A decree went out

In those days a decree went out from President Trump - no wait, it was Emperor Augustus. Well, there's always someone who thinks they're on top... Anyway, a decree went out that all the world should be registered. Because the empire needs everyone to have papers. Without papers, you can't be properly tracked, can't be properly taxed, can't be properly subject to those trying to run the show.

This was the first registration and was taken while Bashar al-Assad was governor of Syria. (Or was it Quirinius? So many governors...) All went to their own towns to be registered. Maybe that's where the original papers were. Or maybe it's because once you're a Judean, always a Judean, once a Mexican, always a Mexican. Once a Kurd, an Eritrean, a Cambodian, a Yemeni... you get the idea. The Authorities said you'd better get the idea.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended fro…

The night is long, but the light still shines

Light in the darkness, a road through a wasteland, welcome in a foreign land, shelter in a storm. Pick your image. There is never a time and place where we cannot use hope, and grace, comfort and assurance.

Last week it was with people turning grief into action. Tuesday night it was in jail. Wednesday night it was in church. Thursday it was at a lunch table. Someday soon it could be at a manger.

Where there is love, help us to find it. Teach us to know that a shadow is only a shadow, because the light of eternal goodness shines behind the object of our fears.

May these days be holy for you.

Candlelighting, Blue Christmas service, November 19, 2018, Christ Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Jersey City.

Remembering still

Seventeen years later, we are still in the business of remembering. And there is so much to remember.

The beautiful clear sky. The terror streaking out of the skies. The death and destruction, the anguished waiting. The bravery and compassion multiplied by thousands and millions as people strove to help their neighbors. And also the way the evil of a few escalated into seventeen years of war with no end in sight.

We remember the ones who died that day. The photo above (taken some years after 2001) shows an altar at St. Paul's Chapel, shining forth the faces of some of those beloved people. Their family and friends still know their loss personally. Like Danny Correa, the 25 year old man looking out from the lower left of the picture. "I dance in the clouds and soak in the haze," he emailed a friend, soon after he started working near the top of the North Tower. He was very happy to get that job, which allowed him to provide for his daughter, complete his bachelor's d…

Psalm 24 - The earth is the Lord’s

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;...
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the LORD...
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Psalm 24 (NRSV)

This had better be a psalm of hope. Who shall stand in God’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.

That may add up to a large number - but is definitely a small proportion. Even on my best days, that is aspirational more than actual.

The religion of ancient Israel understood that in the course of life and through our very nature, we will not always be right and righteous before God. We do and say and sometimes simply encounter things which compromise our…

Psalm 85 – Righteousness and peace will kiss

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for she will speak peace to her people,
to her faithful, to those who turn to her in their hearts.
Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its incr…

Psalm 150 - Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise God in his mighty firmament!
Praise God for her mighty deeds;
praise God according to her surpassing greatness!...
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Psalm 150

We do not always know why our ancestors in faith organized the books and chapters of the Bible the way they did, but it seems fitting to end the prayerbook and hymnbook of Psalms with praise.

This psalm does not break any new ground, referring to things we have heard before: God is in the heavens and in the sanctuary, God is mighty, and worthy to be praised with all we've got. The psalm was clearly was intended for singing. Take note: praise songs were not invented yesterday!

It's usually a good idea to end on a high note. We like to leave worship or prayer filled with the goodness of God and overflowing with praise. While the Psalms make plenty of space for other dimensions of human experience, the Psalter concludes with a praise-heavy section (think especia…

Psalm 123 - An end to contempt

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Very often it takes us time to get to our real issue. This tiny four-verse psalm starts by looking repeatedly to the Lord, and then asks three times for mercy. Only then do we confess our problem.

Contempt seems to be one of the spirits of this age. We hear it from, and directed against, our highest elected leaders. We hear it directed against, individuals, groups, nations. We all know people who spout venom seemingly without thinking, often without even knowing the people or things they're maligning.

The psalm says that our our soul has had t…