PictureLent ~ Replace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 2:19-21

Every active United Methodist clergy person in the East Central District of our Annual Conference (and some other districts, too) participates in a Clergy Peer Group. These groups meet monthly September through April. We meet for the purposes of walking alongside one another in our ministry offering support, guidance and companionship. We also study a book each semester. This semester we are reading Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster. This text explores the “spiritual movements of prayer” and “helps [readers] understand, experience, and practice the many forms of prayer.”*

One of the chapters I read recently describes Unceasing Prayer. Foster quotes Kallistos, a Byzantine spiritual writer, when defining this sort of prayer: “Unceasing prayer consists in an unceasing invocation of the name of God.”** Foster then quotes St. Francis saying, “[Unceasing prayer] seemed not so much a [human] praying as prayer itself made [human].”**

The Apostle Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing,” but how exactly is that done? It is accomplished with mindfulness and with practice. Foster observes that Christians over the centuries desiring to live into this direction from Paul have settled on what is called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. Writes Foster, “The idea [of breath prayer] has its roots in the Psalms, where a repeated phrase reminds us of an entire Psalm, for example, O Lord, you have searched me and known me (Ps 139:1). As a result, the concept arose of a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath.”***

The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is a prayer that can be inhaled and exhaled on a single breath. It is a prayer that can be repeated again and again in its entirety or in pieces. I like to pray the prayer in its entirety and then continue the prayer by removing phrases one at a time:

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Jesus Christ.

I find that when I engage prayers like this one I become calmer and I become more attentive, not to my surroundings, but to God. I am focused. I am primed to receive.

This week our #PictureLent theme is Replace. As we journey deeper into the season of Lent we become more aware of what awaits us and awaits our Christ. We know that Good Friday is coming…but even more importantly, Easter is coming. On the cross Jesus replaced humanity; he took our place. He took our punishment for sin. He took our shame. He took our death and defeated it.

Mindful of what is still to come in the Lenten season – not only spiritually in my walk with Christ, but also schedually (yes, schedually) in the life of the church – I am in need of more moments of quiet and centering and reflection. I often spend my devotional time listening to music and this past week I was introduced to “Here’s My Heart” by I Am They. This song is a breath prayer repeating again and again “Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.” This song petitions God to speak into our inner most beings the heavenly truth that can and will replace the lies, fears, and doubts that have come to dwell within us.

I am guilty – at times – when praying the Jesus Prayer of focusing on the word sinner. I believe – I am convicted – that we need to recognize and take responsibility for our sins. But we are not the sins. We are ones who receive the truth of mercy. God’s mercy reminds us of our sacred worth. God’s mercy reminds us that we are made in God’s image. God’s mercy nurtures us daily in activities and decisions that lead us in recovering the image in which we are made. God’s mercy plants the seeds that move from our head to our heart. God’s mercy breeds assurance, which opens us further.

Which leads me again in my offering: Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.

Speak what is true.

Prayer: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul.”**** Amen.

* from the Prayer dustcover

** Prayer 119.

*** Prayer 122.

**** “What Wondrous Love Is This,” The United Methodist Church 292.

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Help! I Need Somebody!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 86:1-10, 15-17

“Help!  I need somebody!” – words thought by pastors when they decide to be on vacation over a weekend.  I am thrilled that my dear friend, Rev. Corey Jones, is my somebody this week!  He will be leading the Tuskawilla Community in worship and offering a sermon on Psalm 86.  Thanks Corey!

This Psalm is a prayer of David.  David – the beloved King of Israel.  David – a person the Lord called righteous.  David – a leader.  David – a conqueror.  David – a susceptible human to all of the temptations of the world.

In this Psalm we hear David pleading before the Lord, “Listen closely…save your servant…have mercy…make your servant happy…come back to me…show me a sign of your goodness” – words that would come because some action has happened where David needs saving, needs God’s attention, needs God’s companionship, needs God’s justice.  What was the event?  Well the Psalm does not tell us directly…but if we think back through David’s life we can recall moments where David would be in need of God’s reckoning righteousness.

David was a leader and David was by no means perfect.  God used David.  God redeemed David.  God led David.  God accompanied David.  God responded to David’s, “Help!  I need somebody!”

But the somebody was not just anybody.  The somebody was God. Here in lies deep theological truth.  Humans are incapable of saving themselves – ourselves.  The 4th Century theologian Pelagius was deemed a heretic because he denied the need of divine help in performing good works.  Pelagius believed that humans could secure their own salvation through good works.  Not so, my friend.  Not so.  We cannot do it – and David was well aware of this.

David also knew that it would not be worth his time or energy to cry out to another god as some of his neighbors did in the Ancient Near East.  David affirms, “My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods!  There is nothing that can compare to your works!”  So David will not waste breath calling out to a god like, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Those who pour out gold from a bag and weigh silver with a balance hire a metalworker; then he makes a god. They bow down; they worship; they carry the idol on their shoulders and support it; they set it down, and it stands still, unable to move from its place. If one cries out to it, it doesn’t answer. It can’t save people from their distress” (Isa 46:6-7).  David calls out to the God who will answer and answer swiftly.  This is the God who saves.  This is the God who reckons righteousness that is corrective and life-giving.  This is the God to be praised.  

What gods do we seek to save us, but they remain silent and life-draining?  Money?  Gambling?  Substance abuse?  Reckless activities and relationships?  Over-eating?  Sloth?  Gossip?  Lying?  Theft?  Self-hate?  And possibly more?  These gods do not respond.  These gods do not save.  And we may not be able to turn away from these gods on our own.  Those are the moments when we need God’s help, when we add our voices to the cry of David, “Help!  I need you, God!”

God listens.  God responds.  God is there.  And God brings us to one another when we are in need.

Prayer: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  O what a foretaste of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  Perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”* Amen.

*”Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.

Be Still: Dealing With Noise

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Kings 19:8-15

What frustrates you? Those things that frustrate me are incredibly petty and small…yet in the heat of the moment they seem like giants. For instance…I am not known to stroll. I walk with a purpose. This is probably the product of my subconscious harboring the learning from a math course in college (marked especially for religion and philosophy majors!) where I spent half the semester studying the theory of the travelling salesman problem: You are a travelling salesman and you have five sales to make in a specific amount of time. What is the shortest distance between all of the sale-stops without retracing your steps? So when I walk – I walk! And my greatest frustration while walking – someone stopping directly in front of me – totally throws off my groove!

Needless to say – I am tons of fun to take to a theme park…

One interpretation of our Scripture lesson this week is that Elijah is quite frustrated with our God. Perhaps he is frustrated because he feels completely alone, believing that he is the only faithful person to the one true God left on the planet’s surface. Or perhaps he is frustrated because God has changed how God communicates with the prophet and with the world. Elijah is accustomed to the God of Moses who communicates with creation in fantastic ways – earthquakes, fire of the mountain, and mastery over the elements to part the waters of the sea to name a few. And now God selects a new way to communicate – by saying nothing at all. That is a game changer. That is akin to God and Elijah walking along and then God pulls up short in front of Elijah, completely throwing off his groove.

When God finally speaks to Elijah the words are not what Elijah expects. God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” implying that Elijah’s current environment is not the environment Elijah should be occupying (v.13). After the question God gives Elijah a directive, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus” (v.15). Haywood B. Spangler says that God tells Elijah “to go back to work” and in going back to work “Elijah does not have to give up his frustration, but God will not let him give into it.”*

Our God will not and cannot be contained. We do not set the terms of our relationship with God – when we encounter our God or how God encounters us. That can be incredibly frustrating…but we cannot give into our frustration. God is eager to send us on our way, to be God’s hands and feet in the world. How we hang onto or release our frustrations will determine how fruitful our service is as God’s hands and feet.

This week I am changing my pace. I am changing my serving environment – from the local church to the connection. I have the privilege to serve with my dear friend Melissa and her fabulous staff at one of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Centers as the pastor in residence for Grandparents and Me Camp. The tempo at camp is always different. Schedules are not set in granite and flexibility is key. Walking with a purpose is replaced by strolling. The agenda items are these – just be and be with one another. I may be frustrated with that at first…but I wait and walk in great anticipation for how God will speak to me in the change of pace this week.

Try this on, friends. Change your pace. Lean into a frustration. See what God reveals and commit it to your life.

Prayer: “Dear Lord and Father of humankind, forgive our foolish ways; reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise. Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace. Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm.”** Amen.

*David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008- 2010), 151.

**”Dear Lord and Father of Humankind,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 358.