Bible Study 12.5.11, 12.8.11, 12.11.11 For Worship 12.25.11

Bible Study 12.5.11, 12.8.11. 12.11.11 For Worship 12.25.11

Luke 2:1-6

Luke 2:1  In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.

2  This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

3  And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.

4  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,

5  to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

6  And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.

7  And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Bible Study 12.12.11, 12.15.11, 12.18.11 For Worship 12.25.11

Luke 2:8-20

 

Luke 2: 8  And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

10  And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;

11  for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

12  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

13  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

15  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16  And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17  And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;

18  and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

19  But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

20  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

COMMENTARY

            Luke’s nativity narrative is a story teller’s jewel.  Once upon a time in order for the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the world, issued a decree that all the world should pay taxes to Rome, and so poor Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth and journey to Bethlehem, to pay Caesar’s tax because Joseph was of the House and Lineage of David.   Wow, this story has everything, an oppressive ruler of the world ordering everyone to pick up and make a journey in order to be counted in the census and pay a tax.  We should note that a census was one of the acts of government considered to be problematical in the Hebrew scriptures.  At several places in the law of Moses provision is made for the taking of a census.  (Exodus 30:12-14, Numbers 1:49, Numbers 26:2-4, II Chronicles 2:17-18.)  But then II Samuel 24:1-17 is a long story about a census ordered by King David that was forbidden and resulted in a punishing plague from God.  Certainly a census ordered by a foreign King for purposes of taxation was an evil fate for Israel.

            Both Caesar Augustus and Quirinius give Luke’s narrative the semblance of history.  The problem is that the dates for Caesar and Quirinius don’t coincide with the estimated date for the birth of Jesus 4 B.C.  The Gospel of Luke links the birth of Jesus to a “world-wide” census ordered by Augustus carried out while Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is thought to be a reference to the census of Judea in 6/7 AD, when Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed as Tetrarch of Judea; however, Luke also, like the Gospel of Matthew, dates the birth to the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC, ten years before the census of 6 or 7 AD.

            Luke’s story also tells us that Mary and Joseph were poor.  Jesus was born in a cave, because there was no room in the inn.  Clearly Bethlehem was crowded for the census, but for those who have the money there is always room in the Inn.  Luke’s gospel constantly expresses sympathy for the poor.  We might think that a carpenter was middle class, but in First Century Israel “carpenters” were simply landless peasants, laborers who were only just above unskilled landless agricultural laborers.   In First Century Israel manipulation of credit and foreclosures on land debts, ignoring the principle of the Jubilee, had resulted in thousands of peasants being pushed off the land, and large wealthy land holders consolidating ever larger holdings.  Contrast the child of landless peasants with Caesar Augustus the ruler of the world.  This new religion claiming as their messiah a poverty stricken peasant was a radical and revolutionary faith. 

            The story of the Shepherds is probably not historical.  Numerous scholars point out that shepherds would not have been in the field with their flocks in mid-winter, rather the time for shepherds to be in the field at night is during spring lambing season.  Luke had two reasons for including the shepherds of Bethlehem in his story.   The Great King David was a shepherd of Bethlehem.  The shepherds of Luke’s story represent David.  The shepherds also represent poor landless peasants.  By the time of the First Century, shepherds were usually landless agricultural workers, who did not own their sheep, and they certainly did not own any productive agricultural land.  Grazing land was marginal.  So if you were grazing sheep you didn’t own, you were indeed poor. 

            The angels’ appearance to the shepherds provides an element of mystery and miracle as well as a divine announcement and confirmation of the birth.  The appearance of the angels to the shepherds is one of the few places in the scriptures, where more than one angel appears to more than one human.  This was a special event.  On the other hand who would believe the shepherds?  Mary and Joseph were surprised by the story of the shepherds, but then each of them had experienced their own divine encounter, so Mary takes all of the news and ponders it in her heart.

            If God were to enter history today, what would the story look like?   A 1945 movie entitled “Star in the Night,” almost seems to have anticipated our present struggle over illegal immigration. (see plot notes) Mary and Joseph appear as an impoverished Hispanic couple who spend the night in a shed out behind a motel.  When the baby is born, three cow boys offer gifts to the child.  That film was made in 1945 and uncannily anticipates our present political problems over race and immigration.  If we were to imagine a remake of the Christmas Story today, where would the story take place?  What would be the ethnic background or nationality or socio-economic background of the characters?  What role do stories still serve in our faith development? 

 

            Plot notes:  “Star in the Night” This modern version of the Christmas story adds elements of ‘Charles Dickens’ ‘ “A Christmas Carol.” On Christmas Eve somewhere in the US southwest, three cowboys are riding through the desert night with items they purchased at a general store. They see a bright light just above the horizon and decide to find out where the light is coming from. The light turns out to be a newly installed light, in the shape of a large star, at the Star Auto Court. The auto court’s owner, Nick, doesn’t believe there is much good left in the world. He complains that people wish each other ‘Merry Christmas,’ then look out only for themselves the rest of the year. His customers get the brunt of his rudeness, but they have no other choice of lodging nearby.  

 

Nick, the motel owner who has lost faith in more than just the humanity of mankind, is visited by a kindly stranger on Christmas Eve. The motel’s guests are only concerned for themselves until a poor man and his wife, Jose and Maria Santos, drive up to the motel, unable to go any further. Out of rooms, Nick’s wife prepares a place for them in a shed under a neon star Nick had just finished hanging. Their plight brings out the generosity in everyone, including Nick, who remembers another family almost two thousand years earlier that also found a makeshift room at an inn under another kind of star.  For a Youtube excerpt from “Star In the Night” paste this link into your browser:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkoaO3t3b0s

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1.

Who was Emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth?

2. Who was Governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth?

3. According to the text what great event forced Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem?

4. According to the text where did Mary and Joseph stay in Bethlehem?

5. According to the text where were the shepherds, when the angel appeared to them?

6. What was the Angel’s message?

7. How many angels appeared to the shepherds?

8. How long did the angels stay?

9. Where did the angels look for the Holy Family?

10. After the shepherds visited the child, what did they do?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Do you think the Christmas narrative according to Luke was an attempt by the early church to contrast Jesus with Caesar Augustus?

2. When you read Luke’s story separate from Matthew’s story, what differences do you see?

3. Do you think Luke succeeds in presenting the poverty of the Holy Family?

4. How do you think Luke’s story contrasts with the way we celebrate Christmas?

5. If God were to “show up” in our world today, in what story do you think God would appear?

6. Can you think of any modern stories you think have profound faith implications?

7. If God showed up, who do you think God would inform, and how do you think God would do it?

8. How would you rewrite the song of the heavenly host for today?

9. If God sent an angel to you this Christmas, what do you think the message would be?

10. If you could go back and be a character in the Christmas Story, what character would that be?

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Pride and Humility

Praise and Humility

This Sunday is the beginning of Advent. We lit the first Advent Candle this morning, we decorated the Sock and Glove Tree. If there is any message in the incarnation, the meaning of the word made flesh is that God enters the world humbly, as a new born infant, born to a poor homeless peasant family, with no money for the motel. We wouldn’t give a poor family like that a second glance. God is humble, so what’s our problem? Why are we continually tripping over our egos?

The Greeks called it hubris. The church labeled it one of the seven deadly sins. The ancient Hebrews believed pride was a source of personal undoing: Proverbs 16:18-19 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” “Proverbs 29:23 A man’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Much of the “craziness” in our lives is rooted in the inflation of our egos. Robert Moore describes our problem in his book Facing the Dragon:

Once you begin to understand what a great struggle against infantile grandiosity we all have, then you will understand how important prayer is, and liturgy, and active imagination. We need creative ritualization. We really blew it when we depreciated the importance of ritual in the Enlightenment. We need ritualized containment,

(worship)to help people manage unregulated grandiosity.

Another resource for regulating grandiose energies is a regular participation in communal worship and liturgy. This recommendation of prayer is perhaps my most radical suggestion,

Dr. Moore writes. People who have a regular prayer life ritual handle their compulsions and impulsivity better than those who do not. They are less fragmented than those who do not pray regularly. Prayer is any spiritual discipline that enables you to be connected with the basic energies of life and keeps you from an unconscious fantasy that you yourself are God.

Praise is a particular prayer discipline that proclaims, “God is God, and I am not.” Unfortunately, not all that passes for praise is really praise. What do I mean? Some praise music is pretty, but that’s really all it is, and rather than calling attention to God it calls attention to the performers or the worshippers. I ran across a good story about the difference between praise choruses and hymns.

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the farmer, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”
“Praise choruses?” said his wife. “What are those?”
“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The farmer said, “Well, it’s like this – If I were to say to you: “Martha, the cows are in the corn”‘ – well, that would be a hymn. If on the other hand, I were to say to you: ‘Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN.’ Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise chorus.”

The next weekend, his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city came to visit and attended the local church of the small town. He went home and his mother asked him how it was. “Well,” said the young man, “it was good. They did something different however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”

“Hymns?” asked his mother. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his mother.

The young man said, “Well, it’s like this – If I were to say to you: ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn’ – well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you: ‘Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth. For the way of the animals who can explain There in their heads is no shadow of sense Hearkenest they in God’s sun or His rain Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced. Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight have broken free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed. Then goaded by minions of darkness and night they all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed. So look to the bright shining day by and by where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn Where no vicious animals make my soul cry and I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.’ Then if I were to sing only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.

Praise comes in many different forms and it’s not the music that counts, but our intent when we offer praise – God is God, and we are not.

There is another form of prayer that looks like praise, but it is really manipulation. This kind of praise is the flattery of God. O God you are great. We love you. You are all wonderful and all bountiful and generous, now give us what we want. Divine flattery is a kind of cheap manipulation, that doesn’t really work, because God isn’t interested in our praise.

God doesn’t need our praise. We need to offer praise in order to help contain our egos. God doesn’t need our worship. We don’t somehow make ourselves pleasing to God by coming to church on Sunday – by singing hymns or praise choruses. We need to gather with our faith community to contain our egos through worship and praise, reminding ourselves that God is God and we are not, and then joining in praying with and for each other, so that we might become open to the healing power of God in our lives.

When we turn to God in prayer there is a power larger than ourselves that is accessed in prayer. When we prayer with and for other people, that power becomes magnified through mysterious connections of love. Jesus said, “love is the secret of the Universe. Love is more powerful than all forms of death – physical death or spiritual death.”

We also gather for worship in community to be reminded of God’s unfinished work in the world, the mission of Jesus Christ to transform the world through love. And hopefully, because we gather as a faith community we will link up with other people to go into the world together to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, provide medical care for the poor, clean water for people to drink, places to live for the homeless. Maybe even bake some cookies together to help provide food for kids who scrounge for their food at the City Dump in Tegucigalpa. That’s why we come to church, because we need it. We need praise, and a community of spiritual friends to help us regulate our grandiose energies of pride.

Since we are now officially in the Christmas Season, let me mention one other resource for containing our consumeristic pride. Michael Slaughter has written a book entitled Christmas Is Not Your Birthday. We celebrate the birth of Jesus as if it is our birthdays focusing on giving presents to people who have almost no real needs. Most of us have adequate homes. Most of us have too much to eat. We all wore clothes this morning. Oh we have bills, but that’s because we spend money. Michael Slaughter suggests that we contain our egos and our consumer spending and celebrate the birthday of Jesus by giving to people in real need.

A closing poem from Thomas Troeger:

One gift the magi bore

Worth more than all the rest:

The grace to kneel and bow before

The child whom starlight blest.

Their myrrh and frankincense

Lay sweet upon the air;

But sweeter yet and more intense

The magi’s humble prayer

And though their gift of gold

Shone brightly with the skies

Still heaven’s light was twice as bold

In their adoring eyes.

One gift the magi bore

Worth more than all the rest:

We give that gift when we adore

The child whom starlight blest.


Bible Study 11.18.11, 11.30.11, 12.4.11 For Worship 12.11.11

Bible Study 11.28.11, 12.1.11. 12.4.11 For Worship 12.11.11

Matthew 1:18-24

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;

19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;

21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

COMMENTARY

This almost too familiar piece of scripture still holds some important gems of wisdom. And we should not ignore the 17 verses that come before this scripture, the genealogy of Jesus traced through Joseph. Now some people wonder why the genealogy of Jesus would be traced through Joseph, when “immaculate conception” would mean that Joseph didn’t have anything to do with it. But in order for Jesus to be the Messiah, his lineage had to come through the House of David, and Joseph was of the House and lineage of David. In Jewish law if a man claimed the child as his own, then he was the father. Perhaps more important we should remember that the early church’s claim of divine conception was to parallel the Roman State Religion’s claim that Caesar Augustus had been divinely conceived. I’m not sure either the Romans or the early church believed in a literal divine conception, after all where does divine sperm come from or what does it look like? Probably both the Romans and the early church were making claims that these extraordinary leaders had an extra or special measure of divine spirit.

Verse 18 tries to capture the sense of the genealogy by using the term “Christ.” According to Wikipedia Christ is the English term for the Greek Χριστός (Khristós) meaning “the anointed one.” It is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach. “The anointed one” does convey special leadership, as the Roman State Religion refer to Augustus as the “anointed one,” but the title does not in itself confer divinity. The title “Son of God” was first applied to Octavian before he was given the title Augustus by the Roman Senate. After the assassination of Julius Caesar a comet appeared in the sky, and many of the superstitious common people believed that this was the soul of Julius climbing up into the heavens, where he was being welcomed as a god by the other gods of the Roman pantheon. Since Octavian has been named as Julius Caesar’s heir in his will, Octavian seized upon the opportunity to have a coin minted to celebrate the occasion. On one side of the coin was a picture of the comet with the words Divine Caesar, on the other side is a picture of the head of Octavian with the legend “Son of God.” When the earliest followers of Jesus used exalted titles and divine attributions for Jesus, they may not have carried the same meaning as the church would give to these terms later.

The genealogy of Jesus also warns us that family trees sometimes contain embarrassing information. There are at least three irregular “liaisons” in the lineage of Jesus: Judah and Tamar, Rahab and Salmon, David and “the wife of Uriah” Bathsheba. Even the messiah comes out of questionable roots.

This is the only scripture that gives Joseph some air time. He is described as a just man, and the designation “just man” meant someone who was familiar with the Torah, the law, and made a special effort to keep the law. Some commentators even describe Joseph as a Tzaddik, a term among the Hassids that means a special Rebbe, who is commonly associated with miracle stories. Thus we should not be surprised that many miracles seem to surround Joseph the Tzaddik.

First, there is the miracle of being betrothed to the young woman God chose as the mother of the Messiah. That also means that God had chosen Joseph to serve as the Father of the Messiah. Jesus, the Messiah would learn a trade and Torah from his Father. His character would be molded by following in the footsteps of a righteous man.

When Joseph was unsure whether or not to take Mary as his wife, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and told him to name the child Emmanuel. Perhaps an even greater miracle was that Joseph paid attention to his dream and obeyed the angel. When the angel appeared to Joseph in Bethlehem to warn him of the soldiers sent by the murderous Herod to look for the child, again miraculously Joseph took his dream seriously and took Mary and the child and fled for Egypt. If we have any trouble believing the story of the flight to Egypt just think of all the refugees from Lybia earlier in the year and Syria right now. Some things just don’t change.

Joseph’s goodness, his willingness to believe, his openness to this dreams and the miracles happening around him make Joseph a special hero in the Christmas Story. Joseph’s story can remind us that each of us has an opportunity to be a special kind of hero too, if we don’t miss the miracle of the Christ Child. The miracle of Christmas is the opportunity to reach out to someone else’s need and without fanfare, secretly, quietly give a gift where it is needed.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. In verse 18, what title is given to Jesus?

2. What was Mary’s status in relationship to Joseph?

3. How does verse 18 attribute Mary’s pregnancy?

4. How is Joseph described in verse 19?

5. What plan did Joseph conceive to cope with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy?

6. What motivations does the text ascribe to Joseph for his plans to cope with Mary’s pregnancy?

7. According to the text why did Joseph change his plans?

8. Who speaks to Joseph?

9. Whose prophecy is to be fulfilled by naming the child Emmanuel?

10. What name does Joseph actually give to the child?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. How old do you think you were, when you can first remember hearing this text?

2. What do you think the gospel story teller was trying to convey in this story?

3. How important do you think Joseph was in the life of Jesus?

4. Do you think there is any reason story teller uses the phrase “put her to shame,” rather than “stone her to death.”

5. Why do you think the story teller uses a dream as the vehicle of revelation?

6. Have you ever had a “significant” dream?

7. Why do you think the prophecy says, “Emmanuel,” but the baby’s name is Jesus?

8. The earliest writings in the New Testament, the Letters of Paul and the Gospel of Mark make no mention of a birth narrative. Why do you think Matthew and Luke included birth narratives in their gospels?

9. Imagine for a moment you are a member of an early Christian community that has a copy of the Gospel of Mark, a sayings Gospel like “Q” and copies of one or two letters of Paul. How might your sense of the Christian faith be different?

10. How do you think our popular celebration of Christmas has affected the way we read the birth narratives?


Rebuilding Our Lives

Rebuilding Our Lives

137:1  By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

2  On the willows there we hung up our lyres.

3  For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4  How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

5  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

6  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

The Jews were sustained in exile for sixty years by their memory of Jerusalem.   But after the Persians conquered Babylon and the Jews were allowed to return home, they found Jerusalem was in complete ruins.  What a disappointment.  Some of the returnees turned around and went right back to Babylon.

Slowly hard working courageous people began to restore the olive groves, the vineyards, the terraces on the sides of the hills that made farming possible again.  But no one had the energy or organization to begin the awesome task of rebuilding the temple or restoring the Wall of the City.  About fifty years after Jews began trickling back to Judah two leaders arose, who challenged the people to put their minds and hearts to the difficult tasks of rebuilding – Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezra challenged the people to leave off some of their personal pursuits to give their time and their energy to the communal project of restoring the temple, and Nehemiah challenged the people to restore the City Wall.

I never cease to be amazed by how relevant our lectionary lessons are to the life of our community of faith.  At the Fall Meeting of the Congregation Nehemiah-Zig-Roebuck-Ezra will talk with us about the need to restore our church’s roof, and bring other parts of our building back from ruin.  So let’s take a moment and see how Ezra and Nehemiah motivated the people to undertake the needed repairs and rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Both Nehemiah and Ezra began with prayer.  And I’m not talking about a lick and a promise kind of prayer or a 30 second devotional at the beginning of a business meeting.  We’re talking about sustained deep prayer over many days.  Too many churches begin too many meetings, too many projects without divine discernment informing the decisions and sustained prayer supporting the plans.  We can collect all of the information, compute all of the measurements, write the best requirements document, and if the Holy Spirit isn’t in it, it ain’t a gonna happen.

So both Ezra and Nehemiah started with prayer.  Then each of them recruited a small group to pray with them and make plans.  When Nehemiah undertook his night time survey of the Wall, he took a small group with him.  Ezra enjoyed the prayer fellowship of the priests.  Leadership groups, who are steeped in prayer, are essential, if a community of faith is going to commit to a major undertaking.

After praying and organizing their leadership groups, Nehemiah and Ezra called a meeting of the entire community.  Everyone has to be on board.  Everyone has to give their opinion and everyone has to be invited to pray.  Pray first, talk second.  God can speak through the least likely member of the community, but we all have to pray first.

When we are part of a community of faith, we have three commitments to the community:  talk it up, pray it up, pay it up.  If we believe in the community of faith where we belong we talk it up with other people.  We tell other people about the importance of good spiritual friends who make a difference in our lives.  If we see a movie we like, or discover a new restaurant that is really good, we tell other people about it.  Just so, when we experience transformation in our lives as the result of our spiritual friends praying with us and for us, we should tell other people about the wonderful difference a praying community makes in our lives, and how having good spiritual friends who hold us accountable makes a big difference in our ability to change and grow.  We talk it up our church.

We also pray it up.  We lift up our community of faith in prayer and we pray with and for our good spiritual friends.  We even pray with and for the difficult people in our lives.  God is so good, that God even gives us people in our faith community we aren’t going to like, so we can stretch and grown and learn to be tolerant and accepting of others.  Always remembering that we are a special gift to some other people who have to learn to tolerate and accept us.

Finally, when a community of faith comes together to undertake a project like, rebuilding a temple, or a City Wall, or a leaky roof, or rotting wood siding, or replacing heating and air conditioning units, everyone has to pay it up.  God doesn’t make regular deposits in the church’s bank account, because God has already given us all that we need to do what God wants us to do.  It reminds me of the moderator who stood up in front of the congregation and said, I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is we have all the money we need to support the budget.  The bad news is that it is still in our pockets.  We have to pay it up.  God has put all the money in our pockets we need to do what God wants us to do.  We just have to give it.

Now here’s the last step Nehemiah and Ezra took to get the job done.  They set up a system of accountable giving.  Notice what Nehemiah did with the Wall.  Eliashib and his priests took the sheep gate and the section of the wall from there to the Tower of Hananel.  The men of Jericho took the next section, and then the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate.  Each family, each group and organization as they were able took responsibility for a section of the wall.  People with greater resources assumed a larger portion of the work and accountability was obvious.  So they strengthened their hands for the good work, because if they failed to do their part, everyone would know.  When Nehemiah-Zig-Roebuck-Ezra makes his presentation at the Congregational Meeting we need to begin thinking accountability.  We can do what needs to be done, if we are willing to be held accountable.  The same is true in terms of the stewardship drive.  God has given us all we need to do what God wants us to do, if we are willing to be held accountable.

Now allow me to take a minute to talk about these same principles applied to our personal lives.  When we find ourselves devastated by life, a loved one dies, a relationship ends, a divorce occurs, a job comes to an end, a business fails, a major illness strikes, we often find ourselves in need of personal rebuilding.  We have to pick ourselves up off the floor, make changes and go on.  And that is hard.  Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.  Just think of physical therapy after a stroke.  It’s hard.  It is a spiritual challenge.

So where do we start?  Prayer — begin with prayer.  Rebuilding our lives is a spiritual challenge, so begin with prayer.  Get anybody and everybody to pray with you and for you.  Stand up during joys and concerns and ask your good spiritual friends your community of faith to pray with you and for you.  And if you can’t come, because you are in the hospital, or you are stuck sick at home, ask to be placed on the prayer list, and ask the pastor and the Care Giving Committee to come have prayer with you.  Remember the Letter of James 5:14-16  “Is any among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick person. . . . pray for one another that you may be healed.  The prayer of the righteous has great power in its effect.”

And please note there is something powerful that happens, when we ask others to pray for us.  When we ask other people to pray for us, rather than insisting that other people should intuit our need, it means we’re willing to at least give it a shot that maybe we can be helped by prayer.  Even if we have our doubts about prayer, asking others to pray with and for us is like saying, “I believe but help my unbelief.”  When we practice laying on of hands in Reiki, the practitioners need to believe in what they are doing, and the clients need to believe.  Faith is necessary, active demonstrable faith.  Asking for prayer is active demonstrable faith.

Now after other people have prayed with us and for us, we have to do our part.  We have to be willing to make changes in our lives.  We can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results – that’s the definition of crazy.  We have to be willing to change, and transformation is hard.

And not only do we have to implement a plan of change, we have to empower other people to hold us accountable.  And that’s when things get really tough, because if we empower people to hold us accountable, then rather than just praying for us, our good spiritual friends begin to ask us whether or not we are doing what we said we were going to do in order to change – accountability.

On the subject of accountability let me share a story.  I was going out to preach in a little country church, and I had Geoffrey with me.  Before the offering I put three one dollar bills in the offering plate to give people the idea.  When the offering was collected I looked down in the plate and there were three one dollar bills, a quarter and a dime.  Geoffrey ever the wise one said,  “gee Dad, if you had put more into it, you would of got more out of it.”

We have great challenges in our individual lives and in our life together as a congregation.  Let’s pray.  Let’s invite others to pray with us and for us.  Let’s seek God’s guidance and wisdom, rather than relying on our own insight.  Then let’s work together to be accountable.  Let’s remind one another of the changes we need to make and empower other people to hold us accountable.  And maybe just maybe we can be transformed by the power of faith.  If we put more into it maybe we’ll get more out of it.


Bible Study 11.21.11, 11.24.11, 11.27.11 For Worship 12.4.11

Bible Study 11.21.11, 11.24.11, 11.27.11 For Worship 12.4.11

Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.

30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,

33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

COMMENTARY

Birth narratives for larger than life figures in the ancient world were common. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote a birth story about Caesar Augustus. The narrative of Suetonius was incorporated into the official records of the Roman State Religion. According to Suetonius Augustus was divinely conceived, when his mother, Atia, spent the night at the Temple of Apollo. Suetonius also included a special star in the sky, when Augustus was born, a visit from Persian Wisemen, and a special prophecy from a noted soothsayer. Sound familiar?

Truth to be told almost no one was paying attention, when the great personages of the ancient world were born. So many children died from childhood diseases, no one kept track of births, or conceptions, or any records until an important person had achieved fame. In the first chapter of Luke we have a birth narrative, highly edited by the early church, for John the Baptist. The visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary is a faith story rather than history. So what are we intended to take way this faith story?

First, note that Joseph, who would be the official father of the Jesus, like Gaius Octavius was the Father of Augustus, Joseph could trace his family lineage back to the Great King David, a requirement for anyone who might aspire to the title of Messiah. Second we should note that the visitation of Gabriel to Mary also establishes a family connection between Jesus and John the Baptists. Mary and John’s mother Elizabeth are described as kinswomen, probably some form of cousin. Even though Luke would weave a tale that would place Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus, Luke source rightly identified the village of Nazareth as the village of Mary’s residence.

According to popular belief by the time of the First Century, Gabriel, was one of the four Archangels, who stand in the presence of God. Gabriel’s first appearance in scripture is in Daniel 9:21, a messenger from God to Daniel. In Islam Gabriel is identified as the Holy Spirit who revealed the Quran to Muhammad.

Verses 28 and 29 offer us a profound understanding of what it means to be chosen by God. Gabriel says, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

And Mary immediately wonders what is up. “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” Those who are chosen by God often suffer the most and have the most to lose. No wonder Mary was cautious in responding. God was asking a great sacrifice. Pregnancy and childbirth in the ancient world were dangerous undertakings. Many women died from simple infections known as childbirth fever. Even if she survived childbirth, to mother and protect a messiah would be a dangerous undertaking. Surely Herod would not welcome any rival to the throne. He had already murdered his brother-in-law, wife and two sons, because he perceived they threatened his power.

Mary was also a practical young woman. She knew where babies came from: “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” Mary’s question may highlight another possible danger, the charge of adultery becoming pregnant while betrothed to Joseph. It’s not that couples didn’t become pregnant before marriage in those days, but if the child was not the child of the person to whom you were betrothed, you could be denounced and then stoned as an adulteress.

Gabriel underscores that nothing is impossible with God, and notes that the previously barren kinswoman Elizabeth is six months pregnant even though she is passed the usual age for giving birth. We don’t know how long Mary paused between verse 37 and giving an answer to Gabriel in verse 38. A good question for discussion is whether or not Mary had to give her ascent. Would God have made her pregnant anyway, if she had said, “No?” More conservative readers like to argue that God knew Mary would say, “Yes.” But then we have to ask whether or not Mary had free will, and that leads to the question of whether or not we have free will? If God knows our decisions before we are even asked the questions, are we free?

The song “Go Tell Elizabeth” captures the possibility that Mary’s decision was more fraught with conflict and difficulty than what comes through in the text:

I’ll Go Tell Elizabeth

So many things are happening to me that I don’t understand.

Visions and angels and a baby names Jesus is not what I planned.

Plans I have made are like bird nests blown down in the wind and the rain.

And I’m scattered like straw and I can’t quite tell,

where to find saneness again — saneness again.

So I’ll go tell Elizabeth, for she’ll understand,

I’ll go tell Elizabeth she’ll hold my hand — she’ll understand.

Go talk to Joseph, well I’ve talked to Joseph and Joseph’s a man.

So many things that a woman can know that a man never can.

Joseph is practical and Joseph is worried with things of his own.

And talking with Joseph is sometimes no better than being alone – being alone.

So I’ll go tell Elizabeth, for she’ll understand,

I’ll go tell Elizabeth she’ll hold my hand — she’ll understand.

Sometime I wish I could wake up to discover it all was a dream.

I ought to be shouting for joy yet I’m coming apart at the seams.

Mostly I’m quiet I keep things inside me that’s how I get by

There’s too much to handle and I need someone near me

To share a good cry – to share a good cry.

So I’ll go tell Elizabeth, for she’ll understand,

I’ll go tell Elizabeth she’ll hold my hand — she’ll understand.

So many things are happening to me that she’ll understand

Now that she’s pregnant her life isn’t going exactly as planned.

Plans we both made are like bird’s nests blown down in the wind and the rain.

And we’re scattered like straw and we can’t quite tell,

where to find saneness again — saneness again.

So I’m coming Elizabeth ‘cause I’ll understand,

I’m coming Elizabeth, I’ll hold your hand, I’ll understand.

Yes, I’m coming Elizabeth ‘cause I’ll understand,

I’m coming Elizabeth, I’ll hold your hand, I’ll understand.

Mary’s ultimate response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” stands as a challenge for us. Are we willing to give over our lives for God’s purposes? Most of us try to use prayer and religion to manipulate God into helping us to accomplish our purposes. But the story of Mary suggests God wants us to serve as divine instruments in the world.

I think the story of Albert Schweitzer may be instructive. Schweitzer was a brilliant and talented young man. He earned degrees in Theology, Philosophy, Music, and a Medical Degree. He was a brilliant concert pianist and organist, and periodically went on concert tour in Europe to raise money for his Hospital in Lambarene. He concluded that he was indeed blessed by God, and he would spend the first thirty years of his life devoted to scholarship and music, and then give the rest of his life to God in service to the poorest of the poor. In 1912 he left Europe with his wife, Helene, for Gabon where he started a hospital in the African bush. There he labored until 1965, 53 years giving his life to relieve pain and suffering and bring healing. He was also very, very humble. When a reporter came to Lambarene and found Dr. Schweitzer pushing a wheel barrow on a construction project at the Hospital, the reporter asked, “Dr. Schweitzer, how is it that you are pushing a wheel barrow?”

The good Doctor replied, “it is actually quite simple. You place dirt in the barrow, and then lift up on the two handles and push.”

Perhaps we can become more open to God working in and through us, rather than trying to recruit God for our purposes.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. What angel was sent to Nazareth?

2. Did the angel have specific instructions?

3. In the sixth month of what was the angel sent?

4. How does the text describe Mary?

5. What was Mary’s response to the angel’s greeting?

6. How did the angel try to allay Mary’s fears?

7. What was Mary told about the child she was being asked to carry?

8. How does the angel say all of this will be accomplished?

9. What if any objections did Mary have?

10. What was Mary’s final response to the angel?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. What do you think were God’s requirements for the birth of the messiah?

2. Do you think people are ever chosen before they are born for special responsibilities or missions?

3. Do you think we have free will?

4. Do you think Mary could have said, “No?”

5. Do you have a sense of having a God given purpose in your life?

6. How do you think you have done living out God’s purposes in your life?

7. Do you think God allows us to have some of our own plans and purposes?

8. Do you ever find yourself scattered like straw wondering where to find saneness again?

9. Why do you think plans never quite work out the way we imagine?

10. Do you think God can work in us and through us?

11. What do you think prevents God from working in us and through us?


Stand and See God’s Victory for You

Stand and See God’s Victory for You

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, how many folks here know who Jehoshaphat was other than an expletive? Jehoshaphat was a King of Judah after the division between the Northern Kingdom Israel and the Southern Kingdom Judah in 922 BCE. According to the Hebrew chroniclers Jehoshaphat ruled in Jerusalem from 873 – 849 BCE. During that time Judah was much smaller and militarily weaker than its Northern neighbor Israel. According to the Hebrew chroniclers, Jehoshaphat made an alliance for mutual protection with Ahab, King of Israel, but the agreement fell apart, because Jehoshaphat was horrified by the idolatry practiced in the Northern Kingdom including using living infants as burnt offerings to Chemosh the god of war.

Now some of you may be wondering, pastor, why are we studying this Jehoshaphat and all of this ancient history? Because the story in our scripture today has an important application to our own lives. But first let me set the stage historically, so we can understand the spiritual implications of the victory God worked for Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat had entered into an alliance with Ahab King of Israel to bring under subjection the Moabites, who lived East of the Dead Sea. But when the alliance between Judah and Israel broke down, the Moabites saw their opportunity to get even with Judah.

The Moabites brought all of their diverse and sometimes mutually hostile tribes together including Ammon, and the tribes of Mt. Seir. This was a large army, and they gathered at the Oasis of Ein Gedi. Those who were with us on our trip to Egypt and Israel will remember we stopped at Ein Gedi, where there is a perpetual source of fresh water in the middle of a desert region.

The Moabites gathered their host at this Oasis before attempting to climb the Dead Sea escarpment using the Ascent of Ziz. And here a picture is truly worth a thousand words. The Ascent of Ziz was no easy climb, and if an enemy were waiting for you in ambush near the top of the ascent. . . I think you get the picture.

Meanwhile back in Jerusalem, Jehoshaphat, hearing that the tribes of Moab were gathering against him, called for all the people to gather in the temple for prayer. As they were praying, the spirit of the Lord came upon a member of the choir, Jahaziel. Wouldn’t you know it’s always in the choir. And Jahaziel began to prophecy saying: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.

16 Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel.

17 You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”

Now in addition to the strategic advantage of occupying the high ground for the battle, God worked a miracle. The Moabites did themselves in. While these contentious tribes were gathered at Ein Gedi someone said something about someone else’s mother. A fight broke out between the Moabites, the people of Ammon, and the folks from Mt. Seir. And after a bunch of them had killed one another the people of Seir took off. With their numbers already reduced, the next morning the Moabites and Ammonites tried to climb the ascent of Ziz and guess who was waiting for them at the top? All Jehoshaphat and his people had to do was roll down rocks and shoot arrows down on top of their enemies. The Moabites panicked and ran away. God had secured victory for Jehoshaphat and his people.

When the Israelites followed the Moabites down to their encampment in Ein Gedi, they found that their enemies had abandoned the cattle they had brought for food, weapons and all kinds of gear. What a victory!

So what does this story have to do with us? Have you ever been afraid or anxious? Given this economy who hasn’t? Have you ever felt outnumbered and beset by enemies? Hopefully not very often, but it happens. Well, when we are feeling afraid or anxious like Jehoshaphat we need to pray. If we are a leader, we need to summon all of our people to prayer. At the darkest hour, God will speak through the least likely person, maybe even someone in the choir like Jahaziel.

In difficult times full of fear, hostility and anxiety Psalm 137 stands out as a meditation to comfort and strengthen us: 1 Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers!

2 For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.

4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.

6 He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday.

7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over those who seem to prosper in using unethical schemes, over those who carries out evil devices!

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

9 For the wicked shall be cut off; but those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look well at their place, they will not be there.

11 But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

Worry is debilitating. Anxiety causes us to shrink back from the world and other people, rather than fully engaging with life. There is an old Irish proverb that speaks to the problem of worry.

In life, there are only two things to worry about, either you are well or you are sick. If you are well, there is nothing to worry about, but if you are sick, there are only two things to worry about, either you will get well or you will die. If you get well, there is nothing to worry about, but if you die, there are only two things to worry about, either you will go to heaven or hell. If you go to heaven, there is nothing to worry about. And if you go to hell, you’ll be so busy shaking hands with all your friends, you won’t have time to worry! My great-grandfather Tracy had a special blessing, “may you be in heaven half an hour, before the devil knows you’re gone.”

If we have resolved with ourselves the fear of death, the rest of our worries can be managed. When we understand that we are beloved by God, and nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death, then we have nothing to fear. Even our financial worries come into perspective, when we remember that there are no pockets in a shroud – no U-haul following the hearse.

Let me share with you the Still Speaking Devotional from Tuesday of this past week: So much of our scripture is a celebration of abundance. The first chapters of Genesis are a song of praise for God’s generosity. With each act of creation, the divine refrain is, “It is good, it is good, it is very good.” And it pictures the Creator saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Many of the Psalms, including the one for today, survey creation and catalogue this abundance in loving detail and with joyful thanksgiving. Then, in the Gospels, Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes so that there is more than enough for everyone. At a wedding feast he turns water into wine, and more wine than could be consumed at a dozen weddings. These highly symbolic stories speak of God’s abundance. There is enough, there is more than enough.

That’s the biblical narrative. But the narrative by which we are tempted to live is another story entirely, a story of scarcity, where there is never enough. In fact, we are tempted to define enough as, “always something more than I have now.”

In spite of all that has happened in recent months, we still live in the most prosperous country in the history of the world. Do you live out of a sense of abundance or scarcity? That may be an economic question, but certainly it is a faith question.

And here is the prayer that accompanied that devotion: O God, when I count your blessings, they are numberless as the sands, so I confess that I don’t always get very far with my counting. So I simply thank you for sharing your abundance with me. Amen.

As Jehaziel said, “You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf.” Jesus showed us the way. The tomb is empty, and Jesus goes on before us. God’s abundance is still all around us. As Bobby McFirren said, “don’t worry, be happy.”


Bible Study 11.14.11, 11.17.11, 11.20.11 For Worship 11.27.11

Bible Study 11.14.11, 11.17.11, 11.20.11 For Worship 11.27.11

Psalm 148

Psalm 148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights!

2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!

3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!

4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.

6 And he established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.

7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10 Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD!

COMMENTARY

Just three weeks ago our scripture was the quintessential offering of praise Psalm 150. Psalm 148 was one of the classic songs of the Temple. The images are powerful metaphors and may hearken back to a more primitive period of Hebrew religion and liturgy. The heavens are called to give praise, the angels and then sun, moon, and stars are called upon to give praise. Many religions in the Ancient Near East worshipped the sun, moon, planets and stars. (Note that Judaism still uses a lunar calendar.) All of nature is called upon to offer praise to God, very much like Psalm 150 calls upon everything that breathes to offer praise. Psalm 148 also calls upon kings, princes and rulers to offer praise to humble themselves in the presence of the Creator of the Universe. So much of Near Eastern religion confused the King with god verse 11 then is an important departure from the theology of many of Israel’s neighbors.

Of some interest is verse 14 and the expression “raised up a horn for his people.” This is probably a colloquialism in the Hebrew referencing how an animal, particularly an ibex or a mountain goat will hold their horn high as a sign of strength. One Biblical Scholar has suggested a possible sexual reference, but since this particular use of the raised horn is in reference to God, the possibility seems somewhat remote. Translating colloquialisms from one language to another can be very difficult. Just imagine trying to explain to a non-English speaker the meaning of “now that’s a horse of another color.”

When we studied Psalm 150 we talked about the relationship between praise and remembering, praise and grief. As we come to the beginning of Advent I am proposing we look at the relationship between pride and praise.

If there is any message in the incarnation, the meaning of the word made flesh is that God enters the world humbly, as a new born infant, born to a poor homeless peasant family, with no money for the motel. We wouldn’t give a poor family like that a second glance. God is humble, what’s our problem?

The Greeks called it hubris. The church labeled it one of the seven deadly sins. The ancient Hebrews saw pride as a source of personal undoing: Proverbs 16:18-19 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” “Proverbs 29:23 A man’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Much of the “craziness” in our lives is rooted in the inflation of our egos. Robert Moore describes our problem in his book Facing the Dragon:

Once you begin to understand what a great struggle against infantile grandiosity we all have, then you will understand how important prayer is, and liturgy, and active imagination. We need creative ritualization. We really blew it when we depreciated the importance of ritual in the Enlightenment. We need ritualized containment to help people manage unregulated grandiosity.

Another resource for regulating grandiose energies is a regular participation in communal worship and liturgy. This recommendation of prayer is perhaps my most radical suggestion. People who have a regular prayer life ritual handle their compulsions and impulsivity better than those who do not. They are less fragmented than those who do not pray regularly. Prayer is any spiritual discipline that enables you to be connected with the basic energies of life and keeps you from an unconscious fantasy that you yourself are God.

Prayers of Confession are a form of liturgy that can help us to “confess” our hubris.

We confess, O God, that the world we live in is bounded by our own self-interest. We have put fences around it to try to make it manageable. We have tried to put you in little boxes to limit your influence in our lives. We have feared change and refused insight. We have selected what pleases us, and we have ignored what could mature us. We have created patterns of life that are encrusted with pride and self-will. We have failed to acknowledge your spirit because you challenged our worship of ourselves. Forgive us, and return us to humility and sanity. Help us to know that you are God and we are not. Amen.

As important as confession may be for our souls, prayers of praise are another important ritual of containment for our egos. When we focus on a higher power outside of ourselves and offer praise we are acknowledging that God is God and we are not. So let us spend time amidst the marvels of nature, and offer praise for all that God has made.

LET’S ASK QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. To whom is praise to be directed?

2. Who and what are directed to offer praise?

3. According to the Psalm who created the heavens?

4. What elements of weather are directed to offer praise?

5. What animals are directed to offer praise?

6. What plants are directed to offer praise?

7. How many different kinds of human beings are told to offer praise?

8. What meaning do you find in, “He has raised up a horn for his people?”

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. What metaphors would you include in a poem praising God?

2. What do you think was the purpose of including the heavenly bodies in the Psalm?

3. What is your astrological sign?

4. What weather phenomena do you find most powerful in thinking about God?

5. How would you change verse 11 to be more reflective of our life together in a modern democracy?

6. What do you think is the most difficult aspect of containing pride?

7. What rituals do you find most helpful in your spiritual life?

8. Could you write a praise poem?

9. If you were to compose your own personal prayer of confession, what would be the most important elements of that prayer?