Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ask. Seek. Knock.

I was in the hospital last month for a couple of nights due to a medication complication. That rhyme was intended to disguise my fear. But it's remarkable how daily Bible readings aligned with my plight...informing a prayer that spanned several days...and a good outcome!

O Jesus!

I need this my body. I want to be positive and confident. But shouldn't I be realistic? I can't keep my brain from scanning the downside.

Then came assurance from a reading in Hosea. God announced his presence: For I am God, and not a man - the Holy One among you. (Hosea 11:9)

From the commentary: God's love, experienced in mercy and grace, is never conditional or situational...the Abba Father who exemplifies mercy and loves us even when we are at our worst. (a)

Still, there was accommodation of my doubt in the story from Mark 9 where Jesus proclaims: "Everything is possible for one who believes." Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (‭‭Mark‬ ‭9:23-24‬)

And I was invited to make a bold request, an audacious ask:  ...because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:8-9)

From the commentary: God answers because God loves us more than any parent could love a child. God gives God's self in intimate relationship to all who ask. (b)

Put aside this hospital anxiety. Get me outta here!!! I pray for a full recovery, recharged and reset! May it be so. Amen.

*  *  *  *

I wish I could tell you that God speaks directly to me, but no, that's not the case. There is messaging, however. It comes through Scripture, more precisely, through a habit of daily Bible study. This routine includes a devotional based on the lectionary and a systematic study. I keep a journal, too. Your spiritual diet is critical to the health of your faith!

The Upper Room Disciplines 2016
(a) Transforming Mercies, Sue Engle, Memphis Conference of The United 
Methodist Church 
(b) Intimacy with God, Rev. Steven Lottering, Methodist Church of Southern Africa

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Utterly Meaningless

We are caught in a maelstrom of violence. Clashes of race, religion and culture. Much of it exacerbated by guns, hatred and mental illness. The last three weeks have been brutal.

Two men "driving while black" were killed by white policemen in Louisiana and Minnesota. Both incidents appear to be unprovoked. Then, five policeman were ambushed by an angry, deranged black man in Dallas. In France, eighty four Bastille Day celebrants died beneath a runaway truck. It's not clear if the driver was a jihadist or mentally ill...or both. And there was another attack on police in Baton Rouge. Three officers and the perpetrator are dead.

Amidst these dark headlines, my Scripture Union daily Bible study was a slog through Ecclesiastes. Frankly, the Word cannot always be counted on for uplift. Sometimes the message is appropriately discomforting, and a lamentation can be cathartic...

Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. ‭‭(Ecclesiastes‬ ‭1:2‬)

O Lord, life can seem meaningless...without you. Even in your presence, there's so much I can't process. This broken world and broken souls overwhelm my tidy theology. 

Nature may hurt us. As will other humans. And I will undoubtedly inflict pain on others. It's difficult to frame or explain. Right now, I'm mired in futility - utterly meaningless. 

The wise King Solomon accepts that life (even a faith-filled life) is riddled with ambiguity, with contradictions.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal...   (from Ecclesiastes 3)

O Lord, help me to endure the times of hate and war, the times of tearing down and mourning.

O Lord, I'm grateful for the times of healing, peace and love; for the laughter and dancing. 

The ancient king tells me to eat, to drink, to enjoy my work. And leave it at that. 

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil - this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

O Lord, I accept the gift and hold tight to the hope of a new creation, knowing you will sort out the ambiguities and reveal the mysteries. How can I contribute while we wait? How can I push back against the darkness?

O Lord, in the meaningless rubble, I will find a clearing and dance. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Good Shepherd Sunday

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday. At Church of the Good Shepherd (Raleigh NC), in keeping with our parish name, there was complete alignment...from our massive stained glass window above the altar to the "shepherd" introit, anthem and three hymns, to our chant of the 23rd Psalm. (A favorite hymn: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need)

That grand window is my prayer prompt, my rosary, for Sunday mornings. I substitute the names of family members for the sheep in Jesus' arms and at his feet. I know Christ has a watchful eye and firm grip on my lambs. It is an image - and a belief - that gives me great comfort on Sundays. For me, every Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday.

Praying with Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Good Shepherd, Infuse me with faith, add trust, then confidence.

He refreshes my soul.

Let me be stubbornly optimistic, wasting no time with worry.

He guides me along the right paths.

Let me resist jealously, self-pity, retribution and the urge to criticize or gossip.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Let me repel fear...from the storms of nature and the storms of life...from foreign terrorism and local politics.

My cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Let me be fearless. Give me courage. Make me brave. Cloaked in kindness, good humor and grace. 

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Evidence of Penitence

Serendipitously, I've been reading David Brooks' The Road to Character during Lent. 

The book ends with a six page, fifteen tenet Humility Code. It is a convicting prescription for repentance. Snippets:

We don't live for happiness, we live for holiness.

Humility reminds you that you are not the center of the universe, but you serve a larger order.

Pride is the central vice.

No external conflict is as consequential or as dramatic as the inner campaign against your own deficiencies. 

Everybody needs redemptive assistance from the outside - from God, family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, and exemplars.

We are all ultimately saved by grace. 

There's an Lenten prayer in Brooks' cannon.

Most merciful God, 

We confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

I dutifully recite those lines. When will I own them?

Suppress, excuse and sugar coat. Wipe off that Ash Wednesday stain. Restore my self-esteem. I'm not that bad.

No, I must own the broken parts, the sin. The thoughts, words and deeds. Things done. Things left undone. Sins against God and neighbor.

Break the dam of my denial. Allow grace to flow. Only in confessing, admitting - owning those ashes - is God's grace fully released upon us. 

Have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. 


(from Morning Prayer II, Confession of Sin, Book of Common Prayer)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

False Prophets of Politics

I'm drawn to politics as moth to flame. It's like following a sport, but there is a downside. My soul is singed daily by the manipulation, half-truthing (my term) and fear mongering. Nobility of service is co-opted and corrupted. The path to power can be a low road. 

Our presidential primary is very much at odds with the current season of Epiphany.  In the spiritual realm we celebrate Christ's inclusive mission across the planet. "Love your neighbor" is defined and pursued broadly. In politics, fuming and feuding, we choose sides. "Love your neighbor" is narrowly drawn.

In an election, we only get one vote. It's a blessing that we can pray repeatedly...for our elected officials and our government. 

This prayer was inspired by my Encounter with God Bible study for Epiphany (January 6th) and Jesus' visit to his hometown in
Luke 4:22-30.

Lord Christ, 

Are we like your Nazareth neighbors? They wanted to "take back their country," to be restored as "the chosen people." 

But you were not (you are not) that kind of Messiah. Politics and policy were not your cause. You vie for our hearts. You didn't come to organize. Healing is your platform.

You came with an invitation for everyone to share in the Kingdom of God; to share the good news of God's loving presence, care and mercy.

But they ran you out of Nazareth. That kind of preaching and teaching eventually got you killed.

Fast forward to Epiphany 2016, a season to celebrate and emphasize the Kingdom's inclusiveness. Instead, we covet the good old days, cleave to our clan and rain down judgement on others. Our hearts shrivel. 

Oh Lord, send your Spirit! Transform these extra small hearts - that we would welcome your teaching and embrace the life you offer. Amen.

Graphic credit

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Change of Heart at Christmas

Lord Christ, Emanuel,

You bent space and time to join us.
But it was surprisingly subtle. 
A baby, born in a stable,
Who became a teacher,
And your lessons were spurned.

Yet the Kingdom of God is near.
It remains understated,
Behind a veil, not imposed.

And still, we rebuff your invitation.
Your message is obscured by
Selfishness, materialism and violence.
(We have erected a concrete wall.)

That we would hear the baby in the manger,
Appreciate your tender call,
And heed the teacher's lessons.

To love, to care, to forgive, 
To share your spirit and power,
To hope, to believe.

Hearts are changed!
The Kingdom comes!
At Christmas.