Archive for March, 2010

Hard Drive Crash

March 31, 2010

Greetings everybody,

For the second time in my life in the computer age, I had a hard drive crash yesterday.  I also had a very busy day yesterday.  So I didn’t write or send out a devotion yesterday or today.  I’m still trying to piece things back together on my computer.  The cost of installing a new harddrive isn’t measured in dollars (it was under warranty and therefore free) but in the loss of data that I thought was being regularly backed up.

I thought that my automatic backup system was automatically backing everything up.  I thought wrong.  It turns out that it was backing up data but it wasn’t backing up the software programs that I use to create the data.  And, evidently, what I think is really valuable data – like all of the photographs and music – wasn’t valuable enough to be included in the backup process.  Undoubtedly, that is a user error.  I must not have clicked something that I otherwise should have clicked to be backing everything up.

I also lost my organization plan with all of the email traffic that crosses my desk or starts with my fingers.  I had a very elaborate system to keep track of everything.  That is all gone.

I’m telling you all of this to explain why the daily devotion schedule that I hoped to follow through Holy Week won’t happen.  Until I get my computer back up and reasonably useful, I won’t be using it.

And I’m telling you THAT because I think I see the message I need to be seeing this Holy Week.

The “system” killed Jesus.  The harddrive of the worldly powers that be – the church, the government and the crowd – thought that Jesus was a virus come to wreak havoc on the whole.  He needed to be erased to keep the system going.  But in fact Jesus wasn’t a virus but an entirely different operating system. the original operating system.

Two days ago I thought my computer was running a little slow but basically was functioning as well as I needed it to function.  Come to find out that I was wrong.  It was on its last legs.  Now I have a brand new harddrive and I have to start many things over again.  Some of what I had still remains.  Some seems gone for now.  But clearly, although there are adjustments to be made,  I’m in a better place today than I was yesterday.

That is my hope for our common Holy Week.  I pray that somehow we might come to know this weekend that the systems that control our lives are not foolproof.  We aren’t either.  And sometimes something has to crash before things get better.  I pray that the right things crash in your life that there might be room for something brand new to be born in you  by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Happy Easter.  See you Monday.



Monday, March 29th Luke 20:1-8

March 29, 2010

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” They discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Luke 20:1-8

The last week of Jesus’ life on earth in physical form was, to say the least, eventful. Each of the gospel writers tell the story a bit differently. While the rough movement remains the same, the details differ according to the information available to the writers and the writers’ individual perspective.

This year, we’ll prepare together for Easter by noticing some of what Luke chose to share with us about that last week.

It begins with Jesus being questioned by “the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.” The powerful ones, the religious elite, question Jesus first about his authority as a teacher.

“Authority” has always been an important concept in Jewish thinking. The very idea of “author” goes all the way back to the creation story and the faith that life itself is being written by a Creator. God alone is the Author of life and therefore the one authority worthy of both praise and obedience.

Becoming a scribe, a chief priest, an elder was about following in the footsteps of a teacher who had the authority to open the ancient scriptures, plant them in their hearts and minds, and model living according to them. Outside of the bloodlines of the Sadducees (the temple priests), the Pharisees only had their knowledge of the scriptures and taught as they had been taught. “Original thinking” was discouraged. To this day, Jewish worship resources trace the thoughts of others down through the ages. So for Jesus to show up and teach “as one with authority” was scandalous.

But Jesus sees behind their question. He sees that they aren’t concerned merely with propriety or tradition – they are concerned with power. They don’t ask questions of Jesus to discover the truth but to gather evidence to do what they really want to do any, to get rid of Jesus.

So it is that much of the conversations we have with Jesus have more to do with power than we otherwise think. We in the church argue amongst ourselves about church doctrine and practice and hardly throw a bone Jesus’ way. Those outside the church might have varying views about Jesus but, by rejecting the church, often (on purpose or not) merely justifying their lives in defense of the freedom to basically live any way they want. Either way, Jesus isn’t the authority in our lives that Jesus ought to be.

At the end of the day, it isn’t unusual that we care far more about what the neighbors think than we do about what Jesus thinks, much less about what it means in our lives to follow him. To follow by granting him the authority he already has, that is, to write the story of our lives along the plot of God’s will.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we follow you now into Holy Week. We set aside time this week both to worship you in the gathered crowds, but also to be alone with you in our personal prayers. As we watch you and hear again about how you spent your last days, we pray for the insight to follow well through our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, March 26th Isaiah 50:10-11

March 26, 2010

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God? But all of you are kindlers of fire, lighters of firebrands. Walk in the flame of your fire, and among the brands that you have kindled! This is what you shall have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment. Isaiah 50:10-11

I’m mindful today, the Friday before Palm Sunday – Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and our entrance into Holy Week – of two things I always think about during this time of year.

First, I’m mindful of how much it bugs me that Palm Sunday isn’t simply Palm Sunday anymore and hasn’t been for some time. Somewhere along the way, the powers that be determined that too many Christians were treating Holy Week like spring break. They weren’t in church on Thursday night to remember the last night Jesus spent with his friends. They weren’t in church on Friday to remember the death of Jesus on the cross. Only the most hardcore liturgical types still held Easter vigils on Saturday. And then everyone showed up in their new spring wardrobe for pancakes, Easter eggs, and…oh yeah…the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

So they decided to reinvent Palm Sunday, renamed it “Passion Sunday” (because everyone KNOWS that “passion” means “suffering” – like “compassion” means “to suffer with” – and then made sure that everyone in worship the week before Easter would hear the whole story so that maybe, by next week, they wouldn’t celebrate the resurrection out of context.

To some degree, (referring back to yesterday’s devotion), this calls into question the degree to which we “set our face” toward much of anything as Christians.

Saving faith is supernatural, not superficial. If we skip the dark side of the Jesus story, perhaps we also shield the dark sides of our lives from the love of Jesus. We do our own thing to our own peril.

And then, secondly, I remember a story that I believe William Willimon shared in one of his books – the story of how God came out of hiding. In short, one day God wrote “I EXIST” or something like that in the sky. The words could be seen everywhere in the world. It spurred a religious revival unlike any in history. It changed lives and it changed the world. For a few weeks.

Eventually, everyone grew used to the words written in the sky and they all went back to business as usual.

Holy Week is one of the few times when the story of the Christian faith comes out of hiding. Jesus himself, no longer traveling about like an itinerant prophet, showed up on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem. He went public and then he showed us all how much that would cost.

Obviously there is more to living the Christian faith than showing up in worship and there is no red attendance book in the sky marking us “present” or “absent” for Good Friday worship…on the other hand, isn’t it better that we’re there?

“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God?”

Let us pray: Bless us, Lord God, as we begin our walk into Holy Week. Rekindle in us the flame of your passion, of your passionate love for people. May we join the crowds who welcome, sit with the disciples as you gave them bread and wine, see ourselves in the crowds who call for your death, join the Roman soldier who saw your glory on the cross. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 25th Isaiah 50:7-9

March 26, 2010

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:7-9

When Luke was writing the story of Jesus, in the 9th chapter, he described Jesus as “setting his face toward Jerusalem”. This description is more than a compass setting, that Jesus turned his body toward the south. It is rather a reflection of his inner disposition, his determination that nothing was going to stop him from doing what he needed to do.

It is much like the servant reflected in these verses from Isaiah: “The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”

As the church marches toward Palm Sunday this week, the college basketball world is caught up in March Madness, the marathon of basketball games leading to the national championship. College basketball doesn’t mean much in the great scheme of things but, like all sports, it does put some of our deepest values on display – teamwork, honor, dedication, perseverance, and performance under pressure. At the end of the day, the teams which win prove willing and able to do what other teams can’t or don’t.

To what in our lives do we “set our face like flint?” Where are the lines we refuse to cross, or refuse to retreat? What do we stand for that prevents us from falling for anything?

When we identify those core convictions, those core values, those core behaviors that define us, we quickly realize that we’re talking about the places in our lives where we most need what God freely gives us.

Isaiah reminds us that the Lord helps us. We need not face the battle, or the opposition, or the temptation, alone. We can “set our face like flint” because we know that God has our back, for our own good.

No one will long remember who wins the national NCAA basketball championship. No one remembers more than a few of the names of those who wrongly accused Jesus. But – even as they have worn out like a garment; the moth having eaten them up – we will never forget Jesus.

He had no earthly power, privilege or position. He raised no army, conquered no territory, built no earthly palace.

But he has won us. Our allegiance. Our faith. Our trust. Our lives.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you lived your mission of love for us without quivering or quitting. Nothing could stop you. Those who falsely accused you accused only themselves. Give us just a portion of that determination to be your people and be about your work. Help us do that which we cannot do without your help. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 24th Isaiah 50:4-6

March 25, 2010

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. Isaiah 50:4-6

Who is this “teacher”, who is the “I” in the first verse?

This section of Isaiah falls within the portion that was written after the people of Israel had already been in Babylon for a significant period of time. The armies of Cyrus of Persia had defeated the Babylonians and therefore had become the new “big bully on the block.” Cyrus wasn’t particularly interested in the plight of the Jewish captives-become-refugees so the door was open for their return to what was left of Jerusalem.

The mood of the writing that shifts from purely “What did we do wrong to get here?” to “Who do we thank for setting us free?”. The Bible, the written Word, is about capturing the experience of the faithful in written form and in this shifting of perspectives it helps us see the movement in our own lives from bondage to freedom.

So again the question, “Who is this teacher in the first verse?”

Some would say that the community of Israel, the people of God, in their shared experience, are the teacher. They are the ones who capture God’s will in words in their sacred writings. They sustain the weary with their faith. They value learning as a spiritual discipline. They have learned through painful experience the hard consequences of rebellion. They have suffered the pain inflicted on them by their captors.

Clearly the earliest disciples of Jesus saw Jesus in these verses. With the poetry of Isaiah planted deeply within them, Isaiah’s words immediately came to mind in their reflections on the suffering and humiliation that Jesus endured. They heard stories of the way that Jesus quietly endured all that was done to him, without complaint or fighting back. Jesus was the teacher, the obedient one, the comforter of the weary.

Today, the writer of Isaiah makes all of this available to us. He brings us into the history of Israel. He reminds us of the language that the faithful have used to remember Jesus. He brings US hope, rest and a gentle reminder that following Jesus means carrying crosses. For we too often open ourselves to otherwise avoidable suffering because we are people of faith.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in every age we hear your Word in new ways. Today, when we find ourselves still living in bondage – to sin, to debt, to war, to idols – we long as well for words that bring comfort in our weariness and inspire us to follow with courage and focus. Thank you for not giving up on us, for delivering us from evil, and for guarding us in the face of worldly opposition. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 23rd Isaiah 50:2-3

March 23, 2010

Why was no one there when I came? Why did no one answer when I called? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? By my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert; their fish stink for lack of water, and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering. Isaiah 50:2-3

As we take our “Lenten inventory”, we come across these questions addressed from God to us. “Why was no one there when I came? Why did no one answer when I called?”

These questions are communication questions. They are prayer questions. But they are framed in a very different way than we normally frame prayer questions.

Normally we would ask ourselves, “When do I reach out to God in prayer? Why do I reach out to God in prayer? What do I ask for?” Do you see, in framing these questions, how it seems that the “communication with God” thing seems completely up to us? Our questions put us in the center – what we do or don’t do – and therefore leave very little room for God at all. Prayer becomes all about OUR talking with no room at all for our LISTENING.

This observation strikes pretty close to home with me. I live my life in the communication business. (Isn’t that what a pastor does? Isn’t that what I’m doing with my fingers right now as I type?) But God has placed my wife in my life, and I in hers, as a blessed gift of God’s grace. And more often than not, Kelley helps me see (or at least tries to help me see) that I’m not always the communicator I think I am. Sometimes the block is I don’t talk enough, more often the block is that I don’t listen enough. I’m convinced this is one of the reasons God invented marriage in the first place – so that we could learn on a daily basis what it takes for relationships to work.

God’s question to us through Isaiah isn’t about chiding us for not talking enough with God but for not listening to God as God speaks to us.

How does God speak to us? I suppose that list is longer than this but clearly it would include listening to God’s written Word alone and with others, listening to God’s preached and proclaimed Word in prayer, praise and thanksgiving in public worship, and listening in the quietness of our meditative hearts. God speaks to us when we are attentive in our listening. (See 1 Samuel 3:10)

Have we been attentive to God’s attempts to reach us? Has God been getting a busy signal on our end of the conversation? Is our spiritual cell phone turned off, our land line disconnected?

Rest assured. God never tires of reaching out to us. He has promised that he will never leave or abandon us. God doesn’t give up on God’s end of the relationship. But how are we doing on our end?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, here we sit. Right now, mindfully in your presence. Quiet the rushing thoughts that pass through us. Cut through the noise of our lives so that we might be still in your presence. Speak to us and we will listen. Guide us and we will know the Way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, March 22nd Isaiah 50:1

March 22, 2010

Thus says the LORD: Where is your mother’s bill of divorce with which I put her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? No, because of your sins you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was put away. Isaiah 50:1

Lent is soon drawing to a close. We walk this week toward Palm Sunday and then to our focus on the last week of Jesus’ life. We will be listening to Isaiah 50 as we continue this journey.

Although it might provoke an interesting conversation, most Americans would agree that the darkest days of our country were the years spent killing one another in the Civil War. Are country was divided into two. Between 600,000 and 700,000 people died – more than the total deaths of all the other wars in our history, from the Revolution through Vietnam. 23,000 people died in one day in the Battle of Antietam.

If you asked the same question of the world as a whole, many would argue that the genocidal Holocaust in World War II was the darkest moment. The sheer heartlessness and cold calculation that led to the deaths of 5+ million Jews, homosexuals, communists and other political dissidents, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Protestant pastors and Catholic priests, black people, the mentally and physically disabled, and others is staggering.

People don’t forget darkness like that. They are scars on human history. And they are also the kind of experiences that force people of faith to come to grips with the great questions of how God could let something as terrible as this happen among the people God supposedly loves.

Among God’s people in the Old Testament, there were other equally dark moments, especially the destruction of Jerusalem by the forces of the king of Babylon and the forced eviction of much of the population from Jerusalem to refugee camps in Babylon. A proud people, who considered themselves the “chosen ones” of God, were reduced to squalor for at least a generation.

In this portion of Isaiah, the writer is wrestling with the questions such darkness brings to the surface. Against the human temptation to blame someone or something else – Nebuchadnezzar’s greed, the South’s addiction to slavery, Hitler’s insanity – the opening verse of this 50th chapter does what we normally consider unthinkable…it blames the victim.

This is shocking. Blaming the victim seems heartless. How are we to hear this?

The key is remembering the difference between a survivor and a victim. A victim remains powerless; a survivor is empowered. A victim is trapped in the pain of their victimization; a survivor picks up the pieces, learns something, and moves on with life.

Lent is many things, among them a time for self reflection, a time for asking deep questions about the reality of our lives. It is not the time to play the victim, but to do something more akin to what the recovery movement does in working a 4th step. It is a time to take inventory, to ask ourselves “What is our part in the dark moments of our lives?”

This is hard. Life is hard. But such self reflection makes life easier.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it is so easy for us, seems so natural for us, to blame the actions of others for the pain in our own lives. And equally easy to take credit for everything good. As we move closer to our observance of Holy Week, help us to do the hard work of self reflection, that our confession run deep, and the healing power of your love run deeper still. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, March 19th Psalm 31:23-24

March 19, 2010

Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD. Psalm 31:23-24

I’m a weird sports fan. I don’t really care who wins most games. But I love to watch them. I listen to sports talk radio all the time when I’m driving in my truck but I don’t really care what they are talking about. I just find it interesting that people know so much about sports. I watch the Super Bowl with equal parts interest in the game and the commercials. This year was different.

This year I cared.

All year long I cheered for the Houston Texans (because I live here), for the Minnesota Vikings (because I loved them as a kid), and for the New Orleans Saints (because they are in our synod.) The game between the Vikings and the Saints was tough because I wanted both teams to win and neither team to lose. You can’t have it both ways.

On Super Bowl Sunday I preached in the morning at a church here in Houston. Toward the end of the sermon I talked about the keys to winning – later, we all watched the Saints do it.

No one in the media picked the Saints to win. But they did. Why? From my point of view they had three things in their favor. First, Sean Payton out-coached Jim Caldwell. He took huge risks. His team was better prepared. They played to win rather than playing not to lose. Second, the Saints were playing for more than their own individual glory. They were quite literally carrying New Orleans and all that that city has endured on their backs. They were playing more than a football game. And third, more than bringing in better players, Sean Payton has devoted the past four years to changing the culture of the organization from perennial losers to Super Bowl champions.

There is a lesson in there for the church.

“Love the LORD, all you his saints…The LORD preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. Be strong, and let your heart take courage.”

Today is a new day in the church. (Every day is a new day in the church but in a strange twist no doubt tied to original sin, the church often seems the last to know.)

Many of the old ways of “doing” church are finally breathing their last gasps. We are not at the center of the empire any longer. We seem to have finally arrived at where we have been all along – ambassadors of a foreign power working a revolution of people’s lives from the inside out. The world needs what we have been given to give away. The world needs love more than liturgy, faith more than doctrine, strength more than docility and courage more than conventions.

We need the best coaches we can raise up. The courage to take risks. The willingness to play to win rather than playing not to lose. We need to know that we are playing for keeps. And we don’t nearly have the time that we thought we did. Unless we turn things around, the only question left will be who is going to turn out the lights.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we pray today, at the end of yet another week, with another Sunday morning around the corner, that your Spirit be unleashed in our lives. Explode within us! Give us eyes to see the world around us as you see it – a broken place, desperately in need of recovery, of rebirth, of renewal. Fill us with faith, with courage and with love, for you, for others, and for the world around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 18th Psalm 31:16-22

March 18, 2010

Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt. O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone! In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues. Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help. Psalm 31:16-22

It is easy to see why New Orleans would develop into an important and prosperous city. The mighty Mississippi river, bisecting the country, gathering goods and products from east and west, bringing them down to New Orleans. A major deep water port, trading anything and everything, linking the fledgling country with the world.

The surrounding area also had produce, valuable produce, that grew well in the rich delta soil and was continually in demand. Cotton, indigo and sugar. All very labor intensive crops to plant, tend and harvest. Around these crops grew a whole culture, a social network formed around huge plantations.

The “big house” in front. Long tree-lined driveways, majestic pillars, grand porches, ornate furniture and decorations. And behind the big house, row upon row of slave quarters, housing the slave labor that propped up the whole system. The largest plantations had 500 or more slaves. Human implements.

New Orleans was at the center of the slave trade. Unlike other cities with active slave markets, New Olreans was also the center of the illegal slave trade. Pirates attacked slave ships and sold their booty in illegal auctions. The profits were obscene. Privateers, especially Jean Laffite (who got his start in the slave trade), attacked British and Spanish ships at will.

So it is that we read these verses from Psalm 31 through the lens of New Orleans and we see things we otherwise would miss. We read: “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.” And we see a culture where “servants” were human beings, bought and sold like cattle, thought of as less than human, yet the lynchpin in a system producing vast wealth. We read “the wicked” and we see the faces of those who prospered by theft, deceit and injustice.

And we see another line, “Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege.” And we remember that New Orleans would have fallen to the British in 1814 were it not for the help that Jean Laffite and his men (and their weapons) provided to General Andrew Jackson. The painful adjustments the city has been forced to make as their plantation culture collapsed during the Civil War, as they came to grips with life after the Civil War, as they resisted the changes brought by the civil rights movement, as the city drowned in Katrina, and as it now struggles to come back to life with 1/3 of its population gone, great swaths of the city uninhabitable, the education system a mess amid some of the worst crime statistics in the country.

So, for New Orleans, we join in the psalmist’s prayer: I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you see us as we really are. Behind our facades, our pretentions and our wishes, you see the realities of the brokenness of our lives. You see our worst ambitions, our capacity for evil, our twisted sense of status. You see the evil we can unleash on one another. And yet, you still love us with a love that will not let us go. A love that is our hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17th Psalm 31:9-15

March 17, 2010

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Psalm 31:9-15

Still thinking about New Orleans and Psalm 31…(and the religious roots of the green beer celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day…)

New Orleans – since its earliest days – has been known as a party city, a festive city, a place of decadence and revelry and debauchery and wine and food and music and fun. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, it has also been known as a very spiritual, and very spiritually diverse, city.

Spiritually has always been central to life in New Orleans. Very diverse religious roots are planted deeply in the city. The spirituality of the native people was there before the first explorers arrived from other lands. The Roman Catholic Church came both directly from France but also with the interesting twists of the French speaking immigrants, the Cajuns, from Nova Scotia and other places in eastern Canada in the 1760’s. A distinctive branch of Louisiana voodoo was imported with the slave trade. And the first Lutheran congregation began in New Orleans in 1840.

Mix all of that up, throw in a little dash of post-Civil War reconstruction, black segregation, Mississippi blues and you eventually arrive at jazz, at Mardi Gras, at a city that parties and parades and “festivals” all year around. This city that has forever been plagued with problems, with grinding poverty, with deep racial divides, also celebrates life like few other places in the country. There might be reasons for that.

Psalm 31 is a psalm of lament. As such, it shares the basic structure of all such psalms. It opens with a introductory cry to God, continues with a description of lament or suffering (like the verses above), leads to a confession of trust, asks God to act, and ends with some type of praise.

In all of that, a psalm of lament is much like the journey we walk when slogging our way through the trials we experience in life. We trust God when its easy, we cry out when we get hurt, we ask for God’s help, and we praise God on the other side.

Of course all of this requires a bit of thoughtfulness. We need to pay attention to our lives, to our spirits and spirituality. We need a certain degree of “God consciousness” in our lives in order to reflect consciously on the presence and activity of God in our lives, and in the world around us. One could even argue that it is precisely this kind of “God consciousness” that is the goal of faith formation, of disciple-making.

In so many interesting ways, the festival life of New Orleans is actually grounded in the spiritual roots of disciple-making. Life in New Olreans is a living lament psalm that doesn’t get stuck in the middle but moves all the way through to the celebration of gratitude and life.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, open our hearts and minds that we can more consciously see your movements in the world. Open us that we might think more deeply and see more clearly how it is that we are walking with you and how it is that you are seeing us through the dark times of our lives. Open us to celebrate the gift that life will always be for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.