Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

Mardi Gras has concluded in New Orleans. Carnival celebrations across the globe have wound down. The party’s over. Lent begins with an international hangover. Maybe that’s appropriate.

It’s a time to look in the mirror, a time for confession. The sign of the cross, imposed on one’s forehead with ashes, is an ancient sign of repentance.

There’s a Litany of Penitence in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve done a rewrite - my own contemporary version:

This is my confession. It’s unpleasant, but I’m thinking it’s supposed to feel that way.

Lord, I don’t give you 100%. Worship, Bible study and prayer are not priorities. I’m reluctant to share my faith.

I’m pretty choosy about caring for my neighbors. I’m prejudiced toward some, even contemptuous of others. Across town and across the ocean, I turn a blind eye to suffering, injustice and cruelty. I’m slow to volunteer hoping somebody else will step up.

And I’m slow to forgive, prone to hold on to slights and grudges. I’m impatient. I stretch the truth, even lie. I’m a prideful, envious and self-indulgent. I profess concern for the care of your creation, but I’m not very dedicated to the cause.

Indeed, I am a hypocrite…yet you care for me. You have sacrificed for me. You forgive me. You have my back 24/7.

Accept my confession, Father. Rouse me to repentance. Draw me closer during Lent. Amen.

I commend to you a modern confession [#893] in the Methodist Hymnal. It was added to the 1989 hymnbook, and it comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa. 

On Mortality, Penitence & Grace

…for dust you are and to dust you will return.
(Genesis 3:19)

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Liturgy for Ash Wednesday)

Lord Christ,

It's not about me.
It's not about me.
(Repeat until it sinks in.)

Starring in my own life,
I must resist that.
This performance could close today.

Under the best circumstances,
my empire will fall in thirty years or so.
I'm counting on another Kingdom.

There are some things in my nature
that need to be seared or burned away.
I shudder as I pray,
but turn up the flame Lord,
if that's your remedy.

This is out of sync
with our "selfie" culture.
Yet I know your acceptance and love.
I know your presence in my life.

During Lent,
let’s proceed with my repair.


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)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chosen & Sent

My Scripture Union Bible study inspires yet another prayer. John Harris with the Bible Society of Australia is taking us through 1 Samuel. In chapter sixteen, where David is anointed, Harris notes many blemishes on the Davidic line. This isn’t a story about royalty. It’s a lesson about grace.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We are often attracted to pedigree, wealth or, nowadays, TV personality. Do we truly believe that God’s purposes encompass the powerless, the marginalized and the dispossessed?

I have taken a slice of Harris’ theme and a portion of his words for this prayer:

The Chosen One...

Yes, he was handsome,
With some musical talent,
But a mere shepherd,
And the eighth son,
From an immigrant family,
With stories of adultery 
And prostitution in their past. 

And YOU chose him to be one of history’s most memorable monarchs, the Divinely appointed King David. 

The One Who Was Sent...

An embarrassing pregnancy,
The carpenter’s kid,
Born in a stable,
Then a refugee,
An itinerant teacher and preacher,
Judged a subversive,
Sentenced to capital punishment.

And YOU sent Jesus to save us. For daily living and for eternal life. 

YOUR grace is unpredictable. It never fails to surprise and awaken me. 

YOU are not concerned with pedigree, success or celebrity. 

And this confounding grace seems to tilt toward the powerless, the marginalized, the dispossessed. 

I acknowledge these truths! 

Now, what is today’s mission?
For what am I chosen?
Where would YOU send me?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

For a New Year

My NYE Bible study channels Prophet and Psalmist, Isaiah 12 and Psalm 98. In a spirit of New Year revelry, we are encouraged to praise, proclaim and sing a new song!

Yes, there’s hurt aplenty, even despair at times. I'm not immune to setbacks and loss. Big picture, the 2017 year-in-review recounts myriad natural disasters - vicious storms, earthquakes and wildfires. And unnatural tragedies in Syria, Somalia, Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs.

But in my family, we celebrated a wedding, new jobs, travel adventure and milestones at work. Gratitude prevails. It’s fertile soil where hope takes root and blooms as joy.

Lord of the fresh start
& new beginnings,

Clock and calendar 
are center stage:
The count down. 
The turning of a page,
For a new year.

Shout for joy to the Lord, 
all the earth, 
burst into jubilant song 
with music... (Psalm 98:4)
For a new year. 

I pray for renewal,
Verve and vitality,
Even reinvention,
For a new year.

The Lord, the Lord himself, 
is my strength 
and my defense;
he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)
For a new year. 

Christmas reinforces
Your presence,
Your restorative plans.
The launch pad,
For a new year.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things... (Psalm 98:1)

I will sing a new song,
With hope and joy,
For a new year. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Of Jesus & Jefferson

Almighty God!

Holy Scripture speaks. Clearly. Succinctly.

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness... 
(God, Genesis 1:26)

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism...
(St. Peter, Acts 10:34)

Kingdom values: EACH and EVERY ONE of us is made in your image, and you don't play favorites...which birthed the American ideal "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." (Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence)

But Lady Liberty's limbs seem weak and brittle of late. We are a nation that nurses its grudges, bereft of tolerance and optimism. 

We are intent on reliving the Civil War - that my forbears lost 152 years ago.

We deny the lingering damage of slavery and American apartheid - that spanned three and a half centuries.

We rebut current day discrimination in policing and criminal sentencing - that has devastated families and communities of color. 

All the while, resentment, meanness and disrespect are unleashed on social media. Hope and grace wane. 

Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long. Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.
(Psalm 74:23-24)

Holy Spirit, unleash the mighty wind, the tongues like fire. (Acts 2:2-3, KJV) Fill your people with hope and grace that we might rise up to defend your cause - in love. Amen.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Praying with Jonah

Call me beyond myself,
Send me beyond my imagination, 
Empower me beyond my skill.

So began a recent Scripture Union Bible study on Jonah by Robert Parkinson, a Baptist minister in the U.K. It's the Bible's great fish story - a fanciful tale with with a serious message for self-righteous Christians (like me).

Swallow me, Lord! Into your love and work. Like Jonah...

Today, he might be a minister or missionary. A faithful man, who veers off course.

Jonah becomes a religious crank. Prejudiced, self-centered, imposing limits on your love and mercy. 

Yet, you send him out, over and over.

It's all about your purposes, not mine. You are compassionate and generous to all. I don't get to choose.

Have I lapsed into Jonah mode? Spit me out, Lord! Send me again. And again. Until I get it right. Amen.

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