The readings appointed for today include:
Reflection: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”
I first encountered this passage on the lips of a pastor who was trying to get me back to regular worship attendance. He had opened his Bible and his finger ran across the verse, underlined of course, there in front of me. My pastor was a nice guy, a really good man. He’d helped me and my family before.
I wasn’t going to church. I used to go. I hadn’t lost my faith, I just didn’t see all that Sunday morning stuff as necessary–not nearly as necessary as pastor did–nor did worship seem all that helpful, to be honest. Apprehensive, defensive, more than a little irritated and perturbed–funny how I can so vividly recall those feelings as he stood before me with this verse. The whole discussion was getting uncomfortable for me.
When he read that verse, I appreciated that it’s author really felt that way.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
“Well, that’s just great. Good for him.” I thought. “But I’ll give thanks somewhere else, thankyouverymuch. Goodbye now.” That Author’s thoughts were not my thoughts, neither were His ways my ways back then. This morning I smile while singing this verse. Not once back then did the thought ever occur to me that pastor was probably just as uncomfortable as I was, talking about my avoiding of “the company of the upright, the congregation.” Pastor didn’t want to tell me I was shirking my baptized priestly duty, avoiding the body and blood of Christ–and the blood-bought household of God. Now, turns out I’ve become that pastor who prays for the folks I haven’t seen in a long while, and in faith sometimes tries to reach out to the stray.
So well I remember that day with this verse. I felt so completely like I didn’t need them at all. A spirit of complete indifference puffed me up–I really, really didn’t care about those people or even like most of them at all. Sorry, not sorry. “I don’t need you” churchy church people, I reckoned. I just need God. And I’ve got enough God. When I run out and need more, I’ll go back to your store and get some.
Too many years later, the Lord finally pried me out of my arrogant, selfish, consumerist mindset. Salvation isn’t only about me, but about Jesus and them, too. We don’t just join the upright because we have to do it to keep the law of the Lord. It’s truly a loving service to our neighbor, that we are there so they can hear our voices singing and praying words of faith into their ears. We are there because God is working in them for our benefit, and through me to be of greater help and service to them.
These days, I do give thanks to our Lord right there, “in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” Not just because it’s my job, but because Jesus is at work there in the midst of them.
Reflection: Solomon prays for wisdom to serve the people the Lord gives him to serve. God, grant me wisdom from above to shepherd this flock. Please. For the sake of my Lord Jesus, teach me how to love and help them. Amen.
2 Corinthians 1:1-22 (an excerpt below)
5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
Reflection: Do I really need to see such holy and apostolic despair? I’m glad the apostle had it, and can talk about it for my sake. It’s not fun to endure. But here’s what one learns only in that school of experience: “that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
Oh yeah…Quit relying on your feeble mind, your own cold heart, your waning strength, your own weak and tattered soul, preacher. Rely and trust in another outside of yourself, your incarnate brother and ascended Lord Jesus. His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, remember? So also Paul was asking “How are we even going to live through this? We’re helpless here–we’re ruined!
By God’s Grace, I’m in no deadly peril today. I was once, for the sake of the Lord and His people. I might write about that some day. But the point isn’t what you’re doing, or what I’m doing. Here’s some splendid news: we rely on that Lord who is raised from the dead, “who lives and reigns…now and forever.” Not only is He risen, but we rely on this: He gives life to the dead. “He delivered us…He will deliver us again.”
Prayer helps. Paul says it helps when people pray for struggling apostles. Please, Christians, pray a little more for your pastors. And know that your pastors, they are praying you also will be delivered in your moments of trial and peril, too. It’s kinda why I decided, “hey, I’m here praying Matins anyway. Might as well invite folks to join me in praying” against all peril and despair:
Our Father, who art in heaven…deliver us from evil.
Deliver me. Deliver them. Deliver us!
“He will deliver us again.” That’s good news, reliable, from the God who raises the dead. Teach me to rely on your life-giving work, O Lord, and never my works. Amen..