Crushing Bruised Reeds

Scripture Focus: Job 21.2-3, 7
​​2 “Listen carefully to my words; 
let this be the consolation you give me. 
3 Bear with me while I speak, 
and after I have spoken, mock on. 

7 Why do the wicked live on, 
growing old and increasing in power? 

Psalm 31.5. 9-11
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; 
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; 
my eyes grow weak with sorrow, 
my soul and body with grief. 
10 My life is consumed by anguish 
and my years by groaning; 
my strength fails because of my affliction, s 
and my bones grow weak. 
11 Because of all my enemies, 
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors 
and an object of dread to my closest friends— 
those who see me on the street flee from me. 

Reflection: Crushing Bruised Reeds
By John Tillman

The rising rancor between Job and his friends would have cooled if they were willing to soften their absolutisms. 

Job’s friends declared that scripture was clear: “God always cuts short the wicked! God always blesses the righteous!” Job pointed to prosperous wicked people and said, “not always.”

Job’s friends refused to moderate their positions or admit to a complex and nuanced world. They doubled down and denied, growing harsher in their words instead of softer. They lumped Job in with the wicked because of his arguments. It all feels very familiar…

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” 

Rupertus (Peter) Meldenius, a seldom remembered theologian, wrote this in the midst of a seldom remembered war. (It’s often attributed to more well-known names who quoted it, such as John Wesley. In fact, I nearly attributed it to Wesley before looking it up to check my memory…) 

Meldenius called for Christian unity during the 30 Years War (1618–1648), a semi-religious conflict. At this time, all governments were inherently religious in nature. (It can be easy to forget how new the ideas of separation of church and state and religious freedom are.) The conflict was mostly political violence painted with religious veneer. Similarly veneered violence still happens. The violence of the January 6th insurrection still rings in our ears and the hostage situation at Beth Israel was a mere six miles from my front door.

Meldenius was on to something. He would recognize our political and religious landscape and the potential horrors it could lead to. However, Meldenius’s statement loses efficacy as people add more and more issues to the “essentials” pile. 

When everything is “essential” there is no “liberty” and “charity” is called “heresy.” Christian leaders seem to be less and less willing to grant liberty to one another on any issue. Camps are moving farther apart and rancor has risen to the point that some decry religious freedom as “supporting hell.”

We do not need to abandon essentials to charitably embrace those in distress who struggle to define “essentials.” (Psalm 31.9-10) They need love, not contempt. (Psalm 31.11)

May we not snuff out smoldering wicks of faith with non-essential dogma or crush bruised reeds with a bootheel of “tough love.” (Isaiah 42.3; Matthew 12.20-21) May we use cords of loving-kindness to lead people to repentance rather than tie up heavy loads on the backs of the struggling. (Hosea 11.4; Matthew 23.4)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. — Psalm 69.1

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

Today’s Readings
Job 21 (Listen – 3:05)
Psalm 31 (Listen – 3:11)

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Read more about Responding to Political Violence
Despite our sense of moral superiority, we have not advanced beyond violence for political ends.

Needing Jesus to Pray

Scripture Focus: Job 21.4
Is my complaint directed to a human being?
Why should I not be impatient?

Reflection: Needing Jesus to Pray
By John Tillman

We tell our wants to God (and everyone else) easily enough. If this was all prayer was, it could be said to be natural, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian, disagrees. He said, “This is a dangerous error to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray.” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 just two weeks shy of the liberation of the camp by American forces. To say he understood the experience of intense prayer, and unanswered prayer, would be an understatement. He wrote:

“It can become a great torment to want to speak with God and not to be able to do it—having to be speechless before God, sensing that every cry remains enclosed within one’s own self, that heart and mouth speak a perverse language which God does not want to hear.”

Bonhoeffer taught ministry students and congregants that it was not possible to pray rightly without the power of God:

“We confuse wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting, rejoicing—all of which the heart can certainly do on its own—with praying. But in doing so we confuse earth and heaven, human beings and God. Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer further explained how to pray Scripture, which is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, who fills words with the power of God:

“Jesus Christ has brought before God every need, every joy, every thanksgiving, and every hope of humankind. In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes God’s Word. When we pray along with the prayer of Christ, God’s Word becomes again a human word.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ. Thus it does not matter whether the Psalms express exactly what we feel in our heart at the moment we pray.

Perhaps it is precisely the case that we must pray against our own heart in order to pray rightly. It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray. If we were dependent on ourselves alone, we would probably often pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s word, ought to determine our prayer.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to you loving-kindness; according to your judgments, give me life. — Psalm 119.145

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

Today’s Readings
Job 21 (Listen -3:05)
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen -1:54)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 22 (Listen -2:54), 1 Corinthians 9 (Listen -4:04)
Job 23 (Listen -1:43), 1 Corinthians 10 (Listen -4:04)

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend :: A Guided Prayer
“My witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” — Job

Read more about The Path of the Cross :: A Guided Prayer
How easy it is, in times of confusion like today to fight in the name of Christ against the real Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer