Monday, February 29, 2016

Prayer 1133- trusting in God

Reflected light in the chapel illuminates the altar.

O Almighty One, our times are in your hand: look with favor upon us, we pray. You are our refuge and our creator: all things came into being at your command. Our worries at times loom before us like mountains, but You lift us up on wings of compassion to survey all our blessings. Set our sights on the horizon, where your love rises and comes to us as dawn breaks from the East. 

We put our trust in You and know You are with us, and we are glad and refreshed as in springtime. Let your lovingkindness shine forth in our hearts, and rest upon those whose needs we lift up to You.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Life Alert- Sermon for 3 Lent C

I am not one of those people who can ignore the doorbell or a ringing telephone. Somewhere along the line, I have been socialized that, even if I am knee-deep in homework, the sound of those chimes will most likely send me scrambling to answer.

I have been working on this, because there are times when I just don’t have time to listen to strange calls coming out of nowhere. Lately, it’s been the representatives of AARP (which my husband signed me up for against my will) calling to get me to buy a Life Alert system. These calls make me nuts. 

For one thing, I’m not really retired. Nor will I probably ever need Life Alert, since I carry my phone around with me constantly. If I’ve fallen onto the floor, the only reason why I will not get up or call for help is either that 
1)I am flat-out unconscious, OR that 
2) I’ve decided that maybe I can steal a nap in peace, since no one would look for me on the floor under the dining room table.

But some calls shouldn’t be ignored.

In today’s reading from Exodus, we hear the story of God’s call to Moses.  And, listen, when God calls, that’s one you should probably take and respond to. Might be important.

The outline of the story is familiar: Moses wanders up on a holy mountain, experiences a “theophany” or appearance of God in the burning bush, and gets told that God has heard the cry of Israel, and has chosen Moses to be the instrument to free them. Moses is scared enough to hide his face, but not scared enough to not start peppering God with questions --and subtle resistance.

Moses, also known as Charlton Heston, in the scene
with the burning bush in the Ten Commandments.
Because I can't help myself.
Specifically, Moses asks two questions after God speaks to him: “Who am I?” and, just as important, “Who are YOU?” These two questions are intimately related. God has already told Moses that he is the God of Moses’s ancestors. Yet, Moses’s first question shows that it is only when Moses understands who he is and why God has chosen him that God’s declaration will make any sense to him.

So who is Moses? An Israelite brought up as an Egyptian, living in exile. Moses is just a shepherd, a person who’s been lost
and found
and lost
and now found again, apparently.
He’s just trying to make a living, too busy surviving to think much about the deep questions of life. Perhaps that’s why he unknowingly wanders onto the holy mountain of God. It’s no wonder, then, that when God first speaks to Moses, the claim of being “the God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” doesn’t really clarify much for Moses. So Moses responds, “Who, exactly, are you again?”

Those two questions—“Who am I?” and “Who are you?” are vital for any communication to take place between any two parties—and they are also the two questions that scripture repeatedly wrestles with. Scripture is about who God is and what God does. But it’s also the story of who WE are, and what we are called to do as God’s people. When Moses asks, “Who am I?” he betrays an uncertainty that many of us share.

It’s a question we may need to ask ourselves, particularly as we try to live lives of discipleship—lives open to the call of God in our own lives. Like Moses, we spend much of our lives engaged in the everyday pursuits of what we call survival—so that sometimes when we DO try to open our hearts to the call of God, we don’t know how to understand or respond.

Like all Biblical stories, this story about Moses is not so much about what God said 5000 years ago, but more about what God says to us today, because the Bible is not only the story of what WAS, but what is, and what can be.  That proof of that is embedded in the answer God gives to Moses when Moses asks God, “Who are you, again?”

God’s answer to Moses’s question is quite interesting. Hebrew scholars suggest a slightly different translation than we just heard—they suggest that God’s name is not just “I am what I am,” but also “I will be what I will be.”

“I will be what I will be.”
No wonder we, including Moses, are still left confused.

God will be? God will be… what, exactly? 

But that’s the point- no matter how much we think we know, God is more. God will be—because God is not finished with us, or creation, yet. We don’t get to decide that we understand once and for all what God will or won’t do, or that he will forgive this person but not that person. God will be.

Throughout scripture, God will be many things: Shepherd. Healer. Even Savior.

God will also be worshiped. Praised, yes. Also betrayed and rebelled against, again and again.

We are given freedom to answer God’s call to each of us, or not. When God calls Moses, Moses isn’t forced to go along with God’s plans. However, God also doesn’t just give up and let Moses go back to those sheep. God ups the ante, so to speak. God increases the pressure to make sure he gets Moses’s attention. God doesn’t give up.

Although some might disagree, the genius of the stories of holy scripture is that they make clear that God did not make us only to order us around, or to chastise and punish us, but to draw us into relationship with God and each other.

God always works harder at this than we do ourselves.

When we get off track, God doesn’t respond with smiting, but with another call—a call for repentance, so that we can be restored to right relationship with God and each other. God’s love for us includes a huge heaping helping of patience, mercy, and grace. God asks us to listen, and God listens back. And God is going to be with Moses and the people of Israel all along the way.

That journey is not always smooth. 

One of my favorite cartoons is one that’s been around for years—you’ve probably seen a version of it. It shows God talking with a person with tear-stained cheeks, looking back on the person’s life as if their journey through life has left behind a series of impressions in the sand.

God looks back at an early part of the person’s life journey and points: “My beloved child—I am always with you. See those two sets of footprints? That’s where you and I walked side-by-side.”

“Yes, God,” says the human, “but what about over there, where there’s only one set of footprints?”

God answers, “My child, there’s only one set of footprints there, because that’s where I carried you.” And the human in the cartoon visibly brightens. Nice, right? But some of you may not have seen the third panel of the cartoon.

In the third panel, God continues, “And that deep pair of grooves over there? THAT’s where I dragged you, my child, kicking and screaming.” 

We are hearing this reading today because Lent is often the part of the year where we are encouraged to examine the “kicking and screaming” part of our lives with God, where we are reminded that sometimes we’ve fallen, and we can’t get up.

If we’re honest, many of us are have also struggled to recognize God’s voice and respond to God’s call.
Sometimes we let God walk beside us.
Sometimes God has to carry us.
Sometimes God drags us back from sin and foolishness.

The story of Moses we hear today is the story of a call, and as Christians we are called too- called to own our heritage of being made in the image of God—of being children of God.

Yes- children of God, all of us, even when we do wrong.

Children of God-- and I say that without my fingers crossed behind my back-- called to embody God’s essential goodness in the world-- to embody the love of God
as has been
and is being
revealed in Christ Jesus.
And when we fall short, we are called to own our sins, to repent, to turn and try again.

In our gospel today, Jesus makes it clear that, when we fail to live up to our call as children of God, we can receive God’s mercy and grace rather than God’s judgment, so that we can respond to the call to repent—to make an adjustment, maybe a big one or maybe just a small one—but often, just a small change is enough. Anyone who has ever tried to sink a long putt in golf will know what I mean. Sometimes avoiding one bent blade of grass that we could have stepped on, or the repair of one divot that we’ve inflicted, can make all the difference. And it’s the same way in our own lives.

In our own wanderings through the wilderness, we need deliverance from outside forces, but also forgiveness for our sins—known and unknown, things done by us and done on our behalf.

In his commentary on the Book of Exodus, Biblical scholar Terence Fretheim notes that exiled Israel faced two issues: of being “first, captive to outside forces and second, suffering under just judgment because of its disloyalty to God.” Fretheim sums up the specific lesson of the Book of Exodus that also applies to our own situation today: “The community of faith stands in need of both deliverance and forgiveness.”  

Once again, the Biblical story illuminates a truth in our own lives, and provides another part of the answer to that question of “Who am I?” We too are people in need of both deliverance and forgiveness—that’s why both of those words are part of the Lord’s Prayer. We are called to ask for both deliverance, but also for forgiveness.

Who among us hasn’t felt as if we too are captive to outside forces beyond our control? 
Who here hasn’t felt or wondered if we aren’t being punished by God for something that we have done? 

But Jesus’s response in our gospel corrects this idea. It’s not the case that any time troubles or even tragedies befall us, it is a punishment from God. Again and again, the Bible witnesses to God NOT giving to people the judgment they so richly deserve—and that’s Jesus’s point, too. Just like the Israelites, just like the people Jesus encountered in his earthly ministry, we can be stung by feelings of powerlessness and dread of punishment that in turn then creates a climate of fear. We’re called to something better- to labor alongside God in the work of redemption.

God is calling us. God is calling us to anchor our lives in Christ. God is calling us to repentance and newness of life.

That’s a call we shouldn’t ignore.

(Preached on February 28, 2016 at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, MO.)

Prayer 1132- preparing for worship

The pulpit at Ward Chapel AME Church, Florissant, MO.

Lord God Almighty, we rise eager to hear your saving Word and give thanks and remembrance at your altar for your goodness and mercy. 

Let us turn to Christ, who sustains us body and soul with every breath, and satisfies our spirits with his lifegiving gospel. 
Let us put aside malice, envy, and fear, and embody the healing compassion of Jesus in all we do. 
Let us rest in the embrace of the Holy One, drawn together to be one people, united in love, justice, and peace. 

O God, you have placed in our care the weak and oppressed: may we show forth your mercy, and honor the dignity of all people. Extend your healing hands over all who call upon You in need, especially to those we remember before You, we pray.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Prayer 1131

At Saint-Chappelle, Paris.

Almighty One, we bow before You in humble prayer, our hearts filled with gratitude for your grace and mercy. 

Merciful One, we have offended against You, and each other with willful pride, through our own fault: forgive us and heal us, we pray. 

Lord, You are our food and drink, our portion and our cup: may we open wide our hearts to receive You. Fill us with wisdom, that we may sing out your praise and testify to your saving deeds in all the world. 

Offering up our cares and concerns before You, O God, we ask that You grant your blessing to those we now name.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Prayer 1130

Blessed Redeemer, we offer up our hearts to you, that they may be firmly fixed upon the way of devotion and praise. May we always remember your goodness and mercy, O God, as we meditate upon You at our rising and resting. May we do our work to the glory of your Name, O Holy One, that we witness to your wisdom and healing grace. Help us to live by the light of faith, trusting and rejoicing in your abiding love and care. Guard us and guide us, O Jesus, through the uncertainties of this life, through snares that seek to draw us astray. Be with the suffering and the sorrowful, Lord Christ; send your angels to protect us and inspire us to peace. Lord, we ask your blessing upon us this day; give ear to the prayers of your people, and comfort and bless those we now name.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Prayer 1129

Reflected light.

Holy One, we give you thanks and praise for your protective arms around us as we journey through night and day. 

Renew a right spirit within us, that we may walk the paths of wisdom, compassion, and peace with courage. 
Forgive us the times we have surrendered to folly or acted unjustly and injured the fabric of community. 
Unite us to Christ in love and goodwill, serving the kingdom of God with joyful obedience grounded in the gospel of love. 

Lord Jesus, our times are in your hand: bind up our hearts, and guide us in each step we take. Press the kiss of your blessing over all who call upon you, O Savior, and especially over those we now name.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Prayer 1128

Trust in love. It really is the answer.

Most Merciful God, who sustains us and broods over us, holding us in a mother's embrace, we gather before you in love. Accept our heartfelt repentance for our manifold weaknesses, and renew and restore our hearts in your grace, we humbly pray. Teach us gentleness, humility, and kindness, that we may live in unity and peace with all creation. Envelop in your care all those who are in danger, sorrow, or troubled in any way, Lord Christ, for you are our refuge. Holy One, we commend to your abiding love all who seek You, and rest your peace upon those we now name.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Prayer, day 1127

O God, we are breathing, and with each breath we anchor ourselves in your love, mercy, and generosity. 

As the birds sing the dawn into being, we too lift our voices in praise of the beauty of God's love for us. 
Like those birds, may we anticipate the blessings that lie before us in this day, sure in faith that blessing indeed will come. 

May we not wait for good in the world, but be agents of good in the world in the name of our Savior. 
May we not wait for God to reveal himself to us each day, but be agents of God to reveal who God is for us and for the world. 

O merciful God, look with favor upon us today, and place your hand upon us, and those for whom we pray.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Prayer 1126- resting in God

Window at St. Martin's Church, Ellisville.

Let us lift our prayers to God, who is making heaven and earth. For You, O Savior, uphold us in our troubles and uplift us in our joys, and we give You all our devotion and praise. 

Let us sit in quiet companionship with our Redeemer, opening our hearts to meditate upon God's word. For You, Lord Christ, are our Teacher and Companion, who knocks at the door of our hearts. 

Let us turn our faces to the light of the Spirit, that God's love alone may guide us in word and deed. For You, O Holy One, are our bread and our cup, our strength and our solace, our All in All. 

Forgive us our sins, in thought, word, and deed, O Lord; renew a right spirit within us and reform our relationships with You and each other. Accept our offered intentions for those we lift up in prayer, O God, and grant your blessin on those we now name.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Prayer 1125- inspired by Luke 13:31-35

Detail from a window at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Ferguson, Missouri.

Lord God, as we gather around your altars we give you thanks and praise for your goodness and mercy that never sleeps. Come Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts and minds of all, awakening us to the beauty and holiness that shines in every heart. 

Bless and keep our loved ones under the wing of your protection, Blessed Jesus, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. Help us to remember You and your holy example, Lord Christ, walking with us in each step we take today. Lead us in paths of wisdom, justice, fortitude, and self-restaint, that we be forces for healing and love. At night, let us find our rest and our home within You, O God, rejoicing in your protection and guidance even as we sleep. 

Into your hands, O God, we commit ourselves and all our lives, and ask your blessing upon those we now name.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Prayer 1124- for integrity with all creation

The altar in the chapel area of St. Martin's Church, Ellisville, MO, set up for the Saturday 5:05 service.

Blessed Savior, receive our humble prayers, which we bring before You in thanks for your mercy. 

Accept our fervent repentance for all our sins, and renew our hearts in service to your gospel. Let us never wound another and justify it in your Name, Precious Lord, but remember that all creation reflects the image of God. Help us to live our lives so that we shine forth your grace and mercy into the world, O Creator, carrying your banner with integrity. 

Make us one with each other, one with the Earth, and one with You, Lord Christ; fill us with the Spirit that moved over creation at the dawn of time. May the light of discernment shine into the corners of our hearts and souls; may we remember that we see only in part, O God our Guide. 

Holy One, may we use each gift of breath to praise You and bless You, and to remember those who need thy care.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Prayer, day 1123

A Tibetan Buddhist monk creates a mandala as a prayer on the floor of the St. Louis Art Museum in 2005.
Once it was completed, it was destroyed.

We come before You in humble prayer, O God, and ask that You rule in our hearts. 

Drive far from us all fear and anger: fill us with your light, that we may walk your path of righteousness and love. May our footing be sure, and our feet never slip: may we open our eyes and be mindful of each step we take in your name. 

Strengthen our hearts that we may be loving to those who hate us, and generous to those who are angry. We thank you for the blessing of community and rejoice in the gift of all who love us. 

In your compassion, draw all who mourn within the enclosure of your love. Heal our infirmities and soothe our spirits, O Loving One, and keep us in safety today, as we pray for the needs of our loved ones.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Prayer, day 1122

From the Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris.

Most Holy God, envelop us in your love and grace today. May we bend the knee of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies, to live in joyful obedience to your will. Make us bold to step out upon the path of love that you have set before us, for the way of hope is the way of blessing. 

Give us the courage to dare to work for your kingdom, proclaim our love for You to all. 
Give us the hope to reimagine our lives with You and each other, holding fast to your testaments. 
Give us faith to see that your ways are sure and beautiful, and work to open the closed fists of our hearts. 
Give us strength to reach out to those in need, loving our brothers and sisters as ourselves. 
Give your light to those who are lost, O Holy One, and give your peace to those who are troubled. 

For You are the God of Compassion, and we want to be your people, your beacons, and your witnesses. We ask that You gather within your embrace those we now name.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Prayer 1121- for repentance, healing, and transformation

Merciful God, look with compassion upon all your people, and forgive us our sins, especially the casual or convenient evil done by us and done in our name. May we turn our faces toward the light of your countenance, and give you thanks and praise for all our blessings. 

Lord Jesus, make us brave enough to seek healing for our wounds, trusting in You and the promise that love heals when we let it in. Transformed by the blessing of your healing love, Lord Christ, let us endeavor to treat each other with kindness, compassion, and honor. Fill our mouths with your testimony and truth, and transform our words into deeds of witness in all we do. 

We pray to You, O Holy One, for our brothers and sisters in need, anxiety, or trouble, especially those we now name.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Prayer 1120- Remake our hearts

In peace, we pray to You, O Creator and Redeemer. With every indrawn breath, may we breathe in the mercy of God, and with every heartbeat, may we give thanks to You, the Ground of Our Being. 

We thank You for the gift of community, and for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as we journey through this day. 

Unravel our stubborn hearts and remake them to love fully and courageously, knit together in unity by your grace, O Savior. Make our spirits a dwelling place for peace and truth, O God, that the gospel of love may reign within us. 

We ask for the courage to stand for justice and the strength to practice mercy and compassion, Lord Christ, as you yourself taught us. 

God of Mercy, your love is a balm for every care: envelop in your mercy those who call upon You.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Prayer 1119- for compassion and empathy

Almighty God, Source of All Goodness, we gather before You in prayer, grateful for your love which never sleeps. 

Strengthen us in compassion, and in the courage to love as your Son taught us to do. Guide us in the way of justice and mercy, that we may protect the vulnerable and serve the common good. Let us be knit together in faithfulness to the cause of peace, loving each other as we love ourselves. 

Holy One, You are the Source of our strength, our wisdom, and our very being rests in You. May we place our hearts at your feet, Lord Christ, that you may purify them to do your healing work in the world. 

Send forth your Spirit to comfort those in distress, in weariness, in sorrow, O Savior. Place the mantle of your blessing over those whose prayers are breathed within sighs too deep for words, O Merciful One. Remember all those who call upon You, O God, especially those whose needs we now enshrine within our hearts.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

No Shortcuts- Speaking to the Soul, February 14, 2016

Temptation is testing. There are some famous points in the Bible that deal with temptation, the most obvious being Adam and Eve in the Garden. Now what’s interesting is that in Luke, right before this reading we have this week, Luke lists the genealogy of Jesus, and it ends with Adam. How did Adam deal with temptation? He failed, decided he knew better than God, and was expelled from paradise. Jesus, who is sometimes termed “the new Adam,” is not going to fail, and through this victory, humanity is going to be redeemed.

The obvious parallel to Jesus being tested for forty days is the Israelites being tested and punished for 40 years in the wilderness. So wilderness would be the next key symbol. And this is consistent with the comparison between Jesus and Moses that is a feature of Luke. Moses’ leadership was tested in the wilderness; Jesus’s fitness to be the true Messiah will be tested.  Here the wilderness is where you can not only meet God but meet Satan. John lived and preached in the wilderness. So the wilderness is a place of trial—and temptation.

All 3 synoptic gospels record this temptation—it is found in Matthew 4:1-1, Mark 1:12-13, and even Hebrews 4:15. In the gospel stories, the temptations all occur at the start of Jesus’ public ministry, which makes sense. You wouldn’t sell a prototype aircraft unless there had been testing to make sure it is safe and performs according to expectation. What makes Luke’s account different? Luke begins and ends the action of his gospel in the Temple, and that is also where Jesus’ temptations ends up, after Satan whisks him away to the top of the Temple. There are no angels ministering to Jesus here. Also Luke does not have Jesus taken up to a mountain to see all the kingdoms—in Luke, mountains are where one meets God, not Satan.

So why were each of these things so tempting? A temptation only works if it is something we would actually be able to do. Jesus COULD turn stones into bread. Jesus COULD have seized power as an earthly ruler—and in fact, that’s what many of his disciples, including possibly Judas, expected him to do—and they were gravely disappointed when he refused the role of political revolutionary against Rome. Jesus COULD have done tricks with the expectation that God would save him from harm.

Those three temptations the devil is going to present Jesus with are three alternative histories or paths, shortcuts which would appear to be capable of being used to achieve great good. Feeding the hungry by making loaves of bread pop up out of the stones scattered about? Having God’s son exercise political power and drive out all oppressors with their false gods? Having God prove himself? Wouldn’t all of these things be amazing?

But these are not what God has planned. God’s kingdom on earth will be established through different means—not according to what WE would want, but by establishing that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus turns aside each temptation with scripture, including the temptation drawn from today’s psalm, and even the devil quotes scripture in a great game of Biblical one-upmanship. Jesus’s source is Deuteronomy. In response to the temptation of bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3—“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
            In response to the temptation of political power in exchange for worshipping the devil, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13—“The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. 
            In response to the temptation to test God, the devil quotes today’s Psalm, 91:11-12, the very words that ancient Jews inscribed on magic amulets used by people in danger, particularly pregnant women—“For he will command his angels concerning you
 to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 6:16—“Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”  This refers to the incident in Exodus 17 where the people murmured against God, and God had Moses make water flow by striking a rock with his staff.

The devil gives up temporarily here, but not for good. As we enter Lent, we have to remember that temptation is all around, and seduces by offering the easy way, the shortcut. It’s not the big things that usually tempt us—it’s the little ones. We are tempted most when we rationalize taking a shortcut as a way to make things easier for ourselves, even if others would be hurt. All it costs us is a little piece of our integrity. All it costs us is deciding that we know better what is good for us in the short-term versus sacrificing now for the sake of the long-term. Lent calls us to trust God to be God—and to know that God is with us through trials and temptations. Deliver us from shortcuts; save us from the time of testing.

(This was first published on Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul for February 14, 2016.)