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?
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!
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?
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.
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?”
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?”
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.