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.

Artwork credit

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

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. Additional Ash Wednesday posts:

Evidence of Penitence
Ashes to Go

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Epiphanies - the 4th Sunday

Back in January, on the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, the Lectionary presented a powerful confluence of Scripture - Prophecy, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel. I was struck by the synchronicity. I heard it as a prayer...about how we are called to live, the difficulties that accompany the calling and the living, and most important, the blessing.

Lord, Let the prophet Micah inspire my values, my behavior...

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The Psalmist unpacks it...

Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others. (from Psalm 15)

St. Paul addresses the difficulty of going against the grain...

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
(1st Corinthians 1:27)

Our Lord Christ speaks from the mountainside...

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 
(from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:1-12)

And there's persecution, mourning, a thirst for something better. But we are children of God - the peacemakers. Ours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Rejoice and be glad! Amen.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Epiphanies - Divine Messaging

Lord Christ,

Angels, dreams and the Spirit - they all play a big part in the story of your birth.

Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi and Simeon - they all receive a form of divine messaging

We focus on the fantastical - it makes the stories memorable - but I’m getting a practical message for the new year:

Pay attention! Look and listen! Follow! 

That divine messaging is found in the things of God, in the people of God. In Bible study, in sermons and music, in books and blogs, in friends and service, in nature.

Simeon called it the light for revelation. (Luke 2:22-40) The pursuit of that treasure must be my priority. I’m too easily distracted. My commitment is sporadic. And I miss the angels, dreams and Spirit.

Righteous and devout, that's how Simeon is described. He established a foundation of faith. It made him receptive to divine messaging - receptive to your voice, receptive to your leading.

May it be so for me! Amen.

Artwork credit

Monday, January 23, 2017

Epiphanies - The Escape to Egypt

Russian icon, The Flight into Egypt

I've had another epiphany…from another story (Matthew 2:13-23) about the baby Jesus…another story that wasn’t appropriate for the Christmas Pageant.

Lord Christ,

My Bible calls it the Escape to Egypt. It’s the Massacre of the Innocents to art historians. This doesn’t fit well with my sentimental notions of the Christmas story.

When you were a newborn, maybe a toddler, your family fled to Egypt. King Herod was threatened by the news of a Messiah, and he ordered the murder of male babies in Bethlehem. No, this doesn’t fit well with the Christmas story at all.

It does fit with a Savior for outcasts, aliens and refugees. You lived that life…from childhood. And you lived among the poor under an oppressive, cruel government.

Will I allow this story to reform my fears and prejudices? (Might this inform my position on immigration?) Am I alert and open to the poor around me, both materially and spiritually?

Jesus, I'm thinking you have an assignment for me: among the poor…to improve justice…to stimulate healing and hope. 

In your name, Amen.