Good and Pleasant Unity? A Prayer for Election Week

Psalm 133.1
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

Reflection: Good and Pleasant Unity? A Prayer for Election Week
By John Tillman

In such a divisive and cynical time, words like “unity” raise eyebrows, hackles, and suspicion. Talking about unity is almost universally seen as a political power grab and talking of civility is seen as capitulation.

The psalmist makes no promise about governments living in unity. Even among God’s people, unity is described as “good” and “pleasant,” implying that it is not automatic or constant.

As the US approaches midterm elections, the rancor and rhetoric of 2016, rather than relaxing, has ramped up, raising political tensions, accusations, and attacks.

Record numbers of voter registrations and early voting numbers, indicate that the hopes of many are at stake in this election season. But as scripture repeats often, and so do we, our hope is not in chariots or horses, in kings or in princes.

Good and Pleasant Unity?

Oh God, lead us…

I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.

But despite your love and care, we turn from you
when we turn away from “the least of these” your children.

My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High…

Even though we call you, “Lord, Lord,”
We push down the hungry, thirsty, and naked.
We ignore the sick.
We turn away the foreigner.
We treat the prisoner heartlessly.

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

Is unity possible for selfish, angry hearts such as ours?

Jesus looked at them and said,
“With man this is impossible,
but with God all things are possible.

My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger…
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
They will follow the Lord

Change our hearts, Lord.
Arouse our compassion.
Help us abandon anger.
Lead us to be for our cities, not against them.
May we be united in humility, in confession, and in service to those around us.
Let them know that we are Christians by our love.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 11 (Listen – 1:53)
Psalm 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)

Additional Reading
Read More about Compelled Toward Community
God has forged with us and in us a new community of faith. Belonging to this community carries a responsibility to be accountable to each other.

Read More about The Language of a Good Neighbor
May we abstain from the language of political leaders intending to seek and destroy.
May we embrace the language of Christ intent on seeking and saving that which is lost.

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The Language of a Good Neighbor

Hosea 8.7
They sow the wind
and reap the whirlwind.

Reflection: The Language of a Good Neighbor
By John Tillman

The words we speak plant seeds that come from our hearts. When those seeds are violent winds, we reap the whirlwind of violent actions.

When violent words fly through the air, via Twitter, Gab, email, or other means, bombs may soon follow. Where machine-gun-like blasts of vitriol cut through the airwaves, with the expressed intention of mowing down the opposition, it is only a matter of time before actual bullets fly.

Whenever tragedy strikes in our society, Fred Rogers’ quote from his mother about looking “for the helpers” comes to the forefront of our culture’s mind. In certain cases, however, some have started to reject the comforting use of this quote.

In our culture, no matter how popular or how widely seen as a societal good something is, sooner or later someone will start throwing rocks at it.

These critics are careful, so far, not to throw rocks at Rogers directly. Their target is people sharing the quote. They scoff that advice for children should bring comfort to and be so widely shared by adults.

Rogers show was never just for children. It was simple, but never simplistic. And it’s call to action for all of us is inherent to the comfort it brings.

In her book, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth recognized that Rogers’ show had an unmistakable biblical theme—be the good neighbor. Be the helper. But this moralistic challenge has to be empowered by an inner shift of perspective. Rogers explains:

“Evil would like nothing better than to have us feel awful about who we are…We’d look through those eyes at our neighbor, and see only what’s awful—in fact, look for what’s awful in our neighbor…but Jesus would want us to feel as good as possible about God’s creation within us, and…we would look through those eyes, and see what’s wonderful about our neighbor.”

Mister Rogers had a Christ-like understanding of the power of words and feelings. His simple guidance for children did not have an expiration date on it because it was based on principles of the gospel. Rogers connected being the good neighbor to having a Christlike view of ourselves and looking at, and speaking to, our neighbor with that perspective.

May we abstain from the language of political leaders intending to seek and destroy.
May we embrace the language of Christ intent on seeking and saving that which is lost.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Help me, O Lord my God; save me for your mercy’s sake. — Psalm 109.25

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 8 (Listen – 1:58)
Psalm 123-125 (Listen – 1:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
Hosea 9 (Listen – 2:52) Psalm 126-128 (Listen – 1:58)
Hosea 10 (Listen – 2:47) Psalm 129-131 (Listen – 2:03)

Additional Reading
Read More about Redeeming Speech
The Talmud compares hateful speech to one of the most destructive diseases of their day: Leprosy. The outside rots because the inside is incurably ill. Yet the promise of Scripture is that—through Christ—all are healed, all are made new, all are redeemed.

Read More about Killing With our Hearts
“I do not kill with my gun…I kill with my heart.” Stephen King’s fictional Gunslingers understand Christ’s teaching about murder in a deeper way than some Christians.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Redeeming Speech

Psalm 120.2-3
Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?

Hosea 7.3
They delight the king with their wickedness,
the princes with their lies.

Reflection: Redeeming Speech
By Steven Dilla

In order to understand the true nature of a person’s heart, ancient Jews believed, you looked to his words. “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks,” Jesus observed. It was a belief widely held in the ancient world; centuries later the Babylonian Talmud imagined a conversation between God and a man’s words:

Said the Holy One, blessed be he, to the tongue, “All the parts of the human body stand upright, but you recline. All the parts of the human body are outside, but you are inside. Not only so, but I have set up as protection for you two walls, one of bone (teeth) and one of flesh (cheeks).”

Though the tongue may recline, it is rarely at rest. ”Lips are soft; but when they are ‘lying’ lips they suck away the life of character and are as murderous as razors,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarks:

Lips should never be red with the blood of honest men’s reputes, nor salved with malicious falsehoods. The faculty of speech becomes a curse when it is degraded into a mean weapon for smiting men behind their backs. Those who fawn and flatter, too, and all the while have enmity in their hearts, are horrible beings; they are the seed of the devil, and he works in them after his own deceptive nature.

The authors of Scripture react viscerally to malicious and deceptive words, Spurgeon explains, because they are the language of sin:

The Psalmist seems lost to suggest a fitting punishment. It is the worst of offenses—this detraction, calumny, and slander. Judgment sharp and crushing would be measured out to it if men were visited for their transgressions. But what punishment could be heavy enough?

And though Christ absorbed the eternal burden of sin, each broken action has repercussions in our daily lives. The Talmud compares the effects of gossip and hateful speech to one of the most destructive diseases of their day:

The Hebrew for the words “I will destroy” and “in perpetuity” are both derived from one and the same root. Hence… the punishment of destruction will take the form of [leprosy].

Leprosy results in a person’s total disconnection from their community. The outside rots because the inside is incurably ill. Yet the promise of Scripture is that—through Christ—all are healed, all are made new, all are redeemed.

*For Talmud references, see b. Arak. 3:5, II.4.B, D.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him. — Psalm 33.8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 7 (Listen – 2:19)
Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12)

Additional Reading
Read More about Resisting in Faith
Daniel resists by doing something only a person of faith can do. He resists by serving unconditionally. He resists by helping. He resists by taking action to save the lives of men who will eventually turn against him and conspire to throw him in a pit of lions.

Read More about Christian Civility
Two years ago Steven wondered how powerful it would be if the Church took the lead in restoring public civility. We are still wondering what that would look like…

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Beginning of Righteousness

Psalm 119.147
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.

Reflection: Beginning of Righteousness
By Steven Dilla

It is tempting when we read, in an English Bible, “the sum of your word” to picture a mathematical or financial metaphor. But the Hebrew word for sum—rosh—is more often translated with the English word beginning. To be fair, Bible translation is as much art as it is linguistics. Yet the significance of this word was not lost on ancient readers.

The psalmist, who wants his message to culminate with “every one of your righteous rules endures forever,” starts with, “the beginning of your word is truth.” The Babylonian Talmud observes:

The beginning but not the end? But [by] what comes at the end of your word—the truth of the beginning of your word is understood.

Could this be what Jesus was thinking of when Luke records:

[Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

The beginning is understood through the end.

If Christianity were merely about the imitation of Christ, the Hebrew Scriptures would have no meaning. Yet the heart of the Christian faith flows from relationship with Christ—and building intimacy begins in the words Jesus says introduce the divine to the world.

Spiritual maturity grows the immature curiosity of, “what would Jesus do?” to, “how will Christ live through what I chose to do?” This question presupposes freedom in Christ and demands intimacy to answer. And so the Psalmist cries:

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life.

Here lies the Psalmist’s hope that, “everyone of your righteous rules endures forever.” The Talmud remarks:

Wherever the language, ‘command,’ is used, the sole purpose is to encourage obedience both at that time and for all generations.

The joy for God’s word expressed in Psalm 119 is found in the Psalmist’s faith in God’s goodness as expressed in his word. He is no longer cynical to commands because he has tasted the righteousness of God.

*For Talmud references, see b. Qidd. 1:7, II.9.B and 1:7, I.3.J.

Prayer: A Reading
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, he gave the this answer, “The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, ‘Look, it is here! Look, it is there!’ For look, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17.20-21

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 5-6 (Listen – 3:44)
Psalm 119.145-176 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
Imagine hanging our hopes on a great leader, only to watch him or her fall near the end of the race. Most of us don’t have to imagine it. It has happened.

Read More about The Kiss of Righteousness and Peace :: Guided Prayer
When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. But before that happens there is confession and justice, mercy and redemption.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

We Confess :: Worldwide Prayer

Psalm 119.132
Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.

From John:
The gospel is better served by time spent confessing our own sins than time spent accusing the world of theirs. When we call others to confession, we ought to be inviting them to join us, not sending them somewhere we’ve never been.

Reflection: We Confess :: Worldwide Prayer
A prayer of confession from Australia

Oh Lord Christ,

We are painfully aware of our need for confession.

We confess that
We share humankind’s inclination to sin.

We confess that
Like Peter, we have been reluctant to accept your gift of grace when you have knelt before us with basin and towel.

We confess that
Like the disciples in the Garden, we have failed to watch and pray.

We confess that
Like Pilate, we have vacillated between arrogance and fear, and sometimes washed our hands of our responsibilities.

We confess that
Like the Scribes and the Pharisees, we have believed that our religion was more important than following you.

We confess that
Like the Roman soldiers, we have thoughtlessly and cruelly added to your suffering and pain.

We confess that
Like Judas, we have betrayed you for 30 pieces of silver.

We confess that
Like Peter we have denied you when close to the fire.

We confess that
Like the disciples, we have forsaken you and fled.

We confess that
Like Mary, we have failed to recognize your divine presence.

We confess that
Like Thomas, we have insisted on proof.

And it was for our sins, you suffered, bled, and died.

Have mercy on us, oh God. Deliver us from our sin. Forgive us when we fail to take up a cross daily and follow.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to his hands. Anyone who believes in the Son had eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: God’s retribution hangs over him.” — John 3.35-36

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 3-4 (Listen – 3:53)
Psalm 119.121-144 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about Confession Destroys Denial
Nothing destroys denial except confession. Nothing repairs the damage of denial except repentance.

Read More about Emptiness Filled by Love :: Worldwide Prayer
There is joy and love to fill us, when we are emptied by confession…Our arms are too short to grasp what we need. But Christ is the arm of the Lord, bared before the nations—never too short to save.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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