Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Stirring in the Stable





Lord Christ,
I hear your call from the stable,
From a baby in the manger straw.

It's a tender summons,
With an angels' chorus,
Beneath the brightest of stars.

Open my ears to your teaching:

To love the unlovable,
To defend the defenseless. 
To forgive the unforgivable.

To share your Spirit,
Living selflessly,
Loving unconditionally. 

To believe when doubt overwhelms,
Hoping when things seem hopeless.

Change my heart, Jesus!
Your Kingdom comes this Christmas!
Amen!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Euphoria! Electricity! Exhilaration!


God of all Grace,

I love Christmas, but I’m wondering if this line from my Advent devotion is a bit over the top?

The euphoria of Christ’s birth overwhelms all human infatuations and electrifies us with heavenly exhilaration that can’t be shackled! (Dr. Marva Dawn)

No, not at all! Yes, I want to feel the euphoria, the electricity and the exhilaration of Christmas.

...you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. 
(Matthew 1:21)

...they will call him Immanuel which means, “God with us.”
(Matthew 1:23)

Saved from our sins. In your presence. That is overwhelming!

I’ll admit, as this Christmas day winds down, the jubilation is waning, but I certainly felt it in church last night. And today, I was overwhelmed with the love and generosity of my family.

Holy Spirit, help me to sustain the euphoria, electricity and exhilaration of Christ’s birth into the new year.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
(O little town of Bethlehem)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Advent Voices


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!"


Holy Spirit,
Let's get ready. 
Let's be Advent-ready.
Christ comes!

This is a time 
to sync my life 
with God's rule.
A time to confess. 
Repent. 
Bear good fruit.
Christ comes!

First emphasis: 
Love God.
Followed by: 
Care for the oppressed, 
the hungry, 
for foreigners.
Christ comes!

Over and over,
the Prophets 
and Psalms admonish:
Pursue justice.
Pursue peace.
Christ comes!

For healing, 
the poor 
and poor in spirit. 
For feeble hands
and wobbly knees.
Christ comes!

And miracles:
From elderly childbearing,
to a virgin birth,
with stars 
and angels.
The intersection 
of the Divine 
and humanity.
Christ comes!

Exactly! 
Our God
- in Jesus -
intervenes 
to revive us,
to restore us,
to save us!
Christ comes 
at Christmas!
Amen.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving



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.

I reprise my prayers addressing both subjects:
Happy Thanksgiving!

Artwork credit

Monday, November 7, 2016

All Saints' Sunday


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.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Polling & Prayer


A 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:

Lord...of this planet, of this nation,

I 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.") 

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance...
...fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues... 
(Prayers for National Life, For our Country)

I confess my own smugness, the self-assuredness of my political views, my misplaced faith in politicians with feet of clay.

...bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
...teach 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... 
(Prayers for National Life, For Sound Government)

I 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...
(Prayers for the Social Order, For Social Justice)

I 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)

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 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

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. 
Amen. 

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.

Amen.


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. 

Amen.

(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