Saturday, July 8, 2017

This is the Day

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

The father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" - Luke 15:22-24

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 82:5-8; Isaiah 26,27; Ephesians 4:7-16

You'd probably find Psalm 118:24 on a lot of people's lists of favorite inspirational scriptures. "This is the day that the Lord has made" encourages us to see God's hand at work all around us. And "Let us rejoice and be glad in it" encourages us to appreciate it, thoroughly enjoy it, give thanks and immerse ourselves in it.

There is a certain context for this verse, of course, and as always it's good to be aware of that, since taking a verse out of context can lead to misunderstandings and false hopes. This psalm seems to be celebrating a specific victory over enemies, so "this" day refers to the way God acted at that time, defeating human powers that threatened life and faith. But the psalm doesn't give many historical details, and it's written in a more general, forward-looking way, easily adaptable to any time of thankfulness, renewal of faith, and celebration of God's power. As with many psalms, it becomes part of the Bible's "hymn book" that can be used any time. And it contains some other "greatest hits" verses that many people may be familiar with:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. 
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Christians will recognize that some of these verses are quoted in the New Testament to identify Jesus as God's son, or reflect strong Christian themes. So we can say that the New Testament expands on this psalm's theme of victory and trust in God's power over human power, in a way that points to Jesus' unique way of revealing God's ways to all people.

It so happens that Psalm 118:24 is matched up today with one of my favorite scripture passages, the one I keep coming back to as the foundation for my sense of what God has called me to do as a pastor. I'm talking about Ephesians 4:11-13:
The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 
I believe we're living in a new time of reformation and renewal, an echo of the Reformation of Martin Luther and others that began 500 years ago this year. Due to various factors, some of which we experience as good and pleasant, some we might say are painful or threatening, the church and the world are reawakening to the place of all Christians as "saints" to be equipped for the work of ministry. This little passage probably says it most clearly, but the Bible is full of stories and encouragement for every believer to be involved in love of God, love of neighbor, and God's mission of love to the world.

I've been thinking lately that this time, a time of anxiety for many people in the church, may really be a time to be celebrated. There is risk, of course, in any change. And there is loss, and grief, and disorientation when anything familiar comes to an end and something new comes along. But just as Psalm 118 lays out a theme of trust and hope and joy, in images that foreshadow the coming of Christ, I think the struggles of our time may set the tone for celebration now and in the future. Rather than mourn for the lost stability of the past, we can look at what God is doing right now, notice how God is setting countless people free to live God's way and tell God's story, and rededicate ourselves to thanking and praising God and getting on with God's will.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

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