Here Comes the Sun

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 11.7-8
7 Light is sweet,
    and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
8 However many years anyone may live,
    let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
    for there will be many.
    Everything to come is meaningless.

Reflection: Here Comes the Sun
By Erin Newton

Where I live, spring is emerging from the short, cold days and the long, colder nights. Despite my love of autumn, it is the warmth of spring that seems to break through a life stifled from winter. Like the Teacher says, “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.” 

The light of the sun is often used to express a sense of blessing or pleasure. Good days are typically described as bright days, warm days. The priestly blessing calls for God to shine his face upon the people (Numbers 6.25). The psalms equate righteousness and justice with light; “He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37.6). 

The Teacher uses this observation of light to encourage others to enjoy life when possible. Standing in contrast to the joy of light is the memory of darkness. We have walked through the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. We acknowledge the reality of suffering, oppression, pain, and trauma. Wisdom teaches us to balance the enjoyment of good days with the suffering in trials. 

During the Medieval period, some embraced a lifestyle of asceticism within the restrained lifestyles of monasteries and convents. Even today, some view the Christian life as a somber pursuit constantly at war with everything. We become hyper-focused on the denial of our flesh and forget that the world was created for enjoyment. 

With the rise of mental health issues, it is imperative that we learn the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher rightly points away from ultimate fulfillment in any pursuit apart from a relationship with God. And amid saying everything is meaningless, there is this silver lining: We must hold together the pain of the dark days with the joy of the lighter moments. 

We enjoy the spring warmth more because of the coldness of winter. We celebrate each victory of justice compared to the moral failures of a society sick with injustice. We do not whitewash the pain of history by forgetting the dark days. We remember them. The remembrance of those days is what brings the joy of light. 

If the Lord allows us to enjoy a moment, accept the gift. We do not need to feel guilty, so long as we are honest about the sufferings in the past and recognize the potential for suffering in the future. Wisdom balances pain and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 11 (Listen – 1:40)
Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)

Read more about What Time is It?
The teacher’s poem about time and seasons, however, might be the most well-known biblical poem in our culture.

Read more about Existential Dread
It can be tempting to hide our emotions even in our prayers. However, pain needs to be voiced.

Existential Dread

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 4.2-3
2 And I declared that the dead,
    who had already died,
are happier than the living,
    who are still alive.
3 But better than both
    is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
    that is done under the sun.

Reflection: Existential Dread
By Erin Newton

Something I have learned in counseling was the advice to let people express themselves without correction. Suffering leads us to heavy emotions with thoughts that are far from optimistic. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes sees suffering and declares that it is better for those who are not alive. This response feels out of place in a faith which declares the preciousness of life.
Ecclesiastes reveals the temporal nature of pleasure, possessions, wisdom, and life itself. Everything is futile. The mature Teacher is attempting to help others navigate the transitory nature of human existence. In the face of oppression without comfort, the truth is that only the dead avoid such pain.

Is it wrong to look at life this way? Is the Teacher promoting hopeless, meaningless existence? In the following chapters, the Teacher will point back toward enjoying life centered on God.

Our faith in God does not remove these moments of existential dread. Sometimes we feel the need to put on an air of optimism in bad circumstances. It can be tempting to hide our emotions even in our prayers. However, pain needs to be voiced. Understanding that pain exists in the world of the living is not an unfaithful observation.

The Bible gives us examples of people who have faced this type of despair. Elijah felt the pain of suffering without comfort. He sat under a tree and hoped he could die (1 Kings 19). But God was not finished with the prophet. Similar to what the prophet learned, the book of Ecclesiastes does not end with a defeatist attitude. Wisdom leads us to God.

Through Paul’s words, we see the release from suffering through death but also the value of fulfilling God’s purpose through living.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith… (Philippians 1.21-25)

Existential dread is answered in a life with God. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11 

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 4 (Listen – 2:18) 
Psalm 106 (Listen – 4:52)

Read more about What to Expect When Suffering
When in suffering, we can at times be surprised by the emotions that are stirred. We can encounter deep sadness, anguish, and even rage.

Read more about Helping Fathers and the Fatherless
May we…introduce…a definition and example of fatherhood that is based on the love that God has shown us.

The Church Underground

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 28.12, 28
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; 
but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.

28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; 
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive. 

Reflection: The Church Underground
By Erin Newton

This is written a week in advance. By the time this is published, the war in Ukraine may be drastically different.

When we read verses about power, our minds will quickly spawn the images of this war. For some, it includes the memories of past conflicts. Corrupt leadership can come in the form of local leaders, bad bosses, or abusive parents. It is not difficult to imagine someone who fits the role of a wicked leader.

These two proverbs tell a story. When the righteous are leaders, celebration and joy fill the air. Their righteousness is a means of safety and security for everyone because this type of person is filled with mercy and justice. There is the sense of freedom to live one’s life in a carefree manner because of this leader.

But the wicked leader creates a suffocating atmosphere where hiding is necessary. Emotions are suddenly guarded. There is no freedom in expression because the leader creates a sense of danger.

The Israelites were accustomed to living under the rule of wicked leaders. Some were domestic kings: Rehoboam, Ahab, Manasseh, etc. Some were foreigners who invaded the land and subjugated the people: Sennacherib of Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

During these wicked reigns, some Israelites went into hiding. Prophets hid in a cave from the threat of Ahab. David fled to the wilderness to escape Saul. Jeremiah hid as Jehoiakim burned the prophet’s scroll.

Courage is rightly applauded and admired, but we learn from history that there are times in which removing oneself from danger is the best option.

We can learn how to persevere under the leadership of a wicked ruler by looking at those who went into hiding. David spent years in the wilderness wrestling with his frustrations about God and his circumstance. He expressed the depths of his pain. Yet, songs of praise were penned to help buoy his faith in God.

Already, word of churches going underground has circulated. Orthodox priests travel to air-raid shelters to commune with believers. This has been the way of God’s people for millennia.

Churches in intolerant nations go underground. Believers may hide their faith from wicked rulers, but within each heart, a greater depth of faith can be found.

May we pray for the time to come that the righteous may thrive and that the power of wicked leaders will perish. Come, Lord Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” — Psalm 46.11

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 28 (Listen – 3:07)
Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about Praying for the Persecuted
May we hold up before God’s throne in prayer, members of God’s church threatened by the state, by religious militias, and by other dangerous forces.

Read more about A Hymn of the Oppressed
History might be very different if rather than idolizing the martyrs, we could study how not to become the oppressors.

State of Our Souls

Scripture Focus: Psalm 86.11-13
11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.

Reflection: State of Our Souls
By Erin Newton

Once again, these are unprecedented times. We have been jarred emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We need an anchor. There are times that we typically set aside to refocus our lives and assess any shortcomings. We see this in the state of the union, new year resolutions, or annual work performance reviews. In the same way, the church has often used the liturgical calendar to mark Ash Wednesday as a day of reflection and prayer.

The early church often held baptisms only once a year and the period between Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday was meant to be a time when solemn reflection was made. Time to think about salvation. Time to ponder the depths of the sacrifice of Christ. Time to resolutely commit to the lordship of Jesus.

Reflecting on the work of Christ in our lives is something we must repeat. Remembering our need for salvation, confessing our sin, and rejoicing in the grace of God is an anchor in these storm-tossed waves of life.

Psalm 86 is a wonderful hymn to pray for this purpose. The verses guide us. We acknowledge our need for God’s help. Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Our resources are shrinking; our mental and emotional capacity to endure wains. We need our Lord to intervene.

We must remind ourselves that we do not trust in an empty god as other nations do. Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. We anchor our souls in no false hope or pseudo-savior. We know that Christ alone is Lord.

We meditate on the character of God. You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you… But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. We need to remember his goodness and love for us. Our world is always angry and hateful, but he abounds in love and is slow to anger.

So, with this, we recenter our hearts and minds on him. As we move toward the solemn remembrance of the crucifixion of Christ and his joyous resurrection, we recommit our lives. We pray for an undivided heart. No person, cause, or ideology should vie for the supremacy of Christ in our lives. Take this time to remember the anchor of our souls.  

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praises to you among the nations. — Psalm 108.3

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 21 (Listen – 3:12)
Psalm 86-87 (Listen – 2:26)

Read more about The Church’s One Foundation — Lenten Hymns
“The Church’s One Foundation” is Stone’s attempt to expound upon article nine of the Apostle’s Creed.

Read more about Examine the Examen
The simplest, shortest way to summarize the Examen may be the following five words: Awareness, Analysis, Admission, Acceptance, Anticipation.

Hardest Words to Say: “I’m Sorry”

Scripture Focus: Psalm 78.36-37
36 But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
lying to him with their tongues;
37 their hearts were not loyal to him,
they were not faithful to his covenant.

Proverbs 14.9
9 Fools mock at making amends for sin,
but goodwill is found among the upright.

Reflection: Hardest Words to Say: “I’m Sorry”
By Erin Newton

Social relationships are fragile. Whether platonic friendships or intimate relationships, some experiences are damaging, maybe even severely. Our cultural climate provokes the struggle to keep peace with friends, families, neighbors, and coworkers.

Often damage to relationships is inflicted by gossip, envy, lies, selfish pursuits, disrespect, infidelity due to boredom or temptation, lack of appreciation, or narcissism. These relational blunders have plagued humanity since the beginning.

Psalm 78 describes the forgetfulness of God’s people in the wilderness. Although God had worked miracles in parting the sea and providing manna, the people failed to remember. Even more, the psalmist says “they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law.” (v10)

For the wandering group, the law was summarized in the 10 Commandments given to Moses at the start of their journey. The first half relates to the people’s fidelity to God. The second half relates to their relationships with one another. Fidelity in intimate partnerships. Honor to elders. Respect for another’s possessions. Justice in withholding violent wrath. These statements were concise enough to remember.

Yet, the people forgot. They grumbled against Moses. They demanded God give them what their bellies craved. They followed in the ways of foreign religions which included idolatry and sexual immorality. They followed the way of Lady Folly by flattering God with empty words and the façade of religious ritual. (Prov 7)

The psalmist echoes the painful reality of God’s wrath poured out on the rebellious people. But they were fools. They refused to see their error. Their relationship was not important enough to make amends.

In which relationships do you feel the need, compulsion, desire to make amends when damage is done? Is it easier to smooth things over with certain people? What prevents you from restoring peace? The relationship between you and God is likely the one that suffers the greatest amount of frequent damage. We rely heavily upon his mercy and grace. We use the character of God as permission to be apathetic to making things right with God or one another.

Reconciliation is hard. Proverbs warns that the fool mocks the attempts to make things right. Fools see no value in integrity. Pride is a hallmark characteristic of the fool. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor 7.10) Seek the godly type of sorrow.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your way, O God, is holy; who is as great as our God? — Psalm 77.13

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 14 (Listen – 3:45)
Psalm 78:1-37 (Listen – 7:12)

Read more about Sojourn of Grace
Psalm 78 is a poetic filter through which to view Moses’ detailed record of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness.

Read more about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
The forgiveness of our sins is accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ’s blood. A liquid sacrifice, flowing from love.