Collect Moments With God: Through

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:8, 2:42-47

I remember it like it was yesterday…the sweaty palms, the clammy brow, the unsettled stomach.  I was seated at my desk.  A blank sheet of paper before me and a pen in my hand.  The task: write out the prepositions used in highest frequency in the English language.  I believe there are 63.

Did I mention this was 8th grade?  This was a life or death situation!

Then again I also remember the day before my first exam in my Old Testament seminary course, where Dr. Petersen and his fabulous mutton chops said, “I will not test you on something you can look up in a book…”

Geez…I wish Mrs. Anderson would have had the same sentiment…all that sweat for nothing!

Through was one of those high frequency prepositions.  I understand through as a conduit.  Like if you were traveling through a tunnel – you begin on one side and end up on the other.  Movement, momentum, and progress occur in the through.

In honor of today being the kick-off to the 2014 NFL Season (Go Packers!), there are no “delay of game” penalties when you get to the through. You walk up to the line of scrimmage and you initiate the play.  Or in our case of the collect prayer, you state your do – the petition of the prayer – and then proceed to the through so you begin working on it.

To continue the football analogy, saying the prayer is not the end of the play.  Walking up to the line of the scrimmage and saying “hut hut hut” is not all that is required.  You have to surround yourself with a team.  You have to have a strategy.  You have to actively move the prayer forward.  If you are going to run the prayer, then you need people around you that are going to secure a safe passage.  If you are going to launch your faith into a new area, you need to make sure you communicate with others so they can catch you or meet you on the other side.

There are allowances for time-outs, for pauses, for discernment, for consultation with coaches, mentors, family, and friends.  But those need to be regulated as well.  Not rushed, but regulated, because we cannot stay in time-outs forever.  God does not want us in between plays or in between pursuing the words of our prayers indefinitely.  God wants us active and serving and, in the words of John Wesley, “spreading Scriptural holiness over (or perhaps through-out!) the lands!”

In a football game the clock is always running.  If it is stopped, it is only for a brief period.  That players and coaches make such discerned and calculated and timely decisions is evidence of their preparatory work.  God calls us to the same sort of preparatory work, and we engage that work through prayer.  In prayer we offer our requests, we hear God’s will, we feel God’s strength, and we are sent out through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Every day we are stepping onto the “playing field” – are we going to move forward or move backward?

The through of the collect prayer moves us from start to finish, from beginning to end.  And through God’s Holy Spirit, I believe we are transformed into holy conduits to move forward God’s new and renewing acts of grace, from one side to the other, from start to finish, from beginning to end.

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways, speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.

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Collect Moments With God: Do

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 10:12-22

The “Do” of the Collect prayer form is the petition portion of the prayer.  Contained in the petition is a double “do” – (1) what we want God to do which in turn will (2) lead us to do for others.  For example, “Show us mercy (God do this) so that we can show mercy to others (we will do for others).”

But what about the times when you do not feel you can do one more thing?  Those times when you feel like more things are being “done” to you and I am not talking about a day at the spa, shopping spree, or tickets to see your favorite team take on their biggest rival.  I’m talking about those days when you have two flat tires on the side of the highway and it is pouring down rain and the bolts are so tight on your tires that the tire iron will not loosen them and you are two hours late arriving to an event two hours away.

I’m not speaking from experience…but events like these come close to a day that Andrew lived a few months ago.

It is moments like these where we feel like all of this junk is being “done” to us and it jades us from wanting to “do” anything at all.  Or if we do anything…it is for “me”.  Human nature is to defend and secure ourselves when we feel under attack.  Thoughts of caring for others quickly disappear.  Like a turtle we shrink back into ourselves.

Sometimes the question of “why is all this junk being done to me” can be answered.  There are causes and the “done-ness” is the effect.  But sometimes we ask that question and the answer we receive is silence.  We do not know why.  What we do know is that God has been here before.  God has been here with God’s people – not understanding, asking why, feeling used and abused, feeling frustrated, feeling angry, wanting to care only for self, consumed with survival and not turning an eye to the revival of others.  God has been here before – and God has seen God’s people through time and time again.

I treasure God’s love letters to God’s people contained with the Torah – like our text for this week.  The words of these love letters bring incredible assurance:

“Remember, you were once a slave and stranger in a foreign land and I brought you out of that.”

“Remember, there was a time when all of this junk was being done to you and I was your constant companion, your hope, your guide.”

“Remember, there has never been and there never will be a time when I will not do for you…and because I do, you will do also.”

Junk happens.  Junk is done to us.  Sometimes we can control it and sometimes we cannot.  So lament the junk and let it roll off your back.  As my colleague Lisa says, “Breathe in the goodness of God and exhale the garbage.”  I am sure we will question “why” junk happens and is done to us for the rest of our lives…but we will never have to question whether or not God is with us in it and if God will lead us through it.  Our God is faithful.  Our God does for us.  And in gratitude for all God has done and continues to do, we are invited to do for others.

Prayer: “All who love and serve your city, all who bear its daily stress, all who cry for peace and justice, all who curse and all who bless: Risen Lord, shall yet the city be the city of despair?  Come today, our Judge, our Glory, be its name, “The Lord is there!”* Amen.

*”All Who Love and Serve Your City,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 433.

Collect Moments With God: Who

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 139:1-6

I think name tags have super powers.  Yes, they reveal the names of the people who wear them – as long as every person is wearing their corresponding name tag – but they also have the power to make people forget their names.

And by people…I mean me.

Inevitably when I am wearing a name tag on a lanyard around my neck and I meet someone I do not know, I look down at my name tag to confirm what my name is before I say “Hi, I’m Sarah.”  Uhhhh…how is it that I have forgotten my name?!  Obviously, name tags have super powers.

After meeting someone new and exchanging salutations the conversation shortly turns in the direction of “Tell me about yourself.”  This is a who question…yet many of us – myself included – interpret this question as a do question.  “Tell me about yourself” = “Tell me what you do.”  And so we respond with a litany of tasks we complete or roles we fulfill.  At times throughout our litanies we will reveal who we are…but we need to be sure we do not collapse who we are into what we do.

Our Scripture text for this week affirms that God knows every bit of us – our comings and our goings, our thoughts and our feelings, our joys and our sorrows, our strengths and our growing edges, our trials and our triumphs.  God knows our faithfulness and our waywardness.  God even knows my utter disdain for water chestnuts.  God knows what we do and God knows that what we do has an impact on who we are…but what we do is not in totality who we are.

Who are we?  First and foremost we are God’s children.  We are beloved.  We are precious.  We are known individually.  We are treasures.

At times, though, we forget who we are because of what we do.  When we sin we cloud, mask, hide, and possibly even forget who we truly are.  God’s truth that we are God’s children, beloved, precious, known individually, and treasures becomes obscured.  We forget, but God does not forget.  Our God is so faithful.  Our God continues to provide witnesses in our lives to remind us who we are by recalling for us God’s faithfulness through the ages.

Scripture tells these stories.  We tell these stories.  Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, and fellow pew sitters – we tell these stories.

Our God is faithful.  Our God knows who we are – blemished by sin and redeemed by grace.  We are not what we do.  We are who God created us and calls us to be.

Recently I was introduced to the song “Never Once” by Matt Redman.  This song sings to God’s faithfulness.  “Never once did we ever walk alone.  Never once did God leave us on our own.  You are faithful, God.  You are faithful.”

I am assured that when we forget who we are because of what we have done, that God is quickly drawing us back to God’s side, whispering into our hearts and confirming in our minds, “I know who you are.  You are mine.  And I am with you.”

Prayer: Lord, “refresh thy people on their toilsome way; lead us from night to never-ending day; fill all our lives with love and grace divine, and glory, laud, and praise be ever thine.”* Amen.

*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 698.

Collent Moments With God: You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7, 2:18-22

This week the Tuskawilla community begins a four-week series exploring the collect prayer form. The collect prayer form dates from medieval times.  The collect prayer has four components. Each week of the series we will explore one component of the prayer. This week we begin with you.

The you in the collect prayer refers to the entity to which we are praying.  As Trinitarian Christians the you we are praying to is the Triune God and our God has many names. Growing up the names I typically used for God were God, Lord, and Father. I was comfortable with these names because I was raised and my faith formed around these names for God.

And then I went to college…and I was exposed to a new way of thinking about names for God. Unfamiliar words, concepts, and descriptors of God seeped into my worldview. I was rocked by the teachings of women like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Daly, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Offerings from female and feminist theologians and philosophers began shaping me. God can be God the Father / He, but God is not limited to God the Father / He.  What about God the Mother? God the Bakerwoman? God giving birth through the act of creation?

What about conceptions of God beyond God the Father?

Why is this necessary?  Why do we need so many names for God?  Is there something wrong with God the Father/ He?  I do not think there is any wrong with these names, descriptors, or conceptions of God.  But I think the Father / He descriptors limit how we describe our God.  Father / He places God in a box…God created the box, but God does not exist in the box.

True, our fallible, imperfect human language can only glimpse in words all that our God is, but expanding our vocabulary and conceptions of God breathes incredible life and vitality into our understanding of God.  Additionally, there are persons present in our world that have terrible horrors in their past.  Referring to God as Father, King, Conqueror, Mother or others may stir up hurt feelings or painful memories that they do not want to relive in their personal communion with God; therefore, they find a name that is comfortable or approachable in their relationship.

I am privileged to serve as the leader of a faith community and in my leadership I am sensitive to inclusivity concerning names for God.  Whereas I grew up using Father / He now I refer to God as God, Lord, Savior, and balance my imagery for God with masculine and feminine descriptors.  This personal practice helps me remember that God is beyond gender stereotypes.  God created us in God’s image – the way that God wanted us to be – male and female God created us.  I believe God bears within God’s self all the possible expressions and descriptors; so, the treasure trove of descriptors and names for God that we have at our finger tips is as deep and as plentiful and as full of surprises as Mary Poppin’s carpet bag.

What name do you use for God?  What names or descriptors for God are comfortable for you to use and known to you?  Which names or descriptors for God challenge you or call you out of your comfort zone?  Consider these questions as you pray this week.  Explore if God is calling you to breathe into using a new name in your relationship.

Prayer: “God, like a bakerwoman, you bring the leaven which causes our hopes to rise.  With your strong and gentle hands, shape our lives.  Warm us with your love.  Take our common lives and touch them with your grace, that we may nourish hope among humanity. We pray trusting in your name, through Jesus our Christ. Amen.”*

*Prayer by Ruth Duck, The United Methodist Book of Worship, 469.