Lenten Devotion: The Windhover

Psalm 103:1-5

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, […] who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

“The best thing I ever wrote.” Those are the words that 19th century Jesuit-poet Gerhard Manley Hopkins wrote about his poem, “The Windhover.” The poem is his own stirring self-reflection upon seeing a windhover, a falcon, “rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy! The off, off forth on swing, as a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend.” Hopkins marvels at its flight, his heart stirring at “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.”

Hopkins intends for us to marvel at the glory of this one falcon’s perfect self-expression as it takes to the air and remember how even this perfection pales in comparison to the ultimate perfection in our world, which is God in Christ Jesus, who modeled for us an even more glorious course of flight.

Hopkins’ final intention is that we, the readers, should have our heart stirred by the mighty acts of God in creation and in the life of Jesus.

The Psalmist understands this task completely. In Psalm 103 the proclaimer is witness to the mastery and achieve of God’s great love and forgiveness and cannot help but in an act of perfect self-expression, with all that is within, to bless God’s holy name.

May we too not just admire the windhover, the falcon, from afar, but in our own way, like Hopkins, like the Psalmist, take wing and find renewal like the eagle’s.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller

Lenten Devotion: Then it rained

Isaiah 43:19

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Then it rained

It’s hard not to perceive it. It’s all around us these days. Why just yesterday, Sunday morning, I left for church and glanced over my shoulder down into the flowerbeds as I walked to the car. There poking out from the dirt were tiny little tendrils of green.

Then it rained.

Like water pouring over a parched desert landscape, it only took a matter of hours for a new scene to emerge. When my car pulled into the driveway later in the afternoon everything was different. Saturated in warmth and water the grass was greener, the dirt was dirtier:, the flowers showed forth colors that before were hidden behind pale green blossoms.  Those tiny little tendrils of green had shot up one or two inches taller. New life.

Every year it happens, and yet every year it never grows old. Every year’s spring is accompanied by excitement and happiness, reassurance of the goodness of the earth.

This is the season of resurrection. It only makes sense for God to reveal God’s most dramatic springing forth during these “new life” months. And when Jesus come forth with new life in a few weeks, it will not be the flower beds that will spring forth with rivers of water but our hearts with rivers of resurrection life.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller

Lenten Devotion: Seeking the “thou” that first sought us

Psalm 53:2

God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

Seeking the “thou” that first sought us

What makes humanity, well human? In other words, what is unique among the history of evolution that distinguishes humans from say a cardinal or a goldfish?

The answer to this seemingly complex query is captured in this brief snippet from Psalm 53. It is humanity’s ability to seek after God. A human is not merely a being who “is there,” but a being who can ask what else is there too.

Humans are not just a construct that God thought up, but a being that can think about God in return. We enact this cosmic singularity of existence in many ways, each equally profound and poignant. When we pray to God is the most obvious way. But every time we give thanks to God. When we are mad at God. When we don’t understand God. Even when we question whether God is there at all, we are enacting this amazing trait of human existence.

Seeking. That’s what you can call this action. That’s what you can call this amazing human ability. And this seeking is what God looks at us and desires. Because when we do this we are becoming what we truly are meant to be. And what we are meant to be is human, no more no less. As we have seen this can take many forms, but whatever the form let it flow forth from our lips. Let us seek the “thou” that first sought us.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller

Lenten Devotion: The Cairn

Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7

When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down.” […] When your children ask in time to come. ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.

The Cairn

I have probably heard this passage of scripture read out loud more than any other. Why this one you might ask? For every week for four summers I was a counselor at a Lutheran summer camp in Pennsylvania, Camp Nawakwa. And every week the entire camp gathered to hear Joshua 4 read aloud. We gathered around a pile of rocks at the heart of the camp, a cairn.

The Israelites were finishing their 40 year journey in the wilderness. They crossed the Jordan under the direction of their leader Joshua and were entering the Promised Land. To mark the end of their journey and God’s faithfulness to them on that journey they erected their own cairn, a pile of 12 rocks, one for each of the 12 tribes. Whenever they looked at that cairn they would always remember the journey and the God who brought them on that journey to a new home.

Over my years at camp our cairn grew and grew. It was not a pile of 12 stones, like the Israelites, but a pile made up of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stones, a stone for every cabin group for every week of camp for every summer. And when we looked at that pile of stones, as we walked by it countless times during the week, as we gathered around it at the end of each week to add our stone to the pile, we remembered too. We remembered the journeys that we have had along the way. We remembered God’s role in our journeys, just like the Israelites did.

What journey is God leading you on? What do you have in your life that you can look upon and when people ask you in time to come what it all means you can say, this is where God has taken me in my life.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller

Lenten Devotion: A holy weed

Luke 13:18-19

[Jesus] said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

A holy weed

Mustard is a weed. It is persistent. It spreads. It can be found everywhere. This is true in our day, and it was true in ancient times as well. An ancient Roman writer, lawyer, statesman, general, and naturalist Pliny the Elder, living at the same time as Jesus, had this to say about Mediterranean Black Mustard, the kind Jesus was almost definitely talking about in his parable.

“Mustard, which with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. […] but on the other hand when it is has been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”

I imagine this is what Jesus has in mind too when he references mustard in his parable. Yes there is a remarkable characteristic of its tiny seeds as they grow from minute to shade giving, but it is also remarkable for its wide ranging growth.

This is how grace works. God’s grace is not stingy. God’s grace grows and grows. A little bit of sun, a little bit of water, a little bit of love and forgiveness and it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it.

This, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of God is like. When spring hits in full force this coming month or two. As you hunch over to pull out the dandelions from patches of verdant green, even as you curse their persistence of these pesky plants, give thanks to God who like the mustard seed shows up again and again and again.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller