Wisdom in Houses of Mourning—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Barbara
The April 20th, post on the subject of suffering during this time and during life in general was particularly helpful not only because as seniors we suddenly became isolated even from family but because we were also in the process of grief over a grandchild who died before Christmas. 2 Timothy 3:12 declares that all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer. We have felt “persecution“ through some ordinary circumstances or more dramatic ones throughout. We can do all things as unto the Lord.

Originally published, April 20, 2020, based on readings from Ecclesiastes 7 & 2 Timothy 3.

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 7.2-4
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Proverbs 4.7
Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Hebrews 12.1-2
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…

Reflection: Wisdom in Houses of Mourning—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

What happens when a society addicted to activity, distraction, and consumption has every activity canceled, normal distractions displaced, and consumption disrupted? We mourn.

Solomon tells us that there is more wisdom to be gained in a house of mourning than one of celebrating. In some ways, the homes in which we are sheltering have become houses of mourning. We are certainly mourning the frenetic fantasy of fruitfulness that our former schedules gave us. Our economies, both global and personal, were accelerated and everything else was trimmed out so that we could push harder for greater gain. But were we really gaining in the ways that are important? Did we trim out the wrong things? What can we learn from this unexpected experience of mourning? 

Paul writes that we should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us to run after Jesus, fixing our eyes on him. But in our previous life, pre-COVID-19, did we ever throw off anything to get closer to Jesus? Did we ever lay aside even one entanglement to grow deeper in faith? Did we fix our eyes more intently on Jesus than on our devices, work tasks, and investment portfolios? Did we strip even one thing out of our lives because it interfered with reading the Bible? Did we cancel even one activity in order to make more time to pray?

For the majority of us, the answers to these questions are probably “no.” Many of us may need to confess that what we tossed aside was Jesus, and the entanglement we escaped was the cords of loving-kindness that God sought to guide us by. We limited Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, to “when we have time” as if time was the issue and not our heart.

What if we learned from what we have lost how valuable what we still have is?
What if we, relieved of the burden of physically running from activity to activity, learned to run after Jesus spiritually?
What if we learned to make time with the most important things the most important time in our day?

I think personally we would be blown away by the tangible presence and power of God in our lives.
I think it would be a revelation.
And I think culturally the world would be blown away by the shockingly beautiful things God would call the church to do in the world.
I think it would be a revolution. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
“And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest.’” — Matthew 9.36-37– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 33 (Listen – 4:46)
Psalms 3-4 (Listen – 1:56)

Read more about Convicted by Job’s Righteousness :: A Guided Prayer 
We pray for your forgiveness, Lord, but more than that, we pray that you would change the hearts of the oppressors, and may you begin in our hearts.

What post helped you understand prayer?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Wisdom in Houses of Mourning

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 7.2-4
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Proverbs 4.7
Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Hebrews 12.1-2
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…

Reflection: Wisdom in Houses of Mourning
By John Tillman

What happens when a society addicted to activity, distraction, and consumption has every activity canceled, normal distractions displaced, and consumption disrupted? We mourn.

Solomon tells us that there is more wisdom to be gained in a house of mourning than one of celebrating. In some ways, the homes in which we are sheltering have become houses of mourning. We are certainly mourning the frenetic fantasy of fruitfulness that our former schedules gave us. Our economies, both global and personal, were accelerated and everything else was trimmed out so that we could push harder for greater gain. But were we really gaining in the ways that are important? Did we trim out the wrong things? What can we learn from this unexpected experience of mourning? 

Paul writes that we should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us to run after Jesus, fixing our eyes on him. But in our previous life, pre-COVID-19, did we ever throw off anything to get closer to Jesus? Did we ever lay aside even one entanglement to grow deeper in faith? Did we fix our eyes more intently on Jesus than on our devices, work tasks, and investment portfolios? Did we strip even one thing out of our lives because it interfered with reading the Bible? Did we cancel even one activity in order to make more time to pray?

For the majority of us, the answers to these questions are probably “no.” Many of us may need to confess that what we tossed aside was Jesus, and the entanglement we escaped was the cords of loving-kindness that God sought to guide us by. We limited Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, to “when we have time” as if time was the issue and not our heart.

What if we learned from what we have lost how valuable what we still have is?
What if we, relieved of the burden of physically running from activity to activity, learned to run after Jesus spiritually?
What if we learned to make time with the most important things the most important time in our day?

I think personally we would be blown away by the tangible presence and power of God in our lives.
I think it would be a revelation.
And I think culturally the world would be blown away by the shockingly beautiful things God would call the church to do in the world.
I think it would be a revolution. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. 
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37) 
2 Timothy 3 (Listen -2:21)

Read more about Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer 
The inevitable next tragedy will come. Whether it is the result of unthinking violence, tragic accident, or premeditated and targeted hatred, we turn to God in prayer…

Read more about Fasting from the Feast
Our culture has steadily, for decades, been encouraging us to abstain from spiritual disciplines in favor of activities that we are led to believe are more profitable.


The Church’s Historical Response to Plague

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 4.20-22
My son, pay attention to what I say;
    turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
    keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
    and health to one’s whole body.

Reflection: The Church’s Historical Response to Plague
By John Tillman

*This will be quite a long post compared to our normal 400 words. The first half is a bit of a “backstage tour” of The Park Forum and an explanation of why we rarely write about current events such as COVID-19. If you’d like to skip over that and get straight to our devotional related to the pandemic and a response of faith, scroll on down to the heading “The Church’s Historical Response to Plague.”

At The Park Forum, we tie our devotional writing tightly to our reading plan. We rarely diverge from it other than to write about major seasons of the church year such as Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmastide.

We address cultural trends but rarely, if ever, address specific current events. This is intended to keep our content timeless by relating it primarily to the timeless Word of God. It is also a bulwark, intended to prevent our work from becoming a response to the world, rather than a response to God’s Word. We succeed or fail in following these ideals to varying degrees each week, by God’s mercy.

The other reason we rarely write about current events is less idealistic and more practical—our publishing timeline is too long. In order to have our emails sent at 5:00 AM in each timezone around the world, we need to “send” them 24 hours in advance. We write them a minimum of 36 hours ahead of when you read it in the email or online. That’s an eternity in today’s news cycle. And honestly, when I am writing that close to the send deadline, it is quite nerve-wracking and mistakes can be made. My preference is to be at least five to ten days ahead. I am writing this, which will publish on Tuesday, on the preceding Friday evening. This is a bit late for my taste, but by the time you read it, any time-sensitive information will likely be out of date.

With all of this in mind, let us prayerfully approach the topic of COVID-19 and the gospel.

The Church’s Historical Response to Plague
Sickness and disease comes frequently into the pages of scripture. 

The ancient Jewish ethic of ritual washing and ritual cleanliness was at times (especially in regards to transmissible diseases and conditions, such as leprosies and dangerous molds) a practical step of keeping the community healthy. The role of the priests was to risk their own safety in order to inspect contaminated individuals and contaminated dwellings for signs of infection. To cause another person to be infected and in risk of death due to negligence to these regulations was to be in violation of the commandment, “Do not murder.” 

Today we have outsourced home inspection to the real estate industry and personal health to the healthcare industry. (When was the last time your pastor inspected your house for black mold?)

In an article for Foreign Policy Magazine, Lyman Stone writes of how Christianity took this ancient Jewish ethic further:

“The Christian motive for hygiene and sanitation does not arise in self-preservation but in an ethic of service to our neighbor. We wish to care for the afflicted, which first and foremost means not infecting the healthy. Early Christians created the first hospitals in Europe as hygienic places to provide care during times of plague, on the understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.”

Throughout history (Particularly in the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, and in the Plague of Cyprian in the 3rd) Christians were noted as the one group which consistently, century after century, took risks to their own health in their service to the infected and the suffering. The sociologist and religious demographer Rodney Stark claims that death rates in cities with Christian communities during these plagues may have been half that of other cities.

We see it again In 1527, when the bubonic plague struck Wittenberg. Martin Luther refused to flee the city but stayed instead and ministered to the sick. This decision cost him the life of his own daughter, Elizabeth. When asked whether Christians should flee a plague, Luther produced a pamphlet in answer. It can be boiled down to five words, “We die at our posts.”

In every major epidemic through history, Christianity distinguished itself with an ethic that stood out from the desperate self-preservation tactics of the surrounding societies. 

The historic church has left us a great example and testimony based on sound application of the scriptures. 

Are we following it? Are we caring for our neighbors or just for ourselves?

Pray that the Holy Spirit would lead you and your faith community to shine in this moment of fear and uncertainty. Be safe. Follow best practices for lowering risks of transmission. Don’t be foolish. But do all this not in service of your own safety, but in service to the community. 

When this crisis passes, will every unused bottle of hand sanitizer or vital goods stashed in our homes that could have been donated to our church or sent to a senior living center, or given to a neighbor stand as a testimony that we cared more for ourselves than for others?

This is a stark challenge to our hearts to see if we are following in the example laid before us by the Church. Tomorrow we will look at the divine comfort and inexplicable peace the Church relied on to carry out its mission during past crises.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away.

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 4 (Listen -2:37) 
Galatians 3 (Listen -4:39)

Read more about Taking Advantage of the Desperate
From a business perspective, the noblemen confronted by Nehemiah were simply following the market. Payday lenders would describe it as filling a “financial service void.”

Read more about The Purpose of Power
After prayer and fasting, Esther’s concerns for her own life disappear and her purpose is clarified. The purpose of Esther’s power is to serve others. So it is with us.

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