Night Worship

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Psalm 134

Praise in the Night

A Song of Ascents

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,

who stand by night in the house of the Lord!

Lift up your hands to the holy place,

and bless the Lord.

May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,

bless you from Zion.

There are three main thoughts as to how the “Songs of Ascent” were used.

The first is that they were sung by the Jewish people as they made their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Other scholars think it may go back to the rededication of the Temple in the time of Nehemiah. Other scholars think it may have been a praise song used by the priests taking their night watches in the Temple.

I think it is awesome to have a worship song designated specifically for those who take the night shift. It is not just a song to be sung by the night shift in the Temple, it is a prayer lifted up on their behalf.

I won’t try to drag more out of these simple verses than are really there. But perhaps we should pause and consider the number of people who work those twilight hours while many of us are home, asleep in our beds. Does God work in their lives, even if they live in places that do not have access to worship services they can readily attend? I remember serving with a retired pastor, Rev. Harry Prince, who once told me that his favorite church to serve was a night church in Philadelphia, PA the had been created specifically for the nurses, police, EMS workers, and the many others who could not attend a Sunday morning worship. They had a life unto themselves and he considered it a blessing to be in God’s presence with them. This is a song for Rev. Prince and his night church.

Are you a night person as well?

How do you worship God at night?

Rote

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“The Lord said:

Because these people draw near with their mouths

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

so I will again do

amazing things with this people,

shocking and amazing.

The wisdom of their wise shall perish,

and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,

whose deeds are in the dark,

and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”

You turn things upside down!

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?

Shall the thing made say of its maker,

“He did not make me”;

or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

Hope for the Future

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while

become a fruitful field,

and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?

On that day the deaf shall hear

the words of a scroll,

and out of their gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,

and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more,

and the scoffer shall cease to be;

all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—

those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,

who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,

and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,

no longer shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,

the work of my hands, in his midst,

they will sanctify my name;

they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,

and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,

and those who grumble will accept instruction.” Isaiah 29.13-24 (NRSV)

What do you think about memorizing scripture? I struggle with it.

I learned scripture first in Sunday school, where we were taught it by rote – that is, a repeated exercise or ritual meant to help you internalize something. Some of the first scriptures I learned through song (a kind of rote). I remember learning Proverbs 3:5-6 as a song that blessed my life many years later and helped lead me to God.

In between that first lesson and the moment I decided to surrender my life to God, there was a lot of unfaithful living and outright running from God. There is very little unique about this part of my story… most of us have been there/done that. However, what I have noticed is that it was during these very rebellious years that I could probably recite the most scripture from memory. I knew the bible – I just did not follow it with my life at all.

20 years later, I find that my memory is not quite as sharp as it was back then and I stumble over the words more. It’s not near as impressive. Yet my understanding of those scriptures has grown deep and wide. I may not be able to recall the specific words, but I often tell you who wrote them, who they were first written to, why, and how they apply to us today. Even more than that “preacher knowledge” I can give personal testimony about how they apply to my life today as a personal witness.

My wonderful teachers, taught me to memorize the scriptures, but only half the job was done. I’ll claim it was because of my own stubbornness. What I needed, more than rote memorization was a relationship with God. Perhaps my teachers thought I was too young to have a relationship with God, so they gave me rote instead. Maybe they just did not know how to explain it. Or maybe I was not listening.

It was during the year of Christ’s birth, we are told, that those who had memorized the scripture missed the Messiah. They knew where to find Him… indeed they knew enough to send the Gentile Magi to meet Him, but they would not follow the scriptures themselves. For them, knowing the bible was enough. They did not think they needed to know God.

Regardless of what happened in my own life, God makes it clear that our connection with him needs to be deeper than something we just memorize and recite. There needs to be a spiritual understanding underneath and through it all. As Isaiah wrote: we need to do more than memorize the commandments. We need to trust and obey our commander.

  • What spiritual lessons did you learn by memorization?
  • How have they blessed your life over the years?
  • How has God brought deeper meaning to them ?

Surely goodness, surely mercy

right beside me all my days

and I will dwell in Your house forever

and bless Your Holy Name

Thursday December 22, 2016

The Second Circle

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With sequestered trends the highlit hollyply

cut our hours, leash our eyes

cap our ears with cheap, chalky sand

set us marching in a ring, and sing

a sleighing song, with cracking quips

and two-bit foremen

with a lark

will lead their escorts

to the ark

They’ll cull them out and comb their hair

to frame our faces, stain our skin

spin our heads ’round a plastic lens

kept for turning our yearn to learn

a burning dance, the twisting hips

to rugged beats

we’ll take our chance

with a bottle of shame

and cheap romance