Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “A house of prayer for all peoples”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

February 3, 2017

Epiphany IV (Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38; Isaiah 56:1-8; Galatians 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13 )

Isaiah 56:1-8

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
The Lord will surely separate me from his people;
and do not let the eunuch say,
I am just a dry tree.
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

First, I’m sorry for the gap in posts this week. I got a pretty serious cold that knocked me out for a few days. So…to the both of you who read this (one of whom is my mom!), my apologies! 🙂

This has more recently become a favorite passage of mine, as I continue to see how much Isaiah had a huge influence on Jesus’ conception of his own ministry (and how some NT writers picked up on other themes in Isaiah). It is clear that Jesus has a heart for the outcast. And even though he spends much of his ministry amongst the Jewish people, he has a strong disposition toward those who are excluded.

I’ve often heard this passage as a reference to a world mission impulse and perspective. Jesus quotes part of this passage as he overturns the money changing tables in the court of the Gentiles. The idea is that such activity was keeping the nations (ta ethne-Gentiles) from worshiping in the Temple. God’s intent is that all people groups from all over the world should worship him. And this is true.

However, Isaiah mentions two groups of people specifically: eunuchs and foreigners. These are the people who Yahweh wants to be in “in my house” and “in my walls” and on “my mountain.” The salvation of the Jewish people, the ingathering of the exiles, is directly tied to the inclusion of the “others”, both within their tribe and from other tribes. The presence of the eunuchs and the foreigners during the worshiping activity of the Temple is meant to be a sign that points to the future reality of the kingdom.

And the call for the people of God is to maintain justice and do what is right, which seems to at least mean inclusion of these groups of people. Those who are most disadvantaged and outcast and those who don’t belong. And we would agree with this…in principle. But what about in practice?

You see, the thing about the money changers is that they were actually providing a service. Or at least they thought they were. But the service had become oppressive and encroached upon the place created for the “others”. Commerce and transaction had replaced welcome.

Are there places where we have pushed out the other? Are there institutions (religious or otherwise) which may actually alienate and exclude in the name of proper order? Have we replaced doing what is right with doing what seems proper or efficient?

And then there’s this whole emphasis on the sabbath…but we will have to save that for another time.

 

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Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, psalms, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 30th, 2017

Epiphany IV (Ps. 56, 57; Isa 51:17-23; Gal 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37 )

Psalm 56

1Have mercy on me, O God,
for my enemies are hounding me; *
all day long they assault and oppress me.

2They hound me all the day long; *
truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.

4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?

5All day long they damage my cause; *
their only thought is to do me evil.

6They band together; they lie in wait; *
they spy upon my footsteps;
because they seek my life.

7Shall they escape despite their wickedness? *
O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.

8You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?

9Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.

10In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?

11I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; *
I will present to you thank-offerings;

12For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet
from stumbling, *
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

 

Fear is such a powerful emotion and force. I think this is why God has to tell people to not be afraid so often (well over 100 times, by many accounts).

But sometimes I have an issue with the command, “Do not be afraid.” It reminds me of the Bob Newhart sketch where he is a psychiatrist. As he listens to someone pour out one of their deepest fears, his solution is simple: STOP IT! Stop being afraid of that! Just stop!

Is that what God is inviting us to do? Just to stop being afraid? I don’t think so. And, if that’s what you are doing, I would ask…how is that working out for you?

Fear is not something we simply stop. It is not something we dismiss or ignore. It is something we admit and explore. Why are we so afraid? What are we so afraid of?

For the psalmist, I would say there are some legitimate fears. Enemies attacking. People conspiring against him. Oppression and bullying. These are very real things of which to be afraid. For me, this brings my mind and prayers to the many refugees who have been leaving their homes in search of safety, and are being denied access to safety.

But, I’d argue that others of us may have different fears. We do not have literal enemies who are hunting us down. But we do live afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being found out. And many, right now, are afraid of people coming into the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Many of my neighbors live in constant fear of being separated from their families because of their undocumented status. Many of my neighbors live in fear of people of a certain skin color or economic status. Others of my neighbors fear they are “losing the neighborhood” to those who are different from them. Fear is alive and well in my neighborhood.

And as the great Yoda once said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Read this in your best Yoda voice, I hope you did. Mhmmm….)

As I said, fear is a powerful emotion and force. But the answer is not just to stop being afraid. No, the good news is that we can, instead, trust God. Whenever we are afraid, we have the opportunity to trust in God. And this is not some simple spiritual answer. Trusting in God gives us an imagination for ways in which we no longer have to live in fear. We can trust that God is at work. We can trust that, when we afraid no one cares about our pain, God holds our tears in a bottle.

So, if we are free to trust God in place of our fear (and even in the midst of it), what could our life look like today? What is the “fear story” you are living from today? What does God want you to know about him or who you are, in the midst of this fear? How could we respond to the good news that God is speaking to our fear?

For me, God is saying: “Derek, I see you and I see the suffering of the people in the world I have made. I see and I hear and I grieve. You are free to join me in my grief; a grief that grieves in hope and does not leader to anger or hate. You are free to weep and act from a place of love, not hate or bitterness.” So today, I will simply notice where I sense anger/hate/bitterness in my own heart or words.

Today, own your fear, and ask…what could it look like to trust in my fears?

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Baltimore, Musings, Neighborhood, Rooted, Suffering

Thoughts from the Justice for Joe Rally

I was honored to be a part of such a stirring support of Mr. Joe tonight. Mr. Joe (Yogesh Sheth), was shot and killed during an attempted robbery at his Mini Market Deli & Grocery store, a mere two blocks from our front door. He worked in Highlandtown for 25 years. He was killed May 1, 2015. The police have given no new information since the first 24 hours of the incident.

His family invited me to share a few words, and here is (mostly) what I said.

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I want to begin by thanking Ms. Meena Saywack and Teresa from Matthew’s Pizza who invited me to come and share some thoughts with you today.

I know some of you here, but I realize many of you may not know me. My name is Derek Miller and my wife, Kara and I are newer to Highlandtown, having only been here a few years. But we live a mere two blocks from this place, I serve as a neighborhood pastor at Gallery Church Patterson Park and serve on the board of our Highlandtown Community Association.

But today, I am merely a neighbor amongst my other neighbors. In spite of what has happened here and the many challenges we face as neighborhood, Highlandtown has become my home; a place that I love and believe in. I can’t claim to speak for all of us, nor would I even attempt to today. But I will share what I have seen, what I see now, and what I hope for for our community and for Mr. Joe’s family.

Like many of you, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of what happened here to Mr. Joe. I was working with other neighbors, still cleaning up and recovering from the aftermath of the looting which took place mere blocks from here. I saw the police helicopter swooping over us and someone received word that there was a shooting on Highland Ave. I immediately ran up to see what had happened, and came across Mr. Harry and Miriam, in the midst of a flurry of police activity and crime tape. I couldn’t process what had happened. So many were in shock. The grief settled in for many of us waves. I still remember how numb I felt in trying to explain to others what had happened, as the concerned crowd grew. We talked and cried and prayed together. I didn’t know what else to do. To this day, I still don’t know what else to do but talk and cry and pray.

In the days that have passed, we have all grieved in our own ways. We have experienced anger, fear, confusion, indignation, and intense pain. This is normal but it is painful, there is no doubt about that.

What keeps me moving forward are showings like that of today. We, in spite of our differences, all have a deep desire for justice to prevail in our neighborhood. We want Highlandtown to be a place where businesses can operate without fear of senseless violence. We want a better story for those who come here from other places to seek their own welfare and the welfare of their community.

So I grieve today, but I have great hope. It is my own belief that God is capable of bringing amazing beauty and life out of the most despicable and ugly situations. That is my prayer and hope for Mr. Joe’s family and friends. It is also my hope for Highlandtown; not only for justice but for peace and prosperity, knowing that they are all linked together. I invite you to continue to work for the welfare of our neighborhood, and to continue to stand in solidarity with those who, like Mr. Joe’s family, have experienced such great loss. There is beauty and hope to be found there, as we share our pain and hope with each other.

We do want justice for Mr. Joe and we continue to implore the police and government officials to exhaust any and every opportunity and resource to bring those who committed this senseless crime to justice. I encourage all of you to sign the ongoing petition, if you haven’t done so already, which urges our police dept and all our representatives to do their jobs and not forget about what we remember every day we walk by this store. In the meantime, I commit myself to being more connected to our local businesses and neighbors. I regret that I did not take enough time to know Mr. Joe as well as so many of you knew him.

I wonder what we could accomplish if we all were able to support one another like this in the future. I wonder what our neighborhood could look like if we all lent the same support as we are showing today in both good times and bad. I commit to doing my best to support you as a long-committed neighbor.

Thank you all for being here, and may there be justice for Joe…

Please consider signing this petition, which will be handed directly to the Police Commissioner.

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awakening, church, city, Musings, Suffering

Suffering | Two Quotes

I’ve had some conversations with friends about the concept of suffering. This is a great mental exercise until you actually have to go through it, and then…well…it’s pretty terrible.
I would love your thoughts or experiences on this issue as it relates to the following quotes:
Two quotes:
The first is from a very conservative professor that I had. He said some pretty quotable stuff (i.e. at the end of class, he said the following: “‎If God spares the United States of America, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. Be safe.”)–but that’s not the quote I want to focus on…it’s this:
If you have never shaken your fist at the sky, do not covet the experience; it will come. Never look into the eyes of someone suffering and say “God has a reason” or “Someday you will understand”. Both are lies. It is a grave invitation to offer comfort that is not true. The Lord comforts those who are in pain, but he does not do it through deception. The answer to human suffering is that there are no answers. We are not going to understand. The result of living in a fallen world where everyone dies.”
And the second:
“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
— Thomas Merton
Thoughts?
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Musings, Suffering

A Year in Three Days: A Personal Story

(This was originally written 4 months ago, yet I now have the courage to post it)

Culturally, we love to celebrate and observe things in increments of years. Birthdays, anniversaries, memorials, holidays, observances; they all come and go in a year’s time. There is something within us that marks the passing of time in cycles. Because as much as our lives are linear, they are cyclical. It almost grounds us, helping us to feel as though there is still constancy in the courses our lives take. The seasons come and go each year. Even the Christian calendar has a rhythm.

Yet this year has been one of the most odd passings of time I have ever experienced. Twelve months have passed. Yet somehow I feel like I have fit a lifetime in them. The months, weeks, and days themselves are not longer. But it seems like I have fit 12 years within them.

Yet they have passed, as time does…regardless the pace. For me, they have passed slowly and quickly. They have dragged on and they have flown by.

Why? Because it has been a year of Eucharist.

 Betrayed. Broken. Abandoned. Poured out. Defeated. 

I remember what happened in my chest when the woman I had promised to love and cherish for the rest of my life, sat me down and said simply, “I do not love you anymore. I am leaving.” She said it like she would say, “We are out of milk.”

And then she left. And she kept leaving. She stayed gone. There is no need to go into any details beyond this, other than to say she made it clear she was gone and in no way wanted to come back.

To feel as though you have no control over a situation is one of the worst in the world. There was nothing I could say. There was nothing I could do. She left.

And I was devastated. The world around me was not immune, either. As these things go, when one person breaks relationships, the ripples extend out farther than we can know. I spent a lot of time just seeing the ripples and grieving over them.

The extent to which I felt grief, pain, sorrow, anger, and fear cannot be overstated.

I grieved. I remember sitting in my room in eerie silence. I wanted to scream out all of these things to God. It was hard to even speak. Often I found myself without words. I even quoted Jesus, somehow the Aramaic felt more intense. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani. (My God,my God, why have you forsaken me?)

But then, quietly, without fanfare or warning, resurrection happened.

It is curious to me why Jesus did not rise until the third day. I have heard some explanations, but nothing that seems, to me, satisfactory. Only, perhaps, that there was a day for everything.

A day for death.

A day for grief.

And a day for new life.

God began to create something new in and around me in ways I could not imagine; in ways I am still discovering. Songs were written from the desert. I found a renewed passion for people. When I was not seeking it, God brought me a woman who loves me, cares for me, and is passionate about caring for the people around her. She is a gift. Even thinking about this brings tears to my eyes. God is so gracious.

Yet there is this task of Eucharist: the command of Jesus to remember Him and proclaim his death.

Jesus said that when we drink from his cup, we proclaim his death until he comes.

Jesus also asked one of his disciples if he could drink the cup that He was about to drink.

Could it be that the way we proclaim Jesus death until he comes goes beyond drinking grape juice or chewing a stale wafer?

Could it be that we proclaim his death by enduring suffering? That is, entering the cycle of Eucharist. Broken open, poured out. Feeling empty and being filled again.

Could it be that a year (or a life, for that matter) is really three days? Death. Grief. Resurrection.

Repeat.

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music, Music, Suffering, Sunday Setlist

Sunday Setlist: 1/29/12

So, each week I will be posting the music setlist from our gatherings over the weekend. I do this as a part of a worship community that shares these sort of things.

As of now, we have two gatherings: Harbor East at 10am and Highlandtown at 5pm. I will try to post from the gatherings in which I lead, and make comments from those I don’t! You should expect to see these posts come through each Monday.

Sunday, January 29th 2012: Harbor East

Blessed Be Your Name Redman
The one thing about this song that stuck many of us was this: we have a choice in how we respond to life. Will we always choose to say that God’s name is blessed (meaning that He is good, worthy of our love, and holy)? This is a hard choice for me sometimes. Many of us want to curse His name, as if He is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. The truth is found not in whether or not He caused it but in the fact He is in the mess with You.

Scripture Reading: Mark 6:17-29-This is such a twisted and sad story. (you can listen to Pastor Ellis teach through it here.) We tried to approach it from the perspective of John the Baptist’s disciples and the grief they must have felt. Thus, many of the songs we sang would be classified as laments. These songs (or psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures) have a flow to them: crying out to God about pain, remembering how God has dealt in the past, questioning whether or not He will continue to act, deciding to trust that God will be faithful in the future.

How Can We Sing a Joyful Song? Original
This is a song that I wrote based on the text of Psalm 137. It deals with the sadness that the Israelites felt when they were asked to sing the joyful songs of home while they were forced to live somewhere else. Sometimes I have felt this way: it is difficult to sing when you feel you have nothing to be joyful about. Here are the lines from the last verse that bring us hope.

One day we will sing a joyful song
When darkness in the world all comes undone
All the wrong will be right
All the blinded will have sight
And peace will be our only battle song

Today we will sing a joyful song
‘Cause we all have a place where we belong
Together we are one

As are the Father and the Son
So together we will sing a joyful song 

Psalm 13 (How Long, O Lord) Doerksen
We focused on how sometimes the most profound times in our lives are when we can say the word “but”. This song echoes the words of David; asking “have you forgotten me, God?” He even demands that God answer him before it is too late. Yet he says, “but I will trust in Your unfailing love, Yes I will rejoice because You have been good to me!” This helps us to engage in the work of lament: cry out, remember, question, decide, trust.

I Lift My Hands Tomlin
There is a great video about how this song came to be here, along with chord charts if you want to learn it yourself. (And Tomlin sings it better than I do!) Sometimes our physical actions help to change our hearts, even if it is simply a hand raised.

Amazed Anderson
My buddy Nate did such a great job leading out on this song on the keys! When we get to a point where we really recognize that God is with us and his love is abounding to us, our response can be nothing but amazement.

Sunday, January 29th 2012: Highlandtown

Blessed Be Your Name Redman

Levanto Mis Manos Hernandez
This is the first song I have led that was actually written in Spanish. I am so thankful for my friends and fellow staff members, Bill and Aida Medina who introduced this song to me. To be honest, I didn’t do the best job, but it is helping me to learn how to lead our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. And the church sang very well!

I Lift My Hands Tomlin

Majesty/Majestad  Smith/Garrard
I remember the first time I sang this song. I was in high school at a worship event where we were all singing the line: “Your grace has found me just as I am/Empty-handed but alive in Your hands” . I was broken. I needed to remember that all I have and all I am is because of the grace of God. I come to Him with empty hands. That moment caused a huge shift in my life and I am always drawn back to that place when I hear or sing this song.

Amazed Anderson

Feel free to share any thoughts or reflections in the comments section! 

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