Twenty years ago, I was on a Pastoral Search Committee, and one of the questions we asked the ten candidates we interviewed in the first round was to tell us their three favorite passages of scripture. I loved hearing the variety of verses quoted and even learned some that I didn't know, such as the last line of one of this week's lectionary passages:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
For today's Friday Five, list your five favorite passages/verses from the Bible and tell us something about why you love them.
At different times of my life, different verses have been my favorites because they spoke to me in the place I was at the time. My first Bible, a Revised Standard Version, was given to me in 1962 by the First United Church of Christ,Congregational in Milford, Ct. I used that Bible for many, many years and it's marked up, highlighted and written in. It's a wonderful record of my spiritual journey. Some of the highlighted passages leave me wondering what it was I wrestling with at the time. Obviously it was soul-churning at the time, but from 40 or so years later, the question or problem is gone from memory. Other highlighted passages take me right back to some of my darkest nights. I use a different Bible nowadays - the New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV -- most of the time, and some of the same verses are marked. So here, in no particular order, are some of my very meaningful passages:
1. Psalm 121: This is the RSV which is how it's ingrained in my memory
|I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?|
|My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.|
|He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber.|
|Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.|
|The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.|
|The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.|
|The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.|
This is a psalm I've always liked probably because it was one of my mother's favorites. Despite life-long Sunday school classes, I wasn't ever required to memorize scripture, but this comes close to a memorized passage. I've always loved the images in this psalm. As a child I loved the language too - especially verse 6. I still go back to this psalm at times of great anxiety.
2. Psalm 51: 10
Bound Book Congregational Church, Bound Brook, NJ is where this verse first found me during the 1964-1965 school year. Ms. LeNorth's 5th grade Sunday School class, to be precise. I don't remember the activity, I don't remember the gist of the lesson, I just remember this verse which I've prayed many, many, many times since then.
3. Romans 12:1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.*
This passage was the theme for the UCC National Youth Event in 2004. I was co-leader of The United Church of Jaffrey, UCC's senior high youth group and the pastor and I took a group of our youth to this event. We spent the year before the event fundraising: we sold nuts, we flamingoed parishioners' lawns, we held car washes, and the congregation "voted" through cash donations in jars what color the pastor would dye his hair and appear in the pulpit with. (Pink was the winning color!) It was a year of fun and fellowship, and especially growth in faith, as we all wrestled with this passage and what it means to be transformed.
4. Psalm 141:3
Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD, keep watch over the door of my lips!
This verse became a mantra with me when I was in college. I can be outspoken at times, but I am someone who processes ideas by talking it out. People who know me well understand that about me. They understand that when I am confronted with a new idea or challenge, I often start reacting and speak my thoughts. Frequently my initial reactions morph into completely different reactions once I've talked it through. People who don't know me hear my first thoughts, and are "turned off" to me. It took me a long time to understand that about myself, and then change my ways. I don't always succeed. At the very least, I am usually able to preface my immediate reactions with "my first reaction is, but I have to think about it --- and I'm thinking aloud here.. ." or something to that effect.
I also need this verse in my role as a classroom teacher. Students don't always hear what we mean. They miss the tone that is used; they hear only part of what we say; they misinterpret what we say. Words can hurt, especially when some of our students have language disabilities. It's important for teachers to be very mindful of not only what we say but how we say it.
5. Luke 24:13-32
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"
I love this story because it reminds me how often we (I!) don't recognize God among us, within us. We don't recognize "our hearts burning within us" until we're slapped over the head with it. And it also reminds of the times when I do recognize God breaking through. Even when we're most disconsolate, God reaches us and the Spirit makes Itself known to us. This passage made its first impression on me during college. I was struggling with choosing a major, finding a path to follow, and I was having a great deal of trouble with a roommate. My best friend invited me home one weekend and I made my first trip to the state that would later become my home. She took me to her tiny American Baptist church that Sunday and the pastor preached on this text. Suddenly I felt that "burning" and realized that I wasn't alone. I had this wonderful friend, I had a supportive church group at college, and of course, I had God. The 2nd time this story deeply affected me was several years ago when I co-taught Confirmation class with the pastor. We used this text as one of the foundation texts for the year-long class. When the confirmands led their confirmation service, they used it to describe their individual faith journeys. The openness and honesty of their testimony ( I can't think of a better word, despite my sometimes negative reaction to that word) brought us all to tears. How we long for the burning of our hearts, despite the fact that our response leads us to places we might not want to go.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I love this verse. It keeps jumping up and waving its hand in front of my face. From a Sunday school class as a kid, to a sermon I preached in college, to a gathering I attended at Andover Newton, to the NYE 2004 event where Ken Medema sang a song based on this text, to its appearance in the lectionary . . . it pops up continually to remind me what my task is.