Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reflection on Luke 11:1-13

When you watched him pray alone in his corner of the garden, sweat running down his face, you knew that what was being said really mattered. When you watched him pray, his eyes were open, staring intently; like he actually expected an answer. When you watched him pray, you saw a trusting child talking to his loving Daddy.

“I want that,” the disciple must have thought looking at Jesus’ relationship with his Father. “I want to pray like that.”

When Jesus had returned from praying the disciple asked, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

This desire for genuine prayer is a thirst that has lingered dryly for thousands of years. We still hear parched souls pleading, “How do you pray?”

A pastor was stunned when a prominent and (by all outward appearances) faithful member walked up after worship and said, "I have really enjoyed the sermon series you and the other pastors have given on prayer. And I really feel called to pray more. The only problem I have is that I just don't know how." (Michael Foss, Power Surge)

The pastor was again stunned when a pastor walked up after a conference that stressed the importance of prayer in any ministry and remarked, “You are assuming," he said, "that we pastors know how to pray. But many of us don't." (Michael Foss, Power Surge)

“How do we pray?” What a silly question thought a five year old girl with pigtails when she was asked by her Sunday School teacher. “You open your mouth and talk,” she said intelligently as she colored her picture of Jesus praying by the rock.

She’s right. Prayer is nothing more than conversation with God, and this simple answer has come out of my mouth many times when people have asked me how to pray. “Just open your mouth and talk.”

But, in giving this answer I think that I have let a lot of people down because I think that I answered the wrong question. People really do know how to pray. We really do understand that prayer is simply conversation with God. The problem is the same problem you have when you try talking about something extremely interesting and intelligent with Uncle Frank who is your Father’s cousin’s uncle’s grandfather, and whom you’ve just met and are now stranded with alone on the back porch. What do you say? You don’t know this man. You wouldn’t share your deepest needs with the guy. So, you talk about dumb stuff like the lawn and the hornet’s nest in the attic. The problem is that you don’t yet trust the man. And, when we ask, “How do I pray?” I think we are actually asking this much deeper question; we are actually asking, “How do I trust?” “How do I get into a deeper relationship with God?” This is not a question that can be answered through a flippant remark from a five year old girl with pigtails. But, it is a question she does know the answer to. Children inherently know how to trust very well, so it is not surprising that Jesus answers with a very childlike answer.

“When you pray, say: Daddy, let your name be holy. Send us your kingdom. Give us food everyday. Forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And, please do not test us.” Every child trusts that their parents will give them a stable home (send us your kingdom). Every child trusts that their parents will feed them (give us food everyday). Every child trusts that they can mess up big time and still be loved (forgive us our sins). Every child fears having their love being put to the test (do not bring us to the time of trial).

How do we pray? How do we trust God? Jesus answers, “just try it, and you will not be disappointed.” “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,” he promises as incentive to try.

But, this is not an easy thing to do for many of us. Trust is an act of courage. Faith is an act of courage. We don’t know how it will turn out. We aren’t in control of the results. Trusting someone else means that ultimately, we are not the shapers of our own lives. But, that’s the whole point of prayer, isn’t it. We are not in control. The world isn’t ours to conquer. Our lives are not our own. Our lives were purchased with a price, the death of God’s own Son. Our lives are not our own. You are owned by God. You are God’s precious child. True prayer does not allow us to take that fact lightly. So, Jesus urges us to take a few steps back in maturity and do what children do so well; trust our heavenly daddy.

Because she believes that trusting our heavenly father is so essential to life, Catherine Foote helps children who have suffered under abusive fathers pray to their very different, loving heavenly father through this prayer:

Daddies hold their babies,
daddies hold them soft.
Strong daddy arms
hold babies up
and gentle is the hold.

Daddies laugh with babies,
daddies smile with love.
Warm daddy eyes meet new eyes
and easy is the laugh.

Daddies care for babies,
keep them covered safe.
Big daddy hands reach baby hands
and tender is the care.

Daddies and their babies,
eyes and arms and smiles and love.
Then a daddy hurt a baby
Baby cold with fear,
Baby crying new tears,
Baby frightened, lost.
No more smiles for baby,
No more shelter here.

And God, they call you Daddy,
God, they say you care.
Do you hold your babies?
Do you dry their tears?
Do you match them smile for smile?
Do you shelter safe?

God, that daddy stole your name.
God, that daddy made me mad.
God, I want a daddy back
(daddies hold their babies).
God, please daddy me.

(Survivor Prayers: Talking with God about Childhood Sexual Abuse, pp. 44-45)

We all need our heavenly daddy. We all want our heavenly daddy. That’s why we ask the question, “How do we pray?” in the first place. So, how do we pray? It takes courage to trust God. But, Jesus promises that when we “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reflection on Luke 10:25-27

Everyone is so busy these days, have you noticed that? There is always somewhere to go, or something to do, or something that we feel like we should be doing. I recall vividly a conversations I had with my pastor before I became a pastor myself. Looking at the nice summer day outside the church door, I made the completely ignorant comment; ”At least, since adult classes, confirmation, and Sunday School is over, you get to enjoy these nice days.” I swear that I saw reflected in this kind, Godly man’s eyes the urge to lovingly strangle me. He knew what I now know and you know also from your own lives; just because some cars clear off the busy freeway of life does not mean there are not others speeding up the on ramp, trying to butt in. And so, even through the summer, we continue to speed around, swerving as we go, hoping not to hit anyone.

This can’t be healthy; all of this rushing and speeding from place to place. We miss a nice little thing called rest. You remember what rest is like don't you? I had a dream about resting once, then I was abruptly woke up: "Did you remember to squeeze the toothpaste toward the front end of the tube?" "No, I’ll go do it now honey.” There is always something we’ve forgotten or need to get done. And, I don’t think that rest is the only casualty of our modern lives. Another casualty of speeding around from place to place all the time is that we never seem to have time to “Go and do likewise.”

You know what I’m talking about. As we are driving along, we see someone walking along the side of the road, probably stranded and homeless, and in true Christian fashion we take our car and swerve over the center line a little so as to keep the person from getting sideswiped; that’s very thoughtful of us. The example of the Good Samaritan pops up in my head every time I do this, and I feel like I should do be stopping and doing something. “Go and do likewise” rings around between my ears. Now, we know logically that there could be any number of good reasons that this person is stranded, walking on the highway. Their car could be broke down, or they could be running away from an abusive situation, or they just may be someone down on their luck who could use a little help. Of course, my brain quickly weighs these options and quickly comes to the conclusion that the person is likely a 87 year old mass murderer. The walker is just a ruse to get me to stop. Plus, my Bible is sitting on the passenger’s seat and there couldn’t possibly be any room.

I also like to play the “Well, I can’t help everyone in the world” game. Do you like to play that one? An example: we hear that care givers of aids patients in Africa need hygiene kits to keep them safe from the disease; simple things like latex gloves and the such. But, we have also heard that people are starving in India, and the food pantry is low on food, and the fine arts center could really use your help to expand their stage. So we shout, “Well, I can’t help everyone in the world.” It is true that we can’t help everyone. However, we can help at least someone. Not realizing this fact because of the overwhelming nature of life, the "Well, I can't help everyone in the world" game usually gets wild and goes something like this:

“Can you give just a quarter to help feed the infants.”
“Well, I can’t help everyone in the world.”

“Daddy can you please get me a glass of water?”
“Well, I can’t help everyone in the world.”

The best excuse of them all though is: “I have something important and I just don’t have the time.” This is the excuse of people who actually do care. The Levite and the priest were surely thinking that they should help the person bent over and bloodied on the side of the road. The cleanliness laws of Judaism do allow space for compassion on people who are bloodied and in need of help, so don’t imagine for a second that they wouldn’t have stopped if only they had the time. But, they have lives devoted to caring and were surely on their way to something very important. We, caring people, are always on our way to something important.

A sociological study done at Princeton Theological Seminary proves this point. In this experiment, seminary students (people who presumably love their neighbor) were informed that they were to give a talk that would be tape recorded in another building. “Along the way to the place for the talk, the subject encountered a ‘victim’ slumped in a doorway. The question was, under what conditions would the [students] stop to help the victim.

Half of the [students] were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan Parable; the others were assigned a different topic. Some of the [students] were told they were late and should hurry; some were told they had just enough time to get to the recording room; and some were told they would arrive early” (Harman).

Now, one would assume that those students who had just studied the parable of the Good Samaritan would most definitely be more likely to stop and help. But they weren’t. “The only…variable that made a difference was how much of a hurry the [students] were in. 63% of subjects that were in no hurry stopped to help, 45% of those in a moderate hurry stopped, and 10% of those that were in a great hurry stopped” (Harman).

Becoming too busy is a sin. You know that already. You have felt its effects. It’s not a sin we are necessarily punished for though. As the writer Ann Lamott puts it, we are not punished for the sin, we are punished by the sin. I think this is the case with being too busy. When busy, we get that frantic, brainless feeling. When busy, we become entangled in ourselves and start to feel stuffy. When we are busy, others get punished by our sin also, because they are not cared for as they should.

It was no surprise to me when I studied the Greek word used for “Go” in “Go and do likewise" and found that it doesn’t simply mean just leave point A and get to point B. It is not that bland of a word. It has the flavoring of life to it. The flavor would make it sound like, “Go and truly live” or “Go with a fulfilling purpose.” The idea is that, when we “Go and do likewise” we are doing something that is nourishing and refreshing to both ourselves and the person we are helping. Surely you know what I am talking about. You know how refreshing it feels to slow down in life, pull off of your busy freeway, and do something meaningful for someone. It is like fresh cool water purifying your once stuffy soul.

A friend told me of an African pastor who was one of these refreshed souls. While attending a church in the bush of Africa, my friend stood in the crouded room for two hours, waiting for the service to start. The pastor of the African church had not yet arrived. The pastor did finally arrive, calmly sauntering in. After services were over, my friend asked if the congregation would be mad at him for being late.

“Of course not,” was his response. On his way to church he encountered an ill man who needed his help. “’Why would they be mad about that?” the African pastor asked.

“In America, people usually aren’t late, it is considered rude,” my friend mentioned.

“In America, you have watches, in Africa we have time,” he said in that peaceful way that spiritually fulfilled people do.

“Go and do likewise.” These words of Jesus are not a command as much as they are a gift from our savior. They are a gift of a new way of life that allows us to say "no" to being busy and "yes" to a life full of richness and purpose. It is the gift that Jesus had himself. Jesus had the time to save us. Nothing distracted him. No amount of business got in his way. God always has time for us. Share in that peaceful and enriching gift. “Go and do likewise.”

The study cited can be found at, Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology
Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error by Gilbert Harman of Princeton University

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Reflection on Luke 10:1–11, 16–20

“Do not carry anything you don’t need to take with you; it will only weigh you down” were the ominous words issuing out of the mouth of Clint a day before we embarked on our backpacking trip. “Believe me, if you think you need it, you probably don’t. Just pack what’s on the list.” He handed us a list of supplies for our week long backpacking trip that was basically a cup, a spoon, a knife, a sleeping bag, a small bar of soap, deodorant, a toothbrush, a small toothpaste, and one change of clothes. The tent and food would be divided up later. “Is this all?” I thought.

Of course, at home you find all kinds of things you need. You need a book to read when everything gets boring. You need more than one change of clothes for Pete’s sake. How are you expected to sleep well without a cushiony sleeping pad? And the list of “needed” items slowly grows to a small pickup full.

Now I will freely admit that when I go backpacking, I can be trusted to bring way too much stuff. “Do not carry anything you don’t need to take with you, it will only weigh you down” are not words that I heed well. I lugged my 50 pound backpack up the mountain, full of its books that were never opened, full of its camera equipment that would have sent a wedding photographer into heaven, and filled with clothes for every single day of the trip. But, at least I didn’t carry a wrench.

“What the heck did you bring that for?” Clint exclaimed as Tim pulled out his full sized open-ended adjustable wrench. “We’re 15 miles back in the wilderness. There are no roads above 10 thousand feet. We are not going to be helping any stranded motorists out here! What were you thinking?”

Tim, being a motor head, could not imagine a time in his life when he wouldn’t need an open-ended adjustable wrench. I do have to say that at no time during our entire trip in the wilderness did we find any trees, rocks, or furry marmots who required adjustment with our open-ended adjustable wrench.

“Do not carry anything you don’t need to take with you; it will only weigh you down.” That is the number one rule of backpacking. Some people will even go as far as drilling holes into the handles of their toothbrushes so that they are not carrying the unneeded weight. The plus that you get with doing that, is that everything you own is hideous and full of holes. No one is going to steal it while you are off hiking to a distant and hard to reach lake. Taking anything extra is just a hindrance. It will burden you. It will give you a headache. It will unnecessarily give you something to worry about.

Reflecting on this scripture I have come to the conclusion that Clint would have loved Jesus as a backpacking companion. “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Jesus knows how to travel light; he chooses to carry nothing. And, he tells us to do the same. But, his advice does more than just ease the weight on our backs. If you were being sent out to do ministry on roads filled with bandits lurking in the shadows; carrying no purse, no bag, and no sandals just might save your life. I’ve know people jumped in the streets of the city for their nice sneakers; so this is pretty good advise. Things will weigh you down, and they will get in the way of your ministry.

This gets me to wondering: when a Christian does ministry to the poor and desires to share with them the idea that God releases us from bondage to stuff, how well do you think that will go over if we are weighed down by nice clothes and top of the line gadgets? “Do not carry anything you don’t need to take with you; it will only weigh you down.” These are words that cause me to stop and reconsider where my faith truly lies, because I have been know to carry around nice gadgets. I think that things often weigh me down. How freeing these words of Christ are. Be set free from your things. The more you have, the more you worry about loosing. Be set free from your stuff.

While lugging 50 pounds of useless equipment up sharp rocks on a steep trail, breathing too hard to talk to anyone else, with only yourself for company, you usually find that you are lugging around more than just stuff. When you have that much time alone, you have no choice but to deal with all of the people you are lugging around also. You know all of the people you have on your back; all of the people you said the wrong thing to or all of the people who said the wrong thing to you; all of the people who discounted you and made you feel worthless. They cling to your back and gnaw away at your soul while hanging there.

I think that’s why Jesus does offer us at least one thing to carry around while out
proclaiming the Kingdom of God. This thing is very light. It is God’s peace. “Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” Notice how fascinating God’s peace is. Not only is it a gift that you can give anyone you encounter, but it is a gift that you can continue to carry even if you have been rejected or scorned. Just because the people you encounter on the trail don’t want peace, doesn’t mean you have to live your life without it. God’s peace is powerful, if they don’t want it, take it back and keep it safe for someone who does. We don’t need to be carrying these unloving, uncaring morons on our backs; we really don’t! If someone tries to dirty up your spirit by unloading their own dirt on you, shake their dirt off of your feet! Don’t carry it around. It is way too heavy. It is “their” dirt after-all, you don’t need it. Shake those people off your back and enjoy the peace that passes all understanding.

“Do not carry anything you don’t need to take with you; it will only weigh you down,” this is a gift of grace for all disciples of Christ. God needs you to help proclaim release to those who are captive to their own messed up selves or who are held captive to an abuser. God needs you to help heal those who are hurting and feel hopeless. God needs you to show love to those who feel unloved. Take the gift of God’s peace and allow everything to drop from your back. God is going to have a hard time using you when you are weighed down. Carry nothing and God will use you for the kingdom.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Reflection On Luke 9:51-62

It’s the season for summer vacations. Families are packing up the cars with luggage, cloth folding chairs, tents, toys, water softeners, everything needed to make the vacation comfortable. Along with all of this, fathers everywhere are setting their minds on their destination. As I speak right now there are at least 1,000 fathers telling their children to, “Go to the bathroom before we leave because we are not going to be stopping.” As I speak right now there are another 1000 fathers telling their children that, “No, we will not stop to see the largest ball of lint…did I say we would stop to see the largest ball of lint?” As I speak right now there are another 1,000 fathers telling their children to "hold it for another 15 miles" because, “I said we are not going to be stopping.” Yet another 100 fathers are so focused on the road that they have not noticed the early demise of their pet parakeet in the back of the vehicle. These fathers have their destination in mind and nothing is going to dissuade or detour them from heading toward their destination.

With his destination in mind and the disciples packed in the backseat, Jesus is on the road. And, similar to thousands of fathers out there, he is set on his destination. His eyes are fixed on Jerusalem. He is not going to be taking any detours. And, “Yes Simon Peter, you are going to have to hold it for another 15 miles.”

Similar to every father out there, Jesus’ travel plans are constantly be threatened. Chances for detours are everywhere. An entire Samaritan village, men, women, and children all hanging out the windows of the packed car, speeds by and cuts Jesus off. “Step on the gas Jesus;” “Ride their tail…see how they like that;” “Follow them off the exit. I’ll roll down the window and hurl flaming balls of fire at their tires;” James and John shout in turn from the backseat.

“Get back in your seat, don’t make me come back there James. John, get your head back in the window, don’t make me stop!” Jesus’ narrowed eyes in the rearview mirror punctuate his harsh words. “You don’t take a detour just because someone has trampled on you. Turn the other cheek, don’t get distracted. We are on a mission of forgiveness here, we aren’t going to get detoured,” he teaches, eyes becoming gentler.

Soon, Jesus’ car is parked on the side of the road, still pointing towards Jerusalem, with the flashers on. No they aren’t broke down…you guessed it, he’s picking up hitchhikers. Typical Jesus move…he stops for the hitchhikers, but not for the bathroom. The hitchhiker peers through the window. “Going to Jerusalem? I’ll go with you to Jesus.”

"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," Jesus tells the man.

Having compassion on the baffled fellow, Peter chimes in, “He means we don’t stop to stay at hotels or even tent camping. We don't stop to go shopping. We almost never stop at all…except for hitchhikers,” Peter glares at Jesus feeling his bladder throbbing. “We don’t get detoured from our mission,” Peter finishes. Jesus pulls away and drives on.

Pulling off on an exit and stopping at the first farm on the right, Jesus hangs his scraggly beard out the window and says to a couple just getting into their car, “Hey, we’re going to Jerusalem. Follow me.”

That is his way you know. He always says “follow me.” He never says “worship me,” or “give me something for now and follow me at a more convenient time,” just “follow me.”

The couple looks at each other, seems to discuss (It’s his mesmerizing eyes that cause them to even discuss following in the first place), and, rolling down the window again the wife says, “We’re on our way to his parent’s funeral, we’ll catch you afterwards.

Jesus says, “Can the kingdom of God wait? Can forgiveness wait? Can loving a neighbor wait? Can showing an enemy what love looks like wait? You are telling me that helping someone who is starving can wait? You’re life is getting detoured. Set your eyes toward God’s kingdom instead.”

Further down the road they are again stopped. I shouldn’t say stopped, they are moving almost imperceptibly slow as Jesus talks to a guy on a riding lawnmower. James and John are trying to shove each other out the car window.

“Sure, I’ll come. Let me say goodbye first,” the lawnmower man says.

“There’s always something that comes first isn’t there,” Jesus points out. “Do you think we are going to make it to Jerusalem if you keep looking in the rearview mirror? The past is the past. What is behind is behind. How are you going to drive anywhere if you aren’t looking forward? How are you going to get to Jerusalem if you can’t see where you are going. Keep your eyes ahead, what is in behind is of no consequence. Follow me and your life will make sense.”

And with that, Jesus speeds up again, traveling toward Jerusalem.

And that was the way Jesus’ trip towards Jerusalem occurred. That was the way Jesus' trip towards forgiveness and new life occurred. He kept asking people to follow. Some would climb into the car. Bathroom breaks became more urgent as people’s bladders stretched from the weight of those sitting on their laps. Other people would promise to follow, but always put something else first. They always had something that they needed to wrap up first. You see, the thing these people didn’t understand was that, “the cure for the craziness of life isn’t to wait until we’ve got everything neatly packaged and put together, and then we have time to follow Christ. Rather, it is in following him that our life finally works and makes sense” (Schenck, Carl A., Lectionary Homiletics, June/July 2007, 48). The best you can do for the world and yourself is to turn your back on all that craziness and listen to the words, “Follow me.” Take the time to follow Christ Jesus on his trip toward forgiveness and a new way of life.

In addition, do not forget that the single greatest thing you can do for anyone else is to give the gift of invitation to follow with you. Stick your head out the window, invite them to drop the craziness of life that they've been carrying around, and tell them to follow along. The invitation to follow is always open. Jesus never turns away anyone who truly wants to go on the trip.