What Do You See?

Last fall I preached from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah begins with the Lord calling him into ministry, but Jeremiah is skeptical of his own abilities and unsure that the Lord will continue with him. Just in that moment, the Lord asks Jeremiah what he sees. Jeremiah is looking at an almond tree (a shoqed in Hebrew). The Lord tells Jeremiah that he sees well, and that in just the same way Jeremiah sees the almond tree, the Lord himself is watching (shaqed in Hebrew) over Jeremiah. It’s a sweet, kind, and personal moment. From that day on, Jeremiah would never look at a shaqed (almond tree) without thinking that the Lord was shoqed (watching) him.

Last year, a family in the congregation I pastor, planted an almond tree just outside the sanctuary window. This spring its buds are set to flower, and I can’t help but be encouraged that the Lord is watching and keeping his promises just as he said. I hope you’re encouraged too.

I wrote a poem about the interaction between Jeremiah and the Lord and was inspired by Eugene Peterson’s translation of the encounter in The Message which you may read HERE. Peterson makes use of the pun “stick” as in a branch of an almond tree and “stick” as in, I’m sticking with you. I really like that.

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

I loved you before I made you in love
In the hidden place of your begetting;
Your mission in life comes from above,
As a watchman you’ll speak, my word spreading.

“Ah, but Lord God, don’t you know, can’t you see?
I am but a youth; I cannot speak.
No one will heed or listen to me;
I don’t know how; I’m not strong; I’m weak.”

Ah, indeed.
Do not say, “Ah!” Do you hear?

Into your mouth I put my word of power;
You shall say what I say. Speak! Do not fear;
Though they beat, you’ll stand, be my strong tower.

“But how will I know that you are with me?”
I thought to myself as I walked along.

Jeremiah, tell me. What do you see?

I replied, “I see a stick of almond.”

You see well, son! I’ll be sticking all ‘round —
Watch you work, watch my word for years to come.
You watch each spring when this stick of almond
Reminds with its blooms the sticking I’ve done.

Remember this stick. With you, I’m sticking ‘round
Whether you work to plant, pull up, or tear down.

© Randall Edwards 2020

All These Tears

I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and I came across this quote which like a seed in a sidewalk crack germinated and sprouted, not in leaf, but as a poem.

“All these tears are gathered up and absorbed in the tears of Jesus.”

All these tears which trace the sad goodbyes of
Friends, who came to a fork, and took instead
The other way, and though every step tread
Grows the gap, it does not lessen the love.

All these tears cried in regret for the missed
Opportunity, the squandered chance to
Change, the scandal which you drug others through,
Leaving you wishing you did not exist.

All these tears a mother cried for her son
Whose coming she marveled, gladly received,
And bore him nine months, delivered, believed–
To stand at the foot of his cross undone.

All these tears which the Good Shepherd, like sheep
Gathers. His eyes search out and calls them his own
As his heart breaks, cries, Forsaken! Alone!
And absorbs all these tears with those he weeps.

Though sad in this world, we shall on that day
Meet the One whom all these tears, wipes away.

© Randall Edwards 2019
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself, Randall Edwards, and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artwork: Gebhard Fugel [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Arriving after a Long Obedience

Eugene Peterson arrived at his destination yesterday morning. His book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, as well as The Contemplative Pastor, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Answering God, Run with Horses, and Practice Resurrection have all played their part in my life and ministry.

There are portions of Peterson’s work that read more like poetry than simple narrative or exposition. I am very grateful for that. In his book on the Songs of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Peterson riffs on the meaning of Psalm 134. By “meaning” I don’t mean what the words are in Hebrew or their etymology or their systematic implications. Rather, by “meaning” I think I mean its “umph!” –its significance or potency.

In Psalm 134, the pilgrim having walked to Jerusalem since Psalm 120 at last reaches the Temple gates. But in what shape, at what cost, and for what?

Psalm 134 reads,

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!

The celebratory destination of faith is worship and that is also the purpose for coming. However, what if in coming so far, at such cost, enduring such difficulties, one does not arrive in strength but arrives in weakness — as one who barely makes it? Eugene Peterson writes about the first words of Psalm 134 with the condition of the arrivals in mind. If the Songs of Ascent are a map, Peterson seems to place a hypothetical red arrow on the map and ask, what if YOU ARE HERE?

Peterson writes,

Read one way, the sentence is an invitation: “Come, bless GOD.” The great promise of being in Jerusalem is that all may join in the rich temple worship. You are welcome now to do it. Come and join in. Don’t be shy. Don’t hold back. Did you have a fight with your spouse on the way? That’s all right. You are here now. Bless God. Did you quarrel with your neighbor while making the trip? Forget it. You are here now. Bless God. Did you lose touch with your children while coming and aren’t sure just where they are now? Put that aside for the moment. They have their own pilgrimage to make. You are here. Bless God. Are you ashamed of the feelings you had while traveling? the grumbling you indulged in? the resentment you harbored? Well, it wasn’t bad enough to keep you from arriving, and now that you are here, bless God. Are you embarrassed at the number of times you quit and had to have someone pick you up and carry you along? No matter. You are here. Bless God.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Peterson has the psalmist speaking to the many circumstances one may arrive to worship and has the psalmist call them to worship (no matter where they’ve come from) with the refrain, “Bless God”.

In honor of the Pastor Eugene Peterson, I am reposting this poem based on his words. He gets all the credit for anything good, but if bad, the blame lies with me.

Lord, we bless you and thank you for the pastor.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

Did you fight with your spouse along the way?
That’s all right. You’re here now.
Bless God.

Did you quarrel with your neighbor while on the road?
Forget it. You are here now.
Bless God.

Lost touch with your children, haven’t seen them all day?
Take a moment; for these worries, pray,
But while you wait, arise, say,
“They are yours; you are mine;
I bless you, God.”

All those wasted miles pouting, are you ashamed–
The grumbling indulged? the resentment inflamed?
It wasn’t so bad that it kept you abroad,
And now that you are here,
Bless God.

Embarrassed by quitting, that you’re not counted tough?
How your burdens were carried by those who bore you up?
No matter. At long last, you are here;
That’s enough.
Bless God.

Join with the assembly, the joyful throng
Whether sinner, saint,
Afraid, faint, weak, or strong
We have arrived together,
You’re where you belong.
Welcome, take your place, and
Let us, bless God.

The thoughts and some of the words are most certainly, Eugene Peterson’s.
See: Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Kindle Locations 2394-2401). IVP Books. Kindle Edition.
artwork: Illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.