Sermon: Unwearied in Prayer

Luke 18:1-14

A lot is going on in the passage; in fact, there are two sermons in these short 14 verses from Luke but first a word about the Gospel itself. I mentioned last week that Luke has a universalist approach to the Gospel, it is for everyone, and it is about everyone. Luke believed that the Gospel would spread to the far reaches of the known world and so he uses many images and stories that everyone would, and will, understand.

Taken on the whole, this passage is about prayer and our life of prayer and how we should conduct that prayer. I am a believer in prayer and have seen first-hand the results of the power of prayer. I believe that our prayer should be a conversation with God, and so part of that is listening to another person in the discussion, and yes, God will speak to you. I will also confess to you that I do not pray as much as I should, and when I do pray, at least lately, my heart is not in it.

It might be helpful if you keep the bulletin handy so you can read along with me.

The passage is broken up into two distinct stories with the same theme. Verses 1-13 and then 9-11. In the first section, we have a widow and a judge. The widow was looking for vindication from her “adversary,” and the Judge was refusing. We do not know who or what her “adversary” is in the story, but whatever it was it must have bothered her enough to keep coming to the Judge. In the end, the Judge relents, not because he has compassion on the widow but so she will go away and not bother him anymore.

The Judge was not a Jewish Judge. Ordinary Jewish disputes were brought before the elders and not into public courts. Under the law, if the matter needed arbitration, one man could not act, there were always three judges, one chosen by the plaintiff, one by the defendant, and one independently appointed.

This Judge was appointed by Rome or by Herod the King. These judges were notorious, and unless you had money to bribe them, they ruled against you. The widow had no money, and so her case dragged on.

Most characters in the stories Jesus use represent multiple things or groups of people, not just the individual in the story. These stories were, and are, allegorical, so the purpose of the story or the moral teaching is what is important not the facts as they, for the most part, are made up.

The widow represents all who are poor and defenseless. As she was poor and without any resources, widows had nothing and if there was no family to take them in, had to resort to either prostitution, remarriage, or begging on the street. She had no hope of getting any justice from this Judge.

So what is the point of the story? Simple, if the unjust Judge can be wearied into giving the widow what she wants, “vindication from her adversary” then how much more will God, who is a loving parent, give to his children when they are in need? Notice I said need and not want. God answers every prayer, but sometimes, the answer to that prayer is no. Like a parent, God knows what we need and what is good for us. Sure, I might need to win the lottery and pray to God that I do, but if it is not what is suitable for, guess what? God sees time whole, and therefore, only God knows and sees what is right for us in the long run. This is why Jesus told us we should never be discouraged in prayer.

Now let’s turn our attention to the second part of this passage.

Again we have two very different people, a Pharisee, and a Tax Collector. They have come to the Temple to pray. Devout Jews prayed three times each day; 9 a.m., 12 noon, and 3 p.m. Prayer was to be extra special if it could be done in the Temple so, at these three hours, many went to the Temple courts to pray.

This cycle of prayer is still in use. In monasteries and other religious houses, the members of the community usually gather together for prayer at these hours but might also add an earlier morning prayer and one or maybe two additional hours in the evening and night. Muslims also pray at these times and, like the Jews, feel their prayers are better if they can get to a Mosque to pray for at least one of these times.

But we need to focus our attention on the two players in the story.

First, we have the Pharisee. He was not there to pray to God. He prayed with himself. True prayer is offered to God and God alone. In the prayer that Jesus taught us, he taught us to pray, Our Father…. We direct our prayers to God, not to Jesus or anyone else but God. Jewish law proscribed only one fast that all Jews were obligated to observe, the day of Atonement.  Those who wished special merit fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, the days that the markets were open in Jerusalem. Those who fasted would whiten their faces and would appear in disheveled clothing and would sit in the market so their piety would be on display for the most massive audience. The Pharisee did not go to pray; he went to tell God how good he is.

We have the Tax Collector. He stood off, by himself, not even lifting his eyes to God. The translation does not do his prayer justice for he actually prayer, “O God, be merciful to me – the sinner.” He was not just a sinner, but he was THE sinner. Jesus says that it was that heart-broken, self-despising prayer that won him acceptance before God.

There are three things about prayer in this parable.

1. No one who is proud can pray. It has been said that the gate of heaven is so low that the only way we can enter it is on our knees.

2. No one who despises their fellow humans can pray. In prayer, we do not lift ourselves above others. As Christians, we are no better than non-Christians in fact; I know plenty of non-Christians that are much better Christians then the Christian I know. There is nowhere in the teachings of Jesus where he tells us it is okay to be proud and arrogant and that, just because we say we believe in him even though our actions might say otherwise, that we are better than anyone else.

3. True prayer comes from setting our lives beside the life of God. No doubt everything the Pharisee said about himself was true. He did fast; he did tithe; he was not like others, especially the Tax Collector. But the question is not, “am I as good as other humans?” The question is, “am I as good as God?” As Christians, we are not to compare ourselves to other Christians; we are to compare ourselves to Jesus and ultimately to God. What does Jesus expect of us? This is not a trick question I tell you all the time, Love God, Love neighbor. Are we doing that? Are we genuinely doing that or just paying it lip service? Do we genuinely tithe to the church in time, treasure, and talent? Do we earnestly pray not only for ourselves but for others? We can all do better, and that is the point, none of us are perfect.

We should not attempt to compare ourselves to others, especially in the sense that the Pharisee did, by telling God that “at least he was not like that Tax Collector over there.” Our gauge, or marker, our archetype is the way of Jesus and the love of God, that’s it.

One of my spiritual heroes is Maria of Paris. Maria was a Russian Orthodox Nun that lived in Paris and brought aid and comfort to the Russians that had fled there after the Bolshevik Revolution. She worked tirelessly to help anyone she could with what she had often gone without a meal herself to provide one for another. The Nazis killed mother Maria in a gas chamber on Good Friday 1945, her crime; she helped people.

She has many quotes, but my favorite will be our prayer to end this time.

“At the Last Judgment, I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead, I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person, the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.”

Amen.

Go, and do likewise

Giving a helping hand.

This essay comes from my weekly column in the First Congregational Church of Salem, New Hampshire weekly eNews.

Just a quick word of warning right at the outset, this might be a little longer; in fact, I know it is going to be longer, then these columns usually are.  I have taken a few weeks off from writing, and I need to catch up. Well, that is only part of the story; there is a lot to say about this topic of “who is my neighbor?”

The backdrop for this is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as found in Luke 10:25-37. You might wish to pause here, grab your bible, and read it first. We all know the story. A man gets beaten by robbers on the road to Jericho. Several people pass by; the traveler, the priest, the Levite, and finally the Samaritan. Each of them has their reasons for not stopping, and we can address that at another time, but for today, I want to focus on the discussion that takes place after Jesus tells the story.

Jesus was asked by a Scribe, an expert in the law, what he was to do to enter eternal life? Jesus answers him with, love God and love neighbor. And the Scribe follows up with, “Who is my neighbor?” Now usually in scripture when the Scribes or other teachers of the law ask Jesus a question, it is to trap him, but I believe that this Scribe was being honest and genuinely seeking an answer.

Although Jesus does not come right out and say it, our neighbor is anyone that is in need. Because of the Jewish law, a Jew was only to help another Jew, but Jesus was standing that on its head, this is why Jesus was considered a radical. He was telling the Scribe that anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from or what they believe, they are our neighbor and if they are in need, we are to help them.

Jesus is quite specific about what he means by help:

1. We must help even if the person, who is our neighbor, brought the trouble on himself. It should not matter how they got into the position they are in, they are in trouble, and they need help, so we help them.

2. As I have already mentioned, anyone from anywhere who is in need is our neighbor. Our help must be as wide as the love of God.

3. The help must be practical and not consist merely in feeling sorry. Thoughts and prayer might be well-intentioned, but if the guy is hungry, he needs food first. After we feed him, we can pray for him. No doubt the priest and the Levite, and maybe even the traveler from the story felt sorry for the man as they passed him by on the road, but they did nothing. Compassion, to be real, must issue in deeds.

There has been a lot of talk, and that is what it is talk, in the news recently about helping those in need on the border. It should not matter how they got here or what their status is. Yes, that is a question for discussion but first, let’s take care of the humanitarian crisis with those in need and discuss the philosophical issues latter.

At the end of the parable, Jesus tells the Scribe to “Go, and do likewise.” He was referring to the compassion that the Samaritan had on the wounded man. And so I say to all of you, Go, and do likewise. Maybe you cannot go to the border, but one tangible thing you can do is to remember that they are human beings and they need our help.

Sermon: Pick up the Mantle

You don’t have to wait long to hear it. Shortly after some natural disaster be it hurricane or tornado, some TV preacher, usually someone like Pat Robertson will come on the air and blame God for the disaster and say that it is his retribution for, insert the sin of the month here, like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, liberals, I mean after all liberals have been responsible for someone of the most reprehensible things on earth like ending slavery and women’s suffrage.

These fake Christians as I like to call them, what you to be afraid of God because if they can make you fearful of God you will send more money to them and they can buy more private jets and limos while you continue to barely get by, hiding in some corner, afraid of a God that loves you. Recently these guys have been calling for executions of people they disagree with and say that if we do not do what they say God is telling them, God will bring his wrath down upon the earth. No, some people might think that these TV, worrier more about ratings and the money people send them, preachers are God’s wrath, but I will leave that for another day.

Today we should focus on the love of God and the fact that no matter what we do, God does not send his wrath. How do I know this, simple, Jesus.

Let’s take a quick look at Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between you and me and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth, and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between you and me and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

With all of the rain, we have had these last few weeks I have seen some pretty amazing rainbows in the sky, this is a good reminder of the covenant between God and humanity something I like our TV preacher friends should remember.

But let us now turn to today’s Gospel passage from Luke.

Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem; he is determined to go there regardless of the consequences. Because he did not have a smartphone and could not access trip advisor to find a decent hotel for him and his friends, he sent some people ahead of him to prepare things for him. They came to a Samaritan village, and they were not welcome there. We all know the hatred that exists between the Jews and Samaritans it is legendary, like the Yankees Red Sox thing.

The Samaritans did not want Jesus to stay with them, they were foreigners and maybe the Samaritans were afraid that they would steal their jobs and health insurance or something and although they were one of the wealthiest towns in the area, they did not have any room for people that looked and talked differently than they did.

Perhaps the disciples should have reminded them of the Passage from Leviticus, you know that Book that the TV preachers and others like to quote from: selectively

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34

Enter James and John. Now, these two guys are usually pretty solid, but they went off the rails a little here. They asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Perhaps they had watched Pat Robertson the night before and heard him speak of how God likes to cause destruction to people, even innocent people and so they felt compelled to call down fire upon them.  The Passage we heard this morning simple says that Jesus rebuked them. The Passage does not tell us what he said, but I can only imagine.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of people I have sat with over the years I have been in ministry who feel, for whatever reason, that God does not love them. Time and time again they tell me their story about how some preacher, minister, priest, rabbi whatever has said to them that they are sinners and God does not love sinners, how could He?  This type of church behavior is so prevalent in some circles that it now has a name, Post Traumatic Church Syndrome. The church, in the name of Jesus, has caused so much damage over the years trying to scare people into conformity with a particular way of living.

At the start of every service we welcome people here with the words, no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. I hope we mean that when we say it because people are hurting just beyond the walls of this church and they are looking for a safe place of welcome and acceptance. Many of these folks have been shunned by their family and their church.

Jesus is a love everyone sort of guy. He told them earlier that if a town does not accept you or the word you preach just leave, shake the dust from your feet, and go. We cannot compel people to believe, oh it has been tried, the crusades, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition, any number of Holy Wars, laws, legislation, TV preachers threatening God’s wrath and the like. We cannot force people to believe.

As we see in the story from Luke this morning, Jesus does not choose to punish those who are reluctant to support him, even today. Instead, we are reminded again and again that our is a Savior of love, who is not about punishing all who resist or compelling everyone to get in line or face the consequences, but one who invites those who believe to walk the journey with him. Not everyone is ready or willing to take that journey.

In my “From the Pastor” column this past week, I wrote about the “call” and asked the question of what God was calling you too. We have to determine for ourselves what our “call” truly is but I can, without hesitation, tell you that the call for all of us is to simply love and support those that need it. Unless we are willing to start there, the rest of it is useless.

Faithful Fridays – What is God calling you to do?

The Gospel lesson for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost comes from Luke’s Gospel, Luke 9:51-62. In the second half of the pericope, starting at verse 57, Jesus is confronted with several people that wish to follow him and the others on his ministry but, they all have something that they have to take care of first. One asks to go and bury his father, and Jesus replies, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Another asks to be allowed to go and say goodbye to his family, and Jesus replies, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The choice to accept God’s call to “Follow” him is not a journey that comes with convenience or something that be taken for granted. Following God’s call in your life takes a clear commitment to follow God’s will daily and to recommit ourselves to that walk daily. When we make a choice to follow that choice needs to be first in our lives.

God calls each of us to do something, what is God calling you to do, and how are you living out that call in your life?

Sermon: What is Confirmation?

The 2019 Confirmation Class/New Members

On Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019, the First Congregational Church in Salem, New Hampshire celebrated Confirmation and welcomed a new member to the church. During the church service the Confirmands each read a Statement of Faith that they had written.  I did not preach a traditional sermon but used this text as an explanation of what the service of Confirmation is all about.

I think sometimes, we do things in the Church because we have always done them, but we are not really sure why we do them or what they mean. I used to serve a congregation that began some 80 years before I arrived, and the members of the congregation did not speak English. By the time I came, English was the predominant language although they still sang a few hymns on occasion in their mother tongue of Romanian. They did not know what they were singing, but, they learned these hymns as children, and they had a comfort about them. I recall printing the English translation in the bulletin, and they were amazed at what they were singing.

Today we celebrate not only the Feast of Pentecost or the birthday of the Church, but we rejoice in the fact that these folks gathered here have decided to make a public declaration of their faith through Confirmation or church membership. But what does Confirmation mean?

Last week I met with the Confirmands and told them that Confirmation was their choice, not another’s choice for them. I’m sorry to say that the decision to be confirmed lies solely with the person being confirmed. We do not ask to be confirmed because our older siblings were confirmed or because it is what is expected of us when we reach a certain age.

Confirmation is the affirmation of the promises made for these folks at their baptism. We heard the promises again during the service; do you renounce the powers of evil, do toy profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, do you promise to be God’s disciple, follow the way of savior, be a faithful member of the Church, love and show justice, witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ. Do you promise to grow in the faith, celebrate Christ’s presence, and furthering the mission of the Church in the world. All of these questions are serious and should not be agreed to because someone else wants you to.

In Confirmation, you accept and make a public declaration that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. You give yourself wholeheartedly to God and seek to know God’s will for your life. You have promised to follow the way that Christ has left for us and that you will let the Holy Spirit guide you in all you do. When you were brought for baptism promises were made on your behalf, and today you have made those promises stronger, and God has made a firmer and stronger claim on you.

You have also become a member of this particular congregation, and after the service, you will sign your name to the book that people have been signing since the founding of this Church in the 1700s. You have promised to participate in the life and mission of this congregation and to share regularly in the worship life of the congregation. We can chat later about what “regularly” means but publically stating that this is your spiritual home, at least for now, has to mean something we want you and we need you.

As Reformed Christians, we believe that “while you have confirmed your baptismal vows, God, on God’s part, through the laying on of the hands of the minister, claims and accepts you as God’s own, renews the covenant with you, and assures you of present and future needful grace. Confirmation, the laying on of hands, is God’s act of love to you.” (Heidelberg Catechism)

Many people have walked with you along this journey. They have taught you, prayed for you, and will continue to do so throughout your life. This is no small matter or simple ceremony that we have participated in today. “Now you will be on record before God, your family, your friends, and the members of this congregation that you mean to follow Christ, that you are answering the call to you with an audible yes, that you mean henceforth, as far as you are able, to trust in God, to care for others, to care for yourself, and to seek the realm of God.” (My Confirmation, A Guide for Confirmation Instruction)

Today is not the end of your Christian education; it is just the beginning. My prayer for you this day is that you keep these promises you made today ever in the forefront of your mind and that you will always seek after God’s will for your life. Amen.

Onchu’s Story

On Thursday, June 6, 2019, my wife and I took our fur baby Onchu to the Willard Veterinary Clinic in Quincy, Massachusetts, where we said our final goodbye. He was a sweet little guy that brought us a tremendous amount of joy and happiness, and he will be missed greatly. This is his story.

February 20, 2008

Onchu came into my life on February 20, 2008. I was living in Southbridge, Massachusetts at the time and had been looking for a canine companion for a few weeks. I did my research on breeds and had decided. I had checked out the website of a local pet store, I did not know about rescue animals at the time, and I had picked one out. I arrived at the store and went to the room where all of the puppies were, and this little black and tan dog kept coming over to me. He was not the one I was there to buy or was I.

I had initially set my sights on a little Rat Terroir, and that was who I was there to see, but while I was trying to decide someone else decided to bring him home. The little black and tan dog was in the corner looking at me and wagging his small stump of a tail. I motioned for him to come over and he did, and well, the rest is history.

He hated me for this!

So a little about his name. In Gaelic, Onchu means “Mighty Dog.” You see, Miniature Pinchers are the only ones who do not know they are a small dog. They will get in another dog’s face regardless of their size and usually, with some exceptions, the bigger dog will back down. There is also a Saint Onchu listed on the Martyrology of Ireland with a feast day of December 6, the day after Onchu was born. So that is how he got his name.

It had been many years since I had a puppy and, in the beginning, it was a difficult training period although he caught on rather quickly that he needed to go to the door when he needed to go out. He loved to walk and was pretty good on the leash. He also loved to run around the large property where we were living at the time and just generally liked to be outside. At night he would burrow under the blankets, and if you did not have a blanket, he would bark until you put one on the sofa with you so he could burrow under it. He would sit with me no matter where I was or what I was doing. In the breed description it says that Min Pins love to be with their people, and Onchu was no exception to that rule, he loved to be with me.

He loved the truck

Thankfully he traveled well in the car, and we would take road trips together camping and to a couple of family reunions. I had a little seat for him that was elevated so he could look out the window and park at everything going by. We were like a country music song and man, his truck, and his dog.

I experienced some pretty dark days in my life, and Onchu was my constant companion. He could sense when I was having a bad day, and he would snuggle with me as I dealt with whatever it was. Looking back, I can say that, at the time, he was my only true friend. Others were scheming against me, but I would come home, and all he wanted was for me to sit with him and pet him. He forced me outside for walks, which helped clear my head, and he would always remind me of unconditional love. I am not sure I would be here today if it were not him during those days.

One of his favorite spots

He moved back to Quincy with me, and he loved my folk’s house. They have a rather large, fenced in back yard and we installed a pet door, so he could come and go. Onchu would stand in the window in the living room, and if some, like his arch enemy the squirrel came by, he would bark at him and then run through the kitchen and out the door to the back yard thinking he was going to catch him. He never did. This would go on for hours, and he never seemed to tire of it.

One day we noticed that Onchu was walking a little strange like he was drunk, so we took him to the Vet. He had blown a disk in his back and was going to lose the use of his front legs. I was amazed at the technology, MRI, Cat Scans, and a neurologist that specializes in Dogs. We were facing a rather expensive surgery, but they wanted to try medication first. Thankfully, he responded very well to the drugs, and he regained some use of his legs. He needed therapy and time to heal, so he was confined to his crate unless he had to eat or go outside. No running or jumping and in time, the swelling would go down. In the end, he regained about 80% use of his legs, and things were looking up.

The Ring Bearer

On June 17, 2017, I was married, and Onchu was, of course, the ring bearer for the wedding. We had a little kilt made for him, and we wore the ring pillow on his back. He stole the show when he found something on the ground to roll around in.

That January, Onchu started with the drunk walk again, and by the end of the month, he could no longer walk. We took him back to the Vet to try the steroids again, but it did not work. I found out about acupuncture and made an appointment. Several treatments and no real improvement, he was going to be paralyzed.

Who you looking at?

We made the decision to find a wheelchair for him so he could still get around. Other than his paralysis, he was a healthy dog. I am not sure he ever really liked that chair, but he did get around in it although with a little difficulty. But he continued to get worse, losing all muscle tone in his legs and a considerable amount of weight. He would get anxious when I left the house and would cry and whine the entire time I was gone. Because of his inability to get outside, he started to wear diapers, things were not looking good, but we soldiered on.

There came a time when I had to decide am I keeping Onchu around for him or for me. What was his quality of life like, sure he had us and a rather good life being waited on but, he stared at the same four walls all day every day and was not able to run and play like he used to. As with anything else, everyone has an opinion, and I talked to a lot of people, but we finally decided that it was time.

The Vet was, and she reassured us that we did all we could have done, in fact, she told us that we did more than most people would have, and that made me feel good. Onchu was with me during the darkest hours of my life, and I was with him when he took his last breath. He was lying in my arms, and he passed in peace. I like to think of him running around in the grass just full of life.

Pets come into our life lives for such a short period. They bring us joy, happiness, and unconditional love. They are there for us when we need them and are our constant companions. I will miss him, and there is a hole in my heart that will take a long time to fill but, I am happy knowing that I provided a good life for him and that he is at peace.

Thanks, little man.

FDR’S D-Day Prayer

On the night of June 6, 1944, President Roosevelt went on national radio to address the nation for the first time about the Normandy invasion. His speech took the form of a prayer. 

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. 

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. 

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. 

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war. 

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. 

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. 

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts. 

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces. 

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be. 

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. 

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. 

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.”

Praying for the President

This past week, Franklin Graham called on his followers to pray for President Trump and for protection against his enemies.  It’s nice that Mr. Graham has called on people to pray for the president and also to ask for prayers for his protection, I am a little sad that he has just discovered that presidents need prayers.  I searched his Twitter feed and other writings, and I find no mention of a call for prayer during the presidency of President Obama. I guess we are only to pray for presidents that we like and agree with.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 – I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Peter 2:17  – Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

Romans 13:1 – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Since I began public ministry in 2004, I have, on most Sundays, prayed for the president and all of our leaders. Sometimes it has been by name, but more often than not, I pray in general for our leaders. We are commanded by scripture, like the verses I quoted above, to pray for our leaders whether we agree with them or not.

So yes Mr. Graham I did pray for the president on Sunday:

“You judge the people with equity and guide the nations of the earth. Give to all leaders and people the gift of wisdom and the spirit of peace, that we may walk by your light as we serve the common good. Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

Feasting on the Word, Liturgies for Year C, Volume 1

Sermon: Breaking Chains

John 17:2-20

I have no doubt that what Jesus intended was for his followers to be united in thought and united in faith. I am also almost certain that unit of practice really did not matter much and that faith, at least from what I understand from this passage, is more important. Now, that is not to say that practice is not, but the uniformity of that practice is not necessary.

Let me make this point abundantly clear, none of this matters. No church or cathedral matters. No bible, no prayer book, and certainly no theology book matters. Robes, stoles, communion plates, gold crosses, hymn books, none of it matters if we stand counter the message of Jesus Christ, I’m not even saying the message of the Gospel, I’m saying, and please quote me correctly, if we ignore the plain and simple message of Jesus Christ then all of this is wasted. If we are not changing lives, beginning with our own, if we are not caring for the “least of these,” then none of this matters.

I’m not sure how many of you have heard of Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr is a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order and is a modern-day mystic. In many, if not all of his writings, Fr. Richard makes the bold statement that what the world needs are more mystics and fewer theologians. Rohr would say that we have taken much of the mystery out of our faith and no longer look at things in a mystical sort of way. We want proof, we desire facts about situations where there is no proof, and there are no facts.

Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did Jesus heal the blind people? Did Jesus make the lame walk, the blind see, and the mute able to speak? Did Jesus walk on water and calm the storms? I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I do not and what I do care about are the people behind every one of those stories. We focus on the tangible, and we lose sight of the mystical.

As many, if not all of you know, I began my seminary training in a Roman Catholic seminary in Boston. Like many of you, I grew up in the Church of Rome, and I owe a lot to the Church of Rome. I learned to pray, and I learned to serve in those formative years, and I believe that my spirit awoke and that is what has lead me here to this moment. You see, I think nothing happens by accident. But apart from the theological training was the practical training which focused on what goes where and what one should wear for which ceremony and how one should hold one’s hands. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in ritual, and I think ritual is essential in our lives and when we perform rituals they should be formal and meaningful, but how I hold my hands or whether I am wearing the right garment should not matter. What matters is the faith, what matters is what is all means.

Back to Fr. Richard for a moment, he has written a new book, I think the guy has written more than 100 books in his lifetime, so It is hard to keep up. But his latest work is called, The Universal Christ, how a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. In the book Rohr challenges all of us to go deeper into our faith, to push past the headlines and soundbites and to really go down deep and see what is sacred in each person and in everything. Rohr speaks of reshaping the incarnation of Jesus Christ past the Nativity, past the Resurrection and asks us to look at the first Incarnation of Jesus Christ as creation itself. God has revealed God’s self in all of creation; we just need to look for it.

This is a fantastic book. I have had this book for about three weeks, maybe four, and I am only on page 37! When I read, I sit with a highlighter to remember passages. At one point, I think I had every word on every page highlighted. Just when you think you cannot learn anymore, a book like this comes along. Anyway, it’s a great book, and I suggest you pick up a copy, but only if you want to be challenged!

One of the critical ideas that come across in the book is that our aim is off, we have lost focus of what is essential. Rohr says this:

“Too often, we have substituted the messenger for the message. As a result, we spent a great deal of time worshiping the messenger and trying to get other people to do the same. Too often, this obsession became a pious substitute for actually following what he taught – and he did ask us several times to follow him, and never once to worship him.”

We worship Jesus because it’s easy. We worship the person of Jesus, we talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, we invite Jesus into our hearts. None of which Jesus ever asked us to do. Nowhere in anything Jesus said or did ever pointed to himself. When Jesus prayed, he prayed that God works through him for God’s glory, not his own. Jesus commands us to love God, not love Him, believe in him sure but never does he even hint that we should love him. Jesus said to his disciples, “follow me.” Jesus is not physically here with us, so we cannot follow the person of Jesus. But he did leave us his way, and that is what we should focus on.

I agree with Rohr, we have substituted the messenger for the message. We focus far too much energy on the person of Jesus whilst losing the message of Jesus. We love Jesus, we invite Jesus into our hearts, but we hate creation, we hate the incarnational aspect of Jesus in other people. The message requires that we love God and therefore love creation. We should be inviting others into our hearts, not just Jesus! Oh, if you invite Jesus into your hearts, that means you are asking him to change you not just sit around and do nothing. Jesus did more than offer thoughts and prayers, just got up off of his, hindquarters, and did something. When the leapers approached him, when the blind man came, when they brought the man who could not walk to him on his pallet and lowered him through the roof, Jesus did not wave his hand and offer thoughts and prayers, he actually did something!

In a few moments, we will symbolically gather around the table that has been prepared. Much care has gone into the preparation of what you see before you. I prefer the elements to be laid out a certain way, and so I come up and tinker with them after they have been placed. Words will be spoken, elements will be passed, we will consume what is presented to us. After that, biologically, those elements will break down and enter our system and literally become part of us and give us nourishment. But none of that matters if we do not allow this simple ritual to change us.

Back when the church was “one,” whatever that means, the ancients taught that before you take communion, you should make things right with those you have harmed or those you hold something against. In fact, they would say, leave the church, go and make things right, and then come back and take communion. And we could go outside right now, set up a card table, place these elements on paper plates and a plastic jug and it would still be communion. Ritual is important, ritual is sacred, what we are about to do is holy, but if we do not allow it to change us, it is worthless.

I said at the start that I believe that Jesus wants us to have unity of belief, Jesus prayed that we would be united in God just as Jesus is united in God. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus tell those around him how the world would know that we were united, what was that way?  I will give you a hint, it’s not by the buildings we use, it was not by the ritual we recited, it was not even unity in theology, it was love. Love truly is the answer for everything.

Wisdom Wednesday

Faith at its essential core is accepting that you are accepted! We cannot deeply know ourselves without also knowing the One who made us, and we cannot fully accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of us. And God’s impossible acceptance of ourselves is easier to grasp if we first recognize it in the perfect unity of the human Jesus with the divine Christ. Start with Jesus, continue with yourself, and finally expand to everything else. As John says, “From this fullness (pleorma) we have all received, grace upon grace” (1:16), or “grace responding to grace grace-fully” might somehow start with grace, and then it is grace all the way through. Or as others have simply put it, “How you get there is where you arrive.”

From The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr