Singing justice for the poor: Praising God for His just acts

I proclaim the power of God: You do marvels for your servants;

Though you scatter the proud-hearted  And destroy the might of princes.

To the hungry you give food,  send the rich away ——empty.

In your mercy you are mindful  Of the people you have chosen.

Refrain: And holy is your name through all generations. (verses 2 & 3 “My Soul is Filled With Joy”. (#13 Sing the Journey). See also, “I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath” verses 2 and 3 Hymnal, a worship book #166 and “Hail, to the Lord’s Anointed” Hymnal, a worship book #185).

Where can we find similar praise to God for caring for the poor and hungry in contemporary and traditional worship music? The results of the search I’ve done show few examples of helping the marginal and bringing down the powerful in praise and worship music.   Early 2015 the Mountain States Mennonite Conference concluded an Anabaptist songwriting contest. They asked for “New songs with lyrics that espouse Anabaptist/Mennonite values: (e.g. Non-violence, love for enemy, reconciliation, communal life, etc.), musically spanning from traditional forms to non-traditional genres, styles and cultural expressions.” Specific mention of the social justice theme is not made, but perhaps it is implied in “Anabaptist/Mennonite values”. The link below identifies winners and includes their lyrics and music. One of the six mentions attention to the poor. * The 2015 Mennonite World Conference Songbook, Walking with God includes at least three of fifty-six selections that specifically praise God for his attention to the oppressed and poor. January 4, 2016, MennoMedia announced Project 606, intended to produce a new hymnal by 2020. Will this project include work on identifying elements of Anabaptist-flavored, Bible-based worship music?

 What Biblical models warrant placing a strong emphasis on praising God for social justice, especially in praise music? “Social justice” here is short hand for God’s act in delivering an immigrant/slave people from the super power of the day. It is a social act because a group of people, the children of Israel, was rescued. A new people with a new plan for living (the Torah) were established. God’s rescue of an oppressed people was “just” because it showed God’s love and mercy, not because Jacob’s descendants deserved it.

The contest (see above) reminded me of my quest of some years to find references to discipleship in worship music, narrowed here to social justice. Some 40 years ago I had a period of illness that resulted in a significant loss of hearing. Gradually I lost additional hearing until today I am nearly deaf. Hearing aids and now a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants are engineered to help with the hertz range of conversation level, but do not cover high and low notes of music. So, I give my attention to the words of the song. This has led me to ask questions about the theology behind the music used in worship. As a non-musician I make no claim to expertise in evaluating musical quality of any of the songs mentioned. I need a welcome help in identifying the quality of lyrics and music featuring attention to God’s interest in the oppressed.

Worship music in the evangelical churches I am familiar with usually includes what can be categorized loosely as contemporary Christian music (CCM), traditional hymns, and gospel songs. These types of music have some overlap. I will not attempt to fully distinguish between them. Each type has its focus. They are not fully listed here. Contemporary and traditional music praises God for many attributes and deeds, gives many invitations for re-dedication to Christian living, and rejoices in the promise of future life with God, but seldom praises God for concern for the poor and oppressed. My focus on the marginalized in this essay is very narrow.

Christian contemporary music

Several writers have noted the lack of attention to social justice issues in CCM. Jay Howard writes: “There are few [contemporary Christian worship] songs concerned with social justice because there are few songwriters from the Anabaptist tradition.” He analyzes 77 Contemporary Worship Songs –those most frequently requested of the licensing service CCL–and finds only one that gives direct attention to social justice issues. John L. Bell, songwriter argues that CCM is mainly about the birth and death of Jesus and ignores his life. Have I missed some CCM titles that give attention to Jesus’ life, especially to his attention to the poor, the widow, and the outsider?

 Traditional ‘gospel songs’ and hymns

Praise and thanksgiving in traditional hymns and gospel songs (I will not define these here, but look at that category the Mennonite Hymnal for examples) give little attention to social justice. “Gospel songs” are strong in their emphasis on grace, God/Jesus’ companionship and love. I have not found any of these that praise God for his love and care of the “widow and fatherless”. There are a number of hymns in Hymnal, a Worship Book (HWB), that include an interest in the poor and oppressed and justice for them. One that praises God for this attention is “I’ll Praise My Maker”, verses three and four (HWB, #166). Some encourage us to follow Jesus’ example in caring for the marginalized. Did I miss hymns that specifically praise God/Jesus as Miriam and Mary did for God’s championing of the oppressed?

Models and sources:

The preliminary Biblical models I would propose for praise songs are Miriam’s song (Exodus 15) and Mary’s song in Luke 1. The book of Psalms was Israel’s “praise and worship” book. That requires some attention to psalms that praise God for his attention to disadvantaged and those who prey on them.

Miriam’s Song

While God the warrior image usually makes Anabaptist uncomfortable, God is first called holy when he rescued the Israelites from the Egyptian cavalry and foot soldiers.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you?—majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders?
 You stretched out your right hand,
the earth swallowed them. (Ex. 15:11-12 (New English Translation)

God is praised for delivering the immigrant/slaves God chose to become his covenant people.

 

The Psalms

In his work on the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann says that the things we praise God for shows the way we view the world and our place in it.  Many Psalms praise God (see also Miriam’s Song) for delivering a slave/immigrant people from the Egyptian superpower whose religion favored politically powerful and the rich. We are sometimes tempted to assign God’s action here to a special category, rather than see it as a model of what God does.  Psalmists praise God (and kings) for their concern for the poor and marginalized.  God is praised for being a just judge and for making wars cease.  See the following Psalms: 9, 10, 29, 35, 65, 66, 68, 69, 72, 74, 81, 82, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 102, 103, 105,106, 107, 109, 123, 124, 135, 136, 139, 140, 146.

Phrases from Psalms 72 and 146 capture a king’s and God’s attitude and action and are characteristic of the other Psalms:

 

Ps. 72: The King:

— takes pity on the weak and the needy
— saves the needy from death.
rescues them from oppression and violence,
— for precious is their blood in his sight.

Ps. 146. The Lord

–upholds the cause of the oppressed
–gives food to the hungry.
–sets prisoners free,
gives sight to the blind,
— lifts up those who are bowed down,
— loves the righteous.
watches over the foreigner
–sustains the fatherless and the widow,
–frustrates the ways of the wicked

Praise the Lord.

Repeatedly God gives attention to the oppressed and provides security and safety to victims of violence. To what extent should words and phrases like these from the Psalms be present in our worship music?

 Prophets

Attention to the needs of the orphan/widow/poor is identified more with prophets than the Psalms and I was pleased to find significant attention to this topic in the Psalms. Prophetic critiques of worship do not contain comments on purity of sacrifices, social justice content of Psalms or the quality or frequency of Psalm recitation. The prophetic critiques point out that Sabbath worship by the people of the covenant should be reflected in covenant behavior during the week.

Mary, Jesus, Paul

Mary’s prophetic vision of her son’s work is captured in the song “My Soul is Filled With Joy”. (#13, Sing the Journey, verses 2 and 3 above). Jesus inaugural sermon repeats these themes.

The prophetic focus is reflected in Paul’s statement in Romans 12:1-2:  “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering [as your worship]. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (The Message-my emphasis). Perhaps an important aim of worship music should be to help us connect thanksgiving and praise with covenant living.

Today our world is one of increasing disparity in wealth. God’s rescue of an immigrant/slave people makes clear to us what kind of God he was/is. Jesus affirmed this nature in his work and teaching by giving significant focus to healing, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. Can God’s people today teach and act less like the world and more like our lord? Are there songwriters addressing this need?

 

Miriam’s Song, many Psalms, the prophets’ reminders all tell us that connecting worship and living is crucial.   The New Testament contributions of Mary’s song, Jesus life and teaching, and Paul’s take on worship in Romans 12 all point to the worship-discipleship-concern for poor and marginalized as an essential element in our praise and life. I have found very few songs in CCM and “gospel songs” with this focus and only a few in traditional hymns that praise God as a champion of the down and out. (Perhaps additional research and help from knowledgeable persons will locate songs with a social justice focus.) Eugene Peterson’s (The Message) take on Psalms 65:1 provides an appropriate conclusion:

Silence is praise to you,
Zion-dwelling God,
And also obedience.
You hear the prayer [praise] in it all.

 

*Text and music of six winners can be found at:

http://www.anabaptistsongwritingchallenge.org/

 

Thanks to Julia H. Alleman and Ray E. Horst for sharing their music knowledge with me.


My original  This blog has been reposted to allow comments such as

Kate Kortemeier has listed many excellent songs and hymns that reflect in various ways a concern for the poor and oppressed that is part of the Anabaptist tradition. (“Anabaptist music” Letters, The Mennonite 21 No. 4, April 2018).  My blog at https://uplandweb.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/singing-justice-for-the-poor-looking-for-anabaptist-flavored-worship-music/ ” will be reposted to clarify its focus on praising God for his work in caring for the poor and oppressed. Kate, will you (or anyone) list there examples of the emphasis on social justice in contemporary worship music?  Additional discussion appreciated.

                                                                                                                             

 

Fear and trembling?: Easter reflections

Should we come in fear and trembling

Our first sisters imitate?

Should we come in doubt and torment

Like disciples look to hide?

Ask for nail scars, finger spear slash?

Wait for ghost to slide through wood?

 

Should we come in cheer and gladness,

New traditions legislate?

Sunrise breakfast at mid-morning

Gowned or sashed in joyful hue.

Flower deck our place of gathering,

Easter lilies, tulips, too?

Four part anthems, special music,

Happy greetings, family gatherings,

Bunnies, eggs, then ham at noon,

Marking Resurrection Day?

 

First disciples still our models,

First experience our guide?

Riding high on giant’s shoulders?

Celebrators’ modern pride?

 

Should we come in fear and trembling,

Law and prophets comtemplate?

Till our hearts begin the burning

Till the bread is broken new?

________________

Got Stones: A collectors story

 

After completing the blog about “God the Rock, On being chips off the old Rock”, I remembered my fascination with another kind of “chips”: stones.  I don’t remember when I started collecting them, but I have been accumulating them for nearly fifty years.  In Southern Michigan, where we lived for eighteen years, soils have an abundance of stones.  The last glacier ground the rocks under tons of ice as it retreating north, smoothing many stones.

IMG_3445
Bread loaf stones

Our farmer friend, Lew Stoll, knew I collected round smooth stones. He had been finding me stones.  Some of them bread-loaf size.  But most of that size went to wife Ruth’s flower garden.  After a few years, stones turned up less frequently in his fields.  I attributed this to three things.  First, perhaps he had plowed up most of them.  Second, his tractors were getting bigger which made seeing the stones harder.  Third, maybe his eyesight was getting poorer.

Gardening brought me into frequent contact with glacial rocks and small stones.  Every spring, due to freezing and thawing, more stones appeared in our Michigan garden.   I made a sifter to remove some them from the garden soil.  The stones were dumped in our unpaved, hundred-foot-long driveway.  Over winter and into the spring stones disappeared into the driveway.   Stones appeared in the garden each year, after disappearing from the drive….  A natural cycle?  I had a notion to spray paint some of the stones we put in the drive to see if they would reappear in the garden.

IMG_3456Many people have contributed stones to our collection.  We wish we would have taken pictures as they were added.  When we moved from Michigan to Virginia I filled a five-gallon bucket with my favorite stones.  As if Virginia needed more stones….

In our travels, we have seen many round and flat smooth stones.  Collecting them has provided us with some challenges (is it legal to pick them up here?) and unusual experiences (is it safe to stop here?)  While visiting Nova Scotia we had collected only a few stones from a sea-shore to put in our luggage.  To save space Julia put one special stone in the toe of a shoe. Going checked through customs, a scanner showed something strange in the shoe.  (This was before 9/11.)  Julia was anxious about what would happen when she opened the suitcase and took out her shoe.  But, the inspector wasn’t interested in stones.

IMG_3444Cedar Valley in central Texas, has quarries with lovely yellow-tan sandstone.   We were looking along the roadside for a sample and debating the wisdom (legality?) of picking up a stone from the berm. We wanted to collect some stones for us and for our friend’s water garden. As we round a curve, there on the road was a head-sized stone, plus another smaller one, probably fallen from the truck we had just pulled off the road to let pass us.  So, being public-minded citizens, we pulled over and saved someone’s vehicle from a damaged tire by removing the rocks from the road—and into our trunk. Further west on that trip, where the sandstone was red, we could not find a roadside that required our clean-up assistance. So, we stopped at a landscaping business.  They only sold stones in three-foot by four-foot bundles.  When we told the owner that we only want one stone, he gave us a dinner-plate-sized “stepping stone” rock which looked a bit like the state of Texas.

In several states, we provided help to road crews by stopping along the highway and finding rocks in danger of sliding toward the roadway. We wanted to remove them before they could be pushed closer to the pavement.  Did the road crew appreciated our help?  Usually no one was coming our way when we picked up the rocks (we checked).  So, our friends got more rocks for around their fish ponds.

Slab Road crosses and dams Dry River above Hinton, Va.  While the River may be Dry in parts of the year, spring rains roil and churn the stones down the mountain and through Rawley Springs to where the Slab slows them and stops some.  The Slab has been deadly in the spring.  Some of our stepping-stones came from Dry River.  During the 1985 flood in the Shenandoah Valley (and West Virginia valleys), the Virginia road commission asked people to pick up rocks and stones which had washed onto roads and bridges by the flood.  We are the beneficiaries of that flood.

IMG_3450Our church group enjoyed a retreat at a restored farmhouse back up a valley on the Virginia/West Virginia border near the town of Bergton. There were several rock piles on the property and a fence row lined with rocks.  Those piles looked to be a good source of “stepping stones” to complete our landscaping project.    Several times we walked around the stone piles but could not find rocks of the right size. Later we wondered if the farmer and family had picked up the bigger stones first.  As time went on, they had picked up all the big ones.  All we could see were the smaller ones added last.  The possibility of snakes and the certainty of hard work stopped us from testing this theory.

IMG_3441Now our granddaughter has begun a collection at her home in Waco, TX.  Some of our stones from Michigan, Virginia and other areas we are passing on to her.

stonesLineLone

ode to a pet rock

Rough times, rubbings,

Sand scoured, wave buffed

Grinding fellow stones.

Hard center

Christ solid;

Smooth, polished rock.

 

On being chips off the Old Rock

On a recent Sunday morning, we sang a chorus calling God a rock.  That surprised me.  I recalled the satisfaction my father expressed at not having to farm around rocks after he moved from Pennsylvania to Iowa.  The deep sandy loam soils of Iowa and Illinois where I grew up yielded few rocks.  Visits to relatives in the east left me wondering why people tried to farm or garden around the rocky interferences common there.  Rocks were what stuck up out of fields making plowing and harvesting difficult.  Later, living in southern Michigan, I often found fist-sized rocks, even some basketball sized rocks ground smooth and round and spit out by the retreating glaciers. They were a nuisance to gardening. I built a sifter to remove the rocks/stones from the garden soil.  I did enjoy collecting round smooth rocks and took a bucket of rocks with me when we moved to Virginia (as if Virginia needed more rocks).  But, calling God a rock, “an impediment to agricultural activity” seemed unworshipful.

I remembered the wise man built his house on the rock and the stories of David hiding in the rock (caves).  Of course, I had read about the Dead Sea Scrolls protected and preserved in “the rock”.  Maybe I was not understanding the Biblical metaphor, rock.

What images does the phrase “God the rock” suggest to you?  A pickup sized chunk of granite with wheels (“buy our truck”, “built like a rock” the ads said)?  Jesus the cornerstone? *  But Jesus said the wise man built his house on the rock, not on a cornerstone.  Can distinguishing between these images expand our perception of God?

A geological map of Palestine, shows the Biblical land to be a jumble of rock between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.  Swampy land between the sea and the hill country on the west and the Jordan River swamps to the east and the shifting sands of the Negev to the south contrasted with the solid rock of the central highlands.  Several commentaries tracing the origin of the Hebrew for “rock”, show it and “mountain” may be interchangeable.

Then I read:

He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior– from violent men you save me.  2 Samuel 22:2

God, the Rock.  God’s people in Palestine did not think of God as an obstruction to farming and gardening or sign of eroded farmland!

be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.  Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalms 31:2, 3

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave more a firm place to stand.        Psalms 40:2

But the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.  Psalms 94:22

A place of strength, safety, protection, a “firm place to stand”.

He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  Psalms 62:2

Permanence and security; a cool place in a hot land:

Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.  Isaiah 32:2

What God is for us, we are to be for others.

Isaiah encourages us to be a “chip off the Old Rock”:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; Isaiah 51:1

They drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 

(1 Corinthians 10:4)

To learn what the new nature of the Rock is, we turn to Jesus.  But not only is he our security, refuge, our strength,

As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33; see Isaiah 8:14; 28:16)

When we turn to God,

They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split the rock and water gushed out. (Isaiah 48:21)

He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, (Deuteronomy 32:13)

Nourishment, refreshing water, security, permanence, refuge.  Where do we find these?  In the ROCK.

__________________________

ode to a pet rock

Rough times, rubbings

Sand scoured, wave buffed

Grinding fellow stones

Hard center

Christ solid;

Smooth, polished rock.

 

        *(In an earlier essay I sought to clarify the “cornerstone” image from the world of construction.  I pursued that topic when I came across a definition of cornerstone as “a largely ornamental architectural feature”.  I will post that essay later.)

“Tell him I am faint with love” Seeking the Bible’s model male lover

 

With that declaration (Song of Songs 5:8 NET), the woman in the “Songs” comes close to a declaration of her feelings, even though indirect.  But, what about males.  How do we determine the ideal Biblical male lover?  What criteria identifies him?  Big, strong?  Handsome?  Ready to verbalize his feelings and commitment?  Where do we find an example to follow?

Hosea is often seen as a model of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Aren’t mercy and forgiveness qualities of an ideal lover?  But, wait, Gomer, Hosea’s lover was a prostitute.  She left him after bearing Hosea a child to go back to the street.  He showed his love by rescuing her again from that life.  Was that romantic?

One should, of course, go to the Song of Songs.  Most versions of the Bible these days prefer to use this name rather than “Songs of Solomon”.  Modern ideas of monogamy can’t comprehend the number of wives and concubines ascribed to Solomon by his biographers.  Building a separate palace for an Egyptian princess didn’t really seem romantic (Did she nag? Have bad breath? Just need a place to do strange-to-the-Hebrews religious things?).  The “Song” has some wonderful lines and should be read by lovers, but why doesn’t he/she come out and say the right words to the other.  And the guy, to say “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.”  What was he thinking?  But, then there is 7:12. . ..  —But, these days where can you find a grove of pomegranates?

Then, there is David.  Which of his loves do we begin with?  Abigail has a good publicist: “Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.”  (I Sam. 25:3)  Did her actions show her to be such?  Show David to be a model lover?

“Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”

I have read some Christian romantic fiction and none of them ended that way.

Then, there’s the next verse:David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel[d] son of Laish, who was from Gallim.”   (But remember seven chapters earlier?  “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. -I Sam 18:20)

Let’s not move on to Bathsheba or wonder about who David’s mother or why David’s children had so many problems with their love lives.  Maybe we should look elsewhere for model Biblical lovers?

Maybe Jacob?

Since Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, he said, “I’ll serve you seven years in exchange for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban replied, “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.” 20 So Jacob worked for seven years to acquire Rachel. But they seemed like only a few days to him because his love for her was so great.  (Gen. 29:18-20)

Well, then he settled for Leah and waited for another seven for Rachel.  Fourteen years?  Well, that’s romantic!  At least we know he had fallen in love.  Wonder if he had told her that.  At the well?  At Leah’s wedding?  After 14 years?  Maybe after he was given Leah’s or Rachel’s servant for a concubine?  I guess Biblical loves were different.

What about Boaz?  There was something a bit romantic about the way they got together during the harvest festival (with coaching from Naomi), but without much clarity about Boaz’ style as a romantic hero.  At least that pile of newly-harvested grain was warm.

Then there is Isaac who had a servant to do his courting.  But, it turned out all right, apparently.

    Then Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took her as his wife and            loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. Gen. 24:67 (NET)

Background

One needs to remember that the Hebrew Bible was written by men and has as its focus the relationship between humans and God.  From that we understand why many have seen the Song of Songs (or Solomon) as an allegory of the human-God relationship.  Modern romantic traditions have been shaped by medieval times when arranged marriages were the norm.  Women were a means to unite families, fortunes and property, usually without their consent.  Wandering singers/instrumentalists called troubadours wrote and sang about love.  Verbalizing about love was important because love was not often considered important in marriage.  During this time, often the songs and poetry were about, at least indirectly, illicit love relationships.

What does the New Testament show us about communication between lovers?  Zachariah may have written a love note or two to Elizabeth, but we are not told.  Joseph and Mary had a lot of time to talk on their four or so days on the road to Bethlehem.  Wish we knew about their conversations.  About Ananias and Sapphira, we won’t inquire.  Aquila and Priscilla should have left us some guidance on this topic.  They sound like good communicators.  Paul wasn’t interested in that sort of thing.  But he did give us a bit of help.  Husbands (and I suppose wives as well) are to love the other as Jesus loved the church.  What was Paul referring to?  What words?  Perhaps it was the actions of Jesus:  giving good news, dealing with sickness, bring release in bad times, providing food and so on.
But back to our original question.  Who, in modern romantic terms would be our model male lover?  That leaves us with the only Biblical lover, who we know to be big and strong and who is recorded to have fallen in love and to have told a woman, “I love you”.  Who is our model lover?  Samson, of course.

__________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ascension Journey: A Lenten alternative

As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 NLT

 

Introduction

Lenten materials arrived in my church mailbox.  They included scripture references.  I wondered which New Testament passages would explain Lent.  Not finding any, I started asking questions and doing some research.  The passage above helped me raise questions.

Background

In the late Middle Ages, as sermons began to be given in the common language instead of Latin, the English word lent was adopted for the period before Easter. This word initially simply meant spring (as in German language Lenz and Dutch lente) and derives from the Germanic root for long because in the spring the days visibly lengthen. The original Greek term for the period is tessarakoste, for the “fortieth day” before Easter. This form is preserved for the period in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages (for example, Spanish cuaresma, Portuguese quaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima).  Depending on the tradition the 40 days are calculated in different ways.  Sundays are skipped in the Roman Catholic tradition because they are “mini-Easters.”  Some have connected the fasting of Lent to an imitation of Jesus time in the wilderness (which would end possibly about the beginning of Lent).  Later, Lent “floated” to connect with “Holy Week” observances.  The roots of Lenten observance are believed by some to extend back nearly to the time of the apostles.   It is interesting to note that observation of Lent became part of expected religious observance after Christianity became the official religion of the empire.

Practice

Traditionally, church guidelines for Lent include prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In addition, some people feel experiencing suffering during this time is important.  This takes the form of not eating a favorite food, for instance. (!) We know Jesus spent time in meditation and prayer. Luke tells us that he went out to pray “a long time before day”.  Other places we are told of Jesus fasting.  No specific mention of meditation is made but the words of Jesus various places, esp. John 14-17 suggest that times of meditation preceded the talks/prayer. Jesus gave up material goods and comforts even before the days leading to his death.  This is made clear by his words to the prospective follower:  “Birds have nests and rabbits their hole, but the son of man has no where to lay his head.”  I would affirm the blessing of these spiritual disciplines, not just for a period in the spring, but throughout the year.

Questions from my study

The question being asked is what is the nature of what Jesus did during his last days: forty-five to fifty days of Lent or the eighty days to the ascension?  I wondered why in the nearly fifty years that I had been a Christian I had never heard this question.  (I think during the first part of that period we had revivals, rather than Lenten observances.)  An internet search revealed that I could order an “I gave up Jesus for lent” T-shirt but little more.  Since the Mennonite Church emphasizes following Jesus’ example, it seemed appropriate to review the practice of Lent in light of that focus.  Many questions have come to me as I reflected on Jesus activities during his last 45/80 days.  What questions would you ask?

Luke 9:51 marks the beginning of Jesus last days on earth, those associated with Lent, Easter and the Ascension. Some see the transfiguration in Luke 9:28ff as the beginning of this period.  There are very few indicators of time elapsed in these chapters.  The NT writers are fond of the number 40, so it is surprising that Luke does not mention forty days (or 45 if weekends are included) or some time period. (Articles referenced below on the origins of Lent do not refer to Luke 9:51 and what Jesus did during his last days on earth.)

Last days’ activities

What did Jesus do during those last days before his death as he anticipated his ascension?  He clearly had a sense that this was a crucial time in his ministry. How did the pressure of his coming death and ascension influence his activities?  Surely the activities of Luke 9 through Luke 22 arose out of Jesus declaration in his first sermon (Luke 4).   Beyond that, Jesus, I believe, was preparing the way for continuation of kingdom work.  He began a new phase outreach by sending out seventy of his followers (chapter 10) to announce the coming of the kingdom. Once ascended, he would reign and provide intercession for his followers as they lived as they were created to live.  During the last days of his life, didn’t he continue to do what he announced what he would do? What indications are there that he simply prepared for his death? (Of course, he prepared for his death or the manner of his death at Gethsemane.) Just before the ascension declaration in 9:51, Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem where he would be killed and then raised from the dead.  Did he change what he was doing under the threats from religious and political leaders? To what extent is it true that the way he lived led to the cross; to the tomb; from the tomb to his exaltation as King?  Was this why Jesus came, to draw people to God, to establish the Kingdom of Heaven? to be acknowledged as king in the kingdom of God?

Conclusions

Much of the Christian church uses the period before Passion Week to anticipate Jesus death. Jesus, according to Luke, “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.”   The question I am asking:  what does one do about the disconnect?

What does this suggest we should do to honor Jesus last days on earth?  Perhaps we should see the last days as he did.  We should be announcing the kingdom, doing the works of the kingdom, accepting the consequences of kingdom work and recognizing the vindication by God of what has been done through Jesus’ giving himself.   Then, praising God for raising Jesus to his right hand to be our intercessor.  I will be posting a list of readings from Luke 9:51 through Luke 24.  Later I will add scripture from Acts and other sources for the period leading up to the ascension.

The Origins of Lent, MARCH 31, 2014 BY BILLY KANGAS
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/billykangas/2014/03/lent.html#FcsZTBaACGK4XXs5.99

Accessed 1/29/2018

The Early History of Lent, Nicholas V. Russo, 2013 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, accessed 1/29/2018 through

https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/193181.pdf

The Beginning of Lent
“Like all Christian holy days and holidays, Lent has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same.”  TED OLSEN, Christianity Today, August 8, 2008

Accessed 1/29/2018

_______________________

Martin Luther King, Jr and me

 

or How I discovered the racist within

Diploma in hand, job plans up in the air, I stuck out my thumb to begin my journey from Messiah College to Atlanta, Georgia, for a summer in Mennonite Voluntary Service.  I was also beginning a more important journey:  away from racism.  Rides quickly took me to Frederick, MD, Washington, DC, and then near dusk to Culpeper, VA.  Rides disappeared with the daylight. So, I headed for the Greyhound depot and asked the ticket seller how much I would need to pay for a bus trip to dawn.  The agent said that Knoxville looked promising and near daylight the bus dropped me at the edge of the city for my next free ride to Chattanooga, TN.  From there a big car made quick work of the distance to Atlanta.  My ride deposited me at a phone booth in front of a restaurant.  There I could make a call to check on the cheapest way to Mennonite House, my home for the summer.

The cab driver to whom I gave the Mennonite House address said, “You don’t want to go there!”  Apparently, the police, concluding that they knew the one reason blacks and whites would spend the night in the same residence, had raided the house the previous night.  The restaurant where the cab picked me up made news several weeks later.  Lester Maddox, the owner (and later governor of Georgia), passed out axe handles to white patrons to help him keep non-whites from entering the restaurant.

I fought against racism at an ordinary summer camp with activities of games, crafts, songs and stories.  The difference was that we were the only white males that most of the children had seen who were not police or insurance agents.  We rode a public bus from Mennonite House across town to the camp in a Black ghetto .  One day on the bus, I realized that some of the people were young, some old, some bald, some with lots of hair, some lighter, some darker.  Individuals, not just members of another race.  I was surprised to realize that I was still a racist.  Not completely, of course.  After all, I had come to Atlanta to help deal with the problem of racism and its effects.

The journey begun on that bus continued and continues today, I hope.  During the summer, my heart was reshaped by seeing the “hate stare” at a suburban outdoor theater I attended in a mixed–race group.  Later I sensed the anxiety of a black friend who felt he had to duck down in the back seat as we traveled through rural Georgia to go birding.  Fears about some members of the VS group at Mennonite House traveling to Mississippi were fanned by the news that three civil rights workers were missing.  This was 1964, the summer of “Mississippi Burning” and other hot stuff.

When the VS term was over, the Southern Christian Leadership Council office asked if any of us could work for a week or two. They offered to pay my bus fare back to Pennsylvania, so, I nobly agreed.   I worked in the mail room in a basement room three levels below the offices of the important people above. During breaks from sorting mail and packaging books written by Martin Luther King, Jr., I took time to read some of his books.

Sometimes as I worked an interest–looking man walked by the mail room and up the stairs.  Only some weeks later did I realized that the man I saw was actually Martin Luther King, Jr.  I knew he had an office upstairs.  His hideaway office was near the mail room!  Perhaps I was still seeing people of color, rather than individuals. Perhaps I didn’t expect him to be working next to the mail room.

Even after 50 years, that bus-trip milestone in my journey away from racism surprises me.  My racist mind may have been re–formed by my Christian college experience.  But my diploma, my courses in psychology, sociology, history and social justice had not yet renewed my racist heart.  I remember that experience when I hear of “ethnic cleansing” and race-related violence.  I am reminded how deep-seated prejudice can be.  The journey has continued.  But, I still need to recognize the racist within, in spite of my commitment against racism, and to continue let the love of Jesus renew my heart and mind.

Revised from an essay published October 2001 in the Weaver, a publication of  Weavers Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va.