At the Feet of the Rabbi – Matthew 6

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 Concerning Almsgiving

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Concerning Prayer

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Concerning Fasting

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Concerning Treasures

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is the Ash Wednesday text every lectionary year, probably because it talks about not being showy in one’s faith.  Lenten practices can sometimes be that way.  If you’re talking always about what you’re giving up or you’re talking about the day your fasting or you’re talking about the entire day of prayer, you’ve gotten your reward of those around you, those that you’re bragging to.  Our rabbi is teaching us to do things privately, not with pomp and circumstance.  He’s warning us of getting big heads playing I’m more religious than you are.

It’s not about that.  We don’t volunteer at the Lowcountry Orphan Relief or on work days in Nichols or Sellers or go to Ecuador to get pictures made, though it seems at times like we do, it’s because we want to give what we can or do what we can as we are able because that’s what Jesus calls us to do.  Simple as that.  The Message translation of the Bible seems to get at that idea.  Matthew chapter 6 is titled “The World is a Stage.”  Though I was an English major, I never fancied myself an actress.  Jesus wants us to be real and authentic in our faith.  He doesn’t want a full-fledged Broadway Show, an Oscar winning performance of Saint Narcie and yet the very action is not the thing that gets us into trouble, it’s being pious with the intention of looking down on others.  John Wesley said this, “The thing which is here forbidden, is not barely the doing good in the sight of men; this circumstance alone, that others see what we do, makes the action neither worse nor better; but the doing it before men, “to be seen of them,” with this view from this intention only.”

In his notes, Wesley writes, “In the foregoing chapter our Lord particularly described the nature of inward holiness. In this he describes that purity of intention without which none of our outward actions are holy. This chapter contains four parts, The right intention and manner of giving alms, ver.1 – 4. The right intention, manner, form, and prerequisites of prayer, ver.5 – 15. The right intention, and manner of fasting, ver.16 – 18. The necessity of a pure intention in all things, unmixed either with the desire of riches, or worldly care, and fear of want, ver.19 – 34.”  Let’s get to what our Rabbi was getting at.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

My grandfather was a man like that.  One time my grandmother let slip that he had paid for the carpet all throughout the Greeleyville UMC parsonage.  He helped lots of people, quietly and unobtrusively.

I’ll read you a story by Woody McKay, Jr. called “The Secret Benefactor.”

http://www.chickensoup.com/book-story/41639/the-secret-benefactor

Continuing in Chapter 6, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.
12     And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Our Rabbi Jesus teaches us how to pray and gives us a model or example. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes both the practice of a Rabbi teaching the disciples a prayer, and the language of this prayer, place Jesus in the context of others rabbis of his time.   “From the Talmudic parallels (Tosef., Ber. iii. 7; Ber. 16b-17a, 29b; Yer. Ber. iv. 7d) it may be learned that it was customary for prominent masters to recite brief prayers of their own in addition to the regular prayers.”  The Lord’s Prayer as it is now commonly referred to is the world’s most famous prayer of all time.  We would say it in the locker room before basketball games, we said it at the bedside of my grandfather after he died, and I remembered it even after my second brain surgery robbed me of my speech.  Its powerful words could be a whole sermon itself.

Madeleine L’Engle writes this about prayer.

In prayer the stilled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart
To silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered, all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Announcement in a church bulletin for a national Prayer and Fasting Conference: “The cost for attending the Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.”  Martha Moore-Keish, a Presbyterian minister, writes, “Our culture does not know what to do with Ash Wednesday. We do a pretty good job with the feasting right before Ash Wednesday, mind you — more and more people even outside of New Orleans celebrate Mardi Gras with beads and floats, and more and more people devour pancakes and waffles at Shrove Tuesday celebrations. Any excuse for a feast is welcome! But what to do with the depressingly titled Ash Wednesday? A few years ago I saw a restaurant sign that summed up our cultural uncertainty about this date on the Christian calendar: “Ash Wednesday Seafood Buffet: All You Can Eat!” …

The paradox of Ash Wednesday, and of Lent, is that we take on particular disciplines — fasting, prayer, service — in order to repent and conform ourselves more closely to the life and death of Christ, all the while recognizing that Christ has already come to us before we sought him. This is the paradox of the baptized life. We have been joined to Christ once, but we spend the rest of our lives trying to live into that union.

Turning to Christ means turning also to all our neighbors who suffer. According to Isaiah, fasting and praying that brings us to act on behalf of these neighbors is the fast that is acceptable to God.”

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Sister Wendy Beckett in The Mystery of Love: Saints in Art through the Centuries  writes, “When I was young, I longed to be a saint. What was I longing for? I think it was for certainty that my life had been, in the most profound sense, a “success” — that great and glorious success that is sanctity. We revere the saints. We imitate them. Theirs is the true and lasting glory. Very clearly, this desire is, unconsciously, as worldly as that of the writer who wants to write a masterpiece or the politician who yearns to be prime minister or president. None of these ambitions has the least to do with what Jesus preached — that lowliness, that love for last place, that readiness to die and be forgotten … . To be concerned with oneself in any way, to watch one’s growth in “holiness” or “prayer,” to be spiritually ambitious, all this Jesus earnestly sets his face against.”

We’re not holy because we know we store up crowns in heaven.  There is not a giant sticker chart for who says the longest prayers or who fasts the most.  We’re holy because Jesus is holy and he calls us to be holy, little by little, step by step.

There’s an old story about a man from the city who was out driving one day, in the country. The signs on the road weren’t very good, and he got lost. So he stopped at a farmhouse to ask directions. “Can you tell me how far it is to the town of Mill Pond?” he asked.

“Well,” said the old farmer, “the way you’re goin’ it’s about 24,996 miles. But if you turn around, it’s about four.”

And therein lies a lesson. If we want to follow our Rabbi we have to repent.  We have to turn around and see him for who he really is — our Rabbi, the example to follow, but more than that we learned last week in the Transfiguration that he is the Great God of the Universe come down in the form of a baby, our Emmanuel, wading through the muck and mire of our sin and reaching down into the mess of our lives to set our feet on solid ground.  Amen?  Our Rabbi Jesus, first proclaimed the Good News with the Beatitudes and that we are to be salt and light in the world and then expounded on the “real stuff,” when the rubber meets the road and when the ship hits the sand.  Real, practical life applications that are certainly not easy to practice but God gives us the grace, strength and courage to go out into the world and our very own hearts to practice what we preach, not in ostentatious ways, but with humility, standing our ground but shirking from the spotlight.  Wesley treated the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount and other passages as “covered promises.” That is, they are commands that we can obey because God provides the grace to empower us to fulfill what is required.  It’s God’s grace freely given.  As we go through the confession of Communion hear the words anew and afresh, search your hearts, see if anything has taken root there – bitterness, fear, anger, doubt, hatred, judgment –  but hear the rest of it as well.  Hear the Good News, “Christ died for us while we were sinners.  That proves God’s love for us.  In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”  Then hear God, our Creator, Jesus, our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit’s mighty works in the Great Thanksgiving.  We’re going to practice Communion every Sunday of Lent.  I invite you to pray the words…

Creativity, Faith and Healing

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

We typically invest a high level of energy and effort at the start of a relationship, to woo someone or put our best foot forward. But, after a time in relationship with someone — once all your good stories and jokes have been shared, once it feels like you’ve learned all there is to learn, once it feels like you’ve got nothing new to say — that takes a persistent creativity. To reinvent ourselves for one another, or to approach each other with fresh eyes, to not take each other for granted, it all takes creativity. The same is true in how we relate to God. The Centurion’s faith is a great example because, as a Roman military commander, he should’ve been the last person on earth to believe in Jesus. Rationally, he should’ve been the last person to ever have a strong relationship with the local Jews and synagogue; rationally, he should’ve been the last person to humble himself to this wandering Jewish rabbi in Jesus; rationally, he should’ve been the last person to have this special insight into Jesus’ power and authority (to be able to command this healing even from afar). The Centurion represents that even though we must be obedient as disciples, it doesn’t mean we check our insights, experiences, and ideas at the door. Guided by the Spirit, we can personally, creatively and with humility understand and relate to the Lord.  Being in the making as a disciple takes creativity.

Where is this in Luke’s narrative and what are these sayings Luke alludes to?  Luke 6 is chock full of teachings.  It is a rich smorgasbord of Jesus’ disciples eating grain on the Sabbath, then the Pharisees hating on them about that, Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, the Pharisees calling him out about that, but he did it anyway and they were (not surprisingly) furious and that’s just the first 11 verses.  After he names the disciples, verses 17-19 say, “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”

So the centurion had heard about Jesus and, no doubt, about the miracles he had performed in the town, like healing a man with an unclean spirit right there in the synagogue for which the centurion himself had given a lot of money. The centurion was likely a commander in the army of Herod Antipas rather than a Roman soldier. We can infer this since Capernaum was a minor trade center and toll station along the Via Maris, which was the trade route that led from the countries in the Fertile Crescent down to the Mediterranean. While Capernaum was not a combat post, the centurion was nonetheless a military veteran who may have seen his share of combat earlier in his career. If that were the case, then his slave would likely have been right beside him in the thick of battle, thus forging a relationship that was less master and slave and more like comrades in arms. His most valued slave was ill and close to death so he stepped out in faith, as we have seen all Jesus’ disciples do.  He had the faith that Jesus could heal his battle buddy.  Unlike most of the Gentile soldiers, Roman or otherwise, who were stationed in the notoriously revolutionary region of Galilee, this centurion not only built the synagogue for them (the foundation of which still stands in the ruins of Capernaum) but he went so far as to love the Jewish people. The centurion already saw the world differently than many of his peers, and his creative imagination allowed him to formulate a different vision of reality about the Jewish people AND about the itinerant Jewish preacher and healer who was now back in town.

Still, he recognized that there was a separation between him and the Jews. He wants to be respectful to this Jesus, so he sends some of the Jewish elders to speak with Jesus about his servant, knowing that a pious Jew like Jesus could not enter a Gentile house. The Jewish elders see this generous Gentile as a “worthy” candidate for a healing miracle, but the centurion believes himself to be “not worthy” to have Jesus come under his roof. The centurion understands orders and believes that it isn’t necessary for Jesus to be physically present in order to heal.  Indeed, as a commander of men, the centurion knows that he doesn’t need to be present in order to get things done. He gives an order and it is obeyed, even in his absence, and he now assumes that Jesus has the same kind of spiritual authority. All Jesus has to do is say the word and his healing order will be carried out. The centurion imagines another reality made possible by Jesus, and then acts on it.
Sister Joan Chittister tells the story of a priest who once traveled to see a renowned spiritual teacher, to spend a time on retreat with him.

“Master,” he said upon arriving, “I come to you seeking enlightenment.”

“Well, then,” the master said, “for the first exercise of your retreat, go into the courtyard, tilt back your head, stretch out your arms and wait until I come for you.”

Just as the priest arranged himself in that position, the rains came. And it rained. It rained the rest of the afternoon. Finally, the old master came back. “Well, priest,” he asked, “have you been enlightened today?”

“Are you serious?” the priest asked, in disgust. “I’ve been standing here with my head up in the rain for an hour. I’m soaking wet. I feel like a fool!”

The master said, “Well, priest, for the first day of a retreat that sounds like great enlightenment to me.”

The centurion has all the power in his relationship with Jesus. Yet, unlike the priest in the story, he is no fool. He could have lorded it over Jesus, but instead he sets his personal authority aside and submits himself to the authority of Jesus, a Jew — a subjugated member of a captive people. This wise officer understands that spiritual humility is the prerequisite to healing.

Jesus is surprised at this Gentile centurion’s ability to imagine a different outcome. “Not even in Israel have I found such faith,” Jesus says. It’s like he’s alluding to the two disagreements with the Pharisees in Luke 6 and the instructions at the end where he’s preaching against hypocrisy of the highest order.

Luke 6:46 -49, “‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”  This centurion’s house is built on rock and Jesus rewards him for it.

What is a disciple?  The centurion is obedient.  No doubt.  He followed through.  The centurion owned his own sinfulness, by humbling himself before Jesus.  Remember the Heng story.  How Vietnamese kid in the orphanage that would sacrifice himself for his friend?  The centurion made the sacrifice.  Even to ask Jesus to heal his servant would be looked down upon by his peers, but he did it anyway.  And he had the creative imagination to envision a different reality for himself and his friend.  He believed and had faith in Jesus to heal just by saying the Word.

A recent sign I saw said, “Faith is like Wi-Fi.  It’s invisible but it has the power to connect you to what you need.”  The centurion had a desperate need and Jesus had the power to fill it.  Faith can lift us toward a vision of a different future.  The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 11, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Even if we do not receive a miraculous healing, a restoration of a relationship, or the satisfactory resolution of any of a thousand other circumstances in which we might find ourselves, faith invites us to begin moving, even if only a bit at a time or a step at a time, toward hope and wholeness.

Like the centurion, we need to be willing to ask for help, even if we feel unworthy of it. Jesus specializes in those of us who believe we are unworthy. Jesus will take on even the roughest of our cases with healing grace. All we have to do is reach out in faith, to bring our hurts to the surface, and allow him to meet us there.

Dr. Harold Koenig, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, and Director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke, is considered to be a pioneer in the scientific study of the potential of spiritual healing. After studying thousands of people since 1984, Dr. Koenig found that religious faith not only promotes overall good health, but also aids in recovery from serious illness.

“By praying to God,” Koenig said, religious patients “acquire an indirect form of control over their illness.” They believe that they are not alone in their struggle and God is personally interested in them. This safeguards them against the psychological isolation that batters so many people with serious disease.

In a study of 455 elderly hospital patients, for example, Koenig found that people who attended church more than once a week averaged about four days in the hospital. People who never or rarely attended church spent about 10 to 12 days hospitalized.

When Koenig initially began telling his colleagues about these observations, many were skeptical. They saw spiritual healing as irrelevant to medical science. In recent years, however, more scientific journals have been publishing reports with similar findings. More and more doctors are beginning to understand that faith can have a role in healing.

A Dartmouth Medical School study found that heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following a surgery if they did not participate in group activities and did not find comfort in religion. Within six months of surgery, 21 patients had died; but there were no deaths among the 37 people who said that they were “deeply religious.”

Researchers in Israel studied 3,900 people living on kibbutzim (Jewish communal living at its finest) over a 16-year period. Their findings: The religious had a 40 percent lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer than their secular peers.

A Yale University study of 28,212 elderly people found that those who rarely or never attended church had twice the stroke rate of weekly churchgoers.

So there are definitely health benefits for people of faith, who are actively walking the walk and talking the talk.   Mike was telling me about the stradivarius violins last night.  They were built during the 17th and 18th century by the Stradivari family from Italy.  Their sound is unparalleled and all sort of stuff goes into the making of one.  Recently they discovered, the more you use it, the better it sounds.  It’s like prayer and walking alongside one another in community, the more you use them, the better your life will be.  God can use us to minister to and encourage others in their walk as disciples of Jesus. It’s faith lived out in relationship to others in the body of Christ.  Sometimes we have to have faith that God’s got this so that the world may see and know.  Sometimes we have to have faith FOR someone, like the centurion asking Jesus for the healing of his servant.  That’s called intercessory prayer and that’s what we do intentionally every Tuesday at prayer group.  That’s also why I created the facebook group “Point Hope Prayer & Encouragement.”  So that we can more fully share life with one another.  So when one of us wants to give up, give in, or give out, we pick one another up and spur each other on.  We’re not meant to live this life or walk this walk alone.  The truth is that we can be the healing presence of Christ to each other, helping one another, supporting one another, encouraging one another, being church to each other. We all need people who can speak into our lives and be the physical presence of the spiritual reality of Christ among us. We are members of one Body, says the apostle Paul, and the members should have “the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). The Jewish elders in Capernaum saw the Gentile centurion as a neighbor and wanted to alleviate his suffering by going to Jesus. Can we be agents of healing for each other in the same way, acting as intercessors and faith-walkers for those around us?  An old Irish Proverb says, “In the shelter of each other the people live.”  I believe that.  We shelter one another, covering one another’s weaknesses with our strengths.

Who do you know who is struggling? How can you be an advocate, an intercessory healer, a representative of Christ? How can you help others envision a different sort of outcome for the brokenness in their lives? And if you are the one who is suffering, whom can you ask for help? How will you take the step of faith not only to trust Jesus to heal you, but also trust the members of his Body to intercede and advocate for you?

in-the-shelter

 

Vision Meeting

We’re having a Visioning meeting at Point Hope UMC Saturday from 9 am – noon.  God led me to call it that based on the Acts 2:17 verse that’s echoing the Joel 2:28 verse.

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.”

It’s not supposed to be intimidating at all.  I hope it will be fun.  I, in fact, promise it will be fun!  You can come dressed however you want.  There will be snacks and other goodies.  It may not even take the full time.  We’ll see how the Spirit leads.  This is meant to start a conversation that will be ongoing as our broader story is still unfolding.  In terms of story, we have to know where we have come from in order to fully know where we are and where we’re going.  So one of the things we will do as a church at this Visioning meeting is create a timeline that will tell our story and we will leave it up so that people who can’t be there on Saturday, can also add to it.  All are invited.  I don’t want it to be an exclusive thing at all.  If you’re excited about the possibilities, you’re invited.  If you want to dream God-sized dreams, you’re invited.  If you want to bring the love of Christ to the world outside of the church walls, you’re invited.  If you want to foster a deeper sense of community right here at Point Hope, you’re invited.  It doesn’t matter if you have crazy outreach ideas, or if you’re a numbers and bottom line person, or if you’re a pragmatic realist, you’re invited.

Any time we come together as the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is there in our midst inspiring creativity, collaboration, and collective action inspired by the Word made flesh.  As Rich Mullins says, “A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder.”  Let’s wonder together.  Let’s dream dreams together.  Again, don’t worry if you can’t be there on Saturday, there will be places for you to give your feedback as well!  If you can make it, I promise, you will not regret it.

I am praying for our whole big “c” Church to have a Great Awakening.  We, now more than ever, need to seek God in prayer, knowing and trusting that God will answer.  We all need to be like the father in Mark 9, “Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,“I believe; help my unbelief!” We need to believe in God, all things are possible.  God is going to be faithful and true and if we believe who knows how God will work through us.  Let these words from Ephesians be an encouragement to you as you face challenges near and far, journey through mountaintops and valleys.

Ephesians 3:14-20, “14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 2

Mark 2:1-12

There was a crowd because in the scene immediately preceding this Jesus had healed a leper, and although he told him not to say anything, he did anything but.  “40 A lepercame to him begging him, and kneelinghe said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”41 Moved with pity, Jesusstretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”42 Immediately the leprosyleft him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once,44 saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesuscould no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”

When we were growing up, the nearest movie theater was an hour away.  So we would squeeze in my mom’s minivan.  One time we laid the back seat flat and fit 8 people on there.  We squeezed two people in the back of the van.  And we had 4 in the captain’s chairs with 1 in the middle.  So we got all 15 of us in the minivan.  I do not recommend this.  And we broke several laws.  And come to think of it, my mom still doesn’t know this happened.

I tell you that image because I visualize it when I read this passage.  The crowd that was gathered was packed in like sardines.  This was no time to be claustrophobic.  Saying it was hard to get in, may be an understatement. But the four friends were determined.  They knew that Jesus was the Great Healer, who it was said later in Matthew 11:4-5, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

They had to dig into the roof, which was not easy. It was made of beams 3 feet apart filled with twigs, clay and dirt – like working with dry wall.  The people below probably were not happy to be covered by first little flecks of dust, then some tiles here and there and not to mention long splinters of wood.  Then they had to lower a paralyzed man slowly into the center of the room.

Now what would be your reaction if you were in the crowd?

Sometimes we see obstacles and we’re defeated or coughing up excuses before we even start.  Sometimes the impossible is made possible.  That’s the thing about faith made real.  Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.  The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or bypassed them.  The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.  They were people on a mission.  They were determined.  Spiritually and physically they were determined. 

If only the Gators would be so determined to win games.  May it be so.  If only we were so determined to dive into the Santa Fe community and University of Florida community – developing relationships, stepping out of our comfort zone, and not being afraid of what people were saying about us. 

It would be radical. 

We all know people who need healing back home and here at school – what are we doing to be present with them – intercession – prayer, encouragement, our actions?

Jesus commends the man’s friends for their faith.  It was their faith that brought the man to a place of forgiveness.  I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?

Do we get our hands dirty in other people’s lives?  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.

James said, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16).

The Great God of the universe went to extreme measures for us.  We need to do the same.  It’s the little things.  Say a prayer, a kind word, a smile, hoping the Spirit’s imprint on our hearts will be read by someone else.

A couple of years ago an NC State student became involved in a theatre group sponsored by one of the campus ministries. He wasn’t a Christian, he just liked acting. The group performed during the Sunday morning services at several churches in the area. At one of the churches, Adam was captivated by the prayers of the people which included intercessions for people with AIDS. He was so moved that he decided to be baptized and join the church. That church was God’s letter to Adam, which said, “There is suffering in the world, but God cares and we care.” 

Lawrence Kushner in Honey from the Rock writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High.  They go about their tasks in holy anonymity.  Often, even unknown to themselves.  Yet, if they had not been there, if they had not said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now.  We would not be the way we are now.  Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.” 

Some quotes on friendship • A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. • Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say. • A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.  A friend perseveres.

This semester at Gator Wesley, we are going to use as our backdrop, Leonard Sweet’s book, 11 – indispensable relationships you can’t be without  – in which he talks about the 11 people [relationships] that we need in this life to be who Christ creates us to be – we need

  • an Editor
  • a True Friend
  • a Butt-Kicker
  • an Heir
  • an Encourager
  • a Yoda
  • a Back-Coverer
  • a Reject
  • a ‘Little One’
  • a VIP
  • a Place
  • a Paraclete – “one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate”

Who are these people or who can they be for us?  I hope you will join us this semester as we take this journey together – but I can assure you, it will not be as great a journey without each of you – I need all of you on this journey of life and faith, and I am grateful for our time together. 

As Sweet says, “The real meaning of life is not a journey question or an arrival question.  It’s a relationship question.  Your journey AND your destination are both important, but neither is possible without an answer to [the] prior question: ‘Who do you have with you?’” [Sweet, 11, page 19]

Sermon on Prayer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DlNF_ukr0I

You see you don’t have to be nervous about prayer.  If Ben Stiller can do it when he is trying to impress his in-laws, how hard can it be to make it part of your daily routine?

The text from Luke obviously has to do with prayer, starting with the familiar words of what we now call the Lord’s prayer.  I played basketball in high school and at the beginning of every game while we were still in the locker room, we would say the Lord’s prayer together.  Don’t know if it was superstition or the fact that it was in the South, but it was a thing that united us.  We said the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm after the death of my grandfather with all 25 of us crammed in the hospital room holding hands.  There’s something about those familiar words lifted in corporate prayer that shifts our focus to what truly matters, and it’s not preseason rankings, even though we in the SEC may disagree. 

The Lord’s Prayer provides the basic framework.  And just as the memorized lyrics of a hymn or recalling a Bible verse can help us through the darkest valleys, so can the remembered words of a prayer. At the very least, they’re a good way to pierce the darkness toward the Source of light.

As we read Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, along with a parable and commentary from Jesus about persistence in prayer. Luke’s version of the prayer is shorter than the more familiar one from Matthew 6, containing only five petitions instead of the seven in Matthew. But the included five are all important petitions: the first two — “hallowed be your name” and “your kingdom come” — are spiritual, and the other three — for daily bread, for forgiveness of sins and being spared the “time of trial” — ask for help with daily life.

Another difference between the two passages is that in Matthew, Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer as a model as a part of a larger discourse about praying in general, whereas in Luke, he gives it in direct response to a request from one of the disciples, who says, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” We have to wonder why the disciple made that request. After all, the disciples were all children of the synagogue. They had grown up going to worship and hearing public prayers. So didn’t they already know how to pray?  Maybe they wanted to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth.

Jesus starts his prayer with a surprising address to God. He says, Abba. The word typically is translated as “Father” and that bothers some people. Certainly the nature of God cannot be summarized in a purely male image. Let me suggest that Jesus does not use the word Abba to describe the nature of God so much as to describe our human relationship to God. Rather than as Father, Abba is better translated Papa or Daddy or Dad or like I call my father, Padre. It is an intimate, family form of address. When Jesus starts the Lord’s Prayer with “Abba,” he means we are to come to God in prayer as though we have an intimate, personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

“Hallowed be your name.” In Hebrew a person’s name was more than just how the person is identified. One’s name referred to the whole character of a person. The Psalmist writes, “And those who know your name put their trust in you.” That means more than knowing God’s name is Yahweh. As William Barclay observes: “It means that those who know the whole character and mind and heart of God will gladly put their trust in him.”

Then Jesus says, “Your kingdom come.” Jesus talks extensively about the kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Luke alone it shows up 38 times. These references are usually parables, metaphors, and analogies, not descriptive prose. Although Jesus refers to the “kingdom of God,” one never gets the sense it is a place.

In Romans 14:17 Paul offers a definition when he writes, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy, in the Holy Spirit.” God reigns in this world where peace, joy, and righteousness prevail. As individuals, we experience the reign of God when we do what is right and when we experience the resulting inner peace and joy. 

Saints Origen and Jerome, early leaders of the church, translated this phrase, “Give us what is necessary for daily existence.” We might add, “And, Lord, help us understand the difference between what we really need and what we just want.” 

Maybe the prayers the disciples heard didn’t translate easily into meaningful personal conversation with God.  Indeed, in Matthew 6:5, Jesus referred to “hypocrites” who stood and prayed in the synagogues “so that they may be seen by others.”  The fact that Jesus responded by giving this prayer as a model suggests that he understood that praying is something with which people need help but it’s not something that is innately difficult.  Anyone can pray.  Not just the holy.  Not just Mrs. Smith who sings in the choir and is the most Godly person you know.  ANYONE can cry out to God.  Just because you’ve been going to the church you’re whole life, doesn’t mean your prayers count any more or less than someone that has never darkened a door of a church.  God judges the heart.

I admit that praying, for me, is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life. I’m not referring to public praying in worship, but to personal prayers, those that Jesus referred to when he said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret …” (Matthew 6:6).   I love the old Cokesbury Hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” but it’s a challenge for me to put that amount of time in, I guess maybe I would make it if all of the times I prayed were added together.  I struggle with prayer.  My mind wanders.  I get sleepy.  I have a running to do list flashing through my head.  One of the students, BJ, challenged me with this, “Pray for us daily.  More than once.”  So I’ve got to set aside some time to pray, and be intentional about it.

It’s helpful to think about prayer in the context of spiritual gifts.  In more than one place in his letters, Paul talks about different Christians having different gifts — talents and abilities that can be put to work for the church. Paul lists such things as the gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, preaching, giving aid, acts of mercy, discernment and others, and he says that they are given in different measure to different people. We suspect the same is true of prayer. Some people have the gift to be “prayer warriors” like Beth Keith.  She puts out a prayer chain email asking for prayer for members of this faith community.  Nonetheless, whether we’re “good” at prayer or not, the mere act of it draws us closer to God.

My Dad recently wrote a blog, questioning real prayer versus the phrase, “I’ll be praying for you!”  He writes, “This phrase sometimes comes across as a Southern way of saying, “Goodbye.” “I’ll be praying for you,” is it a greeting, prayer, or an unfulfilled intention? So how do I do better? I think one way is to personalize it. What I mean is that prayer is a relationship expressed in words, a give and take, with much more listening than me spouting off a list of what I or others need.  What’s really crazy is for us not to listen to God.  It’s the difference between a soliloquy for an audience of one and a divine-human dialogue.  Therefore, prayer is an art, practiced and spontaneous, speaking and listening to God, both/and, not one without the other. It is meant to be more than a conversation-ending pleasantry, “I’ll be praying for you.” It’s supposed to be a real conversation!”

I’ve mentioned to some of you, I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s book on prayer, “Help, Thanks, Wow.”  She says all prayer can be summed up in these words.  In a recent interview, she said about Help, “Well, I’ve heard people say that God is the gift of desperation, and there’s a lot to be said for having really reached a bottom where you’ve run out of anymore good ideas, or plans for everybody else’s behavior; or how to save and fix and rescue; or just get out of a huge mess, possibly of your own creation.  And when you’re done, you may take a long, quavering breath and say, ‘Help.’ People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

She says about Thanks, “Thanks is the prayer of relief that help was on the way. It can be [the] pettiest, dumbest thing, but it could also be that you get the phone call that the diagnosis was much, much, much better than you had been fearing. The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.  It’s amazement and relief that you caught a break; that your family caught a break; that you didn’t have any reason to believe that things were really going to be OK, and then they were and you just can’t help but say thank you.”

She says about Wow, “Wow is the praise prayer. The prayer where we’re finally speechless — which in my case is saying something. … When I don’t know what else to do I go outside, and I see the sky and the trees and a bird flies by, and my mouth drops open again with wonder at the just sheer beauty of creation. And I say, ‘Wow.’ … You say it when you see the fjords for the first time at dawn, or you say it when you first see the new baby, and you say, ‘Wow. This is great.’ Wow is the prayer of wonder.”

On the way she sees prayer, “Prayer is not about saying, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to pray now.’ Or, ‘Oh, I see I’ve made a notation here to pray at 2:15.’ It’s about getting outside of your own self and hooking into something greater than that very, very limited part of our experience here — the ticker tape of thoughts and solutions, and trying to figure out who to blame. It’s sort of like blinking your eyes open.  It’s sort of like in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands in Oz and the movie goes from black and white to color, and it’s like having a new pair of glasses, and you say, ‘Wow!’ “

I think of prayer as a turning towards God.  Or being in tune with God.  If we walk and talk with God, consistently with a mind on prayer, how much would we see the world around us differently?  It’s a turning towards God out of desperation, out of gratitude, at the awesome grandeur of God.  

This has been of help to me, the words of Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Augustine echoes this, “In affliction, then, we do not know what it is right to pray for. Because affliction is difficult, troublesome, and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do. We pray that it may be taken away from us. However, if he does not take it away, we must not imagine that he has forgotten us. In this way, power shines forth more perfectly in weakness.”

I often don’t know what to pray, but I can turn toward God and listen to worship music.  Some people walk outside in the garden.  Some people draw or do arts and crafts to get out of themselves.  To get out of their own way.  God will show up.  Prayer is not about a particular technique or some sort of magic words, but the means of nurturing our relationship with God.  The most important factor in praying is the recognition of the One to whom we pray.

I can’t talk about prayer without being thankful for all of yours.  When I had brain surgery on May 10th and woke up not being able to speak and unable to use my right hand or arm.  I remember writing Mike a note a week and a half after the surgery with my left hand asking how long would it be until I recovered.  You were some consistent and persistent pray-ers.

This is a clip from Bruce Almighty that’s self explanatory…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0cG11lTS1E

We don’t know how prayer works.  Why does God answer some prayers versus others?  How did I get a miracle when 45 year old Charlie Summey who was diagnosed after me with a brain tumor died last Saturday?  It seems as if there’s no rhyme or reason sometimes.  But like a friend said we mourn with his family just as we rejoice with yours.  It’s not about asking why so much as who?  If our God is a loving God and we believe in the power of prayer, than we can trust in the words ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.  Just turning towards God with our hearts set on God and drawing nearer to God is enough.  I know that God is with us.  I feel that to the very core of my being.  God journeys with us through our seeming answered prayer and our seeming unanswered prayer alike.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor writes in an article in “Christian Century,” about some monks she encountered on her journeys, “Four times a day, a bell rang in the courtyard. As soon as it did, the brothers stopped to pray. The rest of us were welcome to join them, but it was not required. If we did not show up, then they would pray for us, as they prayed for everyone else in the world – for those who were present along with those who were absent, for those who were inclined toward God along with those who were not, for those who were in great need of prayer along with those who were not aware they needed anything at all. Prayer was their job, and they took it seriously. They prayed like men who were shoveling coal into the basement furnace of some great edifice. They did not seem to care whether anyone upstairs knew who they were or what they were doing. Their job was to keep the fire going so that people stayed warm, and they poured all their energy into doing just that.”

Persistent prayer is not so much for God, but for us.  For the strengthening of our faith, for the drawing closer to the One who created us and numbered our steps, for a lifting of our eyes to make the impossible possible.  May we live that out.  In Jesus name.

Let us pray…God we know there’s no magic words, but we know that we humbly come before you, seeking your will and your kingdom on earth.  Guard our hearts.  Guard our lips.  May we earnestly seek to draw closer to you.  Guide us and lead us in all that we do.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

 

Let us pray…Holy and Gracious God, we earnestly come before you seeking your will for our lives.  Even though we may not always understand it, we trust in you.  For those that are sick, please surround them with your healing power.  For those that are hurting, please surround them in your grace and comfort.  For those dealing with uncertainty, please surround them with your peace that surpasses all understanding. For those that it’s been a long time since coming to you in prayer, help them to know it’s a conversation.  Give them the words.  And reassure them there’s no pressure.  For all of us, spur us on that we make prayer an integral part of our personal lives and of the life of Gator Wesley.  We ask these things in your holy name and we pray as you taught your disciples to pray….

Jesus Teach Us to Pray

The Gospel text for this Sunday is on prayer.  Where one of the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  The students will tell you that when the candy dish moves to the desk, it’s not a good sign.  You see, I’m struggling with what I’ll say about prayer.

The first part of the text is teaching them the prayer that we repeat every Sunday, the Lord’s Prayer, reminiscent of Matthew 6. Luke’s version of the prayer is shorter than the more familiar one from Matthew 6, containing only five petitions instead of the seven in Matthew. But the included five are all key petitions: “hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” for daily bread, for forgiveness of sins and being spared the “time of trial.” So whether we pray Matthew or Luke’s version, we’re covering important theological ground and all the basics.

This is placed before a parable and explanation of the merits of persistent prayer.  All we have to do is ask and it will be given.

I was at a water park this summer, when the topic of prayer came up.  The guy was uneasy with prayer and how it works and he was questioning why God answers some prayers and not others.  He got this from a conversation he had listened to on the JOY FM (local Christian radio station) saying that God answers all prayer.  I listened.

A student came up to me after worship a couple weeks ago, questioning prayer too.  She said both of her roommates were Catholic and one of them had been raised by her aunt because her parents had passed away.  Anyway, she said that the aunt had been injured in a car accident and the roommate said she would pray for her.  But the Wesley student was uneasy with such a flippant response. Like the conversation was over because she was going to pray for her.  She asked me why would a loving God allow someone who already lost her parents to experience the accident of her aunt? I listened.

Both the students were well aware of my medical situation and it almost seemed that made me more approachable.

I cited Anne Lamott’s book on prayer, “Help, Thanks, Wow” in both conversations.  She says all prayer can be summed up in these words.  In a recent interview, she said about Help, “Well, I’ve heard people say that God is the gift of desperation, and there’s a lot to be said for having really reached a bottom where you’ve run out of anymore good ideas, or plans for everybody else’s behavior; or how to save and fix and rescue; or just get out of a huge mess, possibly of your own creation.  And when you’re done, you may take a long, quavering breath and say, ‘Help.’ People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

She says about Thanks, “Thanks is the prayer of relief that help was on the way. It can be [the] pettiest, dumbest thing, but it could also be that you get the phone call that the diagnosis was much, much, much better than you had been fearing. The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.  It’s amazement and relief that you caught a break; that your family caught a break; that you didn’t have any reason to believe that things were really going to be OK, and then they were and you just can’t help but say thank you.”

She says about Wow, “Wow is the praise prayer. The prayer where we’re finally speechless — which in my case is saying something. … When I don’t know what else to do I go outside, and I see the sky and the trees and a bird flies by, and my mouth drops open again with wonder at the just sheer beauty of creation. And I say, ‘Wow.’ … You say it when you see the fjords for the first time at dawn, or you say it when you first see the new baby, and you say, ‘Wow. This is great.’ Wow is the prayer of wonder.”

On the way she sees prayer, “Prayer is not about saying, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to pray now.’ Or, ‘Oh, I see I’ve made a notation here to pray at 2:15.’ It’s about getting outside of your own self and hooking into something greater than that very, very limited part of our experience here — the ticker tape of thoughts and solutions, and trying to figure out who to blame. It’s sort of like blinking your eyes open.  It’s sort of like in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands in Oz and the movie goes from black and white to color, and it’s like having a new pair of glasses, and you say, ‘Wow!’ ”

I think of prayer as a turning towards God.  Or being in tune with God.  Does that mean we’re always in tune with God as we pray?  Nope.  It’s a turning towards God out of desperation, out of gratitude, at the awesomeness grandeur of God.  When we have no options left.

Praying is not easy for me.  That’s why I rejoice in the verses from Romans 8:26-27.  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

I don’t know why God answers some prayers and seemingly doesn’t answer others.

I’ve always been uneasy when people say they’re praying for me.  I don’t question that they’re sincere but prayer gives you a stake in the outcome.  Intercessory prayer certainly gives you a stake in the outcome.  I can’t control the outcome and that’s where the uneasiness lies.

But I don’t need to control the outcome.

And that’s hard for me.  To trust.  And not control.

It’s a mystery why God answers some prayers and not others.  It reminds me of the scene from “Bruce Almighty” when he’s acting like God and answering yes to everyone’s prayers.

But I know that God is with us.  I feel that to the very core of my being.  God journeys with us through the good times and bad.

There’s no concluding paragraph.  It’s left unresolved.  Because it’s a continuing conversation.

I’ll leave you with Matt Maher’s, “Lord, I Need You.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuvfMDhTyMA

I’m pushing the prayer sermon back to next week.

LOVE – Songs of my Soul for Now

In an hour I go to the hospital for my second brain surgery and it feels super surreal to write that.  I wanted to post a quick blog before I go to say thank you to everyone who is praying and who has been supporting us.  We can feel your love and the community surrounding us!

I spent this past week with 30+ students from Gator Wesley touring around the state of Florida doing our Spring Tour – singing, dancing, rocking out, reading scripture and so much more.  There’s a song that they sing in one of the sets (and I love the mash up that they do) called “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit Band and one of the lines says, “There’s no place I’d rather be…but here in Your love…”  I’ve felt that from each of you.

Campus ministry is this crazy special place where things intersect – struggles, fears, hopes, dreams, silly Vine videos, lots of laughter, and experiences that both challenge and inspire. The students this week have inspired the heck out of me.  I’ve been ministered to in their music and their passion and their faith, and even more than that in their zest for life!  There weren’t many stops during this tour where I didn’t feel moved in some way and though I couldn’t figure out how to share that with them without becoming a blubbering hot mess, I want to let them know how special this week was for me.  Even the trampolines.  And the cold water of the spring when knocked off a raft.

Two of the songs that they’ve been singing are two favorites of mine that I’ve been holding dear over the past few weeks.  They didn’t know that when they picked the songs how much they have been resonating with me and yet again, I know that God is weaving all of this together in mighty ways.  The first is Meredith Andrews’ “Not for a Moment.”

And the second is by an amazing band that we hosted here at Gator Wesley called Bellarive.  It’s their song, “Taste of Eternity.”

These have been the songs of my heart.  Worship taps into a place that breaks down the barriers that we place.  It digs in between the walls that we’ve built to protect ourselves and the layers of stress and muck that this world provides.  May the scales on our hearts and our eyes be removed that we may see God more clearly and know God more fully, as God draws us to God’s self.  I know that no matter what happens today, I know that I am God’s and God is ever in the midst working things together for good.

Y’all have humbled me speechless with all of your texts, facebook messages, tweets, and cards and I hope that each of you feels the love, hugs, fist pumps, and high fives that we have for you!  Thanks for being on this journey with me.

Much love!

Cheers to a new haircut!

Grace and Peace,

Narcie