waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 14, Saturday, December 16, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Weakness; You Who demonstrated Your power through Your broken Body on the cross of Your dying,(1) You Who responded to Your Apostle’s cry of anguish, comforting him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” cheering him to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me!”(2) Why, O why, O Lord Jesus, with the wondrous witness of Your power in Your long-suffering and hard-dying, does this world, Your World continue to follow not You, but its own will and way, thus, suffering long and dying hard in the belief that power is only demonstrated through bellicose words and weapons of bullets and bombs? O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, I pray You, in the words of the hymn:

Heal Thy children’s warring madness
Bend our pride to Thy control
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness
Rich in things and poor in soul
Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.(3)

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) 1 Corinthians 1.18-25
(2) 2 Corinthians 12.9
(3) Words by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1930)

 

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waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 11, Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Weal. As Your Apostle, in his suffering service in Your Name, exclaimed, “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body,”(1) and as Francis,(2) beholding a vision of an angel crucified, was marked with Your stigmata, so, this day, O Lord Jesus, I will to bear on my mind and heart, soul and spirit the signs of Your suffering. By Your Spirit make me more deeply aware of the pain of life of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, the least of Your sisters and brothers for whom Your Love is greatest.(3) By Your same Spirit, move me, in my suffering for them as You suffer for them, to crucify my selfish want and need. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Galatians 6.17
(2) St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
(3) See Matthew 25.34-40

the push and pull of mystery

I awoke this morning in a melancholy mood thinking about the cares that beset any human under the sun, the daily reminders of our limitations, the not (never?) having enough time, energy, or money (or any two or all three), in the face of our desires and needs, to complete, compete, or compensate.

Then I pushed beyond my personal, largely small cares, thinking about greater current woes of the world. Among them:

  • The horrific destruction of hearth and health and hope wrought by the winds and waves of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the tectonic tumult of earthquakes; turning verdant lands barren, bringing darkness, save for still-shining stars, to what seem endless nights, cancelling the coming day for the final closing of the eyes of the dying, and
  • The dread specter of rising, billowing nuclear clouds, and
  • The social, cultural unrest of an America stirred by the symbols of flags, anthems, and statues, and actions, whether to stand and salute or lock arms and kneel.

Then pulling back from these painful thoughts, as I oft do, I meditated on mystery – not a riddle to be resolved by human reason, but rather the reality of all things beyond human power to control, perhaps even human ability to understand and, thus, to amend.

mystery - Hubble telescope

My meditations provoked, as they always do, questions. Among them:

  • Why do, must people suffer?
  • Why, after centuries of observing and studying the futility of war to resolve disputes, do we, as peoples and nations, continue to lust for combat and long for conquest; the latter, given the superior and spreading nuclear capacity to destroy both enemy and self, being a fool’s goal?
  • Why, despite our best ambitions toward equality, do we continue to separate ourselves along lines, some invisible, yet all seemingly inerasable, of race and class, culture and clan, party and perspective; resulting in our apparent inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of another point of view?
  • Why, long recognizing the incontestable truth that we occupy one planet (notwithstanding the dreams of lunar and Martian colonization) and that we form a global community of inseparable, interlocking interests, do we remain blinded by our prejudices, refusing to see the common humanity that we all irrefutably share?

Underneath these realities, as I behold them, lies unfathomable mystery. Understanding so little, I cannot answer my questions. One thing I do know. I cannot end suffering, war, inequality, prejudice, and a legion of human ills. However, as a person of faith, I can and do pledge to repent, daily, praying the Holy Spirit to make me more conscious of my:

  • time, energy, and money and how to use what I do have to serve, to share with my sisters and brothers of greater need;
  • anger, oft rooted in my sense of an affront to my personal honor and how to channel its virulent energy toward efforts to make peace with others and myself;
  • individuality of self and my commonality with all, so that in acknowledging the former I never disavow the latter;
  • biases and how to peer more deeply into the eyes of “the other” and mine own to behold our common God-given image.

I am not sure how this does, can, or will work. For I perceive it as mystery. By faith, I shall trust God, the greatest Mystery, to bring it to pass.

in Irma’s wake, a Christian prayer

 

hurricane eye

From lightning and tempest…fire and flood…, Good Lord, deliver us.[1]

In the face of Hurricane Irma, this petition comes to mind…

In part because I am a person of prayer. By faith, I believe in God’s existence, God’s eternal presence. By faith, I also believe in God’s benevolence, God’s immeasurable kindness…

And in part because this petition and this urgent plea, “Good Lord, deliver us,” has not been answered as I desire.

Irma, a titanic force of nature, the product of the environmental collusion of tropical disturbance and depression, water and wind, heat and humidity, sweeping through the Caribbean, has done and is doing what hurricanes, without the existential consciousness of cause or realization of reason, do. People have died and the homes and businesses of people’s living and livelihoods have been destroyed. And those of us on the southeast and eastern shores of the American mainland await Irma’s coming, and beyond human power to control, to continue to do what hurricanes do.

So, now, I pray: O God, I trust in Your existence because of which I exist and I trust in Your benevolence because of which most of the days of my life in this Your world have been illumined by sunlight and few darkened by the shadows of sorrow. Still, I know that all Your children, my sisters and brothers of my human family, are not so keenly blessed by worldly circumstances of peace and ease; and more do I know that Nature’s unrests in lightning and tempest, fire and flood make equals of us all in the dread of suffering. By Your ever-hovering, alway-brooding Spirit, O God, grant us the courage of strength and the strength of courage to face without fear whatever comes; knowing that our hearts abide in the hand of the assured everlasting future of Your Love; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Footnote: [1] From The Great Litany, The Book of Common Prayer, page 149

 

 

relatively speaking

preaching, 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 16.21-28, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 3, 2017

Our God, whom we address as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a trinity dwells in eternal ontological, relational union. And we, created in God’s image, are physically formed and psychically, spiritually wired to be in relationship with others.

Relationships are an important, perhaps most important aspect of our lives. To use theologian Paul Tillich’s[1] descriptive phrase for God, I liken our relationships to “the ground of our being.” Our relationships are a lens through which we can perceive and know ourselves; the ground from whence we come, our histories and memories, and the ground on which we stand, our daily experience of thought and feeling, intention and action. Though, as the Apostle Paul says, “we see in a mirror, dimly,”[2] unable to know ourselves fully, it is our willingness to look that matters. And this life-long self-examination in search of ourselves, seeking to know ourselves is for the purpose of giving ourselves away in relationships with others, therefore, imitating how God is with us.

Now, here’s the challenge. Relationships are hard. For, again, it’s hard, truly impossible to know ourselves completely. And, given our self-interest, it’s hard, also impossible to give ourselves completely to others. And it’s hard to see and know clearly what others are showing and giving to us. And even when we do see and know clearly what others are showing and giving to us, it may contradict who we believe they are and conflict with who we believe we are.

All this, the rewards and risks of relationships runs through this intense encounter between Jesus and Peter.

Jesus called disciples to follow him, to be in relationship with him. At a critical moment, he asks, “Who do you say I am?”[3] (Do you see and know me?) Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”[4] Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah![5] (You do see and know me. Now, let me tell you what kind of Messiah I am.) “I must go to Jerusalem, suffer and die…” Peter doesn’t like, hates what he hears. Who Peter thinks Jesus is as Messiah is not who Jesus is. Though using the same language, they mean different things.

In one sterling moment of recognition, they had drawn so close. In the next shattering instant, they fall far apart. For Jesus, Peter, his chief disciple, upon whose confession of his messianic identity he would build his church,[6] becomes “a stumbling block”, so great an impediment to Jesus doing God’s will that he calls him “Satan.” And Peter has to question who Jesus is and why he has given up everything to follow him, and, if Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death come true, then what will happen to him; must he suffer and die, too?

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

How easy it would have been for them to part company: Jesus casting Peter aside, Peter walking, running away. But they didn’t. They remained in relationship and experienced everything that Jesus prophesied; his suffering, his dying, and (as he also foretold) his rising on the third day (but, I believe, prefaced by the predication of suffering and dying, Peter missed that part!). And all this leading to a relationship, a life without end.

So, too, for us as we continue to follow Jesus in our living and, yes, our suffering and our dying, whenever and however it comes, and then, yes, thank you, Jesus, our rising.

 

Illustration: Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Footnotes:

[1] Paul Johannes Tillich (1886-1965), German American Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian

[2] 1 Corinthians 13.12

[3] Matthew 16.15

[4] Matthew 16.16

[5] Matthew 16.17a

[6] Matthew 16.18

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 27, Friday, March 31, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On following Jesus and bearing my cross:[1] O Jesus, You call me to follow You daily and daily to take up my cross;[2] as Yours, one of suffering self-denial and self-sacrifice for the sake of others. O Jesus, though I delight that, by Your merit, You esteem me worthy to walk in Your Way, Your Truth, Your Life, You know that I fear and, for the sake of my self-preservation, would flee any hardship. By Your Spirit, continue to fill my heart with Your Love[3] that, in its perfection, casts out all my fear on this and any day and unto the day of my judgment.[4] Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] Previous posts of a-Lenten-prayer-a-day concerning following Jesus: day 11, Monday, March 13, 2017, On following Jesus & repentance; day 12, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, On following Jesus; day 13, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, On following, not worshiping Jesus

[2] See Matthew 16.24, Mark 8.34, and Luke 9.23 (Luke’s version of this Jesus-saying adds the word “daily”): Jesus said, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.”

[3] Here, I refer to Romans 5.5, where the Apostle Paul alludes to an aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit: …God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

[4] Here, I have in mind 1 John 4.16b-18a (my emphasis): God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

my hope is God

Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church

a sermon, based on Lamentations 1.1-6 and Lamentations 3.19-26, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, October 2, 2016

the-flight-of-the-prisoners-the-fall-of-jerusalem-586-bce-james-tissot

Over 2500 years ago, the Babylonian Empire destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtering many, enslaving the rest, carrying most into exile. A horrified observer wrote:

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,

she that was great among the nations…

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks.

My mother, in the years immediately following my father’s death, as Alzheimer’s disease insidiously robbed her of all memory, spent her days sitting in her easy chair, a quilt draped across her lap, flowing over her knees to her feet, onto the floor. On a side table, stacks of letters, written by my father during their fifty-three years of marriage; words on tattered pages she read and reread, each time for the first time, her lips moving in silent speech, at other moments, sounding the syllables aloud, each breath, an increasingly faint whisper of her past. Next to the letters, a small frame with my father’s picture, smiling his half smile, gazing at her. She would look back and smile. Then a time came when she asked repeatedly, “Who is this?” Enveloped in the cloud of her unknowing, her amnesia was anesthesia for her lonely despair.

This image of my mother, etched in my mind, is my portrait of desolate Jerusalem: How lonely, like a widow, is the city.

Save for the Book of Job and those psalms known as songs of desolation,[1] no other word in scripture shouts, screams of unrelieved pain like Lamentations. Though it’s hard to hear, one inescapable reality of human living calls, commands us to listen: Suffering. For some of us, all the time and sometimes, for all of us.

Yes, happiness can be found in this life. Yet, when it is the fruit of favorable circumstance, we know, given the fickle nature of everything we don’t control, it won’t, can’t last. Therefore, Lamentations mirrors our universal experience of suffering, whether on global, national, local, or individual stages of life’s drama, whether through endless war, terror’s threat, natural calamity, personal tribulations of accident and illness, or by our own will whenever we, under the reign of unruly temperament or unlicensed affection abuse ourselves, souls, and bodies, or those of others.

Engulfed by this tsunami wave of suffering, is there anything beyond weeping that we can do? The one who wrote, “How lonely, like a widow, is the city”, later answers emphatically, Yes!

The thought of my affliction…is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope:

God’s steadfast love never ceases, God’s mercies never end;

they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.

It’s unbelievable that one who has endured horrors unspeakable, whose lament is ever-fresh, can utter this stirring a word of trust! But perhaps not! For what value is a word of assurance spoken by one who hasn’t suffered? Virtue resounds in the claim of confidence only from one who knows sorrow. As an anguished Job declared, “I know my Redeemer lives…and after my skin has been destroyed, then in my flesh, I shall see God,”[2] so Lamentations proclaims, “My soul is bowed in affliction, yet I have hope, for God’s love and mercy never end.”

Now, we could believe the sincerity of the speaker. Nothing more. Nothing else. After all, anyone who suffers desires release, at least relief. Yet this is a word of anticipation, looking forward for something to come and expectation, looking backward on a historical relationship with a God of unconditional, unconquerable love.

Still, to speak of God and suffering in the same breath raises theodicy’s nagging question: How can the evil of suffering whether of human or natural cause exist in a creation of an omnipotent benevolent God? Years ago, at a time of turmoil, then the worst of my life, a spiritual dark night of my soul, my experience of God’s absence, God’s abandonment of me, I often cried: If God is all-powerful, then God, allowing evil, can’t be good; and if God is good, desiring the welfare of all, then God, unwilling or unable to restrain evil, can’t be God.[3]

I’ve come a mighty long way since then. This is where I stand today. Whene’er I or you suffer, I have hope. Sometimes, measured in the depth of my desire for you and me to be free of pain, my hope is great. Sometimes, when I see only a flicker of a possibility beyond the sorrow, small. Yet whichever, I can – I am able and willing – to hope. For I no longer place my hope in God. My hope is God. The existence of my capacity through spiritual eyes to look beyond what is to behold a vision of what might be is evidence of God’s presence and power. Because that is true, whate’er suffering befalls, anticipatory, hopeful visions always come. Therefore I can sing:

Great is Thy faithfulness,

Great is Thy faithfulness;

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.[4]

 

Photograph (by Walt Calahan): me preaching at The Washington National Cathedral, Friday, January 27, 2006

Illustration: The Flight of the Prisoners (The fall of Jerusalem, 586 BCE) (1896-1902), James Tissot (1836-1902), The Jewish Museum, New York City

Footnotes:

[1] For example, Psalm 22 and Psalm 88

[2] Job 19.25-26, my emphases

[3] A paraphrase of the word of the character, Nickles, in Archibald MacLeish’s J.B.: A Play in Verse (1958)

[4] Words (1923) by Thomas Obadiah Chisolm (1866-1960)