for them.”

 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. – Psalm 126 (NRSV)

Not long after my maternal grandfather died, my mother and I went through the necessary task of going through his possessions. Mom donated most of his clothing and household items to St. Vincent DePaul and other charities, but she kept some things. It was especially difficult looking through all the things my grandmother had sewn and embroidered for him.

I had the privilege in all these things of finding my grandmother’s Bible. She had died suddenly fifteen years before my grandfather, and her death was a great sorrow for him. It seemed as if he was a broken man after my grandmother passed. They were a very close and loving couple and her absence was a sore grief to him.

In the front of her Bible I found a letter she had written to my grandfather. At the beginning of the letter she had written out Psalm 126, as this particular Psalm was an encouragement to them.  Knowing that she had such a powerful faith in God and His provision has been a deep encouragement for me as well.

There were so many circumstances in both of their lives in which I am sure they had to sow in tears. I know that my grandfather lived in sorrow for the fifteen years after my grandmother’s death. It’s part of the human condition.  Yet my grandparents still joined in that hope that God will take our sowing in tears and turn it in to reaping in joy.

Our world is definitely a place in which there is a great deal of sowing in tears. Every day we see sorrowful things on the news, all over the Internet, and all around us- poverty of material things, poverty of spirit, violence, natural disasters, drug addiction, political strife, and the list goes on.

The Psalmist speaks of the joy to come, the joy that we can anticipate, but don’t experience fully here in the world of not-yet.

As we anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus, we are painfully aware of the tearful sowing and toil that we endure in this world. But we are encouraged by knowing that sowing in tears will be followed by reaping in joy.

January 30, 2017- Here and Now, and Not Yet-Mark 8:34

follow-jesus

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

Now, as always, there’s some bad theology out there in which people are led to believe that following Jesus means that He magically solves all our problems, pays for all our stuff, and makes our lives all sunshine and rainbows.

The only problem with that is what Jesus really said, and what Jesus really did.

Jesus was born into this world, which is a place in which God’s Kingdom is here, but also is “not yet.” We go through trials to refine and build us.  If we follow Jesus we are going to encounter trials and difficulties just as He did.  The difference is that He brings us through those trials.

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33 (NRSV)

On one hand we are part of the Kingdom of God as we were named and claimed by Him in the waters of Baptism.  Yet it is interesting that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and then BOOM- he was sent into the wilderness for forty days.  (Mark 1:9-13)

If you follow Jesus it means, God names you, claims you, calls you Beloved, and He is well pleased with you- then He plunks you out in the wilderness to work out what that means.

God equips us for where He sends us, which is both a comfort and a challenge.

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:35 (NRSV)

He does not call us to sit around and be judgmental of others, or to pat ourselves on the back for stuffy and artificial moral prudery, or to play games with who is in and who is out. He does not call us to be anything we are not. He does call us to put Him first.  Jesus says to us, follow Me- serve others, love others, be that light in the darkness.

December 21, 2016-Simeon’s Answered Prayer: “My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”-Luke 2:25-32, Revelation 21:3-4

simeon

 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32 (NRSV)

The above passage is known as the “nunc dimittis“- meaning,”now You dismiss Your servant,” and it is also known as the Song of Simeon.  In some traditions it is used as a prayer for the ending of the day, or for the ending of a worship service.

There is nothing more joyful than experiencing answered prayer and the fulfillment of much-longed for dreams.  It is hard to imagine Simeon’s delight as he held the infant Jesus and realized: This child is the promised Messiah.

What an incredible blessing God granted Simeon in that moment, that he would come face to face with his Savior, and that he could die in peace.

We are still waiting in our “not yet” world.  Waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.  Some of us are holding on to a breakthrough in a hard situation. Some of us are walking through the stages of physical, emotional or spiritual healing.  Some of us are weighed down in depression and grief and just can’t see the way out of the dark.

We may not be blessed in the same way Simeon was, that we may see the face of Jesus before we die (although that is not impossible!) but we can trust God that His word is true.

One of the most encouraging words to the weary, to those who most need to experience the presence and healing touch of God is:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

God Himself is with us.  And in this “not yet” world, we can know in Christ that death and mourning and crying and pain are not the end.