Weekly Devotional: “Here I Am. Here We Are. Here We Are Together”

Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren

 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”                                                                          Exodus 3. 4 (NRSV)

Over the last year, I have become a fan and follower of author Brian McLaren. It started last year when I learned that this Evangelical Christian had presided at the wedding of his gay son. Then, I had the opportunity to be part of a workshop last May at which he offered an amazing interpretation of the Book of Acts. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to read several of his works, and most recently I have been reading his book, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, which is the subject of a weekly study with others in which I am participating.

Now, let me just say, I have been a pastor for nearly 20 years, and before that I was a very active layperson. Like many of you, my life with God has been an on and off affair, and by that I mean that I have struggled to maintain a faithful prayer life in the midst of a busy life! Now, I’m discovering that, even though I have more control over my schedule, it is still difficult to maintain a faithful prayer and devotional life. That is, until I started reading this book about naked spirituality.

In the book, McLaren invites us to set aside all of the trappings of faith that we have added. He invites us to enter into a simpler way of engaging God, or as he takes from our Jewish sisters and brothers, “G-d”, as a way of honoring the name of G-d.

Our group has just started the book, but I am already deeply touched by McLaren’s invitation to begin your day, and practice throughout your day the simple prayer of “Here.” The prayer, “Here I am. Here You are. Here we are together,” is means of being present to G-d, wherever you are.

I practiced this prayer, intended to serve as a means to awaken us to the presence of G-d, yesterday morning as I was taking a morning walk and, once again, in the silence of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Even now as I type the word “here,” I feel something moving with in me that is an awareness of the presence of G-d.

Of course, as is his practice, McLaren comes to this prayer by way of scripture. While there are many instances of people in the Bible responding to G-d with “Here I am,” perhaps the most famous is that of Moses who encounters G-d in a shrub that was burning but not consumed. When Moses hears G-d call to him from within the bush, Moses answers, “Here I am.”

It just makes me wonder. If you and I were to regularly awaken to the presence of God in all our living, perhaps we, too, would hear G-d call to us from unexpected places. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Here I am. Here You are. Here we are together. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Why A Cold Cup of Water Truly Matters

cupofwater“. . . and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”                                           Matthew 10:42 (NRSV)

I continue to be touched by the idea that the simple act of offering a cup of cold water to someone in need can be something that makes a difference for that person.  I believe Jesus was trying to teach his disciples and followers that a simple act of love by the faithful could change the world. This had to be a hard concept for those early disciples to understand.  They lived in a culture oppressed by an occupying army where violence was the order of the day and children were the least of the least.  How could the small act of giving a cup of cold water to a child make a difference?

I believe this concept is hard for us to grasp, as well.  We live in a fast pace world where power, wealth and violence seem to be the order of the day, where multi-national corporations rule the day and where the 24-hour news cycle reminds us of how powerless we are.  It is easy to become cynical and certain that our small acts of love couldn’t possibly make a difference.

And then I remember a young woman I knew years ago.  I got to know her because she asked me to preside at her wedding.  During the visits with her and her future husband, I learned that she had chosen to quit eating tuna fish because she learned that the nets the fishers used were trapping dolphins and killing them.  Just prior to her wedding day, laws were changed that made it illegal to trap and kill dolphins.  She was elated that her personal act of conscience had made a difference.

I felt the same way this week when I learned that the efforts of Every Town for Gun Safety successfully petitioned Target stores to issues a policy requesting that guns not be carried in their stores.  I signed that petition and decided not to shop at Target unless the store made a decision like this.  I am not someone who believes that we should pass laws that keep law abiding gun owners from owning and carrying guns, but I do believe that we can pass laws that make our communities, states and our nation a safer place for all of us by passing reasonable gun safety laws.  I believe this because I believe that God wants us to live in peace and safety with each other.  So, my voice counted in this decision by the Target Corporation.

Regardless of your passion, I hope you share the passion of God that we live peaceably with our neighbors and all creation and that you will do one thing to partner with our God to bringing that reality into being in our time:  Your “cup of cold water” matters.

Holy One, call me to a deeper place of communion with you and then let me emerge from that place into your world making a difference one act of love at a time.  Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: God Is For Us, Always and Forever!

god-is-loveListen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15. 50-52

It was last week, and I had come straight from vacation and gone into a four-day workshop with Brian McLaren, Evangelical Christian author and teacher.  The workshop was an opportunity to explore McLaren’s newest book, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation.  It was a dynamic four days as we explored the Bible from the opening story of the Creation to the closing story of a New Heaven and a New Earth.

During our time together, we, the fifteen participants, prayed together, worshipped together, shared insights about scripture, and conversed about our own journeys of faith.  Vulnerable, in a word, would be the way to describe our time together as we shared our sorrows and disappointments, our hopes and our dreams.

When we got to Sunday afternoon, I was worn out.  I was physically tired as well as emotionally and spiritually spent, but Brian kept us on task, working through the book to the end.  His enthusiasm and hopes for this book were contagious.  He makes no apologies for his dogged focus of trying to find a way to engage people with scripture, to bring people with disparate theologies and ideologies to the table for conversation, and to help those alienated from the church find a new way of being the church together.  I was and remain excited about all of these possibilities.

Though I was tired, I could not help but perk up and lean in, for in the last 45 minutes of the workshop Brian began talking about how the Bible, with all its seeming violence and cultural oddities, is ultimately a book about love and hope.  It is true, isn’t it, that the Bible is the story of God’s love for us and for all of creation and about how ultimately God meets us in the mystery of life and death.  I wish and pray that all of God’s children could understand:  God is for us, not against us, and chooses to be in a relationship with us in life and in death, loving us all the way home.  This is good news for us, I think, no matter who we are or what our life’s circumstances may be.

So join me, won’t you?  Let’s make the road by walking it and see if we discover in this journey of life and faith our lovesick God, who is with us as we go.

Holy One, as I make my journey in this life, remind me that I am on a road to you, and that ultimately I will find my way home, surely changed.  Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Soaring on the Wind of the Spirit

Pelecanus_conspicillatus_-Australia_-8My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling come upon me,
 and horror overwhelms me.

And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
  

I would fly away and be at rest;

–Psalm 55. 4 – 6 (NRSV)

It has been a while since I’ve been to Galveston, Texas, but my family and I spent this last week there on vacation.  I had forgotten about the pelicans.  I love the pelicans.  Most often you can see them soaring above the Gulf of Mexico in a straight line.  I say soaring because you rarely see them flap their wings.  Pelicans have a wide wingspan and can, consequently, soar for long periods in the wind coming off the Gulf.  They glide through the air with their wings outstretched.  As I watched them again and again this week I found myself thinking about what a peaceful image those pelicans are.  There they are, high above the noise and busyness of the city.  Their gliding through the air seems effortless.  When I think of what it means to have peace in one’s heart, all I have to do is think about the image of the pelicans high above the seawall in Galveston, Texas.

It occurs to me that so often when we find ourselves troubled or in trouble we shift into high gear and begin to try and solve all our problems and find things to do in order to create an outcome of our liking.  Like the Psalmist, I think many of us live our lives with hearts of anguish and terrors falling upon us.  If you’re like me, you have, more than once, experienced fear and trembling with horrors that can be overwhelming.  Such is life, but as I think about the pelicans, I wonder if their soaring flight could be a model for us of how to deal with our problems.  The writer of the Psalms appealed to God by asking for wings like a dove to be able to fly away and find rest.

I believe that could work for us, too.  Oh, not to escape our problems or to run from them, but to soar, to glide, to hover over the chaos of the world we have created, to let the Wind of the Spirit hold us up and to rest there until we can see another outcome, one that God wants to show us from God’s point of view.

So, I hope you will join me this week in letting the image of the pelicans gliding through the air or the dove flying to a place of rest be the image that guides and directs you to a new way of being in the world, the way of being like Jesus, who trusted God so fully and completely that he was unafraid to lay aside what was for what might be.

Holy One, remind me once again that I find rest and wholeness, courage and hope, when I rest in you.  Amen.

Weekly Devotional: From Despair to Hope, from Death to Life!

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!

"Exactly!"

“Exactly!”

When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, what are human beings that You are mindful of us, mortals that You care for us?

Yet You have made us a little lower than You,
and crowned us with glory and honor.

You have given us dominion over the works of Your hands;

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Verses from Psalm 8 (NRSV – Adapted)

Just this week a friend of mine posted the following picture on Facebook with the exclamation, “Exactly!”

It is as if the picture comes right out of the 8th Psalm.  I wonder how often we forget that God, our God, is at work in a universe far bigger and grander than our little corner of the world.

And just this week an article in Spirit, the magazine of the Texas A&M Foundation, Spring 2014 edition, reports that scientist from Texas A&M University and the University of Texas in Austin are the first people in the world to see the most distant galaxy ever documented, one created 700 million years after the Big Bang.  They estimate the galaxy, known by the name z8_GND_5296, is roughly 13.1 billion light years away.

There are times, like this morning while listening to the morning news; I despair of the condition of the world.  There is violence rising in Iraq as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, a group of extremist Sunni Islamist militants, considered more extremist than al-Qaeda, have taken over key cities and are moving toward Baghdad.

It seems that each day there is report of another shooting somewhere in the United States as those who fear government or are mentally ill take up arms to shoot others, often innocent people, before taking their own lives.  Or, as we draw near to elections in November we learn that some who have won primaries such as Dave Brat believe that there is no “Common Good.”

Amidst the “hell” that we are creating on earth, there is the continued decline of our environment as war and violence take their toll, as carbon gasses destroy the atmosphere and habitats not just of animals but for humans as well.  Yes, there is much to cause us to despair.

Until, until . . ., we realize that God, the God of our ancestors, our foremothers and fore fathers, the God who created galaxies some 700 million years ago (and who could ever count that far), continues to move in our midst, continues to create in the midst of our destruction and despair.  This same God call us into relationship and invites us to be part of helping to turn this good world from hate to love, from despair to hope, from death to life.

So, with our eyes fixed firmly on creation, the stars of heaven, reminding us of our place in the cosmos, but also reminding us that our God, the God of all people, places and things is still at work in creation, let us commit our lives for standing for those things which are good and just, things of peace and possibilities, things of love and compassion.  No, we may not stop the war in Iraq or the violence in our own cities, or the pollution that threatens our very way of life . . . or then again, with God’s help, we might!

Holy One, send the power of Your Holy Spirit to fills us up and call us forth to be courageous people committed to living our lives in partnership with You, transforming our lives, our churches, our communities, our cities, our states, our nations for good, for justice and for peace.  Amen.

Weekly Devotional: The Awe and Wonder of Resurrection!

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.                                                     1 Corinthians 15:19

I hope this day finds you still basking in the joy that is Easter.  Since before Easter Sunday morning I have been pondering the resurrection.  I find myself wondering what it really means.

Certainly it has something to do with transformation.  After all, the Risen Christ was transformed in a way that allowed the disciples and others to recognize who he was, but also that he had been transformed from death to life.

As I have read sermons, articles and blogs by Christian writers it is also clear to me that resurrection is not just about the “sweet by and by,” but also about the “hear and now.”  I am confident that God wants to take all the “little deaths” of our living and resurrect us into new life.  God seeks to transform us in this life so that we are recognizable to those we meet, but also that we become something new.

In my sermon on Easter Sunday I talked about resurrection as “presence,” the presence of Jesus Christ with us, as the writer of the Gospel of Matthew says, “to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28.20)  Surely resurrection is about God’s presence with us as Creator, Christ and Spirit.

Then I remembered this verse from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.  In this part of his letter, Paul is making the case for resurrection and then says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  For Paul, and I think for me, too, resurrection is about something physical, something spiritual, something transformative, some real presence, and the reality of life after death.  All that is to say that resurrection is both reality and mystery, perhaps like a multi-faceted diamond taking on different hues as it is revealed in shadow and in light.

Whatever it is, I believe pondering the resurrection and what it means to you and for you, is well worth your time.  Won’t you join me in the awe and wondering?

Holy One, I find myself silent as I ponder the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Help me to continue to explore and to wonder, but also give me faith in this mystery so that I may live each day in the confidence that my life is held now and forever in you.  Amen.