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.

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.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Praying for a New President


The title's double meaning is intended as such...to be provocative. And this post is more venting than praying, but God is listening, the Spirit is nudging...


I couldn't vote for Donald Trump. It had absolutely nothing to do with Republican vs. Democrat. I was put off by his hateful demagoguery. Was that campaign style his true substance? Washington gridlock is preferable to a belligerent pugilist in the White House.

I acknowledge that he gave voice to the frustrations and fears of many who have been be hurt by global trade and workplace automation. People who have lost jobs, taken pay cuts or had their benefits reduced. People who have watched their hometowns decline right here in NC as furniture and textile mills were shuttered.

That I understand, but the "heart" of his rhetoric was impossible to abide. DJT emboldened racial bigotry, degraded women, threatened immigrants, and scorned the poor*- even the handicapped. And his supporters chanted and cheered. Tapping into voter frustration is savvy politicking, but bringing out the worst in people is dead wrong. I just couldn't get past that collision of politics with my faith. The soul of America matters to this naive idealist! 

Yet DJT was elected president. And I want to move on. I can't quite say that he is my president, but I need to accept the reality that he is our president. Further protest, lament and wishing for his failure portends even greater backsliding for the Nation.

A glass half full: I hope his business acumen and deal-making instincts mean that he can solve a few of DC's intractable problems. Unlike our political leaders, he seems to be a results oriented pragmatist. He isn't bound by ideology. He's not a conservative and he's barely a Republican. I'll give DJT a chance. Washington and its system are broken. I believe he was elected as the populist disruptor-in-chief who might have some luck as a fixer.

So, I will pray for President Donald John Trump:

...for sound judgement
...for his effectiveness
...and for his heart. 

May he rise to the occasion and to the myriad challenges of the office.

May the citizens of these States be United.

May God bless America.

May this rich and powerful country be a blessing to the planet.

Amen.


Here's a prayer I posted after the 2012 election. It seems to be an evergreen! 
Put not your trust in rulers.

My Bishop on prayers for the president.

* sojo.net, 1/17/17

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Epiphanies - John the Baptist


I am pleased to report a couple of personal epiphanies gleaned from Christmastime Bible study, and I share them during this season of Epiphany. 

First comes an appreciation for John the Baptist. (Luke, chapters 1 & 3) I’m growing more comfortable with the "tell it like it is" prophets of the Old Testament. They have no concern for political correctness. Their societal critiques are unvarnished. 

It is significant that God speaks through John to begin the New Testament, heralding the Messiah’s arrival. Something big is happening! God uses John to dial up the volume. 

John’s father, Zachariah, was a priest. At his infant son’s bris, he offered his own prophecy... 

Now you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High God. You will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will make his people know that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven. With the loving mercy of our God, a new day from heaven will dawn upon us. It will shine on those who live in darkness, in the shadow of death. It will guide us into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79, NCV) 

A new day from heaven has dawned...it shines...it guides. That's something to pray about: 


Lord Christ, John the Baptist kept popping up in my Advent Bible readings. I've always viewed him as a cranky, eccentric guy...living in the desert, eating locusts. There's no place for him in a Christmas pageant! 

...but my understanding has improved. John was a "miracle baby" who grew up to be a devout, uncompromising prophet. Focused and totally committed. As the saying goes, he spoke truth to power. That cost John his life. 

He's a hero...and I'm feeling pretty shallow. 

I miss or dismiss miracles every day. Holy Spirit, help me to notice God's work and presence. 

I'm compromised by privilege and pop culture. Holy Spirit, help me with holiness. 

There are faithful voices that make me uncomfortable. Holy Spirit, help me to hear the prophets in my path.

I easily slip into denial. John grabs my attention:

Change your hearts and lives because the kingdom of heaven is near. Do the things that show you really have changed... (Matthew 3:2, 8 NCV) 

Amen!


Sculpture attributed to Gianfrancesco Rustici, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Friday, January 6, 2017

The New Year - An Epiphany



Lord, I discovered a metaphor (is that the correct term?) in the Twelfth Night story. In Matthew 2:12, we’re told of the Magi’s visit with the baby Jesus: And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 

Having seen Christ they were advised by the angels to take another road. That’s appropriate advice for us after celebrating Jesus’ birth. Having seen Him, we should consider "another road." 

Matthew gives us a new map three chapters later, Christ’s Beatitudes in chapter five. We should take the road of the meek, the merciful, the seekers of righteousness, the pure of heart, the peacemakers. 

As a New Year begins, Father, make us ever mindful of that road you call us to travel - alongside Jesus - and empowered by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Artwork credit

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolutions




Lord, the New Year prompts my customary list of resolutions. And that raises the issue of self-control…or self-mastery as the motivational writers express it. I’m thinking this is over-rated, not the inventory of potential improvements, but the idea that I can will these upgrades into being. Transformation is not a result of self-control. It’s Jesus’ control. It's the Spirit's control. 

I'm reminded of the classic Morning Resolve: 

I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right. 

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

There’s the key: I cannot attempt or do this in my own strength.

And there’s the great Christian paradox: Only in yielding to you do we gain any control over ourselves. St. Paul explained his encounter with Jesus' power:

"My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness."


...let Christ take over...the weaker I get, the stronger I become.*

Lord Christ, I pray that my priorities for the New Year are synchronized with your will for my life…that you will edit my list of resolutions…that your Holy Spirit will intervene with discipline and resolve...that I will know your grace and find Divine strength. Amen.


* - from 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10, The Message