Why Thee?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Numbers 3:1-13, Galatians 6:11-18, Matthew 17:1-13
Evening Psalms 125; 90

Psalm 90 – the only psalm attributed to Moses – is written from the perspective of someone trying to make sense of it all at the end of a long life. The psalmist doesn’t sugar coat life’s difficulties. He prays the good days might at least outnumber the bad, and acknowledges that the lucky get 80 years of toil and trouble. Yet he prays for God’s work and its meaning to be manifest in the community.

The wise do not wait until the end of their lives to contemplate the meaning of work and suffering, nor do they wait until suffering is upon them. It’s tempting to keep the suffering of others at a certain emotional distance because identifying with it too closely forces us to admit it could happen to us. Distance feels safe, but leaves us ill prepared when God does not exempt us from disease, infidelity, loss, or other tragedy. Suddenly what we saw as part of God’s plan for another person becomes a crisis of faith in our own lives.

If we spend time now asking “Why them?” and “How would you have me respond?” we are less likely to be spiritually devastated when it’s inevitably time to ask “Why me?”

The psalmist doesn’t offer concrete answers to his questions, but the context gives us some clues about where those answers may lie. The questions are universal, and he asks them not about anyone in particular, but about the community. The work is not the work of any one person, but of the community. The meaning of the work transcends any single life or generation. Despite all Moses did to lead the Israelites, he never set foot in the promised land. Any satisfaction Moses gained from his efforts came from the knowledge he had played his role in the greater plan.

When it’s our turn to suffer – and we’ll all have our turn – the question “Why me?” overwhelms us if we can’t see ourselves as but one part of the whole of creation. If we’ve lived a self-centered life divorced from the story of the community, meaning will be difficult to find. Like words chosen by a skillful poet, each of us is complete, important, and beloved by God, but part of a greater work.

Comfort: You are an important piece of your community, supported by and supporting all the other pieces.

Challenge: See above.

Prayer: Loving God, grant me the patience and wisdom to encounter suffering with a heart of mercy and solidarity. Amen.

Discussion: What types of suffering do you identify with? What types do you find difficult to deal with?

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Deadline or Lifeline?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 90; 149, Isaiah 10:20-27, Jude 17-25, Luke 3:1-9

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalm 90:12

Many people claim “I do my best work under pressure.” More often than not this actually means “I do my work only under pressure.” Sometimes a deadline can help us sort out competing priorities. If a project overwhelms us and we are spinning our wheels, a looming deadline can force us to find the necessary traction to make decisions and lurch forward. Other times we meet a deadline – such as a bill payment, a task at work, or Christmas shopping – because we don’t want to reap unpleasant consequences. Whatever the reasons, deadlines motivate us to action.

The author of Psalm 90 acknowledges our need to be motivated by a sense of limited time. For this psalmist, wisdom is more than the experience of accumulated years: it is also the acute awareness that these years are finitely numbered. Many people avoid “putting their affairs in order” until they experience a health scare or receive a terminal diagnosis. Others wake up one day to realize their children are adults and wonder how they could have missed sharing so much childhood. And what percentage of the world’s diets are scheduled to start “tomorrow?” When we convince ourselves we have forever – possibly because we are uncomfortable with confronting mortality – what we end up with is never.

During Advent we are called to gain wisdom in our hearts by focusing on some spiritual deadlines: the arrival of Christ (in the past, present and future); the passing of the world as we know it to make room for the realm of God; our own eventual passing. At first they might seem like disturbing things to contemplate, but they also liberate us to decide what we will, what we won’t, and what we need to accomplish with our lives. They can stir us from complacency to determination, from inertia to action, and from despair to hope for the future. Leo Kennedy said: “The surest way to be late is to have plenty of time.”

Sometimes a deadline is a lifeline.

Comfort: Time limits are not oppressive, but liberating..

Challenge: Before Advent ends – or at the latest before this year ends – select three tasks you have been putting off. Explore why you haven’t completed them, then do them.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me gain a heart of wisdom. Amen.

Discussion: When do you procrastinate, and why?

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