The Blog

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened.” [Luke 3:21]

One of the hazards of the Christian liturgical calendar is that Jesus grows up all too quick.  We are not given much time to linger at the manger, especially if we include the Matthew texts, which catapults us into the reality of our power hungry world. This coming Sunday, we find ourselves at the Jordan, with people streaming to John the Baptist for the baptism of forgiveness. Of course, Jesus shows up, too. But, wait, Jesus is without sin and not in need of forgiveness.  Why, would he come to the Jordan? Why do you think Jesus came to the Jordan?  I suggest it is to demonstrate that he is in solidarity with us, just as Apostle Paul said to the Philippian Church, “Christ Jesus, being found in human form, humbled himself.”  Jesus did not wield his power, for he did not regard his equality with God as something to be exploited. What about us? How do we wield our power?  Do we consider ourselves better than others? Would we have gone to the Jordan, if we thought we were without sin? In our world power is often wielded over and against, rather than with the other.  How might we be in solidarity with those who are seeking forgiveness and healing from their brokenness? 

 

Prayer

Merciful God, your mercies are new every morning. Every day is a new day for us to begin again. Yet, I confess that my mercy and forgiveness is conditional. Forgive my hardened heart and help me to live by example the prayer that you taught us, “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2019 – Epiphany

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you… Lift up your eyes and look around… You shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” [Isaiah 60:1, 4a, 5a]

On this sixth day of the new year, are you radiant?  Is your heart rejoicing?  Are you ready to claim and shine forth the light that has come upon you?  As you probably know, there are many ways to read scripture, but one way that really drives homes the message for me, is to place myself in the story. Think about our texts this week; what impact would the stories have if your name was in the place of murderous Herod, attentive Joseph, or the anguished parents? How does the story reach deeper into you, as you take on the various characters and imagine yourself in their place? “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” is for the nation of Israel as well as for a servant of Israel, for the oracle speaks of the birth of a Davidic son. If we focus on the later, than this passage is about Jesus and not us. Yet, this passage is for God’s gathered people, as well.  Together, our light has come. Together, we are to be radiant. Together, our rejoicing is to draw others to the one light, Emmanuel. As we gather on the first Sunday of the New Year, how is God calling us to be a light to our community?   

Prayer

Loving God, I admit it is easier to assign this passage to Jesus, rather than to me and the whole church. Yet, your light has risen upon us.  Your light has overcome our darkness. Your light illumines the path before us.  Give me the courage to work with others to be your light into our community

Saturday, January 5, 2019

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that they had learned from the magi.” [Matthew 2:16]

Only once have I heard this as part of the Christmas story during the Christmas Season. I was attending a Renaissance Era performance which retold the whole story, as found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It was disturbing to say the least, as it certainly interrupted the usual festive mood of angels, shepherds and magi and the sweet songs of a sleeping baby who did not cry. These verses though, record the reality of rulers who feel threatened. Herod’s response to his perceived threat was unspeakable, for he murdered innocent babies and toddlers. Yet, for me questions abound. Why was Joseph the only parent warned? Why did ten to twenty parents, according to scholars, have to experience this unspeakable agony? Why?  Again, the headlines are front and center, as I remembered the sixth anniversary of Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, where twenty innocent children and six loving adults were killed. These final days of Christmas, before we celebrate Epiphany, contain horrid stories of fear and anguish. Yet, these types of stories are not only found in history, but in our daily headlines.  How are we going to do the work of Christmas all year long, to help alleviate the pain and anguish so very present in our world? Maybe, just maybe, we are to be the clarion voices and active hands of hope, peace, joy, love and grace into our hurting world.

 Prayer

Loving God, these stories disrupt my comfort.  They cause me to wonder how I might be your voice and hands as this new year unfolds.  Use even me in whatever small way possible to bring hope in the face of despair, peace in the face of chaos, joy in the midst of sorrow, love into the presence of hate and violence, and grace in the midst of brokenness. Yes, use even me, I pray to do the work of Christmas. Amen.

 

Friday, January 4, 2019

“Now after the magi left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matthew 2:13]

We typically end the Christmas story with the magi returning home by another way. Yet, the texts that follow are as a real as headline stories today.  The holy family flees their home for their own safety, like Guatemalan parents trekking over a thousand miles or the Nigerian families, braving the Mediterranean Sea, in hopes of being welcomed in a place without the constant threat of violence.  Did you know that as of 2017, 65.6 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations, according to the United Nations? Millions of people feel it is unsafe to stay in their homes in their own countries, like Joseph and Mary who fled to Egypt. How might the story of Emmanuel inform our understanding of the refugee crisis today?  Will refugees fleeing for their lives find refuge as Joseph and Mary did in Egypt?

Prayer

Holy One, I admit I am confronted with the reality that Jesus and his parents were refugees. They feared for their lives and left everything behind. They feared for their lives and hoped to find welcome in a foreign land.  Holy One, help me to understand what you might be calling me to do in some small and simple way to help those today fleeing for their lives. Amen.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

“For we observed his star at its rising…the magi set out, and there ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was… And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country be another road.” [Matthew 2:2,9,12]

 How attentive are you to the ways of God? Do you expect God’s presence in the midst of your everyday routines? When you fall to sleep do you expect God to speak to you through your dreams? Having noticed a unique star, the magi set off on a journey that took months and maybe even years before they arrived at King Herod’s palace. When they left the palace the star guided them as it stopped above where the Christ child was.  And although Herod asked them to return once they found the child, the attentive magi were warned in a dream not to do so. I am sure you are thinking, if only God would be so direct with us! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would just show up and speak audibly in our dreams or in our waking?  Yet, notice when God shows up and speaks, whether through signs or dreams, everything changes.  The magi were compelled to follow the star and in doing so they put their lives at risk. Being attentive to God’s presence in our lives puts our comfort at risk, for as Annie Dillard writes, “For the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.” 

Prayer

Active and ever present God, attune my heart to your will and way. Help me to perceive your presence at work in the world around me.  Give me the courage to listen deeply and see clearly your divine word and leading, for you are speaking still. Amen

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise magi from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” [Matthew 2:1-2]

Have you ever wondered whether King Herod would have even been worried about Jesus’ birth, if it were not for the magi? If the magi had not dropped by Herod’s palace to inquire of Jesus’ birth, Herod’s fear would not have been stirred.  It was their visit that put Herod and the whole of Jerusalem on edge. It was their visit that prompted Herod’s horrific response and the slaughtering of innocents in Bethlehem, which is a story rarely told (Matthew 2:16-18). Herod’s power was put on notice and his response was to decisively extinguish all potential threats. We are quick to condemn Herod for obvious reasons, yet what do we do when our power is challenged? Are we quick to put challengers in their place? Do we use our power to reestablish our superiority immediately? When our power is challenged, what do we do? We must remember that Jesus came not as a conquering king, but as a vulnerable child. Jesus birth inaugurated a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where the hungry will be satisfied and the rich will sent away empty, where the poor will be lifted up and the powerful will be brought low. No wonder King Herod went to extreme measures to uphold his kingdom.

 Prayer

God of reversals, I admit some days I am more like Herod than I care to admit, clamoring to keep the power that I have. Forgive me when I do so, especially when others have to pay a price. O God, humble my spirit and dispel my fears. Help me to understand the power of Christ Jesus, the one who humbled himself and became obedient to your ways. Amen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” [Isaiah 60:1]

A new day has dawned, with the sun cresting our magnificent mountains.  “Arise, shine,” we hear Isaiah say to us this glorious morning, not just because it is a new day and a new calendar year, but because our light has come, for God is with us! We are no longer people in thick darkness, for the light has dawned. As we begin this New Year where does our light as a church need to shine? Where do we need to be at work as a church pushing back the darkness in our community and around the globe? As Matthew says in his gospel, “No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it under a bushel basket.” We are to let our light shine, so that others will be drawn to the light.  Take a few moments today to seek the wisdom of God’s light. What might God be calling you to do or be as you enter fully into this new calendar year?  What might God be calling us to do or be, as we enter fully into this new calendar year as a church?  Our light has come. The only question is whether or not we will arise and shine!

Prayer

Light of all Lights, you have torn open the heavens and come down. You have pierced the darkness of all hearts, including my own. Give me the courage to shine in ways that draw others to the Light of the World, as I participate in the never ending work of Christmas. Amen.

Monday, December 31, 2018

What concerns me, what lies on my heart, is this: That we in the church papered and programmed articulate and agenda-ed are telling the faith story all wrong, are telling it as though it happened two thousand years ago or is going to happen as soon as the church budget is raised. We seem to forget that Christ’s name is Emmanuel, God with Us, not just when he sat among us,  but now, when we cannot feel the nail prints in his hands.  

We Seem to Forget, is a poem by Ann Weems. Does this ring true in your life? Does this ring true in our lives together as a church. Is our story just ancient history or is our story now? I know that it is much safer to relegate our story to history, because then it doesn’t demand much from us. We can safely retell what was, without disrupting what is. I wonder if we, too, have forgotten that Christ’s name is Emmanuel. Have we forgotten that God is with us even now as we prepare to enter the New Year? What would be different about us if we were to reclaim the truth of “now” in the year to come?  Are you willing for your life to take a new direction in the New Year? Are we willing to risk partnering with our community even if our finances aren’t set for 2019? So very often, we forget that all things, even things we can’t possibly imagine, are possible with God. I wonder what new stories we will have to tell in the year to come, when we finally live into the truth that God is with us now, even though we can no longer feel the nail prints in his hands! 

Prayer

Emmanuel, I confess that to claim your presence “now” seems risky as this year closes and the new one begins. I like what I like and my preference is not to be surprised today or tomorrow. Yet, you are in my “now”, so help me to be more attentive each and every day. Help me to relinquish the control of my now, so that I can witness the power of your story now and in the year to come. Amen.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” [Colossians 3:15]

As this calendar year soon comes to a close, the peace of Christ is far from being a reality in our world. In 2018 too many lives have been lost to senseless gun violence, too many refugees still live in camps of squalor as countries around the globe struggle to provide welcome, too much hunger pervades the world while abundant crops lay rotting undistributed. And war, as we know, is still being learned. O Holy One, let the peace of Christ rule in our heart, so that we might let the work of peace begin with us. Peace begins when we choose to stay in dialogue with those we have differences with. Peace begins when we choose love in the face of hate. Peace begins when we see the other as holy and beloved. This work of peace is not easy. This work is not even possible unless the peace of Christ rules in our hearts first.  As this year comes to a close, take time to check the condition of your heart. Is the peace of Christ ruling your heart? 

 Prayer

Prince of Peace, I know that my heart is not always ruled by your peace. I am too quick to judge as well as blame others.  I often want what I want, to the exclusion of considering others. I am also not always at peace with myself. Prince of Peace, I invite you anew to rule my heart, so that peace will abound within and through me. Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” [Colossians 3:12]

This sentence packs a powerful message for us.  First, we are chosen. We are not a forlorn child on the ball field without a team.  We belong. We belong and are God’s, holy and beloved, children.  Yet, do you feel holy? Holy seems to be a word that should be left for God alone. Yet, Paul declares us holy.  Our holiness though is not something we earn; it is something bestowed upon us at birth, for we are created in the image of God. From Leviticus we hear this refrain, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” So, we are called to live into the holiness bestowed upon us at birth. We are holy and beloved, yet do you feel loved? Given that all human love falls short of God’s love, it is sometimes difficult to receive God’s unconditional love. From life’s experience, love seems far more conditional. It is as if we have to do something or be someone to be loved. What helps me remember my belovedness is the first moments of my sons’ lives. Love was overflowing and those two little guys had done nothing to deserve it. As a matter of fact, their helplessness made my love all the more unconditional as well as fiercely protective of them. Holy and beloved, God through Apostle Paul calls us to respond saying, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” May these “clothes” help us to mend the world around us today and in the days to come.

 Prayer

Loving God, I stand in awe of your love for me.  I still marvel at being your chosen child, holy and beloved. Help me to live faithfully as your beloved child. Give me the courage to be compassionate, gentle and kind. Help me to maintain a sense of humility in all that I do. Grant me patience in the midst of life’s frustrations. Loving God, thank you for choosing me. Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2018

It is not over,  this birthing. There are always newer skies into which God can throw stars. When we begin to think that we can predict the Advent of God, that we can box the Christ in a stable in Bethlehem, that’s just the time that God will be born in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe. Those who wait for God watch with their hearts and not their eyes,  listening always listening for angel words.

It Is Not Over, is a poem by Ann Weems. Yes, the date of December 28th tells us that Christmas is over. Yet, the work of Christmas is not.  She writes, “God will be born in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.”  Have you ever experienced such a place?  In my work with those who were out homes in Garden Grove, Ann’s observation came true again and again. I never knew when a disruption by one of the guests would turn holy or when an argument between two guests would birth compassion. God was born among us again and again in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, although I certainly came to believe. In what life situation can you not imagine God being born? Where or when is it hard for you to believe that Advent of God will surprise you? God is with us, we proclaim. Yet, are we poised to allow God to be God, by listening, always listening for angel words?

Prayer

Holy One, forgive me for assuming that I can predict your coming into the midst of life. Forgive me for trying to keep you safely boxed by my expectations so as not to disrupt my schedule. Forgive me for not listening with my heart and eyes to the wonder of your continual birthing.  God be born anew in and through me, I pray, so that I may be about the work of Christmas.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” [Matthew 5:43-44,46]

I remember reading a story of a mother whose son was murdered.  What was so amazing about the story is that the mother took under her wing the young man who murdered her son.  She at first began to pray for him. She eventually started to visit him in jail.  She finally took him into her family as a son when he was released from prison. Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  This is not easy.  And I don’t believe this is possible without the power of the Spirit at work within us.  This mother welcomed God’s extravagant love into her own life and in turn poured out God’s extravagant love to heal the young man who killed her son.  She loved her enemy and her love made her enemy a beloved son.  Do you have an enemy?  Are you experiencing persecution by others? How might God’s extravagant love work through you to mend these relationships in a way that draws others to the infant lowly, infant holy?

Prayer

Most holy God, I cannot fathom the real depth of your love for me.  I fail and fail yet again.  Yet, you never give up on me.  Your fierce love for me never fails.  Give me the courage to love others as you love me, even if it means I have to love my enemies and those who persecute me.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman

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 flock,
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 brothers,
To make music in the heart.

How quickly the glow of Christmas fades as shoppers flood retail establishments looking for bargains. I have only braved retail stores once on December 26th and from my experience many years ago, I vowed never to do so again.  The warmth, joy and love that permeated the days before Christmas, seemed to evaporate almost instantaneously as I witnessed people grabbing and shoving to get what they wanted. Returns piled high as well, as exhausted cashiers put up with the rancor of impatient shoppers. It seemed to me that the Christmas Spirit had been extinguished as seasonal gift wrap had been torn off and tossed to the floor just hours before.  When the song of the angels is stilled…when the shepherds are back with their flock…when the tree stands empty of presents… when the stomachs are full and the guests have returned home… then the work of Christmas begins. The work of Christmas is not a seasonal endeavor, but a lifelong endeavor.  Let us begin again the work of Christmas.

Prayer

Infant lowly, infant holy, we have gathered in celebration of your birth. Remind us that Christmas is not a feeling, but a response.  It is not a sentimental, one-day celebration, but a roll up your sleeves and get to work life-long endeavor. I pray for strength and for wisdom, as I engage in the work of Christmas in the coming days and year. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018 Christmas Day

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:35, 37-39]. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” [Titus 1:11].

Once again we have the opportunity to sing out, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”  Jesus has come among us, not as a conquering king, but as an infant born of lowly estate.  Jesus’ birth demonstrates the radical nature of God’s love and reign where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where the poor shall be lifted up and the rich shall be brought low, where to lose life is to gain life.  As we pause this day with family and friends to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, remember that the kingdom of God ushered in by this child calls us to give ourselves away in love.  Christmas is here, but the work of Christmas has just begun.  Let us recommit to mending the world through God’s radically passionate love for all of humanity and creation. How will you be God’s love into the world this coming year?

Prayer

Passionate loving God, pour your love into every fiber of my being, causing love to flow freely from my life in the words I share with others and in the deeds I do to help mend the world.  Make your love in me my signature witness as I follow you faithfully every day of my life.  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018 Christmas Eve Day

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” [Colossians 3:14]

 When autumn arrives I like to wear layers of clothing given the cool mornings and the warm afternoons of the Inland Empire.  As I put on layers, I hear Apostle Paul saying, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love.”  Love is an essential.  Love is something we need to put on and keep on all day long.  Love is the glue, according to Apostle Paul, that fuels the genuineness of our compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.   Whatever we do in word or deed to help mend the world needs to be wrapped in God’s extravagant love, for love binds everything together in perfect harmony.  Are you clothing yourself, your words, and your actions in love?  Does your presence bring harmony and wholeness into the lives of others?  Jesus said to his disciples, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  May it be so with our lives.

 Prayer

Loving God, I am ever thankful that your love chases after me all the days of my life.  Help me to reflect your extravagant love into this world in all that I do and say.  Give me the courage to be your loving presence wherever you may call me to go. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Candle of Love is our Fourth Advent Candle.

“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings” [Psalm 36:5, 7].

The summer beauty of Lake Powell is breath taking, from the towering canyon walls to the deep green waters reflecting the brilliant blue sky on breezeless mornings.  There is also beauty in the canyons as the night darkens the vast sky and it is set ablaze with thousands of stars. Looking skyward as I sit perched on a rock during the day or as lay in bed under the night sky, the words of the psalmist resonate in my heart, “The heavens tell of the glory of God.” The vast sky is a sign to me of the mystery of God’s steadfast love.  God fills the expanse of the universe, yet this same God cares for me.  I marvel, as a psalmist did often saying, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” The simple fact that God cares for me, one solitary human life, given the expanse of the universe is nearly incomprehensible to me.  God is mindful of each and every one of us and like the psalmist I declare, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!” Yes, how precious it is that God loves each and every one of us.

Prayer

The extravagance of your love, O God, never ceases to amaze me.  I am so thankful that you have called me by name. I am thankful that I am precious in your sight, honored and loved.  I am thankful that no matter what life throws at me you are ready and willing to gather me in your loving arms.  Thank you for loving me so generously.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” [Psalm 16:11]

Can you recount a time when, in the presence of God you experienced this fullness of joy?  C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled Surprised by Joy.  The title speaks to me of my experiences of being attentive to God’s presence.  I have been in the midst of prayers of intercession when I was suddenly overwhelmed with joy.  While singing in worship, joy has surprised me in unexpected ways.  Even while preaching, joy surprises me as the Spirit moves me in ways I had not expected.  When we are attentive to the presence of God there is fullness of joy.  What might you do in your life to be more attentive to God’s presence?  Do you have a regular practice to be with the Lord through scripture or prayer, silence or music? Does the beauty of our natural surroundings cause you to be attentive to God’s Spirit at work within you? How might you be surprised by joy more often in the midst of your daily routines? Emmanuel, God is with us! Let’s be surprised by joy.

Prayer

Always present God, place a thirst within me for your presence.  Draw me into your presence, for in your presence there is fullness of joy.   Draw me in and show me the path of life, which calls me to participate in mending the world. Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2018

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” [Phil 4:4]

This phrase of scripture is often misinterpreted to mean, “Rejoice always,” as if we are to rejoice no matter what our life’s circumstances are.  But, the emphasis of this phrase is “in the Lord.”  We rejoice always in the Lord, not in our circumstances.  We rejoice always because God loves us and cares for us.  We rejoice always because we are forgiven and freed.  We are to rejoice always in the Lord.  This means that even in the midst of tragedy or illness, unemployment or financial difficulties, we have access to joy.  Not joy in our circumstances, but joy in our relationship with the Lord. God’s promise of presence gives us access to joy that circumstances cannot take away.  God’s abiding presence allows us to walk into the devastating circumstances of people’s lives in places like Paradise, while still having access to joy.  Joy, because we are not alone and those we dare to come along side of are not alone either.  Rejoice in the Lord always and you will have the strength and resources to help in mending the world.

Prayer

Steadfast loving God, thank you for loving me.  Strengthen my resolve to daily rest in your love for me.  Give me the courage to rejoice in our relationship no matter what circumstances enter my life.  For you, O God, are the source of my deepest joy.  Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” [Isaiah 65:18]

Have you ever thought of yourself as a delight, God’s delight?  Maybe we can re-imagine being a cute infant or toddler and being our parents’ delight.  But as we age, we lose this image of ourselves.  We are more prone to see our shortcomings and the shortcomings of others.  We see what is wrong with ourselves and not what is right.  We see what is wrong in others and not what is right. But God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” God knit us together in our mother’s wombs.  God is present within us as we grow and mature.  When God looks at us, God sees beloved daughters and sons. It is as if our photos are proudly displayed on God’s refrigerator, for we are God’s delight!  How might this lens help us to see ourselves as God sees us?  How may seeing others as a delight help us do the work of mending the world?

Prayer

Ever creating God, I am thankful that you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I am thankful that you see me as your delight!  Help me to claim my belovedness.  Help me to see others as you see them, as delights!  Use me, your beloved child, to joyfully help mend this world.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” [Isaiah 12:3]

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the people of God were overcome with joy on account of God’s mercy.  The people had turned away from God.  Their worship was empty ritual.  They even turned to other gods.  Isaiah tells of God’s grace this way saying, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away and you comforted me.”  This is good news for us today, for we too, turn away from God.  Our worship becomes rote. Our prayers become self-centered.  Our allegiance falters as we follow the gods of our culture.  The good news from Isaiah is that God doesn’t give up on us.  The good news is the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.  Indeed, great is God’s faithfulness.  God desires nothing less and nothing more than a relationship with each of us.  With joy let us draw from the well of salvation that only God can offer us.

Prayer

Most Holy God, your faithfulness never ceases to amaze me. I know I readily give up on others when they disappoint me. But, you never give up on me.  You stand ready to reconcile with me.  I am ever thankful for your steadfast love and never ending mercy. Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.” [Isaiah 49:13]

Rolling hills of trees aflame with brilliant yellows, burnished oranges and fiery reds signal the coming of autumn. “Sing for joy, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!”  These majestic colors signal dying of the once green leaves, as trees prepare for the harshness of a winter’s blast of frigid air.  Yet, we know that wintered trees will burst forth with flowering beauty come spring.  “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exalt, O earth.”  The seasons help us connect to the rhythms of God’s grace.  When we suffer, God promises to comfort us.  God promises to have compassion on us. God promises to be present in the midst of whatever befalls us.  Emmanuel, God with us, is the source of our joy.  What images help you connect with the tender mercies of God’s compassionate presence in your life, autumn foliage, spring blossoms, or a star-studded night sky? What helps you remember to sing for joy?

Prayer

Dear Lord, you are ever ready to comfort me in the midst of life.  You willingly extend your compassion and gather me into your loving arms.  I am ever thankful for your compassionate care for me.  I will sing for joy, O Lord.  Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2018

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” [Psalm 51:12]

If you are married, do you remember your wedding day?  Joy abounded as you said, “I do.”  If you are a parent, do you remember the day when your first child was born?  Joy abounded as you welcomed the new child into your loving arms.  Do you remember landing your first job?  Joy abounded as you went to work for the very first time.  But, firsts have a way of becoming routine and mundane.  The joy of the “first” often fades fast as problems and difficulties arise.  The psalmist’s experience of “first” faith has faded.  God is there, but only in the background.  Walking in faith has taken its toll and joy has gone on vacation. Billy Sunday warns us of this possibility, “If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.”  Is there a leak in your religion?  Do you need to pray as the psalmist once did, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation?”  Joy is not dependent on our circumstances; it is grounded in the source of our faith.  Our joy is in God alone.

Prayer

God of all mercies, I confess that I have a leak in my faith.  I do not always connect with the joy of your salvation.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation.  Restore joy as an integral part of who I am as a person of faith. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Candle of Joy is our Third Advent Candle.

“But let all who take refuge in you, O God, rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you.” [Psalm 5:11]

 

 As we gather each Sunday morning to worship, I look forward to the choral introit and hymn of praise as we exult God’s holy name.  Often in the midst of the songs a smile will break across my face from deep within.  Joy will bubble up from the depths of my soul, as I connect with the truth that God cares deeply for us and for us as church.  The psalmist expresses joy because he experiences God as a place of refuge.  God covers the psalmist with protection.  The image that comes to mind for me of the psalmist’s experience is of a mother hen spreading her wings to protect her chicks, as she gathers them and ushers them into a place of safety, or the image of a mother bear who protects her cubs.  Our God gathers us and ushers us into places of safety as well.   This, my friends, is the source of our joy.  Or as Apostle Paul proclaims, “If God is for us, who is against us?”  Our joy is in God alone who cares deeply for each of us and for our church.

Prayer

O God, I am ever thankful that you cover me with your protection and usher me into safe places.  I am thankful that I can sing for joy, even when life is difficult, because you are for me.  Your promise to always be with me brings joy.  You alone, O God, are worthy to be praised.  Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]

What peace do you believe the world has to offer?  Is it the absence of war?  Is peace possible when you have enough to eat, shelter over your head, and money in the bank?  Does the world offer you peace when you are accepted by those you desire to be liked by?  What peace does the world have to offer you?  I believe the world can only offer peace that is tentative and fleeting, here one moment and gone the next.  The peace Jesus gives is qualitatively different than the peace the world has to offer.   Jesus’ peace allows us to be at peace no matter what our life’s circumstances.  Jesus’ peace bridges the divide between life and death.  Jesus’ peace gives us the courage to confront the darkness of this world, so that through us God can mend the world.  As we await the Prince of Peace, let us pray for the peace of Christ to fill us.

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, I long for the peace that only Jesus can give me.  Stir my passion for a strong and vibrant relationship with you.  Don’t let me settle for the fragile peace that the world has to offer.  Give me the courage to receive the peace Jesus offers, peace that equips me to trust you regardless of the circumstances of my life.  Only by your peace at work within me, will I be able to help mend the world.  Amen.

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.