The Promise of Justice

Scripture Focus: Psalm 49.5-8; 15
5 Why should I fear when evil days come, 
when wicked deceivers surround me— 
6 those who trust in their wealth 
and boast of their great riches? 
7 No one can redeem the life of another 
or give to God a ransom for them— 
8 the ransom for a life is costly, 
no payment is ever enough— 

15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; 
he will surely take me to himself. 

Reflection: The Promise of Justice
By John Tillman

The Bible is the most grounded and realistic of holy texts. Scripture doesn’t blink when things go bad. It weeps. Biblical authors don’t shy from distressing realities. Cries for justice ring out in every book.

Modern people deceive ourselves that evil is only a disagreement about mutual benefits. The Bible knows that evil is real and people both cause and suffer from it.

Complaints and cries for justice come from an awareness of its lack. Deep down humans know a moral standard exists. Those who deny moral absolutes cannot show that they lack anything. Without a moral ideal, no complaint regarding justice can be made. Without some measure of wrongness there is no reason to expect goodness. How can a world with no absolutes be upset about evil? So you suffered or were harmed… Well, what did you expect? Who promised you something else?

Only amidst the Bible’s moral absolutes, do we find a promise of justice.

We know, soul deep and sinew deep, that sin exists. This is what it means to have partaken of the fruit. We KNOW evil. It looks good and tastes sweet but soon, it cramps us up, doubling us over. The knowledge of good and evil sickens our stomachs and rumbles through our guts. We soil ourselves with it and the runoff soils the earth, awakening Death.

The psalmist pulls no punches about death, the greatest evil of all. Death is the last enemy to be defeated. (Even though he has already lost.) Death treats rich and poor with perfect and efficient equity, yet every death is unjust to the Lord of life.

We work whatever justice we can on earth, but when death comes, human justice is insufficient. We cannot restore or repay, even with our lives, the loss of a victim of murder, cancer, starvation, Covid, or any other cause. But just as evil exists, righteousness does too. Whatever meager form of justice humans offer, Christ’s justice is incomparably greater.

Death’s victims need not stay in his grasp. Death’s grasping arms were broken in a wrestling match lost at the cross. Christ kicked in Death’s doors, opening the pathway to life for all who believe.

Like Old Testament sacrifices, human justice is not meaningless and we must enact it, but it is a mere shadow of the justice wrought by Christ. We do justice, as we do all else, in remembrance of His promise.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. — Psalm 84.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 12-13 (Listen – 5:53) 
Psalm 49 (Listen – 2:10)

Read more about Justice Starts Within
Justice starts within. It doesn’t stop there. May we answer the call…shining a light of justice and truth.

Read more about Christ the Enemy of Death
Death is God’s enemy because it harms and hurts his children..He has defeated them both on the cross…Christ is the deadly enemy of death.

Grumbling and Doubt

Scripture Focus: Numbers 11.23
21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” 

23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” 

Reflection: Grumbling and Doubt
By John Tillman

Even the most blessed people can find something to complain about. Some people receiving a miraculous gift will complain about the wrapping paper.

The Israelites in the desert are certainly these kinds of people. For generations, they had cried out to God to deliver them from slavery. Then, with bellies full of miraculous manna they longed for the rations they ate as slaves instead. They call into question the leadership of Moses and look back longingly at the lash of Pharaoh’s whips.

Miracles don’t guarantee faith. We can see God strike down our enemies, see him part the waters, and feed us with miracle bread, yet still grumble in our doubt and discontent.

Are we bored with our blessings? Are we complaining about the goodness we have experienced? How many miracles has God given us that we simply shrug our shoulders at and think, “I wish I could go back to yesterday.”

When people grumble about leaders (or about God), leaders often grumble to God about the people. Moses is at the end of his patience. Moses calls these followers a punishment from God. “What did I do to deserve these people?” Even great leaders grumble. Leaders are prone to doubt, discontentment, and grumbling just as much as followers. 

Right after saying, “Is my arm too short to save you?”, we might expect God to flex his muscles by working a miracle or calling down a curse. However, God chooses a different kind of “flex” to show his strength. He sends Moses, the complaining leader, human help.

God takes part of his spirit and power and distributes it to the elders of the people. By spreading his spirit to the elders, God puts himself closer to the people’s whining, not farther away. God lightens the load of the grumbling leader. He doesn’t pile on guilt.

All of us lead and all of us follow. In either position, we may be prone to grumbling and doubt. 
May we grumble in honest-hearted prayer like Moses. Not in stiff-necked denial like the people. 

No matter how deep the hole we are grumbling at the bottom of, God’s arm is not too short to reach us and lift us out. When he does, may our hearts be ready to praise him and bless others.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. — Psalm 66.14

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 11 (Listen – 5:22) 
Psalms 48 (Listen – 1:28)

Read more about Complaint to Commission
Complaining can turn into unspiritual grumbling but it can also initiate lament in our lives and communities.

Read more about Faith After the Storm
How many times do we go to Jesus in prayer, without faith but with bucket-fulls of complaints?

Ever Present Help and Gladdening Streams

Scripture Focus: Psalm 46.1-7
1 God is our refuge and strength, 
an ever-present help in trouble. 
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way 
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 
3 though its waters roar and foam 
and the mountains quake with their surging. 
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
the holy place where the Most High dwells. 
5 God is within her, she will not fall; 
God will help her at break of day. 
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; 
he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 
7 The Lord Almighty is with us; 
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Reflection: Ever Present Help and Gladdening Streams
By John Tillman

The “ever-present” help that most people are used to, are the digital assistants embedded in devices attached to our hands and wrists. The streams in which we search for gladness are bottomless diversions of entertainment options.

These platforms, designed for profit, hinge on addiction and ubiquity. The most powerful corporations ever to exist on the planet are working to make their products increasingly addictive and ingrained in our day to day life. 

Technology is a jealous god.

In an article for the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino wrote about the difficulties of putting down one’s phone, when it is filled with technologies that, from the start, were designed to keep us from doing so:

Facebook was described by Sean Parker as a “social-validation feedback loop…exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Tristan Harris, a “design ethicist” at Google, has said that smartphones are engineered to be addictive.

Technology promises freedom of movement and ease of remote work, but more often than not, workers clock in, but they can’t clock out. The workday becomes borderless, invasive, and all-encompassing. 

Technology promises emotional fulfillment and freedom of expression, but often we find ourselves chained to the emotional highs and lows of reactions, comments, and likes on social media. Technology can numb the connections and community that we truly need.

Platforms designed to help us connect have had disastrous, unexpected consequences. Loneliness looms in our lives despite more “connectedness” than ever.

We aren’t the first to worry about this. In an interview with Kris Boyd on Think, author, Jenny Odell, discussed how 400 years before the time of Christ, Epicurus started a garden school outside the city because he thought life in the Greek empire was becoming too hectic and people were disconnected from what was important.

The solution of cultivation, retreat, and pursuit of community is one we can apply toward our spiritual pursuits. Walking in a park is the key metaphor we use to refer to exploring God’s word, and cultivation is how we picture the growth of the seed of the gospel in our lives.

Technology is capable of aiding us in these things. May we use technology to tie God’s Word on our hands and integrate it into our lives. The Park Forum is dedicated to encouraging this kind of usage. For in connection to the gospel, we find freedom, fulfillment, and community that technology can’t deliver.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
God looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. — Psalm 53.2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 10 (Listen – 4:11) 
Psalms 46-47 (Listen – 2:15)

Read more about Where Our Hearts Are
If our hearts are where our treasure is, our hearts may well be in our devices.

Read more about Mustard Seed Prayers
A prayer of a few words, thrown into an inconvenient crack in your life, can grow like a mustard seed…

Water of Cleansing

Scripture Focus: Numbers 19.1-8
1 Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening. 

Reflection: Water of Cleansing
By John Tillman

The water of cleansing required extraordinarily detailed criteria for the sacrifice which specified both gender and color. The ashes from this sacrifice were used to make “water of cleansing”. Whenever someone became unclean for any reason, a ritual using the water of cleansing could restore them to a state of ritual cleanliness.

One of the unique aspects of the making of the water of cleansing was that in the process of making it, the priest himself became unclean. Only by allowing himself to become unclean, could the priest carry out the rituals needed to cleanse others.

We sometimes equate being unclean with committing sin. There were sins that made one unclean, but there were also many normal parts of life which could make one unclean. 

Uncleanness was not necessarily a penalty for sinning, but a reminder that sin existed amidst the harsh realities of the world. People became unclean by simply living life in a world in which death happened, for example. Mourning a relative who died would involve becoming unclean by touching and tending to the dead body. Joseph and Nicodemus and the women who attended to the body of Jesus all became ritually unclean. 

Laws around ritual purity also reminded the Israelites that they were a unique and special people called to live in a unique degree of holiness.

Similarly, we are called to a unique degree of holiness, yet, there are harsh realities of life that make us unclean. We live in a world in which death happens and injustice, greed, and lust lay waste. We cannot go about our lives without being touched and made unclean by their destruction.

We, however, do not make our own water of cleansing. Our high priest, Jesus, supplies it for us through his sacrifice. He fulfilled all the requirements. He met all the criteria. He allowed himself to become defiled so that we could be made clean. Through confession and prayer, we can be cleansed daily from the uncleanness of our world.

Through our witness, our actions to aid our community, and through speaking the truth in love, we can offer those living in our unclean world the cleansing water of the gospel. From our eternal High Priest, Jesus, we have an eternal supply of the water of cleansing. Let us put it to use for our own cleansing and that of those around us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. — Psalm 71.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 19 (Listen – 3:39)
Psalm 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)

Read more about Artful Prayers
One of the reasons that the psalms are so engaging to any reader of God’s Word is that they are works of art.

Read more about A High Priest Like No Other
Our great high priest Jesus has provided each of us with access to God’s throne of grace in any time of need.

Prayer Is Our Tent of Meeting

Scripture Focus: Psalm 42.2
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
When can I go and meet with God? 

Numbers 7.89
89 When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.

From John: Our church has a common saying, a mantra, “Prayer precedes power.” This power implies that there is action to be carried out. As discussed in this post from 2019, in prayer, we are preparing to act.

Reflection: Prayer Is Our Tent of Meeting
By John Tillman

In today’s reading from Numbers, we get a description of Moses talking with God in the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of meeting described here is not the first tent of meeting, but the one that replaced it, in the newly finished tabernacle. There in the Holy of Holies, Moses hears the voice of God from between the cherubim above the place of atonement.

Scripture tells us that the conversations of Moses with God were intimate. God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. But this communication was not only personal—it was communal.

Moses entering the Tent of Meeting was a communitywide event. When Moses entered, the entire community would come and stand at the entrances to their own tents as Moses spoke with God on their behalf.

The design of the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting was a tool for community prayer and connection. Prayer—even individual prayer—is an act of community, because God is a God of community.

At the center of this community are the symbols of the atonement that God has set in motion. It is through the atonement that Moses heard God’s voice. The voice from between the cherubim came from the spot where the blood of the atonement sacrifices were placed by the high priest.

For us, prayer is our tent of meeting, where the deepest thirsts of our souls may be satisfied. When we pray as Jesus taught, we enter into God’s presence through the torn curtain of the Tent of Meeting, and hear his voice because of his atoning sacrifice.

Next week, on Thursday, The United States will observe a National Day of Prayer. As you pray this weekend and next week, be reminded that you are entering the tent of meeting in priestly capacity and carry the ability to bring before God the sins and concerns of your nation.

May we all be empowered to pray beyond a personal conversation and approach God on behalf of our communities and our world.

Like Moses, we approach prayer as an individual, speaking to God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But we bring with us all the concerns and cares of our communities and our world. As we pray, the world stands at our backs waiting for us to exit the tent of prayer, and act.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statues. — Psalm 119.145

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 7 (Listen – 12:50)
Psalms 42-43 (Listen – 2:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 8 (Listen – 3:27), Psalms 44 (Listen – 2:44)
Numbers 9 (Listen – 3:20), Psalms 45 (Listen – 2:17)

Read more about Maintaining Sacred Space
Prayer, Bible reading, meditation, intercession, are our tabernacle walls, frames, and sacred tools.

Read more about Unveiled
Seek regular and deep intimacy with God through prayer and the scriptures…then, let us walk through our world alight with his love.

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