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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, October 9, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Psalm 80:7–15

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted. (NRSV)

The psalmist’s words call our attention to the matter of origins. They invite us to ponder such questions as “Where did we begin and why have we strayed so far from that path?” The author Rachel Held Evans says that origin stories, like the one described so evocatively here, “are rarely straightforward history” but rather “a colorful amalgam of truth and myth, nostalgia and cautionary tale.” In this rendering of the Israelites origin story, the psalmist employs a nature metaphor to recast the Exodus journey from Egypt to God’s Promised Land as a central part of this historical drama. The story looks wistfully at the past but also, like a cautionary tale, reminds us that something has gone terribly wrong.

In the present-day United States and as a community of Christians we are constantly wrestling with our own origins. Where do they begin? In the declaration of 1776 or in the slave manifest of 1619? In the decisive battles of 1865 or in the legislation of 1965? Each date offers lessons that can shape our identity and ideals. Wherever we choose to place our communal origins, perhaps we, like the psalmist, detect that we have strayed far from the ideals and intentions in which we were formed, however shrouded in mythology those origins may be.

The psalmist’s response is to cry to God, “Turn again” toward us. But perhaps it is we who must turn again toward the justice and liberation that God intended for us all along. As we remember our story and who God calls us to be, we can hold out hope—as the psalmist does—that what is lost can be reclaimed.

Ever-faithful God, in your hands is the origin and destiny of our stories. Help us remember who and whose we are. Disentangle us from distorted and false stories. Restore in us confidence in what your steadfast love has made. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Associate Pastor-Elect for Evangelism and Community Engagement

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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