Ordinary Days: Facing the Darkness

You can feel the weather turning these days.

The long, hot days of summer are gradually giving ground to the cooler, darker days of autumn. In many ways this is a welcome relief, at least in my part of the world. The crisp mornings enliven our bones and we feel the renewal in the changing seasons.

Yet there is something that lurks in the distance for me as we creep into fall. I can feel winter coming. And winter is a season that I do not enjoy. The biting cold. The wind that cuts right through my heavy coat. The short days and the long nights.

Autumn makes me face the darkness of winter.

I feel the same way reading through our scriptures for this week. The readings force us to look at the darkness that we find both in the world and inside our own hearts. We all have places within us that we would rather ignore. That we would rather keep locked away.

But just as we must face the darkness of winter to experience the beauty of spring, it is only by facing the darkness within ourselves that we can fully understand the depths of God’s love and grace. Because the point is not self-flagellation because of our failings, but rather the joy that abounds when we see the magnitude of wrongs that God can cover.

So let’s face our darkness together this week. And let’s be amazed at the healing love of God at work in all our lives.

Luke 18:9-14

 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

The people say, “Our wickedness has caught up with us, Lord,
but help us for the sake of your own reputation.
We have turned away from you
and sinned against you again and again.
O Hope of Israel, our Savior in times of trouble,
why are you like a stranger to us?
Why are you like a traveler passing through the land,
stopping only for the night?
Are you also confused?
Is our champion helpless to save us?
You are right here among us, Lord.
We are known as your people.
Please don’t abandon us now!”

So this is what the Lord says to his people:
“You love to wander far from me
and do not restrain yourselves.
Therefore, I will no longer accept you as my people.
Now I will remember all your wickedness
and will punish you for your sins.”

Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
Lord, we confess our wickedness
and that of our ancestors, too.
We all have sinned against you.
For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us,
and do not break your covenant with us.

Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
Only you can do such things.
So we will wait for you to help us.

Psalm 84:1-7

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises. Interlude

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

Prayer

I have dark places in my life, O Lord.
You know this well.
And yet I would rather hide my shame than bring it to the light.
I am grateful for your love and grace in my life.
That when I open the doors of my heart,
Your grace and mercy penetrate even to the darkest places.
Heal me and change me with your love this week.
It is so good to dwell in your house
and be called a child of God.
Help me to extend to others today the love you extend to me.
Amen.

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