"Prayer and Regurgitation"

3rd Sunday of Lent
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As we enter into this text and talk about the three days that Jonah spends inside the belly of this fish, perhaps you feel a bit like Thomas Paine. Paine writes in ‘Common Sense’, “the recitals of miracles as evidence of any system of religion being true, they ought to be consider symptoms of its being fabulous.”

Paine had no patience for this extra-ordinary tale and puts an emphasis on fabulous in a much different way that I would.

Some of you might get stuck on this detail of the story – and that’s fair. Most people, if they know anything about Jonah it’s that’s Jonah is swallowed by a fish, but some of us can’t swallow that idea. It doesn’t make sense, the world doesn’t work that way. How are we supposed to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense, it’s like trying to figure out how Hawaii has an interstate highway system that doesn’t connect to another state? Trying to make sense of Jonah being swallowed by a fish is like trying to make sense of why lemonade can be made with artificial flavors but cleaning supplies are made with actual lemon juice.

Just like I believe the parable of the prodigal son is true, I believe that the story of Jonah is true, but if we let ourselves get lost in the details, we might miss the meaning.

Before we get swallowed up by the rest of this story, let’s back up a little bit to add some context to Jonah’s journey.

In chapter 1, verse 3, it’s written, “So Jonah got up – to flee from Tarshish from the LORD! He went down to Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.”

The Hebrew word that’s used to say that Jonah ‘paid the fare’ is an interesting one – שְׂכָרָ֜הּ (śə·ḵā·rāh). Fare is a fair translation, but more often than not, שְׂכָרָ֜הּ (śə·ḵā·rāh) is translated as hiring or paying wages which suggests that Jonah didn’t just buy a ticket, they paid for the ship and the crew. The implication is that Jonah chartered the ship and hired the crew to take him to Tarshish.

We don’t know exactly where Tarshish was in the ancient world, but there is a general agreement that Tarhish was likely in southern Spain, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. To sail from Joppa to Tarshish could have taken up to a year not only because of the distance between Joppa and Tarshish but because of the storm seasons that would force the ship into port from time to time.

Jonah charters a ship, hires a crew, and decides to take a year off to travel the world.

What does this tell us about Jonah – it tells us that Jonah is rich, Jonah is wealthy, Jonah has the privilege of being able to purchase another direction for their life because God wants Jonah to goto Nineveh but Jonah has the wealth to say, nah, I’m going to go the other way instead.

At the beginning of chapter 1, Jonah’s wealth gives them all kinds of options, but at the end of chapter 1, everything is stripped away and Jonah is stuck, not really living, but not really dead, trapped in a fish with everything taken away from them.

The storm and the fish have exposed what hides behind all of Jonah’s wealth and privilege and power. It is just Jonah now.

If you were with us last week, you might remember what happened during the storm. Jonah has chartered this ship and paid the crew, Jonah is going on vacation so Jonah is sleeping while the sailors are struggling agains the storm, throwing their cargo overboard to try to lighten the load so they can make their way through the waves.

Cargo is valuable, that’s why it is being transported. Cargo is typically bought and sold with profit in mind. There’s wealth and worth found in cargo, but when the storm strikes, that cargo isn’t worth its weight anymore. All of a sudden this cargo that was worth something is worthless, it’s heavy, it’s in the way, so the crew has to get rid of it. There are moments where we realize that as much a we love our stuff, stuff doesn’t define our worth.

We are, finally, approaching spring. We’re not quite there yet but I have seen people brush the snow off their yard so they could get a glimpse of the plants that are beginning to come up. We know spring is coming, which means spring storms are coming soon too. In Iowa storm season often means when we hear a storm warning we sit on our porch to watch it roll in, but as the lightening strikes and we hear that this thunderstorm has the potential of becoming a tornado, you don’t stop to ask yourself if you remember to move things from the washer to the dryer.

A storm has a way of stripping everything away, when a storm strikes us we know what cargo we need to let go of. In the text, with this storm, with this fish, Jonah can’t buy their way out of this problem. All of Jonah’s power and privilege and wealth is worthless and now it’s just Jonah.

Storms strip everything else away because storms can expose our essence.

When I think of a storm and someone’s essence being exposed, right now I think about Jo Campney. If you have been around Grace for awhile there’s a good chance you know Jo and she was one of the first people at Grace I met.

Before I started at Grace two years ago, I met with the Staff Parish Relations Committee, it’s essentially the HR committee of the church and two years ago Jo was serving on that committee.

Clearly the interview went OK, because I’m here.

When a potential pastor meets with the committee, the pastor is asked to leave the room so the committee can talk in private to decide if they will accept you or not. Some of the walls at Grace are pretty thin, so when the committee was talking in private about me I didn’t just sit outside the room. It would have been really weird if I was just on the other side of the room too, because the room we were meeting in had a glass door and I didn’t think they wanted me to stand there like a sad puppy waiting to be picked.

I walked down the hall and went just around the corner and after a few minutes I heard the door open and I knew someone from the committee was coming to get me. Jo was going to invite me back into the room to hear their decision, but before Jo came to get me, she took out her phone and called someone, who I can only assume was Sue Terry, and Jo called them to say, “Our new pastor is going to be Nate Nims, I’ll call you later, I’ve got to go tell him the good news.”

It was hard to pretend that I didn’t hear Jo’s phone call.

For a number of years now, Jo has lived with ALS and it has reached the stage where her legs are no longer cooperating with her. Jo has lived in a storm, but through it all she’s kept smiling, just like Lou Gehrig I know Jo would say to us that she considers herself one of the luckiest people in the world.

Socially distancing really means physical distancing, but we all know that this year has been socially distant too. Jo is at the health center at Wesley Acres here in Des Moines and for good reason, in a pandemic, the health center is even more distanced than the rest of Wesley Acres. When you can’t see someone, when it’s difficult to talk with on the phone, being socially distant almost becomes social isolation.

In the storm that Jo has lived with, her essence, her love, her faith, has kept shining through, Jo has lived in a storm and never lost her smile. So this week I want to invite you to join me in shining some light and love back to Jo at the health center. Each week I keep encouraging you to reach out and call or send a letter or card to someone, and this week I hope you’ll join me in sending a card to Jo.

Even as Jo’s legs stop working I know she would say to us that God’s love has been with her every step of the way. I can only hope to have that kind of essence exposed when everything else is taken away in the storm. We wouldn’t wish this kind of storm on anyone, and yet, even in the storm we can see something so beautiful, an essence and a love so pure that we are awestruck by it.

Jonah goes from a storm to the belly of a fish, it is from one struggle to another, and Jonah prays, Jonah says, “I called out to the LORD in my distress, and [God] answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice. You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me. All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight. Will I ever again look on your holy temple? Waters have grasped me to the point of death; the deep surrounds me. Seaweed is wrapped around my head at the base of the undersea mountains. I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight. But you brought me out of the pit.’ When my endurance was weakening, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy. But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks. That which I have promised, I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”

The last time you found yourself in the guts of a fish, were you that eloquent? When you are trapped in the alimentary canal of a marine mammal did you think to yourself, this really stinks, there was one way in so I bet there is only one way out which means things are going to get a lot worse before the get better. If you were in the same place as Jonah, what kind of prayer would you pray?

I hope that none of us ever find ourselves in the same position as Jonah, but when we are stuck, when we think things can’t get any worse than the storm, when we are trapped and there is nothing we can do, the kind of prayer that we pray is a lot like the kind of word that we say when we strike our thumb with a hammer.

It might not even be a coherent word, but we shout because our pain has to be heard.

We don’t really just have five kinds of prayer, but, broadly speaking there are five kinds of prayer in our lives, five ways that we bring awareness to our connection with God – we have prayers of silence, of contemplation and meditation, those prayers where we don’t know what to say so we just sit with it and trust that the Spirit is with us. We have prayers of awe and appreciation, those prayers of wonder that are most often felt in creation, it’s the warmth of the sun the first time you take a walk in the woods after a long winter, for some of you it could be golf, for others gardening, but we all have these moments and these prayers of appreciation and awe in creation. Similar to this, but slightly different are the embodied prayers of our lives – those moments of awe and appreciation can draw us outside of ourselves, but embodied prayers draw us even closer to ourselves. It’s that moment when you’re running and you tell yourself that you hate running, but you keep running anyway because you feel a strength within you. You might have moments of embodied prayer with yoga, with walking, with sitting in silence and noticing how you physically feel, where the tension and peace is in yourself.

Those first three kinds of prayer aren’t often what people think of when they think about prayer and to me that is a tragedy, because I think we are all praying so much more than we give ourselves credit for. Please don’t reduce your life of prayer to bowing your head, closing your eyes, repeating some words with me.

Next, let’s talk about prayers of thanksgiving, we have those prayers of gratitude, it’s the prayer that you share before a meal, it’s that toast that you tell yourself is just a toast but in the moment it feels so sacred to lift a glass together that when a toddler comes to you with apple juice and says cheer-cheer, you say cheer-cheer back and then say amen to yourself because there’s no other way to talk about that joy other than saying it’s holy. The fifth kind of prayer, broadly speaking, that we have are prayers for help, prayers that come from our desperation, prayers that come from the end of our strength.

If you were Jonah, stuck in the gut of a fish, what kind of prayer would you pray? I don’t know about you, but if I’m ever stuck in the gut of a fish I don’t think the first phase to come to mind will be, “I called out to the LORD in my distress, and [God] answered me.”

One of the things that is fascinating about this prayer of Jonah is that it isn’t original to Jonah, almost everything that Jonah says comes from the book of Psalms.

The Psalms is a book of poetry and prayer in the Bible and the poems and prayers fall into two categories – there are the Psalms of gratitude and praise like Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…”, there’s Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and our strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid…”. There are so many wonderful Psalms of praise and hope, but there are also Psalms of desperation, Psalms written when the world is falling apart, when it feels like the mountains are crumbling into the sea and we’re afraid.

There’s Psalm 6, “Heal me, Lord, because my bones are shaking in terror. My whole body is completely terrified…How long will this last?” Or as it’s written in Psalm 38, “My heart pounds; my strength abandons me. Even the light of my eyes is gone. My loved ones and friends keep their distance from me in my sickness; those who were near me now stay far away.”

It was on March 8 of last year that the first positive cases of COVID-19 were found in Iowa and this week marks one year social distancing, masks, shut downs and more. Psalm 38 strikes us a little differently this year and we feel this lament.

Perhaps the most well know Psalm of Lament and grief and loss is Psalm 22 which Jesus quotes on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jonah’s prayer comes, almost word for word from the Psalms, but Jonah’s prayer isn’t forsaken – it’s a prayer of praise and gratitude from the belly of a fish.

“I called out to the Lord in my distress and [God] answered me” comes from Psalms 18 and 120. “You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me. All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me” comes from Psalm 88 and Psalm 42. Nearly every line in Jonah’s prayer is a quote from the Psalms.

We might expect Jonah to quote Psalms of lament and loss and grief and agony, but instead, Jonah quotes from Psalms of peace and gratitude and praise.

Our assumption is that Jonah needs to be rescued from the fish, but in reality, Jonah finds rescue in the fish.

We want to be rescued from storms and fish but how often is our rescue found within the storm, within the belly of the fish?

As the story of Jonah begins, Jonah is a person of power and privilege and wealth. Jonah has all kinds of options available to them and Jonah can decide the direction of their life, so much so that when God invites Jonah to go one way, Jonah decides to go another, chartering a ship, hiring a crew, and taking a year long vacation to paradise because Jonah has the wealth and the privilege and the power to take a trip like that at a moments notice.

God asks Jonah to go one way, and Jonah goes the opposite direction. There is God’s will for Jonah, which is headed this way, but then there is Jonah’s will for their own life, which isn’t going that way. These competing wills can’t coexist and by the time Jonah is in the belly of the fish, after the storm, Jonah has been rescued from themself.

It is as if, before this moment in the belly of a fish, Jonah had been swallowed up with all of their stuff, their wealth, their privilege, their excess, Jonah’s self-centered life had swallowed him whole, but now, with everything else stripped away, Jonah is rescued, Jonah is free, and so Jonah prays with thanks and gratitude.

For a year we have been stuck in a storm. Wherever you are watching this from might feel a bit like the belly of a fish because we want to escape, but we can’t. What would it look like if our prayers shifted from “God, get me out of this” to “God, as long as we are in this, what do I need to be rescued from?”

Jonah’s story keeps questioning the categories that we’re used to. Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh, but then Jonah decides to go the opposite direction and flee to Tarshish. In Jonah’s mind, and in our minds, we often imagine that God is here so God could never be there. And yet, as soon as Jonah decides to flee from God, the narrator keeps showing us how God is with Jonah every step of the way. This is not a story about fleeing from God, it’s a story about God being with us wherever we go.

The narrator sets us up in the story again because Jonah, the prophet of God, boards a ship to sail to Tarshish and here we have another set of categories where we think we know what to expect – there is the prophet of God and the sailors that don’t know about God. We expect the sailors to act like stereotypical sailors, and the first audience to hear the story of Jonah wouldn’t have just thought that these sailors would curse like sailors, the first audience probably thought these sailors would have been cursed because they weren’t following the God of Israel.

But what happens in the story – These sailors come to faith in God, they start to ask questions, they want to learn more, they take vows and commit their lives to the LORD. While Jonah is fleeing from responsibility this crew is taking responsibility even as Jonah tries to escape their life, the crew keeps rescuing Jonah’s life.

We are comfortable with duality, with binaries, with the assumption that there is this side and that side, that there are our people but then there are those people, and yet the narrator of Jonah keeps taking these categories and bursts them like a balloon. A binary that challenges us all right now is that thought that there good times and there are bad times. And there are, some times are good and other times aren’t just bad they are terrible. But how many of our bad times refine us, how many of our bad times show us a strength and an endurance that we never knew we could access. How many of our bad times drew us closer together even when we had to be apart? We wouldn’t wish these bad times on anyone but even in these bad times there is a goodness to be found.

The story of Jonah keeps insisting that even there, even with them, even in the storms and fish of this life, God is with us and with them and over there with grace and peace.

Jonah flees God only to be found by God again and again and again because these simplistic binaries categories are shredded to show that the world is much more complex and complicated than we could ever imagine. Maybe the nice, neat lines that we divide this world with in our minds aren’t nice or neat and when we can open ourselves to the promise that God is there, God is with them, and God’s goodness can even be found here, we can break free and, like Jonah, find ourselves rescued to finally follow God’s dream.

Lent is a season of preparation for resurrection, but let’s be honest, we’re not really sure how to get from death to life. It’s a paradox, it’s a contradiction, death and life are two distinct and different binary categories and one is not found in the other, until, death creates new life.

Perhaps in this season of Lent, as we hope for Easter, as we long for resurrection and renewal, we can bring to Jesus everything that we’re not sure about, all of the contradictions, all of the paradoxes, everything that we can’t make sense of and we simply admit, I don’t know what I’m going to do with this but I’m going to trust that God’s love will find a way forward.

Our guide to prayer and study this week will lead you through the some Psalms and I hope you will take advantage of the words to find hope, healing, and rescue in them, just like Jonah. Some of you are reading ‘The Poetry of Lent’ and if you’d like to find that weekly devotional, it’s available online at gracedesmoines.org

Each week, poems from Mary Oliver’s ‘Devotions’ are connected with this Lenten season and last week, one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems was featured, ‘The Journey’.

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

One day Jonah finally knew what they needed to do, it took a storm and a fish to get there, but Jonah got there. We’ve had our storms and maybe, like Jonah, you feel stuck in a fish, but for all of us, I hope we know what we have to do because we remember where we begin – at this communion table where everyone welcome and everyone has a place at the table.

The table is where we begin, and at Grace we remember that this table isn’t ours. This is Christ’s table and at Christ’s table, everyone is welcome, always. The welcome, the care, the grace of this table is where we get started because on the night that Peter would deny Jesus, Jesus still had a place at the table for Peter. On the night that Judas would betray Jesus, Judas ate too. You are welcome to this table, no matter what.

If you haven’t yet, I’d invite you to grab crackers and grape juice, cookies and milk, a doughnut and coffee, whatever liquid and solid that you want to enjoy at this table because whatever you have to bring with you to the communion table is acceptable because you are accepted by God.

On the night before Jesus was crucified, Jesus gathered with their friends for a meal. Jesus took the bread, broke it, gave thanks to God and shared the bread with their friends saying, take, eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

After the meal, Jesus took the cup, gave thanks to God, and shared the cup with their friends and said, drink from this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Together we remember all the times, like Christ, we have felt broken and poured out, we remember these mighty acts of Christ’s love and welcome that help to bring back together our broken pieces, this grace and peace that refills us when we feel empty. We offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as holy and living sacrifices in union with Christ’s offering for us. May God pour out their Spirit on us gathered together even while we are apart, that the communion we share may be for us the body and blood of Christ so that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed, renewed, and resurrected.

Jonah 1:17-2:1

Meanwhile, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah.  Jonah was in the belly of fish for three days and three nights.  Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish: “I called out to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me.  From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice.  You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me.  All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me.  So I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight.  Will I ever again look on you holy temple?  Waters have grasped me to the point of death; the deep surrounds me.  Seawead is wrapped around my head at the base of the undersea mountains.  I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight.  But you brought me out of the pit.’  When my endurance was weakening, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple.  Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy.  But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks.  That which I have promised, I will pay.  Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”  Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land.

March 8 – 13, 2021

Click on the day to expand the guide.

Monday

Read – Psalm 40:1-8

Notice – The psalmist writes that it is folly to pay attention to “the proud” and “those who follow lies.” Instead, they call us to celebrate God’s wonderful deeds and plans. “Those who put their trust in the LORD… are truly happy,” said verse 4. We’re bombarded with claims that nearly anything, from whitening toothpaste to a luxury cruise to the best new smartphone, will make us truly happy. Do you believe that the source of true happiness to which Psalm 40 pointed is more credible than the ads that barrage you from all sides? In what ways have you found a greater depth of true joy and hope by trusting in God? “An arresting phrase in Psalm 40:6 serves admirably as a metaphor…: `aznayim karitha li, literally, ‘ears thou hast dug for me’…. The psalms poet was bold to imagine God swinging a pickax, digging ears in our granite blockheads so that we can hear, really hear, what he speaks to us.”* What steps can you take to use those God-given “ears” to implant God’s hope-giving instruction deep within yourself?

Pray – God, sometimes it’s hard for me to look beyond today’s circumstances, beyond even tomorrow’s problems. Keep teaching me how to focus on your wonderful deeds and your plans for us. Amen.

  • Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Kindle Locations 1048-1051). Kindle Edition.
Tuesday

Read Psalm 27:1-5, 14

Notice – This powerful Hebrew poem called every child of God to live without fear, which is hard in tough times. But living without fear did not mean that God would solve all immediate problems. Instead, the psalmist trusted that God was with us in any situation. “Living in hope relates to living with a focus on ‘one thing’—not living in hope that we will be able to achieve and get everything but living in hope of gaining the ‘one thing.’”* The Hebrew language linked “hope” and “wait.” The Common English Bible used “hope” in verse 14. Other good translations chose “wait.” Israelites prayed Psalm 27, yet saw Babylon destroy Jerusalem, saw Greece and Rome conquer their land—but kept on waiting and hoping. Christians prayed Psalm 27, yet saw Jesus crucified, the apostles Paul and Peter killed, met in dim Roman catacombs—but kept on waiting and hoping. What most tests your trust and tugs you toward fear? How can you choose to wait and hope that in the end God will set you “up high, safe on a rock”?

Pray – Jesus, you so often greeted your people with the words “fear not.” Teach me how to look to you as my light and my salvation even at the most frightening times. Amen.

  • John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p. 87.
Wednesday

Read Psalm 3:1-6

Notice – Have you ever had trouble sleeping due to worry? Scribes likely added “A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom,” the note (or “superscription”) on this psalm, long after David’s time. This psalm’s prayer did fit when David had to abandon Jerusalem to Absalom’s strong rebel force (2 Samuel 15:13-16), as well as many times when God’s servants faced apparently irresistible problems. Yet the psalm said any besieged person could lie down and sleep, trusting in God. How do you keep going when up against a genuine threat? Scholar John Goldingay found clues in Psalm 3: “You face facts (cf. verses 1-2); even more, you face God with the facts…. Facts can be inconvenient or frightening. But if God is part of the picture, facts can be faced, and if we are to lay hold on God in connection with the dangers that threaten us, facts must be faced.”* How can you honestly talk with God about the specific facts of any problems or enemies you currently face?

Pray – God, at moments I fear this plague will go on forever, and life will never be “normal” again. Be my shield. Help me keep trusting you even when I can’t see just how you are at work for your world. Amen.

  • John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, p. 14
Thursday

Read Genesis 1:2, 26-27, Psalm 33:6-9

Notice – In Biblical Hebrew, the word rûaḥ meant spirit, wind, and/or breath. “In the OT the spirit (rûaḥ) of Yahweh is God’s power in action. Yahweh’s spirit is God himself present and at work, as are his ‘hand’ and his ‘arm’…. A term for both breath blown out and wind blowing (wind is viewed as God’s breath, Is. 40:7; Ezk. 37:9), rûaḥ has vivid and awesome associations when used of God’s energy let loose. It is so used in nearly 100 of its nearly 400 OT appearances. Yahweh’s spirit is said to… shape creation, animate animals and mankind, and direct nature and history (Gen. 1:2, 2:7; Jb. 33:4; Ps. 33:6, 104:29–30; Is. 34:16).”* The Bible describes God’s Spirit existing before, and at work during the creation of the world. Where do you see the Spirit at work today? What is being created? Where are the winds blowing and creating new possibilities? What energy is waiting to be let loose? The biblical assertions about the poetry and wonder of creation tells us of how we are a part of and partners with the movement of the Spirit. How does it change your sense of why you exist to believe that the fulness of God (“us”) brought this world, and the life processes that created you, into being?

Pray – Holy Spirit, you are the spiritual air I breathe. Help me to grow more aware of the inner strength and vitality you offer me as I make you the “oxygen” of my life with God. Amen.

  • J. I. Packer, article “Holy Spirit” in New Dictionary of Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 317.
Friday

Read – Psalm 118:5-6, 28-29

Notice – Psalm 118 was the last hallel (hymn of praise) Hebrews sang at Passover as they recalled God freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Psalmist asked, simply yet profoundly, “The Lord is for me…. What can anyone do to me?” To what extent are you able to trust that God is indeed “for” you? Mark 14:23-26 showed that Jesus, on the dark night just before his arrest and crucifixion, likely sang, “The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” and “Give thanks to the Lord because [God] is good, because [God’s] faithful love lasts forever.” Even the darkness gathering around Jesus couldn’t stop him from praising God’s eternal goodness.  How do you imagine Jesus singing Psalm 118 just before he faced the cross, and what does this Pslam show about the gratitude with which Jesus likely sang? How can you nurture gratitude for even basic gifts like shelter, food, and life itself?

Pray – God, my goal is to remember that you are for me, so I won’t be afraid. My goal is to never forget that your faithful love lasts forever. I don’t always reach that goal, yet. I ask your continued presence with me to help me grow toward the goal. Amen

Saturday

Read Psalm 136:1-4, 2 Peter 2:8-9

Notice – Today’s reading is just a sampling from the great Hebrew poem we call Psalm 136. All 26 stanzas of the poem or hymn ended with “God’s faithful love (Hebrew hesed) lasts forever.” The apostle Peter, raised in the Hebrew faith and with additional insight from following Jesus, was convinced that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. That’s very different from the eager-to-condemn, sadistic God that some people picture. Hesed is “one of the most important words in the Old Testament… a Hebrew word translated as ‘faithful love’… the word occurs twice in God’s self-revelation to Moses (see ‘loyalty’ in Exodus 34:6-7). It’s a one-word summary of God’s character.”* Writing in Greek, the New Testament writers didn’t have a single word like hesed. But as today’s passage from Peter showed, they held the same belief about God. Peter said God is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish.” The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God “wants all people to be saved.” What does this hesed, this faithful love, look like in your life?

Pray – Jesus, thank you for showing, in actions as well as words, how “faithful love” defines God’s character. Amen.

  • J. Clinton McCann, Jr., sidebar note “God’s Faithful Love” in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 845OT

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