Prayer

Not Being Smart

[God answered Solomon's prayer saying] I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart

God must not like our prayers because he keeps giving us the opposite of what we ask for. We ask for patience and we receive more frustrations. We ask for peace in our household and we receive more conflict. We ask for enough wealth to be secure and we find ourselves jobless and dependent upon the kindness of strangers. I get the feeling that God’s intention is to throw us fully into life, like a baby being thrown into the deep end of the pool. We pray, “Lord give us a firm foundation of truth,” by which we mean that He should make us smart enough to always be right. God responds, “Hey it’s time for your swimming lesson. Keep your head up and remember to breathe.”

Sunday, August 19, 2018
Pentecost 15

Prayer before Dawn

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.

I have a love-hate relationship with mornings. As a self-employed author, I have great flexibility regarding when and where I work. But the Holy Spirit and my own creative whit have their own plans. I have discovered that early morning hours are golden. But rarer than diamonds are the times when the cat, dog, or my bladder wakes me while it is still night, and instead of cursing these intrusions, I grab coffee and write like one possessed. In Psalm 130 we read, “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” Something has awoken the psalmist to an hour when all he or she can do is pray.

Sunday, August 12, 2018
Pentecost 12

This is what a King will do...

There is a common proverb that goes, “You better be careful what you ask for; because you just might get it.” This is true in politics, parenting, and in our prayers. I’ve come to believe that more people are impoverished by their wishes than by their misfortunes. We think we know what we want — we are all a bit like King Midas who wished to have everything he touched turn to gold, until he touched his daughter. We want wealth. (Play the lottery, anyone?) God wants us to have inner peace, the satisfaction of work done well, and relationships that don’t depend upon extravagant gift giving. We want to teach our kids the value of money, so we give them an allowance. They go out and compare it with what their friends are getting, and think better or worse of us. So in the end, we have taught them to value us only for our money.

Instead of the value of money, we should be teaching them the value of community, shared labor, and the unconditional nature of family love. The things we need to learn, are exactly the things we need to teach to our kids. When we pray, we ask God to give us our daily bread, so that we can break it and share it in love, rather than being led by our temptations to hoard it or be greedy. Be careful what you ask for.

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Pentecost 3

A Psalm for the Oppressed

This past week was Martin Luther King Day. I think it is important that we remember him, not just as a leader of a minority group in our society, but as an example of how to respond to oppression. Sometimes oppression is systemic, like the racism is that still infects America. Sometimes oppression is personal, as when we are passed over at work because of our gender or age, or when a family member uses cruel manipulation to keep us in our place.The Gospel teaches us to love our neighbor and that no one truly loves God who isn’t in a right relationship with others. Yet Psalm 27 talks about the other side of our religion. There are times when you go it alone. I think of a family member who is struggling with a messy divorce and has a broken relationship with one of his teenage daughters. Perhaps distance, illness, or death has separated you from a loved one. Perhaps you are feeling oppressed. What does this Psalm 27 say to you now?

 

For in the day of trouble

Sunday, January 22, 2017
Epiphany 3

Healthy Contrition

Jesus tells a number of parables of reversal — that is stories where the expected winner, loses. There is the farmer who has a bumper crop and tears down his barns in order to build new ones. Surprise! His name appears in tomorrow’s obituary (Luke 12:16-21). There are seeds that do well when first sown and then fail when the noon day sun burns down on them (Mark 4:3-8). And then there is the story of a good man, a Pharisee, who goes up to pray and the blessings of God skip over this paragon of virtue. Instead, a disreputable tax collector goes home knowing that his prayer is heard (Luke 18:9-14).

 

In matters of religion, we should expect reversals. Those who start out well, don’t always end well. Getting into heaven is not a matter of joining the right church or developing the right theology. Jesus tells us of a tax collector and a Pharisee who are praying at the same moment in the same church. Jesus says that success in religion is a matter of contrition.

Sunday, October 23, 2016
Pentecost 25

You have not, because you ask not

I often get frustrated with my mother. I know, I deserve some grief considering all that I put her through. My mother is loving, kind, fun, in good health, and becoming increasingly independent as she heads towards 90. The problem is, she refuses to ask us for anything. I say, “Mom, let me help you order tickets for your upcoming flight.” She says, “I don’t want to bother you. I’m willing to call United on the phone.”  Then she grabs the yellow pages and her old black rotary phone. She also insists on finding her own way to and from the airport. I say to her, “Let me help.” She refuses to ask for what she needs.

 

Jesus teaches us to pray:

Sunday, July 24, 2016
Pentecost 12

Simplicity Overlooked

I feel like I hear my mother’s voice in the Prophet Elisha. Together they say, “If I had asked you to do something difficult, you’d do it -- then, why can’t you take out the trash?” The situation in 2 Kings 5 is that General Naaman, commander of the Pagan Kingdom of Aram’s army, has incurable leprosy.  His undocumented alien servant girl tells him of the healing power of her faith and Elisha’s particular capacity for doing miracles for the hopeless. Naaman sends a message through diplomatic channels asking that Elisha come to Aram and do his magic. This is Elisha’s golden opportunity to play the palace and give a really great evangelistic sermon. 

 

Sunday, July 3, 2016
Pentecost 9

What makes a hero?

Elijah was a very rare individual, but he wasn’t unique. His type of faith is repeated several times in the bible — most clearly in John the Baptist. While most people waver between opinions, Elijah represents the voice in any real world situation that is willing to have their position tested. In the workplace there are those who hope that the boss doesn’t take a sample of their work, and there are those who invite criticism because they know that they have made the right choice. In the political world, there are the many who hide what they are doing and the few that are willing to act with transparency.

 

History sends Elijah type people into every generation. They call us to truth. They call us to honesty. They call us to act out of our convictions. The generation before ours had Dorothea Dix, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dag Hammarskjöld (and that’s just working with the d’s). What about our generation? I think of the way Al Gore has challenged us to get off the fence in terms of climate change. Who else? What ever name you say will be controversial. Elijah was controversial. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016
Pentecost 4
Memorial Day

Offering Prayers for Pets

Yesterday we laid to rest our faithful dog, Bella. She was a small shepherd mix, with a gentle disposition, who loved to travel. She suffered more than she needed to over this winter because she refused to take her medication, and I ran out of ways to sneak the pill into the food that she was losing interest in eating.  As we held the graveside service, I realized that I had crossed a line. Before Bella adopted us, I was uncomfortable offering up to the Lord requests concerning the welfare of pets. “There are no cats in heaven. And no, Lassie doesn’t have a soul,” I would say.

God is Sufficient

The Gospel teaches us to love our neighbor and that no one truly loves God who isn’t in a right relationship with others. Yet Psalm 27 talks about the other side of our religion. There are times when you go it alone. It may be that someone, or an organization, is oppressing you. You may be driven out of your home or separated from those you love. I think of a family member who is struggling with a messy divorce and has a broken relationship with one of his teenage daughters. Perhaps distance, illness, or death has separated you the one person that matters most to you. What does this Psalm say to you now?

 

For in the day of trouble

    [The Lord] will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

Sunday, February 21, 2016
Lent 2

7 Reasons to Pray

In James 5:13-20 seven prayer topics are considered: Trouble, Happy, Sick, Sin, Prophetic (Elijah concerned with political situation), Environmental, and for those who are Lost. But, everything James says is prefaced by a discussion of the prayer-less attitude many have towards life.  In James 413-15 we are cautioned not be drawn into thinking that we have a god-less solution to the troubles of this world.

 

Some people deal with trouble by saying “Let’s eat drink and be merry.” How many of those in church are struggling with a substance abuse, whether it’s alcohol, over eating, or the accumulation of material things. What can we say to help them shift from drowning their troubles to James’ advice that we simply pray?

 

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Pentecost 20

Holy Interruptions

Prayer should interrupt our lives. This is something you learn when you travel in other lands. In the middle-east, the call to prayer wails from a minaret and suddenly people stop what they are doing and pray. In Asia, the crowds part and you see orange robbed young men with their begging bowls. Life can be interrupted by the search for enlightenment.  These men have taken a hiatus from their career path to pray. There is something universal about Psalm 130’s, “Out of the depths I cry to You… be attentive to my supplications.” Unfortunately, we have segregated our prayer to an hour on Sunday and a building. I want a religion that meets me on the street.

 

Psalm 130 is a very personal litany of prayers; each line the breath of the human soul. This forms a one-two punch when matched with Mark 5:24, where a woman interrupts Jesus — when he is on the street and very busy — with her supplication.  Out of the depths, I cry to you — the creator and interrupter of my existence.

 

Sunday, June 28, 2015
Pentecost 8

Reasonable Happiness

The full version of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer draws a connection between the acceptance of hardship as a pathway to peace and our capacity to be “reasonably happy in this life.” This echoes a key theme of Palm 23. We are on an educational journey here, and to both understand our teacher and complete our course, we need to accept pain, as well as, a multitude of things we cannot change. Encountering this world as our shepherd does, is fundamental to Christianity. It leads us a away from the frivolous pursuit of happiness. It allows us to think missionally about our lives. We are not here to gather the most toys, complete a bucket-list of exotic experiences, or have unending comfort —- we are here to love. Reasonable happiness involves hardship. But, no matter what our circumstances, we can be reasonably happy if we have developed a deep trust in God.

 

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 

Taking, as He did, this sinful world 

Sunday, April 26, 2015
Easter 4

Unknowns

We don’t know how to pray as we ought is a striking and often overlooked line. Yet, it may be the truest thing the Apostle Paul ever wrote. It is not in human nature to distinguish between true and false communion with God. We think praying is simply a matter of closing our eyes and folding our hands. Or mentally doing something like that. Some describe prayer as simply talking to God like you would a friend. God is wholly other. The pre-socratic philosopher, Meno, asks, “How do you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” Having glimpsed God down a long corridor, dimmed by your own inadequacies, how do you pray?

 

Sunday, July 27, 2014
Pentecost 12

Prayer and Process

I often repeat the motto, ‘In a transition, the process is always more important than any one result.” For example; If you are moving your family to another city, you may think it is important to pack your glassware so that your cups don’t chip. In reality, the process of getting everyone in the family to make the transition, have their concerns recognized, and feel positive about the move, is more important. Surrounding any result we wish to achieve in a transitional period, there is a greater process. Sometimes by sheer will power and the cunning manipulation of others, we achieve our desired result.

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