You may remember it was my goal to create some worship like material or devotional material for our congregation during the closure of our building, in the hopes of reminding us that the church is not closed; we are the church, not the building. Because we are doing year D, I chose to write about the Psalms and the senior pastor is going to continue with the gospels and epistles. So, in order to catch up, I have added a blog post every day since the session voted to close the building and not gather for Sunday worship in accordance with CDC and WHO recommendations. With this post, I am caught up to where we are in the lectionary for worship. Yay! This has been a fun challenge, but I am ready to slow down on these posts and do something different for a few days. So, if you are catching up because its Sunday, here are the other blog links. Ash Wednesday: Psalm 102; 1st Sunday in Lent: Psalm 6; 2nd Sunday in Lent: Psalm 143; 3rd Sunday in Lent: Psalm 38; 4th Sunday in Lent: Psalm 39
Word, Share, Prayer: Read the scripture, share what you heard (with someone or in a journal) and then pray. Simple. Meaningful. Get a wordier description from by Psalm 6 blog post.
Liturgy writing exercise: Similar to ‘word, share, prayer’ but what makes this a little different is that the intention is to have something ready for worship. I mentioned in the Psalm 102 blog that I did a liturgy writing exercise with the Third Church Session in February 2020. We didn’t have time to do a lot of editing but maybe you do. Edit until you like what you have. Don’t forget to read it aloud.
Lectio Divina (Divine Reading): This one is difficult for me. No writing. No analyzing. Just a calm state of mind, reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. You can listen to an example in my Psalm 143 blog.
Click on the link for the Psalm above (my links show up as red words) or find it in your favorite Bible or digital Bible or listen to Psalm 39:
Bonus: The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉
“Psalm 39 is a strange prayer. It has principal features of the prayer for help in first person singular style. …. But the suffering is portrayed less as a case of personal and social afflictions (contrast Psalm 38) and more as a matter of the general human predicament of transience and futility. The whole prayer is pervaded with a melancholy about the human condition. This is not the prayer of one who has lost the health and joy of life lived in the blessing of the LORD and asks to be returned to that good life. Rather, it sees human existence itself as a predicament of which the present suffering is an intensification.” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Psalms by James L. Mays p.165
“In the psalm, the perspective is developed as one appropriate for living this life; in the NT, it is broadened to incorporate the life beyond as well. But it is healthy to begin with the psalm; in this life, our permanence is not to be found in the world as such, but in God who granted us life in the world. To combine an awareness of the transitory nature of human life as a whole, with the wisdom that “sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,” is a starting point in achieving the sanity of a pilgrim in an otherwise mad world.” Word Biblical Commentary Psalms 1-50 by Peter C. Craigie p. 311
In year D, Psalm 39 is paired with Isaiah 54:1-17 or 37:14-38; John 8:12-30; James 4: 1-17 or Galatians 4:1-5:1 James 4:8b “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” I’m sure someone somewhere is making a list of all the times the Bible says to wash your hands.
Psalmists hold nothing back. They tell it like it is. They’re not sugar coating their lives for God or for those of us who will read their words later. Psalm 39 reminds me that being human is enough and we are allowed to tell God about our human experience. We don’t have to be suffering more than others to lament our condition and we don’t have to be suffering less than others to give God praise. Just be you. And tell God about you. That’s enough.
The creators of “A Game For Good Christians” have a blog and have published a book called “The Revised Uncommon Lectionary“. The book has a chapter dedicated to each Sunday and Holy Day in the church calendar in which Ben Christian explains one of the cards in the game. Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent is “Good Christians regularly raise unspoken prayer requests for ____”. (I should mention that this card game is more similar to Cards Against Humanity than it is to Apples to Apples. You have to have a dark sense of humor and a love for obscure Bible passages, so don’t click the links if that doesn’t sound like fun to you.) The game, blog, and book poke fun at our faith and yet offer deep insights into it. Today, they are making fun of us for not sharing our prayer requests.
“Silence reigns as everyone awkwardly stares at the floor, the ceiling, and into the ethereal middle distance between eyes. The clever ones bow head an pretend to pray. But all are individually thinking you that thing draining their minds of life. That thing they will not share with the rest of the group. The unspoken prayer request is a staple of protestant youth groups, CCD classes, college Bible studies, and church small groups. They are what remain after the public prayers are heard. They are the same of our crisis. The sin we pretend is private. The blessing we fear will sound like a brag. The worry we hide. The sum total of all we don’t want others to know about us because we’re afraid of what they will think…” p.77
Ben does say that there are some things that should be private, but we all need a 3am friend (the one you can call no matter what), we know that two heads are better than one (problem solving work, love, and sadness), and we know that healing comes from talking to others and prayer together. “But to love each other we must allow others to love us. We must love ourselves by allowing other people into our lives. We must accept grace as much, if not more than, we extend it to others. Perhaps we need to re-examine the value of friendship and community. We can’t go it alone. At least not well and not for long.” p. 78
So friends, don’t go it alone. Especially, not now. I know it is extra effort to remain connected to people we are social distancing from for the health of everyone, but it will be worth the extra effort.
Let us pray:
I’m not writing a new prayer here. Instead use this space to say something real to God about you. And ask for the courage to be real with someone else. And maybe later, do that brave thing: love yourself and let others love you.
If this was fun (or if you are staying in with nothing else to do), you can do the same type of reflection for the other psalms.
I would be happy to receive recordings of Psalm readings or prayers that you would like to offer for use in the blog and “worship like experiences” our congregation.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in Love. Breath out Hope. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Wash your hands. 😉