When Things Are Bad

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 — Wednesday in Holy Week (Year One)

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 956)

Psalms 55 (morning) 74 (evening)

Jeremiah 17:5-10, 14-17

Philippians 4:1-13

John 12:27-36

All of today’s readings speak to us when troubles abound.

Jesus opens the gospel with the anguished words, “Now my soul is troubled.” In language typical of John’s gospel, he moves from the urge to escape into deep acceptance. “It is for this reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” But Jesus leaves his disciples with ominous warnings about walking in the light rather than in the darkness.

Our psalmist’s misery is profound. “My heart quakes within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling have come over me, and horror overwhelms me.” He wishes he could fly away. The deepest hurt is that he has been betrayed by an intimate friend. “But it was you, someone after my own heart, my companion, my own familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together and walked with the throng in the house of God.” He wishes his enemies were dead. “Their speech is softer than butter, but war is in their hearts. Their words are smoother than oil, but they are drawn swords.” The only thing he can do is to “call upon God, and God will deliver me. I will complain and lament, and God will hear my voice.”

Jeremiah knows these depths. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?” As his enemies taunt him and his trust in God, he begs God to acquit him. “Do not become a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster; Let my persecutors be shamed, but do not let me be shamed; let them be dismayed, but do not let me be dismayed;” he cries. Finally, giving vent to his anger and frustration, Jeremiah shouts, “bring on them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction!”

I’ve felt this way. I’ve known fear and trembling. I’ve been betrayed by a friend. I know those people who talk smoothly but harbor terrible things. I’ve fantasized about revenge and recompense. As awful and conflictive as these thoughts and emotion may be, I know that my Biblical companions share them with me, and they show me that I can take these dark things to God.

Paul closes his letter to the Philippians with a recognition that he and his friends live in conflict with enemies within their community. With tears he tells again of those whose “end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” These people are making life miserable for Paul and the others.

But Paul has a habit and discipline to turn to Jesus in trust, embracing Christ’s victory and overcoming all that can threaten. He asks his friends Euodia and Synthche by name to resolve their conflict with one another. And he insists that all of their “names are in the book of life.”

Then we get a peek at Paul’s spirituality in action, his way of thinking and praying when he is brooding on the kinds of troubles that threaten to undo us.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Then Paul offers some practical advice about how to turn our attention when we are anxious, angry or afraid. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And then he says, move forward. Persevere in what you know is right. “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul speaks with some authority. Elsewhere he lists some of the things he has endured: prison, floggings, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, cold, sleeplessness and constant danger, even to the point of near death. (2 Cor. 23-29) His list makes my complaints seem trivial. Out of his trials Paul has learned acceptance. “For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” His hard won conviction: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Then he offer a word of thanks for the gift of community: “In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.”

Great advice. Do the best you can, and when you don’t, ask and accept forgiveness. Give everything to God and think about the good things.

At night when problems surrounded him, the elderly Pope John XXIII would pray, “Lord, it’s your church — you run it; I’m going to bed.”

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