Surprised by Christmas!
What Do You Want now?
1 Kings 3:3-15
† Jesus, Son, and Savior †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to worship God…in His Presence!
Just curious – how many of you have heard this story about Solomon before, that instead of asking God for money or fame, or victory in battle, he asked God for wisdom to govern and lead his people?
How many of you knew that God said because He asked this, God would not only grant Solomon the wisdom he would need, but would give him all the other stuff, too?
Curious – I wonder how many of us would follow Solomon’s example – not really wanting to have the understanding about right and wrong that was the basis of wisdom, but secretly thinking that is the shortcut to getting “all the other stuff?”
You all mean I am the one that ever failed at using reverse psychology on God?
As we look at this passage, there is a reason we find it here, on the last Sunday of Christmas…
It isn’t because of the wisdom or the other gifts that Solomon received.
It is because this passage is really about worship, about praising God in a meaningful way… as we recognize we dwell, as Israel did, as the shepherds, as the apostles would, in the presence of God.
- Heterodox Worship – Solomon’s Sin
In the Old Reading, we see something a little confusing. Solomon leaves Jerusalem, his father’s city and heads to Gibeon and there slaughters 1000 head of cattle in a huge worship service.
The reason it is confusing is that the Ark of the Covenant was back in Jerusalem. Remember, David brought it there, dancing in his underwear? David wanted to build a temple around it, and God said no. Of the Ark, God told Moses this, for every generation to know,
21 Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. 22 I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 (NLT2)
So God promised to meet the people of God at the ark, which is in Jerusalem, and outlined a very clear way of worship – worship that was a response to what God had done….
And instead of that, Solomon leads them off to Gibeon, to worship at a empty tabernacle, the tent formerly used to house the Ark.
God didn’t promise to meet them there though, he promised to meet them at the Ark. So despite the show of 1000 cows being slaughtered to provide burnt offerings, the worship was useless – because of disobedience, because they didn’t seek God, they just sought what was familiar.
Basically, they were worshipping God in vain. They were there, they might have been using His name, but the used God’s name in vain, because they weren’t where His promises were, and they didn’t know the Lord was there… with them.
We do this too….
We sometimes come to church, and we aren’t looking for God. We have something else in mind, we have some agenda, or something is distracting us. It might be stuff we think is good, family stuff or church stuff…
But if we aren’t where God is… if we don’t recognize His presence here… we are just like Solomon…in the wrong place, doing what we do… and missing what we need.
And we are caught in our sin….
- God moves us to Worship Him… in His presence.
It tells us something about the character of God that He didn’t fry Solomon right there or allow one of Israel’s many enemies to do so.
Instead, God comes to Solomon, and works with Him.
Just as He does with you and me….
Whaddya want Solomon? I’ll give you whatever you want….
In the process, Solomon looks at his dad, and what he treasured the most – the love of God. He saw the reaction of David to that love – how David became a holy man, who struggled to depend on God when things were upside down and backward… and God loved him, still.
Of everything David had – this is what mattered the most!
Solomon could think of nothing better than to ask God for that kind of relationship – which was why he asked for the wisdom to govern hem, that they would know the difference between what is righteous, and what is evil. For that only comes through knowing God. That is what changed David.
One pastor wrote about this relationship this way,
prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists
Solomon sees the relationship his father had with God as the priority for his people, there is nothing else more important for them, or for him.
The way to see this is simple.
What does Solomon do after his time talking to God is over?
Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet
His reaction, when given the wisdom of God to lead his people to what was good and not evil was simple – he took them where God promised to be there for them, when the burnt offering would be acceptable, where the peace offering would celebrated – Israel would now experience a peace with God that would last Solomon’s life.
Solomon would have his ups and downs, but he would build the temple – a place for the people of God to meet God, to be cleansed and lifted up by God. Until Jesus came..
Today’s it’s not about location – where we gather is where God is, where He feeds us, because He offered the sacrifice.
But there still is a feast – for His people to celebrate that they dwell in peace, for they dwell in the presence of God….
You dwell in the presence of God…
As we go through this next year, let’s pray that we realize this all the more.
 Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.
Deovtional Thought of the Day:
6 I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 (CSBBible)
We need to remember that this world is not so much a place for doing things as for making character. Right in the midst of what some people call drudgery is the very best place to get the transformed, transfigured life.
SInce i was a child, I dreamed of being a pastor/priest. Of taking the Body of Christ, and placing it on the toungue, or in the hands of believers – believers who understood the great treasure that was being given to them.
Thirty-five years ago, that dream came crashing to a halt, as my intern advisor told me that I had no gifts that would serve me as a pastor.
I thought he was correct, and that changed the next ten years of my life. I would become a pastor later, and some have even said I am a good one. I am not sure I agree with them! I still see my shortcomings, I still think I could do more, I still think I need to improve in a lot of areas. No, not think, know.
I came to the conclusion that while I wait to become the perfect pastor, I can do what I am called to do. That is the key. What the Church, or a church calls me to do, that is what I do. I get to point people to God, tell them of His love, feed them the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is in the midst of doing it, that the Holy Spirit is at work, changing me. Just as He is changing you. It is not the job you do that defines you, the job is used to transform you. Whether that is playing guitar in the band, or teaching the five year olds about Jesus, or being the person that is dedicated and cleans the communionware after church.
Should you get training to do stuff? Sure! You should also have the expectation that to be really skilled at what youa re called to do, will take some time- you will learn from some errors, you might even get frustrated now and then. That’s as true in the church as it is in the world. And if there are times where you haven’t thought of quitting because you screwed up, or because you think you won’t ever get it, that means the transformation is happening! For it is in those times that your faith is tried, and it is shown to be growing.
God is with you… relax… do what comes to you, what the church calls you to do…and learn to know you won’t get it perfectly… till Jesus returns. So praise God for how He is transforming you through the challenges!
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Devotional Thought of the Day:
21† For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. ! Cor. 1:21 GNT
54 Conform? It is a word found only in the vocabulary of those (“You might as well conform,” they say) who have no will to fight—the lazy, the cunning, the cowardly—because they know they are defeated before they start.
In the last couple of months I have had to consider the unusual way I have done things in life, and especially in ministry. If I look at my MBTI score, I should not be a pastor If I hear the words of my internship supervisor (and T’s words often ring in my head), I shouldn’t have been a pastor. I didn’t graduate with my intended minor in Bible and Preaching, I went back years later and got a degree in business. I became a non-denom pastor, and then moved into a more organized and formal denomination, confusing those I left behind and those I joined! Both my roles as a circuit counselor and as a Regional Vice- President (the first working with 8 churches, the second over 80 and being on the district Board of Directors) I backed into, as the one elected ended up moving shortly thereafter.
So I don’t fit in, and sometimes, I confess, I feel proud that I don’t. There is a little fun being the non-formist, and more than a little freedom.
More often though I wish I did. I wish I understood the logic of the majority more, and those in power. When I don’t, i can begin to feel left out of the discussion, and alone, even in the midst of 500 people, I can feel alone. Sometimes very alone. Eerily so, as if I am not in the same moment of time, slightly out of phaze with everyone.
Yet there, it is easier to see God at work, I believe. Because the focus is not on our appearance, iIt is easier to see the brokenness around us, and the need for healing that only comes through the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus.
If we don’t focus on conforming to the world, and even to those in the church, there is a freedom to minister to others, a freedom to worship God based on His revelation of His love. You don’t try to become a clone of this preacher, or that theologian. This makes spiritual development a challenge, a time where you have to depend on God more. It gets us out of MEME Theology and the cute quips of populist theology. Which means it applies to this life, this context, these people we interact with in a way conformity,
Conformity doesn’t guaranty knowledge of a God who did the unthinkable, who came to us, Who loves us, who provides and cares for us, healing us of our brokenness. The God who comes to us simply, who uses simple things, a cross, a tomb, water, bread, wine, and a few people who don’t fit in. He confounds the world, and its rules that it demands us to conform to, just as His gifts require unity, and yet an incredible diversity. Our identity is our, yet found only in our relationship to Jesus.
Lord, help us to desire to conform only to Christ Jesus, and help us be patient, with, others and ourselves, as the Holy Spirit causes and makes this transformation a reality. AMEN
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 286-288). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
6 Jesus answered them, “How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! You are hypocrites, just as he wrote: ‘These people, says God, honour me with their words,
but their heart is really far away from me. 7 It is no use for them to worship me,
because they teach human rules as though they were God’s laws!’ 8 “You put aside God’s command and obey human teachings.”
9 And Jesus continued, “You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching. Mark 7:6-9 TEV
This, then, is God’s kingship—a love that is impregnable and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new. For us, consequently, God’s kingship means that we must have an unshakeable confidence. For this is still true and is applicable to every single life: no one has reason to fear or to capitulate. God can always be found!
In philosophy we seek the things which are certain and distinguish them from the things which are uncertain. And the causes of certainty are universal experience, the principles, and demonstrations. But in the teaching of the church the cause of certainty is the revelation of God. And we must consider what meaning has been given by God to a subject.
There is a huge challenge for any pastor or teacher of scripture. It doesn’t matter whether you are working with people seeking God, or those who have been in church leadership 40 years or more. It doesn’t matter whether teaching you are teaching 3-year-olds, or graduate students.
You don’t have the authority to speak and teach where scripture is silent as if it was a true as where scripture does speak. Nor do you have the authority to change what scripture says, just because you think it is no longer relevant.
There are a number of reasons, one being that we are too often too lazy to study all the scripture, and are reacting to one verse that we don’t particularly care for, or are reacting to someone’s interpretation, rather than working through it.
The primary reason is simpler; we aren’t to make ourselves God. We aren’t all-knowing, or all-powerful, and we are prone to interpret things through our own brokenness. We want to be certain of things, and there is much in life that we cannot be certain of because of our limitations.
We aren’t God.
And God, in His wisdom, has chose to reveal to us that which we really need. Through both nature (general revelation) and through scripture (specific revelation). Just like the scientist cannot deny the effect of gravity, neither can the philosopher deny the effect and the only cure for sin. Both may try to use it, circumvent it, delay its effects, but at the end of the day, and at the end of life, they cannot.
Or as my friend the cardiologist says, every time I make a break-thru and do something completely wondrous, I get a catch a common cold and remember I am not God. Each time I think I am a mature believer, I am reminded that maturity is not found in independence from God, but humble dependence.
This is hard because there are things we like and enjoy, and may even base our lives on, that are sinful. There may be fears and pains we deal with, that affect our lives. And we want to manipulate scripture and what we call our faith to deal with it.
Is it no wonder that David sings and prays this advice from God, “be still, and know that I am God!”? Or Paul reminds himself continually that when he is weak, then he can see the power of God at work?
That is the blessing that Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) points out in the quote in green. Knowing our weakness, our limitations means that we can also know the comfort in Jesus being King. For when we humbly walk with Him, we realize that the love He envelops us with is impregnable, that shows His wisdom in the way He becomes incarnate, not just in the womb of Mary, and in the manger, but in our lives.
Knowing God as He finds us, helps us “find” Him. To find Him here, even as we struggle with not understanding His reasons, or His rules that protect us, or the blessing He pours out on those we struggle with in life. It helps us run to Him, with less and less hesitation, asking to be cleansed of sin, that we may rejoice in His love, and the limitations He gives us, that we may realize He is, and loves, and draws us into His glorious joy.
So next time you think about placing your wisdom about God’s word, think again, and humbly walk with Him. And then say a prayer that I may as well!
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. 2 Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. 3 Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days. 4 Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. 5 For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation. 6 Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him. (Sir 2:1–6 NAB-RE)
13 Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man’s whole heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest. 14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to Himself, because he is the one eternal good.
Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.
292 You should repeat very often: Jesus, if ever a doubt creeps into my soul, setting up other noble ambitions in place of what you are asking of me, I tell you now that I prefer to follow you, no matter how much it costs. Do not leave me!
Bear with me, as a share some background to this post…. Growing up, my first full Bible was a white “leatherette” Bible with a silver cross imprinted on it. Like the one in the picture, though the leatherette was cracked, and the pages worn…
I remember reading and being asked by Father Alex questions each week about what I read. I was probably not more than my son’s nine years old then, and I remember reading the book of Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, or properly the Wisdom of Ben-Sirach. Do I remember what I read sitting on the couch against the bay window? No, I just remember it was a book of the Bible that gave me peace. Peace I needed then, as I dealt with a few serious issues in life. The deadly threat of Marfans, often being sick with Asthma, trying to work through the idea I that was adopted, and possibly what would now be known as Aspergers. For by no means did I “fit in” at school, nor could I understand why “they” didn’t fit in with me.
Every year I pick a different translation to read through, thanks to one of my computer programs, and this year it is the New American Bible, Revised Edition. What replaced my beloved first “full” Bible. As such it has Wisdom/Sirach in it, as it is a Roman Catholic translation. First time I’ve probably read this section of the Bible in 30 years or more.
Now I know why I recall the peace that came from it, sitting in my living room – it talks of what Luther calls faith, it identifies what Augustine burned for, what Escriva says we should often repeat, crying out for the Lord to help us remember and stayed focused upon.
This is faith, to cling to God no matter what assails us, to trust God, to do so recognizing His Majesty, His mercy, His love. For as we trust in Him, as we depend upon Him, He will make our ways straight, He will not just give us hope; He will be our Hope. Maybe as a child I understood that better than I do today, maybe there was less theology, less human insight. This is what scripture said – cling to God…do not leave Him, trust in Him….
A message I need to hear today, as new problems arise, as even as I serve Him, I find Sirach right – there are so many trials, so many heartaches, so much that challenges my embrace of the Lord, who embraces me.
Probably as some of my Protestant friends are reading this, their mind is going to throw a stumbling rock in the way! Sirach isn’t scripture, and all the side conversations of what that means. Perhaps my Catholic friends will be wondering why I can quote Luther next to Augustine or Escriva (some Catholics might question that as well! )
Drop it. Drop all that crap now!
Hear the words of Sirach’s wisdom, wisdom that is not only in harmony with three of my “heroes”, or role models, but is in accord with all of scripture. This is what the covenant means, this is what the promise of God declaring that we are His people, that He is our God. This is faith; this is why we are declared just, why we are made holy. Whther you think this is pure scripture, or a good book, you can’t argue with the fact it is scriptural in its teaching, it is what all of scripture proclaims, and urges us to believe.
That we could know the peace of God being our sanctuary, where we find rest and peace, peace that goes beyond all understanding, that guards our broken hearts and minds, and makes them whole.
Cling to God, no matter what happens as you serve Him. Know His love, know He holds you… even as you cry out,
Lord, have mercy!
You will find He will strengthen your faith, and He will be your hope. AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1189-1191). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)
When then he came, I found him a man of pleasing discourse, and who could speak fluently and in better terms, yet still but the self-same things which they were wont to say. But what availed the utmost neatness of the cup-bearer to my thirst for a more precious draught? Mine ears were already cloyed with the like, nor did they seem to me therefore better, because better said; nor therefore true, because eloquent; nor the soul therefore wise, because the face was comely, and the language graceful. (1)
Today’s average Christian assumes on the basis of this principle that faith is a product of the individual point of view, of intellectual endeavor, and of the work of specialists, and such a point of view seems to him more modern and more self-evident than the Catholic positions. For many today it is hardly comprehensible that a mysterious divine reality lies behind the human reality. But, as we know, that is the Catholic understanding of Church.
In this sense it is said, “The doers of the law will be justified”; that is, God pronounces righteous those who believe him from their heart and then have good fruits, which please him because of faith and therefore are a keeping of the law.
253 These words, spoken so simply, contain no error…. (3)
No, this isn’t about Tom and Bill, and the game this week. But it is what happens on Sunday, and should happen through the rest of the week as well.
It is about something far more important, far more important than another Superbowl, and more accolades. It is about a dynasty, but not an earthly one.
The passage from Augustine, the second quote above, reaches out to when he was expecting a great man to give him insights on life that would change everything. And the man, though a phenomenal speaker, failed to impress. The rest of that passage goes on about how disappointed, and yet relieved, for from there he would go and realize more clearly the love of God
Benedict XVI, (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote how this issue has been recycled in our age. That philosophers and theologians, the specialists, have so spoken of faith and Christianity that people don’t always realize that what religion is, is an encounter with the Creator of the myseterious divine reality that lies behind what we perceive as reality. What disappointed Augustine in the arrival of Faustus is now the norm. What Jefferson tried to do, in eradicating the miraculous from scripture, has been accomplished by those who study it until it is dead. Simply put, they have studied it until it is either a complex set of moral guidelines or completely accepted to be a nice set of fables.
That is not the “job” of the theologian or the philosopher. They are, by their labels, those tho are to study the logic, the reason of God (the-logos) and the lover of wisdom (Philo-sophia) Their job then, should be to reveal the God that was revealed to them, to pass on the truth and wisdom and awe of a God who left heaven, humbled himself, served and died on a cross to prove to us that He loves us.
The Lutheran confessions exemplify this when summarizing the incredible truth. God pronounces sinners righteous because they believe, trust, depend on His revelation of His love for them. That belief/trust/faith/dependence is what God sees, as the Holy Spirit transforms their lives. This is what Benedict knows as faith, even as he weeps over its being redefined, not by the world, but by the church. It is the revelation Augustine was hoping to hear. God loves us, and depending upon that love, revelling in it, adoring the God, who loves us, changes us.
Which brings us back to St Paul, and his words to a young church, easily swayed by fancy orators and powerful leaders. People need to trust in God, the God, who will never let them be shamed.
And the way they come to know that is simple. We bring it to them; we send to them those who will reveal that love to them. That is how we do our job so that all can come to know His love.
It’s not rocket science. It is the work of those who understand the word of God, and those who love wisdom.
So do your job, send, be sent, share Christ, and watch the glory of God enfold as the Spirit transforms lives, heart and minds that find peace in Christ Jesus.
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(2) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 30). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 143). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
22 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. 23 These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. 24 That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. 25 But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. 26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27 He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28 That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:22-28 (MSG)
But I pressed towards Thee, and was thrust from Thee, that I might taste of death: for thou resistest the proud. But what prouder, than for me with a strange madness to maintain myself to be that by nature which Thou art? For whereas I was subject to change (so much being manifest to me, my very desire to become wise, being the wish, of worse to become better), yet chose I rather to imagine Thee subject to change, and myself not to be that which Thou art. (1)
139 Nothing less than Christ’s power is needed for our conflict with the devil. We know that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious God and his promise. And therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit may govern and defend us, so that we may not be deceived and err, nor be driven to do anything against God’s will. (2)
The congregation gathered around, absolutely devasted by the events they had endured. They humbly gathered, downcast, not know what to do or say. Heartbroken, unaware of how they will continue on, a simple, profound, wondrous hymn breaks out among them…
A hymn maligned, denigrated, and used as an example of poor hymnody, poor theology, poor worship by countless experts. I will contend that if we learn this hymn if we sing it as it was meant to be sung, there are few that express the theological depth it does.
It doesn’t matter to those singing it, for it is a lament that expresses the only hope they have… the gentle words pleading for that which is promised. A prayer expressed in words so significant that they must resonate in the church today.
“Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, O Lord, Kumbaya;”
O Lord, be with us…”
These words express the same sentiment that Augustine reveals he needed. The attitude that is found in brokenness, the attitude of facing death, and dying to self. St. Paul’s words echo this, comparing this life’s brokenness to labor pains, as we await the recreation, the rebirth of all things. It speaks of those moments when our hearts are too broken to know what to pray, and the Holy Spirit must be our intercessor, the translator of the groans too deep for words.
This song speaks of the eschatological hope we have in Christ, which St Peter begs us to be ready to do.
This song is an expression of the Theology of the Cross, the simple hope found in our brokenness and the healing promised and delivered in word and sacrament.
This song speaks of the incarnation, as we count on Christ’s presence in our lives
This song speaks of vocation, as it asks God to be there in every situation we encounter.
This song talks of the Omnipresence of God, who incarnates Himself into our lives, who draws us into Himself.
It speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our comforter-paraclete, who teaches us of God’s love.
Amazingly, this song speaks of the sacraments, as we know He has come to us as we are united to Him in the waters of baptism, as we hear His words, you are forgiven, as we are fed with His body and Blood.
It does all this in a humble way, not with glorious melodies, not with perfect 4 part harmony, not with a worship that seeks to impress both God and those who are spectators. Rather, it is sung by voices barely able to create an audible noise. It resonates with the depth of the hearts aid open. It can capture the heart of all, growing in fervor, moving us from darkness to the glory found in His presence.
It is sung with hearts who realize their only hope, the only way to find peace, to receive mercy, is to encounter Almighty God in all His glory and plead for mercy, to cry the Kyrie Eleison, to plead, O Lord, be with us…
This must become again the cry of a church, in a broken world, for it points us to what is necessary, what we need to desire more than all, the presence of God. Here, now, in our lives.
May we be able to cry such words in faith, together, knowing that He who has promised is faithful….
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
13 Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, “You must let little children come to me – never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13 (Phillips NT)
But behold, I see a thing not understood by the proud, nor laid open to children, lowly in access, in its recesses lofty, and veiled with mysteries; and I was not such as could enter into it, or stoop my neck to follow its steps. For not as I now speak, did I feel when I turned to those Scriptures; but they seemed to me unworthy to he compared to the stateliness of Tully: for my swelling pride shrunk from their lowliness, nor could my sharp wit pierce the interior thereof. Yet were they such as would grow up in a little one. But I disdained to be a little one; and, swollen with pride, took myself to be a great one.
But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.
The words in blue from Augustine, one of the smartest philosopher-theologians amazed me this morning. As he writes his confession, not unlike Solomon, he describes the times of darkness. Even as he hungered for truth, he couldn’t find it.
Pope Benedict XVI’s words in the third quote support this lack of finding that which is sought for, as he responds that only conversion can bring what we need, what we search for in our lives. To paraphrase Socrates, we are only truly wise when we realize how much we don’t know..
It is ike Christmas and the difference between a child and an adult receiving a gift. The child is awe of the gift, even the box the gift came in! They are in the moment, enjoying it. They are often in awe, as if to say, “this is for me?” They dive into the joy of the moment, and that is their reality
As we grow older and know more, there is an innocence lost about such moments. We don’t often dive into the presents, the moments of joy, and we contemplate instead on how we will pay the bills, or why people don’t understand us (proven by one of those gifts again!
( I was thinking, based on years of marital counseling – people can treat sex the same way, losing the awe and being int he moment, instead trying to analyze it!)
SO it is with God, if we stay outside and try to study and understand Him. When developing the next great theological manuscript, or understanding what a dead guy said about some aspect of God, or His creation. We spend too much time looking for the big answers, seeking to understand things that are far greater than us, things that simply exist when we approach them as children
The solution to this is simple. The same as it is for the adult at Christmas. We need to get down on the floor and become part of the celebration. We need to engage in the joy, in the moment, in the relationship that God desires with us. We need to pray more, trust more and celebrate His love with all of our heart and soul, mind and strength.
That may mean dropping that theology text, or putting aside that debate.
That’s okay, if you were meant to write it, or read it, you will get far more out of it when you have spent some time in the moment with the Lord who created that moment, and desires to spend it with you. If you don’t believe me, think about Augustine, Benedict, Luther, Socrates, and the 2-year old who simply wants to sit at the altar rail throughout the church service.
Lord, have mercy on us, please give us the trust and awe of a child!
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional/ Discussion thought of the day
28 When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes,* two men who were possessed by demons met him. They lived in a cemetery and were so violent that no one could go through that area. 29 They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us befoe God’s appointed time?” 30 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. 31 So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” 32 “All right, go!” Jesus commanded them. So the demons came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
33 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town, telling everyone what happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone. New Living Translation (Mt 8:28–34).
But when theological discussion ceases to be a striving for truth and becomes, instead, a struggle for power in the Church, then the nature of theology has been radically falsified; it introduces party politics into the Church and becomes the medium of party power; it divides the Church. Wherever theology generates theological parties and these parties become Church parties, it has become a false wisdom. It creates enmities and embitters people. I must admit that what shocks me most deeply in many letters and publications is the rank hatred of the Church and her members that speaks through them. The role of true wisdom and hence of the authentic teacher of theology in the Church is to create peace, not strife, to create goodness and inner openness, not embitterment.
As I’ve read verse 33 above, I have always wondered what was in the people’s minds. They saw Jesus deal with the person in their village who was most in need, and he completely rescued and healed the man. Because of his actions, the villagers were safe.
And they drove Jesus away… they pleaded with Him to leave them, to leave them alone!
I wonder if the church today is more sophisticated than that, but to the same effect. Within our theological discussions, the last thing we look for is the presence of Christ, or His desire, reconciliation, health and wholeness. You can see it in the refusal to meet at the altar and start theological dialogues there, in His presence, together as His body. You see it in the nature of forming political parties in a church, or in a denomination. (we won’t call it that, but we have planks and litmus tests, and budgets and political machines )
We relegate the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Redeemer, Reconciler to the back room, to some closet or chapel, while tempers flare, and sides square off, and everyone battles for power. We would rather talk about purity of doctrine and purging ourselves from anything false (like we could!) or faithfulness to our mission. (as if we are ready to go out on our own, with a bunch of web articles and expert consultants)
In the meantime, we are so busy arguing what often boils down to semantics, that we forget the Lord can deliver us from all that crap. We forget that this is work based in His will, in His desire. We forget that we are led by the Holy Spirit, not some negotiated consensus.
That is how these reconciliation happens. True reconciliation that isn’t based in compromise, but in Jesus,
May we stop running from the one who will rid us of our demons, bring healing to our souls, bind us together as one body as we celebrate being in His presence,
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 242). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Discussion/Devotion Thought of the Day:
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” 3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 (NLT)
Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. (1)
425 To realize that you love me so much, my God, and yet I haven’t lost my mind!
I am not a natural born philosopher. Matter of fact, my “favorite” quote on Philosophy sums it up – I may be wise simply because I know I don’t know it all. ( Paraphrased of course)
I once did, well, at least I thought I did know it all. I knew a lot back then. No, let me rephrase that, I picked up an retained data, and found uses for it faster than some others. But knowing data is not the same things as having complete knowledge, much less being wise.
Solomon had this problem as well, at least in the early chapters. For his wisdom and knowledge, recognized by all, still led him into discontent, a sense of failure, a sense of meaninglessness.
In the same place are all philosophers who try and hold the position of judge, as Benedict XVI points out clearly. Philosophers must be observers of reality, to live in awe of it. To ponder its depth, not rule over it. Solomon would eventually get there, (tomorrow in my readings perhaps?) to the point where he will define himself by his relationship with God. But even that is a position of suppliance, of faith, of dependence.
The philosopher who approaches reality without the reverence and humility that Benedict recommends ends up in Solomon’s position, a place where we indeed lose our mind, our psyche, and perhaps, our soul.
I am not saying we are to give up on philosophy, on deep thought, on exploring, with great awe, the existence and meaning of life. To search out what is real, what is true. We need to do this, and St. Josemaria gives us the place to start, in realizing the love of God, for us. That is where philosophy and theology should, no must start. In the depth of a relationship with the God who not only defines reality, but creates it. As St. Paul encourages,
18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 1053). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition