Monday, September 26, 2016

Word for the day by Christian Education Forum

Priesthood of all Believers 


Philip Varghese
St. John’s MTC, New York

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
 
Psalm 80 contains the history and hopes of Israel in nineteen verses. It makes reference to the Israelites release from bondage in Egypt, their golden years as a unified nation, and their demise.  This psalm is one of a series of psalms, starting with Psalm 73, of a similar tone of lament and self-examination. Through these passages, the psalmists, though accepting of Israel’s inherent responsibility for its own state of decay, cry out to God at various times, asking how long his anger against Israel will last.

Psalm 80 ends with a somewhat curious promise in the penultimate verse – that “[Israel] will not turn away from you..[and will]…call on your name.”  However, Israel’s history shows a cycle: sinning by Israel, punishment by God directly or indirectly through other nations, repentance by Israel, and subsequent rescue by God. Indeed the human condition is one that exhibits this very cycle on a microcosmic scale whereas Israel’s cycle is represented in the Bible on a macrocosmic one. We sin, we suffer for it, we repent and then ask God to rescue us from whatever pit that we ourselves are responsible for digging.

As told through this psalm, the story of Israel also paints a sobering picture for the Malayalee Christian community here in the United States. Many of us have been told stories of strong traditions of prayer and disciplined living of our great grandparents and grandparents, but now, church pews are emptier while social media chat platforms are fuller. Weddings are more extravagant while marriages are poorer. Suits are more expensive while the integrity of those wearing them is woefully lacking. Bibles are plentiful but readers are few. Perhaps we too – deacons, lay leaders, committee members, Sunday School teachers, parishioners  and every shade in between, will one day be penning our own Psalm 80 and wondering how it all went wrong.

It is here that we are forced to acknowledge the truth behind the words of Mark Twain: “Heaven goes by grace, not by merit. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” The psalmist acknowledges God’s righteous anger but also petitions the Almighty for mercy despite the fact that, to use a colloquial expression, “you deserve what you got.” We are putting all we have on the absolute surety that God will be gracious and not deal with us as we deserve.

PRAYER

Father in Heaven, deal not with us as we deserve but with mercy. Give us the strength to reflect, repent, and seek Your grace. Amen.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:
Here, save for the grace of God, regardless of all my achievements, go I.
(Author unknown but a version has been ascribed to the preacher John Bradford who died in 1555:)