Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 10)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is the final episode of a ten-part series: Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. We wrap up the series with a brief introduction to the ever-intriguing subject of the book of Revelation and the topic of what the Bible has to say about the end times.

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story Part 10 Wayfarer

Lament (and Parenting)

Lament (and Parenting) [CaD Ps 55] Wayfarer

If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God…

Psalm 55:12-14 (NIV)

Thus far, in my entire life journey, I discovered that the process of releasing my adult children on to their own respective paths of life to be one of the most surprisingly difficult things I’ve ever experienced. It’s not just about the loss of control and the fact that my child may choose paths unfitting my dreams, desires, and expectations. It’s also the experience of catching glimpses of my own weaknesses and shortcomings as a parent, and the useless wonderings of “What if I had only….”

The greatest challenge of David’s life was not the Bathsheba scandal which I talked about in the podcast on Psalm 51. Bathsheba gets top billing and is better known because it has all of the classic plot elements we love in a steamy Harlequin Romance. The greatest challenge of David’s life is lesser known, but I personally find it even more fascinating because it is more intimate and complex. Late in David’s life, he faces a coup de tête finds himself fleeing for his life, and almost loses his throne and his life to his very own son.

The story is found in 2 Samuel 13-19. Let me give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version. The seeds of the rebellion are in David’s own shortcomings as a father. Marriage and family looked very different for a monarch in ancient times. Not only was polygamy regularly practiced, but a monarch had the added layer of nations wanting to marry off daughters to other kings to establish diplomatic ties. David had eight wives, and at least 10 concubines. Which meant the palaces were teaming with princes and princesses who were half-brothers and half-sisters. Long story short, Prince Amnon had the hots for his sister, Princess Tamar. He rapes her, and then in his shame, he shuns Tamar and wants nothing to do with. He treated her like a prostitute. King David is furious according to the record, but he does nothing. He passively seems to ignore the whole thing.

Princess Tamar’s older brother is Prince Absalom, and Absalom bottles up his rage against his half-brother Amnon, who raped his sister, and against his father who did nothing to justly deal with Amnon. The seeds of Prince Absalom’s rage take root and grow into a plot to kill his brother and steal his father’s kingdom. He succeeds at the former, and nearly succeeds with the latter.

In the process of his scheming to steal his father’s throne, the Great Story records that Absalom spent a lot of time establishing allies among the rich, noble, and powerful people in the kingdom. Quietly, slowly he used his position and influence to create both debts and alliances so that when he pulled the trigger on his coup David had virtually no one supporting him.

We can’t be certain, but the lyrics of David’s song that we know as Psalm 55 seem as though they could very well have been penned during the time of Absalom’s rebellion. David expresses that Jerusalem is a boiling cauldron of deceit, treachery, and violence. He feels the sting of an unnamed “companion” who he thought was a friend and ally, but turns out to have sold him out. It is certainly reasonable to think that he’s referring to someone that Absalom convinced to aid in his rebellion.

Like many of David’s songs, Psalm 55 is a personal lament. He is pouring out all of his emotions from despair, hurt, anguish, fear, confusion, and the desire to fly away from all of his troubles. In the pouring out of his deepest emotions he also is reminded of how faithful God had always been and the song ends with a simple proclamation of his unwavering trust.

One of the fascinating threads in the story of Absalom’s rebellion is David’s unwavering love for Absalom. Despite the fratricide, the rebellion, and the attempt to destroy David and take everything that was his, David ordered his men to be gentle with Absalom. When he heard Absalom had been killed, David wept and mourned to the point that his own General called David out for humiliating all of the soldiers who had been loyal to him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the complex relationship between parents and children, especially as children mature into their own selves and lives. The whole story of David and his children Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom is a hot mess. There is so much of the story that is not told. Nevertheless, it reminds me of the intense and infinite love a parent feels for a child no matter the differences, conflicts, or chasms that emerge in the relationship.

Once again, there is no concrete evidence to directly correlate Psalm 55 with the story of Absalom’s rebellion, nor is there concrete evidence to the contrary. Some mornings, I find that this is the way the chapter-a-day journey goes. The text connects me to one idea which leads down another path of thought, and I end up in an unintended destination of thought and Spirit. C’est lav ie.

Parenting is one of the grand adventures of this life journey. It has produced the greatest of joys and the deepest of sorrows. It has humbled me to my core, and has equipped Lady Sophia with some of the most powerful practicums for teaching me wisdom.

Prayer of Desperation

Prayer of Desperation (CaD Ps 54) Wayfarer

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Psalm 54:4 (NIV)

It could be argued that in King David’s young adult years he was a loose archetype of the legendary character we know as Robin Hood. He is living in the wilderness with a rag-tag band of some 600 vagabonds, mercenaries, and outcasts. David’s got a price on his head and mad-king Saul is hell-bent on killing his young rival whom he knows is God’s anointed replacement to his throne.

The thing about having a big price on your head is that you never know who you can trust. David and his merry band of exiles have been on the move, trying to stay one step ahead of Saul and his army. While hiding in a region known as the Desert of Ziph, the people of that area see a prime opportunity to cash-in on the sizable bounty Saul has laid out for David’s capture and strengthen their diplomatic ties with the current ruler.

In short order, David and his men find themselves on the run. Saul and his army are closing in. It’s a dire situation and things look hopeless. In the midst of his desperation, David writes a song. It’s the song we know as Psalm 54.

I love about Psalm 54 is short, sweet, and to the point. It’s like a guttural prayer that surfaces in the heat of the moment. It’s just seven short verses that begin with a plea for God’s vindication and end with David’s proclamation of faith that God will rescue David from his tight spot. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Hebrew songs like this were structured to be symmetrical with the center verse being the key to the entire thing. The center verse is the heart of what the songwriter is trying to express:

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Along this life journey, I also encounter moments when I feel pinned down by circumstances stacked against me. There are times when I feel like I’m stumbling around with the darkness closing in. I have flashes when my prayer feels like Princess Leia’s hologram.

In the quiet this morning I found myself ear-marking Psalm 54 for those times when I, like David, have the enemy bearing down on me and there are others who seem to be against me. David’s song makes a great prayer of faith and assurance in the midst of desperation.

Psalm 54 is also a reminder that God does answer prayer. Just as Saul and his army were about to capture David and his men, a messenger arrives to tell Saul that a foreign army was raiding the land. Saul and his army had to stop their pursuit. David and his men escaped to a hideout in another area. It turns out that David’s musical prayer was prophetic:

You have delivered me from all my troubles,
    and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

May you be blessed to find yourself delivered from your troubles today, my friend!

Same Song, Only Different

Same Song, Only Different (CaD Ps 53) Wayfarer

God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
    you put them to shame, for God despised them.

Psalm 53:5b (NIV)

Wendy and I really enjoy being fans. For us, the fun is in being loyal to our teams, following them, knowing the players, following the drama, cheering for them, and experiencing what ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to describe each week as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

A few years ago we found ourselves feeling the emptiness in the depth of our Iowa winter. January through March always feels like a slog, but we realized that it was made worse for us because our Vikings’ season was over and it would be April before our Cubs’ would begin their annual campaign. For whatever reason, the NBA has never tripped our trigger. So, we decided it was time to join our son-in-law Clayton and give the English Premier League a shot.

We knew that for us the fun is in following a team, so we began researching the various teams in a search for the team to whom we would pledge our loyalty. It’s surprising how many resources there are on the internet for Americans trying to choose a Premier League team. In the end, we chose to become fans of Liverpool FC (Football Club). And, as silly as it sounds, the clincher for us was the song.

One of the endearing things about Premier League is the singing. During most pre-covid matches when the stands are packed you’ll hear the crowd singing. Not just a specific moment in the match, like singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the 7th Inning. Premier League fans often sing themselves hoarse through the entire match. There are typically different songs fans have for different players, and teams typically adopt a theme song.

Liverpool’s theme song is Gerry and the Pacemaker’s You’ll Never Walk Alone which also happens to be a song from the Broadway Musical Carousel. Wendy and I discovered this fact in our research and then pulled up a YouTube video of the Liverpool crowd singing it before a match. We got goosebumps, and it sealed the deal. Two Liverpool fans were born.

So, you might be wondering to yourself, “Where on earth are you going with this?” Well, if you’ve followed my blog and/or podcast for anything length of time you know that I’m fond of saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is layered with meaning. The song You’ll Never Walk Alone is a great example.

For many people like Wendy and me, the song has been forever tied to the musical Carousel. A teenager growing up in the early 1960s might never have known it was from a Broadway musical, but the version by Gerry and the Pacemakers might have tremendous emotional ties to a crush they had on a boy or girl, dancing cheek-to-cheek at a school dance, or listening with friends on a crackly AM car radio as you scooped the loop. Then Liverpool takes the same song and it becomes an anthem of solidarity, loyalty, and community for fans of their football club around the world.

For me, the most interesting thing about today’s chapter, Psalm 53, is that it is virtually identical to Psalm 14. If you put them side-by-side you’ll notice that it’s the same song, but verse 5 is different. Scholars believe that the nation took David’s original and co-opted it after a national victory over armies who had sought to destroy them as in the story found in 2 Chronicles 20 when they were unexpectedly attacked by the army of Edom. When David wrote the song to mean one thing during his life and his generation, but a subsequent generation took the same song, the same lyrics, and made it about another thing.

In the quiet this morning, it has me thinking about something I’ve frequently observed in my perpetual journey through the Great Story. Something that had little or no meaning for me thirty years ago might suddenly be powerfully important for me today at this waypoint on Life’s road. Things that meant one thing to me then might take on a whole new layer of meaning for me now. I’m so grateful to my mentors who taught me at the beginning of my spiritual journey that reading and studying the Great Story was not a one-and-done deal. “On it you shall meditate both day and night,” says Joshua 1:8, the very first verse I memorized when I was 15. And, that’s what I’ve tried to do, and it’s made an unfathomable difference in both my spiritual journey and my life journey.

The Great Story meets me where I am every morning. A verse, or chapter, or passage can help me frame my past, make sense of my present, and direct my course for the future all at the same time.

Thanks for walking with me this morning and reminding me that “I’ll never walk alone.”

Go Liverpool! 🙂

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

A Psalm 51 Moment

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)

For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.

First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.

Until he wasn’t.

The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.

The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.

Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.

Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.

Except God.

God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.

Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.

If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.

One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?

As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in faithfulness to you.

Wow. What a contrast.

I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.

Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.

I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.

The Religion Game

Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
    to those who go the right way
    I will show the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50:23 (NRSVCE)

As a child, my family regularly attended church where worship was held with lots of traditional, liturgical pomp. I even got to participate as I sang in the children’s choir wearing my robe. Looking back with understanding, I have an appreciation for the metaphor and intent of all the liturgical devices, even the way the sanctuary was designed and laid out.

I went through the motions like everyone else. Sing this. Proceed to there. Sit down. Stand up. Say this. Sing this. Sit down. Read this. Stand up. Sing this. Sit down. Listen. Stand up. Sing this. Proceed there. Done. It happened every week with very little variation other than the words that were said or sang.

It was regular. It was rote. It was religious.

The problem was, I never thought much about it at all. It was what we did. I checked off the box along with every body else.

As I have ceaselessly journeyed through the Great Story, I’m always struck by the rather exhaustive system of sacrifices, offerings, rituals, and feasts that God dictates to the Hebrews through Moses. As I’ve studied them, I’ve come to appreciate the reason behind them and how they fit together in a cycle that led the Hebrews through specific thoughts and lessons about their relationship with God.

Nevertheless, there is sprinkled through the words of the psalmists and prophets a recurring theme that the people are doing all the things, but they’re hearts aren’t in it. They are making the sacrifices, offering the prescribed things at the prescribed times, going through the rituals, and attending the feasts. It was regular. It was rote. It was religious. The problem was that they weren’t really thinking much about it.

Today’s psalm was written to be sung as part of worship in the temple, but the songwriter, Asaph, is calling God’s people out for their mindless, spirit-less dedication to going through the religious motions. The “thanksgiving” offerings are void of any real gratitude. The real sacrifice, the songwriter says, is a heart full of gratitude to God which motivates all the other rituals.

This was the same thing Jesus found in the religious leaders of His day. They were continually critical of Him for breaking the religious regulation they added to the ancient rules. Jesus repeatedly quoted God through the prophet Hosea to them: “Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”

Jesus was getting at the same thing as Asaph in today’s psalm. Mindlessly going through religious motions is of no real value, and I believe that this is one of the reasons why denominations are imploding and churches are closing in record numbers. Just minutes ago our daughter sent the family a photo she took of an old church she and Clayton visited in a remote area of Scotland this past week. It’s being turned into a brewery. The altar will be the bar. Some of my ancestors would have found that scandalous. I don’t at all. As I have repeatedly written, Jesus made it clear that it was never supposed to be about bricks-and-mortar, but flesh-and-blood. It was never about the ritual, but the relationship. An honest, transparent, love-motivated conversation over a pint might be the most spiritual, Christ-honoring thing to happen in that building in a long time.

Jesus completely changed the game.

We keep changing it back.

Wisdom & Winnowing

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When we look at the wise, they die;
    fool and dolt perish together
    and leave their wealth to others.

Psalm 49:10 (NRSVCE)

Over the past few years, I have watched, and assisted, as my parents’ lives have gotten significantly smaller in footprint. From a giant ranch home where grandchildren hung out together and spent a week each summer at “grandma camp,” to a townhouse, a two-bedroom apartment, and now a smaller apartment. With every subsequent move, there is a winnowing of life’s material possessions.

“Does anyone want this?”

“What should we do with that?”

Somebody might use that. Let’s give it to the Many Hands Thrift Store.”

Seriously. Nobody wants that. Throw it in the dumpster.”

Some time ago I was listening to a teacher who encouraged listeners to perform a virtual winnowing of life in your head. Think about everything you own. Not just the big items like homes, cars, and furniture, but the boxes of stuff in storage rooms, attics, and garages. Think about the collective contents of junk drawers, closet shelves, and storage bins. Having taken an exhaustive mental inventory, now consider where it’s all going to end up, and who is going to own it, when you die. Note: Someone else will own everything that doesn’t get pitched into the dumpster. And believe me, for many of us there will be a dumpster.

Today’s chapter continues a string of ancient Hebrew song lyrics written for a specific purpose. Psalm 49 is one of just two songs in the anthology of 150 songs written as “Wisdom Literature.” Across antiquity, sages throughout the Near East created proverbs, songs, parables, and literary works intended to teach and pass along wisdom.

As I shared in this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Proverbs (a classic example of “Wisdom Literature”), even in the Great Story wisdom is personified in a woman often referred to as Sophia. Wisdom Literature is typically marked by a calling out to or from wisdom as the songwriter does today in verses 3-4:

My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

The songwriter then challenges us as listeners and readers to consider the fact that rich-and-poor, wise-and-foolish, good-and-bad all end up in the same place and leave everything behind. Even the Egyptians who packed King Tut’s tomb with stuff for him to use in the afterlife only ended up lining the pockets of Lord Carnarvon and the displays of various museums.

Of course, Lady Wisdom calls out to me to think about this in relationship to what it means for me today, and I hear the echo of Jesus in my soul:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Matthew 19-21 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I hear Wisdom, Jesus, and Holy Spirit whispering to my soul. The exercise of virtual winnowing needs to lead me to actual physical winnowing, or else they have simply wasted their collective breath.

Thin Places

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Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers…

Psalm 48:12 (NRSVCE)

Throughout the history of the Jesus Movement and Christendom, there have been various geographic locations around the world that have come to be known as “thin places.” The concept is a very simple metaphor. It is a specific location where the divide between temporal and eternal, heaven and earth, matter and Spirit, is thin. The power of the Spirit seems to flow more palpably. “Thin places” might be locations where spiritual revivals have occurred, miracles have occurred, or where people experience God’s presence in extraordinary ways.

One of the things I’ve noticed in moving from Book I of the Psalms (Psalms 1-41) to Book II (Psalms 42-72). The songs in Book 1 are mostly songs of David expressing his personal emotions and faith. In the first six songs of Book II we’ve had a variety of songs that were written with specific liturgical purposes. There’s been a diplomatic wedding of royalty to another nation’s princess, a song celebrating a king’s enthronement, and a community plea/prayer after suffering military defeat.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 48, is a song that celebrates Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship. It celebrates Jerusalem as an ancient thin place where people find joy, where God has done great things, where the things of God are pondered, and spiritual guidance is found.

It was very common in ancient Mesopotamian cultures for major cities to have patron deities and temples to those deities. The Hebrews would have experienced this while in slavery in Egypt. They would have been familiar with the concept, and way back during the Hebrews flight from Egypt God made clear that a city would be established as the place where Yahweh would dwell and be worshipped (Deut 12:5). How fascinating that over 3000 years later pilgrims from all over the world continue to flock to Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall of the temple ruins. It is still considered by many to be a thin place.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 48 has me thinking about thin places. I have been to Jerusalem, I have walked its streets, and I have prayed at the Western Wall. Personally, I didn’t find Jerusalem to be a thin place but a dark place, despite knowing that the Great Story makes clear it still has a role to play in history’s climactic events.

I have, however, observed that our place at the lake is what I’ve experienced as a thin place. It is a place people have found peace. It is a place where both myself and others have found healing of both body and soul. It has been a place of retreat, of soul-searching, of life-changing conversation, of joy, of love, and of Life.

In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to believe it vital to identify and regularly visit a thin place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away alone or with his closest followers to the top of a mountain along the shores of Galilee to pray. Interestingly enough, when I visited that mountain-top location in Israel, I found it to be the thinnest place I personally experienced in my tour of many, many sites in the Holy Land.

This world bombards me ceaselessly with data, information, opinions, advertisements, and pleas for my time, energy, and human resources. My spirit needs a thin place to recharge, even if it’s a thin place just to me.

King of the Mountain

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God is king over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne.

Psalm 47:8 (NRSVCE)

I think that the changing of the seasons brings back certain specific childhood memories. Here in Iowa the last few weeks have ushered in the harsh realities of winter. The snow has already begun to descend. In yesterday’s post I was thinking specifically about the memories of walking to-and-from school. This morning, it’s snow.

The cool thing for a kid growing up the city in Iowa was the way snow completely transformed the landscape. Not only did it layer everything with this thick blanket of white, but the snowplows and shovels created tiny mountain ranges of snow on every street corner, parking lot, playground, and driveway.

For kids this meant one thing: a game called “King of the Mountain!”

The game is simple. Climb to the top. Stake your claim as King of the Mountain, then get ready to take on all challengers your throne on the mountaintop of ice and snow. Go!! Seriously. Between King of the Mountain, public smoking, the ability for any child to buy cigarettes out of a vending machine, and the fact that seat belts were considered optional accessories that you stuffed into the crack between the seats so they wouldn’t poke you…How did we survive childhood in the 1970’s?!

Why did my brain go there this morning? Today’s chapter is Psalm 47 which was a song of enthronement. In all ancient Mesopotamian cultures the celebration of a king’s enthronement was a huge deal. There was a parade, a procession, loud music, an entire nation dancing, clapping, singing…think Kool & the Gang singing “Celebrate good times! Come on!” (Man, now my brain is stuck on Memory Ln.!)

The fascinating thing about this Hebrew song of enthronement is that the metaphor is that of God ascending His holy mountain (for the Hebrews that was Mount Zion where God’s temple was located) to be enthroned over all the earth, all the nations, all of creation.

The metaphor of God as king is one that that emerged during the time of the ancient monarchy of the Hebrews. The prophet Isaiah has his famous vision of being taken up into the throne room of God. The theme was written into the liturgical worship songs like Psalm 47. It is carried on through the entirety of the Great Story. The Messiah was pictured as king over the entire earth. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles all referenced Jesus sitting at “the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Paul (who had his own wild vision experience of being taken up into heaven) referred to Jesus as “King of Kings,” and he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:

Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus]
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the throne room of heaven where “The Lamb who was slain” sits on the throne.

Enthronement is a big deal in the Great Story, but the metaphor has very personal implications. When I became a follower of Jesus on a frigid Iowa winter night back in 1981, I knew that it was time for me to stop spiritually playing “King of the Mountain” with my own soul. I told Jesus that I was stepping down as king of my own life, and I invited Jesus to be enthroned in my heart and my life. I confess that I haven’t always been a perfect subject, but that spiritual reality has never changed for me over the last forty years. I have continually sought to give Jesus dominion on the throne of my life and pursue His purposes for me in this life journey.

And, what’s cool is that the metaphor doesn’t end there. Having spiritually abdicated and given Jesus the throne of my life, Jesus did not consider me an enemy, a threat, a usurper to be banished from the kingdom and taken out lest I try to take back the throne. No, I get adopted into the royal family. I am given a place, a role, an inheritance, and, in the Great Story, I am now referenced as a “co-heir” with Jesus. I have a place in the procession, at the king’s table, in the king’s family.

You know what that makes me think?!

[cue: Kool and the Gang]