Being Candid with God

Scripture Focus: Exodus 33:11-14
11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Reflection: Being Candid with God
By Erin Newton

Panim—that is the Hebrew word for face. It stands for our simple anatomical features. By our faces, we can be pinpointed out of a crowd. Faces are personal. Our faces reveal our innermost feelings. Faces can tell a story.

The word can also mean “presence.” When God said his Presence would go with Moses, he reassured Moses that he would be near. God’s attentive face was a sign of blessing.

So, what does it mean to talk to God panim to panim—face to face? At the end of this chapter, we know that it cannot mean literal conversations with God and Moses looking at one another. Such a sight would be a death sentence.

Face to face is intimacy. In English, we might call this a heart to heart, speaking in confidence, or straightforward dialogue. It is blunt and minces no words because it is a conversation between friends. Moses and God talked openly.

We often look at Moses as a rare hero in the Bible. He was special, unique, and gifted. He was the only person in the Exodus story that enjoyed the intimate relationship of being in God’s presence.

What do you say when you can speak freely before God?

You complain. Moses often referred to God’s people as “these people.” He got frustrated with their complaining, their lack of faith, and their disrespect.

You question the plan. Moses had no idea how God would help him accomplish this task. He said exactly what he was worried about.

You recall the truth about God’s love. Moses repeated the truth that God chose these people. He reminded God, and in doing so, preached to his own heart.

You ask God to fill in the gaps where you lack wisdom. Moses was well-educated and had the most intimate relationship with God. This relationship, however, did not mean he knew everything. He needed God’s guidance.

And through all of this, God was still pleased with Him. Moses’ frustration, anger, bitterness, doubt, questions—all of this was acceptable. God spoke to him as a friend.

Being honest and open with God should not be something we fear. Like Moses, we have constant access to the presence of God. We can speak plainly to him, face to face.

In days of doubt, deconstruction, or despair, speak to God as Moses did. Do not hesitate to pour out the darkest parts of your soul. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding, according to your word.
Let my supplication come before you; deliver me, according to your promise. — Psalm 119.169-170

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 33(Listen 3:49)
Luke 15(Listen 4:19)

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On Mount Sinai, God revealed more to Moses than he had revealed to any human since Adam and Eve.

Healing the Swollen

Scripture Focus: Luke 14.1-6, 12-14
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say. 

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Reflection: Healing the Swollen
By John Tillman

Entering a banquet held by a “prominent Pharisee,” Jesus sees a man with edema or abnormal swelling. The Pharisee was following the letter of the advice Jesus would give later in this chapter; he invited the sick and lame to eat at his banquet. (Luke 14.13-14) This Pharisee had no power to heal. What more could he do? Was he doing something wrong? Was the swollen man there out of altruistic hospitality? Perhaps not. Luke tells us Jesus was “being carefully watched.”

Many times the Pharisees set up situations to ask controversial questions. This time, seeing the man placed strategically in front of him, Jesus asked before they had a chance: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” They would not answer. Even after he healed the man and defended his action, they remained silent. The Pharisees saw Jesus without seeing him and heard him without hearing him. They listened not to understand, but to oppose.

The Pharisees opposed Jesus’ interpretation of scripture even though they could not refute it. They opposed his methods even though they could not deny his miraculous power and prophetic status. Naturally, they are the antagonists of the gospel accounts.

I recently heard an audio recording of a dramatic performance of the life of Christ. Many portions were excellent. The portrayal of the Pharisees, however, was outlandishly evil. They sounded like cartoon villains I would watch on Saturday mornings between bowls of cereal.

I recently played an outlandish villain, Zoser, in the musical Aida. It’s a great deal of fun as a performer to lean hard into portraying villains. But actors (and audiences) must always remember that most villains see themselves as heroic.

When reading the New Testament, especially as modern western Christians, we need to keep in mind that the Pharisees are our closest theological and political analogs in scripture. They are confident in their scholarship. They are engaged in “culture war” issues against the Romans, Greeks, Samaritans, and less devout Jews. The Pharisees are the heroes of their own version of the gospels. They want to save their country. When we see them as villains, we might catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror.

Jesus cared for Pharisees swollen with pride. He can heal us too. As we read about the Pharisees, we should remember this, and ask the Holy Spirit to confront us and heal us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. — Psalm 70.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 32(Listen 5:47)
Luke 14(Listen 4:36)

Read more about False Dilemmas
I used to read Jesus’ answers as “burns” and “mic drop” moments…But instead of intending harm, Jesus intended healing.

Read more about Stretch Out Your Hand
The man with the shriveled hand seems to be there only so the leaders can see if Jesus will break one of their interpretations of Sabbath law. It’s a trap.

Enter While You Can

Scripture Focus: Luke 13.23-24; 31-34
23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” 
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ 
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Reflection: Enter While You Can
By John Tillman

The Pharisees’ warning about Herod was a lie. They wanted to kill Jesus. Herod didn’t.

Herod was trying to see Jesus, not kill him. (Luke 9.9) Yet, so far as we know, Herod never saw Jesus until Pilate sent him to Herod. (Luke 23.7-11) Jesus, however, knew he was on the way to see Herod.

Jesus told the Pharisees to report to Herod that miraculous things were happening and that he was coming to Jerusalem, just like other prophets. The door was open for them to see and believe. Just prior to this, Jesus warned the Pharisees and the following crowds that the opportunity to enter the kingdom was narrowing. The door, now open, would close. (Luke 13.24-25) Warning everyone, Jesus said, “make every effort” to enter while they had the opportunity.

But Jesus also knew that powerful kings and self-righteous religious leaders often killed prophets who told the truth. You can’t tell some people the truth without them wanting to destroy you. When sin is pointed out two things often prevent repentance: power and self-righteousness.

Many reject repentance which requires losing face, power, or position. This is why leaders (and pastors) caught in scandals often refuse to step down or stay out of power. But we don’t have to be in a position of great power to refuse to repent when it costs us.

We are familiar with religious self-righteousness in scripture and in our lives. We recognize those who reject or minimize their need for repentance based on scriptural knowledge or by comparing themselves to “real sinners.”

But self-righteousness isn’t exclusive to the religious. Our culture strongly believes that humans are innately good, innately “righteous.” It is self-righteousness that explains evil as an aberration or excuses it as being caused, not by choices, but by situations or systems.

We recognize these failures in others but do we recognize them in ourselves?
How often do we stand, like the Pharisees pointing at Herod, with sin in our hearts?
How often do we wait, like Herod demanding to be wooed by God with magic tricks and blessings?

Let us expect, like Jesus did, that our prophetic duty will cost us. The first thing it will cost us is repentance. Our own repentance is the first step toward calling others to repentance. The open door will close. Make every effort to enter and bring others with you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 31(Listen 2:32)
Luke 12(Listen 5:02)

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Jesus taught his disciples that they were wrong about tragedy and wrong about sin. His words don’t at first seem comforting.

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A Prayer of Harvesters — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Luke 10.2-3
2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

Reflection: A Prayer of Harvesters — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We are to pray for harvesters to be sent. Yet, we are also sent as harvesters.

This weekend, pray this prayer as one sent into the field. Pray over yourself the instructions Jesus gives to his followers. And remember that when Jesus sent the disciples into “the fields” he was sending them into the cities. As he sent them, so he sends us. 

A Prayer of Harvesters
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…”
There is much work to be done, Lord.
We see it in the eyes of the suffering
In the stumbling of the wandering
In the outbursts of the desperate
Send us to the field—into our cities.

“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves…”
Send us not as sharp-toothed predators, Lord…
Not preying on others but praying for them
Send us not as sword-wielding soldiers, Lord…
Not with battle-hardened nerves but prayer-softened hearts

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house…’”
Make us peace-bringers, hosts of heaven’s peace, and messengers of its goodwill.
May your Spirit arrest enmity in our presence and may amity grow from our steps.

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you…’”
Make us healers who first do no harm to the hurting.
Just as you came near to us, let us come near to the hurting and make them whole with the resources and blessing of your kingdom.
Let us heal them…
Of sickness
Of pride
Of rage
Of hate
Of loneliness
Of fragility
Of every malady, division, and fracture.

“But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’”
Not all will hear us, Lord but perhaps they will hear another.
We do not know their future. So let us warn only, and never condemn.
If they send us and our message away, Lord, let us leave no doubt that your kingdom has come to them, and let us leave no doubt that the way is open for them to follow us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Today if you shall hear his voice, harden not your heart.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 28(Listen 5:54)
Luke 10(Listen 5:40)

This Weekend’s Reading
Exodus 29(Listen 6:23)Luke 11(Listen 7:33)
Exodus 30(Listen 5:06)Luke 12(Listen 7:42)

Read more about One Thing Needed
We can’t say, “Well, I’m a Mary,” and ignore details. We can’t say, “Well, I’m a Martha,” and ignore relationships.

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Rebuke for Hotheads

Scripture Focus: Luke 9.51-56
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village. 

Reflection: Rebuke for Hotheads
By John Tillman

Earthly justice is one thing but fire from Heaven? The Zebedee brothers weren’t joking around. James and John had cause for anger from their point of view.

Jesus had visited the Samaritans. He spoke to them, stayed with them, taught them, and included them. He would even use a Samaritan as the hero of one of his most famous stories. (Luke 10.33-35) Yet, after all Jesus did for them, this Samaritan town rejected and disrespected him.

It’s easy to point fingers at the Zebedee brothers. “Those hotheads! What are they thinking!?”

Then we get on social media and see the latest insults hurled at people we respect…the latest revelations of abuse against people we love…the latest attacks on truths we hold dear…the latest offensive comments…the latest shocking articles… 

If we are honest, in moments of pain, conflict, hurt, and anger, don’t we sometimes want to see things, institutions, or even people “burned down?” Maybe it’s not that we wouldn’t call down fire but that we don’t have the faith to believe that we could. If we did, some of us might try it.

Many in scripture, such as Eve, Abram, David, Herod, and the Zebedee brothers, sought to gain God’s blessings or use God’s power outside of his ways. We often do the same. When we center on hurt, emotion, anger, or pain, we can’t help but want to strike out with any power we have. But God’s power is for his purposes and God’s purpose is to redeem people rather than roast them.

Jesus was not concerned with the Samaritans’ slights. While the disciples worried about Jesus losing face, Jesus “set his face like a flint” to go to Jerusalem. (Isaiah 50.6-7; Luke 9.51) What did he care that one town rejected him? He was about to be rejected and insulted on a much grander scale than the disciples could imagine. He was headed resolutely toward the cross and he expected them to follow.

Like James and John, we can lose sight of the greater mission and be caught up in conflict. At least the two hotheads got one thing right that we can emulate: they took their anger to Jesus first and followed his lead. 

Make no mistake, justice will fall on every wrongdoer for every wrong, no matter how small. Yet, we must follow Jesus and resolutely set our faces toward the cross while simultaneously working for earthly justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Who is like you, Lord God of hosts? O mighty Lord, your faithfulness is all around you.
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and truth go before your face. — Psalm 89.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 27 (Listen 2:52)
Luke 9 (Listen 8:05)

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Read more about Trust in God Rather than Revenge
We seek truth but not vengeance. There is a time and place for our hand to cease and the will of God to be done.