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…

Choices – You Reap What You Sow

Galatians 6:1-10 (NRSV)

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Growing up, my two younger brothers would have cavity after cavity, and though I ate the most candy, I never had one.  We got Evy’s “Vacation Fun” book, where she writes a whole story about seeing candy, the scent of candy being in the air, so much so she could almost taste it.  She’s a child after my own heart.

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Though Josh and Caleb didn’t eat near the amount of sugar I did, my senior year of high school we moved and it all changed.  Dr. Anderson, our new dentist, got a lot of money from my parents.  I had 7 cavities that year.  It had all caught up to me and my brothers said after all of those years skirting by after they received filling after filling, I deserved it.

Out of the verses in this passage,you reap what you sow is probably the most famous and one of the most commonly used Biblical passages in the vernacular.   Even Urban Dictionary has a definition for it. It begins by saying it’s the basic nature of God’s justice.  It gives us these definitions:  1. Everything that you do has repercussions. It comes back to you in one way or another. 2. You cannot escape the consequences of your actions. 3. You will see the long-term effects of your actions. 4. What goes around comes around.  Terrence Trezvant ends his post this way, “Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.” 

I always want to know the context for a verse.  Both what the writer of the letter is trying to say and where it is in the passage.  Paul was writing a letter to the Christian communities in Galatia.  He was battling the controversy of Gentiles not adhering to Mosaic law, such as circumcision.  You see, the Galatians were converted directly from Paganism and some of them became Judaizers, which means they followed all the laws, living like Jews.  Paul’s arguing against this in many of his letters.  It’s a constanttheme in his epistles that you put your faith in Christ alone or the law of the Messiah, which requires living life in community.  Love God and love neighbor.  So you see in verse 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and this you do in care and compassion as verse 1 makes priority.  Be gentle with one another, but be firm in convictions so as not to be tempted, however, this not leads to lack of personal responsibility.

The college students that I’ve worked with didn’t have very many universal feelings, but they all detested group projects and they would come to me from time to time to gripe and commiserate with one another about how their group was the worst.  It’s true for group projects, you have to bear one another up but it’s not an excuse to let one group member do the work, and not take personal responsibility, not  put forth your best effort, or not to do your fair share.  It’s grace and accountability.  You’ve got to give people grace, but you also have to hold them accountable.  It’s a balancing act.  Verses 4 and 5 says each person must answer to God individually, testing and taking pride in their own work.  Isn’t that a relief?  We don’t have to judge others, we are only responsible for what we put in the world.  I’m reminded of Trezvant’s words, “Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.”

How are we to sow to the Spirit and what are we to sow?  Simple things like smiling at someone.  Angela Johnson is a Deacon of the South Carolina Annual Conference serving in Atlanta at Action Ministries and she wrote on facebook the other day, “Be still my heart.” Daily, I encounter individuals and families who are homeless. While I cannot immediately change their circumstances, I know that I play a role in helping people obtain housing. A gentleman told me today that “my smile encouraged him and gave him a sense of hope.” I do not share this to brag about myself, but want to encourage you that small things can make or possibly change someone’s life/situation/or circumstance.  Be the light…so others may see Christ in you.”  Galatians itself gives us the answers in chapter 5 verses 22-23 talking about the fruit of the Spirit. “22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  If we plant these fruits of the Spirit as little seeds, and cultivate, nurture, water and tend them then they will burst forth from us.

My mom had this tape that she bought us when we were little by the Bill Gaither trio.  It had a song called “Input Output.”  I actually looked up the lines.  I warn you that they’re really cheesy and outdated but the concept is still the same.  Input output that is what it’s all about

Chorus 1

Input output what goes
In is what comes out
Input output that is what
It’s all about
Input output your mind is a computer
Whose input output
Daily you must choose

Verse 1

Let the Bible be your primary feed
It’s got all the data you need
Talk to Jesus all the time
That’s the way that
You can stay on line

Verse 2

If your printout reads to lie or cheat
There’s some data you should delete
Debug your mind of sinful bytes
Then you will operate all right

It’s a simple concept.  What you put into your life is what comes out.  You can either sow seeds of peace, joy, and kindness or sow seeds of duplicity, malice, and destruction.  We have to be connected to the true vine, Jesus, to get our daily nourishment through prayer, reading the Bible, worship, walking through God’s creation, meditating on a scripture while you exercise.  God nourishes us in many various ways, but we have to stay connected.  John 15:1-6, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansedby the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” That’s the key to this whole thing, we can’t do it on our own.  No one is “good” enough.  No one has a corner on the kingdom.  There’s not a giant sticker chart in the sky that you are able to earn gold stars for and get into heaven.  The only way to finish the race is by the grace of God.  Psalm 51:10-12 says, “10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

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It’s a God action, not a human action,but because of the grace God has given us, comes great responsibility and that leads us to our last two verses, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  You will hear the phrase “do not grow weary in doing what is right” echo in the Bible.  Don’t be weary in spending time in God’s word and seeking to live it out.  Don’t be weary in planting seeds of the fruit of the Spirit.  Don’t be weary of praying for your family, friends, community, and country.  Don’t be weary in serving God with all that you have.  As John Wesley says, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

We can support each other on the journey to sow seeds of light.  We don’t have to do it alone, remember we bear with one another.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  Together we can shine a brighter light.  Together we will reap a great harvest.  You have to choose to sow the seeds that produce good things and it’s sometimes hard.  As Dumbledore says in the Harry Potter series, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.  It is our choices.”

Let me close with a couple stories that I think illustrate this passage.   This is an example of how a single choice of whether to sow good or not can greatly impact others.   STORY NUMBER ONE Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was his lawyer for a good reason… Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well.

Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had the best of everything: clothes, cars and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; that he couldn’t pass on a good name and a good example. One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scar face” Capone, clean up his tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he would ever pay.

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return.   The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had in fact destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?

Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.

The choice is yours.  Know what you sow.

Let us pray.

Our Stories

I preached this at Point Hope UMC this morning.  They were very gracious to me and we had a delicious lunch after church that Mike and the kids have raved about all afternoon.  Thanks for being with me on this crazy journey called life.  I want you to share your stories  with me too!  ‘Cause we’re not meant to do this life alone.  Amen?

Psalm 77

1I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.

2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

3I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah

4You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

5I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.

6I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:

7“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?

8Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?

9Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

10And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

11I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.

12I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.

13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?

14You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.

15With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

16When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.

17The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.

18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

19Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Some of you may be wondering what on earth is this preacher doing using a Psalm as her text on her first Sunday.  The Psalms get to the heart speak.  They get down deep, to the nitty gritty.  They’re full of real people celebrating their Good Shepherd and crying out desperately to God.  Both the mountaintops and valleys, the fullness of the human experience, is captured in the Psalms.

Let me tell you a story.  In my previous appointment I went to Costa Rica for a Spring Break mission trip in 2013 with Pura Vida Ministries.  Listen to their mission statement: “We exist to transform lives by providing Christ-centered, life-changing mission adventures.  We believe that following Jesus is Not an Event, but a Life!”  Not an event, but a life.  Not an event, but a life.  I believe that.  You will hear in my messages and hopefully see in my life a fervent desire to live our faith out loud, no matter the storms or challenges.  They had different merchandise you could buy with “Not an event, but a life” so I brought back a mousepad for my office, not knowing then that I would have my second brain surgery later that May.

At a conference in Winchester, VA I had my first seizure.  It was 2010 and I was 30 at the time.  I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that they removed most of two weeks later.  My tumor has a Harry Potter spell-like pronunciation to it – an oligodendroglioma. I had no complications or deficits after surgery.  I mean I had a tube coming out of my head with a blood bulb that I would put in the pocket of my hospital gown when I went to the bathroom but you go through what you have to.  I had the surgery on Friday and I was out on Sunday.  My son Enoch had just turned 3 and Evy was 1;58969_656598733737_2486331_n

so I recuperated at my brother Josh’s house.  I was back home and at work the next Thursday, less than a week later, easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

I remember writing on the prayer request card from Pura Vida at the end of the trip that I would have an MRI the following Monday.  The MRI unfortunately showed the tumor had grown and so I began sharing with people that I would have a second surgery.  I thought it would be like the first surgery, so I agreed to do a wedding 3 weeks later and was set to do a workshop in Chicago that June and set to preach at camp for a week in July.  Unlike the first surgery where I had no complications, when I woke up I could understand everything the nurses, doctors, and my family were saying but I had lost my ability to speak.  The doctors and speech therapists call it apraxia.  Apraxia is the inability to execute learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical capacity to perform the movements. Oh, I had the desire in spades.  In other words, the words were still there but the ability to form sentences was broken, non-existent.

The tumor is on the motor cortex, that’s why they didn’t get it all the first time, so I had no feeling in my right arm or hand, and I’m right-handed.  I texted these words to my husband, Mike, with my left hand over two weeks later, “The quickness with which I speak comes back?”  It took me 45 minutes to text that.  I did 30 radiation treatments, 6 months of chemo, physical, occupational, and speech therapy over that year and then I went to the Ukraine to speak at a conference, but that is another sermon.

I’ve learned to rely on God because I HAVE to.  I am an independent, non-conformist person mixed with a perfectionistic people pleaser and I ALWAYS relied heavily on my communication skills.  I didn’t know how much until I couldn’t rattle off a prayer or answer a theological question or explain simple things to my kids or preach without a manuscript, or even the little things.  I used to carry around a small calendar in my purse to jot stuff down in, I used to type x number of words a minute, I used to love to send handwritten notes to people.  The ease and what came naturally to me before was lost and I still sometimes grieve that loss.  It’s okay to grieve.  God is with us when we mourn.  God promises to bring joy in the morning, so I went back to preaching in June.  I could read things and I reused every sermon that I had full manuscripts for that summer.  My oncologist, who I met with more frequently that first year and now at least every 3-4 months, was an older man who was all business and had a wry sense of humor.  Dr. Stahl always asked me if I was still preaching every week and I would always say yes.  He doesn’t know, by him asking me that question every time that I’m just stubborn, bull-headed and tenacious enough to see that as a challenge and with God’s strength, to make it happen!  He wrote this to me when he found out as I was moving, “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have you as a patient-You have remarkable courage and determination-both of which have you served you well.”

We at the time had services every Sunday at 11 and every Wednesday night at 8:30 and shared in communion each time and it was a challenge to say the least.  A number of things helped me get through that time great students and other church members, Gator Wesley had been a local church and our older members sent me cards of encouragement almost every day, my speech therapist being patient and pushing me and saying your brain will rewire itself, songs like “Lord I Need You,” movies like “Rise of the Guardians” talking about what is your center and having faith even when you cannot see and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” talking about each of us has one, true, authentic swing, when I didn’t feel confident in my own voice, and y’all’s prayers, cards, and prayer shawls from around the United Methodist connection.  When I didn’t have the strength or the words or even the desire, on the dark nights of the soul, God was faithful.  When my primary care doctor said to me that September, I don’t think this brain tumor’s going to kill you, let’s get you healthy and strong, God was working through her to give me the hope that I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  God can and does use us to be lights in a world full of darkness.  I knew then and I know now that God is with me every step of the way, continuing to strengthen me for the journey.  How do I know?  God gives us proof.   The little reassurances along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking to me through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture I happen to read that morning…it doesn’t just “happen.”  It’s a God thing.  Claim it.  Know it.  Trust it.  Be the person that Mother Teresa emulated as she said, “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

God is ever present reminding me I am enough even when I don’t have the words.  I am worthy even when I don’t have the answers.  I can claim my inheritance by simply resting in the surety that I am a child of God.  We all can.  We are all worthy and enough.  If I have learned anything over the past 6 years is it’s not enough to just merely have these quick fix Jesus highs, these Psalms of praise alone – no matter how great they are – because they won’t sustain you when the ship hits the sand or when the rubber hits the road and you’re left bereft.  Developing a real, in depth relationship with Jesus will.  Developing a faith that lasts and is rooted and grounded in scripture will.  A verse, a song lyric, a prayer….When the storms of life are raging, I know where my hope is and that is in Christ alone.  We sang the hymn, “In Christ Alone” at Annual Conference in 2011, one year after the first surgery, and we sang it just now before the sermon.  It’s a song that means very much to me, especially the last verse.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

At a retreat a year after the second surgery, the facilitator asked us to write questions on 3 cards.  They were to be questions where we needed the Holy Spirit to intercede, questions that were rolling around our heads but we had never articulated.  Then we were to paint and cut out pictures from magazines for each card without seeing what questions were on the back.  So I went to a place by myself and I invited the Holy Spirit to come by lighting a candle and I wrote these questions:

1.  What do I need more of in my life?
What do I need to embrace? 
Question 1

2.  What obstacles of the joy God wants for me do I consciously or subconsciously allow to hinder me from experiencing that joy? Question 2

3.  What do I need to let go?  Why am I so afraid to share my story?  Question 3

I went through the cards and picked colors and themes as I felt the Spirit leading me to.  Despite my skepticism, this activity ended being one of the most powerful practices that I have ever experienced.  I had gotten so caught up in my designs and cutting anything out that struck me that I had completely forgotten the original questions.

The answer to the first question was this: written in pencil “In Christ Alone, cancer, and colors.   I needed to embrace my cancer.  I was a cancer survivor.  And I need to place my trust “in Christ alone.”  Even the part about the skin was pointing to me embracing myself.  I had the dot tattoo so they could line me up to do my radiation and I had the scars from both the surgeries, but in the back of my mind I was still hiding.Image 1

We had been singing “In Christ Alone” during this retreat and when I shared that piece of my story later when all of us were sharing, we sang that as a closing song, which brought me to healing, relieving tears, like I let go of a burden.  The second question was this picture.  I look at this picture, I feel peace and beauty, and I needed more of that in my life after the year I had so I made a commitment to make room for beauty and positive and calming messages, so that’s why my office and home are decorated in such ways.Image 2

The last question of “What do I need to let go?” was the safe question.  God was leading me to ask what I really needed.  And the Holy Spirit was so loud in me, that I scribbled down the last question. It was surprising to me because I try to be real and authentic in all aspects of my life.  That’s why I created the blog in 2010. I didn’t want to actually talk about my blog or anything that I wrote.  And it was self-preservation and a bit of laziness to be sure because it was a  way to share with my family, friends, students and the communities that raised me and fed me and are praying with me something I couldn’t say out loud.  It was to share authentically with the world what was going on with me.  It was a way to update everyone at once with what was going on inside my head.  I rarely re-read and edit.  So this question was surprising to me.  But Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  It struck me as I was writing this sermon that I use “afraid.”  And I think that is telling.  I admit now I was afraid and I am afraid of being misunderstood, of losing my words, of not being in control…but as 1 Timothy 1:7 says God does not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and love.  God doesn’t call us to be silent, God calls to be bold and step out in faith and God will give us the words to speak. Image 3

Everything.  I needed to let go of everything.  And I felt safe in the arms of Mike in it all, but more than that I felt like God had and is protecting me from the storm.  God was creating the perfect shelter, an eye in the hurricane.  God was also giving me a clear message with these cards.  I needed to share my story, integrating the cancer, no matter how hard, personal, and vulnerable.

 I’ve claimed the words of Isaiah 41:8-10 (NRSV) But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Bob Goff in his book Love Does says, “I once heard somebody say that God had closed a door on an opportunity that they hoped for.  But I’ve always wondered if, when we want to do something that we know is right and good, God places that desire deep in our hearts because He wants it for us and it honors Him.  Maybe there are times when we think a door has been closed and, instead of misinterpreting the circumstances, God wants us to kick it down.  Or perhaps just sit outside of it long enough until somebody tells us we can come in.”

God wants us to dream large God-sized dreams.  God wants us to sometimes kick doors down.  God wants to give us a future with hope.  As Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”  Or as it is in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  Or as it is in Ephesians 3:20, “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.”

We’re not meant to walk this road alone.  I want to walk with you and hear your stories so that in the mountain tops and the valleys, we can share with one another, come alongside one another, praying for each other, being church with one another.  It’s a crazy cool relay race in the United Methodist Church’s system of itineracy.  Joe passed Walter the torch. Walter passed me the torch and I am ever grateful for that torch and the care in which he handed it off.  In 1 Corinthians 3:6, “Paul wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”   The earth is fertile here at Point Hope and God is indeed in your midst making things grow and making all things new.  I trust God to rock our socks off!  That’s the beautiful and crazy gift of having life in Christ.  You follow where God has called you, no matter that you’re too old to have kids, like Abraham, no matter if you’re a prostitute, like Rahab, no matter the speech impediment like Moses, no matter if you don’t want to, like Jonah, no matter if you’re left in a foreign land with your mother in law, like Ruth…and that’s just the Old Testament.  The Bible is chock full of stories about God doing extraordinary things with ordinary people.  God didn’t stop writing stories two thousand years ago.  I’m reminded of the Big Daddy Weave song that weaves in the hymn “This is my story, this is my song.”  The lines are

 If I told you my story
You would hear hope that wouldn’t let go
If I told you my story
You would hear love that never gave up
If I told you my story
You would hear life but it wasn’t mine

If I should speak then let it be

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
To tell you my story is to tell of Him

We all have a story and when we take a moment in our busy lives to catch our breath and let the God that came and dwelt among us have room in our lives, we create room for God to share with us.  If you’re thinking you don’t have a story, ask God and God will reveal your story.  Or if the problem is not you not knowing, but getting it out or just not telling it, than Marianne Williamson says it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  Let your light shine that the world may see and know.  If we all share our lights together – we will – with God’s strength – rock their socks off!

I had no idea before the age of 30 that my story would include a brain tumor, but I know I have life, indeed abundant life in Christ.  Not just surviving but thriving. Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or retire to figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to thrive.  Jesus didn’t come so we could have a complacent life.  He came for us to have abundant life.

I want each of us to be a part of God’s larger. Broader story, in our own particular way, with our own spiritual gifts, strengths or weaknesses that God works for good.  Look under your chair, some of you might have peeked already, and that’s perfectly okay.  This is to basically sum up my sermon and it was made by one of my favorite artists Suzanne Vinson.  Here’s the full quote from Frederich Buechner.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

I would like you to take this with you.  Keep it in your wallet or in your dashboard or on your bathroom mirror.  Let it be a reminder that nothing can separate you from the love of God and God’s abundant grace, and though beautiful and terrible things will inevitably happen, we are not to fear, because we know the One who spoke things into existence, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.  Let us pray.

*  Music that I was listening to while I wrote this sermon.  TobyMac “Move” Hawk Nelson  “Drops in the Ocean” “Lord I Need You”  Lauren Daigle “Trust In You” Sidewalk Prophets “Prodigal” Ryan Stevenson “The Eye of the Storm” Aaron Shust“Ever Be” Hollyn “Alone”

 

 

 

 

 

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