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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Most church affiliations hold a general gathering where business is conducted on a regular basis. Ours, held earlier this year, came with a theme “One.” I am not sure if it was the program committee or some other genius who came up with that theme, but I loved it. (Personally, I hope it becomes our ongoing theme). It certainly should become our ongoing prayer.

To call it timely would be an understatement. If there were a competitive match going on pitting unity vs. division, division appears to have the upper hand. Each day we wake to discover someone in the world is at odds with someone else. We seem to be surrounded by division. This makes it even more important for a church group to take “One-ness” seriously.

Truth is, we shared differing opinions right there on the council floor. Emotion was felt in the room. I am writing as one who is glad we are bold enough and respect one another enough to state opinions when we do not see eye to eye with one another. I write as one who is glad we are able to share differing opinions and yet walk out as “One.”

I pray that we are becoming “One.” I pray that our “One-ness” will not be of some petty tribal variety but will spill over into other sectors of the church. I pray we will work with the larger body of Christ in ways that we share in areas where we are strong and learn in areas where we are not. I pray we will work with our sisters and brothers in the church universal to reflect the ways of God in the world. I pray the church will be a witness of “One-ness” in a world that is otherwise divided.

Truth is, if the church does not demonstrate “One-ness” – who will? May our “One-ness” communicate that the hope of the world is in Christ and demonstrated in His church. Perhaps we are called to be catalysts for the church to become “One.” May we be a divine illustration that unity can be achieved – but only through a God-filled people.

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Perhaps any conversation about spiritual formation includes prayer. My personal prayer life has been influenced by my faith tradition. We have encouraged prayer while seated, while standing, and while kneeling. Prayer is encouraged as both an individual act and as a corporate act. Of course, sometimes prayer seems to break out unexpectedly and during unlikely activities. However it occurs, I hope to view my daily schedule as a context for prayer. While some space is specifically set aside for the purpose of prayer, I hope for prayer to become as natural as walking or breathing. Perhaps this is what the apostle had in mind when he writes to “pray without ceasing.”

It is not enough to carve space for prayer. Prayer itself is not the goal, but a tool to help us grow in God. An activity that often unexpectedly becomes prayer for me is reading. Sometimes this is the reading of scripture but not always. I often find myself in dialogue with an author and God becomes part of the conversation. Currently, my reading tends to include an assortment of theology, nature, and some classics. As I write, I am thinking that reading authors who are more contemplative might benefit me on my journey. I can benefit from those who have walked with God and have shared their experience about intimacy with the divine. I have already made plans to read more from Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr. I plan to acquaint myself with Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I would also benefit from re visiting some of the works that have shaped my spiritual life in the past. I am intrigued that John Wesley in “Letter to a Friend” emphasizes reading as a means of nurturing the soul. “Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily… Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”

Eugene Peterson suggests that we have been given an old prayer book known as Psalms. In fact, he claims these are the best tools for working on our faith. Just as a gardener picks up a rake or a hoe on the way to the vegetable garden, he claims people of faith should pick up the Psalms. I will read the Psalms multiple times in multiple translations during the coming year, all the while listening for the voice of God. I will be open to prayer in new ways by listening to these old prayers.

But my reading of scripture shall not be limited to the Psalms. I shall read from the whole canon.  I will read texts from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. I will read the New Testament narratives and the Letters. I will read them to be caught up in the ongoing story of God. This is not only to strengthen preaching and exegesis, but to listen to the voice of God and find my role in that story. We have tendencies to try to fit God into our stories; it is time to start looking for ourselves in God’s story.

It is easy to become content driven, what J. K. A. Smith calls “brains on a stick.” It is even easy for worship to become a cognitive exercise. But, it is not enough to articulate a position; I want to taste the sweet word of God even when it leaves me with a sour stomach (Revelation 10.9-10). Systematic statements may smooth out some rough edges, but we are a people who live on the edge. We want to acknowledge the rough parts and embrace them as important parts of the story. I will listen to the biblical writers talk about walking with Jesus. I will read out loud in order to hear differently. I benefit when I read scripture not as a scavenger for practical purposes, but in order to listen for the voice of God.

This conversation about prayer is only a beginning. I desire that prayer become something more, something like Robert Mulholland once described “prayer is not what we do, it is what we be.” It is important to know that prayer is more about becoming than it is about getting. Again, I am reminded of Mulholland who said, “it is one thing to be in the world for God, it is quite another thing to be in God for the world.” The former seems so “activist” while the latter takes us into unknown territory. My prayer is that I will follow Jesus into the unknown whatever we find out there.

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God, Thank you for the way you fellowship as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thank you for your desire to pull us into your fellowship. Help us be open to your invitation. Give us the desire to become more connected to you that we may grow to know the fullness of your joy… Amen

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Every Sunday we pray together the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that reveals the bare bones of Jesus’ teaching. The bare essentials of what we bring to God in prayer.

This prayer reveals what it looks like when heaven comes to earth. When kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. The reign of God shows itself in things like daily bread, forgiveness and being delivered from evil.

It reveals an emphasis on loving God AND loving others. The first part is what we might pray if we love God. The second part is what we might pray if we love others. The prayer reminds us, we cannot pray one part without the other.

This prayer is prayed with knowledge of a new reality. We cannot pray this as a mere habit or a simple recital from memory. When we utter these words – we pray for nothing less than a revolution.

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“My God, My God…” (Matthew 27.46; Mark 15.34)

The only words Matthew and Mark report to us from the cross are “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Both report them in Aramaic so we cannot miss them. The fact they come to us in Jesus’ native language may suggest some emotion. Jesus is not the first to know about being forsaken, he is quoting a psalm. Surely this is not a coincidence; the psalms are part of a collection of songs and prayers that travel a long journey of presence and absence. Just as Good Friday happens as part of a larger story, this “word” occurs as part of the practice of singing and praying the psalms. Old Israel knew about feeling abandoned by God. Some still feel it.

The cross is not for safe religion. In fact, pop religion will try to convince us that a scene like this is not possible. The cross goes against the way we think the world is supposed to work. The cross leaves the holiness of God raw in the world. This is evidenced as the temple curtain is torn and as the Son of God hangs exposed on the cross. Here is a cry for the abandoned. It exposes a holy God whose plan is victory by weakness.

The Gospel writers do not report the crucifixion in the same way. This reminds us there is more than one explanation for what happened on this day. For some of us, Good Friday and the place called skull is a good match for what we feel. It tells us the truth about suffering and the high cost that comes with the ways of God.

Mark writes after both Peter and Paul had been executed. He writes as other Christians were in danger of execution. It is difficult to know exactly how this would have affected Christians in Rome but we can be certain that they lived in fear.  They may have felt forsaken. In this context, Mark writes to help the church get through the suffering without losing hope for the future or forgetting the Jesus story.  This is a dark Gospel intended to help readers navigate dark days.  The Gospel wants us to know how far God is willing to go.

Raymond Brown talks about crucifixion as gruesome on account of the “screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of the unhappy victims.”  Brown goes on, “Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry.”  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries out to “My God.”

During Lent we follow one who knows what it means to feel forsaken. We follow one who experienced unimaginable pain. We follow one who knows how to navigate dark days. We follow one who has traveled the paths of presence and absence. This is good news. We cannot go where he has not already been.

A prayer of response by Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Father in Heaven, when the time of suffering and darkness come to my life let my mouth speak your name just as Jesus did. Let my eyes be fixed on you and let my hope be in your perfect will, not my circumstance. Even if I feel forsaken let my obedience and your name on my lips be my guide. My feelings may fail me, but you, oh Lord, will never fail me. Even in suffering and humiliation, you will never fail. Place in me a steadfast heart that will obey.”

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The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus came preaching “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Later he preaches a longer sermon that we call the Sermon on the Mount. It is also about the Kingdom of heaven. In fact, it is safe to say that Matthew has some kind of obsession with the Kingdom of heaven.

Early in that sermon we are told “heaven is the throne of God.” Later we are told to pray “Your Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer comes right in the middle of the sermon and we have already been told to take anger seriously, to be generous even with evil people, to make friends with our opponents, and to love our enemies. Now we are praying to be forgiven as we forgive others. We are getting an idea of what it is like for God to rule on earth as in heaven.

Gary W. Burnett labels this a prayer for revolutionaries. At the very least we should be willing to ask the question “what do we expect when we pray for Kingdom come?” After all we are praying for a kingdom different than the one ruled by Herods or Caesars or Pharaohs or Presidents. We are praying for a Kingdom ruled by God. We are praying for God to invade the land and challenge the rule of corrupted humans. We are praying for what God wants, not for humans to continue what they are already doing.

When we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” we acknowledge that God is back in charge and rules through King Jesus. When we pray for Kingdom come we pray that we will live under the rule of King Jesus. When we pray for Kingdom come we acknowledge the certainty that the Kingdom is at hand.

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The Gospel of Mark makes it clear that disciples have been slow to understand who Jesus is and what He is up to.  When we get to chapter 8, they make their biggest step in understanding when Peter says “You are the Christ.”  We do not want to ignore the movement in the text as Jesus immediately begins to bring the cross into the conversation.  Mark says that he taught them plainly that He would suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again.  Peter disagrees with this plan and may be suggesting that there are other ways to build a kingdom.  It is easy for us to point fingers at Peter from where we are.  Yet, the fact is, we are still not comfortable with a cross as part of the plan.

The posture of followers seems to matter in this text.  For example, Jesus turns around to see disciples behind Him.  Jesus then tells Peter to get behind Him (in rather strong language).  Jesus points out the difference between human plans and the plan of God.  For sure, trying to influence Jesus away from the cross does not fit under God’s plan.  Jesus says, “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  The text leaves no question as to where disciples belong.  Disciples belong behind Jesus.  We are a collection of people in relationship to a crucified Jesus who are following behind Him.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, there is a breathless effort to keep up with Jesus.  Disciples continue to find it difficult to follow Jesus.  Like Peter in chapter 8, I am reminded that my plan may not be God’s plan.  Instead, I simply must get behind him – and follow.  Whether we are able to catch our breath during our reading or not, one thing is for sure.  We know where we are to be: behind Jesus.  Where Peter belongs, where all disciples belong.  To be anywhere else, to offer Him any advice, is to be in league with Satan.

Leading up to this scene we find a series of questions, “What is this?”  “Who can do that?”  “Why does he do that?”  “Why do his followers do that?”  “Who is this?”  “Where did he learn this?”  But, after chapter eight the narrative changes dramatically.  As if Mark is suggesting that once you discover who Jesus is, then you may begin to understand the role of the cross.  From this point forward, we are reading a dangerous narrative.

It is risky to serve in another Kingdom where others may not take us seriously.  Others still have confidence in the empire that appears to have all the goodies, the power, and the answers.  Yet, we know that this way of life is temporary.  We do not have confidence in the strategies of this world.  Neither our best science nor our best social programs can fix it.  The established systems and the old certainties are no longer certain.  Still, we have a great hope.  We believe that another Kingdom is in play and we are called to utilize the strategies of this Kingdom.  A Kingdom that takes shape in out-of-the-way places, in unexpected ways, and through unexpected people.

We are an unexpected collection of people who will appear strange to the world at large.  We line up behind our King and embrace suffering and rejection.  Our desire to serve may take us on forays, rendezvous, and on reconnaissance into dangerous territory.  There, we participate in work that is good, work that builds the kingdom and glorifies the King.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that no matter how uncomfortable things become, our place is behind Jesus where we join others who follow a crucified King.

A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano,“Lord, with every longing in my heart I want to line up behind you and follow you in the Kingdom of God that has been established through Christ on earth.  I struggle with the selflessness, suffering, and forgiving, but I am willing.  I call upon your power to make me able to follow Christ for the sake of your glory.”

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