Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Prayer, day 1831: In memory of those we have lost



Merciful God,
let us still our hearts and breathe deep your love.
Holy One, give us healing hands
and compassionate hearts for all today.
Let us join together to praise your Name
and proclaim your good news throughout the world.

Almighty One, we give You thanks
for the love of family and friends,
especially those who are gone from us.
We thank You for being with us
in sunshine and in shadow,
for Your Love never fails.

Give us the wisdom to follow your paths
as we seek to love each other as your children.
Give rest to all who are heavy laden with regret or sorrow,
and reconciliation for all who seek forgiveness.

Loving God, we ask that the hand of your blessing rest especially
upon those we now name.

Amen.
740

Photo: My Dad, his twin brother Cordell, their cousin Arnold, and many other of their cousins in elementary school in (probably) Roosevelt, Oklahoma, in the early 1930s. My Dad died twelve years ago today.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Prayer, day 1830


Holy One, we thank You for watching over us through the night
and bringing us to the undiscovered land of this day.

In each step we take,
may we be mindful of our God beside us.
May we hear You call our names,
lovingly and tenderly,
whenever we feel lost or adrift.

Make us bold to call upon You, O God,
and accept the joys of discipleship.
Let us treat this Earth with love and reverence,
that we may honor your creation
as gift and blessing.
May we heed your call to justice for all people,
and tear down the walls of fear that divide us.

We thank you for preserving us
through the trials we encounter,
for You are with us always.
Send your Holy Spirit
as a source of respite, healing, and comfort,
especially to these for whom we now pray.

Amen.
739, 1085, 1453


Photo: Cross with insets about various economic activity, Christ Church Cathedral chapel, reminding us to dedicate our work to the benefit of all.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Prayer 1829


Creator God,
we marvel at your wonders all around us.
This day is your gift to us:
guide our path through each hour,
that we may testify to your mercy and lovingkindness
and bear your love into the world.

Come, Precious Lord, Reconciler and Friend,
place your hand of wisdom upon us.
Let the works of our hands
be always works of our hearts,
that we may praise and glorify You with all we are.

Come, Fairest Jesus,
place your hand of compassion among us,
that we may forgive as we have been forgiven,
that we may honor your image in each other
and truly walk in unity, kinship, and love.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and place your hand of healing upon us,
especially all whose cares we place before you.

Amen.


Photo: The labyrinth at the Church of St. Martin, Davis, CA.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Prayer 1828: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (for annual meetings)



Gracious God,
we come before your altar to rejoice and learn your ways:
look with favor upon us,
and guide us deeper into your wisdom and truth.

May we see your wisdom and wonders
at play in the world around us, Blessed Savior,
knit into the fabric of creation,
our awe and thankfulness sustaining every breath.
May we bend the knee of our hearts before you, O Creator,
and proclaim your love and mercy throughout the world,
united in goodwill and charity,
offering you our all.

Lead us by the power of the Holy Spirit
to be unified in faith, open-heartedness, and good will.
We place ourselves at your command, Lord Jesus,
to do the work of your kingdom with joy.

Gathered together in faith, O Merciful One,
we ask your blessing upon all who seek You:
shine the light of your countenance, we pray,
upon these whom we lift before You.

Amen.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Prayer 1827


Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
we wait before You in reverence,
rejoicing in the power of your Spirit
as You have watched over our rest.

Shepherd of Our Souls,
You are the source of all blessing,
and we lift our grateful hearts to You,
singing out your lovingkindness.

You come to us across turbulent waters,
Beloved Savior,
and still the storms within and without
by the mercy of your healing presence.

We thank you, Lord Christ,
for the manifold gifts in our lives,
for the blessing of beloved friends,
for companions of our hearts,
who help us on our way
and reflect your love for us.

Accept our prayers and intercessions
for all the cares and concerns we carry in our hearts,
and send forth your angels to be the shield and comfort
of all who put their trust and hope in You.

Amen.

Inspired in part by the daily office reading of John 6:16-27
Photo: Jesus walks on the water, unknown artist.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Prayer 1826: Companions in Wonder and Grace



Most Merciful One,
we rise to bless and thank You,
our praises and prayers rising like morning light.
We put our trust in You, O God:
clothe us in mercy and grace in all we do.

Blessed Jesus,
You restore our souls
and open our hearts to praise.
O Creator, You have stretched the day before us
as a beautiful canvas to be filled
like sails that carry us forward,
or with pigment to reflect your glorious creation.
Guide us on our journey today,
and open our eyes to see your wonders.

Let us proclaim your good news to the world
in every step we take, O Holy One:
may we remember all You have done for us
and practice grace and forgiveness with each other
and with ourselves
as we seek to serve You.

Make us loving companions,
steadfast in love,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness,
walking in the Way of Love Incarnate, 
as we pray.

Amen.


Photo: My friend and mentor Pamela and I share a laugh over dinner over my rotten selfie skills during my visit earlier this month.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Prayer, day 1825


Lord God, we praise You,
lifting our voices to the heavens,
to the blue sky that smiles down upon us,
blessed by your creation. 

We thank You for watching over us during our rest,
and for walking beside us through this day.
We thank You for the love of those in our lives,
and for the opportunity to praise You.
Help us to shine forth with your love,
that our joy in being your children
fills us with compassion and peace. 

Holy One, watch over those today who are ill;
guide the hands and the hearts
of doctors, nurses, and caregivers.
Send your angels to watch over those
who are recovering from pain or suffering.

Amen.
737

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Prayer 1824: On the Eleventh School Shooting This Year


Our help is in the Lord God
who is making the heavens and the earth,
and calling us to turn from darkness
with steadfast love and compassion
for our waywardness.

Holy One, the ground shifts beneath our feet,
and we wonder,
will we fall or will we fly?
Yet your love bears us up,
and leads us in hope and light.

Give us the courage, O Savior,
to stand for right,
for the protection of the vulnerable,
and against the tyranny of fear
that is used to justify violence.

Give us the wisdom, O Spirit of Truth,
to hear Jesus's teaching
that fear begets fear
and the enemy of love is selfishness,
but the way of God
is generosity,
compassion,
and integrity.

O Merciful One,
pour the blessing of your peace
upon our turbulent hearts
that we may be reconciled and enlightened
to live as your children in word and deed.

Extend the shelter and balm of your grace, O Lord,
and relieve us in our trials and cares,
plant your peace in our hearts,
and comfort and heal those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Prayer, day 1823: On the fifth anniversary of the Mutual Prayer Circle


Almighty Creator,
You are our Life and our All:
Blessed be your Name in all creation! 

Be our Mother and our Father, O Love Divine,
for you bear us in the world,
and we find rest, comfort, and strength in your embrace. 
Be our home and our refuge, O Holy One,
for all like sheep we are prone to wander astray. 
Be our light and our guide, O Blessed Savior,
as we seek a path that honors You,
and bears your hope into the corners of darkness. 
Be with all who have worried
or wept in the night, O Protector,
that they may know that You are ever near. 

Gathered in your Name, Most Merciful One,
we bend the knee of our hearts before You,
offering our all to You.
Accept our prayers
of thanksgiving and intercession, Lord Christ,
as we pray especially for these beloveds.

Amen.
1096

Monday, January 22, 2018

Prayer, day 1822: Abundant Grace


We gather ourselves in silence before the great mystery of God's steadfast compassion for creation. 

Holy, Loving God, may we throw open the gates of our hearts and accept your love today. Help us to remember that You love us in spite of all, and be inspired to be worthy of that gift. May we know that our lives overflow with abundant grace, Lord Christ, and rejoice in the weight of your hand upon us. 

May we rejoice in surrendering our will to You, O Holy One, and free ourselves from the weight of fear and anxiety. May we pass through the gates of your pastures with rejoicing, united in thanksgiving and companionship in the community of saints. May we join the cloud of witnesses who sing out unending praise to our Savior and Redeemer. May we draw strength and healing from each other and from the Holy Spirit, that we be animated by joy, wisdom, and compassion. 

Merciful One, spread the canopy of your healing grace, blessing, and peace over those we now name.


Amen.
752

Sunday, January 21, 2018

From the Belly of the Whale to the Heart of Mercy: Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany B


You know, when most people hear the readings for today, they go straight for the “fishers for people” image. They skip right over the fact that Simon and Philip aren’t the FIRST fishers for people we heard about today. And that’s because our snippet from the Hebrew scripture provides a tiny fragment of a story that too often gets abbreviated to an image—the image of a prophet getting swallowed by what is usually depicted as a purple whale, and we don’t even hear THAT today.

Nonetheless, we don’t get the whole story, and perhaps we are left puzzled about what this story has to do with our Epiphany message of Jesus as the light of God for all people and nations. I think that’s a shame. So I thought I might tell you a little story right now-- the story of the first fisher for men: the story of the fish who caught a man and swallowed him whole at God’s command (1). And why that story matters.

So….

Once upon a time, long ago, the word of Yahweh came and whispered in a sleeping prophet’s ear. “Get up, Jonah, and go north to your enemy, to their great city Nineveh, and call them to repent, for I see their evil ways.”

The words shook the prophet awake—and he fled from God’s word as far as he could in the other direction. Go to the enemy’s great city? Never! So he went down to the port city of Joppa and booked passage on a boat heading toward the eastern limits of the sea.

Jonah went below-decks, lay down, and went to sleep as the ship set sail for deep waters, because sailing was not a favorite thing for Hebrews to do, since the sea symbolized the home of chaos, tempests, undercurrents, and death. Jonah figured he could just wake up when it was all over, and they were on dry land again.

But God was not about to be thwarted. So no sooner had the ship reached deep water but a mighty storm brewed up at God’s command. And the ship started to lie heavy in the waves that swamped over the side. In desperation, the sailors and even the merchants who were passengers started throwing everything overboard that they could, even cargo they hoped to sell; each praying to any small-g god they could think of that might help: storm gods, sea gods, wind gods. Nothing worked. 

The captain started counting heads and noticed that that wild-haired holy man was missing. As the ship bucked and rolled under his feet, he went into the hold and found Jonah back in a corner, sleeping like a rock despite the turmoil. The captain shook Jonah awake. “Are you drunk? Get up! Pray to your god, whoever he is, that we can be saved, because this ship is coming apart!” The captain’s words made Jonah uneasy, even somewhat guilty. Jonah had a feeling he knew what was going on.

Once Jonah got on deck, he saw that the others were terrified. Nothing was working, and when nothing works, people often fall back on superstition and magic to try to help. So they decided to draw straws to see who was responsible for this terrible storm. Even before Jonah took his turn he knew what he would see when he chose.

Sure enough, when everyone opened their fists, Jonah’s fingers clutched the short straw, and his ship-mates turned on him with faces contorted by fear: “What did you DO to bring this on all of us?” And he told them he had run away rather than obey God’s command. His words turned their hearts to stone. “What can we do?” the other men cried. And the wind howled louder, and the boat sank even lower, and one of the masts broke off with a loud crack and swept over their heads.

Jonah next words astonished them. “Toss me over the side,” Jonah said, resignedly. Now, some considered for a moment—they knew gods who demanded human sacrifice. But most of them were afraid to curse themselves further by putting his blood on their hands. So they hesitated—and a huge wave nearly knocked the boat over. As soon as it righted itself, they moved with one accord, and with a prayer for forgiveness to the prophet’s God, they plopped Jonah over the side.


The sea instantly stilled, and the remaining sail filled with wind, and the boat darted away. The last sight the sailors saw was an enormous fish, big as a mountain, its mouth swallowing Jonah whole, and then the green flash of a tail as it swooped under the waves. The sailors shivered, touched their amulets, and immediately added Yahweh’s name to their prayer lists, promising a sacrifice at the nearest available altar once they were safely ashore.

For three nights and three days, Jonah sat stewing—yes stewing-- in the bouillabaisse of half-digested seafood platters and slime and gastric juices in the belly of that fish. It was dark, cold, smelly, and painful. Jonah was stubborn—three days and nights worth of stubborn—but, eventually, he gave up. 


He prayed a lament psalm to God, admitting his guilt, as the cold and stench of that fish’s innards pickled his very soul. He threw himself on the mercy of Yahweh, and swore a grudging vow of obedience. Immediately the fish tacked sharply and rose to the surface of the waves, spitting him out onto dry land at God’s silent command.

The coating of slime and fish barf Jonah wore as he rested on the sand did nothing to dim the sound of the word of God speaking to him again. “Get up, and go north to your enemy, to their great city Nineveh, and call them to repent, for I see their evil ways.” And without a word, Jonah pushed himself up and stalked off, stiff-legged, to Nineveh. A deal’s a deal.

He arrived days later, covered in crusty dried slime—he wouldn’t give Yahweh or Nineveh the satisfaction of a fresh-smelling prophet. And what a contrast he made: the city itself was dazzling, one of the biggest in the world, so big it took three days to walk across, they say. It was the center of the Assyrian Empire, which owned --and oppressed-- just about everything at one time or another. Including Israel. So Jonah decided he would do as he was told—but he wasn’t going to get spiffed up for the occasion.

So into the city he marched. Looking and smelling like a human garbage dump, he thundered out his eight-word sermon in the streets as the people skidded to a stop at the sight (and probably smell) of him and gaped: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overturned!” he thundered, and man, he couldn’t WAIT to see that happen.

There was a pause. Then bedlam broke out. People were wailing. Children were calling for their mamas. Dogs stopped chasing cats and dropped to a halt before them, and the cats didn’t even slash them. They heard the warning, and they BELIEVED. They tore their clothes. They declared a fast. They prayed to God—yes, even to this God of this pipsqueak people they had crushed to dust long ago.

Never has a prophet had such success with such a piece of prophecy and performance art. The king himself heard about it—second-hand, mind you—but even that second-hand prophecy scared the bejabbers out of him, and that king instantly sat down in the ash heap in rags and poured ashes over his head. He even ordered the animals of the kingdom to fast and wear sackcloth as a sign of mourning—and they DID. Chickens... in sackcloth—pigs... fasting. And God was appeased by their repentance, and had mercy, and turned aside from destroying them.

And, in the center of the pandemonium, there stood Jonah. Here he was, the most successful prophet ever—he’d just set a world record for prophecy that would have made Moses and Elijah WEEP tears of jealousy.

Was Jonah happy? NO HE WAS NOT. He looked around, felt the cool breeze of forgiveness and reconciliation blow through those pagan, enemy streets, and-- he SEETHED. He KNEW IT. He knew God, being God, would have mercy on these jerks—and he wanted to see some smiting instead. He wanted to see the place wiped from the map! Whose God was God, anyway? The Ninevites had made his people’s lives miserable for generations. And now they got off, Scot-free?

“Oh my GOD, God!!!” he muttered furiously. “Of COURSE you are a God of mercy, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, and ready to forgive! But this is too much! I’d rather be dead than live to see this! Kill me now!”

And in a silky, what to Jonah was a frustratingly calm voice, Yahweh replied, “You good and angry, Jonah?” And Jonah actually felt something snap in his head.

Grinding his teeth in impotent rage, Jonah stalked off again on his stiff legs, until he could get outside the city walls. He built himself a shelter, and sat there glaring at the city to see what would happen. Maybe they’d screw up and return to evil—seemed likely, with their track record.

But nope. That repentance seemed real. So just like when he was in that fish’s belly, Jonah stewed, while the sun beat down and he squinted toward Nineveh’s shiny, palatial walls with revulsion. And God caused a beautiful thick vine to grow up and it lent its shade to shield his head, but Jonah was having none of it. "Nice try, God,” he thought, but part of him had to admit that that shade sure was nice.

The next day, God sent a worm, who ate that plant straight across the stem like a buzzsaw. And just as Jonah was coming to grips with that, a red-hot wind blew out of the desert, hotter than an oven, and Jonah keeled right over in a faint. When he came to, he grabbed the sticky hair on both sides of his head and yanked handfuls out in fury like a deranged Elmer Fudd. “And now the vine? REALLY?? I’d rather be dead than live to see this! Kill me now!” Jonah shrieked at God.

And again came what sounded to Jonah like a silky, frustratingly calm voice from God, leaning in over his shoulder like the butler on Downton Abbey, murmuring, “You good and angry about that vine, Jonah?”

“You bet I am, God!” Jonah snarled. “Angry enough to die.”

“Why are you angry, Jonah?” God asked, as smooth as butter, reasonably, and everyone knows the most infuriating thing when you’re furious is to be met with someone reasonable. “You didn’t do anything for that vine—I put it there out of mercy. It was here for a day and gone in a day. You should be glad it was there at all. But even when it’s gone, what’s it to you?”

“You promised Nineveh would be overturned, God!” shouted Jonah. “And now they’re better than ever!”

Jonah thought he heard a small chuckle. “Why, they ARE overturned, Jonah,” replied God. “They overturned their hearts, and they overturned their evil ways. You did it!”

Jonah stared up at the sky with his mouth hanging open. “Really, God? That’s your loophole?? A play on words? A PUN??? JEEZ! This is why I tried to run away in the first place!” And Jonah was speechless, and a little ashamed, because he was lying. He certainly didn’t know God’s plan at the start, and now he felt like a total fool, and traitor, too, helping the enemies of his own people like that.  

God’s voice got softer. “You yourself said it, my son. I AM God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy—unlike you, that’s for sure. And that’s lucky for you, too, dear Jonah. And I will have mercy on whom I choose—you don’t get to decide, especially since right now YOU seem to be lacking in mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness.”

The voice grew more tender. “I am God. You are my messenger, and you know I love you and have mercy on you. And right now I also have mercy on Nineveh, and its 120,000 people and thousands of animals.”

And there the story ends.

_________________________

Now, there are a quite a few interesting lessons here.

The story of Jonah reminds us that God cannot be used for our own purposes. We were created in God’s image, not the other way around, as writer and essayist Anne Lamott says her priest friend Tom reminded her: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people that you do.”(2)

I love the story of Jonah—because I have been Jonah SO many times, wanting to see those I’ve decided are my enemies not just fail but get crushed. I stubbornly holding on to grudges as if they were life-preservers. My mother says I was born stubborn.

Jonah helpfully models for us exactly what God is NOT: vindictive, retributive, discriminatory. Sometimes our own heard-heartedness and stubbornness put us in the belly of the whale. Even when Jonah grudgingly did as he was asked, he still tried to impose a theology of vengeance and retribution upon God. Even though he could quote scripture identifying God’s essential characteristics as being gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and eager to forgive, in practice he thought that only applied to his own people.

Yet, if God can help us to imagine marvelous works of forgiveness and reconciliation through a messenger as reluctant and resentful as Jonah, imagine what God can do among those whose hearts have been transformed by the abundant grace of Christ’s gospel of love and healing. As we hear throughout the season after Epiphany, God is not just a God for a few, but God’s love and mercy are available for all.

Part of the beauty and power of scripture is the fact that the people whose stories we hear are folks just like you and me. Jonah is not a bad person—he is a human person, with human reactions. Most of us don’t want to see our enemies prosper, and many of us like to see those who do evil get punished.

The power of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is that we see pictures of real people—warts and all. That helps us know that this conversion of life that God calls us toward is possible, even for rigid, judgmental people like Jonah, or impulsive, enthusiastic people, like Peter, and or self-righteous, long-winded people like Paul, to name just three examples.


Our gospel reminds us that Jesus’s inner circle was filled with common folk—fishermen—who had no special training, who were just mending their nets by the sea when they heard the voice of God calling them. God doesn’t call the perfect- God helps perfect the called, which is certainly hopeful for you and me. It’s comforting to me, at least, in all my flaws.

God is the God of second chances—even when that may frustrate our own plans for vengeance and retribution. Instead, Jesus becomes incarnate to show us that we are capable of following the path of God in our everyday lives: through Christ, God invites us to seek reconciliation and healing even against those we see as enemies.

But the lessons we learn from Jonah carry over into the message we hear from Jesus, who also preaches mercy, grace, and healing in a world devoid of it far too often—much like our own world today. A world in which far too many people suffer want, neglect, and poverty as we will be reminded in our prayers of the people in a few moments. We will be called to consider working to heal the economic divisions that cause very real suffering in our country and around the world.

The story of scripture is God’s capacity and tenacity in loving us in all our follies and flaws while being able to see beyond those things, and call us to something better. Here’s where we still hear God’s call to each of us to overturn our own hearts, our own complacency. The life of faith is a life lived in community, and inevitably hurts will arise, deliberately or carelessly. But our sins and carelessness toward each other are not the end of the story. Mercy and forgiveness and grace ARE the last words.

As our gospel makes clear, God also calls us to follow God’s Son, Jesus, and to emulate that grace, love, mercy, and reconciliation in our own relationships with each other, especially when it’s hardest—when we are in times of crisis, and when wounds are fresh. And that’s true not just when we are angry, but when we are anxious and unsure or even just a little tired. Made in the image of God, we too are called to be both individuals and communities of mercy, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, and ready to forgive.

Because that is what God’s justice looks like—like mercy and healing.(3) And thanks be to God.

Amen.

Readings:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (Jonah chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4)
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Preached at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO, on January 21, 2018, at 8 and 10:15 am.

Photos:
(1) Jonah and the Fish, anonymous, Asia; (2) Illumination from the Kennicott Bible; (3) Jonah and the Fish (Islamic); (4) Jack Baumgartner, Jonah and the Gourd Vine (1999); (5) Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-1311), The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (National Gallery of Art)

Notes:
(1) In my retelling of the Book of Jonah, I am indebted to Robert Alter's new translation in Strong as Death is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, Daniel: A Translation with Commentary, pp. 135-154
(2) Anne Lamott quote from Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994), p. 22.
(3) The Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby, "Healing Justice," at https://jakeowensby.com/2018/01/19/healing-justice/

Prayer 1821: The Third Sunday after Epiphany


Most Merciful God,
we rejoice to gather around your altar
and worship You in spirit and truth today.
We hear You, O God,
tenderly calling our names,
and our feet are now standing in your courts:
we hear, and rejoice in your light.
Teach us to let go of the resentments and fears
that weigh us down, O Holy One.

Lead us to the love of each other, Lord Jesus,
and to dedicating ourselves
toward the relief of poverty, suffering, and hopelessness,
to the securing of abundance for all.
Teach us to mend the cords of love
that unite us as one, O Savior,
and live lives of mercy and healing.

Bless us and consecrate us, Lord,
to be vessels of your abundant grace and mercy,
that we may live into your call to us;
pour out your peace over us,
and your comfort to those we now name.

Amen.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Prayer 1820: for renewal and wisdom


Most Merciful God,
as the shades of night are lifting
we offer You our prayers and praises,
and ask your guidance today.
With a song of thanksgiving
may our spirits take flight
to be gathered within your light, O God.

We confess, O Lord:
we have allowed our hard-heartedness
to bind us in cords of sin and waywardness,
and lead us away from your pathways.
We have allowed leanness to enter our souls
when You, O Shepherd,
teach us to walk in abundant grace and hope.

But you, O Holy One, are steadfast and true:
pour out your mercy on our hearts
like rain on dry and thirsty ground.

Gather us into the circle of your truth, Lord Christ:
let us sit at your feet and be taught by your example,
remembering your commandment
to love one another as you, our Savior, love us.
Let us testify to your generous love and healing
by setting our hands and hearts
to the holy work 
of reconciliation,
justice,
and peace.

Spirit of God, encompass us,
renew us,
enlighten us,
uplift us, we pray.
Extend your hand of blessing over us,
and grant your peace to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Prayer 1819: Strength for the journey


Lord, you have watched over us
and your hand has been warm upon us
through the hours of our rest:
we rise with grateful hearts,
centering ourselves within your love.

May we worship You, O God,
in spirit and in truth,
and carry within ourselves the light of Christ,
to be beacons of hope for all.
Deliver us, O Holy One,
from our sins and presumption,
and open our minds to your truth
that we may walk in your ways today.
Help us walk with integrity and faithfulness,
grounded in your grace and mercy,
witnessing to your reconciling love.

Blessed Jesus,
may we remember that we are always centered in your mercy
and abide in gentleness and humility with each other
as companions on our journey.

Keep us, O Savior, on the path of faith,
that we may serve You in all we do.
Give your angels charge over all who wait,
soothe the anxious, O Merciful One,
and be a shield to all who suffer
from any grief, distress, or want.
Shine the light of your countenance upon us, Almighty God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
and enevelop those for whom we pray
in your abundant peace and grace.

Amen.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Prayer, day 1818: love and grace entwined


Almighty God, the day is upon us,
and we rise to give You thanks
for your blessing and care
in each moment of our lives. 

Holy One, you perfectly love us,
even in our imperfections and our weaknesses:
forgive and restore us, we pray.
May we seek a renewal of our spirits,
and let go of old anger and hurts,
that we not inflict them ourselves upon others.
May we remember
the overwhelming grace and mercy of God
freely given to us
in forgiving those who have wronged us. 

May we welcome the living Savior into our hearts,
that we may be filled
with wisdom, gentleness, and love.
May we walk mindfully along the pilgrim path,
compassionately serving each other and our God.
Lord Jesus,
help us to serve you in peace and goodwill;
bless and comfort all whose hope is in you.

Amen.
1094

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

God calling: Speaking to the Soul, January 17, 2018


One of my favorite “comfort movies” is a sweet little gem from 2000 starring Edward Norton (who also directed), Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman called Keeping the Faith.

The basic outline of the film is the friendship between Brian, a Roman Catholic priest, and Jake, an Orthodox rabbi, whose lives are turned upside down when their childhood friend Anna, a hotshot corporate executive on the rise, comes back into their lives after moving away when they were all in middle school. Immediately, a love triangle ensues, yet through all the emotional and romantic turbulence, we also get a surprising meditation on the persistence of call, and of the importance both of friendship and also of religious faith among a generation whose religious commitments are often (wrongly, in my opinion) denigrated as being shallow-to-nonexistent. For both Brian and Jake, their love for Anna causes them to question their call. Obviously, for Brian, his (unrequited) feelings for Anna are out of the question, and cause him to question his calling as a priest. Yet Jake, also, faces problems in his Orthodox congregation (and in his family) at his potential relationship with a non-Jewish woman. Each of them ends up re-examining their sense of call and vocation, Anna included.

In Year B, we have been given several stories about call during this season after Epiphany. Last Sunday, the second after Epiphany, is also known as "Call Sunday," since the readings include multiple stories of God calling individuals out by name and setting before them special tasks such as prophecy and discipleship. Even last Sunday’s responsorial psalm, 139, marvels at how intimately God calls us and makes us partners in the reconciliation of creation. The boy Samuel is called by God; the disciples are continuing to be called to follow Jesus.

This Sunday we will hear more stories about discipleship and call. We will hear Jonah finally giving in and traveling to Nineveh, the main city of the Assyrian Empire in what is now northern Iraq, to preach God’s call to repentance to the people there, even though Nineveh had been one of the traditional enemies of Israel. The story in Mark of God calling Simon and Andrew away from their nets as fishermen, promising instead to make them “fishers of people.”

Jesus’s call to Simon and Andrew seems to come out of the blue, startling and beautiful and enticing, much like the throbbingly purple winter iris I spotted while walking with my friend John this last week—a true Epiphany for this refugee from the Midwestern winter, a burst of intense beauty in what is usually a sere, severe time of the year, in my experience. That iris also kept faith with its call to testify to God’s beauty, choosing to bloom despite all that might call it to slumber instead.

How about you? Are you called?

Do you even want to admit it, if you are?

Let's face it: as the movie makes clear, start talking about God talking to you in this day and age, especially in 21st century America, and people start shaking the wrinkles out of the straitjacket. I imagine it's even worse in Europe, the former seat of Christendom. Just admitting to being a person of religious faith is at times a risk, socially and culturally.

For many of us, we walk a delicate line as we seek to take seriously the call of God in our lives. For years, I sought to answer the call I felt, but not so much that it would turn my life upside down either. In other words, I kept saying, "Here am I, LORD. Please don't ask me for too much." Until finally, that just didn’t work anymore.

God’s call can cause us to abandon our nets and our befuddled father, like Andrew and Simon did, and set out on a completely different life. Yet it can also cause us to seek to be a witness to God’s blessings in our lives in other, more subtle ways, calling us to minister to each other in our secular vocations, which in many ways is a more delicate balancing act than just throwing it all away and renouncing everything we have ever known. Call also involves recognizing and pointing to the presence of God among us each day, a task every bit as risky and daring as the dropping of one’s nets along the shores of Sea of Galilee and wandering off in at the word of the local holy man.

Most of us aren’t led to abandon everything in order to follow Jesus and let our lives testify to his impact in our lives. God is calling all of us as God’s beloved children to bear witness to God’s beauty out into a world that desperately needs that light. Do we dare answer, "Here am I, LORD, Your servant is listening?" Even if it comes out more like, "Here am I, LORD. I give in," that’s still such a leap of faith in any time and place, a flash of beauty and joy in our lives, God’s love of us breaking in to help us keep the faith in spite of ourselves.

This was first published at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on January 17, 2018.