By Sam Gutierrez
A number of years ago, I memorized Psalm 19. I had spent two or three weeks slowly repeating the Psalm to myself and letting it slowly trickle into the depths of my heart and mind.
Years later, on a sunny afternoon in early summer, I took my road bike from the shed and headed out on a long leisurely ride. Slowly the trail rose and I found myself overlooking the most beautiful green gorge filled with deciduous trees and a gentle meandering river. The sky above was expansive and blue with a few white puffy clouds.
Suddenly, the first few verses of Psalm 19 came pouring out of my memory–“the heavens declare the glory of God! The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech!”
As my legs propelled the bicycle up the side of the hill, more and more of the Psalm danced on my tongue–“There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard –Their voice goes out into all the earth – their words to the ends of the earth…"
Thinking back on that moment now, the most surprising part of that afternoon was discovering that the words of Psalm 19 were quietly stored in my heart. They were just waiting there, ready at a moment’s notice to give me the words of praise that captured so perfectly what I was experiencing.
Have you tried memorizing scripture? It’s a wonderful practice that gets you into scripture in an intimate way. There are a lot of good books about the Bible and they have their place. But too often we look to these resources and inadvertently substitute them for the actual words of scripture.
Perhaps give yourself the challenge of memorizing a short psalm this summer. Try something short like Psalm 23, Psalm 100 or Psalm 134. Or maybe, challenge yourself to memorize a key theological passage like Colossians 1:15-23 (The Supremacy of Christ), Philippians 2:1-11 (Imitating Christ’s humility), Ephesians 1:3-14 (Spiritual Blessings in Christ) or John 1 (The Word Became Flesh). You could also spend time memorizing a familiar narrative like the birth of Christ in Luke 2. If that all seems like too much, consider committing one verse to memory and meditating on it by repeating it yourself throughout the day – John 3:16, Galatians 5:22-23, or 1 John 1:9.
Scripture is inspired because God breathes into it, making it live. I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes from John Calvin about the power of Scripture:
“Now, this power which is peculiar to Scripture is clear from the fact that of human writings, however artfully polished, there is none capable of affecting us at all comparably. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, and others of that tribe. They will, I admit, allure you, delight you, move you, enrapture you in wonderful measure. But betake yourself from them to this sacred reading. Then, in spite of yourself, so deeply will it affect you, so penetrate your heart, so fix itself in your very marrow, that, compared with its deep impression such vigor as the orators and philosophers have will nearly vanish. Consequently, it is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures, which so far surpass all gifts and graces of human endeavor, Breathe something divine.” (Institutes Book 1, Section 1)
By Rev. Sam Gutierrez
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15
When I was in 7th grade, I heard something strange outside my bedroom window. After listening for a moment, I recognized the faint sound of a distressed “chirp.” I quickly left my room, went outside and found a baby humming bird in the grass. I looked up and saw a nest high in the tree. I was hesitant to touch the bird, but decided to pick it up and bring it inside the house rather than let it fall prey to the dangers of night. For the next 2 months, I fed it and gave it a birdhouse to live in. Eventually, when the hummingbird was strong enough, I took it outside and it flew away.
Some people blame Christians for the current ecological crisis. They point to passages in the Bible (Genesis 1:28) that seem to give permission for the misuse and exploitation of creation.
However, if we take a broader view and listen to what the Bible is saying about the complex relationship between God, humans and creation, we would learn that the earth and that baby bird have some surprising similarities.
First, both the hummingbird and the earth need protection because they are vulnerable.
Sometimes our discipleship can become spiritualized and squeezed into a narrow definition of personal devotions, serving, and evangelizing on street corners. But Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved with God reminds us that we must not spiritualize our discipleship and remember that worship of God and care for the earth are intimately tied. She says, “For this generation, the call of discipleship may well be a call to remember our kinship with the fertile earth.”
Davis reminds us that the call to follow Jesus has many dimensions – one of them being care for the environment. We learn in Genesis that reverence for God and care for the earth cannot be separated. To worship God is to care for the earth. An important word we find in Genesis 2:15 is “shamar.” Translated accurately, the word means to “watch,” or to keep the earth from violation and harm. Part of the commission God gives humanity is to protect what is vulnerable. Both baby hummingbirds and the earth are unable to defend themselves, and therefore need watchful protection.
Second, both need careful nurture if they are to survive and flourish.
A second important word in Genesis 2:15 is “avad” which means to work, but also to work for someone. Ellen Davis says, “There are divinely established rules and constraints attached to our use of the soil, and it has always been so. ‘Observe it’ -- learn from it.”
One of the things I had to learn about the hummingbird was what to feed it. I had to learn the “constraints” of that particular species. After a quick search, I discovered that hummingbirds drink nectar (sugar water). Both the earth and hummingbirds need to be nurtured and cared for. To nurture the earth, work it, and watch over it with loving protection and sensitive nurture is a command given by God to all humanity.
The current ecological crisis has much to do with the early descriptive passages of Genesis, and the discipleship and worship of Christian believers. The Bible is very explicit and careful to remind us that social and ecological issues are not outside the reach of God’s good and saving work. The good news of God’s plan for renewal reaches far into the issues of care for the earth and issues of sustainable practices.
Rev. Dr. Stephen DeWit
In my sermon on Trinity Sunday, I mentioned how life in the Trinity means that even the most ordinary moments are sacred. If I would have had time, I would have loved to tell the story of one of my spiritual heroes: Brother Lawrence. People rarely become famous for their humility and simplicity. The Holy Spirit made it so that Brother Lawrence did.
He wasn’t ordained, he wasn’t smart, he never taught courses, never wrote books, never got promoted, and even died in obscurity. But today, any list of believers to emulate--any discussion of history’s most intense lovers of God, includes Brother Lawrence.
Born in 1614, Nicolas Herman took the name “Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection” when he joined a Carmelite Priory in Paris, France. He didn’t have much of an education, so becoming a Priest was out of the question. Instead, he spent nearly his entire life working in the kitchen. He had no choice but to be simple. His job was simple. His expectations were simple. His resources were simple. But as Brother Lawrence proved with his life, simple doesn’t have to be meaningless.
His love of God began simply as well. One day in the dead of winter he was staring at a tree—no leaves, no fruit, nothing beautiful about it—but he delighted at God’s providential love for that tree. It looked dead, but it wasn’t; and God was going to bring that tree to fullness. Somehow, after seeing this tree his heart was never the same. No miraculous signs, no great visions, just a simple thought of God’s perfect care.
Even in the monastery kitchen, doing the same chores and enduring the same complaints day after day, year after year, he found the greatest intimacy with God in the simplest things. There was nothing in his life that was mundane, because each movement, each chore, each thought was an opportunity to explode with love for God. He famously, confidentially told a friend, “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
How did he do this? Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God—in everything, all the time. The more monotonous, rote, simple, and miniscule the event, the better. More than any other reality, Brother Lawrence sensed the presence of God at every moment. Mark Galli writes, “Together, God and brother Lawrence cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world.”
After his obscure death, a curious church leader collected everything Brother Lawrence had left the world: twelve letters to his friends and about five short pages of maxims on practicing the presence of God. Those combined with four journal entries written by a friend after having conversations with Brother Lawrence is all we have. But that’s all we need to understand that Brother Lawrence lived a life beyond the ordinary.
by Sam Gutierrez
Once again, we have celebrated the gift of God’s life-giving Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Now we’ve moved into the second half of the liturgical year called Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time is the longest liturgical season. It begins on Trinity Sunday and ends on Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. At the start of this season, Trinity Sunday reminds us that we (and the church) live, move, and have our being within the life of the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the end of Ordinary Time, Christ the King Sunday puts the spotlight firmly on Christ who is the centerpiece of and avenue through which God is bringing about wholeness and healing to the entire created order (see Colossians 1:15-20).
Ordinary Time is ordinary in the sense that the days are numbered. The word “ordinary” stems from the Latin words “ordo” (meaning order) and “ordinalis” (referring to numbers in a series). Simply put, Ordinary Time is numbered time.
But Ordinary Time is not ordinary, nor is it merely “numbered time.” Some have noticed that the liturgical calendar can be divided into two distinct but connected parts: the story of Jesus and the story of the Church. The story of Jesus starts in Advent and transitions at Pentecost, when the ascended Jesus sends the Spirit to empower the church to be his hands and feet in the world – his body. Pentecost kicks off the second part of the liturgical year. In fact, Ordinary Time could also be called Pentecost Time.
As the church goes into the world as the body of Christ (by the power of the Spirit), it’s important that the church remembers that its work is really the work of Christ. More specifically, it’s Trinitarian work – Father, Son, and Spirit all working to heal and bring about wholeness to a fractured and broken creation suffering the devastating effects of sin. By faith (by the power of the Spirit) the church participates in the life and the work of the Triune God.
Next year on Trinity Sunday, I’ll delve into various aspects of Trinitarian theology and its implications, but this year, let me guide you to some resources for further reading:
Article 8 of the Belgic Confession attempts to name the persons of the Trinity (buckle your seatbelts – this gets deep!)
A funny video about how all well-intentioned Trinitarian analogies end up as heresies rejected by the church over time.
The Bible Project looks to the story of Scripture to tackle the Question – “Who is God?”