Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have the joy and responsibility of participating in DiscipleChurch this Sunday, so I will once again share part of my faith journey with you. Another chance to participate and the journey itself means a lot to me because it makes me test my own beliefs, see more clearly how Jesus calls me to change, and lets me practice speaking about my faith.
If you already have a preview, you may want to look at the additional questions near the end of this message.
This Sunday I will talk about Psalm 118, Mark’s very short telling about the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. When I have the time and when I want to walk quietly Jenny and I often go out into the wilderness.
The wilderness for people in the Bible was a distressing and scary place, full of wild beasts and without any order. Jenny’s trail in that photo turned out to be pretty scary — large clumps of snow kept falling with loud thunks from the treetops and when we stopped for a minute, a tree literally fell in the forest, about 50 yards ahead and with a loud, loud crash. That was the end of that hike!
Psalm 118 has a couple of very familiar verses:
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it
This Psalm is also, in the words of Brooks several years ago, filled with blood and cuts; it demonstrates what Richard Rohr was talking about in his meditation yesterday and today, that the Bible has great leaps and then takes two steps back.
The psalmist says:
Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
I will spend more time on our distress, the LORD’S answer, and what it means to be in a broad place. In some versions of the Bible it reads “confinement” instead of distress; sometimes when we are in distress or in the wilderness, we feel confined and like we are in a narrow place with no way out, maybe hopeless.
But then the LORD answers us and set us in a broad place.
Naturally this looks great in a photo and out in a wilderness where I personally feel comfortable. But what does it say to us about our daily struggles?
When are you in distress? How do you call on the LORD when you are in distress?
How does the LORD answer us when we call on him? What does it mean to be set in a broad place?
Is that an answer to a prayer or is something else?
Why does the Psalmist think the LORD is on his side? When he says that God is on his side so he will “look in triumph on those who hate me”, is that really the way Jesus wants us to live?
And why does the Psalmist suffer distress or confinement when he thanks God for his steadfast love at the beginning and end of the Psalm, distress that is literally in the midst of God’s love?
If you wake up early on Sunday come join me as we journey down this path. Even if you are far away or still asleep, I thank you all for your prayers, encouragement, and support.