You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
For the past two days, Psalm 22: 23-31 has been the featured scripture reading in my daily devotional book.* Being a ‘Bible nerd’ who loves to dive into scripture study, I chose to read the poem in its entirety first so that I might get a better understanding of the featured verses. Wow! not only did the feature verses make more sense after reading the entire psalm, but I also got a lot ‘fodder’ from the psalm for future sermons and Church Notes articles!
Because there is so much to unpack from this psalm, let me offer this week a couple of thoughts for deeper contemplation:
1. For he (God) did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. Have you ever shared something personal and possibly embarrassing with someone you trusted, only to have this ‘affliction’ negatively affect your relationship? Things were never the same again? On the other hand, have you ever brought an ‘affliction’ before God in prayer, hoping that God will not turn away from you? Like the psalmist, having brought oodles of sins, mistakes, and embarrassments to God in prayer, I know that there is nothing I can do that will turn God’s face away from me in disgust. Yes, God may be disappointed in me, but just naming my ‘affliction’ before God brings me peace through the assurance of God’s forgiveness. Just naming my sin is the beginning of healing and restoration.
2. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. A major theme of this psalm is the history of the relationship between God, Source of salvation, and the Hebrew community. Although the author has experienced an affliction from a personal standpoint, he speaks of expressing his faith through praise and offering as a member of ‘the great congregation.’ The next time you sing a song of praise during worship, consider the spiritual value of joining your voice with the other worshippers in praising God for loving you (and the others!), in spite of your afflictions!
My prayer for you is that you may bring your afflictions before God in the assurance that God will continue to love you, forgive you, and guide you toward healing and restoration.
*The Upper Room Disciplines 2021.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:29-30
Last evening, as I prepared for my first Ash Wednesday service at Stewartville UMC, I suddenly realized that this day marked an anniversary in my faith journey; the fourteenth anniversary, to be exact, for it was on February 21, 2007, during the Ash Wednesday service at my home church in Stoughton, WI, that I gave my life to Jesus Christ.
Since that threshold event, I have shared my ‘come to Jesus’ moment to individuals and groups alike: to close friends and extended family, at the pulpit and in conference rooms filled with members of the Board of Ordained Ministry. In short, I will share my faith story with anyone who will listen! But here lies the mystery; although I can easily recall which pew I was sitting in, and visualize the grainy black and white video clip played during Pastor Lamarr’s sermon, I cannot recall the deeper heart-and-soul process of bringing me to that Jesus moment. My guess is that it was the beckoning, inviting movement of the Holy Spirit at work through the theme of penitence in that evening’s scripture, prayer, and song.
Penitence. A word burdened with eye-rolls and groans of negativity. For anyone familiar with the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous though, true healing cannot begin until penitence is given freely, and without expectations. The act of penance, therefore, is a good thing. Fourteen years of journeying with the One to whom I gave my life has taught me that my burden of sin is lightened whenever I repent for actions that are hurtful toward others or myself in the assurance of God’s forgiving grace in Jesus Christ. To put it more simply, God loves me, in spite of myself!
My prayer for you during this season of penitence is that you may do so with the assurance of God’s forgiving grace in Jesus Christ.
I am at the age where in order to see clearly, I need ever-stronger corrective lenses for my eyes. It all started during my 5 years at seminary; 8 hours a day of computer work/reading, plus the eyestrain from commuting between home and seminary (imagine driving past O'Hare Airport 8 times a week during rush hour!) caused a drastic decrease in my eyesight. It has been two years since my last change in corrective lenses--I can tell that it is time for a trip to the optometrist!
Just as navigating through everyday life requires decent eyesight, discerning where God is calling a faith community requires focus. At the top of my 'to-do' list when I accepted my appointment here was to help the congregation discern where God is leading SUMC post-pandemic and beyond as the hands and feet of Christ in the community and world. Like a visit to the optometrist, I felt that it was time for church leadership and I to get some guidance on how to sharpen our focus.
Last Tuesday, consultant Bill Lewis met with 11 SUMC staff and leaders to start sharpening our focus on where God is leading us. We discussed where we have been (our history and traditions), where we are currently, and where we would like to go. A mere two hour meeting revealed that SUMC has great traditions, amazing physical assets, and numerous gifts and talents to live out where God is calling us.
Like sitting in the optometrist chair and looking at the chart on the wall as the doctor switches out lenses, the leadership of SUMC will continue the process of sharpening our focus--discerning our vision as the missional church--until we have a clear pathway forward. Stay tuned!
Lately I’ve been feeling grateful for being a member of Eric’s family. Although I’ve been grateful for this throughout our 37 years of marriage, the feelings of gratefulness I’ve recently felt are deeper—more visceral—than ever before. Why am I feeling such gratitude for being a part of the Nordstrom family? Some of it is probably due to life experience and maturity. But the majority of my gratitude seems to be an outcome of the fear and sorrow I have experienced since Harry, the 97-year-old family patriarch, experienced a head trauma while eating breakfast in his kitchen on December 21st, and, after spending a few days at Hennepin County Medical Center, is now being cared for at home in Northfield by his five children.
What brings on feelings of gratitude? According to Diana Butler Bass, scholar and writer on American religion and culture, there are three aspects to the feeling of gratitude:
1. Situation: “Whether an event engenders positive or negative emotions depends on the situation. Changing jobs can sometimes cause stress instead of elation and anticipation, completing a project might bring sadness rather than joy, a mountain might be an obstacle to climb rather than an inspiring vista, and writing a paper might just be an onerous class assignment instead of a welcome challenge.”
2. Emotions: “. . . the emotions that weave into gratitude range widely, from relief, appreciation, and release to surprise, wonder or awe, and gladness and joy.”
3. An unplanned response. *
Ultimately, Bass says, gratitude is a response to receiving an unexpected gift.
After ruminating a bit on Bass’ three aspects of experiencing gratitude, I believe that I am feeling deep gratitude because I experienced fear and sorrow about Harry’s condition in the company of others who were experiencing the same emotions; my situation was that I was with others experiencing the same despair. And the emotions of appreciation and gladness at being a member of this loving family arose out of the darkness of my fear and sorrow—the unplanned response to receiving an unexpected gift from God.
I do not believe that God causes suffering. But I do know that God’s grace is present in the midst of suffering. A response to God’s grace is the God-given gift of gratitude. Feeling gratitude is like a buoy of resilience when we are caught in life’s turbulent waters of suffering.
My prayer for you this week, is that even when life seems to offer nothing but pain and sorrow, you will be open to the unexpected gift of gratitude!
*Excerpt From: Diana Butler Bass. “Grateful.” Apple Books.