From Louis Penny’s mystery novel, “A Trick of the Light.”
“The skyline of Montreal was looming in the foreground now, across the river. And Mont Royal rose in the middle of the city. The huge cross on top of the mountain was invisible now, but every night it sprang to life, lit as a beacon to a population that no longer believed in the church, but believed in family friends, culture and humanity.
The cross didn’t seem to care. It glowed just as bright.”
Prayer of the Day, Pentecost 17A,
The first part of the prayer is clearly drawn from the epistle lesson (Philippians 2:1-18), where St. Paul reminds us to use in unity with one another, the mind which we have already received in the Holy Spirit. That is, to have the mind of Christ who humbled himself, was born in human likeness, died on the cross and was exalted “to the place of all honor and authority.”
Once again, this week we prayed that the Holy Spirit would enlighten our minds that we join in confessing Christ and be led into all truth. Of course, all truth is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Having the truth motivates us to live as shining lights in the world keeping a grip on the word of life, until the day Christ returns and we too are exalted.
Almighty God, You exalted Your Son to the place of all honor and authority. Enlighten our minds by Your Holy Spirit that, confessing Jesus as Lord, we may be led into all truth; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
I love to sing, and often pay more attention to singing than to what I am singing. However, occasionally the Holy Spirit manages to get the words beyond my eyes. Such was the case this morning when during Communion we sang, “Jesus Comes today with Healing” LSB 620.
What initially caught my eye was the image of the pastor/priest entering the bread and wine, “Christ Himself, the priest presiding, Yet in bread and wine abiding.” Try to imagine that happening to your pastor/priest doing the liturgy.
In stanza 3 we declared as we sang, “Under bread and wine, though lowly, I receive the Savior holy.” Christ dwelling in ordinary wheat flour harvested by a combine and water from a well combined and grapes which grew and were picked by hand and allowed to ferment.
Stanza 4 tells that this morning, in our presence, “God descends with heav’nly power, Gives Himself to me this hour- in this ordinary sign.” Furthermore, as I kneeled at the communion rail, “I tasted His love divine.”
No wonder the hymn ended with reference to a ”Balm to heal the troubled soul…Makes my wounded spirit whole.”
One Fourth of July Sunday at Immanuel Lutheran Chapel in North St. Louis County I picked hymn 964 in LSB (841 in ELW), written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson. “Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with harmonies of liberty…Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray…Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand.” I thought the hymn spoke powerfully to our Independence Day service, “Let our rejoicing rise…high as the list’ning skies.”
At Immanuel Chapel the pastor sits behind the pulpit. When the organist introduced the hymn, I thought, “Oh no, I’ve picked a hymn no one knows.” But when the congregation of 45-50 started to sing, their voices washed over pulpit. “They know this hymn, but I don’t,” was my surprised reaction.
When 90 something Dessie greeted me after the service she said, “Thanks, pastor for picking the Black National Anthem.” I silently reacted, “Oh, I didn’t know.” For Dessie, and other older members, their freedom came with the Emancipation Proclamation and much later freedom from the Jim Crow laws. I never had to use a colored only bath room in Atlanta or sit in the colored section of the statehouse in Little Rock. When I was at the Sem in the 60’s I could go to the Fox theater and hear Stan Kann play the organ before a movie, the black people my age couldn’t.
I’m not excusing nor approving what has been happening at football games. But I know I was raised, and still deal with, a prejudice against the Ojibwa Indians in our township who lived on a reservation, though I am descended from illegal aliens who took their land and called it our own.
“May we forever stand true to God, true to our native land,” so James Weldon Johnson ends his hymn of freedom.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy. (Psalm 27:6)
Though Psalm 27 is a confident confession of the Lord’s deliverance in the time of trouble; when I read Verse 6 I thought first of Jesus on the cross. There, his head was lifted up above his enemies camped all around. God did not hide him in the day of his trouble. Instead of being his light and salvation there was darkness and deliverance into the hands of his enemies. His cries were not answered. Though Jesus sought the face of his heavenly Father, his father turned away in anger, for Jesus, who knew no sin had become sin for us. He was cast off and forsaken in order that God be the stronghold, light and salvation of our life. We now live under the shelter of God’s tent. Because of Jesus sacrifices we have reason so sing and make melody to the Lord. We can bring our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving with shouts of joy.
Prayer of the Day, Pentecost 16A
Yesterday I got grace at the library. No, it wasn’t the Seminary library which knows little of grace, but the county library. I wanted to renew Louise Penny’s “Bury Your Dead.” The attendant said someone else had it on hold. “It’s due today, and I haven’t finished it,” I pleaded. “You have a six – day grace period,” said the attendant. “Thank you,” I replied, “I can finish it by then.” I who had no standing one minute, left the library walking in grace.
This weekend we prayed for help in trusting God’s ever-present grace.
“Lord God, heavenly Father, since we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
When I taught confirmation, I had two goals. One was to survive. The second, was that if nothing else, the students would understand and believe that we live by God’s grace both in this time and the next. Because, as the prayer suggests, grace is the hardest gift to receive from God.
Picking Grapes in God’s Vineyard
The Gospel for this weekend, Matthew 20:1-16, is the parable of the vineyard owner who goes out and hires workers the whole day. He then pays those who worked one hour the same wages as those who worked all day.
I borrowed the comments below from the online blog “in the Meantime,” by David Lose:
We tend to identify – perhaps unconsciously – with the laborers working all day who feel rather taken advantage of, rather than with those who have received unexpected and unmerited generosity.
1) God gives enough. Each of the workers received a day’s wage. Some labored all day…just as they had signed up to do. Others labored for just an hour. But at the end of the day, they all received just what they needed: enough. (Think of the petition, “give us this day our daily bread.”) God gives enough, and enough is something over which to rejoice.
2) God does not give up but keeps looking to find and save all. The landowner in the parable keeps going out – all day long! – in order to find more and more people to labor in the vineyard. He will not stop. Just so, God will not give up on seeking out the lost, the vulnerable, all who are in need, all of us.
Everyday Adam and I play a game or two of scrabble. It takes at least an hour for every game. This afternoon after playing for over an hour we had backed ourselves into a corner and though we had plenty of tiles left, neither of us had any plays available. Some days are like that, we run out of plays before the end of the day. But, God willing, we get another shot at it tomorrow.
As Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Don’t sweat tomorrow, today.”
The Prayer of the Day for Pentecost 15A, begins, “O God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the devout prayers of Your Church.”
What a challenge for God’s Church to prayer devoutly, particularly this little 54-word conversation with God who is our life’s anchor and vitality. All our holiness originates with God.
We ask God to listen and act. Whoever wrote this prayer is expecting a lot us as we gather for worship amid the commotion that is part of the coming together of God’s people. Mom and Dad corralling children to pay attention, Grandparents making faces and waving to grandchildren, late arrivals seeking a vacant spot in the pew, the choir readying themselves for their anthem, the pastor trying to remember who it was who asked him to pray for whatshisname thirty seconds before walking up the aisle to begin worship, and the arthritic hoping we can sit down soon.
Devout means earnest, heartfelt, (The Germans call it Herzlichkeit). Thus, we depend on God to look within us and not on our outside, perhaps not even what is running through our minds at that moment. Look within us for that trusting faith that God might grant us what we ask in faith so that we also may obtain it.
Prayer: O God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the devout prayers of your church, especially in times of persecution, and grant that what we ask in faith we may obtain.” All this we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
As I was walking around the nearby St. Lucas church today, a familiar hymn tune kept playing in my head. I couldn’t quite get a hold of its identity. All that came to mind were two phrases. “Pavilioned in splendor; His canopy of grace.” I thought that was a great image. God sitting in a pavilion providing a canopy of grace under which I could take refuge against the storms of life and strengthen my faith.
After supper, I looked up the word, “canopy” in my hymnal concordance thinking that reading the entire stanza might deepen my understanding of what the hymn writer meant by “canopy of grace.”
The hymn turned out to be “O Worship the King.” Furthermore, well you know how your mind can mix things up, the phrase isn’t “His canopy of grace” but “whose canopy space.”
However, my mind wasn’t completely confused in dredging up particles of a hymn. Because the stanza does speak of grace, in fact its invites us to “Sing of His grace.”
O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
So, what about God in his splendid pavilion? That comes near the end of the first stanza.
“Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.”
I think the hymn writer, Robert Grant (1779-1838), is using such over the top language because he is trying to describe the indescribable. The key to where he is taking us “Frail children of dust” is found in his very first words. He is inviting us to “Worship the King, all glorious above.” That’s a good thing to do anytime of the day as we live under his grace space.