Weekly Devotional: Holding fast by holding to prayer

bible-hands1You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your God in heaven.             Matthew 5. 43-45 (NRSV – Adapted)

ISIS has come to Dallas/Ft. Worth. With the recent shootings at the Culwell Center in Garland, provoked by an art exhibit featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, those of us in Texas, and perhaps across the United States, have to face a stark reality. It seems that the violence we thought was limited to the Middle East and other countries far away has now crossed into the U.S.

I watched with great sorrow as the mother of one of the shooters was interviewed. She was grieving the death of her son, trying to make sense of the fact that she didn’t know he had become radicalized in his ideology, and yet she did not blame the police officer who shot her son. In the midst of her tears and heartache, she showed us what love looks like. She loved her son, no doubt, but she was also able to extend that love to the officer who shot her son by acknowledging that he was doing his job.

If you’re like me, you are probably shaken by what seems to be uncontrolled violence occurring in our country and in our world, especially when that violence strikes so close to home. Many, many people will choose to respond to that violence out of their fear and choose to fight violence with violence.

But Jesus, who also lived in a violent time and culture, sought to shift the thinking of his day. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” In other words, if your neighbor did something against you, harmed you, was violent toward you, the common response was to hate that person and pay them back, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus, however, continued his teaching saying, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I know that it is easy to think that your prayers don’t matter, but I believe that your prayers, especially your prayers for your enemies can transform your life and our world. In fact, Robert Benson writing in his book, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True (Tarcher, 2001), reminds us that in the Hebrew tradition, “there is told the story of the thirty-six who are faithful—so faithful, in fact, that God refuses to have the world come to an end as long as they are alive. It is their devotion that holds the world together. No one but God knows who they are; even they themselves do not know.”

What if you are one of the thirty-six? What if we all made it our practice to pray so faithfully that we might change our world? Might our transformed lives mean that we would be able to make our enemies our friends? I know it is a long, hard journey toward friendship, justice and peace, but it is a journey of saving our lives and our world that seems to me is certainly worth our time and our efforts. What if it is your prayers that are holding our world together? What if?

Holy One, today, as hard as it is for me to say, I ask you to bless those who have done harm to me and to our world. I pray you will bring peace to their hearts so that violence may cease. Grant me enough courage to be a person of peace. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: As Supreme Court Considers Marriage Equality, Remember That It’s The Covenant That Truly Counts

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”                                                                                                (Ruth 1. 16 & 17)

scotusrainbowflagThe words spoken in scripture by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, have for years been some of the most popular words read at weddings. The truth is, these words of covenant have been used in weddings of a man and a woman, in weddings of two women and in weddings of two men. Why? Because the words are a simply and yet beautiful covenant of faithful love, the covenant that most couples on their wedding day hope for in their marriage.

This Tuesday, April 28, the Supreme Court of the United States hears arguments regarding marriage equality. As they do, I believe it is important to note that for centuries, likely since the beginning of human relationships, people have pledged their love for each other and their desire to be in relationship with each other whether they were a man and woman, two women or two men. Over time those covenant promises were formalized by the majority culture as wedding vows, but they have always been made outside legal marriages by those denied the right to marriage.

In fact, in counseling couples coming for marriage it is my experience that long before the couple makes it to my office to talk about their coming marriage and wedding they have already promised to love each other for a lifetime, just a Ruth promised to Naomi.

While I am praying mightily for a favorable decision from our Supreme Court to find in favor of marriage equality because it would give lesbian and gay people the legal right to marry across our nation, and with that legal right the human rights and benefits that come with marriage, I know that it is God who actually ordains faithful covenant relationships.

I know that long before the State of Massachusetts approved marriage equality more than 10 years ago, lesbian and gay couples made covenant to live in relationship as loving partners, to create families and blend families and that those covenants have often stood the test of time and the vows of loving covenant “until we are parted by death.”

I know that even if the Supreme Court approves marriage equality as the “law of the land,” pastors will retain their right to determine who they agree to marry, just as they do today. Even so, I know that regardless of the outcome, love will win, and all people will continue to live in loving, committed, covenant relationships. It would, however, be a great bending of the arc of history toward justice if the Supreme Court found in favor of equality and human rights for lesbian and gay people. May it be so.

Holy One, give wisdom to the justices of the Supreme Court as they decide the future for so many people. May your justice for all prevail. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Children, Inequality, You and Me

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs belongs.”                                                                         Matthew 19:14 (NRSV)

I have just today finished reading a Washington Post article that a friend sent to me. The article by Emily Badger is entitled, “The Terrible Loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America.”

no-inequality-mdThe article tells the story about political scientist Robert Putnam, a recipient of the 2012 National Humanities Award presented by President Obama.

As it turns out, Putnam grew up in Port Clinton, Ohio, a working-class neighborhood, and in his years since leaving Port Clinton for college, he has, as we like to say in the South, “a craw stuck in his throat.” Badger explains, “The Harvard political scientist, famous for his book Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2001) that warned of the decline of American community, has returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, to talk, this time, about inequality. Not between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, but between two groups that have also fallen further apart: children born to educated parents who are more likely to read to them as babies, to drive them to dance class, to nudge them into college themselves — and children whose parents live at the edge of economic survival.”

For the last three years Putnam has been seeking to make “the inequality in opportunity for kids to the central issue in the 2016 presidential election. Not how big government should be or what the “fair share” is for the wealthy, but what’s happening to children boxed out of the American dream.” (Badger)

So, what about that? Didn’t Jesus tell us that we should let the children come to him because to such belongs the very realm of heaven? If that is so, shouldn’t one of our top priorities be to make a difference in the inequality between those families who at increasing rates have the ability to give their children opportunities and those who do not? What if those of us who have enough decided to make a difference in the life of one child in a working-poor family or a single-parent household? What would that look like? How might it change our world?

I am convinced that if we really want to be the people of God that Jesus called us to be, we will have to make some dramatic efforts to make a difference in our world today for those children who do not have someone to read to them every night. Several years ago, I saw a program on some of the poorest places in Texas where families scrape by on little to nothing and children have to ride the bus for hours just to get to school. When one little elementary aged girl was asked what she wanted she didn’t say new clothes or toys she simply said, “I would like a little more to eat.”

In some translations the words of Jesus are, “Suffer the children to come unto me.” Maybe it is time we suffered just a little so that the children can be fed and can have what they need.

Holy One, it must break your heart that we live in the wealthiest country in the world and yet some of your children go to bed hungry. Help me, I pray, to do one thing today and everyday to make a difference in the great divide between those who have and those who do not. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: We Need the Power of Resurrection All Year Long

Claim-Your-Resurrection-PowerWhen Peter saw the beloved disciple, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”                                   -John 21:21-22 (NRSV)

 

 

(My friends, this is my 50th blog post. It’s hard to believe! Thank you for your continued love and support. As I always, I welcome your comments!)

Following a wonderful Easter worship service and day, it felt to me as if God’s goodness had surely come upon the face of the earth and that this year things would be different. This time, we would love one another. This time, we would care for our neighbor. This time, we would make peace with our enemies.

And then came Monday, and the news was the same—wars raging in far away places, violence in our own mean streets, vitriol coursing across the airways and internet, and then came the news of the shooting death of Walter Scott, unarmed and running away and shot in the back by a police officer. Scott was killed by someone sworn to “keep the peace.” And now more than one mother weeps, and all of us feel a little less safe, a little less sure.

I keep wondering if Easter actually means anything any more. It seems to me that if we truly believe in God, if we truly believe in the power of the resurrection, then our lives would be different, our world would be different. Of course, that is how evil works in the world. It convinces us that there is nothing we can do; there is nothing that will change the downward cycle of judgment, prejudice, fear and hate.

Perhaps that is really what Easter is about. Maybe the true power of Easter is to keep us faithful, to give us courage to live in the mean-time, the time between the resurrection of Christ and ours. Maybe the real purpose of the resurrection is to remind us that God is not through with our world yet, and if the resurrection of hope, the resurrection of peace, the resurrection of love is going to become a reality, then it is going to depend on us.

And I only know one way for that to happen. As Peter sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the resurrected Jesus told him not to worry about what people said about the beloved disciple or for that matter anyone. Instead, Jesus repeated the call that began his ministry, he said to Peter, “Follow me.” In the Greek that phrase is an imperative statement as if Jesus is saying, “You, follow me!”

That is, I believe, what will change our world and bring resurrection, the change in each of us as we follow faithfully in the way of Jesus, which means that we will live fully, love wastefully and be all that God created us to be. May it be, so that peace will come upon the face of the earth and all will have what they need.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0aAkOe87mo

 

Weekly Devotional: This Easter, Hope Lives Eternal!

1easterIt was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him;                                                    Mark 14. 1 (NRSV)

But the young man said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.                         Mark 16. 6 (NRSV)

During this Holy Week of 2015, I have been reading through the Gospel According to Mark, as well as reading The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. It is interesting to me that the entirety of the Gospel of Mark clearly portrays Jesus as someone who is determined to shift the domination culture of his day to a Kingdom of God culture. Borg and Crossan point out, and rightly so, I believe, that Jesus’ true “passion” was not the journey to the cross, but his “passion” for bringing out the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. It is this confrontation with the powers and principalities of his day that set in motion the decision of the chief priests and scribes to arrest him and have him executed.

Those same powers and principalities, the domination system, are still in play today. Those with wealth, power and position continue to hold in place a system that marginalizes “the other.” Those who have worked for peace and spoken out against injustice have themselves been killed: John F. Kennedy, who determined that he should end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and Marin Luther King, Jr,. who worked for the civil rights of all and who also spoke out against the Vietnam War, are just two of the obvious examples.

Still, the story of our faith tells us that even when it seems that evil is winning God’s power to bring light in the darkness, hope to the hopeless and life in the midst of death will not be defeated.

That is what this Sunday is all about. Easter Sunday is the day when we remember that we are called to be people of peace and justice who follow in the way of Jesus. Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate God’s victory over death, literal death and what we think are the deaths of our hopes and dreams for a just world. Easter Sunday is the day when we remember that God is with us, we are not alone. Easter Sunday is the day when we celebrate that God’s will on earth as it is in heaven will ultimately prevail. And to that we can proclaim with millions of people across the face of the earth, Thanks be to God! Amen! So, don’t miss it.

Holy One, remind me again this Easter that you are ever with us and that your steadfast love endures forever and your faithfulness to all generations. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Praying Until We Have No Words Left

Keep prayingTherefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.                         2 Corinthians 4. 1 (NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but as I watch the news on television and read the news on the Internet I grow weary. I grow weary of all the violence. I grow weary of all the hatred. I grow weary of the lack of civility in public discourse. I grow weary of all the posturing of powerful people. I grow weary of the lack of viable solutions to the problems in our country and across the globe. I grow weary. Do you?

Then it dawned on me. This is exactly the way evil works in us and in our world. Evil manifest itself best by a gradual eating away at goodness. It distracts us from the good that we might do by causing us to grow weary of doing good. Evil, though found in the midst of violence and hatred, may well do its best work by convincing good people that there is nothing they can do to change things. And so we grow weary and so we lose heart and so we grow complacent and apathetic and stay silent and do nothing.

As the great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The Apostle Paul had something to say in response to this weariness of heart and soul. In writing his second letter to the church at Corinth, as well as across time and space to you and me, Paul said, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Still, listen to what Paul went on to say. “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4. 1 & 2)

Do you hear that? Paul calls us to keep sound of heart and mind by committing our lives to speaking truth, and to do so without cunning, without falsifying God’s truth, which surely has to be about God’s love for all creation and all people, a desire that all should have enough and that wars and violence and hatred of each other should cease.

Of course, this kind of turning has to be grounded in prayer and relationship with God. In fact, I know of no other way to remove this weariness of heart and mind and soul.

So, won’t you commit to pray with me? Pray for all the hurt and heartache, for the least and the lost, for the hate and horrors, for the posturing and power plays. Pray until you have no words left. Then, let us stop the work of evil in our world by speaking and working for truth and faith by becoming beacons of justice, peace and love in the world. It will change your life and will, by God’s mercy, change our world.

Change my heart, O God, so that I may change our world, one act of love at a time. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Let’s Do Our Part to Bring Peace to a Violent World

peaceJesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”                                                                                                    -John 16.33 (NRSV)

I have just finished listening to two books of a trilogy by Ken Follett. The books are entitled, Edge of Eternity and Winter of the World. The stories trace the lives of several families in Russia, Germany, England and the United States during the Great War (World War I) and World War II. As I listened to the books, I was deeply troubled by the atrocities forced on the people of so many countries across Europe and in Southeast Asia, as well as the attempt to annihilate an entire people, the Jews. The sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of lives in the fight for freedom as told by Follett was overwhelming.

I think about all of this as I ponder the violence being wrought by ISIS in the Middle East and the response of Jordan in return. I ponder what is happening to the people of Ukraine and Russia. I am certain that the poorest of the poor, the elderly, the children, the disabled and the women are experiencing the worst of it all.

So, what are we to say about these things? It seems impossible that in today’s culture that people of differing opinions and political views cannot find a way to peaceably co-exists. Yet, that seems a far off dream.

Years ago, a mentor pastor gave me a book entitled, The Will of God, written by Leslie Weatherhead, an English Christian theologian in the liberal Protestant tradition who was noted for his preaching ministry at City Temple in London. Weatherhead’s book was based on five sermons given to his congregation near the end of World War II. I commend to you this book, as I believe Weatherhead does a great service to people of faith in offering several ideas of how we can continue to believe in God in the face of human evil seen in human violence and atrocities as well as with natural disasters.

Briefly, Weatherhead posited that God has set forth God’s intentional will in creation both then and now. He goes on to say that God’s intentional will is sometimes thwarted by natural disaster and most especially by human violence. This he calls God’s circumstantial will in which God’s love and grace, healing and hope can be seen even in the midst of atrocities and disasters. Weatherhead concludes by proclaiming that whether or not we see it come into existence in our lifetime, God’s will of a peaceful creation for all God’s people and for all of creation will ultimately come. He, of course, says much more than what I offer here.

I take hope from Weatherhead’s writing. I also know that as those who takes the name Christian, those who have chosen to follow in the way of Jesus, we are called, set apart, to be part and parcel of helping to bring God’s vision of a peaceful creation into reality. That doesn’t mean that we don’t cringe at the violence being done in God’s name around the world and across our own country. It doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve the lost lives and lost hopes of so many people.

So then, what are we do say about all of this? Perhaps, we can faithfully affirm that we will live our lives doing our part to bring peace to our corner of the world and beyond. Perhaps, we can faithfully affirm that we are not alone in this, that God’s ultimately will can and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How do we know? Well, I think Jesus spoke to that truth saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

I can live into that kind of hope. Perhaps, you can, too.

Holy One, in the darkest moment of our lives and our culture, help me ever to remember that you are with us, we are not alone. Amen.