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Playlist – Br. Mark Brown

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Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12

Today we’re presented with some of the crown jewels of scripture. “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” One of those passages from scripture that concentrates so much truth. And the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: a necklace of the finest diamonds. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jewels in scripture’s crown, showing us the way of blessedness.

But why are we so struck by the beauty and power of these passages? Why do they resonate so deeply within us? Why do we choose them above others? The Bible, after all, is a big book, a book of books, a library of many types of writing, a treasure chest of many things. Histories, poetry, hymns and love songs, parables, letters, sage advice, prophecies, legislation, lamentations, curses and maledictions. Tall tales and theological treatises. And, of course, many writers, each with a cultural setting, each with biases and limitations, each advancing an agenda.

And we call every bit of it “the Word of the Lord”. Yet we are drawn to some words more than others (like the Beatitudes and what might be called Micah’s “summary of the law”). Some parts of scripture fade into the background. And some parts are offensive. The curses and maledictions of the Psalter, for example. If we haven’t taken actual scissors to scripture, as Thomas Jefferson did, we each have our metaphorical scissors handy.

It can be an unsettling fact that we can have different opinions about which passages are the crown jewels of scripture, which passages become our guiding lights. The people of Westboro Baptist Church read the same Bible we do. They are the folks that show up at funerals of soldiers with signs saying things like “God hates fags”. And other curses and maledictions. They’re clearly not reading the Bible the way I read the Bible. They are an extreme case, but people who call themselves Christian can have very different takes on scripture. North, south, east and west: the church reads the same Bible. But not necessarily in the same way.

And what resonates powerfully for us one day may not on another day. Over time and space our perspectives change. We may be drawn to certain words of scripture for a season of life, but our preoccupations and concerns can change.

So, given this fluidity, how do we know if we’re paying attention to the right things–or at least on the right track? Maybe we can’t know for sure. And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe this is the test: what will we choose? What will we choose as the crown jewels? Paul speaks of the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” [Romans 8:21]. Perhaps this is the ultimate test: given the freedom to choose, what will it be? Will it be words of life and light and love? Or will it be curses and maledictions and death? Will we choose words that lead to the small and dark places of the tomb? Or will we choose words that lead to the sunlit garden outside, the broad and bright places of life?

Words are notoriously provisional, contingent, fluid. What words mean depends on context; and meanings shift over time and from place to place. Words of text are not bedrock. The only bedrock of life is the Living Word himself. Some words of text root us, ground us in the Living Word, the Living Bedrock. Some words of text, Biblical or otherwise, root us and ground us in love, as Ephesians puts it. Some words bind us to darker realities. Some words bind us in chains in small dark tombs.

Which words will we choose? “You have the words of eternal life”, Peter says to Jesus [John 6: 68]. But which are they? Which shall we choose? Which will we take into the treasury of our hearts? Which words will be our crown jewels?

Before we decide that, there is a more fundamental decision to be made, an existential choice. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus says to the man at the pool of healing [John 5:2]. Do you want to live? Do you want to live fully? Do you desire abundant life, expansive life? He says to us.

This is the fundamental choice before us: choosing the expansiveness of life (in all its manifestations) over the diminishments of death (in all its manifestations). Having chosen life over death, there are words that root us and ground us in the Living Word himself.

You might find it a meaningful in your time of prayer to choose the words that lead you to the expansiveness of life, to choose the passages of scripture that are your crown jewels. Or, to use a more up-to-date metaphor, choose the top ten on your “play list”.

Here’s the top ten of my playlist, my crown jewels—at least as of today.

  • 1 John 4:7 – God is love
  • John 1:1-18 – “In the beginning was the Word…the Word became flesh…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ…”
  • Matthew 5-7 – Sermon on the Mount (Jefferson kept this in his cut-up Bible)
  • 1 Corinthians 13 – Paul’s hymn to love (“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…”)
  • Genesis 1:27 – “So God created humankind in his image”
  • Mark 12:29 – Jesus’ Summary of the Law (“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all our heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”)
  • Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…”
  • Isaiah 53 – The Song of the Suffering Servant (“…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed…”
  • Micah 6:8 – “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

And just one more, one more jewel, a jewel of dazzling color and brilliance —words of light, words of infinitely expansive life.

  • Revelation 21:1-2 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…”

Hallelujah and amen.

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12 Comments

  1. Rhode on October 27, 2016 at 08:36

    These pre-election days have been horrifying. Just when I think civility has reached an all time low a new bottom appears. Only prayer and scripture has lowered my blood pressure. Your top ten is very close to my own all time favorites. I would like to include this: Romans 8:37-39. ““Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    ‭‭

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  3. Maureen Doyle on November 3, 2015 at 19:13

    So many great words. When I choose my quotes, I think: by their fruits you shall know them. So, God is love, and they who abide in love abide in God–and God in them.

  4. Ruth West on November 3, 2015 at 12:07

    Thank you for this good message, Br. Mark.
    Some of my favorite praises come from the Psalms. Psa. 27 “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?”
    and Psa. 103 “Bless the Lord, O My Soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
    Then, too, all those scriptures which say to us: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again.”
    The Bible contains many books, but the thread of salvation runs through them.
    When I was about three years old my parents attended a little country church. The children were given memory verses. I stood up before the congregation and recited mine, “God is Love.” That is still my theme.

  5. Christopher Engle Barnhart on November 3, 2015 at 08:26

    One of my favorite passages come from Romans 8:
    38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
    39 Nor height, nor depth, nor anyother creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  6. N on November 3, 2015 at 08:08

    Very helpful, Brother Brown. You have provided a useful standard to bear in mind as we read Scripture, namely, how does a particular passage lead us to an expansiveness of life? Thank you for the reminder of the riches of 1 John.

  7. Anders on February 7, 2014 at 12:17

    Thanks for your playlist. I struggle with the literal interpretation of the Bible and appreciate your focus. There seems to be a shift of how the Lord appears to us in the progression of the Bible, from the ephemeral “Spirit of God hovering over the waters” in Genesis and the “Lord appearing to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush” to John´s concept of the “Word” becoming flesh and Paul´s logic of justification by faith (which I find scary). At times I question if the Word in terms of something black and white (as we tend to understand it in our Western tradition) was pinned down and killed along with Jesus–all to be replaced by the Word of the Resurrection, the Light, a word which offers as much clarity and inspiration as Jesus parables.

  8. barbara frazer lowe on February 7, 2014 at 10:18

    Br. Bown – Thankyou for a major jewel, to treasure with full joy and thankfulness, daily.

  9. Br Graham-Michoel on February 7, 2014 at 09:33

    Some wonderful thoughts and insights. As an editor I am immediately looking at words with anew stance, thanks to your homily.

  10. Christina on February 7, 2014 at 09:22

    Thank you for your WORDS, Brother Mark.
    There may be others, if I give it more thought, but Micah has been my choice for a very long time.
    Christina

  11. Susan Bendickson on January 1, 2012 at 17:06

    SO very beautiful, so true… Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. All the world can be healed by this.

  12. Roberta on December 31, 2011 at 11:45

    Thank you for this meditation. One of my “jewels” is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart….and the second is like unto it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On this hangs all the Law and Prophets….

    My parents practiced this – they loved their neighbors when their neighbors did not love them. When Gene Robinson, a gay man in a relationship, was nominated to be a bishop, my Dad asked me what I thought. At the time, I wasn’t sure but I knew God was – the entire Law hangs on the love in the above verses. When I face mystery or uncertainty in my life or where my church may be going, this is my “test” – will this action, this thought, this program fulfill loving God and neighbor ?

    I have your daily word link on my website, reading it when I do my devotions. God bless.

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