There will always be joy

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File:Pavel Datsyuk.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 47 in Easter

Psalm 84:2

My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

The season of Easter flies towards its end, but the joy lingers. Soon we will hear of mighty wind and wondrous signs and the Spirit poured out. Soon we will hear the followers of Jesus find their voice and begin to carry their message to the ends of the earth. But there will always be joy.

Soon the Sunday readings will turn back to the words and deeds of Jesus, the exhortations of the epistles, the words of the law and prophets. The season will turn to the color green and the daily growth in grace. But there will always be joy.

We are the crowd filing out from the championship game victorious. The heart still thrills with the victory. Shouts of joy ascend. At home the thrill endures. Days later we are still enthralled. Years later the heart still warms at the thought of our heroes skating around the rink with the Stanley Cup held high. Our hearts are yet moved by the memory of Vladimir Konstantinov, wheeled onto the ice to hold the cup again, one year after his devastating injury. Even in sorrow there will be joy.

“My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Says the psalmist. The joy is written into him, body and soul. He feels it in his fingertips. It shows itself in the passions of his heart, in the choices made, in the compassion lived, in the kindness shown to strangers, in the courage with which he faces adversity, in the hope with which he faces sorrow. The love he lives is undying, the life he lives, eternal.

“My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pavel_Datsyuk.jpg By Dan4th Nicholas (080202 red wings at bruins (377)) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Forever

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File:Alvorecer no Pico da Bandeira.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 46 in Easter

Psalm 107:1

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
….for his steadfast love endures forever.

Forever. There is no end to God’s faithfulness.

Wherever we may wander, how fiercely we may rebel, how bitterly we may curse, how callously we pound the nails, there is no end to God’s faithfulness.

How scarred our hands, how weary our feet, how wounded our hearts, how burdened our souls, there is no end to God’s faithfulness.

How troubled our minds, how restless our hearts, how broken our bodies, there is no end to God’s faithfulness.

How lonely, forgotten or cast aside; how crowded, pulled, or pushed; how abused, betrayed or frightened; how happy, successful, or at ease; there is no end to God’s faithfulness.

The promise abides. The source of life that called forth the world is calling still, summoning us to live in his life, breathe his spirit, know his love, share his joy.

Forever.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alvorecer_no_Pico_da_Bandeira.jpg By LuizFolha [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

From horizon to horizon

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File:Захід сонця на вершині скелі Соколине око.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 45 in Easter

Psalm 65:8

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
….you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

Where the sun breaks forth upon the world and where, after its long journey, it slips beyond the horizon there is joy. The day begins and ends with wonder and grace. Every morning is a taste of the garden and each evening a sabbath rest. Each morning shares in the first Easter and every evening the table at Emmaus.

From horizon to horizon there is goodness: in the wonder of creation, in the abundance of the earth, in the meadows that spring forth in beauty and the rains that give life to the fields. And from horizon to horizon is a mercy that reaches forth to save.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%97%D0%B0%D1%85%D1%96%D0%B4_%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%BD%D1%86%D1%8F_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%88%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%96_%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B5%D0%BB%D1%96_%D0%A1%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B5_%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BE.jpg By Ryzhkov Sergey [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

“These I will bring to my holy mountain”

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Verses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 44 in Easter

(A belated posting for Monday, May 7)

Isaiah 56:7

These I will bring to my holy mountain,
….and make them joyful in my house of prayer.

It is one of the sweetest and most remarkable prophetic texts. The “these” to whom God refers are foreigners and eunuchs, those who have been shunned and marginalized, prohibited from participation in the rites and rituals of Israel, kept away from God’s presence as unclean.

They don’t fit. They aren’t like us.

Eunuchs don’t fit inside the family patterns of society. Foreigners don’t fit inside the bonds of clan and kin. They are the pebble in the shoe, the stranger, the oddity, the deviant. They are Jacob among the women rather than the rough and ruddy Esau. They are the woman unwelcome among those who draw water in the morning at the well in town because she has had five husbands “and the one you have now is not your husband.” They are the taunted Hannah without child, the leprous king excluded from the house of the LORD, the Canaanite woman lower than the dogs.

They are the young woman who snorts when she laughs, the awkward boy who “runs like a girl,” the children who play with the wrong toys. They are the people with the wrong clothes, the children with the wrong skin color, the adults with the wrong accent. They are the ones kept away by the broad sweep of steps leading to our sanctuaries, the solitary kept away because they sit alone, the families kept away because they don’t fit the pattern of our church.

Except it’s not our church, it is God’s house of prayer. And God will gather them all and make them joyful in God’s house.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jesus_in_Clouds_by_Sunset_2.jpg By Donatas Dabravolskas [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

 

God’s good pleasure

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File:Sunrise on the Camas Prairie.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 43 in Easter

(A belated posting for Sunday, May 13)

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

God delights to give the kingdom. God delights to send forth the Spirit. God delights to open eyes and hearts to grace and mercy. God delights to heal the wounded, mend the torn, raise the dead. God delights to govern the world in peace.

There is no delight in the sorrows we inflict upon others and ourselves. There is no thrill in the heart of God to throw thunderbolts, no delight in wreaking vengeance, no joy in the death of sinners. It is God’s good pleasure to open the grave, to cry to the dry bones, to make the wilderness bloom and all creation sing.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunrise_on_the_Camas_Prairie.jpg By Charles Knowles from Meridian Idaho, USA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A simple and wonderful happiness

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File:Les Parapluies de Viborg.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 42 in Easter

Psalm 146:5

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
….whose hope is in the Lord their God.

I have no idea what the story is behind this photograph of colorful umbrellas; I just know that it makes me smile and the verse from this psalm speaks of happiness.

There are other photographs that bring a similar mix of warmth, peace, contentedness and pleasure. This, for example, evokes such feelings with the simple pleasure of flying a kite among a meadow of wildflowers:

File:The kite runner (2).jpg

It is valuable to remember where such happiness begins: in God who is our help and our hope.

We don’t fly kites when work and sorrows haunt us. We don’t play with umbrellas when anxieties and fears prevail. To say that God is our help and hope is not to minimize our fears and sorrows – but it does put them in some perspective.

Other translations use ‘blessed’ instead of ‘happy’. ‘Happy’ doesn’t really catch the nuance of the Hebrew term that speaks more of being at peace with God and our neighbors. It is that sensation that things are as they should be. It is tied to the notion of fidelity to God and others; love of God and neighbor. Something that can be true no matter the stresses of our time.

God is hour help and hope. We dwell in this promise that mercy and kindness shall prevail, God’s reign shall come. The world will blossom again like a meadow of wildflowers. The new creation is already present. We live in the light of the empty tomb. Sin and death will be lifted from the world and are lifted from us even now. A radiant grace and life has come. It is present in the arms of Jesus. It is present in the breath of the Spirit. It is present in the bread and wine. It is present in the songs of the church. It is present in the love and service of those in Christ. It is present wherever sins are forgiven and lives touched with grace and healing.

Where it is present there is joy and song and praise – and a simple and wonderful happiness.

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Photos: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Les_Parapluies_de_Viborg.jpg By W.carter [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_kite_runner_(2).jpg By Armineaghayan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

How beautiful the feet

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File:1 photography.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 41 in Easter

Isaiah 52:7

How beautiful upon the mountains
….are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
….who announces salvation,
….who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Bad news seems to come continuously. The world is troubled. Our politics are troubled. Our homes are too often troubled. And the sweet little stories that the nightly news tacks on at the end of the broadcast to make us feel better don’t really do the job. It can be tricky living in the joy of Easter when the world around us struggles with the anxieties of our age. When we ourselves struggle.

But the grave is empty.

The prophet lives in a time when news relies on runners. David is waiting to hear from the battlefield when Ahimaaz wants permission to run with the news, but his commander, Joab, will not allow it. Though David’s troops have been victorious, David’s son, Absalom, has fallen. In Jerusalem, David waits. They see the runner in the distance. They try to discern from the way he runs whether he brings good news or ill.

The ancient city watches as their troops march out to battle and then the people wait in anxiety, wondering whether the next troops to arrive will be their own coming in joy or their enemies arriving to pillage and plunder. When the runner brings good news – well, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger…who brings good news.”

And so on Easter morning runners come from the battlefield where faithfulness and grace war against those tyrant powers sin and death. Runners come. They bring good news. They are heralds of God’s victory: the grave is empty.

And we are saved.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1_photography.jpg By PURSHOTHAMMA [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Joy

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File:Children playing with a dog.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 40 in Easter

Isaiah 65:18 RSV

Be glad and rejoice for ever
….in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing,
….and her people a joy.

Rejoice in what I create, for what I create is joy.

(Sometimes simple is best.)

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Children_playing_with_a_dog.jpg By amrufm from Shah Alam, Malaysia (DSC_5948 copy) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In season

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File:Blackberries by Hanney Road - geograph.org.uk - 1469378.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 39 in Easter

Psalm 1:1-3

Happy are those [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord…
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
….which yield their fruit in its season.

Modern farming and transportation has changed the notion of seasons. Now you can get fresh tomatoes year round – and things that would never grow in your yard. I appreciate this. I wouldn’t get bananas or blueberries otherwise, let alone coffee or chocolate.

There is a time for the flowers to bud and grow, and a time for the fruit to be ripe. Those who live nearer the land understand this. But if there’s not enough water, the plants turn spindly and few if any tomatoes ripen.

So what is the source of water for a life that is good? What will bring forth compassion and character in us? What will bring forth fidelity and truthfulness? What will bear kindness

Our psalm points us to “the law of the LORD,” not meaning a set of rules, but the rich testimony to justice and mercy we find in the narratives and commands from Genesis through Deuteronomy – indeed through all of scripture. The word ‘law’ (‘Torah’) means more than a legal code; it embraces all God’s teaching. The rules and commandments we find there can’t be disconnected from the account of a good and beautiful world fashioned by a God who blesses – or a world gone awry because our first parents broke faith with the one who entrusted to them his garden. The story of Abraham’s journey, of Jacob’s wrestling with God, of Joseph’s faithfulness, and Israel’s escape from Egypt, are part and parcel of the commandments they encounter at Sinai. The God who provides bread and water in the wilderness is the God who commands food and protections for the poor. The God who frees slaves is the God who commands a day of rest for all.

Those who are nourished by these words bear fruit in their proper time. When justice is called for, justice is done. When compassion is desired, it is ready to be given. When generosity, courage, or faithfulness are needed, the fruit is ready because people have been nourished in the story and enriched by the Spirit of the God who there speaks of his will and way for the world.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackberries_by_Hanney_Road_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1469378.jpg Steve Daniels / Blackberries by Hanney Road

One fruit

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File:Tomato vender at the Covington Farmer's Market in Covington, LA.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 38 in Easter

Galatians 5:22-23

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

So are there nine different fruits of the Spirit or one fruit with all these flavors? Paul talks elsewhere about the variety of gifts of the Spirit, but the word ‘fruit’ here is singular. One fruit, many aspects. The Spirit is not love absent joy, or kindness absent patience; God is all these.

To be shaped by the Spirit of God is to be shaped by a grace, power and presence that embodies all these and more: courage, strength, hope, honesty, integrity. It does not take advantage of the weak or mock the poor. It does not profit at the expense of another. It does not lift itself up but lifts up others. It does not seek to be served but to serve. We have seen its face in the one who bends to wash feet and stretches wide his arms upon the cross, who trusted in God to open the grave.

This is the Spirit we are given. This is the Spirit seeking to bear its fruit in our lives.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tomato_vender_at_the_Covington_Farmer%27s_Market_in_Covington,_LA.jpg By Saint Tammany [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons