Forsaken

 

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Thousands of years before Jesus’ crucifixion, His ancestor David wrote:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭22:1-2‬ ‭NIV

David’s pain is redolent throughout his Psalms, but it could not compare to the anguish of the cross. Jesus knew his role in history; he knew he had to die. But the gruesome manner of His death must have been a shock even to His fit, healthy system.

Christ’s wrists were nailed so that they carried the weight of his upper body and the bones would tear apart. His chest heaved forward, making it impossible for the lungs to continue working. His legs pulled downward onto the nails in his feet, searing flesh and bone. The guards pierced his side with a spear, then stuffed the wound with a vinegar-soaked cloth to intensify the pain. His burning lungs had breath for only one last utterance.

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Mark 15:34

When so many humans are suffering, we are reminded that Jesus suffers with us. We also look forward to His good news.

I pray you all have good news in your future.

Amen.

The Way of Love – Pray

On “The Way of Love,” our Lenten devotional series, today’s theme is prayer. I thought of this flash fiction piece I wrote several years ago. Although fiction, I think it is a lesson in faith. I hope you enjoy it.

bw_beacham shopping cart

 — Photo by B. W. Beacham

Prayer

by Jan Brown

The Shoreline Mission Shelter was destroyed by the hurricane. I wept when I witnessed the first responders removing Father Paul’s lifeless body. Most of the residents survived. But they still hadn’t found Lanie. Only her shopping cart was there, upended on what was now the beach.

Three days later, they found part of the structure a mile away, half buried in the sand. And under the heavy wooden beams—Lanie! “Where’s Father Paul?” she said in a hoarse whisper. “I need to thank him. If he hadn’t stayed and prayed with me these past few days, I couldn’t have survived.”

The Way of Love – Worship

Jesus on Palm Sunday

Within our Lenten devotional series, the theme for today is Worship. Today is Palm Sunday, the day that the public worshipped Jesus most avidly, giving him a “red carpet” welcome to the city of Jerusalem. They had heard about his miracles and, as a result, he had become a local celebrity. His good works had gone viral!

This is a blog post I wrote for Palm Sunday back in 2012:

Palm Sunday, Facebook and the 99%

A week before Passover, Jesus came to the town of Bethany to visit with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha (his BFFs). A crowd gathered at Simon’s house nearby, where Martha served dinner. Simon was a Pharisee (one of the 1%), but also a follower of Jesus since being cured of his leprosy. However, the crowd was more interested in the miracle that Jesus performed for Lazarus, i.e., raising him from the dead after Lazarus had died and been buried for four days.

Simon, Lazarus, Martha and Mary had a great party with friends from all over the surrounding area, including Jerusalem. After the party, the numerous guests used word of mouth (remember that? it’s a kind of human communication that pre-dates Facebook and Instagram) to tell all of their friends, who told all of their friends, that Jesus would be coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. So, the next day, all of these “friends of friends” headed out to greet this great prophet and spiritual leader upon his entry to Jerusalem.

In the custom of the day, they paved the road with their cloaks and with the broad leaves of palm trees — kind of a red carpet (except not actually red). But this was something the 99% would normally do for the 1%, and that was not in line with Jesus’ way of life as a homeless, travelling preacher and material-free Son of God. So he rode in on a young donkey, to remain humble and to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
– 15 Zech. 9:9

The Way of Love – Go

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The lowly phone can be a Godsend in these trying times. It can even relieve adolescent isolation, assuming your teenagers are willing to use that little green icon at the bottom of their smart phone screen. Most young people communicate via text. I saw a TV show in which the daughter asked her mom for advice about a boy who had texted her several times. Mom said, “Why don’t you call and ask him out?” Her daughter gasped in horror and said, “Call?!?! How rude!” Etiquette may have changed in the decades between mother and daughter, but the human voice is still an effective cure for isolation.

Jesus calls us to go out into the community, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When He was asked by the Pharisees to identify the greatest commandment under Jewish Law, he responded by giving them two new commandments:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  –Matthew 22:37-39

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered to individual customers by coming into the home. These wonderful volunteers put their love for their neighbors to practical use. They’d chat, socialize and do a wellness check.  Now they provide contactless* delivery to protect the health of the recipients, who are typically among the most vulnerable to the virus, as well as the volunteers themselves and their families.  The organization finds other ways to provide human contact and perform wellness checks, primarily by phone.

I’m as guilty as that teenage daughter of not picking up the phone, so I will have to start using the little green icon myself.

 

* Prior to the pandemic, “contactless” referred to credit cards that could be waved in front of a merchant’s card reader device at checkout, without swiping the card or otherwise making contact with the device. I think it’s going to be one of those words on a very sad list that Merriam Webster will publish in 6-12 months under a title like “How the Covid-19 Pandemic Forever Changed the English Language.”

NaPoWriMo Day 2 – The Way of Love

Day 2 of National Poetry Writing Month!

Today I am incorporating the NaPoWriMo prompt with “The Way of Love,” a devotional series we are studying each day during Lent. The theme today is blessing, with the emphasis not on the blessings we have or receive, but rather on blessing others.

The poetry prompt is to write a poem describing a place, with concrete details that will help the reader imagine both the physical place as well as its mood. I wrote about my former church, a shrinking church that eventually disbanded, tragically unable to support itself, let alone be a blessing to the surrounding community. Many churches have experienced this type of downward spiral in the past few decades, having to sell the building and merge with another church or simply disband as the world embraces spirituality apart from organized religion.

 

missing

dwindling
people in white-painted pews
splashed
with the colors of stained glass
listen
sounds of family
joy and sorrow
baby’s cry
feel
mother’s touch
children squirming
baby cooing
listen
the sermon expands
evokes
the “ah” of understanding
smattering of humor
bored coughing
watch
the brass collection plate
take its toll
while I sing
feel
the music rise
A-shaped ceiling spike
sound waves fly
over heads and hearts
welcome
chatter
over coffee and rolls
hunger
for something more
hear
choir practice
in the basement
next to the youth room
guitars
billiard table and games
small tots’ classrooms
fewer and fewer
squeals and giggles
heartbreak
mission committee meeting room
so much to do
community
more than a building
tentacles
to the world outside

 

The Way of Love – Turn

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When we turn toward the Lord, we turn away from sin.

King David committed the most heinous of sins against one of his army commanders, Uriah. While Uriah was away fighting battles for King David, David slept with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and got her pregnant. David was a creative sinner; he devised a scheme to hide his adultery from Uriah. He gave him a break from the battles to come home to his wife. But Uriah refused, instead camping with his troops. He couldn’t in good conscience relax in the comfort of his home and his wife’s bed, when his troops were still camped and battle-ready.

David had assumed that if Uriah slept with Bathsheba, his sin would go unnoticed and Uriah would think the child his own. Failing in this deception, David then had Uriah sent to the front line to battle a powerful enemy–a suicide mission, or in this case, a homicide mission. Finally, David took Uriah’s widow to be his wife.

Later, the prophet Nathan visited King David and admonished him for his sin, warning that he had foreseen the child’s death. David begged the Lord’s forgiveness in Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  –Psalms‬ ‭51:1-2

Sadly, the child died. But God ultimately forgave David and, despite his sins, God promised that our Messiah would descend from David’s lineage.  We can take heart in this and be confident of God’s promise of forgiveness in our lives, too.

 

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St. Francis of Assisi – Community

st-francis-of-assisi haiga

How do we live in community while we are in isolation?

The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi says in part, “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

Can we still do this from the confines of our own house or apartment? The short answer is yes. The more difficult answer depends on circumstances, but we all use some form of assisted communication: Facebook,  Zoom, Skype, Facetime, email, snail mail, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc.  Some churches record their services from the empty sanctuary. TV talk show hosts and their guests still broadcast, albeit from their own homes. Musicians record their individual parts remotely, to be remixed and broadcast via YouTube or other means–with some lovely results.

For each of us, “community” may have a different connotation. It might include family, friends, social media friends and followers. Living in community requires love, whether accomplished in person or remotely. I admit, I need to work on this much more than I have in the past. I hope God will help me change.

A lesser known writing of St. Francis is hopeful in that regard:

Jesus is happy to come with us, as truth is happy to be spoken, as life to be lived, as light to be lit, as love is to be loved, as joy to be given, as peace to be spread. – Saint Francis of Assisi

Much love to you and your community.

Televangelism in the Time of Coronavirus

oil painnt

I occasionally watch Joseph Prince on TV.  Prince is the senior pastor of the New Creation Church based in Singapore. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am not a big fan of the “prosperity gospel” proclaimed by megachurches, and I am skeptical of any preacher who gets rich through his work.

But I appreciate that Rev. Prince’s sermons are Bible-based. Unlike some other televangelists, he appears to have a deep scholarly understanding of the Bible, as well as the intricacies of the languages in which both testaments were written. His Biblical interpretations often (not always, but often) resonate with me, and his enthusiasm cheers me and lifts me out of pain.

However, there is a dangerous undercurrent that runs through the prosperity gospel. It is the premise that things will get better if we just keep the faith. It is not just that our faith sustains us spiritually, but that our faith physically protects us.

As recently as March 15, when other churches and public venues had closed due to the Covid-19 virus, Rev. Prince advised his membership that they should still come to church–a densely packed auditorium of thousands. He instructed his members, as well as his TV viewers, to anoint themselves with oil every day, praying as they do so. He claimed this would protect them from the virus. (At least he didn’t instruct them to buy the oil from him, as another TV preacher hawks “miracle water” on air!)

On the other hand, his church’s website advertised that the auditorium and children’s classrooms were cleaned and “fogged” with anti-microbial agents. Even his own church knew that anointing with oil was not the answer! And they ultimately knew that cleaning the premises was not a panacea, either. By March 29, their church services were suspended.

Whew.

 

 

The Way of Love – Worship

church2 painnt
Worship is online today. Previous to the Covid-19 pandemic, the only “online” worship for me was on TV.  I occasionally watched Joel Osteen or Joseph Prince. However, I am not a big fan of the “prosperity gospel” promulgated by TV preachers, and I am deeply skeptical of any servant of the Lord who gets rich through his work.

Joel Osteen is compelling to me because he is forever optimistic. His voice and countenance convey hope and lift me from the depths of pain and isolation. I disagree with his premise that things will get better if we just keep the faith. But I do have an easier time keeping the faith after listening to his message of hope.

I thought of Pastor Osteen today when I read Psalm 130:

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness….
     –Ps. 130:3-4

In one of his sermons, Pastor Osteen mentioned a time when he was in a restaurant waiting for a colleague and overheard part of a conversation at a neighboring table. A woman was complaining how her boss or her friend had mistreated her, and her lunch mate consoled her by predicting that he would soon get his comeuppance. “What goes around, comes around.”

Osteen said how blessed we are that it doesn’t work that way. Who among us would still be standing if we were punished for every sin we committed in this life? Over decades of living, imagine how many large or small sins against others have we committed, how many sins against the environment, sins of carelessness in our cars, sins we don’t even realize we committed because we were engrossed in our own thoughts and didn’t pay close attention to the needs of others?

Thank the Lord for his sacrifice. Thank the Lord for forgiveness. Thank the Lord for the gift of grace. Grace that we don’t have to, and could never, earn. Thank the Lord for grace that is given to us freely.

Amen.