Category Archives: Bible

Related to Scripture

Revelation: To Encourage

Headstone with Book. Photo: TLClark, 9/2019.

I know there are some beautiful images in the book of Revelation, but I seem to have bought into the idea that the book was written to frighten and condemn. In rereading and reflecting on what is actually written I’ve come away with a new appreciation for this last book in the Christian canon.

John’s revelation is written as a letter to encourage and to challenge other followers of Jesus. The world as he knows it is in shambles. Churches are struggling. Members of the body of Christ are trying to do the right thing but it’s so hard, so confusing. Does it matter? Who cares?

Chapters two and three of Revelation are a series of shorter letters, one each to seven different churches. I was surprised by the notes of encouragement. For example, five of the churches are assured that their patient faithfulness has been noticed and is not in vain.

Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance …  I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” – Rev. 2:2-3

Pergamum: “I know …you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me…” – Rev. 2:13

Thyatira: “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.” – Rev. 2:19

Philadelphia: “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” – Rev. 3:8

“Hang in there,” the author is saying. “You’ve got this.”

During a particularly nasty time in one of my pastorates I led a funeral at a local funeral home for someone who was without a faith community. Making small talk after the service, the funeral director turned to me and said “I see the nonsense at the church is causing a few gray hairs.” It was nearly a throw-away comment. But it meant the world to me. Someone who was not in the fray had noticed and was cheering me on.

Whatever your difficult situation, especially one that is not what you wanted or is not what you expected, hang in there. You’ve got this. It will be OK. You’ve been noticed – by colleagues, by friends, by God. Don’t give up. Keep the faith. We’re cheering for you and believe you will make it through.

Revelation: God Is

Headstone Carving – Handshake. Photo: TLClark, 2019.

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from [the one] who is and who was and who is to come …”

Revelation 1:4b (NRSV)

Yes, dear one, there is a God.

Is. Present tense. Now. Today.

Not just today.
But also yesterday.
And tomorrow.

Is. Every today.
Was. Every yesterday.
Is to come. Every tomorrow.

Grace and peace to you from God, the Timeless One.

John, the self-identified author of Revelation, has been exiled to the island of Patmos. The world as he knew it has disappeared. Nothing is as it was. No one knows what is next. There are more questions than answers.

He receives a revelation from God through Jesus. Imaginative, bizarre, and strangely reassuring.

There is a God. In the midst of conflict and chaos, when things have gone from bad to worse, when anxiety creeps in and despair takes over, God is.

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'”

Revelation 1:8 (NRSV)

God, the Timeless One.

Alpha and Omega.
A and Z.
First and Last.
Beginning and End.
(And in-between? In the messy middle?)

All beginnings. All ends.
And all in-betweens.

Before the beginning and after the end.
Definitely in the messy middle.

God is.

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:8b,11

Revelation: Read Aloud

Headstone with Book. Photo: TLClark, 9/2019.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it;
for the time is near.

Revelation 1:3 (NRSV)

The time is always near. There are times when we are just more aware. Aware that life is precious. Aware that things will not stay the same. Aware that some things must end.

The book of Revelation is about end times. At least that’s my first thought when the book is mentioned. Full of weird visions and used by some (to try) to scare folks into heaven, it’s a part of the Bible I generally avoid.

But prompted by a presentation I heard last spring, I re-read the book The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. The chapter “A Story with Dragons: The Book of Revelation” nudged me toward a re-read of Revelation. So far I’ve avoided reading commentaries; that may change.

To add a little discipline to my reading and reflecting, I decided to blog about what caught my attention. I won’t be doing a verse by verse interpretation – that seems tedious to me and would likely be boring for you. At the moment I’m thinking a total of 10 or 12 posts for a book that has 22 chapters.

First observation: Revelation is meant to be read aloud. The words are heard differently when received through our ears rather than our eyes. The text paints some fairly vivid pictures. When I read aloud or am paying attention while another reads aloud, the images have time to develop. I can’t just skip past without nothing more than a glance.

Blessed,” the author says, “blessed is the one who reads aloud … and the one who hears.”

Keeping eyes and ears and heart open with high hopes of encountering the blessing. – Teressa

Musing: Persistence and God

My beloved and I tend to worship God with other Christians twice every weekend: with a Roman Catholic parish on Saturday evening and with a congregation of the United Church of Christ on Sunday morning.

One benefit is getting to sing a wider variety of hymns.

Another is hearing two different sermons on the same Biblical text. (Or, in my case some weeks, hearing one sermon on Saturday and preaching a sermon on Sunday.)

I cannot tell you most of what either preacher said this last weekend. Which is pretty normal. Even when I’m the preacher I don’t remember much of the sermon the next day. Just a main point or two. Or maybe a good illustration.

The text last weekend was the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Luke 18:1-5 (NRSV)

It’s a parable, a story to make us think. As a parable, there is more than one way to interpret it – even when an interpretation is given in the text (see Luke 18:6-8).

Today I’m remembering the persistence of the widow and the call to not lose heart in prayer – individually (my own life), communally (in the life of the congregation), and world wide. Keep praying. It may not change the situation directly. But it may change me and my response to what is happening. Don’t give up.

But I’m also reconsidering the widow. Who is she, really? Me? You? Us?

Who is she pestering in her persistence? If we are the widow, does that make God the unjust judge?

What if the widow is God? God is the persistent the one. God is the one who never gives up. God pesters the unjust (me?) until the unjust relents and does the right thing.

It’s a parable. Told to make us think.

Thanks be to God for Fr. Michael for naming the widow as God and for all who cause us to rethink what we thought we knew.

Musing: Refuge in God

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

Psalm 46:1-3, NRSV
Window, St. John United Church of Christ, Melbourne, Iowa. Photo: TLClark, 9/29/19.

We were singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Martin Luther Sunday morning when I looked across the front of the sanctuary and saw the window pictured above. Too bad I hadn’t seen it earlier – I would have pointed it out while preaching! Did you know Luther based the hymn on Psalm 46?

I quoted Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen more than once in the sermon. Here’s my favorite quote:

“Taking refuge does not mean hiding from life.  It means finding a place of strength, the capacity to live the life we have been given with greater courage and sometimes even with gratitude.”

Rachel Naomi Remen, M D., My Grandfather’s Blessings:  Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, p.165.

Four or five years ago I lead a series of one-day retreats centered on themes from the Psalms. The first focused on God as a refuge/fortress/dwelling place/shelter and used the last line of Psalm 2:13 as the starting point: “Happy are all who take refuge in the Lord.”

Before the end of the day, I invited participants to reflect on questions that moved from being sheltered by God to being agents who join in God’s effort to provide shelter for others. Here are the questions as preserved in my notes:

  • Where have you found a refuge in the midst of life’s storms?
  • Who has modeled God’s loving care in your life?
  • How or when have you provided shelter for others?
  • Who in your local community is in need of shelter today?  How might you respond?
  • What organizations or agencies provide refuge in places around the world?  How might you join their efforts?

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2, NRSV

Photo Challenge: Stone

Stone Fountain and Bridge, Krueger Park, Bethany United Church of Christ, Baxter, Iowa. Photo: TLClark.

Only after going out with camera in hand in search of a picture of a stone for this week’s Tuesday photo challenge did I remember these stone structures in a park attached to a church I once served as an Interim Minister. I found pictures in my digital files so the post I had in mind will have to wait!

Krueger Park, established in the 1930s, is just behind Bethany United Church of Christ, a country congregation two miles east of the small town of Baxter, Iowa. The church and park are surrounded by farmland.

Detail of Bowl of Stone Fountain, Krueger Park, Bethany United Church of Christ, Baxter, Iowa. Photo: TLClark.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

Psalm 36:7-9, NRSV
Detail of Base of Stone Fountain, Krueger Park, Bethany United Church of Christ, Baxter, Iowa. Photo: TLClark.

Some time in the past there was a pump so water could flow into a little stream from the fountain, under the bridge and into a small pond below.

Next to the pond is a lighthouse.

Stone Lighthouse, Krueger Park, Bethany United Church of Christ, Baxter, Iowa. Photo: TLCLark.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 

John 8:12, NRSV
Back of Stone Lighthouse, Krueger Park, Bethany United Church of Christ, Baxter, Iowa. Photo: TLCLark.

The congregation holds worship services in the park on the first Sunday of summer months. The grounds are perfect for games during Vacation Bible School at the end of July. There’s a fire pit that is used for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows after the annual hay rack ride in October.

Musing: Be Merciful

Shadows on Path. Photo: TLClark, 9/15/19.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Happy the kind — because they shall find kindness.”

– Matthew 5:7 New Revised Standard Version (merciful/mercy) and Young’s Literal Translation (kind/kindness)

I’ve been humming a song off and on since worship Sunday morning. Every once in awhile I sing a few words of the refrain: “So be merciful, just as our God is merciful.” It’s a newish hymn – published in 2015 – by Ed Bolduc. The tune is new and the refrain is new. But the verses are from a hymn first published in 1854: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Frederick W. Faber.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in [God’s] justice, Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.

– Frederick W. Faber, “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy,” stanzas 1, 5

According to Hymnary.org, one version or another of Faber’s hymn has been published in at least 757 hymnals. Faber’s other famous hymn – “Faith of Our Fathers” – shows up in at least 728.

From what I can see there were at 12 stanzas in the original “There’s a Wideness to God’s Mercy.” Different folks mix and match the stanzas into verses (typically two per verse), usually leaving out a few. There are, of course, several different tunes to which it can be sung – which is exactly the sort of thing that can lead to my confusion when leading worship in a new (to me) place!

I began this blogpost thinking about mercy – hence the beatitude at the top – and was delighted to discover Young’s Literal Translation of kindness. The dictionary at the back of my Greek New Testament lists both mercy and compassion as suitable translations. Whatever word we use, we are called to be merciful / kind / compassionate in response to God’s mercy / kindness / compassion.

So be merciful, just as our God is merciful.
Be merciful, just as our God is merciful to us.
Let there be a wideness in our mercy.
Let there be a kindness in our hearts.
Oh, may our lives be merciful.

Ed Bolduc, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy / Be Merciful,” Refrain (c) 2015. World Library Publications.

My you know mercy, compassion and kindness.
May you be merciful, compassionate, kind.
Teressa

p.s. There is a YouTube video of Bolduc’s version.