God, Our Light

“God, Our Light”

Psalm 27:1-10 (27:1) – March 13, 2022

            When I set the theme for the Second Sunday in Lent about three weeks ago, I had no idea that there would be an actual war being waged, right now. The Russian army is attacking Ukraine as we speak, and all the horrors of modern-day warfare are a reality, all across the country of Ukraine. Psalm 27 means so much to many of the Ukrainian people right now.

            As this congregation highlights another petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” we are brought up sharply by the traumatic situation in our own world. We can turn on war news, from both national as well as international media. Videos and photos are – sadly – readily accessible, and the news is heart-rending. No matter which side you are on.

            Wasn’t this the case when King David wrote this psalm, so many centuries before?

            Wars, rumors of wars, battles, skirmishes, fighting – and King David writes this song of praise to the Lord, to thank the Lord for deliverance from evil.

            King David was certainly no stranger to fighting and to war. After King Saul ran David off into the Judean wilderness (a harsh and unhospitable place, the same place where Jesus went after His baptism), David stayed away from Jerusalem for years. Even though David was rightfully anointed by the prophet Samuel as king of Israel, David would not lift his hand against King Saul. At the same time, David was essentially a guerilla leader of 600 battle-hardened fighters, for years. They also would do mercenary fighting, while on the run from King Saul and the troops of Israel. And, that was just the beginning of David being a fighter.

            As we see from both 1 and 2 Samuel, David knew what he was talking about when he wrote these psalms about the Lord delivering him and his men from evil – from war, and from fighting. David was on the run from King Saul for over ten years. And, he was no coward! However, he thanked God that God watched over him and kept him from evil – kept him from being overtaken by the troops of King Saul, as well as foreign troops he was fighting against.

            You and I are not fighting battles against opposing armies, but we still can come to God, praying this psalm for our safety. You and I might consider evil to be bad stuff. Bullies who intimidate and harass. Robbers who steal purses or take cell phones or wallets. Car-jackings, vindictive anger, abusive behavior, vandals who destroy property. All of these are evil, and we can pray for God to protect us from all of these, plus many more.

            As our commentator Beth Tanner says, “With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises.“ [1] “Deliver us from evil” is a powerful prayer! A prayer of trust and assurance in God’s provision, in God’s ability to keep us safe, whatever our situation.

            Yet, the world has had many, many wars through the centuries. Many, many periods of fighting, ethnic strife, border conflicts, and even genocides. Horrific atrocities committed, and whole societies, entire countries stricken by death and destruction. How can anyone lift up their hearts to God in such catastrophic times?

We know, too, God wants us to be hospitable, even in such times. “To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places. Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality.” [2]

            It is so interesting that King David seems to waver back and forth, from the sure certainty of God’s saving power to fear of some kind of situation where David’s enemies are trying to “devour his flesh,” as Psalm 27:2 tells us. Whatever the specific problems or fighting happens to be, we suspect God may turn away. Don’t you, sometimes? Even if you are usually firm in faith and fervent in prayer, sometimes…stuff happens. People fail us. Situations baffle us. How can we cope? What is there to do? God, help us!  Sometimes we need to step back, take a deep breath, and think of difficult things as a child might. The best child’s translation of this part of the prayer is “Lord, save us from all the bad stuff that happens.” [3]

And yet,” right in the middle of his expressions of fear, the Psalmist also declares his confident faith that God’s presence is like a light that keeps him safe.” [4] Our Scripture reading today, Psalm 27, remains as a beacon. This encourages us to come to God even as we find ourselves afraid. Even, afraid out of our wits.

We might find ourselves praying the Lord’s Prayer, and saying it by rote, without even concentrating on the words as they come out of our mouths. Yet – “Lent is a time to ask the deep questions of our faith. We can repeat the fears of the past, or trust a new ending to God. It is never easy, but it is the call of God on our lives. This psalm invites us to believe again that our faith in God will never desert us, no matter what happens. Life without fear is not possible, but faith can call us to live into God’s will for our life instead of reducing our lives because of our fears and insecurities.” [5]

Yes, “deliver us from evil” is a powerful prayer, indeed. Yes, we can be afraid, and yes, God can alleviate our fears. If we want to dispel the darkness of fear, we can affirm that God is indeed our light and our salvation. We can all say amen to that!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1]   https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-psalm-27-3

[2]   Ibid.

[3]  http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-second-sunday-in-lent-february.html

[4]   https://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-do-we-have-to-fear.html

“What Do We Have To Fear?” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

[5]   https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-psalm-27-3

The Poor Widow’s Gift

“The Poor Widow’s Gift”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:38-44 – November 11, 2018

You know celebrities? Many of us follow their activities. Look at popular tabloids, magazines, television, and computer screens. It seems like the richer the celebrity, the better. So many celebrities give away a lot of money, or a lot of stuff, and they get a lot of applause. Look at Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Bono, and Angelina Jolie. All of them are very open in their giving, and they are to be commended, even applauded.

Many people watch celebrities, to see what they do, and even how they give. This is not a new activity. People have been doing it for centuries. In our Gospel reading today, people were watching, too. The offering box for the Temple was in the back, by the exit door. In the first century, apparently it was common for people to sit or stand near the offering box and watch as the faithful put in their offerings.

In the first century, all money clinked. All money was in coins. That means, no paper money. When anyone threw money in the offering box, the money made a metallic sound. I suspect there even were some who knew what kinds of noises different coins made. They possibly could keep “score,” regarding what kinds of coins were given by which people.

In the first part of our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus calls out the temple leaders. Jesuse tells His disciples that the teachers of the Law of Moses are hypocrites. “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Whoa! This is judging! And, judging pretty severely, too. Notice, please, where Jesus mentions “devouring widows’ houses.”

Does everyone here understand what happened to a widow, after her husband died? She had no way to earn money, and very quickly she would become poor, sometimes even losing the house she lived in. That’s a direct condemnation of the group Jesus was talking about in the first verses. He’s weighing one group of people against another.

These religious leaders had special clothing that actually was very different from the clothing of the other, “blue-collar” workers around them. The leaders had fancy long sleeves and elaborate cloaks that came down to the ground, which would just get in the way for the blue-collar workers. What is more, the synagogue leaders just loved to sit at the head table for public events or at synagogue functions.

“While those actions may have seemed spiritual, Jesus warns they’re signs that the religious leaders especially enjoy the attention they receive from people. However, Jesus also points out that the religious leaders of his day don’t just crave attention.  They’re also hungry for material things.  Jesus grieves, for example, how they “devour widow’s houses,” exploiting these defenseless people.” [1]

So, these religious leaders are two-faced and hypocrites. What else is new? The way the scribes/Pharisees treat the widows. That is, the poor, the indigent. Horrible example for others. They were throwing their pocket change (jingle, jingle) in the giving box in the back of the synagogue, so everyone could see AND hear how MUCH they gave, all the while neglecting and even robbing the widows of what the Temple offering would have given the poor.

This sermon is about so much more than the poor widow and her tiny gift. But, now that I’m referring to that, what about her gift, anyway?

If they were lucky, some widows had a small next egg saved up for a rainy day. And when that was gone, they had nothing. Zero. Talk about living on a fixed income! With no life insurance, Social Security or other government safety nets, these widows were often sunk, Out of luck, unless the synagogue chipped in or helped out, that is.

Jesus pointed out that ““Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

What a contrast! On one hand, the show-off religious leaders, with their ostentatious gifts of money they can easily afford. On the other hand, we have people like this widow, giving her all.

But, what about the attitude of giving we see here?  One of the commentators says, “Some of the happiest, most fulfilled people on the face of this planet have the fewest resources and choice. These same people are also some of the most generous. They don’t seem convinced that hoarding their meager resources is the best use of them, and they appear to find more joy and possibility in sharing with others and in building relationship capital.” [2]

Another way of saying a similar thing? In the archives on a pastor’s chat-board, a Pastor JD from Washington DC gave the following example. “The widow gave from her “poverty” it says. Think about people who have given from their vulnerable experiences, from their “poverty” and, in so doing, have helped others beyond measure. An alcoholic revealing to a problem drinker his or her life’s story; A woman who has survived breast cancer shares her struggle with someone newly diagnosed; A Christian shares his faith doubts and journey revealing a realistic and growing faith.” [3]

Think about it. Those who knowingly share in their poverty are truly the most giving and trusting individuals of the world. God doesn’t want 10%, God wants 100%, regardless of whether we have less than others or more than others. God wants it all.

Each week we sing “We give thee but thine own, what-e’er the gift may be; All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord, from thee.” All we have is from God and we are to use all for the Glory of God. Giving our all, and trusting in God to take care of us.

May we all strive to follow this Godly example. So help us, God. Amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27b/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

The Center for Excellence in Preaching commentary and sermon illustrations, Scott Hoezee, 2015.

[2] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/11/the-abundant-life/

“The Abundant Life,” Sharron R. Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2015.

[3] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!