Monday, March 25, 2013

Jesus Has Still Got It

I didn't post last week's Prayer Service Message because I borrowed heavily (read directly) from Henri Nouwen. However, I am trying to maintain my commitment to weekly (or almost) blog posts. So instead of last week's Prayer Service, I'm posting a reflection from today's quiet time.

My daily devotional had me read this passage from Acts 3 (following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate) today:

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites,[b] why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant[c] Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus[d] has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

In the past, I have read this as Peter's chastising the Jewish leaders  who served their role in bringing about Jesus' death. Today, I read it as a message of hope. Today, I hear Peter - who should know - saying that in spite of the rejection and denial of by those in his hearing, Jesus still has the power to bring healing, redemption, salvation to their lives.

Peter knows this because he's experienced it. I imagine that the story of Peter's denial (John 18) will be read in many churches and homes this week. The story of his redemption or restoration to relationship with Jesus (John 21) will be read in coming weeks. It is a story with which we can identify. We see ourselves in Peter's failure to claim connection to Jesus, just as we can see ourselves in those who rejected Jesus, who witnessed the healing of the lame man and to whom Peter spoke. "It's not too late," he tells them and across the centuries he also speaks to us. "Even though you have rejected God among us in the person of Jesus Christ, even if you have tried to rid yourself of Christ - Jesus still has the power to bring healing in your life. To redeem you from your past, to offer you salvation."

Even as we travel through Holy Week - remembering the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, we view the journey through post-Easter glasses. We know how the story ends. We know that in spite of death, Jesus still has the power to save - to bring healing to my life, to your life, to our world. Like the man at the Beautiful Gate, we simply need to accept it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Praying God's Blessing

In her book Adventures in Prayer, Catherine Marshall speaks of a family whose household is full of stress and distress largely caused by a hypercritical, generally irritable aunt who lives with them. Catherine’s advice to the mother of the family is that she pray for God’s blessings upon the aunt. The woman had prayed many times that the aunt’s attitude and behavior be changed, but she had not prayed for God’s joyous blessing upon her. Marshall goes on to remind us that someone who is blessed is someone who is happy. The beatitudes in some translations read, “Blessed are …” Other translations read, “Happy are…”

When we pray God’s blessing upon another person – especially a person with whom we find it difficult to be in relationship – it changes our outlook toward that person. It helps us see them in a more positive (or at least not all negative) light. But I believe the power of this prayer goes far beyond a psychological shift on the part of the pray-er. I believe this prayer opens doors for God to work in both people, to open their eyes to see the beauty in one another, and to plant and nurture the seeds of love. 

I also believe it changes the way we behave toward the other person. In my weekly prayers from the pulpit, I often ask God to show us how, where, and when we are being called to be the Body of Christ in the world. How are we being called to be part of the answer to the prayers we bring before God when we pray for God to relieve suffering or loneliness? When we pray the prayer of joyous blessing for someone, calling God’s blessing upon them we must also pray asking God how we are called to be a part of that blessing.

Now this all sounds pretty and nice and easy. It’s not. It’s not easy to pray for someone who has hurt you or caused you distress to experience God’s blessing. It’s not easy to let go of our own frustration and bitterness and desire for revenge or at least for pay back, and ask God to bless someone who makes our lives difficult. Not only is it not easy, it is often so difficult that it can’t be accomplished by our own power. We must call on the power of God’s Spirit to even be able to think, much less utter words of blessing for some people. The good news is, God is at work. God is willing even when we aren’t.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Three Little Words

My devotional from last night's prayer service:

There are some books I read only for information and others I read a quick escape into a fictional world. For those books, an electronic reading device works fine. But, there are some books I don’t want to simply read. I want to absorb them – as much into my body and being as into my mind. These books I want to hold in my hand – savoring them as if holding an exquisite bite of food in my mouth so that the taste can linger. 

Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The ThreeEssential Prayers is one of those books. I’m reading it slowly – bit by bit. Reading and re-reading, soaking up the beauty of the language and the richness of the content. Anne (her writing style is so honest and personal, it feels as if we have a first name acquaintance) puts forward the idea that great prayers can be found in these three little words: help, thanks, wow. There is wisdom in this.

What follows is my own meditation on these three prayers. Perhaps you can devise your own meditation around them, too.

HELP. I have cried for help from the bottom of the pit. Like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38) thrown into the cistern – in the dark – alone – nothing and no one left to call on but God. The walls of the well are straight and slick. Climbing out on my own is not an option. I cry out – “GOD HELP ME!”

I have cried, “help” before I enter a hospital room or to pray with a grieving family and many other times when I know I am wholly inadequate for the task at hand. 

Then I think of the many times I didn’t cry, “help” – when I pulled on my own boot straps, gathered my own courage and tried to proceed on my own strength. And, I ask myself, “How’s that been working for you?” 

I cry, “help” when I need guidance or more information or a broader view of the situation. I cry, “help” when I don’t understand the suffering of those I love or strangers half way around the world. I cry help.

And when the suffering is relieved, I cry, “THANKS!” Sometimes the gratitude is deep and explosive – like the teenager after I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on him – “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! YOU SAVED MY LIFE!”

At other times the gratitude is soft and gentle. Thanking God for my many blessings – daily joys often overlooked. People in my life, a place to live, food to eat.

And then I think of all the thanks not offered – blessings unacknowledged, life taken for granted. I think of the times when I was of the nine who did not return in thanks rather than the one who did (Luke 17: 12 – 19), and in my mind I fall to my knees uttering simultaneously, “forgive me and thank you.”

When I open my eyes again, I see the world anew – full of beauty and wonder. I see the beauty of creation in a tiny flower with intricate design, and in the majesty of the sunset as I cross the bridge over the lake. I am in awe of the one who creates and I simply proclaim, “WOW!”

I see God at work in the world around me – changing lives in both subtle and spectacular ways. I feel God changing me in ways I never thought possible, and I am once again amazed by God’s grace.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Attitudes Before God

When my youngest sister was at a youth event many years ago, she learned about her kinesthetic self. She came home that evening explaining that the group had formed a circle. The leader had instructed them to lunge to the left. So, she lunged to the left and stepped on the toe of the counselor standing next to her. Oops. Then the leader asked them to imagine themselves lunging to the left without actually moving – using what she called their “kinesthetic selves.” So, my sister lunged to the left with her kinesthetic self and promptly stepped on the imaginary toe of her neighbor. We all had a good laugh, but this lesson has stuck with me for many, many years.

My sister may not even remember the event, but I have used her lesson over and over in my prayer life. As I have come to God in prayer over the years I have often imagined myself in some particular posture or position or even moving in a sort of dance before God. Prayer does not always (and for some, may never) mean using words. Sometimes prayer is simply bringing who you are and how you are and where you are to God and just being there.

Miriam Webster online includes the following in the definition of attitude: the arrangement of the parts of a body or figure, a position assumed for a specific purpose , a mental position, a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state. As we look at prayer this week, let us consider the attitudes: the postures, mental positions, and emotions in which we come before God in prayer.

I have collected the angels you see here over several years. At different times in my life, they have represented the ways I have come before God. Yearning for knowledge and understanding as I entered seminary, contemplative as I pondered my relationship with God, victorious and grateful after passing the first round of interviews on the road to ordination. Each of them has a special meaning for me and speaks to an aspect of my relationship with God.

At the same time, this is not a complete representation of the way I or any of us come before God in prayer.  There are some angels missing from this collection; angels that probably wouldn’t sell well in gift shops or Christian book stores. There is no angel collapsed to the ground in utter grief, no angel shaking a fist of anger at God. There is no angel wrestling with God like Jacob, or lamenting over a situation as Jesus wept for Jerusalem. There is no angel trembling in fear in a hospital bed or under the hand of violence. There is no weary angel, seeking only to rest. Yet, these too are ways we find ourselves coming to God in prayer.

Wherever you are today, whatever your posture or position or attitude, I invite you to simply come before God – be in the presence of God.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I'll Pray for You

During Lent, I have asked the members of Oak Grove to pray for people in the communities that surround the church. Each Wednesday, we we will have a brief prayer service. I first thought I would find readings and devotionals to share at those services. Then I began to think about what I wanted to share about prayer. So my plan is to share a brief note on prayer at the service on Wednesday and then post it here the next day. Yes, I'm already a day behind in the first week. Sigh.

Below you will find this week's reflection on praying for others: “I’ll pray for you.” What does it mean when we say that? For some it rolls off the tongue as easy as “How are you?” and sometimes with equal lack of interest or intent. For others the thought of uttering those words is frightening. What are we committing to? How often do we need to pray? What words will we use? Will it even make a difference? What on earth does Pastor Liz want us to do when she asks us to pray for our community?

These are questions that used to bug me (well not that last one). I worried that I might not pray for the right things, or it might not “work” or I might forget, or not have time or…or…or… Then as I began to read some of those books on prayer that filled my shelves, I began to realize that I didn’t have to have all the right words or even know what to pray for. If I prayed for God’s presence and God’s will in the lives of my friends and even in the lives of strangers that was enough. If I didn’t have time to sit down and write a whole list, I could simply pray for folks as I went through my day. I didn’t even have to use words at all. I could imagine holding each person in my heart and before God. Praying for others became much more a way of life than something else on my “to do” list.

 During this season of Lent, I invite you to join me in holding those around us in our hearts and before the Lord. Pray for specific needs, pray for God’s will, or simply pray for God’s presence. Pray with words or pictures or with your whole body. Pray while you meditate. Pray while you walk or exercise. Pray while you drive. Pray while you wash dishes or do laundry or bathe children. Pray in thanksgiving. Pray in hope. Pray in faith.