Tag Archives: Jeremiah

By your endurance you will gain your souls | The martyrs of Charleston

My sight has failed me because of trouble; *
LORD, I have called upon you daily; I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? *
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Will your wonders be known in the dark? *
or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?
But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help; *
in the morning my prayer comes before you. (Psalm 88:10-14)

The Rev. Dr. Eric H.F. Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute, in his book The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb, describes the “Cycle of Gospel Living.”

This cycle is also used in the Education for Ministry program in which mentors and our students reflect on “Living Faithfully in a Multicultural World.”

The psalmist and the martyrs of Charleston — along with the African-American community more generally — have entered the cycle of Gospel living from the point of powerlessness.

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me for ever?
how long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

Their endurance has united them with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, whose suffering is not the end of the story. The cross leads to the empty tomb, to resurrection, and to the power of life in Christ.

After an event like the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, social media is justifiably full of anger directed toward well-meaning (mostly white) Christians who “have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14).

In his 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his disappointment with the “white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice”:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

The problem now (as then) is that we are all speaking about the Gospel, but we are talking past each other.

What we “well-meaning Christians” must understand is that we enter the cycle of Gospel living from a completely different position than many (most?) Christians do.

We participate in the cycle when we give up our power, “just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

We participate by falling and failing, by giving up our power and privilege, which no one is taking away from us.

Richard Rohr writes in his daily reflection that:

This is why Christianity has as its central symbol of transformation a naked, bleeding man who is the picture of failing, losing, and dying … and who is really winning — and revealing the secret pattern to those who will join him there.

All of us who are Christians participate in the cycle of Gospel living. All of us center our lives on the crucified and risen Jesus.

But we experience the cycle of Gospel living differently from each other, we come to the saving knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection from different directions, and we must be tender with one another for Jesus’ sake.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

A Prayer for Mission

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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For ourselves and on behalf of others

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud. (Psalm 123:4-5)

In light of the renewed anger in Ferguson following last night’s announcement that the grand jury will not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and in light of the repeated calls for “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), the Daily Office and today’s readings speak a word we need to hear.

We begin Morning Prayer each day by reminding ourselves that we come together “to set forth [God’s] praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and for our salvation” (BCP 79).

For ourselves

Morning Prayer begins with the Confession of Sin for a reason. We need first and foremost to admit what we’ve done wrong and recommit to doing right. We do this every day because we stumble and fall every day.

In today’s Gospel reading, the blind beggar from Jericho speaks with our voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). We are all blind to the depth of our sins, but God’s mercy opens our eyes so that we can see truthfully. We see our sin, but we also see that we are held in love.

Seeing clearly convicts us, every day, of our need to repent.

And we have a lot to admit to and repent for. In today’s Old Testament reading, God has Zechariah act out a prophecy against us.

“Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” God tells Zechariah, for “Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich’; and their shepherds have no pity on them” (Zech. 11:4-5).

We who are rich and comfortable and safe in our houses — that includes me and that includes nearly everyone reading these words — we benefit from the same social order that kills young black men and goes unpunished.

We are made to feel safe and secure by the police and the legal system and courts and judges, by a system that focuses our attention on the career of Darren Wilson instead of on the body of Michael Brown.

In the media coverage of looters whom we can look down on, in public officials’ calls for peace and order and restraint, in our own desire to get back to our Thanksgiving cooking and Christmas shopping, we demonstrate that we “have no pity on them.”

On behalf of others

But “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We who are called to follow Christ are called instead to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When we pray for others in the spirit of Christ, we see that they need the same love that we depend on day by day. We see that even though their experience is different than ours, their human spirit is the same.

The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, writes:

In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

As we approach God “on their behalf” …. on their behalf, not ours … we ask different questions.

What do they need in the midst of their situation? The looters, the police, the young people, the larger St. Louis community?

What strength do they require to endure their heartbreak? What consolation do they need in their grief? Michael Brown’s family, Darren Wilson and his family, the young and old who live in Ferguson?

What inspiration will show them how they can serve? The lawyers and the judges, the pastors and the police, the protestors and the property owners?

God knows what I have done and left undone, God knows what I need, and God loves me every day.

As I turn my thoughts and prayers to the needs and concerns of other people, whom God also loves every day, as I approach God on their behalf, perhaps I can begin to learn to love them as God does.

Perhaps I can also learn to act toward them like God does through Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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That which God has purposed

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? (Romans 2:17-21)

There is a serious vein running through today’s lessons from Jeremiah and Isaiah through to Paul and Christ.

Jeremiah recounts God’s judgment on God’s people and on Jerusalem. “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor have I turned back” (Jer. 4:27-28).

God’s judgment is terrible, and he is unrelenting.

Except then comes the Canticle, the Second Song of Isaiah (Isa. 55:6-11), with its familiar words of reassurance:

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word which goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty,
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Christians, of course, read these words in the light of Christ the Word who “goes forth from God,” so to speak, and who accomplishes what God purposes.

What God purposes, we know from our vantage point post-Easter, is not desolation but restoration. God has “relented” once for all in Christ and continues to be present to us through the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. How can we forget what God has done for us, has won for us, in Christ?

This is what frustrates Paul so much in his letter to the Romans. He basically asks, “Are you turning away from grace and back to the judgment under the law which cannot save?”

His question resonates with the prophets’ words. Are we turning away from restoration and teaching desolation? Are we preaching grace or sin?

Of course, it’s not an either/or thing. Grace freely given comes with a consciousness of sin. When I have been forgiven, I am acutely aware of exactly what I have done wrong. But the message from my forgiver — whether it’s my wife or the priest pronouncing God’s absolution on Sunday — is restoration, not condemnation.

Where in our lives do we still reflect a spirit of judgment, faces set in a disapproving frown? Where do we still dwell on faults more than freedom, quick to relay dirt and to dismiss others’ pain? Where do we still fail to preach the message of good news that animated Jesus and Paul and our forebears in this life in Christ?

Even worse, where does our judgmentalism and obsession with rectitude cause “the Name of God to be blasphemed” because of us (Rom. 2:24)? It’s happening all around us as people turn away from angry so-called “Christianity.” God forbid!

Like rain falling from the heavens is God’s grace falling on us, on all of us who “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves,” in the words of next Sunday’s Collect. What God has purposed is our restoration, our reconciliation with God, and our reaching out in love to the people around us.

What we can be sure of is that God’s word will prosper in us, will teach us, as we live out God’s restoring mission.