Tag Archives: Bible

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

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.

Musing: Pentecost

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” – Acts 2:1-4 NRSV

DSC02146

Pentecost Sunday, Trinity UCC, Quincy, IL.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

Noise.  Like Wind.
Light.  As of Fire.
Thunder and Lightning?

I don’t remember ever thinking of the Christian Pentecost event as being accompanied by thunder and lightening.  But something the preacher said Sunday caused me to wonder … why hadn’t I thought of it before?  could there have been a wild storm?

Whatever happened, it transformed about 120 of Jesus’ first followers.
Fear flew out.  Courage blew in.
Timidity dissipated.  Boldness gathered.

Easter is the central event of the Christian faith.  But without the Spirit’s work at Pentecost, I’m not so sure the good news of resurrection would have spread very far.

DSC02130

Glass Wall.  Photo:  TLClark, 6/9/19.

If you haven’t guessed from the pictures, RED is the color of Pentecost.  Actually, red is the color most often associated with the Holy Spirit.  Since Pentecost is a celebration of the giving of the Spirit, red is assigned.  The sanctuary at Trinity UCC had dozens and dozens of potted geraniums with red blooms throughout the chancel (front of the church); they will be planted on the church grounds as a reminder of the Spirit’s work.

DSC02105

Centerpiece for Confirmation Breakfast.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

My youngest niece was confirmed on Sunday.  Since I’m not currently serving a local congregation we took the opportunity to be there.  Bonus: we were included as part of the family for the Confirmation Breakfast – a long standing tradition in that congregation where confirmands, their families, and their mentors are served a sit down breakfast before worship.  Added bonus:  just getting to spend time with family!


Note (because I know not every knows what “being confirmed” means): Confirmation is always associated with Baptism – a fact we sometimes forget when children are baptized as infants and confirmed as teenagers.  A confirmand/confirmation student usually goes through a season of education that lasts from a few months to a year to two years depending on local tradition.  Typically lead by a pastor, the class looks at key Bible stories and learns a little church history.  Sometimes they do mission or outreach projects.  Often there is a mentor who spends time with the student exploring questions of faith.  The process culminates in the Rite of Confirmation when the young people 1) affirm the baptismal vows that were made for them at their baptisms and 2) are welcomed as full members in the life of the church. 

Monday Musing: Ascension

Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  – Luke 24:50-51 NRSV

Ascension.  Another weird story in Christian scriptures that I’d rather ignore.  Jesus – the risen Christ – carried into heaven.  Forty days after Easter.  A Christian holy day.  My guess is many Protestants don’t realize it’s come and gone.

So when looking up a quilt fabric store on the internet the other day I was surprised to discover the following announcement in large, yellow letters at their top of their web page:

Store is CLOSED Thur. May 30th for Ascension Day  

Really?  Here in Iowa?!!  I’ll try to remember to ask about it when (if) I get there.

Ascension was not acknowledged in any way, shape, or form by my home congregation this year.  If I’d been preaching last week, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it either.

But our local Roman Catholic church marked the day at weekend masses.
And the priest did something I like to do when preaching.
He quoted from a contemporary text.
Not a commentary.  Not an overtly Christian or specifically religious book.
A work of fiction published in my lifetime:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story by Richard Bach.

They came in the evening, then, and found Jonathan gliding peaceful and alone through his beloved sky.  The two gulls that appeared at his wings were pure as starlight, and the glow from them was gentle and friendly in the high night air.  But most lovely of all was the skill with which they flew, their wingtips moving a precise and constant inch from his own.

Without a word, Jonathan put them to his test a test that no gull had ever passed.  He twisted his wings, slowed to a single mile per hour above stall.  The two radiant birds slowed with him, smoothly, locked in position.  They knew about slow flying.

He folded his wings, rolled and dropped in a dive to a hundred ninety miles per hour.  They dropped with him, streaking down in flawless formation.

At last he turned that speed straight up into a long vertical slow-roll.  They rolled with him, smiling.

He recovered to level flight and was quiet for a time before he spoke. “Very well,” he said, “who are you?

“We’re from your Flock, Jonathan. We are your brothers.”  The words were strong and calm.  “We’ve come to take you higher, to take you home.”

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story, (c) 1970

Do you know the story?  Jonathan, a seagull, had been cast off from the flock.  He didn’t fly simply to find food and eat.  He flew for the shear joy of flying.  And that was unthinkable, unacceptable, intolerable.  So he was alone.

And now he is not.

That’s not where the priest went with the story.  But it is what has caught my imagination after re-reading the book on Sunday.  Though physically alone in a particular time and place, Jonathan was not alone in pursuing a dream of perfect flight.  He had kindred out there somewhere.  One day, they found him.

When you’re feeling cast off from the crowd (whether a little or lot),
may you know you are not alone.
May your kindred find you – or you find them –
and together pursue a dream that brings beauty and joy into the world.