The Blog

Friday, December 14, 2018

“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” [Ephesians 6:15]

What I find most disturbing about the practice of Christianity throughout the world is how often it becomes divisive.  Our own denomination has experienced its share of divisions. Instead of the gospel of peace, Christians often proclaim the gospel of “I am right and you are wrong”. “I’m going to heaven and you are going to hell”. Instead of focusing on the way of Christ as the way of peace, we focus on a right interpretation of this and that.  Division ensues as some are considered faithful and others heretical.  O Lord, in your mercy, forgive your warring children.  Apostle Paul reminds us that as we cloth ourselves each day we are to put on our feet whatever will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  How might we proclaim the gospel of peace with Christians who see this or that differently than we do?   How might we proclaim the gospel of peace with those who practice different faiths or none at all?  “Be strong in the Lord,” says Apostle Paul, and “pray in the Spirit at all times.”  The Gospel of peace, not the Gospel of division, will mend those whom God calls us to serve.

Prayer

Merciful God, I ask for your forgiveness for I have been a divisive voice at times.  I often subscribe to the gospel of “I am right and you are wrong”.  I desire to be strong in my faith, while being peace-filled as I interact with those who believe differently.  Help me to find common ground with others through your gospel of peace.  Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Romans 5:1]

Have you ever had the experience when you laid your head exhausted on the pillow at night, only to have your brain switch on?  You know without a doubt that sleep, if it comes, will be troubled by the thoughts that are swirling and racing around in your head.  It is in these moments that I try to remember that I can trust God with all that is swirling and racing. It is by faith that I can let go and let God manage whatever is troubling me.  When I am able to do this peace takes hold and sleep becomes possible.  Peace that is available to us because Christ bridged the divide between God and us.  Christ’s presence is a reconciling force between God and ourselves and between others and ourselves.  We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and this peace will help us sleep as well as participate as bearers of peace in the world. 

 Prayer

By faith, I entrust my life to you, O Lord.  I realize that peace will always be elusive without your presence in my life.  Be a reconciling force in and through my life so that others might come to experience your peace, by the power of your Spirit at work through me.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:6]

Whenever I read this verse, a movement from Handel’s Messiah breaks into my consciousness: “For unto us a child is born!”  This Advent we prepare for this child once again.  We await this child who will usher in God’s new covenant.  Yet, the Prince of Peace is not an ordinary Prince.  This Prince arrives among us wrapped in swaddling clothes and is laid in a manger by his parents of lowly estate.  There is no palace or royal guards.  There are only sheep and cattle nestled quietly in hay.  There are only shepherds who come in from the fields.  Yet, authority rests on the shoulders of this newborn Prince of Peace, authority to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to recover the sight of the blind and to let the oppressed go free.  The authority to mend the world rests on his shoulders and this Prince of Peace invites us to partner with him in mending the world.

Prayer

I stand in awe of the Prince of Peace, O God.  Who would have thought that this was and is the way to mend the world?  Fill me with your peace that surpasses understanding.  Fill me with your peace, so that I may not be troubled or afraid to participate in mending the world.  Amen.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” {Luke 1:78-79]

When the taste of death interrupts our lives, darkness falls heavy upon us.  Even the midday sun on a crystal blue day seems as darkness. In the deep darkness of the shadow of death, we wonder if the dawn will ever come.  Will the unrelenting mourning accompanied by rivers of tears ever be turned into dancing?  Zechariah assures us that the dancing will come.  The darkness will be washed away by God’s tender mercy, for the dawn will break from on high to give us light.  This light, the Christ Child we await, will guide our feet in the way of peace.  Zechariah’s prophecy is a vision of hope, for his child will announce the coming of the Prince of Peace, the one who will guide our feet in the way of peace, the one who will bring dancing once again into our lives.

Prayer

Light of Life, enter into my darkness and break its hold on me by your dawn.  Take away all that troubles me and guide my feet in the way of peace.  Give me the courage to enter into the darkness of others, so that I might be the bearer of your dawn to them.  Light of Life, by your tender mercy guide me in the way of peace, so that I may participate in mending the world.  Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2018

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” [Isaiah 54:10]

What an amazing promise God made to the wayward people of Israel.  They had turned their backs on God again and again, yet God had compassion on them.  God said, “My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.”  Throughout scripture the people of God are always the covenant breakers.  The people of God turn to other gods as they forget the wondrous deeds God has done in their lives.  Yet, God is a God of compassion.  God is merciful and forgiving. God does not withhold his covenant of peace.  Instead, God devises another plan, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”  God’s faithfulness, demonstrated by God’s covenant of peace, finds a way where there appears to be no way. God chooses not to severe our relationship. This promise is our hope and source of peace for our lives and all of creation.

Prayer

Compassionate God, I am ever thankful that you never give up on me.  Even when I turn away and follow after others gods, you stand ready to forgive and welcome me home.  Your covenant of peace is permanent; it shall not be removed.  Your steadfast love is permanent; it shall not be removed.  Your grace extends to me always.  I am ever thankful for your compassionate faithfulness. Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Candle of Peace is our Second Advent Candle.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore.” [Ezekiel 37:26]

In the Bible, the concept of covenant is the major metaphor used to describe the relationship between God and the people of God.  In Ezekiel God declares, “I will make a covenant of peace.”  This covenant is an agreement between God and the people of God, in which they both make promises to do or not to do certain actions.  God’s covenant of peace with the people of God is for their welfare and not for their harm, to give them a future with hope.  God promises to be present with the people forevermore, which is the fire of their hope and our hope.  The people were blessed again and again by this covenant of peace.  What is your covenant of peace with God?  How has your relationship with God blessed you?  How do you experience God’s presence among your everyday experiences of life?  God’s covenant with us is everlasting and forevermore, let us keep our covenant with God.

Prayer

Covenanting God, I am thankful for your willingness to be in relationship with your gathered people.  Bless us as a church.  Bless me as your beloved child.  Help me to bear your covenant of peace into the everyday places of my life. Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” [Romans 5:5]

I imagine God’s love being poured into my life, like the pouring that takes place every communion Sunday as the juice is poured from the pitcher into the chalice.  A song with this pouring image comes to my mind as well. “Fill my cup, let it overflow.  Fill my cup, let it overflow. Fill my cup, left it overflow with love,” sings Isaiah Jones.  Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love never stops being poured into our lives. God’s love pours and pours, again and again filling our very lives with God’s love.  It is the overflow that helps mend the world, when God’s love flows through us and impacts the lives of others around us.  As you reflect on this passage ask yourself a couple of questions today: “How do I experience God’s love being poured into my life?” and “How do I overflow with God’s love for others?” Let’s pour our lives out for others as we participate in mending the world.

Prayer

Loving God, I am so thankful that you never stop pouring your love into my life. I am thankful for the image of a pitcher of love that never runs dry.  Fill my cup, my life, and let it overflow with your hope that does not disappoint.  Amen.

Friday, December 7, 2018

“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” [1 Peter 3:15]

Is there hope within you?  Is it visible to those around you?  I remember a corporate secretary once asking me about the hope that was within me.  She sensed that there was something different, something more than the usual corporate climb in my makeup.  I shared with her that my hope was not in my next promotion or whether or not I would be recognized for my efforts and be given the next rung in the corporate ladder. My hope was in Jesus Christ alone.  My hope was in the one who laid down his life, so that I might live more authentically and abundantly. She was touched by my words and acknowledged her own hunger for something more than what the world had to offer.  What would you have shared? Are you ready to account for the hope that is in you?  Prepare a couple of sentences that you could easily share with anyone who asks about the hope that is in you.

Prayer

Loving God, forgive my timidity in sharing about the hope that is within me.  Give me the courage to share my faith with others, as I have experienced it.  Grant me wisdom as I draw others by the power of the Holy Spirit to your amazing grace and love. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God who has promised is faithful.” [Hebrews 10:23]

When dawn came the morning after the horrific fires roared through Paradise, I imagine the survivors’ hope wavered.  There was immediate joy in the very essence of survival, yet complete sorrow in the unimaginable loss of lives, homes, and businesses, especially as survivors learned of the death of their neighbors and loved ones as bodies were recovered. Most everything that was previously standing in Paradise is now a pile of ash subject to the torrent of rain bearing down on the region.  How does one hold fast to a confession of hope without wavering in horrific circumstances such as these? I don’t believe it is possible through simple human effort.  We cannot will ourselves to hope.  Hope is only possible as a gift of the Spirit. Hope is only possible because we worship a God of enduring faithfulness through Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever. We can cling to hope without wavering because of who God is and because of whose we are.  We are God’s precious, honored and beloved children. This reality makes unwavering hope possible as we do the work of Christmas.

Prayer

God of all hopefulness, anchor us in your sure and steadfast hope, your promise to never forsake us, your promise to always be with us.  Help us cling to these promises no matter what our life circumstances, for you alone are our hope. Amen

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.” [Psalm 65:5]

As I read the psalmist’s words I heard Apostle Paul’s words ringing in my ear, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”  All of creation is at risk, as humanity neglects its responsibility to steward the earth. Temperatures are rising, storms are intensifying and species are threatened.  The earth and the farthest seas are groaning. Can’t you hear them?  The psalmist reminds us that God hears us all, humanity and creation alike.  God is our hope.  God is the hope for all of creation.  And so I wonder how we might partner with God to mend the natural world.  How might we live differently to bless creation rather than abuse it?  How might we make lifestyle choices individually and communally that bring healing to creation rather than further damage it?  These are challenging questions for us as we live into the hope we have in God alone.

Prayer

God of all creation, forgive us when we neglect our responsibilities as stewards of your creation.  Give us the resolve to examine our life styles and to make changes that contribute to the healing of your creation.  Grant us wisdom as stewards of your magnificent creation from the deserts to the mountains, from the sky above to the depths of the seas. Amen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”

Hebrews 6:19

Our passage from Hebrews speaks to a gathered community of believers.  Notice the “We” instead of an “I.” “We” have this hope!  It makes me wonder where our hope comes from as church.  I have often heard our hope comes from our diversity, especially as we gather as a whole church. Yet, our hope is more than our diversity, and more than people in the pews and activities that draw us together. Although all these things are helpful to our ministry and mission, they are not our hope.  Our holy hope is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the one who makes all things possible in and through us as a church. It is Jesus who is calling us out of ourselves in order to risk serving our community.  Jesus calls us and equips us for ministry. If we put our hope in anything but Jesus, we have gone astray.  May Jesus Christ always be the sure and steadfast anchor of our church as we work together in all our diversity to mend the world.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, we need you.  Forgive us when we place our hope as a church in anything or anyone else besides you.  You alone are the sure and steadfast anchor of the soul of our church.  Light our way and guide our steps as we serve in your name. Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2018

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.” [Psalm 62:5]

I have come to savor silence, for it is into the silence of my soul that God often speaks to me.  When I stop the incessant roar of my to-do list and lay aside the blare of our twenty-four seven connectedness, God is often palpably present.  Of course, God is always present; it is just that I don’t always show up.  Even in silence, my mind wanders spiraling out of control with thoughts that drown out God’s still small voice.  Even in silence, it is hard to wait given that I have been schooled by an instant society.  And yet, like the psalmist, I choose to wait in silence.  Whether I am sitting in my prayer chair as the evening comes to a close or I am standing before the expanse of a breathtaking vista, silence opens my soul to the God of hope.  Silence is God’s first language of amazing grace and steadfast love for me.  Yes, “for God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.”

Prayer

In the quiet of this hour whisper in my heart the drumbeat of your hope, for in you alone, Most Holy God, there is hope.  Your unwavering love for me fills me with hope, for you never give up on your wayward child.  I am forever grateful for your persistent and passionate love for me.  My hope is from you alone, O God.  Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A poem by Dr. Howard Thurman entitled the Work of Christmas will guide our Advent Season this Year. Post this poem somewhere prominent in your home as we make our way to Christmas.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
    to find the lost,
    to heal the broken,
   to feed the hungry,
   to release the prisoner,
   to rebuild the nations,
   to bring peace among the people,
   to make music in the heart.

The Candle of Hope is our First Advent Candle.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

What fills you with hope?  It is the wonder of a newborn infant?  Is it the beauty of a stunning sunset? Is it a lyrical melody that touches you deeply?   Is it the embrace of one you love?  Is it a community of friends that welcomes you as you are? Is it the symbol of an empty cross lifted high?  Apostle Paul says to the church in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you.” Yet, our world saturates us with sights and sounds of despair, from the devastation of our massive wildfires to the continued realities of gun violence in communities across our nation, from storms that seem fiercer to escalating homelessness in our cities, from massive layoffs to everyday food insecurity for those working but not making a living wage. Despair seems to be pervasive. That is why we need to hear anew Apostle Paul’s words; “May the God of hope fill you…may you abound in hope by the power of Holy Spirit.” The work of Christmas is to bring God’s hope into the darkness of our world.

Prayer

God of hope, I confess that despair easily creeps into my soul given the condition of the world around me.  God of hope, fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  God of hope, give me the courage to bear your hope into the darkness of this world.  Amen.

 

November 28, 2018

What are some of the titles of your favorite songs of Advent and Christmas? I love the haunting melody of O Come, O Come Emmanuel and the many names used to describe of the one we await: Emmanuel, Wisdom from on high, Lord of might, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring and Desire of nations.  How do we capture in one word or phrase the one who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but instead he emptied himself? Although, Mary Did You Know written by Mark Lowry with music by Buddy Green first debuted in 1991, the more recent Pentatonix version is my all-time favorite. In my mind’s eye I can envision Mary holding her precious newborn as she treasures and ponders in her heart the words of the shepherd’s. Her loving gaze of Jesus is the context of the lyrics for me and the lyrics deeply move me every time I listen.  What carols, hymns or songs touch you deeply this season? This coming Sunday we will celebrate the first Sunday of Advent through music. We will enjoy choir pieces, carols, solos, hymns and more.  Our Advent will use the theme of mending for hope mends, peace mends, joy mends, love mends and grace mends what is broken in our world and in our lives. May we come into God’s presence expecting the music to move us to do the real work of Christmas – “to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.”

Prayer

Emmanuel, I long for your coming yet again. Even so, I confess that I am not fully ready for your coming. My calendar is overfull and I have too much to do to fully welcome you just yet. It is just too easy to push your coming to the margins of my life. Forgive me for forgetting the real work of Christmas, for you came not to be served, but to serve. Amen.

 

November 21, 2018

Are you ready for tomorrow? Take a moment today to write down what you are thankful for this past year. Pause to give voice to all that is good in your life, even in the midst of all that may not be right. Share your gratitude with another, for as Diana Butler Bass suggests gratitude is transformational. I believe it is also contagious! When I awake each new day, I begin with this simple prayer of thanksgiving, “Thank you, God, for the gift of life this day.” What comes next in my morning routine is remembering all that blesses my life – God, faith, family, friends, home, church, pets, pond, sight, taste, and so much more. I give thanks for God’s word in all its wonderful complexity from Jeremiah’s warnings, “Woe to shepherds who destroy and scatter,” to Apostle Paul’s words to the church at Colossae, “so that Christ might come to have first place in everything.” Where does gratitude fit into your life? Is it part of your daily ritual or merely an afterthought, if at all? Paul continues saying, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God. Let that be our task today and every day, to joyfully give thanks. 

Prayer

Shepherding God, I am thankful that you gather me in.  Even though I oft times push you away, you always stand ready to gather me in.  As these days unfold and the calendar over fills, help me to joyfully give thanks. Help me to keep you first and foremost in my life, I pray. Amen.

 

November 14, 2018

In this present day and age of deep divisions in our nation and world, truth seems elusive. What is the truth about our current state of affairs as a nation or even as a church?

It matters as to who is telling the story, doesn’t it? I know I am a glass half-full type of person, so more often than not I see problems as opportunities. But, someone who is a glass half-empty type of person will see problems as obstacles or even road blocks. Two very different ways to see the same thing and isn’t this where we are today in our world? The words of Jesus found in the Gospel of John this week, tell of a truth that is timeless though: “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.” But like many in our world today, Pilate sarcastically responds, “What is truth?” What is the truth that Jesus came to testify to and what does it mean to listen to this truth? In the context of John’s Gospel, the truth is that neither you nor I are to belong to the kingdoms of the world, for Jesus confessed before Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.” From our Book of Confessions, we read this line, “In life and in death we belong to God.” We belong to God and not to any other power or principality of this world. This is the truth Jesus came to proclaim.  Is God sovereign in your life?  

Prayer

Sovereign God, give me the courage to listen to the truth of Jesus’ life among us. Help me to place you first and foremost in my life, so everything else is ordered in response to my love for you. Help me to listen intently to my Savior’s voice. Amen.

November 7, 2018

Have you ever watched an episode of Real Housewives or tuned in to Survivor? I admit that I have watched every season of Survivor. I have also thought that it would be an amazing adventure to be a participant. Don’t worry, I have not submitted my application! Of course, there are plenty of other “reality” or real life shows that you might have watched over the years, but what is real life anyways?  Apostle Paul shares some wisdom with Timothy on this subject. Apostle Paul says that real life is when a person is rich in good works, generous and ready to share. This way of being is what constitutes “life that is really life.” So, how real is your life? Are you rich in good works?  Are you generous with your time, your talents, and your treasures?  Are you ready to share? Last year we embarked on a season of grace and gratitude, as I asked how you might generously share your gifts with our church as well as with our community.  I have heard stories of how your good works have been enriching for others as well as yourself. I know that that I have been the recipient of great joy when I share my time with 1st graders. I look forward to my Wednesday mornings at Kimberly Elementary School in Mrs. Flanagan’s class. And yes, when I am being “rich in good works, generous and ready to share,” life for me is really life!

Prayer

Loving God, I give you thanks for the gift of my life and ask that you encourage me to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share what you have given me. I know my capabilities will change over the years, yet help me to be a blessing to others all the days of my life. Amen.  

October 31, 2018

On this auspicious day when costumed little children will be seeking bounteous amounts of sweets, what are you seeking? For many in our culture the answer to this question is more money. Did you hear that there was one winner of the huge $1.6 billion lottery?  Someone now has almost nine million more dollars, if the ticket was cashed out! Although this individual no longer needs more money, I imagine that her worries just look different now. Instead of worrying about whether or not she will have enough, she is probably worrying about what will happen if others find out or about how to manage this huge sum of money. Worry has a way of robbing us of the present moment, for Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Worry empties today of its strength.”  Worry happens when we misplace our trust, placing it in anything else other than God. Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples? “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus’ remedy for worry was this, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Now this doesn’t mean you will win the lottery, but it does mean that God’s provision will be enough for you. This Halloween, what are you striving for and where do you place your trust?

Prayer

Holy One, I admit that I do not always strive first for your kingdom. I get wrapped up in my own problems and let worries rob me of the present moment. Help me to trust you more and more each and every day, for you alone are the source of my strength.  Amen.

October 24, 2018

Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jericho and then quickly made their way out of Jericho. Yet, as they were going, surrounded by a large crowd, a blind beggar tried to catch Jesus’ attention by shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The crowd though had other plans.  Many in the crowd sternly warned the man to be quiet. In effect they tried to silence the blind beggar’s voice. Have others ever tried to silence you?  Has someone said to you that your voice is not welcomed at the table?  The many – maybe disciples or the crowd – thought Jesus wouldn’t want to be bothered by the needs of this blind beggar named Bartimaeus and so they tried to silence him.  Yet, I love the tenacity of Bartimaeus. He doesn’t stop calling out, he gets even louder. Loud enough to be heard by the one he is trying to engage. So, where are you in this story?  Are you the one being silenced or the one doing the silencing?  Would you be the one calling out all the louder or the ones doing everything you can to rush Jesus along so he wouldn’t be interrupted by this nuance?  The question to be pondered between now and Sunday is this: Are you a roadblock to others seeking Jesus or are you a gateway to Jesus?  The Bartimaeus’ of our time are shouting, yet as a church are we sternly telling them to be quiet or are we making a way for them to meet Jesus through us?  Bartimaeus has much to teach us.

Prayer

Holy One, I don’t want to believe that I am a roadblock to anyone. Yet, I am sure I have been on occasion. Help me to usher those in need into your presence through my words and actions, for Christ, you are the great healer. Amen.

October 17, 2018

James and John are vying for a place of honor in our passage this coming Sunday.  Their boldness is telling, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Have you started an “ask” that way? Hey mom and dad, ‘I want you to do for me whatever I ask of you!” Or maybe you said this to a boss or a professor or a colleague! My guess is that we haven’t been that bold or maybe we could even classify an “ask” like that as arrogant.  I so appreciate Jesus’ response, “What is it you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t scold. Jesus just sincerely wants to know what James and John want.  This is not the first or the last time he responds to someone in this way. Jesus wants to know what we really want.  Now that doesn’t mean we will always get what we want, just ask James and John. But, it does mean that Jesus is genuinely interested in what is on our mind.  What is it that you want from Jesus? What is it that we want from Jesus as a church? I know that I have been bold on occasion, asking for what I really want.  Sometimes I have received what I asked for, while at other times I did not.  But in all cases I dared to ask Jesus for what I wanted from the depths of my heart. Will you dare to ask even if your motivations are not completely pure, as most likely was the case of James and John? Will we dare to answer Jesus’ question, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

Prayer

I stand in awe of your willingness to listen to my wants Jesus.  Sometimes my wants are frivolous, but at other times my wants are from the depths of my soul. Thank you for your willingness to listen and to respond, even when your response is not what I want. By your grace, you know what is best for me. Amen.

October 10, 2018

Listen to these challenging words from Jesus to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Yet, if we are honest with ourselves as people of faith we would rather be served. We would rather have perks for following Jesus not demands on our time. Yet, wanting perks and service is not the gospel.  The gospel is about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger, that is serving the least of these in our given place and time. The gospel calls us beyond ourselves to serve others. If you remember, Jesus often thinned the crowds of those who came to see what he was all about. They would hear his challenging words and say no thank you.  Yet, Jesus’ words do not only challenge individuals, they challenge churches as well. We have to ask ourselves as a church, are we more interested in receiving perks and being served, than serving?  Are we more likely to think of our own needs before the need of the community? International Peacemaker Rev. Roceni Bakian will explore Jesus’ words as she shares with us this coming Sunday her message, Ways of Being Church. Pray with open hands and heart this day asking, “Whom are you called to serve?”

Prayer

O God, Jesus came to serve rather than to be served. Yet, I admit serving others is not always my first response. Soften my heart, ignite my curiosity and fuel my passion for serving the least of these within and beyond the walls of our church. Amen.

October 3, 2018

Prayer is as essential as breath for us, yet how do you pray?  What practices of prayer resonate with you most deeply within your soul? My most constant prayer practice over the years began when I was sixteen. My formative year was in South Africa as an exchange student.  God and I had a lot of talks given the reality of apartheid and my experience in a home that agreed with this political policy. What was my practice? Putting pen to paper or as some would say journaling. I would record my thoughts and converse with God about the day’s events and what I longed for to be different so that all people could be whole. I have pages stained with tears and pages punctuated with anger and deep sadness for the way God’s people spoke of those separated apart and deemed less than human. Does not Genesis say that all of humanity is created in the image of God? Journaling is not my only practice of prayer, but it is one that connects me deeply to the mystery we call God. Silence is another prayer practice that has nurtured me deeply for over 25 years, as I wait on God to speak into my life in a palpable way.  When I am alone in my car traveling to and fro, I often converse with God. If I am heading to make a pastoral visit I talk to God about the individual, I am about to visit as I pray for their life’s situation. If the beauty of the natural world catches my eyes, then words of praise often flow. Your practice of prayer may be very different than mine, yet whatever your practices are, I encourage you to engage in prayer practices that help you to sense the presence of God more and more with each passing day.

Prayer

Ever present and listening God, I am thankful that you are with me. By the power of the Spirit at work within me, help me to sustain prayer practices that will nurture our relationship and deepen it more each and every day.  Amen.

September 26, 2018

I remember a circle of young people praying week after week with all their might, beseeching God to heal Nicole. She was only 16 years old when her battle with Leukemia began. Yet, God didn’t answer these ardent prayers, for Nicole died.  I remember the pointed questions from various young people: Did God even listen to our prayers? Why didn’t God heal Nicole? Should more of us have prayed more often, longer and harder? Did we just not have enough faith?  You may have asked some of these questions along your own journey as well, for prayers you prayed were not answered in the way you hoped. What do we do with these prayer dilemmas?  The easy answer is to conclude each prayer with, “Not my will, but yours, O God.” Yet, was it God’s will that Nicole should die at the tender age of 17? Certainly, not!  Is it God’s will that family members lose their lives in tragic accidents? Certainly, not! Yet, situations often shake the foundations of our faith, as we wrestle with prayers prayed, but not answered as we had hoped. I remember praying fervently as my mom struggled to hold onto life after being bit by a mosquito, which morphed into the illness West Nile Encephalitis. I wrote these words six weeks after her diagnosis, “As I prayed I realized that God was at work transforming me. God softened my heart and increased its compassion. God renewed within me the importance of each day. God increased my awareness of the incredible gift of my loving parents.” God was present and at work within me, as I prayed. My relationship with the divine was being refined through this experience.  Could it be that prayer, our relationship with the divine, is just as much about the transformation of the one praying as the one being prayed for? 

 

Prayer

Loving God, the mystery of prayer is just that. As I pray for others, let me trust that your Spirit is at work within them and within me. Give me the courage to pray boldly for my heart’s desire for others and for my own life. Grant me the wisdom to trust in your transforming grace, regardless of how my specific prayers are answered. Amen.

 

September 19, 2018

Have you ever struggled to pray? Maybe you could not find the right words or your emotions were just too raw.  Maybe you didn’t think God was listening or that you even deserved God’s attention. Maybe you babbled on with too many words, not realizing something deeper was stirring within you. Maybe guilt overwhelmed you and you didn’t even feel worthy of God’s mercy and grace. Phillip Yancey suggests that we may need to alter our expectations of prayer. That is, there are no perfect words, right posture or correct time to pray. Rather prayer is simply being authentically vulnerable before the divine mystery we call God, expressing what we can, while offering in silence what is beyond words. Judy Morford writes of prayer, “Because of my changing schedule over the years, I’ve asked myself, ‘Just what does God expect of me in my prayer life?’ The answer I came up with is, God wants a love relationship.”  Could prayer simply be another name for our relationship with God? To pray we must each find our own way, rather than copy someone else’s. Don’t try to be me and I won’t try to be you, for we are each uniquely crafted by our loving God and God wants us each to be ourselves. If this means you get up at 6 A.M. every morning and commune with God in prayer for an hour – wonderful. If this means you punctuate your day with prayers as you move from activity to activity – great. If this means that you set aside time at the end of the day to be silent and to say thank you – marvelous. If you are yearning for fluency, trust that you will find your way.

Prayer

Ever listening God, I know you are ready to receive my presence, words or silence. But, I admit that I worry too much about whether I am praying right or not. Help me to let go of my expectations and just settle into a conversation with you, trusting that in my words or silence, you will not only hear but also speak. Amen.

 

September 12, 2018

William Barclay once said, “Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that God should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God’s voice to us.” How do you wait in silence for God’s voice? I have come to appreciate the beauty of silence, as I wait on a word from God. It is not something that came naturally to me though. I remember with a smile my first experience of a silent retreat. It was awkward, strange, difficult and even a bit scary, as I let go of all my thoughts and waited in silence for God to speak. What if God audibly speaks into this new found silence around me and within me I thought? It’s been over 25 years since that first silent retreat and I now understand God’s first language for me is silence. I hear God most clearly when I silence all that is going on within me and around me. As I am sure you know by now, I attend to these times of silence in the midst of God’s natural world. I might be walking through orange fields or sitting in my back yard near my pond. I might be watching waves curl and crash on a shoreline or gazing at the night sky painted with stars. As I rest in natural surroundings, I more clearly sense God’s movement in my life. While I am at Zephyr Point on the shores of Lake Tahoe these next few days, you can be assured that when I am not teaching, I will be spending sometime in silence, for in the silence God speaks.

Prayer

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! “[Yet,] what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” I marvel that you are mindful of me, O God. I marvel that you desire to speak into my life. Give me the courage to wait in silence, trusting that you are indeed, mindful of me. Amen.

September 5, 2018

How would you define prayer? Is it when you close your eyes and fold your hands? Is it when you look heavenward or both and?  It is when you call on the divine mystery we call God, asking for help for yourself or others. Is specific language required? We know that Jesus prayed and we even have a record of a few of his prayers in scripture. Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus how to pray and we know this prayer as the Lord’s Prayer, which is found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Author Anne Lamott has a book entitled, Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers. I wonder what prayers you consider essential? This coming Sunday we will begin a five-week sermon series on prayer, with four weeks of adult faith formation offered as well. Even so, we will only begin to scratch the surface of the mystery of prayer. I will begin the series with a passage of scripture that probably causes more guilt than assurance, for Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write to the church at Thessalonica saying, “Pray without ceasing.” But we sleep! How can we pray without ceasing?  Could it be that prayer is something more than, “Now I lay me down to sleep” or “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food?” Spend some time reflecting on your practice of prayer and notice what you notice about the prayers you pray.

Prayer

The psalmist says, “Hear my prayer, O Lord.” As I pray this day, I will trust that you are listening, O God. I will trust that in the listening, yours and mine, answers will come. Thank you for the mystery of prayer that unfolds with the gift of each new day. Amen.