Prayer 05/06/2020

Eternal God, out of chaos you brought order and created all that is. You know all things in heaven and on earth. Fill our hearts with trust in you so that whether it be day or night, in all times and seasons, we may entrust all that we are and all that we hope to be to your steadfast love and faithfulness, for this life and the life to come. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

From The Book of Common Worship

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The Infinite Distance

“God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. The infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion. Nothing can be further from God than that which has been made accursed.

This tearing apart, over which supreme love places the bond of supreme union, echoes perpetually across the universe in the midst of the silence, like two notes, separate yet melting into one, like pure and heart-rending harmony. This is the Word of God. The whole creation is nothing but its vibration…Those who persevere in love hear this note from the very lowest depths into which affliction has thrust them. From that moment they can no longer have any doubt.” Simone Weil from Waiting for God

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Lenten Reflection 03/15/2020

“Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for in the Lord God
you have an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4

As we take precautions against coronavirus, it can be tempting to panic. But, as we are reminded in Isaiah, our trust is in the Lord our everlasting rock. Avoiding the extremes of panic and negligence, we take protective measures and keep faith. We take protective measures and keep faith not only for ourselves but for others. One thing this coronavirus has done is remind us just how interdependent we are. What I do can effect you, and you someone else. And so, we do the best we can and trust God for the rest.

One of our fellowship reminded me yesterday that this situation is advantageous to our Lenten practice. As more restrictions are put in place, as we spend more time at home, we are given ample opportunity for prayer and reflection. We are reminded of the fragility and unsurpassable value of human life. I hope that you will take time in prayer and meditation, considering our calling to be God’s people in the world. Since we are not gathering as usual, in hopes of limiting possible infections, please take a moment to check on each other with a phone call, text, or email. We are one body in Christ even when not together in the same space. May our trust and peace be in the Lord.

Eternal God, we lift up all who are sick, praying for bodily strength and healing. We lift up those in leadership positions, praying for them as they make decisions for the sake of the common good. We pray for all health care workers across the globe. May wisdom, appropriate caution, and general good sense prevail. Grant those who call on you the grace of your Presence, strong faith, and unfailing hope. Through Jesus Christ, your eternal Son, we pray. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Today we remember that we are mortal. Today we remember that we are wholly dependent upon God. Today we remember our need to repent, and our need for grace. Today is not about being morbid, but about being honest with ourselves. Today we take our first step in our Lenten journey, a journey which leads to the cross and ultimately the resurrection. May your Lenten journey be blessed.

Remember: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

 

 

“Where do you abide?” “Come and you will see.”

John 1:35-51

Two important things are happening in this passage. First, little by little, we’re told who Jesus is. Notice all the different ways that people refer to him in this passage: Lamb of God, Rabbi or Teacher, Messiah, the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth, Son of God, King of Israel, Son of Man. Each time Jesus gains a new follower, our understanding of who he is becomes a little bit richer. And that’s the other important thing happening here. In this passage, Jesus is beginning to gather followers.

John the Baptist is standing there with a couple of his disciples, Jesus walks by, and John says to them, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When his disciples hear this, they leave John and begin to follow Jesus. They literally follow him. That is, they walk where he walks, they stay where he stays. But, as disciples, they will also metaphorically follow Jesus. That is, they will try to live as he teaches them to live. This is captured by their question, “Where are you staying?” They want to be where is he and learn how to live from him.

And, for us, it’s the metaphorical following that is the most important part. Just imagine one of these disciples who literally followed Jesus, walking where he walks and living where he lives. And yet, imagine this disciple didn’t even try to live in the way that Jesus taught his followers to live. I think we would have to say that follower would be missing the whole point of what it means to be a follower. So, it’s important to pay attention to these two levels of meaning in the text. As we’ll see, you will always have this literal, first-face, value of the passage. But beneath that literally reading is a deeper meaning, and it’s that deeper meaning that pertains to us.

So, they’re following Jesus and Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?” That’s quite a question. And just within the context of this passage, we can see that as each person refers to Jesus, they refer to him in a different way. One calls him the Lamb of God, another one calls him Messiah, and another Teacher. So, each one sees him from a different point of view, and with different expectations. All of them are appropriate, all of them apply, but they’re different nonetheless.

People come to Christ for all different kinds of reason, looking for different things, none of which are necessarily wrong. I don’t think there is only one acceptable reason to begin following Christ. But what happens over time is their reasons become more and more conformed to his reasons. This is the work of grace in the follower’s life. Over time, the follower becomes transformed more and more into the image of the teacher, so that eventually the follower of Christ can say with Paul, “It is not I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

But, again, it’s a process. Just think about these disciples as they are on this first day of following Jesus compared to what they will become later, say in the book of Acts. There is a clear difference. And yet, if you were to watch them moment by moment as they go through that process, the transformation happens so slowly that it is hardly observable. Nonetheless, if you compare the beginning to the end the contrast is obvious. So, it’s a process, and it’s a process that on this side of the blessed hope doesn’t end. In other words, no matter how long we’ve been living in faith, there is always room to grow. The scriptures state that we are to grow into the full stature of Jesus Christ. Well, that’s quite a stature in which to grow. So, we’re in this for the long haul.

At any rate, Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” And they respond with the question, “Where are you staying?” This is another place in the passage where we want to pay attention to the deeper level of meaning. At face value, what they’re asking Jesus is: Where do you live, where do you lay your head at night, where’s home? But, in the larger context of John’s gospel the answer to that question goes much deeper than simply where he lays his head at night. Without changing the words in the original language, we can rephrase their question. Instead of them saying, “Where are you staying?” we could translate it, “Where do you abide?” It’s the exact same word. Where do you stay? Where do you abide? Where do you remain? Where do you live?

Jesus isn’t going to answer their question directly. He simply says, “Come and see.” But where he abides is not the place where he lays his head at night. Later on, in chapter 15, Jesus will come out and tell them directly where he abides. He says, I abide in the Father’s love. I abide in the Father’s love because I keep his commandments. You also should abide in my love. Abide in me, just as I abide in you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. And then right after that he tells them the commandment: I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.

Or again he says in chapter 14: Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father and I will come to them and make our home with them. In other words, we will all live together. So, where does Jesus live, where does he stay? He lives in the love of the Father. And, his disciples will eventually learn that they too are to abide in the love of God by living and loving as Christ taught them to live and love. That’s the deeper meaning.

But at this point the disciples are simply asking, “Where do you lay your head at night? We want to stay where you stay.” And so, Jesus says, “Come and see.” Literally, he says, “Come and you will see.” In the original language it’s in the future tense. Come and you will see. In other words, it’s a promise. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “You want to see where I live, where I abide? Come and you will see. Follow me, (in other words, do as I have taught you) and you will see the love of the Father in which I live.”

And so, notice what it says. I love this part. It says, “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” They came and saw and then they remained with him. There’s that word again. It’s the same word. They remained with him, the stayed with him, they abided with him. “Teacher, where do you live?” “Come and you will see.” And so, the came to him, they saw and they began to abide with him. My friends that’s a snapshot of the transformation that, by grace, God brings about in us through Jesus Christ.

Also, notice the timestamp. It says, “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” That’s strange. Why the timestamp? Why are we being told the time this happened? Well, think back to some of the most memorable moments in your life. If you have children, you know the day and time they were born. If you are married, you probably remember the day. That’s what’s happening here. Obviously, these disciples didn’t have watches back then. So, it’s not an exact time. It’s not 4:35 in the afternoon. But they remember it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. They remember this moment when they first began to abide with the Lord. These are the first two followers of Jesus Christ; it deserves a timestamp.

So, one these two disciples go and finds his brother, Simon. He tells his brother they have found the Messiah. Simon comes to see and when he does Jesus renames him “Peter.” The next day Jesus sees Philip, says to him, “Follow me,” and he does. Then Philip goes to find Nathanael. Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus Son of Joseph of Nazareth.” Nathanael says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s hilarious, to me. At least, Nathaniel just threw some serious shade on Nazareth.

But also, this is the first time this good news that the Messiah has come gets some push back, some resistance. Up to this point, the pattern has been as follows: one of these newly minted disciples will go and find a friend or a family member and say, “We’ve found him, come and see!” And, they go and see and they stay. Up to this point, that has been the pattern. But with Nathanael, the pattern almost breaks down, because he pushes back. It’s at this point that Philip could have been tempted to enter into a debate with Nathanael. Philip might have been tempted to try and convince Nathanael of the truth. But he doesn’t do that. He simply repeats the invitation, “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself.

It can be so tempting, and I struggle with this myself, it can be so tempting to try and convince others of the truth about Christ. But the reality is, it is not our job to convince or convict. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are called to do three things:

1) We are called to proclaim Christ. If someone asks you about your faith, all you can really do is share your experience, your understanding of the good news, and the hope that is within you. If you share Christ, that’s sufficient.

2) We are called to live as the body of Christ. This goes back to abiding in his love. Jesus said, they will know you are my disciples by your love. Unless someone is gifted at it, I generally caution against trying to convince others of the truth through debate. Debating with others about the faith is a hazardous road to go down, because if the one they’re trying to convince reveals a flaw their reasoning, then it will appear they don’t know what they’re talking about, even if they do. But if we love people, others won’t be able to easily deny that. They may disagree with what we believe, but they won’t be able to deny our love. And when we tell them that God loves them, and that Christ loves them, they will see the evidence in us. So, we proclaim Christ and then we support that proclamation with our love.

3) Finally, we are called to continually extend the invitation: “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself. Because you’ll notice, it’s only when Nathanael approaches Christ himself, that he comes to know him, and comes to abide with him in the love of God. So, we proclaim Christ, we live as the body of Christ, and we keep open the invitation to come and see. Come and see for yourself where Christ lives. Amen.

Prayer 01/14/2020

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:1,5)

Eternal God, for your steadfast love and faithfulness, we thank you. For your providence and continual care, we praise you. For the love and grace given to us through the Son, we glorify you.

Holy Father, by your grace, grant that we may love as we have been loved. Being created in your image, may we become living reflections of the love, grace, and life of your Son. As your children, may we be merciful, just as you are merciful. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

A Prayer for a New Year

Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.

We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.

In the midst of life’s uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.

In the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.

In the midst of life’s temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.

And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need. May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end” (Psalm 119:33).

We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and troubled world. We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also, and assure them of Your love and concern for them.

Bring our divided nation together, and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us—far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and center of our lives this year.

And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith. This I ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, who by His death and resurrection has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.

Amen.

(Prayer by Billy Graham)

Billy Graham’s Prayer for a New Year

Grasped by the Child

“It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did … for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.” -Frederick Buechner

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