1 John 3:11-18 / John 1:43-51
As we move from the Festal Season of Christmas into what is sometimes called Ordinary Time what ought we to think?
When I was a newly confirmed Episcopalian in 1942, I learned that the season we are about to enter can be called the Missionary Season. An example of Mission activity is Andrew taking his brother Peter to meet Jesus.
Today’s Gospel gives us the example of Philip finding Nathanael and telling him about Jesus. Philip first told Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael’s reply was not very encouraging, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip went on to say to him, “Come and see.” What happened then was very encouraging, to say the least. Jesus showed himself a good judge of Character. When Jesus told Nathanael he had seen him under a fig tree, there was a further revelation.
Contemplative Humility: A Meditation on Psalm 131
O LORD, I am not proud;
I have no haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters,
or with things that are too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast;
my soul is quieted within me.
O Israel, wait upon the LORD,
from this time forth for evermore.
Apart from their grouping under a shared, descriptive superscription, “Song of Ascents,” the psalms numbered 120-134 seem a motley crew at first glance, unconnected, even fractious: some are individual laments, others collective thanksgivings; some laud the joys of domesticity while others the glories of the assembly at worship; communal doxologies contrast with a single penitent’s cry for divine mercy; personal pleas for deliverance from enemies are juxtaposed with hymns of gratitude for national protection.
Yet the designation “Song of Ascents” indicates their commonality and interrelationship, for all are psalms of pilgrimage – toward and into God. And as such they are hymns for an upward journey experienced on two levels simultaneously, the outer and visible, and the inner and unseen. Outer and visible, since pilgrims traveling on foot to Jerusalem, whether coming from north or south, east or west, must physically ascend through hill country. For though not itself one of earth’s great peaks, Mount Zion presents a sometimes arduous climb, whether approaching via Roman road or overland. But also inner and unseen, for pilgrimage entails a moment-by-moment commitment to rise to the new life which is God’s gift to us in Christ. The temple to which we make ascent is the Lord’s own crucified and risen body, of which we are members.
The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” of which Paul speaks is made in humility in walking through life, day to day: feet treading the ground of reality, of paradox, upward ascent implying true groundedness. Humility stilling the soul (the word humility derives from humus, the soil, earth, and clay from which we come). Speaking of fears, trials, losses and hopes, dreams and lasting meaning. Making the ascent to God’s dwelling place in pilgrimage, we learn that it is very much within, trusting in humility as a child on its mother’s breast, nurtured, caressed, kissed, sung to, suckled.
Psalm 131 comes as an oasis on the way, a place of respite for the journey, a reminder of the Holy One who has preserved us in life to this very moment, and who promises life yet more abundant, even beyond our wildest imagination, when the pilgrimage ceases. This hymn of humility invites us to revel in remembrance of God’s love, which first brought us into being and which at this moment as always delights in our companionship.
“O Lord, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks,” we pray, first confessing our forgetfulness in acknowledging ourselves as entirely dependent on God alone, a vital truth which we often refuse through our illusion of self-sufficiency.
“I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me,” the Spirit prays from deep within. And though we have occupied and still do so occupy ourselves with reactive, unconsidered words or actions, the Source of all being invites us to rest from our striving and wait patiently upon Love.
“But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.” Here in the midst of pilgrimage we come upon an image of God unique in the scriptures: God as the nursing, nurturing mother; God gently rocking and calming the weary and hungry child who seeks the security of unconditional love. We pray to return to the child-like dependence, even vulnerability, by which alone we enter the kingdom and the security of God’s embrace.
And so our journey in prayer comes full circle: “O Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth for evermore.” We travel on in humility, joined to the community of God’s chosen, and knowing even now of our union with the One to whom we ascend. The stance of waiting is pregnant with expectation, the hopeful assurance of seeing things which are now hidden from our sight. It is to trust in God’s unfailing generosity, which ever provides not what we think we need, but what we actually need – in the right degree and at the right time. The unexpected is made visible to the contemplative heart, which watches and waits on God in all circumstances.
Remember: A Meditation on Psalm 126
It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,
when God returned Zion’s exiles.
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn’t believe our good fortune.
We were the talk of the nations –
“God was wonderful to them!”
God was wonderful to us;
we are one happy people.
And now, God, do it again –
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing. (Translation: The Message)
Have you been part of a surprise party? Or the reuniting of friends who didn’t expect to see each other? Have you witnessed an act of kindness or generosity that stunned the recipient? Psalm 126 recalls a laugh-out-loud time that was “like a dream, too good to be true.”
Intimacy with God: A Meditation on Psalm 85
You have been gracious to your land, O LORD,
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your fury
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
Restore us then, O God our Savior;
let your anger depart from us.
Will you be displeased with us for ever?
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
Will you not give us life again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your mercy, O LORD,
and grant us your salvation.
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
Bless the Lord, O My Soul: A Meditation on Psalm 103
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all his benefits.
He forgives all your sins
And heals all your infirmities;
He redeems your life from the grave
And crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
He satisfies you with good things,
And your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
The LORD executes righteousness
And judgment for all who are oppressed.
He made his ways known to Moses
And his works to the children of Israel.
The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,
Slow to anger and of great kindness.
Whenever I hear the opening words of Psalm 103 I think of my grandmother, who loved me unconditionally. I have reflected often in recent years on those individuals whose influence helped make me who I am, and she is certainly at the top of the list. My grandfather died unexpectedly when my grandmother was 27 and within weeks of giving birth to her second child, Elizabeth. They had been sweethearts since childhood. Left a widow in a frontier town in Indian Territory, far from her family in Texas, my grandmother emerged from darkest grief a year later spiritually rescued and renewed, determined to lead others to the love of Jesus. An inspired teacher, she did so by teaching Bible classes for over fifty years. Bereft by tragedy at such an early age, her life could have been hobbled by fear. Instead, Psalm 103 inspired her to live. It became her mantra. Its message can inspire us to live more fully, as well.