Unveiled — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, March 23, 2021, based on readings from Exodus 34 and John 13.
It was selected by reader, MT from Texas
Beautiful.

Scripture Focus: Exodus 34.29-30, 33-35
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

John 13.3-5
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

Reflection: Unveiled — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

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

God walked before Moses, declaring the aspects of his identity. Compassionate. Gracious. Slow to anger. Filled with love. Faithful. Forgiving. Just.

This revelation changed Moses in ways he did not immediately realize. Moses had been to the mountain before for long conversations with God. He took down detailed plans for the tabernacle with instructions right down to the fasteners of clothing. Something, however, about this visit was different. 

The intimacy of the revelation of God’s character, of glimpsing God’s glory from the cleft of the rock, gave Moses a glow. The people, and even Aaron, were afraid of this radiant sign of God’s presence. So Moses veiled his face. This seems to have been merely for the comfort of others. 

Seeing the glory of God can be discomforting. But Moses and Israel hadn’t seen anything yet…
The revelation of God’s character when Jesus stripped to his undergarments to wash his disciples’ feet, was like no other revelation before. When John described this moment he prefaced it by telling us that Jesus “showed them the full extent of his love.” (John 13.1

No revelation of God and his love, not the original creative acts that formed the universe, not the choosing of Abram, or the salvation from Egypt, is complete without this image.

The one who deserves honor, choosing dishonor. 
The one who deserves glory, choosing obscurity.
The one who deserves tribute, choosing servitude.
This is who God is.

Discomforted by the foot washing, Peter tries to stop Jesus from humiliating himself. Jesus is not about to let Peter draw a covering over the love he intends to show. He is mere hours away from the tearing of his flesh and the tearing of the curtain of the Temple. Peter hadn’t seen anything yet…

Paul describes New Testament believers as those with “unveiled faces.” He encourages us that if Moses’ ministry was glorious, our ministry should be more so. (2 Corinthians 3.7-17) If Moses’ face glowed, ours should be incandescent.

Seek regular and deep intimacy with God through prayer and the scriptures. Let the shocking images of his identity—from Sinai, from foot washing, from the cross—soak into us. Then, let us walk through our world alight with his love. For when it comes to what God will reveal to us, and the love we will show the world, we haven’t seen anything yet. (Ephesians 3.14-21)

Music: “Unveiled Faces” — Sarah Masen

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — John 10.17-18

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertimeby Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 17 (Listen – 8:59)
Romans 15 (Listen – 4:32)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Apocalypse, How?
We have apocalypses all wrong…Jesus told his disciples that he would “apocalypse” the father to them, meaning that he would reveal to them God the Father.

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, December 23rd, 2020, based on readings from John 13 and Luke 2.
It was selected by reader, Russell in Saitama, Japan
“I always thought this was a strange Christmas carol, in that it never mentions Jesus or His birth. I’m glad to know that the author was ‘passionately focused on Christ,’ in spite of this omission.”

Scripture Focus: John 13.13-15
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Luke 2.13-14
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Readers’ Choice 
By Jon Polk

After graduating in 1837 from the Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edmund Hamilton Sears settled in as pastor in the country town of Wayland. The church was impressed with his character and preaching and Sears, who never had ambitions for a prominent city congregation, was enamored by the quiet beauty of the little parish.

One can sense parochial tranquility in his most famous hymn.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old…
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sears’ family would quickly grow to four children, compelling him to seek out a larger church which could support them. In 1840, he accepted the pastorate of a church in Lancaster, where he would serve for seven years.

The work in Lancaster was difficult and Sears suffered from illness, depression, and an eventual breakdown. Ultimately, his condition deteriorated to the point where he was unable to project his preaching voice loud enough for the congregation to hear.

To facilitate recovery, he returned to Wayland for a year of rest. When healthy, he was invited to return to the Wayland church part-time, which freed him to use his gifts in writing.

In the aftermath of his personal struggles, he wrote “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” in 1849. At the time, the U.S. was reeling from the Mexican War and struggling with slavery as the Civil War drew near.

His sadness is palpable in the lyrics.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long…
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring…

Sears’ theology was passionately focused on Christ; he preached “The word ‘Jesus’ opens the heart and touches the place of tears.” He maintained that Christ alone had bridged the great divide between God and humanity.

As a result, he believed that we are responsible for implementing God’s peace in the world, consequently he preached for equality of women and men, opposing killing even in war, and against the evils of slavery.

This work towards peace is reflected in the carol’s hopeful ending.

When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Following his life struggles, Sears managed to find his own peace and eventually a new purpose as a full-time writer. In his most read work, The Fourth Gospel: The Heart of Christ, he writes, “My consciousness at one time may give me an inward sense of moral ruin and disorder. I may see a creation rise out of this chaos… a peace more sweet than the tranquility of the morning… It comes not from inward beholdings of the Deity, but of what He does…”

Listen:It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Over the Rhine
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
“I will establish your line forever, and preserve your throne for all generations.” — Psalm 89.3-4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 9 (Listen – 4:42)
Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Ennobled by the Incarnation
Jesus comes not to condemn our humanity but to share in it. The incarnation is an ennobling epiphany

Jesus, Our Burnt Offering — Holy Week

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 1.3-4
3 “ ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.

John 20.19-20
19 …Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 

Reflection: Jesus, Our Burnt Offering — Holy Week
By John Tillman

In John’s gospel, he wastes no time telling us, through the testimony of John the Baptizer, that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.” (John 1.29, 36)

John’s gospel often connects Jesus to ritual practices or feasts that were part of the worship of God. Perhaps this is because of his familiarity with the priesthood. John’s rabbi before Jesus, John the Baptizer, was from a priestly family and John, the writer, was allowed into Jesus’ trial before Caiphas because he was “known” to the high priest. (John 18.15)

Many offerings were ritual meals. A representative portion would be burned. The priest would eat a portion as well as the offeror and offeror’s family. Leftovers also were burned. Burnt offerings, however, were different. Everything had to be consumed by fire. In both cases, offerings were to be totally consumed on the day offered, by fire or as food.

When bringing a burnt offering, one placed one’s hands on the animal as a recognition that the offering was a substitute for the offeror. This represented transferring one’s sins to the animal. Burnt offerings for sin made “peace” with God.

The head of a family brought a burnt offering on behalf of himself and his family. God offered Jesus as a lamb on our behalf, to bring us into his family. Jesus is the Lamb of God, a “male without defect,” who takes our sins upon himself. When Jesus spoke to Mary outside the tomb, “peace” had been accomplished in Christ’s resurrected body through his sacrifice on the cross.

As we pass through Holy Week, we see Jesus offer his back to the whips, his hands to the cruel nails, his body to the abuse of those he came to save. We see his blood sprinkled on those who assault him and on the cross that became an altar. We see him poured out before God as a drink offering. We see him raised in the air as a wave offering. 

In Holy Week, Jesus was being consumed. He was burned up for our sin. As we reflect on Holy Week, as we watch him burn, may we humble ourselves and repent. 

Rather than us placing our hands on a lamb’s head, let us bow our heads in humility. The resurrected Lamb of God, who died to take away our sin, will lift our heads to see his loving face.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. — Psalm 118.19

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Leviticus 1 (Listen – 2:37) 
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Read more about Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

Read more about Last to Believe—Resurrection Appearances
Related post either “from” the same author/source or “about” the same topic

Were You There? — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: John 19:16-18, 28-30
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Reflection: Were You There? — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

The hauntingly beautiful hymn, “Were You There?” poses profound imaginative and reflective questions. 

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Each verse paints a bleak and dismal picture which, upon contemplation, can only cause us to shudder and tremble as we are confronted with these ugly realities.

One of the most recognizable African-American spirituals, “Were You There?” emerged from the slave experience in the U.S. in the mid-1800s. While outwardly the song asks us to imagine ourselves at the scene of the cross, when sung by slaves, it metaphorically connected Jesus’ suffering to their own.

Henry Proctor, minister at the First Congregational Church in Atlanta, referenced the hymn in The Southern Workman journal in 1907. Proctor, whose parents were both former slaves, described the work of Christ as found in slave spirituals,

They bore testimony to [Christ’s] divinity by their belief in his supernatural power, resurrection, royalty, regnancy, and atoning work. But to them he was also human. He was “a man of sorrows.” He could sympathize with those “acquainted with grief.” How solemnly and sweetly they sang of his crucifixion, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Modern American theologian, James Cone, notes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, that the same is still true in African-American churches today,

During my childhood, I heard a lot about the cross at Macedonia A.M.E. Church, where faith in Jesus was defined and celebrated. We sang… and asked, “Were you there?” There were more songs, sermons, prayers, and testimonies about the cross than any other theme. The cross was the foundation on which their faith was built.

The season of Lent culminates in Passion Week, which does not allow us to arrive at the joy of the resurrection without passing through the pain and tragedy of the crucifixion. Lent gives us an opportunity to consider our response to the cross and, likewise, to injustices in our world.

“Were you there?” is a question that asks us to reconcile our present with the past. It calls us to measure what impact the events of the past have had on our lives in the present. It forces us to deal with the ugly realities of our personal and communal pasts.

Remembering the cross should be painful. Remembering the past may also be painful. Both encourage us to cling to the future hope we have in what Christ has accomplished for us through the cross.

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Music:Were You There?” by Mahalia Jackson
Lyrics:Were You There?” lyrics from Hymnary.com

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God? — Psalm 18.32

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 40 (Listen – 4:07) 
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

Read more about Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns
Not only do we find rest in the cruel cross of Jesus, but his sacrifice compels us to give our own lives away for others.

Read more about King on the Mountain, King on the Cross
The king on the mountain demanded righteousness. The king on the cross provided it.

Countering Hatred

Scripture Focus: John 15.18-25
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ t If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

Reflection: Countering Hatred
By John Tillman

Hatred has grown in the two years since I first wrote on this passage. Hatred is big business. 

Hatred sells papers and generates page views. Hatred fuels political fundraising. Hatred builds audiences. Selling hatred earns advancement in a world where every follower and every click means not just money, but power.

It should be no surprise when the world’s hate machine turns on Christians. It’s not like Jesus didn’t warn us this would happen. When Christianity was a cultural norm, Christ’s words about the world hating us because it hated him first could seem odd. In today’s world, they make sense.

True persecution around the world has risen. Christians who aren’t facing hatred or persecution from governments or other religions are, increasingly, facing it from each other. Some Christians are embracing or expressing hatred in other ways, including violence. 

Christians engaging in violence based on misguided interpretations of scripture is, sadly, nothing new. Christians brutally criticizing each other to the point that people part ways with their denominations or the faith is also, sadly, not new.

Even if we are hated by the world, we must not be tempted to embrace worldly solutions. The world says to acquire power and crush our haters. This is unacceptable and antithetical for Christians. 

Power can’t make someone not hate us. The solutions to hatred are relational, not political. If our truly persecuted (not just hated) brothers and sisters are courageously loving and forgiving Muslims, Atheists, and others who torture and kill them, how can we do less from our relatively safe position?

Jesus said, “they have seen [his works]…yet they have hated.” (John 15.24) The mission Jesus gave his disciples in the face of hatred was to show them the Father’s works. Have we done so? Or have we reflected hatred back to the world?

The gospel solution to hate is to love our enemies, overcoming evil with good. It is better to suffer worldly loss (an election, our lives, or anything else) than to win using the tactics of the world. (Temptation of Jesus: Matthew 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-14)

Perhaps one reason we hold on to hate and power, refusing to love our enemies is that at heart, we really don’t want to end up like Jesus—powerless and crucified. Yet, ending up like Jesus is the chief goal of Christianity.

May the Holy Spirit work in us to make us more willing to lay down on a cross than to crucify someone.

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

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Exodus 36 (Listen – 4:47) 
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

Read more about Ending up Like Jesus
Christians must recognize that there are no political solutions to being hated.

Read more about Overcoming Hatred :: Worldwide Prayer
This prayer’s blunt confession is one that our culture deeply needs to pray. We are consumed by hatred. God have mercy on us.

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