Psalm 118, Meditation 4

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

There is nothing more timeless than salvation.  As Chuck pointed out yesterday, the psalms have a timelessness to them.  The timelessness of salvation is what we all want to know.  This desire is ingrained in our lives.  We want to be secure in our living now and our hope for the future.

This salvation comes only from the Lord.  We see verses 21-25 pointing out how God becomes our salvation.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Jesus was rejected by those who were attempting to build Israel into a great nation.  It is by knowing Jesus as the chief cornerstone of life that we have salvation.  We can sing about Jesus delivering us from our sins and ourselves.  Jesus will give us success over the sins we have committed and the nature of sin in us.

Salvation is not merely being delivered from sin. Salvation involves us discovering how we can be made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17ff.).  Salvation is lived in our lives during this day and all the following days.  We marvel because, like God’s mercies being new each day, he continues to renew us in the image of Christ.  This is salvation, being made to bear the image of Christ fully and completely in our lives.

Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ.  We are looking for success in bearing the image of Christ in our lives.  As we seek you, we can rejoice in how you are working in us so that we live like Jesus, even today.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask that we may be found to be like him more each day.  Amen.

Psalm 118: Meditation 3

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

Psalms have a timelessness to them—while they are clearly rooted in a particular era, they also evoke situations that remain very current.

The timing of my reading of Psalm 118 came right on the heels of my looking at the Reuters news site, where there were photo essays on the devastation in Ukraine, particularly in the destroyed city of Mariupol. As you might expect, these words from the psalm leaped out:

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
    they blazed like a fire of thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

The analogy is not perfect, of course. Ukraine faces an evil attack by just one nation, although the military strength of Russia exceeds what the psalmist was imagining by an order of magnitude I cannot begin to calculate.

And yet, the Ukrainians thus far have managed, while incurring terrible losses, to cut their attackers off. Looking at the photos of their funeral scenes, there is little doubt they have rooted themselves in their faith as they suffer. Of course, the great irony is that their attackers try to justify their acts through the pronouncements of their very nationalized church, which has managed to destroy its credibility in just a few weeks, in the midst of the holiest days in the Christian year.

As psalms often do, these words guide us to a prayer, this one for the Ukrainians: “Lord, be their strength and might; Lord, be their salvation.”

As the psalm continues, there is a victory song, and we certainly pray that all people under siege will be able to sing it one day soon. This can, however, also be a very personal moment for the reader of this psalm.

We all find ourselves under siege from time to time because of temptation. Again, we must rely on the Lord’s strength and might, on God’s freely given salvation.

When we overcome that temptation—when we move toward righteousness not through our own strength, but through what God has granted us—we should sing those glad songs of victory.

Lord, may your strength and might be more readily observable in this world. Move us toward a time when right clearly is seen as right and wrong vanishes because we have lost all desire for it. Amen.

Psalm 118, Meditation 2

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

I remember my youth Sunday School teacher, Bill, reminding us that we can give thanks to God each day.  Whether we thank God for something large or small, we can show our appreciation to God.  In this “Song of Victory,” we start by giving thanks to God.  It is a general call for thanksgiving.

As we move through the first four verses of Psalm 118, we see that the call for thanksgiving becomes more specific.  The second group encouraged to give thanks is Israel.  As we ponder what God has brought Israel from, through, and to, we can recognize they know the steadfast love of God does endure! 

The house of Aaron is the next group to be encouraged to give thanks.  Yes, Aaron did lead the Israelites to make the golden calf.  However, God’s steadfast love was given so he and his descendants could know God’s forgiveness.  Yes, even those who lead in the worship of God can give thanks.  For we clergy who lead worship, our worship begins when we too can give thanks to God for his steadfast love.

The last group in our selection today is those who fear the Lord.  This group can contain members of the previous two groups mentioned.  It can also contain those who are now called Christians!  Even our neighbors who do not subscribe to organized religion may be in the group of those who fear the Lord.

Despite our best efforts, Christians can harm people who are seeking faith in God.  When these people have a respect for the Lord, they do not tolerate Christians who have harmed them.  Hopefully, those turned off by organized religion may recognize the steadfast love of the Lord and join Christians in giving thanks to God.

Have we been giving thanks to God every day of our lives?  Do we encourage other people to give thanks to God for his steadfast love?  As long as the earth has seasons, we will know the steadfast love of God!

Lord, you do have steadfast love for us!  You are good to me and everyone else.  Thank you for being in our lives.  May we open our eyes to your steadfast love, even when others have harmed us.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Psalm 118: Meditation 1

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

During this first week of Easter, John Grimm and I want to focus on Psalm 118. Please be sure to take time to read this psalm.

I find these prophetic words beautiful and uplifting, and I must not be alone, as portions of this psalm have inspired prayers, hymns and even modern songs.

The story of Easter provides the “how” to the psalmist’s declaration that the Lord’s “steadfast love endures forever!” It’s a cry that moves among the tribes and priests of Israel and on through time through Jesus, our high priest who imparts this love generation after generation.

As we are told in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” What an enduring love! And all we have to do is believe it to receive it.

The psalmist also shows us how we can use distress in this life as motivation to call upon the one who loves us so. It helps to already know God, of course; it’s painful to be in distress while also groping for truth about God. But even then, we may hear with greater clarity God’s call on our lives and move toward truth.

Life is a process of learning where the real refuge is. We waste our time turning to princes and presidents, in those who spring up like a flower and wither away (Job 14:1-2).

We find refuge in one who is mysteriously fully human and fully divine, the Christ who suffered and died for us, and now lives forever, inviting us along!

Dear Lord, help us in this Easter season to embrace you as our Savior and guide for life. Amen.

Burnt Sacrifice

Psalm 20 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The best cattle, sheep, and turtle doves were the material for a burnt offering (Leviticus 1).  The unblemished and best male was to be offered by the priests.  The whole of the beast was to be burned, except for the entrails.  Performing this sacrifice was a means of atonement with God.  Nothing of the animal was eaten by the one who offered the burnt sacrifice.  The aroma was said to be pleasing to the Lord.

We now know that Jesus Christ is the one by whom we have atonement.  Jesus sets things right between us and God.  We can only get to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are thankful that bulls, rams, and turtle doves are no longer necessary to please God. 

Yet we Christians call upon the Lord and say we have not heard from God.  What are we keeping back in our faith?  Are we keeping the best of who we are from God?  Do we clamp onto our best and rely on our best to get us through troubles in this life?  We may do such activities because we do not want to see our best completely burnt.

Trusting in chariots, horses, stock portfolios, trucks, job titles, or anything else, keeps us from placing our pride in the name of the Lord.  It might be time to give up the things we trust.  As we continue through Lent, our time is being spent learning to trust God.  Maybe all we can do is trust God to protect us.  Then we can be focused on God alone and trusting him.

God, we are still learning that we can trust you.  It is not our belongings, no matter how wonderful they are, that can save us.  It is by trusting Jesus that we rise and stand. May our possessions be as burnt sacrifices as we learn to depend upon you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Deliverance

Psalm 32:6-11

By John Grimm

It may be that the enticing aspect of the rapture is that we will be taken out of terrible situations.  However, God does not pick us up, sweep away the trouble, and then place us down again in the same place we had been.  It is true to say that God is our hiding place.  It is true that God keeps us while trouble is going on around us.

While God is keeping us during trouble, we hear cries of deliverance.  Other people, who also trust God, are gladly shouting praise to God.  It is possible to exult God during trouble.  We find that as God is faithful to us, we also can be faithful to him.

Can we continue to learn from the Lord the way we should go?  Can we heed his counsel, knowing God knows the very situation we are in?  As we give affirmative answers to these questions, we realize God’s steadfast love surrounds us.  Our hearts become upright as we trust God.  Then, we rejoice greatly!

Lord God, you are with us in our troubles.  You hide and preserve us.  We know that we can get through the trouble.  We praise you for enveloping us with your steadfast love as we trust in you.  You make us glad.  Thank you!  We praise you in the name of Jesus Christ for the deliverance you are giving us.  Amen.

Unneeded Silence

Psalm 32 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

I did it again.  I kept my sin to myself.   Well, at least I thought I did.  Did people notice how short I was with them?  How much did my losing battle with sin show up in my life?

The psalmist is blessed, even happy, that the Lord has not charged him with iniquity.  Why is this state possible for the psalmist?  The psalmist has not tried to be deceitful regarding the wrong actions and words the psalmist has performed.  The psalmist is honest with God.

I, too, have noticed this phenomenon in my life.  Telling God my transgressions has been a freeing experience.  Otherwise, I keep my wrongdoing bottled up.   When that happens, the “woe is me” attitude is one of the ways my body wastes away.  The bottled-up truth of my sin will come out eventually, for my strength has limits.

After I have told God my sin and transgressions, he teaches me how I can live.  His steadfast love, his love that knows no bounds, is around me.  He gives me the ability to shout for joy because his forgiveness has allowed me to be upright in heart.  It is when I have unneeded silence in my life, because of bottling up my sins, that I fail to know and experience the steadfast love of God.

God, during these forty days I grow closer to you by being honest with you.  I have sinned.  I have gone against you and hurt myself, and others.  Hear my confession.  It is you who forgives my sins against you.  May I have the time and space to tell others how you have forgiven me.  In the Name of Jesus Christ, I ask that I may know the ways your steadfast love surrounds me. Amen.

Muzzled

Psalm 39 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

I do not like to be silent.  It is my vocation that allows me to speak.  However, there are times to be silent.  As a Christian, there are times that my mouth can get me into trouble.  It is when I speak my piece that life falls to pieces!

Yes, I have been known to create problems for myself, and others, when I open my mouth.  It occurs to me that God may not want or need me to use the breath he has given me for all the purposes that I intend to voice.  Knowing the difference is necessary.   

My days will only be so long.  They are but a breath compared to the days of the Lord.  Then it is up to me to be silent.  I cannot speak and deliver myself from the trouble I have caused.  People would say, when you are done digging the hole you are in, put the shovel down!  If my hope is in God, then I can use my breath to state my hope is in God (v. 7). 

When God corrects me, I accept his chastisement.  God only corrects me so that I may be better, even holy as he is holy.  It is when I am going through the chastisement that I speak much.  My story about God chastising me need not be told to everyone while God is chastising me!  Only after God’s chastisement do I need to speak by giving praise to God.

It is a wise idea to speak more with God than with others, especially while God is chastising me.  Then I can speak to God how I have broken the peace between myself and others.  Others will know that I muzzled myself for my own good.  The speaking that is appropriate is praise of God.  It would be wise for me to know this truth. 

God, my relationship with you is important.  When I speak with others about my travails and my situation with the wicked, I realize I need to muzzle myself!  It is you who are capable and willing to get me through my travails and my being with the wicked.  I can trust you all my days.  Thank you for chastising me when I have needed such.  Thank you that I can speak your praises.  May I know the times I can take off the muzzle and let others know of how good you have been to me in my short life.  In the name of Jesus, I pray for such wisdom.  Amen.

An Honest Searching

Psalm 39
For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.
I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
    and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
    when the ungodly are around me.”
But as I stood there in silence—
    not even speaking of good things—
    the turmoil within me grew worse.
The more I thought about it,
    the hotter I got,
    igniting a fire of words:
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.”        Interlude

We are merely moving shadows,
    and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
    not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
    My only hope is in you.
Rescue me from my rebellion.
    Do not let fools mock me.
I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,
    for my punishment is from you.
But please stop striking me!
    I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
When you discipline us for our sins,
    you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
    Each of us is but a breath.        Interlude

Hear my prayer, O Lord!
    Listen to my cries for help!
    Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
    a traveler passing through,
    as my ancestors were before me.
Leave me alone so I can smile again
    before I am gone and exist no more.

By Chuck Griffin

This season of Lent is, again, a time for spiritual searching. Today’s psalm is a powerful example of how that search can whip one to and fro, triggering a range of emotions including stoicism, anger, despair and humility.

If you just skimmed over the psalm, please, slow down, or wait until you have time to slow down, and read it carefully. When you reach the words translated as “Interlude,” take time to breathe and to ponder what has been said thus far.

We also could say that the psalmist moves from an effort at self-control to something more valuable—willing surrender to God, to God’s majesty and undeniable power.

And remember, God does not ignore our tears. In fact, he refuses to ignore us, even if we plead with him to do so. Christ came not to ignore us, but to rescue us. There is no reason to fear that we will be gone, that we will exist no more.

Lord, this is a somber time in the Christian year, but we also feel ourselves being pulled toward hope. In our humility and despair, help us to anticipate the freedom to come. Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”