16 February 2015

Psalms Reading and Study Schedule for Lent and Easter

The Season of Lent begins this Wednesday with the Imposition of Ashes (6:15 p.m. in the Custer Road Sanctuary). I have always loved the Invitation to Lenten Discipline in the liturgy:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation. During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It is also a time when persons who had committed serious sins were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church. In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.

Last night at my Invitation to the Psalms study I offered the class the following study/reading plan, featuring the Psalm assigned for each Sunday of Lent (February 22 - March 29) and Easter (April 5 - May 17). This fits the recommendation to read and meditate upon God's word from the invitation above. You are invited to participate with us too, using the psalms as you see fit. Each psalm is used for a week. There are several options:

  • Memorization
  • Write them in your own words
  • Meditate over them (reading them silently in a quiet place)
  • Read them as the first and last thing you do each day, or on your lunch break
  • Consider: how are the psalms for Lent and Easter different in tone and style? Especially check out Psalm 22, offered in both seasons!
Feb 22: Psalm 25:1-10
March 1: Psalm 22:23-31
March 8: Psalm 19
March 15: Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
March 22: Psalm 51: 1-12
March 29 (Palm/Passion Sunday): Psalm 31:9-16

April 5 (Easter Day): Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
April 12: Psalm 133
April 19: Psalm 4
April 26: Psalm 22:25-31
May 3: Psalm 148
May 10: Psalm 98
May 17: Psalm 1

Happy studying! I'd love to hear your experiences and learning. You are welcome to return to this post throughout the next 90 days and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

09 February 2015


"War is All Hell." - General William Tecumseh Sherman
"God Bless Our Troops-- especially the snipers" - popular bumper sticker

I saw American Sniper the other day. After the movie an employee asked if I liked it. "Not sure," I responded. He said he had seen it ten times and cried at the end every time. I nearly cried too. I was exhausted and my heart was racing. On its own, yes the movie is very good. I just do not know how to assign a star rating to it or say "yes" or "no" when asked if I liked it. For the record, I have not read the book on which the movie is based, so I cannot say whether the film accurately follows it or not--  nor how Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal, is portrayed in the movie.

I'll admit that when I see movies involving the Iraq war of the last decade (I'll maintain The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty are both better than American Sniper) I find it difficult, no impossible, to lay aside my own feelings about the war and its ramifications for our society. So as every minute passed in the movie, I found my heart breaking a little more: for the men and women who serve in the military, constantly in danger and losing loved ones; for their families at home; for the evil in the world, and the all-too-often response: violence for violence.

And the reaction to this movie has been so polarized. There have been tweets and commentaries from the likes of Seth Rogen to Michael Moore to Sarah Palin to whoever has a microphone and camera facing them next. Who knows what was actually said or the context-- nevermind that stuff. A random tweet is all we need to capitalize and target a response to our audience. All of this attention has certainly impacted the box office receipts: more than a quarter billion dollars so far. Comparatively, The Hurt Locker made about $16 million, and Zero Dark Thirty $95 million. Why the overwhelming success for American Sniper?

Because it is based on a real person?
Because Chris Kyle was killed by a fellow veteran (his trial starts soon)?
Because of the rise of ISIS?

The movie does not struggle with the war itself: the decision to invade Iraq, the constant re-deployment of soldiers (Chris Kyle served four tours), the moral and financial cost, the numbers of those killed on both sides. Raising such concerns is often met with one or two responses: "That's ancient history; we need to move on"; or "That's unpatriotic and insulting to the military." No-- it's neither. These are serious questions and they deserve our attention. Recently I've watched a couple other movies that struggled with war and terrorism: Platoon and Munich. Both dealt seriously with the impact war and violence have on those who carry it out: Platoon with the Vietnam War and Munich with Israel's response to the murder of its Olympic athletes in 1972. Platoon follows a young Charlie Sheen, radically changed by the end of the movie. A handful of men hunt down the assassins of the athletes in Munich, only to find themselves questioning whether this is what citizens of Israel, who believe themselves chosen of God, ought to do.

As a person of faith, I find the questions of war to be unrelenting. In the movie, a young Chris Kyle brings a Bible home with him from church. The adult Chris Kyle brought it with him to Iraq. A buddy of his, who attended seminary before going to war, questions why Kyle has it, since he's never seen him read it, or even speak of God. This friend is later killed and a letter he wrote home questioning the war is read at his funeral. Kyle's wife wants to know what he thought of the letter-- she shares his concerns after seeing how the war has changed her husband-- he says his friend did not die because of the war, but because of the letter, written two weeks before he was killed. He had given up.

The most powerful scene American Sniper for me takes place at a landing field. Chris Kyle has just returned to Iraq for his second or third tour. He passes a group of Marines boarding a plane for home and sees his younger brother. His brother is weary, and basically says, "I hate this place. I'm going home." Bradley Cooper's reaction was absolutely perfect: he is incredulous that his kid brother is so anxious to go home and leave the war behind (we never see him again in the movie). Kyle, on the other hand, couldn't wait to get back in country. Over and over again.

03 February 2015

Details of The Death of the Messiah Bible Study

Several years ago Mel Gibson directed a film called The Passion of the Christ. The outpouring of support from Christians was so overwhelming it launched a sort of revival in Hollywood which led to such “religious” movies in 2014 as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Thanks a lot, guy! Anyway, I was not moved very much by the Gibson movie—it focused too much on the violence of Jesus’ suffering (the word “passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering), and not enough of the grace revealed by his death.

This year I will lead a Lenten Bible study: “The Death of the Messiah.” We will explore each of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion: his betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion, noting their similarities and differences. Studying the different gospel accounts of the Passion always brings up great questions:

Who is the naked guy in Mark 14:51-52?
Why does John include the detail of lanterns and torches in 18:3?
Where exactly is the Garden of Gethsemane?
Did Jesus or Simon of Cyrene carry the cross—and what difference does it make?
Who was Pontius Pilate—and why do we remember him in the Apostle’s Creed?
What is significant about the name Barabbas?

In addition to the gospel texts, at the beginning of each session we will explore an artistic depiction of Jesus’ passion as it relates to that evening’s gospel material. Here’s an outline of the study:

“The Death of the Messiah” Wednesdays during Lent, 7:15-8:45 p.m.
Feb 18 The Entrance into Jerusalem, the Cleansing of the Temple, Passover, and the Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Feb 25 Gethsemane and Trial
Mar 4 Betrayal: Peter and Judas
Mar 11 Pontius Pilate and Barabbas
Mar 18 Crucifixion
Mar 25 The Passion of Jesus according to John
Apr 1 The Farewell Discourse

Hope to see you there!