The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-6)
Isaiah, the Psalms, John the Baptist, the Gospel stories of Jesus' birth... Voices of Advent. Competing for my attention. Vying for my heart.
I have tried to note, ponder and pray the various themes of Advent's Lectionary readings over the past four weeks. Now, I assimilate that in a prayer.
I am compelled to push aside the discouragement of current events and embrace the theological - that the Messianic era has begun, that we are in the midst of a restoration, that "God's glory fills the earth!"
Obviously, our national observance centers on gratitude, but have we lost sight of an important facet of the Plymouth Thanksgiving? In the New England story, the Pilgrims broke bread with the local Indians. It was an act of reconciliation (as well as a time for thankfulness.) Even if that's American myth, it is an aspect of our tradition worthy of revival.
Way, way back in the 5th grade, the first song I learned to play on my saxophone was When the Saints Go Marching In.
I was no Louis Armstrong, but his fusion of gospel and jazz must have resonated with my formative eleven year old soul. (And it was not a difficult tune to master!)
Oh, when the saints go marching in, Oh, how I want to be in that number, When the saints go marching in.
This past Sunday was our annual remembrance of the saints who have graced our lives. I have been blessed to have so many saints marching around me - leading, teaching, prodding and protecting. I remember them in these prayers.
bad cold kept us from church Sunday. For my solo at-home service, I punched up
a hymn channel on Pandora. It was sublime - briefly - until political ads
interrupted. That was so wrong! Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing contrasted
severely with warring US Senate candidates. And my mind wandered to politics -
a very dark place to be on the Sabbath. Fortunately, I was rescued by the Book
of Common Prayer. What a blessing! Paging through the Collects and the Prayers and Thanksgivings, I was uplifted by the BCP's benign overlap of church and
state. I'm not a church historian, but this language dates to the late 1700s.
True to name and purpose, the Prayer Book helped me to pray:
this planet, of this nation,
lament the seething anger of this election cycle. It's the nastiest campaign of
my lifetime. I regret the suspicion of immigrants and refugees (in a nation
formed by "aliens.")
us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance...
into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and
for National Life, For our Country)
confess my own smugness, the self-assuredness of my political views, my
misplaced faith in politicians with feet of clay.
the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a
blessing to other nations of the earth.
our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to
their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise
decisions for the well-being of our society...
for National Life, For Sound Government)
despair over the conflicts of class, the division of demographics. Elites (am I in that catergory?) scheme to maintain privilege while too many fear insecurity of food,
housing, healthcare, work and neighborhood...in the richest nation on earth.
The political foment is understandable.
...move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace...
for the Social Order, For Social Justice)
love my country. And certain candidates and issues have my allegiance. But let
me never forget - first and foremost - I belong to You.
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayers
for National Life, For an Election)
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!
I need you...in this hospital...in 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
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. Amen.
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.
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. Amen.
(from Morning Prayer II, Confession of Sin, Book of Common Prayer)
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.
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