Beginning a Meditation on Psalm 119

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Friday, September 15, 2017

Psa 119-1 those who are blameless, road

Beginning a Meditation on Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is a psalm that talks about the Word of God. Scripture, the Law, God’s decrees, His way, commandments, statutes, promises, and more. Each verse of this acrostic psalm mentions God’s Word in some way. What a natural passage for Bonhoeffer to write about and concentrate on, since he was so devoted to praying and meditating on the Scripture.

How sad it is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer only finished commenting on 21 verses of this lengthy psalm. Yet, these beginning verses (of 176 verses, divided between the 21 Hebrew letters, 8 verses in each section) give us so much of Bonhoeffer’s feeling and heart for this wonderful psalm. Such an expression of the unknown psalmist’s love and devotion to the existing Scripture of that time.

He wrote this meditation in 1939 and 1940, when he was a teacher of seminary students once more at an out-of-the-way vicarage and again in Pomerania.

Speaking of verse 1, Bonhoeffer concentrates on beginning the life with God. “God has once and for all converted me to himself; it is not that I have once for all converted myself to God. God has made the beginning; that is the happy certainty of faith.” [1] Yes, indeed, all of us are addressed as those who are walking on the way with God. We are all on the journey.

Happy are they—these words speak of the happiness and blessedness of life in the law of the Lord. It is God’s will that it should go well for those who walk in his commandments.” [2] Ah, Bonhoeffer admits there are certain Christians who wish to show that they are more spiritual than God…that they are super-spiritual and holier-than-Thou. Renunciation, suffering, the Cross, all of these are part and parcel of their lives. And, it is true that some people’s lives in this world are not all that easy. Yet, these super-spiritual Christians “lose the full joy of their Christian calling and deny God the thanks they should give for his great friendliness toward us.” [3]

Yes, God’s rich gifts to each of us encompass so much more than anyone can ask or imagine. Thanks be to God, who gives to all abundantly.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 95.

[2] Ibid, 100.

[3] Ibid.

Remembering. Praying. Again.

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Tuesday, September 12, 2017

prayer stained glass, Balliol College, Oxford

Remembering. Praying. Again.

So much to pray about. So much to break our hearts—not only in the past, on September 11, 2001, but recently, with the natural disasters and devastation of the past few weeks.

At the church where I am pastor (St. Luke’s Christian Community Church in Morton Grove, a suburb of Chicago), I hosted a regularly-scheduled monthly Interfaith Gathering last night, the second Monday of the month. We held an informal time of remembrance of 9/11. And, towards the end of the hour, we also lifted thoughts, hopes and prayers for those who are in the midst of natural disasters right now.

Last night, I read several paragraphs from a contemporary article found in the edition of TIME Magazine, published on September 14, 2001. Just three days after these horrific events. Here are a few sentences: “Terror works like a musical composition, so many instruments, all in tune, playing perfectly together to create their desired effect. Sorrow and horror, and fear. The first plane is just to get our attention. Then, once we are transfixed, the second plane comes and repeats the theme until the blinding coda of smoke and debris crumbles on top of the rescue workers who have gone in to try to save anyone who survived the opening movements. And we watch, speechless, as the sirens, like some awful choir, hour after hour let you know that it is not over yet, wait, there’s more.” [1]

I encouraged people to remember, back to that Tuesday in September 16 years ago, and the aftermath. I invited them to turn to their neighbors, and talk about something that is strongly imprinted on their minds from that time. The heroism of the first responders, the loss of someone dear to you, the trauma of the idea of attack, the unity of many people throughout this country. Whatever was significant, I invited people to share. And, share they did. Such a buzz of conversation, as significant experiences and feelings were shared among this diverse group of people from different faith traditions and different backgrounds.

This is why I continue to host the Interfaith Gatherings. This sharing of our human-ness, our commonality, and what binds us—different individuals from different families and different places on the globe—together. We are all human. We all breathe the same way. Our hearts beat the same way. Our digestive and circulatory systems are the same.

Yet, we all live in this world where such natural calamities happen. Not only that, many of us live in communities where many people are cruel and heartless and thoughtless in their treatment of others. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said when considering Psalm 34:19 and 1 Peter 3:9, “You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world that causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come upon you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer.” [2]

In the face of such a time as this, Pastor Bonhoeffer brings words of blessing and hope. What a blessing to anyone who strives to follow God, even through such challenge, difficulty, and sorrow. Even pain and suffering. Thanks to Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his bittersweet words of blessing and encouragement, even while imprisoned by Nazi Germany.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] http://time.com/3313113/if-you-want-to-humble-an-empire/?xid=time_socialflow_twitter&utm_campaign=time&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social  “If You Want To Humble an Empire,” article by Nancy Gibbs, TIME Magazine, September 14, 2001.

[2] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 89.

More Devastation. More Prayers.

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Friday, September 8, 2017

Psalm 23-4 though I walk through valley shadow death

More Devastation. More Prayers.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer certainly faced a great deal of devastation in his life, as well as the lives of those he was close to, and the lives of those in the congregations he served.

I suspect he knew well the words of Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” Although that verse was written so long ago by King David, remembering the times when he was so very afraid (yes—afraid for his very life), that verse echoes and re-echoes down the crooked pathways of time. Sometimes through dark and fearsome valleys, sometimes through pelting storms and fiery trials. Yet, King David’s words ring true, for many, many people throughout the ages.

I know those words from Psalm 23, personally as well as professionally. I have pulled them out of my Bible in emergency rooms, in the intensive care unit, in living rooms, even sitting on street corners or in waiting rooms. People have spoken these precious words from Psalm 23 along with me. Other times, people have been too choked up to even utter a word, and silently allowed these words of comfort to wash over them.

Dear Lord, whether in grief, or pain, or anger, or trauma, we hurt. We cry out. We question. We wonder, “WHY?” (And, there is rarely an answer. An answer that satisfies, that is … )

Gracious God, You have said You would be right by our sides, even though we go through those extremely difficult experiences. Even though our parents—or siblings—or spouses—or children die. Even though we lose our homes, or limbs, or jobs, or even countries. Even though we may become refugees or homeless or incarcerated or even suicidal. Dear Lord, You have promised to remain with us. Right by our sides. Perhaps even holding our hands, through the trial or torment.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “the answer of God to the world that nailed Christ to the cross [was] blessing…. The world would have no hope if this were not so.” [1]

Only a love that extraordinary could possibly encompass my fear and suffering and hopelessness. And, encompass the griefs, pains, angers, traumas, and all of the countless sufferings of all of the rest of the world. God provides hope where there is no hope. God comes alongside when it seems as if there is nothing left. Thank God. Thank God for being there through Hurricane Harvey, and with Hurricanes Irma, José and Katia coming quickly. Dear God, help us. Please.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 89.

More Prayer, Suffering, with Psalm 34

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Psa 34-19 brokenhearted, words

More Prayer, Suffering, with Psalm 34

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a tumultuous life during the 1930’s and 1940’s, ending with his imprisonment and death by the hand of the Nazis. He had escaped the tumult of Germany for what ended up being only a short respite. Bonhoeffer had been invited to come to the United States to lecture.

As was a habit for him, Bonhoeffer regularly prayed and meditated on a published selection of bible passages, the Herrnhuter Losungen. After reading and praying on a Losung text (2 Tim. 4:21), he felt strongly convicted by the instruction “Do your best to come before winter.” He decided to return to Germany in the summer of 1939.

This sermon on the suffering of the righteous (taken from Psalm 34) Bonhoeffer wrote in 1944, after he had been imprisoned for some time. His writings in prison had much to do with God being present with him—and with others—through adversity. He said, “Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of it all. It is in this way that we respond to the world that causes us such suffering.” [1]

This is not the way that most people respond to suffering. Bonhoeffer had an intimate relationship with God. I take a step back from his difficult life and look at the upsetting and unfair circumstances. Yet, his deep faith in God brought him through and it showed. I am in awe of relationships like that. Such a deep, thorough understanding of the character of God astounds me. I quake and fear that I might be expected to go through fiery trials similar to what Pastor Dietrich experienced. I know, from even a rudimentary knowledge of church history, that many saints of God were similarly tested and tried.

Dear Lord, gracious God, help me to remain firm in my commitment and relationship to You. Help me love You with my heart, soul, mind and strength. Lead me—lead us to do what is right in Your sight.  In Your mercy, Lord, hear all of our prayers.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 89.

Praying, Suffering, with Psalm 34

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Friday, September 1, 2017

Psa 34-19 afflictions, script

Praying, Suffering, with Psalm 34

When I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison, the companion thoughts of suffering and deprivation also come to mind.

I could shake my fists, cry out to heaven and ask God, “Why?” Except, I do not think I would receive any sort of an answer. I know, many righteous people have been unjustly imprisoned throughout the centuries.

Looking at Psalm 34:19, “The righteous person must suffer many things; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Bonhoeffer also meditated and prayed at length over this verse. (I secretly wonder how much comfort he found in it?) “The righteous person suffers because of many things that for others seem only natural and unavoidable. The righteous person suffers because of unrighteousness, because of the senselessness and absurdity of events in the world.” [1]

Senselessness and absurdity. That is certainly true, and has been true for thousands of years.

And yet—and yet—“the Lord delivers him.”

God is always present, all over the world. The righteous person is always with God, no matter where, no matter what. Bonhoeffer had the unshakeable belief that “God allows him to suffer so, in order that he may learn to love God for God’s own sake. In suffering, the righteous person finds God. That is his deliverance.” [2]

I am afraid I am a far weaker person than Pastor Dietrich. I do not know whether I would have been able to suffer such deprivations as he did. I read his writings and am in awe of such faith and devotion. I pray that I may be able to display just a small part of Bonhoeffer’s resilience and faithfulness.

Lord, in Your mercy, help me in my journey through life with You, whether difficult or not. In times of suffering and pain, or times of calm and serenity, You are with me.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 88.

[2] Ibid.

Praying, Helping, As God Would Have Us

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Tuesday, August 29, 2017

HELP help people even if they can't help back

Praying, Helping, As God Would Have Us

Hurricane Harvey touched down on the Texas coast several days ago. Since then, catastrophic winds, wild weather, and especially flooding have overwhelmed southern Texas. And, Harvey is not done yet. By no means.

As Harvey continues to wend its way north and east, the deluge of rain continues, all up and down that part of the United States. I pray for all of those affected, and their loved ones. I pray for all first responders. I pray for all of those who are working in logistical support. And especially, I pray for all health care personnel. Those caring for physical health, yes! Also for those who care for mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

I am going to interrupt my reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Meditating on the Word, instead considering a passage from a short book Bonhoeffer wrote for and about the young men in the secret seminary in Germany, Finkenwalde. Life Together.

Let me say, first of all, that I have not seen accounts of very many people in Texas acting in the way Pastor Dietrich describes. Being so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good, so to speak.

The passage from Life Together: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks…” [1]

However, as I read this passage myself, I realized how tempting and how needed this reminder is. Not only for pastors and seminary professors, but also for Joe and Jane Christian. “It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they allow nothing to disturb them.” [2]

Pastor Dietrich is correct. Sometimes, I suspect many people just do not see what is in front of their noses. Therefore, Bonhoeffer felt strongly that he needed to make this warning. As I considered Hurricane Harvey and many well-meaning religious people near and far, I reflected on their tunnel vision. Yes, even these folks consider their work, their business, so important that they allow nothing to turn them from it. Even a hurricane.

The tremendous outpouring of compassion, caring and love for the people of Texas and surrounding affected areas is something we all can get behind. Yes, we can pray. Certainly! Prayer is a way of showing love and concern, of that we can be sure. In addition, we can do what Jesus did and show love with our actions—with time, talent and treasure. Please, consider donating to some worthy disaster relief ministry. (My church and I are contributing to UCC Disaster Ministries. I also know that Presbyterian Disaster Relief and Catholic Relief are also excellent choices.)

Dear Lord, we do pray for all those affected by this hurricane and its aftermath. Lord, be the refuge and strength for many, many people to run to. Thank You, dear Lord. It’s in Your mercy we all pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 99.

[2] Ibid.

Praying Vengeance in Psalm 58

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, August 26, 2017

Psa 58-10 vengeance

Praying Vengeance in Psalm 58

More evil. And, even more evil. That’s how much vengeance-praying King David is doing in this psalm. I know it is an “imprecatory psalm.” [1] But, I did not realize how many horrible things David was praying in this psalm.

Yes, I know King David faced some awful situations in his life. However, I also thought the Lord told God’s people to forgive, and to pardon, and to confess their sins. And, especially “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

“The righteous will be glad when they see the vengeance; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.” Seriously? Lord, are You serious? I need to look closely at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s explanation of this. He says, “Once more we shudder as we read this psalm….My dear congregation, if we avoid this we have understood nothing. This concerns God and His righteousness only….Whoever shrinks from this joy in the vengeance of God and in the blood of the wicked does not yet know what took place on the cross of Christ.” [2]

I need to sit back and take a long breath. God, I am reminded again that Your righteousness has been fulfilled by the cross of Christ. And, it is only through His death on the cross that I can even lift my head above the ground in anything less that abject guilt and shame.

Yes, I am still horrified by such bloodthirsty talk on David’s part. However, I also need to consider those last words of our Lord Jesus on the cross. He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And then, truly, I can say with Bonhoeffer, “When we behold Him, the crucified one, we realize God’s wrath against us wicked ones. And in the same moment we experience His deliverance from this wrath.” [3]

It is then I experience what Isaiah experienced in the temple, in the sixth chapter of his book. The angel flies to me with the coal of holy fire and burns my sin away, too. Lord, here am I.

Yes, there is judgment at the cross of Christ. Yet, there is pardon, too. “There, my burdened soul found liberty—at Calvary!”

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/Imprecatory-Psalms

[2] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 82.

[3] Ibid, 83.